I lied about it being much, much longer. I feel like I can't write super long chapters for fan fictions as I often want to put them up as soon as I get the point across that I'm trying to convey. I'll probably take another long editing break in another chapter or so. I'll be starting school in a few days, so I thought that I should get this update out as soon as possible.
Daniel Connery left the Lucky 38 with a mind full of information and puzzling thoughts. He found this Juno woman to beautiful, perhaps even awe inspiring. Still, it was obvious from the get go that she did not know what to do, who to trust, or how to handle herself anymore. Someone had clearly wormed their way into what Boone had once described as a solid, unbreakable exterior and flayed her composure until it was nearly unrecognizable. Daniel knew her only by the way people looked and talked at her, Boone's earlier description almost worthless.
Juno had been broken down enough to even let him know who had been responsible for her current state, the Frumentarii leader Vulpes Inculta. Daniel had to admit, she sure knew how to pick them if she liked getting into trouble. Benny, Vigo, and now that Vulpes. She needed to set up shop with a nice, semi-stable, an overall decent guy, but those clearly were not her type. Even Boone probably sailed so far beneath her radar that she did not even consider him, or maybe the air of agonizing grief and regret around the guy stifled any romantic possibilities Boone would ever encounter.
Daniel pitied them both, found it peculiar that Boone wanted so much to help her. He wondered if Boone saw Carlia in Juno's long hair and green eyes, in her swaying hips and her velvet voice. He even wondered if Boone saw his unborn child in the little girl Juno reportedly had, and more and more felt like his aid was necessary. Both Boone and Juno were standing on the edge of clear catastrophe. Ever since Carla, the sniper had been unstable, and in the last few weeks, Juno had begun to lose her footing according to everyone he talked to about her. She did not know where to turn, and if Boone had not risen to the occasion to find people to help her, she could have died. She still could die, Daniel realistically thought.
Daniel followed her as she left, staying far behind because it seemed he was not the only one hot on her trail as she left the Strip. He used his careful knowledge of the terrain and buildings toward Novac to stay out of the sights of both involved parties, and as much as he tried to focus on Juno, he could not help but watch the man who kept his distance from her, trying just as hard as Daniel to remain hidden. The man prowled like a fox through the rocks and ravines near the river.
Like a fox. Vulpes Inculta.
Daniel cursed his luck, and Juno's. He should have guessed that she was being followed, but he supposed it was too late now. Still, the man would not know what had transpired between them, and if he had a lover's fire in him for the girl, would probably stoop to jealousy before suspicions of treachery any day.
Both men hugged onto ledges and hid themselves behind rocks Juno's entire trip to Novac. The sun had begun to fall, and she took her rests there. Before heading to any other room, she went to find Boone. Juno clearly had no idea of how to keep from incriminating herself, and Daniel could not go to warn her that she was being followed without Vulpes Inculta knowing he too was being followed. Daniel ducked low and waited, watching what he thought was the Frumentarii in the distance until the man left the scene. Not too much later, it turned out that Juno would not be taking rest in Novac. She left Boone's home and continued on the road, silent as always.
Daniel ran from his hiding place as soon as he was comfortable that she could not hear or see him head straight for the Sniper that emerged from his home to go on watch.
"Boone, there's a big mother fucking problem."
When Vulpes arrived at the Fort, an air of shame and regret hung so thickly over the area that he could not imagine what had transpired. Every slave ran from him as if he were the slave master. Each man he passed looked at him as if there were news to be shared, but no one wanted to be the man to share it. Vulpes puzzled over this as much as he puzzled over Juno's rendezvous with a man named Finch, whom she took with her to the Lucky 38, almost surely so Vulpes would not overhear them. He puzzled over both of her stops in Novac, both of which she stopped to talk to the very same sniper who had threatened her life. His gut rolled around in realization, and he hated the thought that she might have been having second thoughts. Maybe, she had become a double agent, maybe she was playing him.
Still, the thought that something equally as terrible had transpired inside the Fort left him curious. Only when he approached Caesar's tent and came face to face with Octavian did someone stop him. The Praetorian guard, Juno's very brother, held his arm out to stop the Frumentarii, and with grief in his voice, spoke up.
"Vulpes, It happened. Caesar's illness claimed him."
The shock that Vulpes felt forced the pride he had in his conquest and the bitter taste of suspicion down, smothering out all thoughts but surprise. This was what caused the Legionaries so much pain, then. Caesar's death had affected even the weather, an approaching monsoon storm lingering over the horizon. Octavian seemed to be worse off than the others, as if something else had happened.
"What else is no one telling me?"
"When Juno returns, Lanius is going to punish anyone that came from the Mamba tribe." "Including her?"
"Yes. Including her, and her daughter."
"Why are they falling under Lanius' hammer?"
"My mother performed the operation. She said Caesar waited too long for the operation, but Lanius believes it is Juno's fault."
Vulpes would not ask anymore question. He passed Octavian and entered the tent to find Lanius and Lucius, along with two other guards and a chained and beaten Gaea in the center of the tent. The two other guards stood vigil over her, and Lanius and Lucius were probably passing judgment on her. The slave already looked as if she had been punished thoroughly for whatever she could have prevented, but he knew it would not be enough for Lanius. The Legate was a showman, and he would make a show of her and Juno.
