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    Sweat rained from Cattianus’ brow, the day had been unspeakably hot. He prayed for
rain or at least a cool breeze.  The Gods left him unanswered. Roars and cheers filled his ears.
Even from the bowels of the stadium it was evident, the crowd was hungry. The clash of steel and the sounds of fighting mingled with the screams of Rome’s citizens. Pushing the golden curls from his blue eyes, he wondered if they would give him the same response.
In only a scarce amount of time fighting under a thousand eager eyes Cattianus had attained a certain amount of notoriety. The best retiarius to ever pick up net and trident in the
arena was what onlookers claimed. His fellow gladiators chuckled at the notion, might as well be the best mentula sucker in the Republic. People scoffed at the man who signed his life away at a chance to earn enough to pay off his debts and maybe carve out an existence for his family out in the countryside. The scoffing burst into laughter when the fisherman’s tools became his weapons of choice.
    Though remaining a slave, a gladiator was held in higher regard. An arena fighter could
find reward and praise if he could make the people of the Republic cheer for him. But if that
warrior found himself unworthy wielding sword or shield he was given the task of doing combat with the trident and net until that life was extinguished upon the sands in front of the entire Republic. Life on his father’s boat gave Cattianus experience with such tools. Under stigma and mockery, he found himself requesting to study under the style of retiarus from the start. Other gladiators thought him foolish, to attempt to rise from the lowliest of rank. But between respect and survival, the choice had not been difficult. Respect would be earned in due time.
    Cattianus endured the harshest training he had experienced. Under the whip of his
teacher he developed the skills needed to survive in that harsh environment. The scorn he had endured from the other gladiators gave him the will to grasp victory. Life had been cruel in the ludus, eating last, sleeping in the worst quarters. The taste of his first victory was too sweet; he had to have more, for himself and for the hope of seeing his family again.
From the inside of his cell Cattianus watched the survivor of the last match enter. Cheers
from the other fighters deafened the ear at the sight Picens emerging from outside. For a moment the retiarius felt the urge to be out there, congratulating the victor. He then remembered why he was placed in the cell, for his safety and the safety of others. Everyone wanted to test their mettle against Cattianus it seemed.
    The spearman appeared more monster than man, clad in fierce attire. A spiked bronze
helm covered every aspect of his skull. Though his scarred, sweat gleamed, chest was exposed for all, a small shield partially concealed one mighty arm, while a bronze manica protected the other entirely. The hoplomachus found a bench and proceeded to remove his greaves, all around his comrades raining praise down on him.
    "A mighty display if I ever saw one!” One burly fighter bellowed before slapping Picens
on the back.
    “I’d wager that fool swordsman was pissing himself before they even opened the gates!”
Another cried.
    Removing his helm Picens revealed the hardened and scarred face underneath. A
gladiator of quite repute, each scar was both a reward for victory and a lesson never to be
repeated in the arena again. For almost two decades the spearman’s body was subject to the
worst the Circus Maximus had to offer. But on one day, all those scars, all those broken bones seemed a small price to pay when the senator proclaimed him free.
    Now Rudiarii, a free gladiator, Picens no longer had to concern himself with the whims
of a capricious master. All he had to worry about was putting on an extraordinary performance, and to reap the rewards. Twenty years was all it took Picens, but Cattianus did not have the luxury to take that much time. He was determined to accomplish the task in less time.
    With a snap of his fingers and a stern look, a slave girl rushed over and placed herself in
Picens’ lap. Despite her tattered rags, the lass was comely and her bosom inviting enough to
welcome a gladiator's face.
    “Much better!” Picens sighed, removing his face from betwixt the slave’s breasts. “Now
is time for water, then in wine for you and me later.” He stated slyly.
    “No doubt you’ll drink me dry old friend.” A familiar voice called from the hall. From
the shadows was a squat man, approaching his elder years approached, flanked by a retinue of men.
    Many a harsh and cruel master operated a gladiatorial ludus, Cattianus found himself
fortunate to be under the servitude of Quadratus Fabius Arcanus. The dominus had been born lowly, rising to station over half a century. Some men grew addicted to gold, or the moans of a woman or pretty man in his bed, or the power to be had whilst climbing the chains of power within Rome. Yes, Quadratus had full coffers, scores of children from countless women and even the ears of some officials, the man cared only for one thing, the cheers of a blood hungry crowd.
