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The hunt begins


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December 22, 76 AD

It was early morning, the carts just having cleared the City. Lucius stood at the door of the insula, watching the first people wander out into te light of dawn. Workers hurrying, merchants carrying their wares, women running to the fountain for water. The city slowly waking up. He had left the barracks an hour earlier, and now he was waiting by the door, wrapped in his cloak, dressed like all the other rank and file vigiles in the city.

The slave girl could tell him the insula where Alexius lived, but not the door. So he was determined to be there before the man would leave (or come home) in the morning. There was no time to waste. Ovinia trusted this man; all Lucius knew was that he was her bodyguard, used to be a gladiator of some sort, and that he knew someone else who had been attacked. And that he had saved Ovinia from an attack before.

Maybe, just maybe, they could hunt down the attacker together.

@Atrice

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Saturnalia was still going on and Alexius had, as usual, been out to celebrate. Festivals were one of the things he enjoyed most about Rome, because they offered a rich opportunity to get drunk and get laid. Not that he didn't do that on any other day but the festivals too, but the festivals were just... different, for those sorts of things. And he had been out last night and he did wake up in a bed in a popina with his arm wrapped around an attractive younger man. He barely felt tired though, he was used to this life and he quietly left the bed and the lover, tossed the tunica over his head, strapped on the boot-like sandals he wore and tied the belt around his waist. It was the colder time of the year, so he probably should have worn breeches, but that just meant longer time undressing. And who wanted that, at Saturnalia? Instead he had a cloak and he picked it up, kissed the lover's head and left to go home. 

Outside the entrance to the part of the insula where he lived, stood a man clearly of the vigiles. And not one of the lower ranked either, it would appear. Good looking though. But he just left another lovely young man behind, so he probably should not already be thinking about such things... so he tried not to. Tried. Instead, Alexius looked up at the building, it didn't appear to be on fire or anything. Had there been any other kind of trouble here? Maybe there were vigiles inside, taking care of business. 

"Salve... is anything happening? Do you need help?" Not that he'd ever been one of the vigiles, but he'd encountered them plenty of times and he could easily have been one of them. But they had habit with showing up sometimes when there was a brawl at the tavern he was at, and that told him he probably should not be one of them. He enjoyed the brawls, after all.

@Chevi

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Lucius noticed the tall man approaching the building. He looked like he could be a bodyguard, or an ex-gladiator. Or maybe just someone blessed by the gods. He also looked like he had had a good night. Lucius almost forgot Saturnalia was still in full swing. He did not feel very festive anymore.

It was the other man that spoke first.

"Salve... is anything happening? Do you need help?" 

"I am looking for a man named Alexius." Lucius said cautiously, looking him up and down. "... A friend sent me."

@Atrice

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It was strange to find one of the vigiles standing outside of his building. He really hoped there wasn't an issue inside. What if Didia's brother had finally done her in? Gods he hoped not! But he better not jump to conclusions. The stranger told him he was looking for Alexius. That caused an arched brow, really? Wait, it was his fault the vigiles were here? Had he done something wrong? To something? Or someone? A million thoughts ran through his mind, while the other looked at him and then said a friend sent him.

"Oh? And this friend..." Alexius began, "Why would they send someone like you, looking for Alexius?" He was honestly a little worried he'd offended someone. He couldn't recall that he did, not directly anyway. But you never knew, with the people he met, if someone's husband was upset or something. 

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Lucius suspected that he had the right man, but there was no way of making sure until they introduced themselves. The other man looked suspicious, which only made sense, since, as Lucius was recently learning on a visceral level, really no one liked the vigiles in this godsdamn city.

"Oh? And this friend... Why would they send someone like you, looking for Alexius?" 

"Because Alexius works for her a bodyguard, as far as I understand." Lucius noted, then added "My name is Lucius. I am not here on vigiles business. I just happen to be one of them."

