The soldiers nodded and hurried off to spread the message.
“What are we going to do?” asked Aurelian.
Palaiologos sighed. “I do not know. We cannot go back to the palace, the creatures have taken it.”
“Then where are we going to go?”
“Well first we need to inform the people about the threat waiting in the dark. What time is it?”
Aurelian looked towards the sun dial in the centre of the marketplace. “It has just gone 9 o’clock.”
Palaiologos nodded. “2 hours since sunrise. That gives us almost a whole day to...”
“To...?” Aurelian let the words trail away.
“I do not know,” Palaiologos sighed. “What would Father do? Oh, Minerva, please help me.”
“We cannot call on the gods every time something goes wrong.”
“You are right, but what have I done to deserve this plague?”
“The night creatures are a plague now?”
“Yes. They have overtaken Rome. What do they want?”
“Let us focus on protecting the people for now,” said Aurelian, averting the question.
Palaiologos nodded slowly and ambled off to the Forum, with Aurelian following behind.
“No one is to go out after dark,” said Palaiologos, addressing the crowd. “The palace has been captured.”
“By whom?” someone shouted. The people backed up the lone voice with shouts of agreement.
“The question you should be asking is: by what. Rome is in danger. The things that have taken the palace are creatures of Pluto himself – demons!”
At first there was silence, then a roaring laughter. The people thought the Emperor was joking, or insane. Palaiologos’s face whitened in anger.
“Enough!” he shouted. “Aurelian, come here.”
Aurelian rushed forward and stood next to the Emperor.
“Aurelian and I were ambushed by these demons in the palace this morning, before sunrise. We fled down a passageway and ran for our lives. The demons caught Aurora and stole her away.”
Aurelian’s eyes filled with tears as the memory of his sister being dragged away while she screamed his name. He hadn’t helped her; he’d simply stood there and watched. A lone tear fell down his cheek. Everybody except Palaiologos noticed. He just kept talking.
“This threat is real! The creatures cannot come out into sunlight and have teeth like those of a dog. We have two options. We can sit back and let our entire families be slaughtered by nightfall, or we can fight back now!”
“Why don’t we flee? If it is the city that holds the threat, why do we not leave?” shouted the same man as before.
“A coward’s choice!” scoffed Palaiologos. “We can take the demons if we drag them into the sun! But how to do that, I do not know – but do it we can!”
There was silence. Some faces were sceptical, but the majority looked determined. Palaiologos looked out over the people of Rome.
“Who’s with me?!” he shouted, to a response of thousands of yeses.
Palaiologos grinned and stepped down off the wooden block. He beckoned the four generals over. They approached and bowed slightly.
“Dominicus, Brutus, Tacitus, Caius. The soldiers are ready?” The generals nodded. “Good. We attack the palace at midday, when the sun is at its highest.”
Constantine bowed and left, as did Caius and Brutus. Tacitus remained with the Emperor who had once been his general.
“Tacitus, old friend, how have you been?” Palaiologos asked.
“Weary, Sire. I am getting old,” said Tacitus.
Palaiologos chuckled. “We’re all getting old. It is what makes us human.”
“My joints are stiff and my muscles weak, but I will fight until I die and enter into the Underworld.”
“There’s the soldier I trained,” said Palaiologos, slapped his friend on the back.
The two of them went to gather weapons and rally the troops. Aurelian followed them mechanically. Guilt was washing over him. He was wallowing in self-pity.
He had let Aurora die. It was his fault. He had promised Father he would protect her. He shook his head in an attempt to shake such thoughts from his mind.
The thoughts vanished, slipping deep into his subconscious to fester as a problem for another day. He sighed and carried on with his job.