Praetorian Series [4] All Roads Lead to Rome

 

 

All Roads Lead to Rome

Praetorian
Series Book IV

 

 

By Edward Crichton

 

 

 

Copyright 2014

 

This ebook is licensed for your enjoyment and is not to be shared, reproduced, resold, or altered in any way.  The author thanks you for respecting his intellectual property.

 

 

 

Acknowledgments

 

Thanks to Amanda, George, Michelle, and Teresa for helping me put this monster together.

 

 

Books by Edward Crichton

 

 

The Praetorian Series

The Last Roman (Book I)

To Crown a Caesar (Book II)

A Hunter and His Legion (Book III)

All Roads Lead to Rome (Book IV)

 

 

Starfarer

Rendezvous with Destiny

A War with Oneself

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For My Son

Forward

 

If you can’t wait to dive into the story, feel free to skip this section completely or return to it when you’re finished.  But just a quick note before you go.  If you like maps when reading books, feel free to search for one of Ancient Rome on the internet.  Anything with the city’s hills and more notable landmarks should serve you just fine.  Besides that, there’s nothing of interest in this section that pertains to the story itself, nor any hidden secrets, insights, or bits of enlightenment.  All you will find here is a simple thank you from an author who can’t thank the lot of you enough.

So feel free to jump ahead to the good stuff if you want.

I’ll wait.

Back yet?  Never left?  Good.

So let’s start at the beginning.

I first wrote
The Last Roman
in 2007, when I was still in my last year of college.  I’d written it based off of a few pages I’d written a few years earlier in the sole
(emphasis on
sole
) writing course I ever took, my very first attempt at “writing”, something about Secret Service agents fighting aliens, featuring a female sniper and a protagonist named Dexter Something who had an interest in history. 

No joke.

That’s about all I remember of that first horrible failure at being creative with the written word, but, somehow,
The Last Roman
grew out of it, and I immediately knew that it was destined for box office gold – ah, the blissful ignorance of youth…

I was in college.  I was young and dumb and brash and did I mention dumb?  The roughness of that youth is still quite evident in the words of that first book, the one I assume all you brave souls have already read – everything from its story, to its characterization, to its prose.  I like to think that I’ve improved as a writer since then, although as any parent would tell you, raising a child seems to in fact make you dumber, so I’m honestly not sure whether I’ve improved at all or regressed completely since the birth of my son.

I guess that will be for you to judge in the days to come.

I’m not trying to make excuses, but simply outline, quite broadly, how far my life has taken me in just seven years.  It’s been a bumpy ride, although most of it was for the best.  Life has a tendency to throw all kinds of curve balls at us as we progress through its vagaries, and, believe me, if you’d told me seven years ago when I was writing
The Last Roman
to impress a girl that I’d never, not once, date, that my life would be anything like it is today, I’d have slapped you.

But here I am.

And here
you
are, as well.

If you’ve made it this far, I assume you’ve already read the previous three books in this series (and you really should if you haven’t already).  That, in of itself, amazes me.  Illusions of stardom wore off quite quickly in the months that followed my unsuccessful attempts to publish
The Last Roman
through traditional means seven years ago, and by the time I finally relented to self-publishing in 2011, I had little hope that it would amount to anything.  But I was wrong.  While I have most certainly
not
become a Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling, my little (okay, they’re actually quite long) books have found a bit of success.  The fact that you people are reading the
fourth
book in my series is astounding to me, and I can’t thank you enough for sticking with me this far.

I never expected any of this.

That said, I know the ending to
A Hunter and His Legion
might have hurt a little bit.  Believe me, I know.  Because it hurt me too.  A lot.  Especially having to write it while my wife was pregnant.  But it was only the third part of a four part series.  It wasn’t the end.  There is, quite obviously, more to come.  I won’t make any promises concerning this book, solely because I want to avoid spoilers, but I still want to thank you personally, from the very bottom of my heart, for supporting me and these characters.  Writing this final book in this series that I, myself, have come to love so much, was a real struggle, so thank you so very much for all your support.  All of your emails and tweets and Facebook posts were (and are) very much appreciated, because each and every one gave me the inspiration and drive to carry on… which isn’t exactly easy when trying to write in between a few hour long naps (if I’m lucky) every day.

So, read on, Faithful Readers, and enjoy.

See you on the other side.

What Came Before…

 

In the year 2021, as the world was engulfed in the fires of war, US Navy SEAL Jacob Hunter transferred his service to a clandestine Special Operations team based out of the Vatican.  Comprised of international operators from various backgrounds, the team was tasked with the elimination of external threats to the pope… or so they thought.

