I strode in, seeing that Emperor Augustus was still in his low chair in the middle of the Senate, a dozen advisors surrounding him, with a few runners hanging on a respectful distance away.
They’d clearly figured out that this was the place to be for high priority - read, expensive - messages.
Augustus himself was in the middle of a conversation with a few people, a wolfhound curled at his feet. Never seen a dog here before, but the emperor could do what he wanted. I was oh so tempted to just barge in, and start listing off my demands.
Except… wouldn’t that make me look desperate? And rude? And he’d totally know I was super desperate. Although with his social skills, he could probably figure it out anyways.
Ah well. He wasn’t exactly wrong, but three minutes wasn’t going to dramatically change the course of things.
Even if Augustus changed things right now, it’d be at least a day or so before anything got implemented, at top speed.
“Sentinel Dawn! Come, come, I’ve been eager to talk with you. Meet Tyson, my loyal dog. Not quite the same as your Auri, but ah, he’s been with me loyally for decades.” Emperor Augustus was all smiles, beckoning me closer.
Time to try and be personable and charming. And polite.
“Emperor! Thank you for meeting with me. How’s-”
Wait shit I already asked about his daughter and I don’t know any of his other family members and asking about his dog he just introduced is dumb gods damnit all!
“-things going?” I stuttered and lamely recovered.
“Most excellent! I take it you’ve come with your counter offer?”
“Yes, although, are you sure you want to negotiate here?” I asked, gesturing around. There were so many hangers-on.
“I can understand wanting to keep your skill private.” Emperor Augustus snapped his fingers, and with only some muttering, and a bit of prodding from the guards, the room was mostly cleared.
Just me, Augustus, a dozen of his advisors, and a handful of guards.
If my skill was known by less than 5,000 people at this point, I’d eat my tunic. Without washing it.
“You can leave now.” He called out to the guards. “If Dawn wanted to harm me, I doubt any of you could stop her.”
The guards left, and he winked at me.
“Plus you’re Oathbound.”
Yeah, I was never telling anyone my skills ever again. I should go into hiding for a few hundred years, get Night to change my title, and try again.
He clapped his hands.
“You’ve come with a counter-offer! That’s fantastic, although I wouldn’t begrudge you having your friends help out. Anyways, what would you like?”
“Fairly simple. You can make some legal changes, yeah?”
“For you? Naturally, within reason. I’m not going to make you Empress, although I could be talked into adding your father to the Triumvirate.”
“I’d like slavery to be abolished, and I’d like women to be granted the exact same rights as men under the law.” In for a coin, in for a rod, might as well make my big ask.
The advisors muttered to each other in the background, as Augustus’s forehead wrinkled in thought.
After reaching some sort of consensus, one of the advisors leaned forward to Augustus, and whispered in his ear. Augustus slowly nodded, as the dude went on for some time.
“Let’s tackle this one point at a time. For the abolition of slavery - entirely impossible.” He said. I opened my mouth in outrage, but he held up his hand.
“Agamemnon? Would you care to explain?”
The advisor in question half-bowed to Augustus, and took a deep breath.
“I’m a [Republic Economist]. Slavery, or to be more technical, the people working as slaves, currently forms the backbone of Remus. I would love to go through a hundred examples, but let me start off with food. Yes, [Farmers] have powerful skills to help work the fields, but at the end of the day, the harvest must be brought in; it must be processed, and shipped to towns. Simply ending slavery would cause most of those field hands to walk away. Why would they stay? Mass starvation would be the result, and that simply scratches the very surface of the issue. We could honestly spend months with dozens of [Scholars] studying the issue to get a full scope of what would happen. The justice system springs to mind as a thorny issue that would require a complete overhaul. That’s all before we get into the massive wealth transfer issue.”
He glanced at another advisor, who tilted his head towards him. Agamemnon shrugged.
