Author's Note: Very, very late update. No excuses!
Apologies for the vulgar language…not.
To the Reviewers:Wow! Thanks for the reviews :-). They made me all warm and fuzzy inside. And thanks a whole bunch for those who left advice/suggestions! I proofread the chapters myself, but I don't always pick up on everything.
Chapter Four: Dear Lord…
Previously in Chapter Three:
"I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto," I whispered to myself.
"Had your fill?"
I glanced back at Corin. "So…this really is Rome?"
Coring nodded. "You believe me?"
Hesitating, I glanced back towards the city. "Somewhat. Let's just pretend I do."
"Good enough," Corin sighed. He made to say something else, but a distant bell began to ring. Cole paled and pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders.
"What?" I asked, alarmed. "What's wrong?" The bell tolled once, twice, thrice. Three o'clock, then.
"We're late," Corin answered in a tight voice. He grabbed my upper arm and started dragging me back down the hall.
I dug my heels into the ground, but the stone only grated against my skin. "Wait, what are we late for?"
He didn't answer. "There's no reason to man-handle me," I grumbled.
I looked down to my side where Max was jogging along, trying to keep up.
"Hey, Max," I whispered. He looked up. "Where're we going?"
Max gave me a grim smile. "We are going to-"
"Maximo!" Corin whipped around and glared at the both of us. "Maximo, you cannot come. Hadrien will bring you home."
Max pouted. "No! I want to go too!" Cole placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Come, Maximo," he said, pulling Max back gently. "We can visit the baker on the way home."
Max's frown immediately dissipated, and he took off at a run through the garden. Cole followed at a slower, calmer pace.
"I want honey this time!" His voice echoed as he disappeared around the corner.
I lost to honey bread.
Corin resumed his stalking, pulling me along with him. I slumped to the ground, acting as a dead weight. Maybe he'd get the point and answer my question. But Corin kept walking as though I was obediently following beside him rather than dragging through the dust. I sighed.
"Corin." He ignored me.
"Corin." His shoulders stiffened, but he still didn't turn around.
I gave his arm a pinch. "Corin!" He jerked around and slapped my hand away, glaring.
"What is it?"
"Where are we going?"
He released an impatient sigh, but didn't answer.
"Understand," Corin said after a long stretch of silence. "I am grateful for your help, but I must treat you indifferently in public."
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, yeah, for appearances, I get it. But where are we goi-"
"Quiet!" Corin pulled me around the corner and we stopped in a wide archway. Two men swathed in white togas flanked the door, grasping long spears that crossed to block entry.
The guards glared at us in a menacing silence.
"The General is expecting us."
After a few moments of scrutiny, the guards finally nodded and stood aside to let us pass. We were back in another garden, but this one was flourishing with exotic plants and birds. I'm pretty sure I was even dragged past a few ponds.
"Whatever you do, do not upset the man," Corin hissed at me. We trekked deeper into the garden, towards what I assumed was the center.
I scoffed. With my tact, the man would end up furious.
The green foliage parted to reveal a wide circle lined with benches, and Corin froze abruptly. I walked right into him and bounced back.
"Geez!" I rubbed my nose, irritated. "Give me a warning for once."
"Why'd you stop?" I craned my neck to peer around him. "Is that-"
I stared in horror into the smirking face of Donovan Peron.
"…him?" Oh shit.
I tried to duck back behind Corin's hulking figure, but he pushed me forward instead. My toes caught painfully in the stone cracks and I sprawled across the floor at Peron's feet. A hiss of irritation left my lips as I felt the stone's rough edges scrape away the skin of my knees. Missing kid or not, I was going to kill that man.
I picked myself up with exaggerated slowness, taking the time to surreptitiously scan my surroundings while dusting off my dress. For a moment I thought it was only the three of us in the garden, but during my second sweep of the plants I realized there were various servants, or at least that's what I assumed, who were at Peron's beck and call. They were dressed plainly, as I was, but the men were stripped to waist. The servants actually blended well into the foliage and I diverted my eyes, feeling slightly unnerved under their unwavering gaze.
I stared instead at Peron's bare-yet-suspiciously-manicured feet. Or rather, as manicured as they could possibly be in ancient times. My eyes trailed upward. He was lounging on a luxurious sofa, wearing a short, single shouldered tunic that exposed a defined chest and strong thighs. A heavily bejeweled girl was draped over the back of the couch, fanning him with slow flicks of her wrist that made the gold bangles on her arm clink musically. My eyes met hers and I ducked my head to grimace at my bleeding knees.
I peeked through my bangs to stare at Peron's lazy figure. He even had the same thin scar across his left eye.
"Tell me," he said, sitting up and waving the servant girl away. "Why have you brought me a child, when I specifically asked for the prisoner?"
Corin cleared his throat behind me. "General, this is-"
"That's awful rich, comin' from a man wearing a dress," I cut in, seething. The servant girl, who had been slinking away, stopped momentarily to shoot me a look of pity. I glared in return.
Peron stood from the sofa with a slow and easy grace. His gaze trailed along my body from head to toe, mouth quirked in something akin to a twisted smile.
"My apologies," he spoke in a smooth, low voice. "I spoke too soon."
I pursed my lips to conceal the sneer that threatened to break out. Peron began to pace around me, his bare soles slapping lightly against the stone.
"I extend a belated welcome to my humble abode. As the Great Procurator and General Domitius, I hope you enjoy your imprisonment here."
