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Mid-July, 75CE

Thessala had a whole table to herself. Not that the popina was less busy than usual, far from it; but the last guy who came over and tried to start something with her got a glare and a hissed Thracian curse that made him retreat at double speed. Thessala did not look like her usual self - her costume destroyed in the earthquake, and her will to put on her witch persona drowned in the drinks she'd been having since that day - but the way she looked now, with her hair tangled and the circles under her eyes apparently looked even more threatening than an intentional performance.

Everyone could go fuck themselves. Even the gods.

Especially the gods.

The buried Rana. She was gone. So were others from the ludus, some she missed and some she did not care about except for the way the gods decided to do away with them. All of it was shit. Thessala drank like a barbarian, nursing her cup and nursing the pain she still had in her ribs.

Whoever came over to her table next better be very brave. Or very dumb.

@Atrice

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It was only a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago, life was as normal as it had been for over a decade. Manius would go to work and when he came home, Salacia would be there. She would kiss him and he would hold her and they would take care of each other. They weren’t entirely young anymore, but they were together and they loved each other, even after 15 years spent together. It was a long time to be married and stay with the same person. But now it was over and not because any of them had desired it.

No, apparently life had been too good to him. And Manius had taken it for granted and now… now the gods had decided to prove to him, that he should never take anything for granted. Salacia was gone and he didn’t know where she was. There hadn’t even been a body found. She was just… not there. And then he lost his job. All Manius had now was his home and if he didn’t get any new work soon, he wouldn’t be able to keep it. Then he’d have nothing. But did he really deserve more than that?

The world was once more weighing his shoulders down and Manius decided to attempt drowning the memories with cheap wine. It’s all he could afford anyway. He should not waste his last coins on drink, but here he was.

He got himself a cup of the cheapest wine and spied a seat. The table was occupied, but only by one woman and there were more seats by the same table. Not that the woman looked like the friendly sort, but he wasn’t looking for that. She had a slave collar around her neck. Not that it mattered. He approached the table and the woman with the cup in his hand and stopped with a small sigh, “Can I sit here? I won’t bother you. You can pretend I’m not here.”

@Chevi

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Someone moved towards her table, and Thessala looked up, hair falling into her face. She was drunk enough not to care whether the person was free or a slave, and she was sure as shit done with niceties. She just wanted people to leave her alone so she could get blind drunk until she did not remember Rana anymore. Or maybe beat someone up. Even better.

“Can I sit here? I won’t bother you. You can pretend I’m not here.”

"I won't have to pretend if you are actually not fucking here" she noted, glaring at him over her cup "I'm not in the mood for limp cock. Move along."

@Atrice

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The woman looked up, hair falling in front of her face. She looked like... something that had crawled up straight from the Underworld. Some sort of demon, he thought to himself. Maybe she was? Maybe she'd crawled up here to taunt him and torture him, because he couldn't even keep his own wife safe. He'd done so much to try and keep Salacia safe and alive in Rome, she had been so delicate, she was not of the Underworld, she was of the Elysium (literally, she used to belong to the previous owner) and she was too good for this world. Maybe the gods had reclaimed her and now they were mocking Manius for not taking care of her, when she needed it the most. 

The woman said, in her own way, that she didn't want him there. Her language was crude and she seemed so angry. She told him to move along. Manius looked around. There were no where else to sit. All other tables and chairs and stools and benches were occupied. Only this woman here didn't have companions at her table.

"This is the only table with empty seats." He pointed out, but he really wasn't in the mood for a verbal fight with anyone... so clearly, this wasn't going anywhere. Manius went to lean against the wall next to the table, he had to be somewhere. Couldn't just stand there in the middle of the room. 

@Chevi

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"This is the only table with empty seats."

Well, at least he was not trying to hit on her. Or start a fight. Thessala huffed, downing her cup of unwatered wine before refilling it. The man leaned against the wall nearby, looking uncomfortable, and in about as foul a mood as she was. She stubbornly held her silence, it was not her job to cheer up anyone else by handing out seats or whatever. Why did he have to hover right there?