    “With as much blood you’ve had spill out of me I need something to replace it!” Picens
laughed. The gladiator rose from his seat without a second’s notice, sending the slave
unceremoniously to the filth ridden ground. The two men embraced in a hug, both of them
laughing heartily.
    “Look at you! As fit and spry as the day they hauled your sorry soul into my ludus!”
Quadratus roared with laughter, his several chins jiggling in merriment.    
    “And you,” Picens began. “Have gotten as big as a stuffed pig ready to be served at a
Bacchanalia! You’re missing the apple though.”
    All of the men at their master’s side froze, unaware of how their lord might respond.
Quadratus Arcanus puffed and reddened, his cheeks resembling two overripe tomatoes.
Finally, a surge of laughter erupted from the fat man’s mouth. “You are still as crass as you are ugly!”
    Cattianus looked on at the scene with a smile. They were two men who had forged their
friendship through blood and violence. He had no desire for such privilege, but it was an
endearing scene. As if the young gladiator’s thoughts had been projected for all to see, Picens turned to meet his gaze. “And are you the one I’ve heard so much about? The one who’s name never leaves the tongues of those hungry jackals who gaze upon our dance of death?”
    “I’m the man who’ll do what you did so long ago.” Cattianus replied calmly.
    “Hah! This one intends to leave my ludus a free man and a legend!” Quadratus
explained to Picens. “He’s a good lad, eager and ready. He’s sent many a man to the
underworld, so on this day I give him his chance.”
    Two men, also gladiators, within the dominus’ entourage looked at each other and
laughed derisively. They contrasted each other well, one slender; chiseled and statuesque. The other man was large and hairy, with muscle hidden beneath a coat of fat. Before Cattianus had thought to sell himself into bloody servitude, Dexter and Gracchus had already established themselves as champions.
    “Don’t mind the retiarus, Picens.” Handsome Dexter said with a chuckle and a smile.
    “He’s just a lucky fool to come so far.” He concluded by brushing a lock of ebony hair from his, flawless, olive, skin.
    Gracchus on the other hand, had no hair, and instead scratched the red, sun burnt skin on
his skull. “Fool is too is soft a term for that one. He’s wasting my time when I could be fighting real gladiators and reaping real rewards!” The bigger warrior said with a snarl.
Cattianus looked up at the two, emotionless. In days long past he had witness many men
die under Dexter’s singing blades and the crushing might of Gracchus, but he would not be
counted among them. Instead of giving into the taunts the retiarus simply chuckled. “Rewards? Hasn’t the dominus supplied enough boys to fill your debased needs Gracchus?”
    The secutore lost his temper and rushed Cattianus’ cell. Flesh and bone collided with the
rusted iron bars to a sickening crash. “You wish you had the opportunity to be part of my
seraglio!” Gracchus fired back in a rage causing spittle to fly at Cattianus’ face. “But no, you’ll have to make do with being penetrated by my sword instead!”
    “Alright you inept fool that’s it!” A voice from behind the dominus commanded.
    Near elderly Paetus was a wiry, thin, man with a receding scalp and a beak like nose. But
as the trainer to all the fighters under Quadratus, he commanded much respect and fear. “You fat shit! Instead of trying to scare someone who’s too stupid to be afraid you should be preparing for your bout!”
    Gracchus scowled at his doctore, but withdrew his temper. Slowly the mighty warrior
backed away from and Cattianus’ cell, the hate still lingering behind. The retiarius knew not why he was so hated by the man; he just knew that hatred was plain and evident for all to see. With a smile, Dexter also backed away, following the secutore. “I stand in anticipation to see you out there.” He said, grinning all the while.
    The fame Cattianus had acquired came like wildfire, but so did the animosity from the
other gladiators. Many of whom who disrespected him upon discovering his fighting style in the beginning had their emotions twisted into something even more hateful. Questions about his masculinity surfaced at the sight him barely armored and dwarfed by larger foes, but those rumors were quelled one after the other after each body was dragged back. Still, all of them hated him after his success.
    “Don’t mind them. You’ll either kill the two or die by one of their hands.” The doctore
    “I don’t intend to shame you getting killed by the likes of them.” Cattianus answered.