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At least the handsome younger man was frank and direct, Alexius could appreciate that. Too many people spent far too much time wrapping things into stories, instead of just saying what they meant. Alexius did like stories, but he also liked honesty and that's what was needed now. And now it made a little more sense, because there was only one person at the moment for whom he was a bodyguard. Ovinia. Fuck! This couldn't be good. But the other introduced himself, claiming he was not here on vigiles business. Really? Why then?

"Very well, Lucius... you found Alexius." Why lie anyway? If he was here for Ovinia, it had to be serious. Had she been attacked while he hadn't been there to protect her? What a bodyguard he proved to be for her! It had been a year since last Saturnalia, where he also managed to make a mess of something. Was this going to be a tradition? He hoped not. 

"Do you want to come in? Or find a popina to talk? I can imagine... this must be something serious?" Why else would Ovinia send Lucius for him?

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"Very well, Lucius... you found Alexius." 

As he had suspected. The man did look like a bodyguard... also, he was quite handosme, which explained why he was out and about this early in the morning on Saturnalia. Lucius felt a pang of frustration along with that thought. Why had he not been with Ovinia when she was attacked? Women walking alone on Saturnalia, that should not have happened... He swallowed his accusations.

"Do you want to come in? Or find a popina to talk? I can imagine... this must be something serious?" 

"It is very serious. Let's talk inside." He did not want to discuss any of this at a popina where anyone could hear. Instead, he followed Alexius inside the insula and up the stairs to the apartment where he was apparently living. He barely looked around, but waited until they were inside with the door closed. "Ovinia Camilla sent me. She has been attacked."

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Very serious. Alexius didn't like the sound of that. As much as he enjoyed a drink, a brawl and pleasure... he also enjoyed keeping people safe and the people he deemed his friends, he cared deeply about them. Ovinia was one of those. He didn't know if she felt the same, but he thought she might, after their talk at the plebian games. And it was her who sent Lucius, and it was serious. Fuck. Twice. At least.

He showed the way up the stairs towards his simple flat and the door had just closed, when Lucius spoke again. 

"I suspected as much." Alexius said with a sigh, already feeling frustrated, "One moment..." He went to check if Lexus was at home, but the boy had clearly also been out celebrating last night. Or whatever he did. He had tried taking Teutus' advice on talking to his son, but it was still not very easy.

"Alright, my son is not at home. Come, sit..." He invited Lucius over towards the table. His concern was mostly for Ovinia and not yet so much for why she sent Lucius, who said he was not here on vigiles business... "Attacked? How?" Had she been violated? Fucking cunts! Saturnalia was for pleasure and fun, not the opposite! "Did you find the attacker?" And strangle his guts out?

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The apartment was small - much like many of the places Lucius had patrolled in the past weeks, putting out or preventing fires, or carrying burnt debris outside. He had never really been a guest in one before, though. Alexius checked to see if they were alone. He was cautious. Good. Lucius took a seat.

"Attacked? How? Did you find the attacker?" 

"No." Lucius sighed, clearly frustrated with that answer. "I will need your help to find him. Apparently he had attacked her before, and you stepped in? She says it was the same man. And that he's attacked others before too, someone you knew, and someone know to... the slave that helped her this time? Tiberius' body slave. From the Palatine." It was complicated. Lucius waved a hand and frowned. "He cut her. Twice. She is... hurt, and terrified. She said I can trust you. We need to find that man." The intentions did not need to be elaborated.

@Atrice

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Just hearing that she'd been attacked was enough to agitate him and he was already jumping to conclusions on what had happened. Because at Saturnalia, there were barely a ton of things that could have happened, right? With people in such high spirits and out for a good time... but he let Lucius speak. And the more he spoke, the more upset Alexius felt and he stood again, although he'd taken a seat just before. He began pacing. How could you possibly sit still when hearing such news?! Ovinia's old attacker, the one from the night they met, had found her again. What the fuck?! And she was certain he'd attacked others before. Didia. Deianira. Was it really the same one? 

It had to be, from what he said. The attacker had just cut Ovinia and she was hurt and terrified. Alexius stopped walking, running both hands through his hair. He had at least slept last night. And currently, he wasn't drunk. Was that a good thing though? 