"There was nothing I could do, I swear," Gaea moaned. It seemed Vulpes had walked in on a lengthy and fruitless interrogation.
"Then it is time to stifle the flame of your mysticisms, witch. When the woman returns, you will all be punished accordingly.
Vulpes did not speak, but his presence did not go unnoticed. Lanius regarded him from behind his mask and stepped away from his interrogation.
"Lucius informs me you were assigned to follow the bitch to the Strip. Was she successful in Caesar's Will?"
"Yes. The White Glove Society has sworn allegiance."
"Anything else to report, Frumentarius?" Lanius pressed. The Legate was remarkably aware of people, so much so it often surprised Vulpes.
"She stopped twice in Novac to converse with a former NCR recon officer. While on the Strip, a man named Finch approached her and offered her aid, to which she responded by taking him to the Lucky 38. I could not follow and listen in."
"It's sounds like Caesar's chosen pets are all full of blasphemy and treachery. The flame of these people must be smothered out. They can no longer identify themselves as one unit. They are slaves. They will be punished accordingly."
As Vulpes spoke her name, The Legate's fierce and unrelenting glare could be felt through the mask that obscured his face. He could not tell if the Legate interpreted his question as concern or interest.
"She will be flogged and put in her proper place, like the profligate mongrel she is."
As Cursor Lucullus ferried Juno to the Fort, the heavy rains of the Monsoon season began to fall. Very rarely did they reach that far north, but it could not be denied that they were welcomed. For once, they were not preceded by a sandstorm, and that surprised her considering the intensity of the rain. Water pooled and dripped over the edges of her hat as she watched Cursor Lucullus struggle almost without hope to keep the ferry on course.
He remained silent and wary of her the whole way, which surprised Juno as much as the weather did. Since she began making regular trips to and from the Fort, he conversed with her regularly and with ease. The ease had vanished and left behind a concerned, jumpy man.
When they reached the Fort, the dock attendees secured the ferry as quickly as Juno and Cursor Lucullus abandoned it. At the gate, however, four battle ready guards awaited her.
"Courier, your presence is required at the Arena."
"Why? What's happened?"
"The Time has come."
The time for what, Juno could not guess, but she could tell it would not be good.
As they ascended the pathways of the Fort, each of these guards followed her closer and closer, as if waiting for her to run. The closer they got to the center of the Fort, the louder screams of despair and fear became, and these screams infected Juno's spirit and set her full of worry. The gate to the arena remained open, but she could not see into it before it was too late.
Inside of the Arena almost thirty women had been gathered, each attended to by a Legionary equipped with a machete. All of them were close together, parted only by a center pathway intended for her. Intended for her.
Juno tried to back up, but the men that had escorted her latched onto her and together, the four men held her as she struggled and screamed, fighting with all of her strength as they brought her passed the gathered women. With one great force, they shoved her down onto her knees as she approached the other end of the arena, and behind her the gate closed.
She looked to her left, and like her, her mother had been pitifully overcome by a small group of Legionaries, but unlike her, Gaea had been chained and beaten. Blood and mud mingled together in Gaea's hair and upon her clothing and skin. The day had not been kind to her.
"My god.. What the fuck is going on?"
"Hold your tongue, profligate scum!" One of the Legionaries holding her presented her with her first strike, hitting her on the back with the sheathed blade of a machete.
Juno wanted to cry out, but she did not. She bit her lip so hard that she began to bleed.
Above her, Men were gathered to watch the display. She thought she saw Vulpes, but in the heaviness of the rain, all of the faces were blurred and the only figure she could identify was that of her daughter, standing at the front of the group and held onto by someone she could only guess was the Legate.
"Ari!" "Mommy! Mommy!"
The Little girl tried to get away from the man who easily overpowered her, but he held her in place with only one hand, speaking over the girl's cries.
"Each woman gathered here is a slave to the Legion, but only those in the Pit are tainted with the identiy of a Mamba. Your heritage has infected you and instilled you with a vengeful and angry spirit, and in the wake of Caesar's death, I have realized my duty. Each of you is to be punished, only some of you killed. Only ten will remain to tell the story of the twenty two other women who died in front of you for their insolence, their petty lies and their unbridled behaviors."
More screams, but they were silenced as soon as the Legate spoke again.
"Your fate is to be decided by the men behind you. Each is equipped with a weapon, but only some of them are fatal. You will all be struck for your insolence, but the blade will either bruise you or defeat you. Men, Raise arms!"
The command echoed out with a clap of thunder, all of the men gathered in the Pit holding their machetes high. Even those surrounding Juno and her mother pointed theirs to the sky, sheathed or unsheathed, it did not matter to them. The two women at the head of the group would be punished far more harshly, and only those who survived would see it, those that were dying bleeding to a cacophony of violence and screams.
"Ari! Look away. Please god, just look away!" Juno screamed, her thoughts in that moment only on her daughter and the terrible torture she was about to endure. No amount of physical pain Juno would endure that day could compare to the trauma Ariadne was about to find herself in.