"What?" she snapped, leaning her elbows on the table as she stared into her cup "The roof fell on your wine jugs or something?"

@Atrice

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Why would he hit on her? He wasn't even considering it. And seeing that she sat alone, looking like some demon straight out of the Underworld, it was no surprise that no one were hitting on her or trying to bother her. Manius certainly wouldn't either. Instead he went to lean against the nearest wall, which happened to be right next to her table, but really, he had to be somewhere. He downed some of the wine. How many cups would it take? He looked out into the room, seeing people talking with their friends, drinking, smiling, laughing... he shouldn't be here. Once the wine was gone, he'd leave. Then the woman suddenly spoke to him and he gave her a surprised look, he wasn't bothering her just by standing and drinking wine, was he?

But she asked him a question. Manius shook his head, "No." He replied simply. His empty wine jugs at home were fine. The house still stood. Why was she talking to him? Did she want him to talk to her? What would she have him say? She'd dismissed him and now she kept talking to him anyway... she looked like she was ready to beat someone up. Maybe she'd beat him up. Maybe she'd knock him out and then at least he would not have any thoughts while he was knocked out. He wouldn't know though, if he didn't talk to her... "Did it fall on yours?" 

@Chevi

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"No."

No sense of humor. This man was either too sober, or a shit drunk. Thessala stared into her cup. She kind of hoped for a fight. Not the kind one had in the arena, although she would have been alright with that too. She just wanted to punch something that was not punchable. Someone's face would have to do.

"Did it fall on yours?" 

Thessala looked up, glaring at him.

"It fell on my friends." And Rana. Who was a friend, but maybe more. Or would have been, had she lived. Thessala hated that feeling, that would-have-been feeling no mortal could do anything about.

@Atrice

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After he told her that the roof did not fall on his wine jugs, she stared into her cup again. And he should have just left her be. He should not have talked to her again. She did not deserve what he did. She was a slave already and judging by the looks of her, she could do much better. Much better than he. But then, why was she talking to him? Did she want to talk to him? Or did she want to beat him up? She ought to, actually. So he decided to speak to her. Wondering if the roof fell on her wine jugs instead.

She glared at him and said the roof fell on her friends. 

Oh.

Manius downed a bit of wine. So was not the only one who lost someone.

"I'm sorry about that. Life is... cruel sometimes." Not to him though, but to her. Manius had just taken his life for granted and the gods chose to let him know in the worst way possible, that he should not. But he was certain this woman here did not take life for granted. Yet her friends were torn from her too. And that was unfair.

@Chevi

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She saw the change in the man's eyes as she told him about her friends. Well, friend. Rana, it hurt more than all the others. She felt a pang of satisfaction as he looked struck by her admission.

"I'm sorry about that. Life is... cruel sometimes."

"Life?" Thessala snorted, drinking more "Not the gods? Blasphemy." People said all kinds of shit when they had to face someone who was grieving. Thessala had already heard about the gods this and the gods that from the more religious members of the ludus. She knew the gods, her own gods, must have it out for her somehow, but she intended to stay drunk enough not to start considering why.

@Atrice

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Life was cruel, Manius thought. She'd lost someone, that's why she was so angry now. That's why she looked like she did and spoke like she did. Grief did that to some people. To other people, like Manius, it just weighed them down. He knew it was his fault, after all. He mourned Salacia, he missed her, he was grieving too, but... he knew that ultimately, it was his fault that he lost her. He couldn't blame anyone else. Not even the gods, as the woman there suggested.

"Not the gods." He replied to her, while she drank more of her wine, "The gods make plans. They do what they do, they give and they take... because we do what we do." It wasn't the gods that were to blame here. He understood that she was grieving, he was grieving too, but he also understood that he could not blame the gods. He could only seek to honor them. If they had anything good left for him. Maybe they hadn't. Why should they? He was so undeserving and Fortuna had never truly favored him. Venus had, Venus gave him love... but he took it for granted... and now it was gone. Now he was nothing. Manius emptied the rest of his wine in one gulp. Now he had nothing.