"Yes... we do need to find him. It does sound like it's the same. The same man pays to cut girls at the Elysium, I'm sure. And I think he may have murdered a girl near the circus too, over a year ago. He's been around for awhile. I don't know..." He inhaled a breath, let out a frustrated sigh, "I don't know why no one else but me has looked for him before! And now he cut Ovinia! Fucking..." He trailed off, tried to steady himself, looking at Lucius, "Sorry, but... it's just... it makes no fucking sense!" 

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Alexius jumped up as soon as he sat down, and started to pace. He was clearly upset by the news. Did he care for Ovinia? Or did he care for his own reputation as a bodyguard?...

"Yes... we do need to find him. It does sound like it's the same. The same man pays to cut girls at the Elysium, I'm sure. And I think he may have murdered a girl near the circus too, over a year ago. He's been around for awhile. I don't know..." 

"A year ago?..." Lucius frowned. The man had been on a spree for a year, and no one was out in force to get him?

"I don't know why no one else but me has looked for him before! And now he cut Ovinia! Fucking... Sorry, but... it's just... it makes no fucking sense!" 

"Oh believe me, I know." He was not going to offer any details on how he knew Ovinia. "Why has no one told the vigiles yet? If a man is running around cutting and killing woman, this is like... our entire goddamn job!"

@Atrice

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Alexius' reputation as a bodyguard and former gladiator was fine enough. And he currently also had his job with Teutus' warehouse and that was also going well... he did not consider his reputation at all. But he considered Ovinia, that sweet and pretty girl, maimed by this maniac... who had hurt others before her. It had to be the same. But why did it have to be her, before someone got word to the vigiles?

Lucius frowned too, but Alexius went on, very clearly upset by the news. At least he agreed. And then wondered why no one had told the vigiles yet.

"It seems he mostly frames... insignificant people. Not that that should matter, but clearly, it does." Fucking Romans, even in matters like these, rank mattered more to them!

"I'm surprised the murdered girl's employer didn't send word back then." He sighed deeply, "But... there's so little to go by. We don't even know what the man looks like. And it seems all of Rome is his hunting ground." 

@Chevi

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"It seems he mostly frames... insignificant people. Not that that should matter, but clearly, it does. I'm surprised the murdered girl's employer didn't send word back then."

Lucius hated the idea that some people were more significant than others. Or that anyone was insignificant at all. It was not a very patrician way of thinking about it, but then again, he was not a patrician anymore. He liked people. People were interesting. Except for some, like that vile murderous motherfucker they were about to hunt down.

"Maybe he did. Wouldn't be the first one to slip through the cracks." He had been with the vigiles long enough to know.

"But... there's so little to go by. We don't even know what the man looks like. And it seems all of Rome is his hunting ground." 

"We do know some." Lucius noted, taking a deep breath. "Ovinia had seen him. Maybe others know some too. Between the two of us, we know quite a lot, I think... actually, do you have something to write on?"

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Well that didn't make it better, that Azarion's master might have sent word the the vigiles... and nothing was done. You did have to do everything yourself here, didn't you? If you weren't a Senator or someone else of a good family - and Ovinia was - nothing would happen. Slaves and plebians didn't matter like that, they were just the workforce and could be replaced if needed. If maimed or murdered. 

There wasn't much to go by, when looking for the attacker though, as he seemed to roam all over Rome and they didn't know his appearance. Alexius had not been to see Azarion since they met, didn't know he'd encountered the vile creature too. But Lucius pointed out that Ovinia had seen the man and thought others had too. Then wondered if Alexius had something to write on.

"Maybe..." He wasn't sure, to be honest, that they had anything like that in their small home. Alexius never used it. He didn't know if Lexus did, but maybe? He was quite certain Lexus knew how to read and write a little. His mother was smart, having raised him like that. It felt wrong though, going through his son's things, "Maybe my son has something." He suggested and disappeared behind the curtain of Lexus' bed. When he reemerged, he did have a worn wax tablet in his hand. This was better, making him do stuff. Just sitting still and talking about this wouldn't get them anywhere.

