Progeny II by Accalia

The wind in the arena lifted a few rose petals and brought them up to swirl around Commodus' legs, drifting to land at his feet. Droplets of blood rolled down his neck, the front of his armor, sliding off to drip next to the flowers, matching in color.

The mob was silent.

Lucilla saw her brother's hand lift, touch his neck, bring it away sticky with crimson blood as his dark gaze dropped to his fingers. When he lifted his eyes, they locked with hers, and she shivered at the unmasked turmoil and - what was it, madness? rage? confusion? - that blazed in his stare. She tore her eyes away, instinctively reaching back to keep Lucius from coming forward.

// Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back. //

He smiled.

After a moment of just the strange smile, he reached both hands up to rub tiredly at his face, looking for all the world like a weary child. But when his hands went back to lie limply at his sides, a streak of red blood smeared its way brazenly across his face, stretching from temple to chin. Lucilla gasped, her hands flying to her mouth, and then behind her to keep Lucius back. Gracchus, to his credit, made no move or noise of revulsion, but the horror that every had to have been feeling at that instant reflected clearly in his face.

"Brother, you need to wash your face," Lucilla spoke first, as one would speak to an upset child: very gently, softly, soothingly. She stepped forward, one hand lifted in hopes of appeasing Commodus.

Commodus stared at her hand for a moment, expressionless. His gaze lifted to meet Lucilla's again, holding it there for a long moment, but this time, it was he who broke away. He turned, face now hard and cold, looking where Maximus' body lay.

// Am I not merciful? //

He heard a questioning murmur rise from the crowd; it went ignored, as his eyes fixed on the man who had plagued him so - the man who was finally dead. "Without you, they will love me," he whispered, voice a bare hiss directed to the unmoving body that had once been a general, a slave, a gladiator. "This is the story's ending. And it was a famous death, wasn't it? Striking story, indeed."

Lucilla, Gracchus, and the others watched as silently as the mob, each looking disturbed to see the Emperor talk to a corpse. And still he rambled on, attention focused solely on Maximus, as if by taunting him even in death he could somehow torture the former general. The drop of blood ran ominously down the armor, falling to land next to Maximus, fading into the surrounding sand. "You failed even to avenge your family," Commodus sneered, heedless of the sanguine droplets. Again, he whispered the same as he had told Maximus in the arena before. "Your son, squealing like a girl as he was nailed to the cross... And your wife, moaning like a whore, as they ravaged her... again, and again, and again." The cruelty of the words seemed to fuel him on. "I wonder... How shall your death be recorded with theirs?" The sneer twisted malevolently, distorting the streak of blood on his face to a maliciously frightening sight.

With that, he spat in derisive contempt at Maximus' body, missing in his vindictive spite and not realizing it before turning and stalking past the Praetorians, past the freed slaves, past his sister, and out of the arena.

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