    “Ha! No, you’d rather show me honor by returning to life as a fisherman.”
    “I’d take it you’d rather have me spend the remainder of my life away from my family,
behind a cell, and waiting to see if I die on the sand?”
    The old man shook his head with a chuckle and directed his pupils gaze towards the
dominus and entourage. “You see them? Out of all them the only one over there that gives a
half a cup of soured piss over your living or dying is that free spearman. A lot of coin is riding on you, and Picens bet a pretty sum on your victory. The master, all he cares about is whether or not you give a good show for the crowd. Your brothers, dare I use such a word, well, you know how they feel.”
    “And what of the master’s grizzled trainer of killers? Does he care of my fate?” Inquired
    A bronze gleam shined from the doctore’s hands, the first time Cattianus noticed. In the
old man’s grasp was a helm, dents hammered out and polished with loving care. The half helm possessed a horned design similar to what other men in master Quadratus’ ludus wore, but it was only fighters of certain esteem who wore such armaments. In those withered hands was Paetus' answer. “This.” The old man began. “Belonged to a young man with a dream just as foolish as your own. I took it off his head after our beloved master sent him to have our guts spilled upon Rome’s soil. The crowds loved him almost as much as they love you, and yet they shed no tear for him. Remember that. You’ve brought this house much glory and fortune. I figured this would be the least I could do for you in your foolhardy endeavor. After all, you need something to keep from getting your idiot brain cracked open in all this mess. “
    Through Cattianus’ cell that old helm was placed in his grasp. He met the eyes of the old
man, steely and cold. “I will not fail you.” Cattianus promised.
    “You best not boy. You’re up next.” With that, the cell door creaked open. To victory
or death, only the gods knew.
    Outside, seated amidst the rows around the arena, a countless sea of spectators jeered and
bellowed like some great behemoth. The heat had made them unruly; they were ready to sate their thirst with more blood. High up seated away from the common rabble, the elite of the city looked on. In the forefront a proud and affluent senator made the announcement.
    “Good citizens of Rome! Long enough have you and the gods waited!” The senator
    From behind the gate, Cattianus heard the fop ramble on. Those deemed better than him
seemed favorable to the sounds of their own voice. Persperation continued to rain down his
tanned skin. The gifted half helm concealed his skull well but left his hair heavy and damp with sweat while his feet cooked in a pair of high greaves. Cattianus was uncomfortable, but he was well protected for a retiarius. With a heavy leather arm guard for his right arm to complete his attire, the gladiator felt confident. He waited for the senator to call him forth.
    “Quickly has a fighter risen to attain your admiration, he has left the bloody taste of his
deeds on your lips. I bring you Cattianus Vulturus; retiarius!” The gates swung open at his name.
    The skin and bone that had belonged to a fisherman with a wife and two boys was gone,
leaving the brazen figure of death incarnate. Confidently, Cattianus strode to the middle of the arena, body shining in the evening sunlight, and roaring like a lion. Staring back at him,
thousands of eyes roared back in their approval. All the doubt, fear, and apprehension vanished.  The day would be his, or he would be sent to the underworld, either way it would be a glorious sight.
    “Next I bring forth a master of deadly arts of equal renown and skill hailing from the far
South! Good citizens of Rome, I bring you Agrippa; retiarius!”
    From the other end of the arena the other retiarius marched forward. The man had been
the polar opposite of Cattianus. Where the former had been fair haired and of alabaster tone, the other gladiator possessed a shining bald head and skin of the deepest ebony. Compared to his opponent Cattianus appeared as armored as a legionnaire. No armor covered the other man save for a pair of greaves and heavy belt over his loincloth. If Agrippa had any trepidation against fighting such a well fortified adversary the emotion did not show.
    Instead of acknowledging the crowd like Cattianus had, Agrippa paid the citizens of
Rome no mind, the people and their screams were completely out of his thoughts as he stepped to the center. No, this gladiator had only one thought on his mind judging by the way he held his trident and net, death. The two warriors met each other’s gaze then turned to face the senator and saluted. With a smile, the nobleman gave the signal and the dance had begun.