He handed the tablet to Lucius, "I found this. Why? Did Ovinia tell you what he looked like?" And why would they need something to write on? 

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Alexius rummaged around and found a writing tablet. The wax was worn, but clear, and there was a stylus too. Lucius set it down on the table.

"I found this. Why? Did Ovinia tell you what he looked like?" 

"Some, yes." he nodded "And we know he has attacked others. So, for each one, we have a place, a time, and an informant." He jotted down some words as he spoke. "Ovinia, the day before yesterday. Abandoned building on the Esquline. And before that, the first attack, where you helped." He glanced up, waiting for Alexius to fill in the when and the where. "Then there is Tiberius' slave... um, Jason? She said his brother, or something, was attacked too. We need to go talk to him." He took more notes. "And then there is you. Who else do you know that got attacked?"

@Atrice

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So Lucius could write. Well that was good, at least. Alexius sat down again, with a small sigh, while Lucius began going over what they did know. He felt as if this was a return to the conversation he had with Azarion and Marcus, his master. But maybe Lucius would be more useful, if he was with the vigiles. Who hadn't done anything though. But he wasn't here as a vigile. Alexius looked at him while he was talking. How did Lucius know Ovinia? People of the Senatorial rank didn't make it to the vigiles. But they weren't talking about that now. Attacked people... right. He tried his best to recall what he knew.

"Ovinia... I met near the Piscina Publica, I think. I don't know who this Jason is? We'll need to find out." They'd need to go to the palace to find out! Had he ever been there? Maybe as a gladiator, ages ago. But he couldn't recall that he had.

"My friend Didia, who lives here, got attacked. Near the Via Lata I think? She said her attacker just wanted to cut her. And it was something about a broken glass vial, that the man had." Maybe that would lead somewhere? Maybe Lucius had an idea... "It had a scent to it of some sort. Some kind of expensive oil? With citrus." That's what he thought anyway, "Who would have that? And want to cut someone, for fun?" That's the part of it he still didn't understand. Why would you do that? To anyone? For your own pleasure and nothing else? Alexius stood again, to rummage for some wine. Hopefully he had some.

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"Ovinia... I met near the Piscina Publica, I think. I don't know who this Jason is? We'll need to find out." 

"Tiberius will know" Lucius waved a hand, not really taking the time to explain how a vigiles recruit would know an imperial. He made note of the Piscina Publica, he already knew approximately when it happened.

"My friend Didia, who lives here, got attacked. Near the Via Lata I think? She said her attacker just wanted to cut her. And it was something about a broken glass vial, that the man had. It had a scent to it of some sort. Some kind of expensive oil? With citrus. Who would have that? And want to cut someone, for fun?" 

Lucius kept taking notes. Dida. Lived here. Via Lata. Broken glass vial. Expensive citrus oil... He looked up. "Really?..." Oil. Scents. Cutting... there was something there, but he could not quite put a finger on it. "A very sick person, obviously." He frowned. "And the girl who got killed? Did you know her?"

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Alexius didn't know exactly which Tiberius they were referring to, but it had to be someone of a high rank, if he was on the Palatine. And at the palace. This whole ordeal opened up a whole new world, didn't it? Alexius just hoped it would all turn out well. And that they'd finally find the attacker. He'd love to personally strangle the guy with his own guts, or something. Maybe after beating him up. It was rare he really wanted to beat someone up, like this, but... now the attacker had gone after more than one person that Alexius knew. That was enough.

He explained about Didia and Lucius took notes, while Alexius looked for wine. Not slowly either. He was raised properly, wasn't he? A true Roman, who knew these things. And now a vigile. Weren't those usually freedmen or something like it? He nodded when Lucius looked up at him. They could easily agree it was a sick person who did this.

When he sat down by the table again, he had half a jar of wine and two cups. He filled both up almost to the rim and handed one to Lucius, "I didn't know the girl who got killed. But I heard about a murder near the circus, unsolved, so I went to find out more. I met this slaveboy, Azarion, who knew her. Found her, even." Poor guy, "And we spoke to his master too. Nothing had been stolen from this girl. She hadn't been violated either. Just... killed. Brutally. That's why I think it may be connected to the attacks." Alexius inhaled a breath, he hadn't even seen it happen, but he could imagine the fright and how terrible it must have been for the girl, before she died. He downed a good gulp of wine.

