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At State Expense

The Emperor's secluded island palace was a grand labyrinth connected by marble corridors gently lit by evenly spaced rows of candles. Antonious the master of the imperial treasury was being escorted by a silent guard of soldiers armor molded in silver and trimmed with gold. They walked in step, the rhythmic echo of their footsteps blended with faint moans of lust and sudden squeals of pain that emanated from the walls.
Inside the Emperor's depraved sanctuary, there was no restraint on any of his impulses no matter how debased and cruel. In all the Empire this is where his rule was truly absolute, and the master of the house subjected all inside to pleasures and torments unmatched by anything outside those walls. Antonious dreaded this place.
The palace guards didn’t lead Antonious to a grand hall for his audience with the Emperor but to a small room. The ruler didn’t sit on a throne. Instead, he sat cross-legged on the floor at the head of a short-legged table covered with a decadent feast. The old man's table was surrounded by children who hungrily devoured the food.
Antonious greeted the Emperor with the customary bow.
“Ah, my master of the treasury,” the Emperor's smile flashed a row of blacked teeth from his wrinkled face.
“Wise Augustus I am afraid-
The decrepit Emperor banged his fist on the table with surprising force making all the children jolt with fear.
“Rise and pay your respects to the master of the treasury you urchins!” The old man growled.  “Forgive me. They don’t have much experience behaving around nobility such as yourself,” the Emperor explained. “Once my little fruits have sufficiently ripened. I'm going to consume their youthful essence and infuse their blood with my own."
Antonious ignored the implications of that last statement and started again. “The treasury is nearly empty,” Antonious said curtly. “There are no more funds for the campaign in the east.”
The Emporer scratched the white whiskers on his chin in contemplation.
“You're the master of the Treasury think of something to tax.” He said dismissively.
“There is already unrest in the southern provinces, and the garrisons are too weak to put down a general insurrection.”
Antonious’s warning petered out when he noticed the Emperor's vacant eyes leering at the child sitting closest to him.
The aristocratic Antonious finally became impatient enough to disregard protocol. “The state is bankrupt!” he blurted.
“If the issue of coin is so pressing, then I will do my duty as master of state and start looking where expenses might be curtailed.” the geriatric Emperor muttered.
Antonious had no words. He didn’t need to though. The clanking sound of armor was reverberating in the hallway. The Emperor's ears seemed to perk up like a scared animal.
“Not the general,” he whispered.
The mighty form of General Thrax filled the doorway. The imposing General adorned in gleaming armor far more ostentatious than anything else Antonious had ever seen paid no attention to the imperial functionary. Antonious jumped out of the way as the General marched up and cast his hulking shadow across the Emporer's tiny table.
“Oh, mighty Ceaser,” Thrax said with a half-hearted bow. “I’ve come to request your audience on the matter of bonuses for the legions under my command.”
The octogenarian Emporer was visibly trembling in his purple toga. He glanced over to Antonious.
“General,” the Emporer said with a shaky voice. “The master of the imperial treasury has just informed me there are no available funds at the moment.”
Thrax sighed “That’s unfortunate. Hopefully, this has no effect on morale and therefore on the loyalty of the soldiers. Well, you’re a descendant of Venus. I’m sure fortune shines favorably on you.”
The elderly man's jaw fell open. He was silent for a moment before clenching his teeth and looking back over to Antonius.
“Do whatever you have to do to find more coin for our fighting legions!” He snarled.
“Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention General. The empire values its soldiers above all else.

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