    Instinctively, Cattianus leapt back attempting to out maneuver his opponent. Circling
about, he watched Agrippa fall back defensively, the tips of his trident attempting to pinpoint the best time to strike. The two of them circled about the sand at the screams and heckles of the crowd who were more interested in the bloodshed than skill.
    When a fighter like Cattianus had entered the arena to face another gladiator, normally
he was against a heavily armored fighter. Gliding about and nimbly dodging the clumsy strikes of a lumbering murmillo or secutore became second nature. Against another of the same style, a different strategy would have to be relied upon. Not only was Agrippa just as nimble as he was, he was also just as well armed. Cattianus had to be extra cautious to avoid the points of that trident and the trappings of the net. Just then, Agrippa moved.
    The ebony fighter focused and began with a storm of piercing strikes in what seemed to
every direction. First the trident would be striking at Cattianus’s face, then at his stomach or
exposed legs. Cattianus quickly found himself backing away at each, all the while remembering his footing. He knew Agrippa was aware none of those strikes would land; they were launched simply to get him on his back. Those efforts proved fruitless, instead Cattianus found himself
with the advantage. Swinging his net about like a lash, he batted away the other man’s weapon.

    Agrippa snarled and countered with his own net, sending it out in hopes of wrapping
around Cattianus’ neck. With the skills of a tumbler Cattianus tucked into himself and rolled out
of the attack. In a whirlwind, Cattianus spun both trident and net deterring his foe from pressing
any advantage. After a mere second, he was back on his feet, poised like a viper.
    The two traded strikes back and forth, each man trying to pinpoint a weakness in the
other, all the while the crowd roaring with approval. Cattianus ignored the screaming throng now, instead focusing at the task at hand. With every lunge of his trident he kept his net close to counter Agrippa’s. He knew the other gladiator would not be felled with such maneuvers, but that was never the intention.
    To achieve victory over a man such as Agrippa, Cattianus had to uncover the man’s weak
points. With each laborious and overexerted stab with his trident such a weakness became clear. The retiarus Cattianus fought favored his trident over his net, almost never using the thing. Even when faced with attack the dark skinned warrior would back or to the side, wasting much precious stamina.
    Such foolish notions had once been Cattianus’ as well during his early days as a gladiator
until Paetus beat them out of him. Even in the midst of a fight to the death, those days played
back in his mind, clear as day.
    “Is that arm of yours dead? Are you crippled?!” Paetus screamed. The old man may have looked frail but he parried Cattianus’ blow with a skill only attained through years of fighting.
The wooden practice sword knocked back the trident and returned with the speed lightning,
smashing into Cattianus’ arm with a painful crack. Cattianus fell hard onto his side, the force of Paetus’ swing knocking the breath out of him. Even with his pupil half dazed, Paetus continued his lecture.
    “You lack armor and you lack shield! If you intend to find yourself pressed between your
woman’s thighs in this life you better make use of all you have in the arena. Gods know your
opponent will!”
    A bellow sent Cattianus back to the present. Drenched in sweat, Agrippa launched
forward once more with the intent of sending his trident through his belly. That was the time to strike.
    Shifting his weight Cattianus pivoted to the side, leaving his foe’s weapon only air to
pierce. He gripped his net tight and sent it out, wrapping around Agrippa’s weapon. With a solid tug, the other gladiator was disarmed and flung face first into the sand. Mercilessly, Cattianus approached the fallen fighter, the spectators frothed with mad anticipation.
    From the confines of his helm Cattianus took a brief look at Agrippa, letting their eyes
meet just for a moment. He never knew the man, or why he fought. Perhaps he had been in a
similar situation, fighting his way to freedom and a better life. Cattianus wondered briefly. Such things were of no matter, and from the look in Agrippa’s eyes, both men were well aware. The fallen man gulped hard and readied himself, whispering a silent prayer to his gods.
    Without hesitation or thought Cattianus sent his trident downwards and plunging deep
into Agrippa’s chest. Blood erupted from the mouth of Cattianus’ victim. To the ecstasy of the spectators Agrippa shuddered and writhed in his death throes, until finally his body lay limp.  Like a lover in the throes of climax, the crowd screamed voraciously. Only briefly sated, they required more.
    Cattianus wrenched his weapon from the dead man and stepped back. In previous
matches he would have acknowledged the crowd with a roar of triumph, but those were ordinary bouts, nothing like this or what was yet to come. The retiarius readied himself, his mind stepping back to remember how he got himself into such a debacle.