"How do you know Ovinia anyway?" Alexius asked, he didn't know Lucius and she'd never mentioned a Lucius on any occasion before. And if he was a vigile, surely he wasn't the suitor she was thinking about when they went to the arena. Or what? He was good looking and easy to talk to. Maybe? But again, how would she know a vigile personally?

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Alexius produced some wine, which was good. Lucius drank. He had gotten up early at dawn, after not much sleep anyway, and now he was running mostly on anger, determination, and the knowledge that they had leads.

"I didn't know the girl who got killed. But I heard about a murder near the circus, unsolved, so I went to find out more. I met this slaveboy, Azarion, who knew her. Found her, even."

A girl had been killed. Lucius shuddered as he took notes. That could have been Ovinia... he did not want to think about that. What kind of a monster just went around... cutting and killing women?

"And we spoke to his master too. Nothing had been stolen from this girl. She hadn't been violated either. Just... killed. Brutally. That's why I think it may be connected to the attacks." 

"That's... possible. Why kill her though, and not the others?..." Lucius wondered, making a mark in his notes. Maybe she resisted?... He pondered the list, the list of victims and the list of people to talk to, as he drank more wine. Alexius' next question jolted him out of his thoughts.

"How do you know Ovinia anyway?

Right.

"She... my brother courted her." That was the easiest way to explain, right? "I... my family's patrician. My brother is a senator. I decided to join the vigiles. Long story... I know Ovinia from before." And definitely not after. Making out in an alley or anything. Lucius cleared his throat.

@Atrice

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He was glad to see Lucius took his wine, that was a good sign. They were on the same page here, they both wanted to find the attacker. Alexius had been looking for more than a year though, Lucius had literally only just begun, because of Ovinia. Naturally Lucius came up with a good question, why the attacker would kill one girl and not the others. 

"I think her friend said she both had her throat slit, and she'd been stabbed. Oh, and her backside was cut too, near the shoulders." That's what he'd managed to put together anyway. Three times had she been cut by this maniac! It had to be either the throat or the chest that killed her. Which meant she had to endure pain through the other cuts first. So sick! He had to try and think of something else, so he downed some wine and asked how Lucius knew Ovinia. He spoke of his brother courting her, and he was a patrician that joined the vigiles. Alexius arched a brow, that was new! 

"From before?" Alexius said, noticing how Lucius cleared his throat after the last words. Ovinia might be just a few years younger than Lucius, whose brother she courted. Was the brother the suitor she'd asked about? Or Lucius? There was something that Lucius was not telling him. And if it was his job to look out for her, it was in her best interest that he learned more about Lucius. Suddenly he was more than curious, "You know, you can trust me. I don't think Ovinia would send you over to me if she didn't trust me." 

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"I think her friend said she both had her throat slit, and she'd been stabbed. Oh, and her backside was cut too, near the shoulders." 

Lucius made another note. Ovinia had been cut on the shoulder too. Did he not like his victims looking at him while they bled?... But now, the conversation had strayed to more personal matters. Alexius was curious. Which was understandable. Lucius did not fit neatly into a box, and he had Ovinia's confidence. And the man was supposed to be protecting her.

"From before?"

"Before... before her family called off the engagement. To my brother." he explained. Before he joined the vigiles. The engagement technically never happened in the first place, but it could have. He was glad it didn't.

"You know, you can trust me. I don't think Ovinia would send you over to me if she didn't trust me." 

"I am glad she has someone she trusts." Lucius smiled a little. "Ovinia... Ovinia and I had our differences, but she is a... friend. And I don't like seeing her hurt. Also... no one can ever know this happened to her. Her father swore us to secrecy, and so did she. If this ever got out, and she has been attacked..." he frowned.

