-As a side note, "bone vir" is roughly "sir" in Latin, for anyone wondering why she keeps saying it.
-All chapters will be names after quests in New Vegas, whether they relate to the Legion or not.
"The earth died screaming while I lay dreaming." –Tom Waits, "Earth Died Screaming"
A woman sat in a dim, smoky bar. It was, in all honesty, a tiny one-street shithole in the middle of bleeding, dusty nowhere. It was vile in every sense of the word. There were less than healthy prostitutes on most corners, and on the rest there were barely-disguised drug dealers.
She swirled her drink in its glass, not making eye contact with anyone. A healing, scabbed-over circle was printed into her forehead; the remnants of a bullet to the skull. Green eyes, sharp with fear, glanced around. People talked lowly, drank and occasionally chuckled. The bartender was watching her with a predatory leer. She edged away from him in her seat.
The quiet bubble in the world was burst, as all hell broke loose.
The door slammed open to reveal soldiers dressed in red, brandishing torches. People jumped to their feet, yelling about the Legion and running like chickens with their heads cut off. The woman was shoved over in the confusion, spilling her drink all over her shoulder and neck. She hit the floor and started crawling past dusty shoes and military boots. Someone kicked her side, though whether it was intentional or not she didn't know or care.
Her shirt ripped on one side as someone grabbed at her. She tried rolling away, instead fumbling into the counter and getting her leg stepped on. Pain crashed through her body as someone fell onto her in the confusion—the bartender from earlier.
He was snatching at her clothes, taking advantage of the panic. She kicked out at him and clawed at his face. Her nails dug into his skin, but he didn't let up and she wasn't nearly strong enough yet.
She was suddenly blinded by what felt like hot water, though she realised it was blood. She was coated in it, covered from head to toe. The dead weight of the headless bartender rested on her like a thousand tons. She heaved him off, sweat dripping down her neck. Above her, a few metres away, a Legion soldier lowered his gun from her. There was a second of eye contact, seeing each other as human being and not as slaver and victim. She tried to project her thanks through to him from her eyes, and he jerked his head very slightly to the door.
The sudden, stinging smell of smoke made her eyes water—the pub was burning. A torch dropped down next to her, and pain roared across her shoulder. With horror, she realised that the alcohol on her shoulder was burning. With renewed pain and adrenaline, she shoved through the kicking, panicking patrons to the door.
The lightly irradiated air tasted like heaven outside. She took grateful gulps and coughed. Glancing around, it seemed the Legion was going to raze the town. Without a second glance at the place, she turned and ran. The skin on her shoulder felt like it was boiling, and she didn't care. The fire died away as she tore through the dead wastes, tears streaming down her dirty cheeks. She was gasping and sobbing with every dry, raw inhale.
Somewhere along the way, she found that her shoes had been lost in the fray, and the stones in the desert pricked her bare feet. At a glance behind her, the tiny town was now burning.
Hydra woke with a flinch, smelling smoke and sweat. Sighing, she relaxed again and watched the fire. The embers flickered, dying in the chill desert night. Something cold touched her ear, and she almost jumped, but found that it was only Hades' wet nose. She reached back to scratch his ear, and then rolled away from the mutt, as he reeked of dog and dirt. Her side bumped into another something, and after a sniff and a hesitant touch, she decided it was a sleeping Vulpes, rolled away again, and sat up.
Across the dying fire, Charon sat with his shotgun at his side. He was watching her with an unreadable expression. She nodded at him and straightened her half mop of hair. "Charon."
"Venom." He greeted back.
"That is not my name any more." Hydra said. "No matter who you may have known me as, I am now Hydra and would prefer to be called such."
"As you wish. I apologise." Charon said quietly.
"No, no." Hydra rubbed her temples and scooted over to sit next to him. "I should be apologising. That was cold. Just so you know, I want you to speak your mind around me. I have jurisdiction over plenty of slaves already and have no need for one more. So, any questions, comments?"
He considered the inquiry. "You speak Latin now. You didn't before."
Hydra nodded. "Vulpes taught me after I joined the Legion. Most of the legionnaries speak at least a little, though as a higher-ranked member I am expected to know it fluently for communication reasons."
"How…" Charon seemed to be considering how to phrase the question. "How much power do you hold in the Legion?"
"The hierarchy in the Legion relies on skill in battle, and resourcefulness, unlike the profligate NCR, who ranks their members on shallow accomplishments and privilage. The Lord Caesar is our leader, and his second is Legate Lanius. The head of the Praetorian Guard is Lucius. The Praetorian only have one job, and that is to guard Lord Caesar, but that also covers regular watches around Fortification Hill."
"Where are you in all this?"
"Vulpes is the leader of the Frumentarii, trained in stealth and subterfuge—although we do also cover missions of…education."
"Some may call it terrorism, but we call it educating the dissolute." Hydra waved a hand dismissively. "I'm Vulpes' second and right hand. I carry out missions of more importance, as well as personal matters that require...a woman's wiles, one might say. I'm also the onlywoman in the entire Legion."