During their first operation, Jacob and his team discovered an odd spherical object of a very curious nature.  In the midst of battle, Jacob unknowingly came into contact with this orb, accidently activating a powerful mechanism that hurled his team through time and space.  Finding themselves in Ancient Rome during the age of Caligula, Jacob and his comrades were faced with an unbelievable predicament: they were trapped in the past.

Unable to return home, the team was forced to deal with the denizens of the Roman Empire, interacting with many notable historical figures including Caligula, Claudius, the Roman general Servius Galba, and Caligula’s beautiful and conniving sister, Agrippina the Younger.  Jacob recognized the destructive potential of dealing with these individuals, and quickly realized that they were in fact altering past events due to their influence.  Jacob sought to maintain history’s status quo, but events unraveled too quickly for him to control.

History had changed, a Caesar was deposed, and only through a devastating battle that had nearly taken from him the woman he’d come to love, Helena, was the crisis averted.  Caligula, who wasn’t nearly as insane as history remembered, was restored to power, but his reign was short lived when he was murdered by his sister, Agrippina, who inherited the mantle of empress.  Jacob, under suspicion for the murder, was forced to flee Rome and live in exile with Helena and his closest friend, Johnathon Santino.

Agrippina, it seemed, was destined to become their primary adversary.

Years passed on the run from authorities, but Jacob was simply biding his time.  Hoping to replace Agrippina with Vespasian, a man destined to become emperor himself one day, Jacob, Helena, and Santino attempt to kidnap her son, Nero, for use as leverage against her.  However, the operation was a failure, and Jacob was finally reunited with the blue orb, the time travel device that had brought him to Ancient Rome to begin with, which is also when he began to sense its destructive potential.  It was not fully understood at the time by anyone, least of all Jacob, but the orb was dangerous, not just because of its ability to haphazardly travel through time, but because it had the means to control those who wielded it.  With enough exposure, it could control an individual’s mind and bend it for evil intent.

But Jacob was not yet destined for such devastation.

Not yet, at least.

Upon the failure of their mission, Jacob and his friends fled to Byzantium, where they were reacquainted with Gaius and Marcus, old friends who were members of the Praetorian Guard, tasked with Agrippina’s protection, along with members of their original team who had dispersed years earlier: Jeanne Bordeaux, James Wang, and Vincent, a man who Jacob thought the world of.

Knowing they had no way to combat Agrippina and her hordes of Praetorians alone, despite all their advanced weaponry and tactics, Jacob concocted a plan to utilize a historical feud between Rome and Judea to draw Agrippina, and thus the orb, to them.  A massive rebellion soon occurred there, which led to the fracturing of the Roman Empire, as many other rebellions flared up throughout the empire.

But their plan succeeded.

Agrippina had come with her orbs, of which there were now two, but in an assault planned to capture her, Jacob and his team found themselves captured in turn.  All seemed lost until a trick of fate intervened.  Jacob, who had never truly understood how the orb actually worked, managed to use it again and send himself, alone, into the past, where he could affect positive change on the outcome of the mission.  Successfully able to alter the timeline and save his friends, he stumbled across another unanticipated side effect.

His influence over the events of that day had created a completely new timeline, one with not only a changed present, but a changed future.  In the wake of battle, Jacob once again activated the orb, but instead of traveling to the future, he brought another group of individuals into the past.  This group was comprised of fellow soldiers, a former friend from his time as a Navy SEAL named Paul Archer, and his very own sister, Diana “Artie” Hunter – who, like Jacob, had been essential in activating the orb.

But Diana and Archer were not exactly who he thought they were.  They were from an alternate timeline.  They were from a parallel reality, similar in nature to his own, but different because of his meddling in the past.  These newcomers had come to aid Jacob and his friends simply because they hoped to attain the means to save their own society, which was grim and bleak. 

Not fully understanding the implications of what he’d done, Jacob and his friends, both new and old, realized that to understand the orb and its power, they needed to seek out someone who knew more about it.  They had but one clue: a note from Marcus Varus, the Roman who Jacob had originally connected with through the orb, the man who had unintentionally aided in their arrival in Rome.  A scholar, he’d sought out new information pertaining to the orb’s origins, knowing only that the orb was somehow connected with Rome’s founders, Romulus and Remus, and an ancient Druid thought to have created the orb.  In his note, Varus ordered Jacob to Britain, but not before they went to the Library of Alexandria, where more information awaited him.

