The Greatest Ludus

The Empire of Rome is at its height. The rich and powerful grow more powerful with each day. The corrupt grow more decadent and seek to avenge even the smallest of slights.

Young Titus Nepos, his beautiful wife Etruscilla and their trusted Doctore Nimr face a plot to crush their House by an unseen foe. They must unravel the history of Nepos' family and uncover a deadly secret, or face utter ruin.

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17. Become the Legend

Nimr felt pain. More pain than he had felt in years. Blood trickled from several wounds and bruises were developing all over his body. Yet he remained standing, utterly determined to defeat the man who stood before him- Decimus.

The man-mountain that was Decimus was not unhurt himself. His own wounds leaked blood and bruises of his own were coming up. Yet Nimr was in a worse state and they both knew it.

Decimus brought his swords up and went at Nimr again. The warrior pivoted and moved almost like a dancer, smashing his weapons against Nimr's own sword and shield. It took all of his concentration to dodge or block the incoming attacks, that seemed to be raining down from all angles.

It was hard going. Decimus, despite his own injuries, was striking as though completely fresh. He did not appear to be suffering even one bit from his wounds, whereas Nimr was aching all over. Deep down, he was tiring, and that would prove fatal unless he could turn the fight around.

His defensive efforts were frustrating Decimus. So far, every attack, every swipe and lunge and stab, had been blocked or avoided. Yet that seemed only to fuel Decimus more- he did not let up, even for a second. Nimr could feel himself wavering, so he had to act now.

As Decimus swung his left sword in, Nimr dropped to the sands. He stabbed his own sword out, and drove it straight down into Decimus' right foot. The bigger man howled in pain, and kicked Nimr in the face with his unharmed foot, but Nimr's sword had gone right through into the ground, and as he staggered back to his feet, he slammed his shield across Decimus' cheek, breaking it and sending Decimus stumbling, the sword embedding in his foot tearing free in a fountain of blood.

Before Decimus could right himself, Nimr had his sword back in his hand. He was upon Decimus in the blink of an eye and drove his sword into his stomach. Two more quick stabs to the liver followed, and Nimr leaped away, beating his chest and screaming with primal bloodlust.

The crowd went crazy. They could not believe what they had just witnessed. Some of them cheered, a few jeered, and nearly all of them were on their feet. Decimus, one of the true giants of the arena, lay dying, coughing up blood, lacking the strength to even stand.

Nimr, bloodied, bruised, and liberally coated in Decimus' blood as well, turned to face his fallen foe. His sword pointed to him as he glared downwards.

"You pledged I would die here, by your hand, and that it would not be merciful. Should I extend that same courtesy to you? Or should I finish you swiftly?"

Decimus struggled to lift his head. "If you... are.... are a man of h.... honour, you will give me the honour of enduring this pain, like a true warrior would."

Nimr had to admit he was surprised. The man was prepared to accept a slow, painful death, for the sake of glory. He met Decimus' eyes, saw the pride and passion in them, even now.

The crowd fell silent. Vibius had stood, holding his hands out to plead for silence. Aulus Opimius Ravilla, the owner of Decimus, stood as well, his face a picture of disbelief. Clearly he'd believed his man would emerge victorious.

"As I knew he would, the Tiger has triumphed! His victory has been hard-fought and well earned! His vanquished foe lies on the sands, his life's blood slowly seeping from him! Yet the medicus might yet be able to save Decimus- if given the chance! What say you good people, should Decimus, one of the heroes of the arena, be spared- or shall he die, here and now?"

Once more the crowds shouted, and jeered, and cheered and screamed and shrieked. Feet stamped in fury. Some wanted Decimus impaled upon the sands- others wanted him to have a chance to live. Nimr himself couldn't tell which way the decision would go.

The noise continued for a few moments, until Vibius once again held his hands out. He smiled- believing he had gauged the crowd correctly.

"You have decided!" He bellowed. "You have decided, in honour of his glorious achievements in this great Colosseum, that Decimus shall be given the chance of life!"

Another explosion of noise from the crowd. This one was short-lived, for Vibius continued to wave his hands, trying to make himself the centre of attention.

"The medicus will tend to his wounds and we shall know in time whether he shall survive. Have him removed from the arena!"

Guards rushed from the gates to lift Decimus. The man's face was one of pain and... sorrow? Nimr saw in his eyes what he felt within- that it wasn't right to rob him of a glorious death. Yet his dominus had spoken and Nimr was too new to the ludus to defy his master- especially considering his own agenda. He watched silently as the guards removed Decimus from the arena floor, not at all sure if the man- his toughest opponent by far- could survive his wounds. He only knew that in his place, he would welcome that final killing blow.

Vibius spoke again: "Today we welcomed Nimr to the Colosseum, and today we saw why he is known as the Tiger. Today he defeated one of this arena's true greats, and today he stands victorious, every bit the champion we knew he would be!"

Nimr held his sword and shield aloft, taking in the adoration of the cheering crowd, but he didn't feel it the way he used to. Nevertheless, he played his part, accepting their praise, as he slowly made his way back to the holding area, limping somewhat from his own injuries.

As he withdrew, he noticed, up with the senators, stood Crispina. He couldn't be sure, but he thought she was looking at him- right at him- and her expression was troubled.

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