I flew off towards the senate building, anger clouding my thoughts. Pushing me towards making a suboptimal decision.
What I should do is sit down with Ocean, Night, Neptune, Artemis, and a dozen other people whose advice and counsel I trusted. Hammer out a plan, figure out the best levers to push and pull with. Get the optimal plan of attack, figure out other things I could offer to sweeten the deal. Try to work out the emperor’s bottom line, and wring every last concession out of him.
That was the calm, rational part of me, who was not currently in control. That wasn’t carrying two kids, practically babies.
I’d lived in Remus for practically two decades. I’d been putting up with this second-class citizen nonsense the entire time. Practically since the day I first left my house, I’d gotten smacked in the face by it.
I was so tired of it all, and so angry. I finally had a chance to do something about it, and the tight lid I kept on all that anger was loose, and my rage was bubbling over.
No more. No weeks of discussion. No endless meetings to work out details. No intelligence reports dug up by Ocean. No stacks of scrolls about each senator, and what they liked and disliked, and how receptive they’d be to the proposal. No coalition building.
What difference would it make? The only thing I could think of was figuring out the emperor’s bottom line, and exactly how much we could wring out of him. If I just went directly, now, I might end up paying a little more than I intended to. I might not get every last possible concession, I might not be able to get every coin possible. I might leave some things on the table.
Things that I could always come back later to sort out. Not only was Emperor Augustus not the only game in town, but he’d need me again in, oh, 250 years or so.
It’d be a little scary if he remained emperor the entire time though… maybe it’d be better to work with his heir? Although…
I shook my head. I was getting into politics, and I desperately wanted to avoid the type of treacherous, complicated politics that I was currently thinking over.
At the same time, I’d been trained as a Ranger. Whenever possible, we tried to have a plan of attack for a problem. I did have something of a plan. Go to Augustus, meet with him, make my pitch, see what he said. If he said yes, great. If he said no, I’d try again another day, from another angle.
I’d listened to enough boring stories from dad about how the Senate worked to think my plan was vaguely normal. Meet, chat, pitch, then walk away and talk again later.
Seemed like a solid plan. A bit flimsy, but how much more could it need?
It only took about ten minutes at my flying speed to get from the slums to the senate. Not nearly enough time to cool off, but flying?
Ah, flying in the warm setting sun was the best. A warm breeze, beautiful clouds, it was enough for me to regain a bit of control over myself. The kids were quiet, seemingly enjoying the novelty. The shock of the last few minutes, their lives being turned upside down, hadn’t hit them yet.
I made myself a promise. If it looked like things were going terribly. If it looked like Augustus wouldn’t agree to what I was asking for. I’d apologize, walk away, and talk with everyone under the sun and moons to get a better plan of action, then try again. It’d be my way or the highway.
I quickly dropped the two kids off at home. Mom was around. I only stopped briefly.
“Claudia and Secondus.” I quickly named them, and bless mom, she seemed to grasp what was going on in an instant. Me showing up in tears with two kids, also in tears?
Mom had a huge heart.
“Of course.” She said. “Let’s have dinner? Autumn swung by! It would be nice to eat all together.”
I shook my head, then paused a moment.
“I can’t stay for dinner, but I do want to talk with Autumn.”
A few moments later, Autumn and I were in a room.
“Hey, you looked pretty mad this morning. I brought you some mangos to cheer you up!” Autumn gestured to her offering, and a small smile cracked through my foul mood.
“Ah, thanks. Hey, I’ve got a negotiation I need to head to. Wanna come?”
“Sure!” Autumn was practically jumping up and down with excitement. “Where? And what? Give me the details.”
I hesitated a moment, then mentally berated myself. She needed to know.
I’d had the question for ages. How did I make large-scale changes to society?
The answer was - I couldn’t. Not alone. I needed the support of thousands, tens of thousands of people, all on the same page. All working towards the same goal, in the same place. A strong network of communication and support, along with hundreds of other things that I frankly had no idea about because my social skills were terrible. I actively worked on them, but something of the scale I was thinking about?
Entirely out of my hands.
Now, I could try to hire people to help out, but there was a difference between a true believer, and someone trying to make a living. There was also the issue of time, and resistance to the question.
I had a shortcut though. Emperor Augustus had everything needed to make large, sweeping changes.
“Trading my Immortality skills to the emperor, in exchange for an abolition of slavery and equal rights for women.”
Autumn’s eyes were practically bulging out of her head by the end of it, and she was shaking her head.
“No. No no no nope. I’m not going to that. Just telling you ‘no’ got me four levels. Like, yeah, I’d negotiate better than you. A wet noodle would negotiate better than you. But if I come along, there’s no WAY it’s not taken as a huge insult, and that hurts you waaaaaaaaay more than it can help you.”
I opened my mouth, then closed it.
I hated to say it, but Autumn knew so much more than me about this stuff. If she said it was a bad idea? It was probably a bad idea.
It’d be like Kallisto arguing with me about medicine. I knew my stuff by the time I was 16, I had to trust that Autumn knew the same.