@Chevi

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"Not the gods. The gods make plans. They do what they do, they give and they take... because we do what we do."

Thessala looked up again, over her cup. She had intended to scare the man away, but he was still standing there, still talking, and looking like he really needed to be punched in the face. Not like he was being annoying. Rather, he looked... lost. Sad. Kind of someone who was hoping someone would hurt him. But honestly, it would have been like punching a puppy. Thessala groaned.

"Do they now?" she tilted her head, her hair falling over her shoulder "And what have you done, hm?"

@Atrice

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Why was she looking at him like that? Still looking angry and upset, groaning as he replied to her, but she didn't get up and she didn't do anything. Manius told her that basically, it was her fault that her friends died. Because the gods would give and take because of what people did. Like Manius, who took too many things for granted and now Salacia was gone. Maybe for good. There hadn't been a body and now it was so long ago, that it might never show up, if she really was dead. The thought of her delicate body withering away and turning into dust was rough. Everything was. But he could not make himself blame the gods. 

The woman questioned his words though and asked what he'd done then. 

"I failed. How can I blame the gods, when I was the one who failed?" He asked. This was turning into a strange conversation, he thought to himself. But he did fail. He failed his wife. He failed the gods because he failed his wife. But why did the gods take from this woman here? Was it because of her anger? "Are you angry with them... the gods?" 

@Chevi

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"I failed. How can I blame the gods, when I was the one who failed?"

I failed. Thessala stared at him. She'd failed. She failed getting the damn door open sooner. She could have saved Rana if she had just... gotten there sooner. Gotten the damn keys faster. Broke down the fucking door. 

Why blame the gods?

The gods didn't care about the fucking door.

"Are you angry with them... the gods?" 

"Does it matter?" she sighed, sitting back. She looked at him again, then gave a short nod at one of the empty seats. "I'm gonna be back at work soon, gonna kill some people, and work the anger out."

@Atrice

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After he spoke, she stared at him. Why wasn't she angry with him? Why did she not get up and punch his face? Instead she just stared and seemed distant for a few moments. Manius asked if she was angry with the gods for what happened, and she sighed and said it didn't matter. As if someone just poked her and the steam went off. She nodded to one of the empty seats by her table. What, she wanted him to sit now? After he offended her, by saying that it was her fault that her friends died. He failed, so she must have failed too. If she wasn't angry with the gods, she should be angry with him. Fortuna was never on his side, was she? 

He took a seat, placing his empty cup on the table in front of him. The woman said she would go back to work and kill people and let the anger out. Lucky her. Manius couldn't go back to work and he had no one to let his feelings out on. Wait, did she say she killed people?

"Where do you work, since you're going to kill people?" He asked her. She was a slave, he guessed that much, but he hadn't guessed yet which kind. Maybe he should turn to slavery again. What would people say though, if they heard he chose to be a slave, twice in his life? They'd think him mad. And maybe he was?

 @Chevi

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The man took the seat, and looked about as sad as his empty cup. Thessala refilled her own, hoping that the buzz would develop into full drunkenness before she could think better of it. It seemed like both of them had made some kind of a mistake. And they were going to drown the very thought if they succeeded.

"Where do you work, since you're going to kill people?"

"Where do you think?" she scoffed. What did he think, she was some kind of a crazy person, a body slave or something, about to go on a murder rampage? The thought amused her enough to smirk. "I fight in the arena for entertainment." If he'd already heard about some of the ludi taking damages in the quake, he'd put two and two together. He looked sober enough.

@Atrice

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Slaves did many things and you never knew what kind of a slave this woman was. She could be a bodyguard or a kind of odd female henchman (henchwoman?) for some criminal. Besides, it wasn't always the female gladiators got to kill. So he asked and she gave him a look, as if he should know and then she smirked and said she fought in the arena for entertainment. Oh... yes, of course. That made sense now. And he had heard about how some of the ludii had taken a lot of damage and some of the slaves there died. Hers had to be one of them. 