    “You want what!?” Quadratus cried with a mouth full of seared goat meat and red wine.
    “Freedom?!” The old man could barely swallow.
    “That is correct Dominus.” Cattianus replied.
    Cattianus’ fat master worked his jaw and resumed gorging on the feast of delights set before him. That had always been the rumor, appeal to the man when food was about and he
would focus primarily on the more important matter of eating. “You know better gladiators than you have worked twice as long to gain what you desire?” Master Quadratus began. The flicker of hope inside of Cattianus began to die little by little. “I remember when I freed one man, left a trail of bodies so long it could have reached to Sardinia!”
    “But haven’t I given you that?” The gladiator cried. The guards and other slaves in the
room jumped back in shock at Cattianus’ abrasiveness but the master was unconcerned.
    “You have, I cannot deny that lad. But the one thing you haven’t given me or these
people is a truly wondrous show. Yes, I know you achieve glory no other fighter of your kind has achieved, but it still pales in comparison to what I need in order to grant your wish.”
    “How many more men must I slay in your eyes before you deem it a true spectacle?! “
Cattianus snarled. All around the gladiator the guards readied to defend their master. “Just tell me and it shall be done!” That outburst had been it. Almost instantaneously, half a dozen
armored guards seized the near naked retiarus and begun to shove him to the ground. Quadratus halted his men from smashing Cattianus into the marble floor and pondered for a moment.  A smile sliced through the master's face.
    The cries of fury brought Cattianus back to the present; the other gladiators had entered
the fray. He did not know how many more men had to follow Agrippa to the underworld, nor
did he care.
    Two gladiators emerged from the other side of the arena, heavily armored, both armed
with sword and shield. Murmillo, Cattianus thought, unknown fighters too judging by their
armor. Quadratus had paid good coin to send a man such as Agrippa to face him. No doubt he felt any others were just needed to clean up the mess and could be procured from cheaper stock.
    The first swordsman charged brazenly at Cattianus in the vain hope he had been left too
exhausted to defend himself. Before the blade was even close enough to be parried Cattianus
whipped forth his net, wrapping around the other man’s feet. With a hard tug the murmillo was sent falling face first. Swiftly, to the disappointment of the crowd, the swordsman was
    Taking the death of his comrade to his advantage the second gladiator stabbed forward
with his blade, attempting to strike while Cattianus’ trident was still impaled through his partner.
Spinning back with curse, Cattianus deflected the strike with his arm guard, barely dodging the sword. The spectators cheered seeing the previous victory put on the defensive, their love knew no loyalty.
    Though separated from his trident Cattianus was far from helpless. Gripping his net tight
with both hands he began to swing the massive web back and forth. The swordsman’s attacks were powerful and well honed but each swipe was parried by Cattianus’ net. Desperate for the kill, the murmillo rushed forward, backed by all of his might he intended to sever Cattianus in two. Instead of parrying this new attack with his net, Cattianus crouched low and dove underneath his attacker.
    The swordsman had been caught unawares and Cattianus was not about to lose the
advantage. Cattianus pounced with wolfish aggression onto his opponent’s back and wrenched the helmet off the man’s head. Even unmasked the swordsman was unknown to Cattianus, making the task much easier. Wrenching the dagger free from his belt, Cattianus slid the blade cleanly across the man’s neck, producing a thick crimson line. With a lurch, the gladiator dropped into a widening pool of his own life’s blood.
    Before the swordsman could gasp his last breath, the gates opened once more. Two
brutish spearmen emerged, ready for Cattianus, one fully masked with a massive helm and the second without. Neither one concerned him; it was the third man in the middle that drew pause. The middle fighter was monstrous even compared to the other two and the notable bull shaped helm signified the man’s identity. The secutore Gracchus had always dreamed of the day he faced Cattianus in mortal combat, today the gods granted favor.
    Somewhere amongst the elite of Rome Quadratus Archanus must be slavering at the sight
of rushing blood and a ravenous crowd. Cattianus was not about to bring disappointment.
Without ceremony or even pause, the man who swore to drown his blade with Cattianus’ blood charged forward to keep his vow.
    Clouds of sand erupted as Cattianus dove back to avoid the larger man’s attack.