“It’s not my area of expertise, but the slave owners would never accept it. Emperor Augustus would be facing rebellion and assassination before the words left his mouth. Almost every member in the Senate, from the senators to the guards and the scribes, own their own slaves. Emperor Augustus’s decree would turn everyone against him, and he’d be lucky to survive the hour. Why, even I might turn against him!”
Augustus turned to give Agamemnon a long stare, who unflinchingly stared back at him.
“Well, I do ask for the best honest advice they can give.” He half-shrugged at me. “Be poor form to do anything besides listen.”
I was trying to process everything the advisor said, while Augustus’s advisors whispered among each other, then to Augustus himself. They had to have some skills for that, such that I couldn’t hear, and I was reminded once again just how freaking COOL magic was.
I hated, with every fiber of my being, that he had a bunch of good points. I’d struggled with it myself, mostly when it came to the justice system. There wasn’t anything else I could do with the bandits. If they were turned over to the guard? Slavery. Otherwise? Kill them when they were trying to kill me, or let them go. I was somewhat aware that it’d need a whole overhaul, but I’d been naive. I’d hoped it was as easy as a few pen strokes here and there to fix the issue.
Like, I’d known slavery was omnipresent in Remus, and basically everything relied on it. I’d still hoped that there was an easy, clean solution, that an all-powerful dictator could make it right, by wielding some political mastery.
Causing hundreds of thousands to potentially starve? Quite a lot of farmers would figure stuff out. They’d need to hire people to work the fields, but they’d work something out. However, not everyone would. Food supply would totter, and the moment a population started to starve was the moment everything got real ugly, real fast.
Hundreds of thousands would die in a poorly done transition… and that’s if there was even any negotiating room.
Then again, with serious legwork, and a few years of planning and studying, it might be possible to fix the issue cleanly.
Might. I’d need to have a few dozen scholars study the issue, and in an ironic twist, the people that would be needed to study the issue would also be the ones to lose something as a result. Misaligned incentives were no good.
They had a second good point.
My old life was coming in handy.
Emperor Augustus was the emperor because people believed he was the emperor. Crucially, it was the people with money, power, and who controlled the army who believed it, and made it so. Ideally, it would be the common man and woman who made it so, but I was under no illusions on that front - it was the army.
Take away everyone’s toys? Tell everyone who surrounded him “time to become much poorer?”
RIP Emperor Augustus’s reign.
Fuck, a quarter of this I could’ve figured out on my own! People liked having slaves. That was kind of obvious. People made money off of slaves. People liked having money, and didn’t like the government coming in and costing them tens of thousands of coins in assets, and more in lost future revenues. And it was country-wide! If I had only talked with more people, instead of letting my anger take the wheel, I could’ve come up with a better request. Instead, now I just looked dumb.
But no, I’d been stupid and let my anger control my actions. At the same time, this needs some sort of resolution now. The sooner, the better. I’d take quick and imperfect, over long and perfect. I wasn’t going to let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good enough’.
Plus, who cared about looking dumb?
This clearly fell under Autumn’s Rule 3. Not everything could be bought with money, and this was clearly part of the corollary - it wasn’t for sale. There was no price, no amount of bartering, begging, or pleading, that could get a complete and total abolition of slavery done tonight, or anytime soon.
I needed to let it go.
I said I’d walk if things were looking bad, but I could still get a win here. The slavery thing sucked, but even if I walked away, I’d need more than a few months of preparation and planning to tackle it. Walking away would accomplish nothing, and my other request was still on the table.
However, if that got watered down? Then it was time to walk.
The big question I had though - did I ask for a concession for Augustus removing it from consideration? Or would that offend him? ‘Yeah, you said no to this thing you consider completely unreasonable, and now I’m going to make demands because you said no to a totally unreasonable thing!’
I decided to keep my eye on the prize.
Augustus must’ve seen the look on my face. I wasn’t exactly a master at hiding my emotions, and he had charisma in spades.
Augustus leaned forward from his advisors.
“I’d like to offer a compromise on the slavery issue.” He said, and I perked right back up, cursing myself as I felt my face lift.