"The only woman." Charon nodded, looking almost amused. "You haven't changed much." He paused. "The crucifying and Latin are new."
"Don't be so condescending." She smirked. "We don't all carry wood beams and nails around. Although Vulpes and I crucified half a town last week. That's quite beside the point."
Hydra wasn't entirely sure why she felt so at ease around him. Perhaps it was her subconscious coming through, but she didn't usually listen to it. She found that little nagging voice in the back of her head to be a nuisance. Now, however, it seemed as though she were only meeting an old friend she hadn't seen in many years, and they were just getting reacquainted. She was friendly enough with Vulpes; in fact, as of recently she had been looking at him a little differently. But that was a matter for another time, something to shove back into the jurisdiction of the little voice in her head.
"May I ask you a question of a personal nature?" Charon broke the silence with the low question.
"He is…only your superior officer?"
Hydra almost laughed, but tried to scoff and ended up making a little choking cough instead. "Yes, yes. Well, Vulpes and I have a…interesting history." She answered vaguely.
Charon waited a few moments, and when it was clear she wasn't elaborating, said, "That is interesting."
"I would go into detail, but I get the sense this is no longer a private conversation. Rise and shine, bone vir." She looked straight to the "sleeping" Vulpes, who, having been discovered, straightened up.
"You're getting better and better every day, Hydra." He complimented dryly, brushing some reddish dirt off his already red tunic. "I may have trained you too well."
"Mm, I may surpass you soon. And then whatever shall you do? You would be my right hand."
"I get the feeling there would be another nuclear holocaust before that happened." Vulpes looked to the east, where the horizon was slowly turning light pink. "We had better continue to Cottonwood."
The leader of the Frumentarii watched Hydra. After Lord Caesar's admission of his suspicions of her allegiances, he found he was watching her with increased vigilance. She seemed loyal enough, though the arrival of this ghoul from the past had him on edge. Their conversations, especially any revelations on her past allies, could let on some piece on information he might not otherwise have learned from the rather private Hydra.
His gaze wandered a little to her legs, exposed by the far-too-short tunic, and a few devious thoughts swirled around as he buckled on his armour. Charon suddenly cleared his throat, meeting Vulpes' gaze with a glare so sharply reproaching the frumentarius backed off—for the moment.
"If we walk all day, we can reach the Cove by late afternoon." Hydra said, strapping on her belt and drawing her machete. She gave the blade a few swings to balance it in her hand. "Let's go east until the shore and follow it south. The worst we'll find is a lakelurk or fire gecko."
"Here," Vulpes tossed her a whetstone, which she caught while barely looking. "Keep your blade sharp."
"Then, here," Hydra tossed a strip of dried brahmin jerky to him. "Eat something so I don't think you're starving to death, bone vir."
The exchange was so smooth it was like it was rehearsed. Neither thought much of it. Hydra checked her Pip-Boy and pointed east, and off they went. The sun rose high and seemed to hover above their head for weeks. Charon appeared unbothered by it, his skin only half there, but the exposed muscle weathered by the elements. Both Legionnaries, Vulpes especially, had serious sun burn. He never had to do much fieldwork, much less trekking through the desert. Hydra wasn't much better, as most of the time she followed Vulpes. Hours passed in the hellish noon as they worked their way south to the Cove.
"This heat is insufferable." She groaned, and would have hung her head if the burn on her neck weren't so horrible. "Charon, please tell me you have some sort of burn cream."
"I don't." The bodyguard admitted. "Sorry."
"Vulpes, do you have healing powder?" Her answer was a small, rolled-up paper bag tossed ahead to land right in her hands. "Gratias multas, bone vir. We can both use this amount."
Hydra stopped and turned to the shoreline. She walked to the edge of the water and knelt, pinching some healing powder into her hand and mixing it with water to make a thin paste. She rubbed it on the back of her neck and almost moaned. It was like beautiful, cooling ice. Vulpes joined her by the water and made a healing cream of his own to rub on his now bright red arms. He made a small noise like a sigh of relief.
"That is…lovely." Hydra sighed, mixing more. "Remind me to thank that girl. What was her name?"
"You don't remember her name?" Charon asked.
"No, she is but a slave girl." Hydra thought for a moment, raking her memory and oblivious to the surprised ghoul behind her. She snapped her fingers, slipping on the whitish cream. "Siri." She looked down into the water, blinking at her reflection. "Fancy a swim?"
"We should keep moving if we want to reach Cottonwood Cove by nightfall." Vulpes said.
"But I'm absolutely filthy and burning from the sun. A quick dip would be fine to cool down, for all of us."
"You can tend to your hygiene when we reach the Fort. No protests." He said sharply at her look. "We must keep moving or get caught after dark for another night."
Hydra sighed, but nodded tightly. "Of course, bone vir. Onwards."