I rolled my eyes, not caring that he couldn't see it from his stance behind me. "Yes, of course, bec-"
A pair of hands landed heavily on my shoulders, making me jump mid-sentence. Peron leaned down, nuzzling my hair as I stood stiffly.
"There's still the matter concerning your weapons."
He pushed me away suddenly, sending me crashing into the sofa he had vacated. I stifled a grunt as the raw skin of my knees stretched and I banged my elbow painfully against a wooden leg.
"Fucking little…," I muttered under my breath, cradling my arm to my chest. It wasn't broken, but my fingers tingled slightly.
Peron snapped his fingers and a young, sickly looking boy scrambled forward carrying a pillow.
"Such strong words from a woman of such small stature," Peron said absently, picking up something that had been nestled in the cotton. I recognized the glinting metal; it was Cole's Taurus.
"Don't touch that," I hissed, ignoring the insult in favor of the gun.
Peron raised a single fine brow. "Then you claim this as yours?"
"No." I bit back a sharp retort at Corin's nearly imperceptible sigh of relief. Peron hummed in contemplation, turning the gun this way and that in his hands.
"Felix," he called rather suddenly. The servant boy jumped nervously to attention.
"Tell me, how are you feeling today?" Peron pulled back the safety and turned the gun slowly, as if he were fascinated by the way the light reflected on the metal.
The boy's bright blue eyes were more pronounced with the dark bags underneath his eyes, and a sheen of sweat shone on his pale skin.
"M-much bett-ter, General," Felix stuttered, clutching his tunic in a tight grip. "The h-healer's have said that I, uh, the c-cou-"
A loud crack resounded through the garden. I watched in morbid curiosity as Felix fell with an awkward grace, landing soundly at my feet. His wide, unseeing eyes met mine until my gaze was drawn to the gaping hole in his forehead.
Peron stood over the boy's body holding the faintly smoking gun. His face and white tunic were stained with blood, but his expression remained calm.
"Lucky, indeed," he muttered. A choked scream from one of the servant girls broke me out of my reverie.
"What. The. Fuck!" I roared, leaping to my feet. "Why did you kill him?"
I could feel the still-warm blood begin to pool around my toes and I stumbled back, my stomach twisting. I sat heavily on the sofa, pulling my feet up to escape the spreading blood. It left bloody smears across the fabric.
Peron ignored my outburst.
"Finally," he said softly. "Finally. A weapon both efficient and deadly accurate." A dark grin slowly stretched across his lips.
"Rome could conquer the world in a heartbeat. We will reign with an iron fist! And you," I shrank back when he suddenly advanced towards me, face menacing. His hands shot forward and gripped the cloth of my dress, lifting me up from the couch. "You are going to make it happen."
My knees hovered a good inch above the sofa and my own hands were clenched around his wrists. I really hope this dress didn't rip.
"Who said I was helpin' you?" I bit out through clenched teeth. Peron looked at me with a bewildered expression before suddenly throwing his head back and letting loose a sharp bark of laughter.
"That is truly precious," he chuckled, jostling me slightly. I glared at him, but he only dropped me back onto the sofa. "However, I do not believe I have been told your name."
Sneering, I stayed silent. Felix had dropped the pillow and the other gun atop it had skittered across the floor, coming to a rest near Corin. My beautiful Beretta! Corin had only given it a distasteful glance, but thankfully hadn't kicked it aside. Maybe…
A rough hand gripped my chin and turned my face back towards Peron.
"It would do you well to answer me," he warned in a low voice. I returned his stare, not answering. It's not like I even could; his grip kept my mouth painfully shut.
I raised a hand as though I were about to say something, and the instant his eyes turned away from mine, I jerked my chin from his grip and brought my arm down across his wrists. Peron pulled his arms back, although most likely from surprise and not pain. I dove from the sofa, avoiding Peron's grasp as he recovered and Felix's bloody puddle. The instant my palm touched the stone ground I tucked my head towards my chest and rolled past Corin, snatching up the Beretta as he jumped back with a surprised shout. All of the previously motionless servants burst out from the green, but I was already up on one knee and aiming at Peron.
I pulled the trigger once, twice.
There was no recoil and only resounding clicks…he'd emptied the chamber! Snarling, I pulled my hand back and flung the Beretta in a fit of anger, nailing a servant in the forehead. She crumpled to the ground; I winced as her head connected soundly with the stone.
But before I could check if she was alright, two pairs of hands wrapped around my arms and hauled me to a half-standing stance. Two of the servants, large, hulking men, held me in place as Peron stalked forward. He stopped in front of me and ducked his head, chuckling.
"Now, you did not think I could be that foolish, did you?" He brushed aside a wayward curl of hair and tucked it behind my ear. I spat on his feet in return.
The smack of his hand across my cheek brought tears to my eyes.
"I'll kill you, I swear to God…," I snarled, jerking against the hold of the two servants.
Peron contemplated me with cold eyes. "Yes, pray to your Gods…"
He turned away, snapping his fingers.
"Alexander, Tertius." The two men on either side of me stiffened. "Lock her in the main bedroom. I will tame her myself."
"Maybe I'll rip your fuckin' dick off instead!" I snapped, kicking out even though he was too far away to reach. The men began dragging me out of the circle.
Peron tsked, shaking his head as though I were a small, disobedient child. "Perhaps I should put that filthy mouth of yours to better use."
The two servants' rumbling laughter lasted long after Peron disappeared from view.
Author's Note: Woo! I'm starting to get impatient 'cause I haven't yet reached the fun part, but I don't want to ruin everything else in the hurry. This chapter is shorter, but I'm hoping to have another written this week…
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