"Of course you do." Manius replied, looking at her. That's why she looked like a demon crawled up from the underworld - she was a gladiatrix and right now a pissed off and sad gladiatrix. Figures she'd be like that.

"I heard about the ludii... not that I ever go there. Did you lose many?" It was good, actually, to think and talk about something else but himself and how he failed his wife. He wouldn't go and kill because of it though. He wasn't angry. Maybe he should be, but he wasn't. He'd make a bad gladiator, because he wouldn't kill because he wanted to. He'd probably die the first day. Maybe that would be the easy way out. But it wasn't up to him do decide, was it? 

@Chevi

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"Of course you do." 

Thessala shrugged. Some people knew who she was. Some people knew who she was very well; she had followers who cheered for her and invited her to their parties. Others barely knew her or not at all, because they cared not for the arena, or were more interested in the Circus. She could not fault this random man for not recognizing her for the witch gladiatrix she was on her work days.

"I heard about the ludii... not that I ever go there. Did you lose many?" 

Thessala nodded. The gladiators and gladiatrices who had been locked in, they did not stand a chance. The lucky ones got away with serious injuries, some which would keep them from fighting again. Others... well.

"One hurt more than the others" she added, staring into her cup.

@Atrice

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Manius never went to the arena often. He had come there sometimes, when he was a slave and especially during Cyprianus' reign, because the dictator had to show himself at public events and such and Manius would be right behind him, guarding his back. But then he had not been watching the gladiators as much as he'd been doing his job as a servant and bodyguard to his master. Salacia hadn't liked the games either. She felt sorry for the poor souls down there, forced to kill or be killed. So they just didn't go there. But it made sense that the woman next to him was a gladiatrix. He had heard about how it went with some of the ludii during the earthquake and wondered if they lost many people. She mentioned she lost friends, after all. 

She nodded and then stared into her cup, saying that one had hurt more than the others. Even slaves loved people, he knew that. Both he and his wife used to be slaves, after all. Salacia was even born into it. But they loved. It pained him to think about her in past tense all the time. But she wasn't here and he assumed by now that she was dead. Gone for good, gone to soon. Like the gladiatrix' friend... or was it more?

"Did you love him?" Manius asked quietly, wondering if she was in as deep pain as he was. 

@Chevi

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"Did you love him?"

Thessala chuckled again, but there was no humor in it. People and assumptions. The question was wrong, but it was also annoyingly right. Did she?... Rana had been new to the ludus, a promising fighter, someone who would have grown into fame in the arena. She could have died in the sand, sure, but it would have been a death to be expected, a rare occasion of a gladiatrix falling in battle like the amazons of old. But dying from the roof falling on your head?...

Fuck he gods.

"Her. I think I did." she drank the rest of the wine and signaled for more, putting some coin on the table. "Doesn't matter now does it. And you?" she asked, looking at his cup and at his face. He was not happily drinking either.

@Atrice

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He looked at her when she chuckled, but she was not amused. That part was easy to tell - and Manius knew what it was. To laugh without feeling it. His life had been casual, the last many years. Nothing huge had happened. It had just been life, but it had been with Salacia and they had been happy together, in their own small way. As happy as a gentle and delicate woman could be with a troubled, overly cautious man could be. There hadn't been roses and rainbows, but it had been good. And now it was over, just like that. His life torn apart again. Everything was over.

The woman answered, said it had been a 'her' and that she might have loved her. She wanted more wine and Manius still had none, but he could talk to her. She said it didn't matter if she'd loved the person who was obviously dead. And then wondered if Manius had loved.

"If it didn't matter, you wouldn't be right here right now." Manius pointed out. He wouldn't be here either, if it didn't matter. So it did matter. 

"And I did love her. My wife. And now she's..." He trailed off and inhaled a deep breath. It was obvious, what she was. She was gone. And it wasn't even her fault, it was his. What else could it be?