This was why I didn’t play poker.
“Most slave owners are somewhat lax about properly recording their slaves’s efforts against their debt.” He said. “How about we improve enforcement on properly recording a slave’s efforts towards their debt?”
I felt like this was… well, if not a trap, then being sold something I already owned. However, after mulling it over a bit, I couldn’t see an obvious problem.
Like. Isn’t that something that should be done anyways? I hedged, not wanting to commit. Remembering Rule 5 - don’t accept the first offer, and Rule 7 - haggle. I just didn’t have something that I could immediately offer instead. I’d have to think about it. No sense in opening my mouth immediately.
“Possibly acceptable. How about the women’s rights thing?”
They all looked at each other, and a different advisor cleared his throat.
“Leandros, [Lawyer], a pleasure to meet you.” He said. “The premise is acceptable. However. We’d like to make absolutely certain that we’re all reading the same scroll. It’d be the worst type of bad faith to agree, then discover that we had entirely different ideas in mind as to what the law would entail. I have numerous questions on subtle and difficult aspects of the implementation, implications, and the practicalities of how you see it working. Now, naturally, women would be able to obtain citizenship, is that correct?”
“Which means they could vote?”
“Yes.” How was this even a question?
“Which implies they could run for Senate, or to become governor, correct?”
He was frowning.
“Currently, only the head of the household is allowed to run for Senate, or related positions.” I didn’t know that. I’d taken a legal class, but that had been more along the lines of ‘murder is bad’, less so on ‘only the head of household is allowed to run for Senate’. We had been trained to be law enforcement, not lawyers. “How do you see the law working? You’d like a woman to be a senator, but if she is not the head of the household, the secondary law prevents it.”
“Well, why couldn’t she be the head of the household?” I asked. A few of the advisors’ eyes widened, and one of them hit his forehead with the palm of his hand.
“You need some women with good common sense on your council.” I told Augustus, who was eyeing his advisors up with a displeased look.
“I can see that.” He drily agreed. “My wife Sextia provides excellent counsel at home, but I should start bringing her here.”
“What happens if a family can’t agree on who's the head of the household?” One of the advisors asked.
I countered with my own question.
“Why don’t you just let anyone in the house run for Senate?”
“Dynasties.” Leandros promptly answered. “Permits large families to hold too much power.”
“I’m not going to try and sort out the internal workings of the Senate.” I answered. “I don’t have all the answers. You’re the experts here.”
Augustus locked eyes with me and slowly nodded.
“Also, the whole life and death over the family business should be done away with.” I added in. Miserable bloody law.
“Past a certain point.” One of the advisors practically snarled, the veins in his neck bulging.
There was one hell of a story there, and yeah. It twisted my stomach to agree, but I wasn’t in the idyllic “I can save everyone” stage. I’d seen too much, and I was playing in deep political waters that I wasn’t properly equipped for.
There was… a frankly horrible to think about reason why the patriarch of the family had the power, but the root cause of the issue wasn’t one I was able to fix here and now.
“Fine. Past two years of age.” I could only try my best, making things better one small step at a time.
I hadn’t come here to handle that particular issue, and getting it served up to me on a plate like that was nice. A minor extra win, that I hadn’t been looking for but I’d take.
“Drafted by the army?” Another advisor smugly asked, like he’d found some massive gotcha.
Like Artemis wasn’t a shining example of a woman being able to utterly wreck anyone and everyone in a fight.
“Yeah, that’s fine. But at the same time, if a husband is beating or raping his wife, that should be a crime. Marriage doesn’t absolve the husband of it, just like the wife should be charged for plunging a knife into his chest.”
I spat the last bit out a bit more forcefully than I’d intended, revealing that I too had a shit story to tell. Augustus didn’t look thrilled at the implications, and I remembered that he had a daughter who recently married off.
Maybe there was some empathy at work? He didn’t come off as a soulless bastard, just… a product of his time and place. The idea that a wife might not want to have relations with her husband could easily be a new one to him, but once it got in his head, the implications were clear.
