The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 37

Even though the crowd broke for their horses, it was still slow going to the center of town, with the mass of Romans fleeing increasing, packing together tighter and tighter.

“Leave the horses,” Ky said. “We’ll have to go on foot from here.”

They tied the horses up to one side, although Ky was fairly certain one of the fleeing Romans would get the idea to take the unattended mounts so they could make a faster escape from the city. It took more time for them to push through the crowd, Ky leading the way since he towered over most of the Romans.

Had they been hit now, their ability to defend themselves would have been limited, but Ky didn’t think they’d run into any of the rebelling legionaries until they got right up to the Palace. While Eborius was smart enough to have his men encircle the palace complex, they would be completely focused on that series of buildings and wouldn’t be expanding out, since their only real goal was to kill the Emperor and as many of his advisors as possible. They saw themselves as liberators, so they’d probably try to keep from causing much damage outside of the seat of government, since they’d still want a city to rule once they succeeded.

As they pushed their way through the crowd, Ky sent communications requests several times to Lucilla, without any response. He would have had Sophus try and break through, but the communicator required her to activate it on her own, which is why he’d had her not disconnect when she’d been captured up North.

Maybe it was too loud or there was too much going on and she just didn’t think of it. When she’d contacted him right before she’d been kidnapped by the Picts, she’d been locked inside the small temple, and had time to think before the Picts were on her.

Ky hoped that was all it was, because the alternatives didn’t bear thinking about.

By the time they ran into their first soldier, Ky could see the tops of the palace. Ky didn’t doubt that the soldier was from the First or Second Legion. There hadn’t been time for Llassar to warn any friendly legions and have them respond for him to be anyone else.

At first, Ky thought he might have been there as a scout, watching for the loyalist counter-attack Eborius would have expected, since the camps of the Seventh and Ninth Legions were roughly in the direction Ky had come from, or from city guardsman. If he had been a scout, he would have turned and run away, off to warn his comrades that people were coming.

Ky was surprised when he didn’t do that as Ky and his companions emerged from the back of the crowd that was still fleeing the city center. Maybe he saw four men and thought he could take them or maybe he recognized Ky and thought there was some chance of personal glory, but instead of fleeing, the soldier lifted his gladius and took up a fighting stance, waiting for the four of them to reach him.

Ky accelerated, leaving his men behind, just in case the soldier got a lucky swing at them, reaching the man a good ten steps ahead of Carus. The soldier pulled up his shield, half covering his body, his gladius ready to stab out, in the classic Roman fashion.

Ky didn’t try anything fancy. They were close to the palace and he could hear the noise of fighting. The man stabbed out, his timing good, and nearly lost his sword as it bounced against Ky’s shield, not that it mattered. Ky’s own sword shot out with inhuman force, tearing through the layers of wood, the force pressing the shield into the man. Ky’s sword punched through the metal armor, its tip exploding out his back. Ky hadn’t been able to see the man’s body, but Sophus had been able to project targeting based on the limbs it could see and his aim was true, as Ky’s sword obliterated the soldier’s heart on its way through his body.

The poor man was dead before his body hit the ground, by which point Ky was already several feet away, having hardly broken stride. His men had seen Ky work before and didn’t slow down either, other than to step around the body as they struggled to keep up with their commander. They were on the north-south thoroughfare through the city, which made a sharp turn right before the palace, part of the original planning that was meant to slow down an attacking force if they got through the outer walls.

As soon as they turned the corner, Ky could see the swell of men pushing into the palace, which looked to be surrounded, at least on the three sides he could see. Ky hoped this meant that the commander had been smart and abandoned the rest of the buildings, holding up in the center of the palace and forum. It had also been designed to be defensible, in case an enemy had gotten to the center of town, with twisting, narrow hallways that lead to the forum in the center. That allowed an open area for the defenders to retreat to, creating bottlenecks from the two entry points on either side. A larger attacking force would lose their advantage of numbers thanks to the way the Romans fought, forming a shield wall and pressing against the attacker. While that probably wouldn’t save them, since any force that got this far into the city would eventually win through simple attrition, the designers had apparently decided they’d settle for extracting a large body count from their enemy before the city fully fell.