@Chevi

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"If it didn't matter, you wouldn't be right here right now." 

Thessala lifted her eyes to glare at him again. He was not wrong, again. Just annoying. It did matter. Rana did matter. Maybe not to anyone else, really, not to the spectators or the owners, but she mattered to Thessala. Not that anyone cared about that, either.

"And I did love her. My wife. And now she's..."

"Dead?" Thessala did not usually rein in her words, even on a good day. And this was not a good day. But he was grieving for his wife, and at least they shared the pain. Misery and company, and all that. "Fuck." The wine arrived in a jug, and Thessala filled her cup, before nudging the jug towards the man.

@Atrice

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He had wondered if she loved the person, she lost during the earthquake. It sounded rough, if the roof truly fell on her friends and one in particular, that was harder for her to lose. She claimed it did not matter now though, whether she loved them or not - but Manius disagreed there, because she would not be sitting here, with this mood, if it didn't matter. And she shot him another glare for his answer, but she didn't say it was wrong. Then he explained that he did love his wife, but he could not bring himself to end the sentence he began. She was just gone.

The gladiatrix finished it for him, suggesting he was dead. It was his turn to look at her. He did assume Salacia was dead. But he didn't know... and the thought wasn't very pleasant... "She's gone." He said and the gladiatrix swore and then the new jug of wine arrived. She poured for herself and gestured towards the jug.

"You want to share... with me?" Manius replied, slightly surprised about that. Well they were talking and apparently both mourning lost ones, together now, but she didn't know him or what a horrible man he was, for not rushing back to his wife as soon as the ground began trembling.

@Chevi

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"She's gone." 

Oh, she was dead. She was so dead. She was d-e-a-d, crushed under a pile of rubble somewhere, and if he was very, very lucky, she was crushed into a pulp alone, and not in bed with some other guy. Men were sensitive about shit like that. This one needed to drink more and mope less.

"You want to share... with me?"

"Not if you're gonna be a pussy about it" Thessala scoffed, but she didn't take back the jug. He needed to get drunker. Maybe he would be more fun that way. Not that she was looking for entertainment. "How fun, huh. The two of us, drinking here. A gladiatrix walks into a popina and meets a..." she looked him up and down with the curiosity of a drunk person, and waved a hand in the air "... whatever the fuck you are."

@Atrice

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She didn't comment on it again, when he corrected her statement about Salacia being dead... to simply gone. He hadn't seen her. Maybe she'd run out on the street when the earthquake happened and somehow got taken by the crowd or maybe she had indeed fallen underneath rubble somewhere else or... well... only the gods knew what had happened to her, all he knew was that she was gone, it was weeks ago and it wasn't likely he'd ever see her again. If he did, then the gods had a cruel way of messing with his emotions, but it wasn't new. This woman here, she didn't know all that. Instead she would share her wine with him and she called him a pussy if he wouldn't take it. Manius arched a brow and poured the wine. If she insisted.

Then she noted how fun a coincidence it was that they sat here and wondered what he was, after looking him over. Manius downed a little bit of the wine, it felt warm and sour down his throat, but his heart thanked him for it.

"I'm not really anything." Manius replied to her, "I'm not a husband anymore. And I have no work." All he had was his history and that was kind of shady too, if you went back a little more than ten years. She probably wanted more than that though, the gladiatrix... "I'm a freedman, that's all I am." And that was barely anything anyway. He drank to that too.

@Chevi

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He did accept the wine. Good. Not that Thessala had qualms about getting drunk alone, but he looked like he needed to be at least as drunk as she was, and he had some catching up to do.

"I'm not really anything. I'm not a husband anymore. And I have no work. I'm a freedman, that's all I am."

"Man, you really got no one to kill" she noted, with a hint of pity. He was not as lucky with his work as she was. In some ways. But in others, he was at least free and she was still fucking owned by the ludus. "Freed, huh. How did that happen? Saved your coin? Did some favors? Made sure your dominus died happy?"

@Atrice

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