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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27. The Unmasking

Nimr approached the city's western gate with caution. There were several centurions, both on foot and on horseback, who were keeping their eyes out for anyone of concern. Nimr didn't want to attraction their attention, even though he was confident he could slay all of them if he had to.

He was nearly upon them when another guard rode in from behind, pulling up and yelling at the top of his lungs.

"You are summoned to the Eastern Square, all of you! Three guards of Marcus Paulus are dead and he himself is missing!"

That caused a stir. The guards murmured amongst themselves as they made off.

Freedom was now a simple thing to attain. Yet Nimr's curiosity was piqued. He was all too aware of Paulus' role in his former master's decline.

I should leave. I should seek a new life beyond these walls. It is what Ekwu and Nepos both wish of me.

He knew he should seize the chance. But, he also knew, if things were happening, things that could change the balance of this struggle, that he should be there. He turned around, to follow the guards, and see what he could do.

****

His immediate task completed, Praxites returned to the surface of the city with the need to seek out the home of Marcus Paulus, somehow gain entry to the bedchamber, and steal the secrets from the vault. He was not at all sure how he would accomplish this, though he knew it had to be performed quickly, lest the authorities discover what had happened.

The guards had been found and several centurions and officers of Rome were marching through the streets, asking all if they had seen or been in contact with Paulus. When one of them asked him, he shook his head and asked what had happened, feigning shock at news that someone had the audacity to murder three guards in broad daylight.

"It's the Tiger!" Some of the crowd yelled. That sent panic through the rest, which worked nicely for Praxites- he made his way through the streets, in the general direction of Paulus' villa, so far unimpeded.

He was moving in what he hoped was the right direction, when he heard the sound of hooves thundering upon the ground. He ignored them at first, but they were getting closer. He turned around, worried some fool was about to ride into him- and saw a familiar face- even hooded, he recognised that jaw.

"Tiger!" He hissed. Nimr pulled at the reins, halting the horse, looking astounded.

"Praxites! What are you doing so far from the ludus?"

"Dominus sends me on vital quest! What are you still doing within the city walls?"

Nimr looked back. "I have heard word that Marcus Paulus is missing. I cannot help but feel now is the best chance to help Nepos."

Praxites grinned. "Paulus is not missing. He is dead. He revealed secrets to me that I am now on my way to claim. Secrets that will free Dominus from his bondage."

It took Nimr a moment to process that. "Where do these secrets reside?"

"Within the bedchamber of Marcus Paulus. I make way to his home now." Praxites began to walk. "Time is vital. I imagine centurions will soon be swarming his home and that word of his disappearance is already spreading."

Nimr looked in thought. "I can provide diversion if his home is already under guard. I am a wanted man, easily recognised; the guards will desire the prize that is my head."

Praxites laughed. "We all desire that prize!"

Nimr snorted. "You will never be good enough get it, dozy fuck!"

The two men laughed again, as they made their way toward the gates of the late Paulus' villa. As they had expected, several centurions stood watch. Paulus had clearly upped his security in recent days.

"Time to provide them with prized catch..." Nimr threw off his cloak, riding forward. "Your master is dead! Slain by my hand! He is but one of many arrogant and cruel Romans who shall fall by my hand!"

The guards shared looks of surprise and anger, before drawing their swords. Their leader snarled.

"You shall be chopped into pieces and fed to the dogs!" The man cried. The guards charged Nimr, who, unexpectedly, charged back. He drew a sword from his side (kept from his escape from Vibius), and in one mighty swing loped the head off the closest guard. He easily parried the next couple of blows and kicked another guard down before riding off, the remaining guards giving chase, calling out for reinforcements.

For Praxites, it was an easy matter to sneak in now. None of the servants opposed him when he told them their master was dead; one, a girl named Cadwyn, wept with tears of apparent joy.

The wall behind the bedchamber was where Paulus had claimed to have hidden his most valuable information. Sure enough, a gentle tap revealed it to be hollow.

A firm strike with the end of one of Paulus' small stone statues was enough to break the wall. Within were several rolls of parchment. Praxites had his prize.

****

The day was turning toward dusk when the body of Marcus Paulus was found in the sewers. Ironically the location was not too far from where his guards had been killed.

News reached the ears of Caius Metellus shortly afterward. Concerned, he sent two messengers- one to his brother, and one to Paulus' home, in theory to check the estate- in practise to seek signs of worrisome theft.

The second messenger reported back soon after, to reveal that Paulus' bedchamber had been vandalised- a hidden compartment within a wall had been broken into and the contents stolen.

That gave Caius great cause for concern.

His brother now approached the home of Caius, a well-furnished yet small villa, befitting Caius himself. They had much to discuss and plan, and potentially little time to do it.

Once Caius had seated his brother in the dining area and informed Vibius of the latest developments, their discussion turned to their next course of action.

"Nimr most have known something. He took the one thing that could lead us to ruin!" Vibius' face was red with rage. "And if he knows something, then that shit Nepos most certainly knows as well!"

"Calm yourself brother. Yes, they know, but they will not have had time to act. We do on the other hand, have opportunity to strike deadly blow. Nimr was witnessed gleefully confessing to Paulus' murder whilst riding away from his villa. This gives us just cause to seek the arrest of Nepos on the grounds that he commissioned Nimr to murder Paulus."

Vibius glared at his brother from across the table. "What motive do we place upon Nepos for wishing Paulus dead?"

Caius spread his arms out. "Nepos was aggrieved at Paulus' handling of recent affairs and loss of coin. He sought to strike out and when the recently escaped Nimr returned to him he gave Nimr the assignment of killing Paulus."

"Plausible." Vibius muttered. "What if Nepos resists arrest?"

"Then as a senator I can order centurions to storm ludus and place all within his household under arrest. I can see to it all his possessions are seized. We can then offer him a choice- give up documents in exchange for limited freedoms, or be executed."

Vibius smiled. "I rather hope he resists arrest."

"Oh it won't matter. Either way, I will give the order to storm his home."

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