In this case though, it might save the Emperor, if Ky could get to him and Lucilla in time. The attacking Romans were paying attention, however, and weren’t going to make it easy. A dozen men turned and broke off from the mob of soldiers pressing into the palace entrance, formed up into a battle line, and began a steady approach.

Carus and his men did not have the tall Roman shields, since they were expected to be bodyguards, not soldiers. Ky didn’t have time to face off against the Romans in small pockets while they continued trying to get through the palace.

Reaching down, Ky activated his sidearm. He didn’t want to use its precious ammunition and had been holding off using it even when things were desperate, such as his attack on Talogren’s village, but he had no choice now. He could see the men outside the palace slowly making their way inside, which meant they were pressing back the defenders.

Ky also had to be careful with its use since its super-heated gases could easily tear down parts of the palace after passing through soldiers. It would be a cruel irony to defeat the attackers by crushing the defenders inside.

Ky fired twice, Sophus calculating the angles well. The first shot ripped through four of the Romans marching towards them and tore a swath through the Romans advancing towards the palace, killing twenty by his count before taking out a corner of one of the nearby buildings and dissipating. The second shot left the weapon less than a second later in a similar arc down the other side of the palace, killing five more of the approaching men and another fourteen behind them, closer to the complex.

The remaining three men did the smart thing as Ky turned his weapon towards them. They may not know anything about the technology he was using, but they’d seen the small box in his hand melt their friends twice, and had figured out that it destroyed what it pointed at.

The men threw their weapons to the side and ran.

“Let them go,” Ky said when one of Carus’s men tried to follow. “We need to get into the palace.”

The soldiers that had been coming in from either side, having circled around the palace, had ground to a halt after seeing the destruction Ky’s two blasts had caused. Some ran, others just stood still, staring at melted piles of metal and bone. That level of destruction, especially how quickly it happened, was beyond anything they’d experienced, just like it had been for the Carthaginians at the swamps.

Ky didn’t dare use it again, still hoarding the precious remaining ammunition for the coming fight with the Carthaginians, but the two shots had been enough to slow the flood of soldiers around the building. The soldiers close to them, at the back of the crowd pushing to get inside the palace, had turned at the tearing sound of Ky’s weapon and the shouts of their dying and mortally wounded comrades, but were locked in place by shock, the same as the men closer to the dead rebels.

They fell easily under Ky and his lictores’ swords. Ky had waded halfway into the massed soldiers before he started getting real resistance, with soldiers desperately trying, and failing, to harm him. Had he been alone, Ky would have gone through them like a buzz saw, but he was slowed trying to block the blows directed at Carus and his two men. For a moment, Ky thought he might be successful in getting through the line of soldiers, having pushed almost to the entrance of the narrow hallway being defended by the Emperor’s guards.

Then tragedy struck. The men outside had begun to move again, closing in behind them. Iovinus, the man furthest back, fell to a gladius through his side as he tried to defend against three attackers from different directions. Ky reached out and pulled Carus and then Pacatianus behind him, changing places with them, reasoning they would have a better time against men fighting in two directions than trying to keep from being flanked on all sides.

“Switch. Fight through to the Emperor. I will follow behind.”

“Consul,” Carus shouted, starting to argue.

“Don’t argue. Get to the Emperor. I am right behind you.”

By then Carus was fighting off two soldiers and couldn’t respond. The floor was slick with spilled blood and hard to traverse without tripping over the quickly piling bodies. They were brave, Ky had to give them that, as men fell one after another under his sword. Occasionally he would turn around, letting his shield take the brunt of the attacks as he closed the distance between himself and Carus. Carus and Pacatianus had found shields from fallen men and were using them to slowly push back the men between themselves and the Emperor’s guards, the two-person abreast formation working to their advantage.

Carus was still doing well, but Pacatianus was limping badly, blood trickling down his leg from a deep gash just below the edge of the armored skirt that covered the Romans from their waist to a few inches above the knees.

“Consul, I can see some of the praetorians,” Carus called over his shoulder.

Ky glanced back quickly to assess the situation. Carus was right. They had eight rebels caught between them, in four groups of two, with the rear two facing Carus. Unfortunately, the second pair closest to the praetorians had the short spears the Romans were fond of, allowing them to stab over while the soldiers in front of them stabbed low from the hip. The two angles made it hard for the praetorians to defend against, which is why the Romans had devised that as a standard method of attack in the first place.

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