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Lucius made a lot of notes. Alexius hoped Lexus wouldn’t be too upset over Lucius borrowing the tablet, then again, when had he last used it? Where was Lexus anyway? Out there in Rome, where a man attacked people for no other reason but pain. And Ovinia was just attacked. But he tried to think about something else, so attempted to figure out how Lucius knew Ovinia. He wasn’t born yesterday, people did not take him for the best thinker in the world, but he was better than his reputation at such things.

 The other said he’d known Ovinia before the engagement to his brother, and Alexius gently tried to tell Lucius to trust him. Because he could! Lucius’ little smile, when he said he was glad Ovinia had someone she trusted… the way he spoke of differences, yet he didn’t like to see her hurt. And it could never get out that she was attacked.

 “It won’t get out.” Alexius laid a hand on top of Lucius, meeting his eyes, “If it does, it won’t be through me anyway. Ovinia is a lovely girl. I wish her only the best.” But she knew that too, as he’d already told her. Even if he could not do anything but protect her, because she was young and unmarried and untouched – except for by a sick bastard – she was out of his league, yet. And Lucius was too, he had to be, since he joined the vigiles. He’d love to hear the whole story someday. But now wasn’t the time.

 Alexius realized his hand was still on Lucius’ and withdrew it casually, using the same hand to grasp his cup, as if that was the plan the whole time, “What should we do first?” Back to business, at least he’d try. For Ovinia’s sake and for Didia’s and so many others.

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Such a strange man. Lucius looked up, a little surprised, when Alexius put a hand on his. He was not at all what he would have pictured as a bodyguard. And he clearly cared for Ovinia. How much...?

“It won’t get out. If it does, it won’t be through me anyway. Ovinia is a lovely girl. I wish her only the best.” 

"Yeah. Me too." Lucius looked back at his notes, for lack of a better place to look. He was not good at avoiding giving things away while he himself was not sure yet what it really was that he was trying to not give away.

“What should we do first?”  

"I... think we should go talk to this Jason. Find out about the other victim." Lucius suggested. "See if the places where he has attacked, or the times, or the victims... have something in common?"

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Lucius seemed surprised when Alexius touched his hand, he wasn't used to such kindness? Affection even. But this was only to make a point, that's all. He just wanted to be sure that Lucius understood that they were on the same page and Alexius would not carry out gossip about her. Especially not a thing like this! She said, or claimed, that all she wanted was marriage and children. She'd never find a good husband, if this got out. And how she needed to find that! Especially now!

He took his hand back and drank, tried to return to the conversation from before and Lucius thought they should find Jason. And he came with other suggestions.

"All those I know about are women... defenseless women. Maybe he doesn't like it when they fight back? Bastard as he is!" He assumed the women were defenseless, anyway. Ovinia didn't know how to fight, he was sure. Why else would she need a bodyguard? He'd been teaching Didia, after it happened. It was probably the same with the others. 

"Do you think we'll find anyone able to talk now? It's still fairly early." He then pointed out, "I just came home, after all." He added with a small smile, recalling the pleasures of last night. Uncalled for, when Ovinia had been hurt... but that didn't make anything else that happened, forgettable.

"Or do you know anyone at the Palatine, who could direct us to this Tiberius?" There was probably more than one Tiberius at the palatine and Alexius didn't know the Imperial family that well. 

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"All those I know about are women... defenseless women. Maybe he doesn't like it when they fight back? Bastard as he is!" 

"He likes the fear." Lucius frowned. He did not aim to kill Ovinia, he had told her that much. He got off the blood, the fear... the power. He was the worst kind of human being.

"Do you think we'll find anyone able to talk now? It's still fairly early. I just came home, after all."

Saturnalia. Right. He had almost forgotten all that. To think that a few days ago this Saturnalia had seemed to be going in a so much better direction...

"Or do you know anyone at the Palatine, who could direct us to this Tiberius?" 

Lucius blinked. Right.

"Oh, I know Tiberius. I've met him at a party, he..." listens to my counsel "I know him. He's the emperor's brother. If we tell him this is serious, he will listen. If he's home."

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