The benefits to his own family were clear.
Nobody asked, and one dude did get an elbow in his side as another furious whisper session started.
The discussion continued, the moons rising, briefly flooding the room with crimson light as we continued to discuss the full range and implications of the issues. Tyson remained faithfully at Augustus’s feet, the emperor occasionally reaching down to scratch or pet the loyal hound.
Frankly, I was glad, because they had points and problems I’d never considered. Like, who was the tiebreaker? If a husband was a citizen, did the wife automatically get citizenship as well? What about the reverse? What about losing it?
What about bank accounts? They were already run in the family name.
Children and citizenship? Divorce?
The longer we talked, the more animated Augustus’s advisors became, with Augustus occasionally turning in his chair to huddle up and talk in a circle with them.
Honestly, I was pleased. Augustus’s side was initiating most of this. It would’ve been incredibly easy for them to say “ok, done”, and write a ten word law just to make me happy.
The fact that they were digging into it so deeply, touching on the implications and issues, the other laws that would need to be changed, and all the rest? It told me that they were operating in genuinely good faith, and were somewhat committed to see this through. Made me wonder if there were other pressures and forces at play.
It felt a bit like a trap of some sort, but for the life of me, I couldn’t see it. I was getting what I wanted, how I wanted it, in what looked to be a short timeframe. It’d be easy for Augustus to dismiss us all, and to resume the next day. Instead, we were burning the midnight oil on the Senate floor, solving the issues one at a time. Maybe it was just my own inexperience talking.
I’d like to believe that my arguments were so good, that my logic and the benefits of creating an equal society would be enough for them to pass the changes anyways.
Nah. That’d just be deluding myself.
As time went on, and as Augustus held council, I started to mentally kick myself. There were a dozen other things I could’ve asked for! State-sponsored healing! Everyone getting access to healers, paid for by the government. Bread rations, to help feed the poor and hungry, and give a strong layer of protection against falling into debt and slavery. Education, not just for those who could afford tutors. Orphanages.
…Even as I listed them all out I started to recognize getting them all was something of a pipe dream. Might as well add in gigantic free public libraries to the list. Get some of my own desires met.
Although, the slavery thing had been entirely shot down, and replaced with ‘we’ll do our jobs better’. The more I thought about it, the more that looked like a cheap promise, and not a suitable substitution.
Sure, Autumn’s Rule 3 came into play, but if they’d already offered a replacement? I could haggle over the replacement, and offer A over B.
Welp. Night suggested that I figure out long-term goals, and I was getting a few ideas. Anything I didn’t ask for, or get now, I could possibly tackle. I didn’t think splitting myself up among so many different goals right now was a good idea, especially not if I went with step 1: Get filthy rich first, then step 2: Make changes. However, I was getting a list of possible ideas. Ending slavery. Gigantic libraries. Corning the mango market. Shelters. All stuff for another day though.
Or was it? I could probably slip a few in right now with the Rule 3 haggling.
I would like to do something with my healing… maybe better advertising?
Augustus and co were spending a lot of time internally debating, giving me too much time to think on my own as time passed. Occasionally a guard would peek in, and at one point a few hefty trays of food were carefully slid into the room, but otherwise we were left alone.
Just me, Augustus, his advisors, and Lun Kat’s eyes, watching us as the moons set again.
Finally, we seemed to have handled the last issue. Answered the last question. Built something resembling a framework. Augustus turned towards me.
“A few notes.” He said, and while I’d stayed ram-rod straight and at attention - although with my toes tapping half the time - I stood up just a hair straighter.
“I believe in operating under full, good faith. Except when I need not to, but this isn’t one of those situations.” He said, and a cold shiver went down my back. “First. The bulk of your proposed changes are doable, however, we’re going to need a week with our best researchers to find all the laws that need updating. As much as I’d like to simply write ‘women are equal to men’, it is not that simple.”