“Plus, this is more politics than merchanting. I’d be out of my depths, and I know it.” Autumn firmly added in.
“Right. Give me all the advice you can anyways.” I asked her.
Autumn gave me a look.
“Give me the most useful advice you can.”
“Rule 8. Everything is give and take.” Autumn promptly rattled off. “Rule 5. Never accept the first offer. Rule 7. Haggling increases profits, but if you haggle too long, you can cause the entire deal to fall through.”
She thought a bit more.
“There are some political rules, but mostly the rules are about money. You’re basically bartering, with high stakes. I’d say remember Rule 3 - not everything can be bought with money - but you’re already there. At the same time, Rule 3 also says that not everything is for sale. If something’s impossible? Don’t push it, back off, and consider if you need a concession for backing off.” Autumn said. “But sometimes, it’s better not to ask for a concession if you asked for something really impossible, it makes you look unreasonable.”
That made a tortured sort of sense. I made mental notes.
“Any last words of wisdom?”
Autumn looked thoughtful.
“Rule 21. The longer the negotiations, the worse it’ll be.” She finally settled on. “That rule’s from the merchant’s point of view though. I’m not sure if you’re a customer, a merchant, or what. Like, politics, not sales, so hard to say if it applies. If it’s going terribly, just walk away for another day. But only if it’s a disaster.”
“Alright, thanks beanpole!” I grinned, feeling fortified.
“No worries! This means you’ll be letting me sell your Immortality, right?”
“Sure. Find me someone with a million rods, and we’ll talk.”
Autumn went pale, and staggered back. She tried to sit down, and missed the low sofa entirely, landing hard on her butt.
“A million rods.” She whispered, getting a far-off look in her eyes.
Well, shoot. I broke my apprentice.
Ah well, she’d recover… eventually. I didn’t know what the proper treatment for ‘severe overwhelming greed’ was, but I figured time would fix it.
I’d check in later.
I left, going through the house.
“Dinner?” Mom asked, and I shook my head.
“Meeting.” I said, intending to take off.
“BRRRRRRPT!” A familiar shriek interrupted my leaving. I considered just going anyways, but no.
That’d be too mean to poor Auri, who didn’t deserve it. Plus, I was in desperate need of some Auri-therapy.
“Auri! How’s it going!”
“Brrrrpt! BRRRRPT! Brrrrrrpt…” Auri wailed at me, letting me know how HARSH Plato was. She needed to THINK! He made her fix her mistakes! It was silly! She didn’t need to know multiplication! What was with this philosophy thing!? It was soooo boring! She could be burning things!
“Young lady. Our lessons are not yet over.” Plato’s voice came from a few rooms down.
“It’s good for you.”
“Listen, I’ll let you a secret.”
“The more you know, the better skills you get.”
“Which means you get to burn bigger, better, and more.”
“YEAH! I promise! It’s how my skills are so good! Here, have a drink.” I grabbed one of the now omni-present amphoras of fruit juice, and offered it to Auri, who greedily drank.
With a fierce warcry, a motivated Auri blitzed back to where Plato was.
I grinned. That was just what my poor head needed to clear somewhat. I left the house, blasting back off into the sky.
Augustus wanted [The Stars Never Fade]. He would probably be ok with a bit of back-and-forth. I was also meeting him with a counter-offer soon after, so it wasn’t like I’d let him cool his heels for ages.
I was nowhere near as calm and composed as I could be, in spite of the Auri-therapy, but I had reined in my anger enough that I didn’t barge in through the Senate windows, screaming demands. Instead, my rational side harnessed my anger, and like a particularly showy [Gladiator] throwing around red flags to distract and redirect an enraged dinosaur, it was simply redirecting me towards courses of action more likely to succeed.
The guards saluted as I landed and approached the doors. Being a recognized Sentinel, being a member of the established government, had its perks and privileges.
But I only had those perks and privileges. I didn’t have-
I mentally slapped myself to focus.
Unfortunately, inside the halls of the Senate, everyone thought they were demigods, and that all hallways should be cleared for them. Somehow made the traffic even worse than a normal street, in spite of having half the people.
I felt a minor flush of embarrassment, as I realized slowing down might’ve saved me from an incredibly embarrassing situation.
It was late. The sun was setting.
What if Augustus wasn’t there? Barging in would’ve gone terribly.
I didn’t let that slow my stride as I twisted and weaved through the hallways, ignoring one [Scribe] who mistook me for a guard and tried to get me to run an errand for him.
I suppose if I didn’t like the direction the negotiations were going, that I could use the late hour as an excuse to bail. I added it to my plan.
I did pause for a moment at the doors of the Senate proper though, a full squad of Praetorian guards protecting the entrance.
Regardless of our level differences, regardless of my Sentinel status, if I tried to barge straight in they’d do what they could to stop me. It’d be a hopeless fight, but there was no need. Not when there were easier ways.
“Sentinel Dawn for Emperor Augustus.” I stiffly reported, and the guards made way for me.