Following Varus’ instructions, Jacob and his team set out for Alexandria aboard ships laden with legionnaires, a “gift” from Vespasian, himself, who had commissioned Jacob as a general in the Roman legions, tasking him with the pacification of Britain.  Jacob had accepted the commission and had set out for Alexandria, but along the way, the blue orb had found its way back into Jacob’s possession once again.  He’d been trying to keep his distance from the orb, having felt its negative influence already beginning to seep inside his head since their time in Judea.  Unfortunately, he was no longer able to resist it.  Unbeknownst to Jacob, the orb already had its foothold in his mind, and was beginning the slow, relentless process of subverting it.

Jacob had been drugged, and he had grown addicted to a substance he could no longer deny and could in no way combat as it slowly, unknowingly, destroyed his mind.

Having successfully found the information they needed in Alexandria, Jacob and his team set out for the Isle of Mona, modern day Anglesey, Wales.  Landing in Britain near modern day London, Jacob, his team, and a reconnaissance force of legionnaires set out for Anglesey, where they encountered the British warrior-queen, Boudicca, a figure history remembers for her defiant role against Roman occupation, but who was then no older than twenty years of age.  She aids them in their journey through Anglesey, where they come upon a settlement of Druids.  They tell Jacob he must continue his journey north, but Jacob, the darkness of the orb fully in control of him now, orders his legionnaires to burn the village to the ground and murder its inhabitants.  The brutal act ostracizes him completely from his friends, including his beloved Helena, now pregnant with their child.  Their loss only exacerbates the negative, evil energy permeating his very soul.

Alone, depressed, angry, and evil, Jacob leads his legionnaires further north, and his team follows, watching him intently.  It isn’t long, however, before Jacob catches up with another Roman expeditionary force deep in the heart of Ancient Britain, one led by none other than Agrippina, herself, searching for the very same information Jacob seeks.  What’s more, she had already found something, and leads Jacob – temporarily recovered from his addiction to the orb – to a cottage in the middle of nowhere.

Belying the laws of physics in its mere presentation, only Jacob seems capable of entering the structure.  When he does, he comes face to face with a man possessing unimaginable power and influence.  Able to read Jacob’s mind, the man takes on the guise and persona of the Arthurian figure, Merlin – or is, in fact, the actual Merlin legend tells of.  Jacob never fully understands, but learns from Merlin that there is another orb, a red orb, and when joined with the blue orb Jacob already possess, has the ability to take Jacob and his friends home.

Merlin explains that it is hidden back in Rome, and tasks Jacob with finding it.

With renewed purpose, Jacob returns to his friends, but a month has passed since Jacob first set foot in the cottage.  Drained, weakened, and confused, Jacob returns to Helena, only to learn how unfavorably her pregnancy has progressed, the stress of Jacob’s recent possession and lack of proper medical care rendering her bedridden.  But his return from both Merlin’s cottage and his bout with insanity strengthens her, and all seems well.

However, fate has never been kind to them, and it isn’t long before the entirety of Rome’s forces in the north are attacked by natives.  Jacob, fighting while exhausted and nearly broken on the front lines, is suddenly recalled to Helena, who has taken a turn for the worse.  He returns to her side only to find her close to death, having already delivered their son… stillborn.

Nearly at the end of his wits and with no other option left to him, Jacob seeks out Merlin, demanding aid.

Amazingly, aid is given and Helena is saved, but the emotional and physical wounds Jacob has had to endure are too much for him.  No longer willing to place anyone else in danger, and his mind and soul weakened due the events of the day and the past month spent in Merlin’s care, Jacob seeks out the blue orb.  Its draw on him had never truly dissipated, and broken and beaten as he was, he has no other option but to take it and draw strength from its empowering energy, at the expense of his logical, empathetic mind.

Jacob dooms himself to keep those he loves safe, his mind too broken to think through his decision rationally.  Employing Agrippina’s aid, Jacob prepares to leave his friends behind and seek out the red orb alone.  Once again possessed by the blue orb, Jacob is confronted by Archer as he attempts to leave, but soon after, in a bout of confusion brought on by the orb’s influence, Jacob unwittingly murders Vincent when his mentor and father figure tries to help him.  Terrified at what he’d just done, the raw emotion of the act almost enough to break through the orb’s hold over him, Jacob is then unable to stop Agrippina from stabbing Santino when he too tries to apprehend them.

With absolutely nothing left, his unfortunate and unintentional acts having destroyed what little was left of the man who had once been Jacob Hunter, the orb was now in complete control. Jacob and Agrippina set out for Rome moments later while Jacob’s sister, Diana, cradles a wounded Santino in her arms and tries to make sense of what just happened, perhaps the only one left capable of picking up the broken pieces left behind by Jacob…

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