Lawyers. Scum of every planet… but I nodded in acceptance. ‘We need to do this right, and slowly’ seemed to be a heck of a lot better than ‘we did this too fast, and we missed something that ruins it all.’
Which I hated, because it told me that I had resoundedly fucked up in coming right here, and insisting to myself that things get done ASAP. I made a few mental notes.
First - I was clearly developing an anger issue. Between Ochi and here, anger and rage was in the driver’s seat a little too often. I hadn’t exactly been living a happy and carefree life, and I had to wonder if I’d gone through one trauma too many. A job for a [Therapist], if I could ever get someone to invent the blasted profession.
Second - I should stop acting on my anger.
Third … I know I had a bunch more to add, I just couldn’t remember them. Fleeting thoughts weren’t something [Pristine Memories] could handle, apparently. Which kinda sucked.
“The second issue is a cultural one. You would like the laws changed. Very well, we can do that. However. The family that still believes the husband is in charge? The wife who believes herself subservient? The husband who continues to take charge? They will continue to act as they have. I do not promise any cultural changes, or efforts to make the widespread changes needed to cause the changes.”
“But you will enforce the law?” I asked, realizing another way I might’ve fucked up.
A law with no teeth wasn’t a law at all. “No hats on Friday” didn’t mean shit if nobody enforced the “No hats on Friday” law. One of the fundamentals of being a Ranger. Law enforcement. Another fundamental was “who enforces the law is almost as important as the law itself.” In this case, the guard and primary justice system seemed to be taking it on.
Fortunately, the Rangers were a good check on the local guards for corruption, and Sentinels were a check on Rangers misbehaving. In other words - indirectly, I was part of the enforcement mechanism of the new laws, which had me all sorts of happy.
“Naturally. As I said, I operate in good faith, however, a petition must be brought forth before the judiciary for there to be any enforcement. If the involved parties are unaware, or simply choose not to pursue their own rights? There is little I can do.” He spread his arms wide.
Made sense. I didn’t like it, but it made sense. If nobody complained that their rights were being trampled, it was exceedingly difficult to find out that there was an issue behind closed doors. It sucked, but the woman I’d seen… gods, just hours ago, it felt like a lifetime - was an example of that. She thought what she was going through was normal, and my stomach turned over again at the memory.
At leaving her.
I reassured myself that I’d gotten her kids out of there at least.
“Thank you. In the interest of good faith, my skill has a cooldown. It takes time between each cast. Anything else?” I asked.
“How long is the cooldown?”
“I don’t know.”
Augustus frowned, then smiled.
“Well, we have a long time to find out. Putting that aside. Two last notes. Your Triumph is upcoming. I believe there would be maximum effect to announce the changes as you approach the Senate, before the largest crowd possible.”
He paused, looking at me. I nodded my acceptance.
I had a small dramatic flair in storytelling, not running events. However, that sounded suitably nice. ‘Look at Sentinel Dawn! Look at how awesome she is, getting level 512! To celebrate her, she gets citizenship! All women can get citizenship!’
Sure. Seemed fine.
“Excellent. Onto my last point. It is quite complicated to change laws like this. I will need to work with the Senate, and obtain a medium of buy-in.”
I started to glare at him, and he naturally picked it up. He gave me an apologetic smile.
“Naturally, I will succeed. However, burning favors and political will is harder than simply parting with money. As opposed to simply turning back the clock for me, can you make myself and a dozen people of my choosing young as well?”
I almost agreed, then closed my mouth.
This was a negotiation after all. Autumn’s Rule 5 came to mind - never accept the first offer. There were also the other parts I wanted to negotiate for.
If I accepted this offer?
She’d loudly bemoan my utter lack of bartering expertise, and make fun of me. She’d offer remedial lessons, then act shocked and say something like “Wait, no, you’re too hopeless. Just make more money instead.”
Teenagers had vicious insults. I could probably barter him down, my skill was valuable.
