Being a True and Telling Record of the Last Days of Varius Avitus Bassianus, Antoninus iv, 24th Imperator of Rome.
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Alone meant a different thing to an Emperor than to an ordinary man.
When Elagabalus said that he was going somewhere alone, what he really meant was that he was forming a river of attendants, guardsmen, slaves, and courtiers behind him. Like flies around rotten meat, they hovered around him. Always fighting for attention. Always asking for some favor or another.
Most of the time, Elagabalus simply accepted their omnipresence in the life of an Emperor. He lived with them as a veteran might live with an old wound. Painful as it was, what could he do about it?
However, there were times when Elagabalus demanded solitude, true separation from the demands of his Empire.

Most of his day had been eaten up by a ritual at the Temple of Aelagabalus. Perhaps because of his devotion, the dusk was marvelous. The sun, fat and golden, sunk slowly into the hills beyond Rome. Striking the gold of the Flavian Palace, it turned the domes into miniature suns. Praetorian spear-tips became a fiery forest of silver tree-tops.
Elagabalus was buried as far from the sun as one could get.

Deep within the labyrinth of the Palace, he wandered alone through rooms forgotten by time. No true map of the Palace existed anywhere. Since its conception, each new Emperor had constructed his own sections of the palace. Corridors were torn down to make space for gardens. Rooms were uprooted to serve as the basis of spires. Rag-tag towers cascaded down the Palatine hill, falling into the Forum like boulders into the sea.
When Elagabalus heard the footsteps, he assumed it was the guards. Echoed by the carven-like architecture of the Old Wing, they sounded like a troop of Praetorians at march. It was, in fact, only a single man.
“I thought I might find you here.” Youthful Hierocles said, grinning like a mad-man. Hierocles’ cheerful disposition was one that Elgabalus typically found contagious. Now, he barely raised his head in acknowledgment. Undeterred, Hierocles strode forward. He said, “I hope you haven’t sunken into one of your moods again. You know I find them dreadfully boring.”
“Do you?”
Hierocles stood beside his lover. His hand slid snake-like onto Elagabalus’ shoulder. “Something’s got into you. I’m determined to find out what.”
“Are you?”
“Yes!” Hierocles exclaimed. “Yes I am, and I don’t have any intention of letting you sulk on your own. So if you want to be rid of me, start speaking.”
Elagabalus was silent for a moment. Then he said: “What is Rome?”
“Rome?” Hiercocles asked. “A city? Elagabalus, you know I have no taste for philosophy.”
Elagabalus paused, considering his words carefully. “Rome is an ideal. Rome does not exist. Not at least as the people imagine it. To them, Rome is a perfect city. Rome lives in the majesty of the Pallice. A Pallice now in perpetual decay.”
“So let it be an ideal,” Hierocles said, carelessly. “Let the people believe whatever they wish.”
“Even if they are believing a lie?”
“A lie?” Hiercocles did not seem to understand. Elagabalus explained it with a sigh, gesturing around the chamber with a hand. “Take the Palace. It was grand, once. It was the envy of the entire world, just as Rome was. Look at it now. Tell me what you see.”
Hierocles was hesitant. Speaking ill of the Emperor was liable to end up with you crucified along the Appian Way. After a careful moment of consideration, he said: “I see a palace greater than any in Rome.”
“Greater?” Elagabalus gave a bark of mirthless laughter. “Larger certainty, but greater? I’ll tell you what I see. A great mess of a Palace. One that has grown fat on stolen gold, and now is too big for its own good. Just as Rome has! We have become decadent, overfed on our victory.
“Yet no one admits it. No one calls the Palace hideous or Rome overgrown. Why?”
Hierocles’ shrug suggested pallid agreement. “Perhaps they find it easier to live in a dream. Are you such a cruel ruler that you would wake them?”
Elagabalus had no answer to that question. The silence between them was thick as smoke. Hierocles stood and took himself from the chamber. His footsteps faded slowly, until their echoes disappeared completely.
“If Rome is nothing more than a dream, then what does that make its Emperor?” Elagabalus asked aloud. With heavy eyes, which he cast about the chamber, he searched for some answer in the faded frescos of men long dead.

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