The Legate too raised his hand into the air, and as he brought it down, all thirty-six blades came down on the women in the Pit. Twenty two of them were cleaved nearly in half, blades slicing through their shoulders or necks, their blood spilling into the mud already polluting the floor of the Arena. Juno and Gaea were beaten down by the swords of their captors; hit anywhere the blades could hit. The other women who had not been killed upon impact moaned and screamed at every strike, each armed man swinging on them three times before ordered to stop.
Vulpes watched the chosen Legionaries drop their women to the floor, Juno falling to the ground with them and rolling almost immediately onto her back, writhing in the immediate pain of her first punishment. From his place near the Legate, Vulpes balled both firsts and curled his fingers so tightly that he thought his nails might dig holes into his palm. He could not stand the sight of her underneath all of this pain and example, but true to Caesar, he would endure.
"For Caesar!" The men screamed, and in a calamity of applauses, the entire Fort screamed out, "For Caesar! For Caesar!"
All but six of the men cleared out, leaving Juno and Gaea alone with four men, two of which were equipped with whips. In their present state of agony, both women were easily lifted into the air to be chained by their wrists to the wall, positioned just so everyone could see them. Vulpes never took his eyes of Juno, fully aware of her pain and suffering as the men stripped her down to her underclothes, pushing her head roughly against the metal walls.
"You have spread your pestilent sickness amongst these men, Courier. Your infection has claimed the life of Caesar, and I will not see another good man fall to you. You will be broken here and enslaved, put in your rightful place. If you are to be part of the Legion, you will serve it on your knees."
"Wha—what the fuck are you talking about? I didn't do shit to Caesar—"
"I said hold your tongue, Profligate!" One of the men in the Pit struck Juno on the back harshly with one of the whips he had been given. He showed her no mercy, and she screamed.
"Stop, stop hurting my mommy! You stoooopppp!" Ariadne yelled, and much like her mother, struggled infinitely against the hands holding her down. She screamed and punched and kicked at the Legate, but he appeared unmoved.
Vulpes could not see Juno's face, but he imagined the fury building up in her with every scream and cry from her child.
Each woman endured twenty lashes, whipped in synchronization one after the other. Gaea openly cried out, but in fiery protest, Juno made not a sound. When both women were released from the chains, Gaea fell straight onto her side, but Juno landed on her knees, wobbling for a moment before finding rest. The gloom and anger hung over her like a cloud, even the rains afraid of touching her.
"Mommy!.. Mommy!" Ariadne cried out again, and somehow, the small girl found enough strength to wiggle out of the Legate's one hand.
Without fear, she jumped over the side and landed in the mud with a scream, but she got up and ran to her mother. One of the men turned on her, raising his hand to strike her, but he would not be fast enough. Juno's basic instincts kicked in, and with a viscious cry, she launched herself at this man and ran at him until he staggered back and ran into the wall. The other men instantly abandoned their post to go after her, but they were too late as well. She had taken the man's machete from him, and in her fight-or-flight state, raised it high and struck down on him with ferocity. The blunt weapon may not have done much to her when she had been struck with it, but she slammed it straight into the man's temple and killed him with one more, banshee-like scream.
She turned so quickly on the other men that Vulpes began to realize her value to the Legion. In situations like this, he feared no man could compare to her ferocity. She moved faster than he had seen her move even when they were under the fire of House's securitrons. Bruised, beaten, and surely crippled, Juno's adrenaline fueled her so well that she could take on four full-fledged Legionaries.
Juno had no thoughts in that moment. Her eyes were glazed over in the unmistakable guise of a powerful creature backed into a corner, lashing out at its predators. She would protect her child at an cost, and she flew into such a destructive rage that three men would be dead before she was put down.
Things had gotten out of control, and a second person descended into the pit. Legate Lanius had followed after the girl, but he immediately turned himself on Juno. While she could almost certainly take the four men that had almost all fallen at that point, she could not handle Lanius' unbridled might. His bare, destructive hands came down on her, and with one well aimed strike, he sent her reeling into unconsciousness.
The blood of Legionaries, slaves, and the earth mixed in this pit of death and sin, and only twelve women escaped. Ten slaves were unlucky enough to live, Juno was carried out to be tended to, and Ariadne ran after her mother in so much fear that her cries shook Vulpes to his very core. Gaea passed away in the pit from blood loss, left to lie in the mud after Juno's daring attempt at a fight.
The Legionaries that took her away still carried her as if she were a revered goddess, and being so broken and bruised that she was almost beyond recognition in their arms as they passed by Vulpes. Her long red hair had been knotted and matted by the mud, blood trickling out of her wounds and leaving a trail behind her. Siri followed after the group so closely that Vulpes knew she would have the heavy duties of tending to her.
Vulpes disappeared from the group as soon as others began to leave, choosing flight rather than fight at the sight of Juno so terribly abused and beaten. Part of him thought she deserved it, but the protective part of him, the very same that sought to own her, was enraged. No one could defile or cripple his property like that. Only he, should he ever need to, could strike her. He dreaded facing her when she woke up, for he knew she would blame him. She would strike out at him, and her venom would reach deep.