Heck, he’d started with one person, and now wanted thirteen? That was an insane jump in his request. Plus, I hadn’t finished the enforcement bartering.
“Before we get to the details, I’d like to loop back around to the slavery issue briefly.”
Augustus nodded for me to continue.
“Simply enforcing the law is something that the government should be doing in the first place.” I pointed out, getting a minor note of satisfaction as one of the advisor’s mouth quickly puckered. Ha! I was right! They tried to sell me a dud!
“One thing I’d like to add. Can the sheer abuses and outright legalized murder of slaves be fixed? If nothing else, by having a legal avenue for slaves to air their complaints, they’re less likely to take up arms in an attempt to correct things.”
I only gave them a brief moment to process things before I carried on.
“A second thing. One of the driving forces of slavery are people falling into debt, and being unable to repay it.” I stated the obvious, while mulling over a dozen aspects of my proposal - including a medical aspect! “Now, something that would mitigate that is free bread from the Senate, distributed to every household.”
Augustus held up his hand, and looked at Agamemnon. He thought about it a moment, then nodded.
“Carry on.” Augustus said, my proposal having been cleared as ‘vaguely reasonable’ or whatever other system they had going.
“Free bread would make you wildly popular, prevent citizens and people of Remus from starving, help mitigate some of the largest expenses that cause people to fall into debt, then slavery, AND there’s a nutrition aspect that you might be unaware of.” I said, quickly reorganizing my angle of attack. Making it palatable to the military general, who seemed to be in it for the long haul.
“Proper nutrition, or rather, getting enough food growing up is crucial to development.” I instinctively leaned into a medical lecture, having given far too many of them. It was no longer Emperor Augustus and his advisors, it was just another class. “Without enough food, people grow up short, skinny, and stunted. If they’re given enough food? Tall and strong. While the [Centurions] of the army tend to come from wealthy families, where do the rank and file come from? Poor men, trying to gain citizenship and gainful employment.” I was getting animated, pacing the floor, my arms gesturing. “Feed them well, for long enough, and the next generation of soldiers will be even stronger. Also, the effect stacks as time goes by. Well-fed parents give birth to well-fed babies.”
“That’d take dozens of years to see any results.” Augustus said, after listening to his advisors.
I could see he had more to say, but the goal was too open. The shot was too easy.
“I’m here because you’re in it for the long run. A few hundred years from my skill, remember?”
Direct hit. Even I could see it.
Augustus and his advisors huddled up, and spent almost an hour talking. The sun was starting to lighten the horizon.
“Fine. Fourteen uses of your skill, and you get everything we discussed.” Augustus said. I frowned.
This was totally a spot for Rule 7 - Haggle. Rule 21 - Shorter negotiations - didn’t apply. Or at least, I didn’t think it did. A bread program was nowhere close to being worth two million rods and two senators, which was his opening offer.
He was trying to haggle more out of me!
“Four.” I figured I’d slice the number way down, and end up meeting somewhere in the middle.
Augustus shook his head, and stood up.
“I apologize for wasting your time, Sentinel Dawn, but I believe our respective evaluations of our positions are too far apart to come to an agreement. I wish you and your father the best.” He started to walk away with his advisors shuffling along. His dog woke up, and started padding after him.
“Wait! Ok! Eight?” I shouted after him, and he whirled on me with a predatory grin.
Shit. I’d been had.
“Deal!” He cried out before I could change my mind.
I had Immortality as my bargaining chip. I could’ve made it work just by standing firm, calling his bluff, and insisting on only changing back Augustus.
I slowly shook my head to myself. I’d gotten played like a fiddle.
“Deal.” I agreed.
End of the day? It was just using a skill.
And I’d done it. It’d take decades, but one day, a girl going to the temple for System Day wouldn’t get thrown out in the middle. She’d be allowed to play with all the things, given a chance to unlock all the classes she could. It’d take decades, if not centuries, to fix thousands of years of thinking, but the first crucial step had been taken.
I’d gotten what I wanted.
At long last.