Little Friends, by Chris Bone and Paul L. Mathews

"Rufinus! Watch where you’re walking!”

With the midday sun burning their necks as it rose above the Porticus Octaviae, the three men walked through the congested Vicus Bellonae. Porcius and his oldest friend Vinicius moved like sharks in water as, all grace of movement and keenness of eye. Between them walked Rufinus. Oblivious to his surroundings, the wiry redhead ambled along the street as he cradled his beloved basket, crooning to whatever he kept hidden under its lid.

“What do you keep in that damned basket, anyway?” asked Vinicius as they walked between the temples of Bellona and Apollo.

“My little friends!” the redhead said with a broad and genuine smile. He didn’t even bother to look at Vinicius, wide eyes still fixed on the basket. “My little friends…”

Vinicius rolled his eyes in exacerbation whilst passing his heavy pilum from one meaty, sweaty hand to the other. Porcius turned to look at him and smiled. All these years and the big man still hadn’t grown used to the introverted enigma that was Rufinus.

The trio rounded the corner of the Temple of Bellona only to find the street blocked by three men of the Circus Maximus. This swarthy trio rushed at the friends the moment they say them, drawing their gladii and pugios. Immediately Vinicius launched his pilum straight into the chest of the first. Slammed backwards by the force of the missile, the man crumpled into the dirt as if swatted by the gods. Undeterred, the other two bore down on them, and the nearest slashed at Porcius with a dirty, chipped gladius.

“Ha!” Porcius laughed as his lorica armour deflected the blow, and he riposted with a low and brutal thrust of his spear. Aim true and point sharp, the spearhead sank into the assailant's groin. The man squealed like a deflowered virgin, arterial blood spraying across the walls of the temple.

Meanwhile, Rufinus—eyes and smile still placid and wide—removed the lid from his basket and threw its contents directly into the face of the third ganger. The man cried out, dropping his two gladii as he clawed at the venomous black scorpions that now scuttled over his unprotected flesh. But it was too late. Rufinus’ ‘little friends’ marked the seconds of the man’s passing with stab after stab of their venomous stings.

“You see?” Rufinus asked of Vinicius, clapping with a childish glee as his victim screamed in agony and terror. “See how friendly they are!”

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