Tiberius Rufius Aquila
“As the scorching hot sun blistered my skin, and the blistering sands threatened the same to my feet, I cursed the spirits that had urged me to join the legion. My father among them, he had served in his time, as had his father before him, and his before. It was tradition, as the eldest it was my DUTY to enlist in the glorious Imperial Roman Army. And it hadn’t been so bad, indeed, there was an element of enjoyment to be had in it. Certainly, I missed my home in Pompeii, but there was enough to distract oneself, in the many regions of the vast empire the Legion took us.
Forsake the day though, when L. Cornelius Balbus came up with the idea of expanding the empire, and sent the Legion to explore the far reaches beyond the southern edge of the known world. Under the command of Legatus Legionis Septimus Flaccus, 5000 man disembarked in the grand city of Carthage, and set out into the lands beyond.
There is no words to describe the land we passed through, merely sand and heat as far as the eye could see. After weeks of travel, we came to mountains, tall and imposing, the towered from the sand, as some defiant monument against the spirits that inhabited this wasteland, if indeed any spirits even could call this home. After a ten-day wait, the scouts reported they went on in both directions, with no sign of a pass. Legatus Flaccus held meeting with the Tribunus, and decided we where to cross the mountains here.
Those mountains where horrible, lifeless, never before have I seen such dead, black rock. I was certain at the time, they where some protrusion of the underworld into our world of the living. Indeed, there where many who thought there was nothing beyond, that we had come to the edge of the world, or that all we would find beyond would be the underworld itself. It was a gruelling fourteen days till we reached the summit, and beheld before us, an endless ocean of dark sand. Yet, Legatus Flaccus pushed on, the descend took us again as long as the ascent. We lost many men there, but the worst was to come, as the dessert we now found ourselves in, was even worse then the last.
Travel during the day proved completely impossible, the heat would drive men to drink too much water, and the spirits would soon steal his sanity if he didn’t. How we would ever return home, should we ever even reach our destination, was a question none of as even remembered to ask. Or perhaps we didn’t care for the answer. We were however legionnaires, impending death was nothing new to us, so we marched on by night, and slept best we could by day.
Many night passed, Twice, Luna disappeared, and twice she returned in her full silver beauty, before one morning, as the sun rose, the scouts gave a great cry, for they had come accross clumps of yellowed grass among the dunes, and days later, the sand gave way entirely to the dry, but living plants. Even the odd tree dotted the landscape, tall, thin, starved of water, but alive, and a few times we spotted herds of animals in the distance. Hunters were dispatched, and that day we feasted on strange animals we had never seen before, and drank the life blood of their veins to quench our thirst.
Soon after, we came upon a primitive village on the bank of a river, but the inhabitants, their skins were black, not merely dark as that of the Egyptians or Persians, but black, so black one could barely see them at night. They where hostile at first, but we quickly made clear we would dispatch them with ease if they did not obey. They had no knowledge of bronze, and even swords seemed alien to them. It would be simple for the empire to conquer these barbarians. Indeed, they were even less civilized then the Celts of the north. They called the village we had come to Timbuktu, and it was merely a seasonal camp for them, to use in the coolest months. For the rest of the year they were further south, where there were great forests.
Legatus Flaccus decided they were of little consequence here, we would push south, along the river now known as the Niger, will we came to the great dark jungles. It was here, that Legatus Flaccus ordered a fort built, and scouts to be sent out to explore the regions around us. Any of the black skinned inhabitants encountered who would not surrender to the might of the Roman Empire where to be captured and brought back, so their villages could be found and conquered.
Alas, that is when things began to go wrong, as the spirits of this land were not friendly to our cause, and the jungle was rife with savage creatures we had never encountered before. The barbarians too, while extremely barbaric even by their standards, and lacking in armour or proper weapons beyond the spear, knew the land well. It should have been simple matter of wiping out any of their settlements which opposed us, and indeed, at first it was, we lost few people, and the fort was completed on time, but then came a horrible night.
The barbarians came at us, but they carried with them spirits native to their people and lands, spirits in physical bodies that would not die, no matter how many times they were pierced by spears and cut by blades. Many more of our number died that night, only to be pulled of into the darkness.
Even so, had it stayed at that, we would have prevailed. We were legionnaires after all, we fought the Gauls, Picts, and many other northern barbarian tribes. But, the very next night, the barbarians were back, and this time, it was not only them, but legionaries, those of us who had fallen the night before, came back in number, and battered at our ranks. The underworld indeed, as they closed with us, they held no formation, their weapons were clumsy in their hands, and their eyes were as dead as black mountains we had crossed.
I remember my own encounter one of them, as they scaled the walls of the fort, I saw one take down another legionnaire, I rushed to his assistance, and split the skull of his attacker, yet it would not cease its movement. Then, I felt something wrap around my neck, and a great force pulled me forwards over the wall. The ground was bellow, and I crashed into. A momentary flash of pain…
I do not remember what came after, much like when one wakes from a dream, there was wisps of memory, but the moment I reached to grasp one it melted away like the shadows before the morning light of Sol. Now, I found myself laid out on a stone slab, merely dim lighting shining in from a cracks around a door above. My armour stood on a rack in the corner, my sword hung on the wall beside. Hunger gnawed at my belly. I stood better look around, and found my body stiff and slow to respond. Every movement took such great will, surely this must be the work of some malevolent spirit.
The armour and sword bore the resemblance of mine, but they could not be. They had been cared for, polished, at some point many months gone, indeed, to the point where the armour was papyrus thin, and had smooth openings in places there were to be none. The sword too was thin, as I picked it up, it cracked and bent under its own weight. Hunger gnawed at me even more.
