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Hasti ‘Five Tooth’ Acine
Winter #3: The Shades of Emeralda Ire: Anno Domini
© 2014 James LaFond
JAN/22/14
Anno Domini, 43, Heads
Bloody Snot
Why did the snot crusted to the white hair on his lip taste like blood?
Was he dreaming?
Hasti Acine, ‘Fastest of the Lines’ had once been able to outpace very man of the legion—every man that fought in the lines that was, not the wolfheads with their darts. Now though, he was thirty years older than the rest, 15 years older than Virtius, his centurian. He brought up the year for the younger men. Even so, in years past, he knew he would have been able to outpace these lumbering barbarians—Breton dogs!
But this was the winter of his life, and his old bones were rubbing together in this blustery cold Pluto that should have been a late summer day. Just days ago he was sweating his old ass off. Now he was crusted in ice, as icy water lapped at his blood-caked boots. Their backs were to him, hustling along in their new gear—except for Felix that is, who wore the mail of his station.
Their new scutums rocked in their hands. His old scuta, well-curved and strapped to rock on the back of the last man, kept the enemy darts from piercing his lungs. The stones bounced from it like rain from a tile roof.
Ah, for the tile roofs and slave girls of Ostia.
His helmet, the old bronze model that Virtius had indulgently let him retain, rang with a deep drone from a stone cast by a mighty arm.
The world swam before his eyes.
Turn and face the enemy. Not a wound shall sprout in your back!
The skin of his face was taut from the biting cold. The oars of the woman-fiend’s escaping boat were clattering. The waves lapped the pebbled shore. Something else touched his foot even as Felix called to him for luck and the hairy bastards before him—obviously all the tallest of their kind—gave out a roar as one and charged him.
Hasti humped his scuta off his shoulders into his waiting hand with one ragged breath. He then hefted his pilum for a cast and recalled it was not there, bent and left aloft on the dark mountain above them, tangled as it was in some hairy bastard’s body.
He drew his gladius and comforted himself with the remembered squeals of the last Breton bitch he ravished.
He shouted his own cry, “Legio Two Augusta, First Cohort, you hairy bastard whoresons!”
With that curse he charged—and pitched forward on his face; the head of Plutarch bobbing at the fringe of the surf that wet his boots, having caught under foot and sent him down to humiliation.
“Shit! Not like this Hasti!”
Plutarch’s Fortune
They were almost upon him when he lunged upward with his gladius and felt it pop hard leather, slither through hot guts, and slice through a hide garment. The thing was buried to the hilt in some big bastard’s guts, and the man was grappling with him. Just as the big man locked Hasti’s head, the thirty-two year veteran, who had refused retirement, ducked, ripped, and spun out on his heels to let the big heap of guts spill behind him as he turned to face those who had surrounded him.
He screamed his fury as a long sword slashed open his knee. In the same instant he lurched forward and cleaved the arm that had wielded it from the body at the shoulder.
A lance punctured his left lung. He pinned it with his arm, feeling the barbed head catch on a rib as the Breton tried to withdraw it. As the bastard yanked more vigorously Hasti ripped a back hand that felt like it had torn his own chest open. He did though, have the pleasing sensation of hearing the barbarian’s head hit the pebbled beach.
A great blow struck his helmet and sent him reeling. It was the head of Manlius, yesterday’s rear guard, which fell at his feet after stunning his former mess mate.
A big beast of a man to his right swung an oaken maul. Hasti met the blow with his scuta too square, his scuta shattering and his arm breaking from the blow. He lurched forward dizzily and cleaved the shield of the runt of the litter before him, only to have his gladius shiver and snap on the bronze banded oak rim of the shield as the runt leaped back.
The beast with the maul was coming down with the crunching kill stroke that would scatter his brains on the wintry pebbled beach. Hasti instinctively closed and drove the broken remnants of his gladius up into the reeking groin. The oaf spilled over his back like a baby who had been kicked in the stomach—yes father, I remember, that was a cruel blow. Every one of these forty notches on this pummel represents a shade that should have been you!
He saw his companions leaping aboard the boat and pushing off as one. He saluted and turned to face his foes. The searing sound of the red hot blade, which must have just been heated in a fire, passed through his guts like a lightning bolt. It was as if Jupiter himself had slain him.
He looked into the eyes of a chief of his wretched kind, a face fierce and covered with pictures, as the blade was twisted in his agonizing guts and withdrawn.
Hasti did not fall. He stood and spit in that painted face. The chief returned the sentiment with his shield, scattering the last of Hasti’s prized teeth—five teeth, all older than most slaves—across the pebbles under his feet.