I ascended the stairs, and found a wooden door. It was locked, but a bit of pressure brought it crashing down. Sunlight streamed though the windows, and with it came noise. The noise of a bustling city. I peeked out a window, and looked out upon the city. Buildings of clay brick, people in strange cloths moving around their business. I saw animals, that looked familiar. The name came to be, camels, I had seen them used in the Egyptian lands. Was I then somehow back in those lands, beyond the black mountains and the desert sands?
With the light, I looked down upon myself, and horror overwhelmed me. I tried to scream, but my throat betrayed me, as little more then a raspy moan made its way past my lips. I fell to my knees instead. My flesh was grey, splotched with green, rot ate away at the skin. Open sores marked great expanses of my arms and chest. Yet, the wounds where as dead and dry as the sun bleached sand. There was no pain, and as I touched my arm, the topmost layer of decay crumbled, exposing deeper layers of corruption. No blood run through my veins. No heart beat in my chest. Only hunger moved within the lifeless husk of my body.
I know not how long I knelt there, in the receding light bellow the window, but slowly I came to realize that the sounds of the city diminished, and the shadows grew long. I prayed to all the gods I could think of for an explanation, but none was forthcoming. Eventually I rose to my feat, and now avoiding the last vestiges of sunlight skirting though the windows, I made my way around the house I had found myself in.
I found him in a small side room, laid out on a cot, his eyes and mouth open, as the last of his life had left him. The flies had begun to gather, their eggs lined his orifices. An old man, black as the barbarians I had fought not so long ago. Yet his hair was greyed by time, undoubtedly he was the oldest person I had ever seen. On the far wall was an alter set up to his barbarian gods, lined with skulls and incense, humanoid dolls hanging from the rafters. I could feel as I approached the altar, the presence of spirits beyond my knowledge. Again wisps of memory teased my mind, and melted away.
The mans dead eyes stared at the ceiling, their vision blocked when a fly made its way across their dried surface. Suddenly, hunger stirred within me, I knew I needed to eat. Somehow, I knew that feeding on this corpse would do well for me, and though I was a Legionnaire, not some northern barbarian, I succumbed to the need for flesh. An outside observer within my own body, I watched myself as I sank my hands into the old mans abdomen, digging for the soft organ tissues within. If ever there was any taste that could compare to the ambrosia of the gods, this had to be it.
I… I am afraid I lost myself to barbarity for a bit after, as having cleaned the old man down to pure bone, I found my body feeling stronger and fresher. The sores of my skin closed up, The green rot receded. The hunger diminished, yet the aftertaste remained. I went out that night, I prowled the dark streets and sleeping homes. I do not know how many I killed before reason returned to me. My body however was once again fit and right, nary a sign of the stiffness in my limbs or the rot upon my skin. Even the pallor of death had all but disappeared.
I left the city before first light, I could feel the spirits of the area where agitated. The events of that night, it agitated some, elated others. I abandoned the useless relics that had been my blade and armour, and set off the road, towards the distant horizon. I eventually learned from others I met on the road, that the city I had left was called Mut, and was the farthest southern edge of the Roman Empire. I was elated at learning I was back on Roman soil, yet my joy was short.
From my understanding, near to 400 years had passed till that day in the edges of the barbarian jungles, where I fell to my doom into the clutches of the black skinned tribes. Somehow though, my body had been preserved and survived all those years, in the lands inhabitants, even making its way back north over the desert sands and the mountainous wall. Stranger yet, either Pluto had seen fit, for reasons I could not recall, to release my spirit back into the world of the living, or the Parcae had for reasons of their own plucked the thread of my life from their tapestry, and where reusing it in a new design.
I spent years travelling this new world thereafter. I returned to my home in Pompeii, but I could not find it. The roads that had led there no longer did, and only the oldest of historians could recall its existence. It had been destroyed long ago, Vulcanus having become angry and spilling the embers of his forge across the city. I sought instead then to reclaim my place within the Roman Imperial Legion, but the Roman empire had changed so much. No longer was there one, but now two empires, split in half by some decades old schism. Neither did they worship the gods, for a new god had arisen. Even the Emperors bowed to this new god.
Having myself so recently felt what could have only been the working of Pluto or the fates, I could not condone this abandonment of our gods. I took to the roads, seeking out to learn what I could of this world. I travelled along the old legion roads to the north, the barbarians of those regions had shrugged of all control from Rome, and instead had begun to build their own cities. Travelling east, I came upon the lands of the Persian Empire. A great empire even in my own life, it still held strong, though in a constant state of war with its neighbouring Armenia and the Eastern Empire of Rome, the later two of which had fully converted to the new religion of Christianity.
From there I went south again, to where the Persian empire met the sea, and so we are brought here to this moment in time. Just the two of us, in a small basement room. And… keep your bodily fluids in control if you would."
“Why… why would you tell me all that?”
“You asked what I was. I had time, and it has been a while since I have talked to anyone other then merchants.”
“Please. Can I go? I have family, children… I don’t mean any harm. I wont tell a soul anything of what happened. Look, I’ll give you all the coin on me! I swear it on the grave of my forefathers, and children’s children to come!”
“You really should have thought of all that before you tried to mug me. Its too bad really, most times I’d let you go… but see, that dagger of yours is rather vicious, so much sliced and damaged muscle, organs, I really cant afford to have my physical appearance deteriorate in a city this size. If only you had sought a less fatal way to earn your coin.”
“NO… PLEASE NO! AHURA MAZDA SAVE ME! VILE CREATURE OF DRUJ! STAYGHRBLBALRGBLRAH…..”