Hasti yet stood. The chief stepped back and admitted a small cloaked figure—a woman. Two sets of savage hands grabbed his arms at the wrists, stripping his weapons. He spit in her face, but without teeth, he just could not get the range he needed, and the glob of bloody saliva fell to the stones, washed as they were with the last tongue of the ocean.
The woman screamed something to the sky, then to the sea, and swung up a wicked inwardly curved knife that took him in the neck. He became dizzy as she yanked it free. Then, in an instant, he was free, hanging in the wind-ravaged mist above the cursed shore.
He had never realized that he lived in his head until now.
The Greeks were wrong after all—the dumb bastards!
The sight of Virtius standing in the boat rowed by Felix and the remaining three, as if seen through a closing tunnel to Pluto’s domain, faded as his shade met Oblivion.
Anno Domini, 2014, Monday, January 22, 7:05 a.m.
Virgil
The wind howled and his face felt tight and pinched under its caress.
His mustache was crusted with bloody snot, which tasted horrible as he licked his cracked lips.
Heads, heads, I am a head among heads!
He came to full consciousness when he felt a head—cold in death—roll out from beneath his own. He jerked himself upright and opened his eyes to the biting cold, a cold that had pasted his previously soaked jeans to his legs; that had frozen his wet socks to his worn boots. He looked around and noticed that he had been laying on the painted plank porch of some frame house, snow having drifted up to cover his legs where they lay stiffly on the three stairs. His head had been resting among three pumpkins, left over face-painted pumpkins from Halloween.
That darned dream about the heads! Not again. At least it woke me before I froze in this cold wind. It was wet and soggy, just wet snow when I passed out—drunk again.
Virgil rubbed his empty gums, recalling that he had turned to alcohol as his sole source of sustenance after those two big biker dudes had stomped him down and kicked all of the teeth out of his mouth a few weeks ago—just because I wanted to speak to the lady that fired me! Bitch!
There she is!
He looked next door and saw an older lady letting a dog inside, one of those Jack Russell Terriers that made such a goddamned racket when you tried to sleep in their dog house!
That’s not the boss-lady that fired me. That’s the landlady that kicked me out!
I need to get warm, deserve to be warm—she had no right!
Virgil hobbled over to the house he had so recently been ejected from, just because he could not pay the rent, just because he had had all of his teeth kicked out by two bikers, just because he had tried to talk to the lady that had fired him, just because he was having nightmares at work and screaming at the people that were talking about him while he talked to the bastards in his head!
The door was locked.
He banged and banged and banged.
No answer came. Only the distant yipping of that damned dog.
He could not feel it when he kicked in the door, because he could not feel his feet, because this bitch had kicked him out in the snow to die!
He heard the creak of the polished wood floor under his uneven tread as he limped down the hallway to the kitchen, where the Jack Russell Smartass Son-of-a-bitch Dog was barking like a fiend out of Pet Smart hell. The dog was confined behind a baby gate, and seemed unwilling to leap it, just warning Virgil off with his bark.
Virgil continued down the hall to the kitchen as the dog backed up—barking all the while—to the sink. He kicked in the baby fence and stepped into the kitchen. The dog charged for his legs as something whistled to his left, a red hot fireplace poker that was bending across his face!
The old lady was screaming, “Molest me! Rob me!! Serial kill me!!!”
Virgil was momentarily out—had never truly recovered from the biker stomping actually. He came to on the kitchen floor in a haze of numbness, searing pain, and the skin-splitting sensation of thawing out. It was all so surreal: his hand was being eaten, finger by de-fleshed finger, by the fiendish little dog. That hot fire place poker was being thrust into his belly and chest again, and again, and again, by the nasty little old lady, as she ranted and raved, “You screwed with the wrong bitch kiddo! I am an Investigation Discovery addict—twenty four seven! I watch Murder and Motive, Deadly Secrets, Who The Blank Did I Marry, Deadly Affairs, Wives With Knives—Wives With Knives—yessss! Banjo, keep at it baby!”
The fireplace poker was sticking out of his belly, searing hot still, and the dog was munching away, stripping the forearm now with grunting tugs, as if he was trying to drag Virgil down to hell.
Hell doesn’t sound half bad right now, warm at least. Damn dude, you should have crossed your lucky stars that she kicked you out. You dumbass—you’re in the shit now!
The old lady was tapping her finger on the butts of each of the knives that jutted from the countertop knife block, “Eenee, meenee, minee-mo, catch a worthless creepo by his toe…”
He heard the raspy ‘shing’ of two blades being pulled from the wooden block, even as the maniacal terrier tugged the harder. The soft wet slithering sound of thin steel snaking through his belly woke him long enough for him to notice that the blood and snot caking his mustache was thawed, and running down the back of his throat.
It whispered and she growled…
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