Gracchus’ assault did not end there. With barely contained fury, the secutore continued his
onslaught, sending his sword downwards and to the sides in an attempt to cleave flesh from
bone. The god’s shifted once more from Cattianus’ favor as the spearmen entered the fight.
Armed with spear and shield, hoplomachi were considered by many to be the best armed
fighters, preferring to keep a safe distance from his opponent, these two were no different.
    Keeping back the pair assisted Gracchus by poking and prodding Cattianus, never allowing him to get too far. Whenever the chance rose to recover a weapon, Cattianus was met by a fierce, jabbing, attack. But never did they make a move to truly enter the fight. By secret arrangement none but the three fighters, if someone was going to kill him this day it would be Gracchus, Cattianus was sure of it. Void of his trident and net, Cattianus posed little threat, but to Gracchus notions like honor hardly mattered. Like the spectators he was after one thing, blood.
    Cattianus grimaced after jumping back to avoid another of Gracchus’ slashes. A warm,
familiar, trickle began to run down his side. Taking a second to verify, he confirmed that the
blade kissed his ribs, but only so. From deep within, Gracchus bellowed and readied himself to attack once more.  “Keep the little lady at bay a bit longer! This will be over soon!” The big man ordered over the deafening screams of the onlookers.
    Sweat drenched off Cattianus’ brow like a rainstorm and his legs ached.
Combined with his new wound he knew Gracchus wasn’t far from the truth. If Cattianus did not act with haste, the outcome would come sooner and be much less to his liking. He gripped his side tight, and with a wince, squeezed more of the crimson liquid out.
    For a moment Gracchus stared at him bewildered. “Can’t bear the thought of me ending
you? Trying to rob me of my glory?” The secutore questioned with a laugh, all the while the
hopolmachi drawing closer.
    Farther from the truth, Cattianus thought. With hand overflowing with his own crimson
succor, Cattianus whipped his arm out to the helmless spearman. The man reeled with a curse, blinded by blood. The distraction only lasted a moment, but a moment was all that was needed. With the speed of Mercury, Cattianus sprinted to the blinded gladiator and tackled him to the gore ridden sands. With all the strength he could muster, Cattianus wrenched the spear from the other man’s hands. Arising, he briefly returned the weapon through the man’s bowels.
    The turn of events sent the crowd into a vicious frenzy. Even the nobles of Rome high
above the commoners failed to contain their excitement. Still, Cattianus ignored them; the spear in his hands was familiar in a way, but heavier, almost clumsy. Until his hands fell onto a suitable weapon, his full attention was needed now more than ever. Gracchus on the other hand, grew more infuriated listening to the people chanting Cattianus’ name.
    Signaling the remaining the spearman to follow in suit, Gracchus rushed forth to meet
him. With more luck than skill, Cattianus swiped away the secutore’s blade followed by a
pitiful and easily blocked counterattack. Before Cattianus could strike a second time, the
spearman made his move. With one mighty arm the hoplmachus shot his spear forward,
attempting to jab the tip of his weapon through Cattainus’ neck.
    Cattianus staggered back, avoiding death by the mere length of his thumb and almost
knocking him over. Though caught off balance Cattianus put the change in his momentum to his favor and swung around with the fury of a cyclone. Wielding his spear like a club Cattianus sent his weapon careening into the side of the other man’s skull. Even though the hoplomachus
wore a helm of heavy iron it proved little use taking the impact of Cattianus’ spear. The force of the strike had been so powerful the gladiator’s helm soared off his cranium, while his body folded onto the soil, though the victory was short lived.
    Strength and sheer might had always been Gracchus’ tools of choice. For years they
aided the ruthless man in many an endeavor in the arena and this day they still did him well.
With one mighty, downward, swing Cattianus’ spear splintered into a thousand pieces.  Gracchus' blow had been so great Cattianus tumbled back. Despite the deafening roars coming from the spectators it was plain to Cattianus that seeing himself crash back onto the sands left Gracchus laughing.
    Being toyed with for so long, Cattianus knew Gracchus would grow weary of such sport
and end it. Strength and power might be the secutore’s strengths, but such traits led the man to be short tempered and mercurial. Attributes Cattianus was well aware of to exploit, especially with his trident and net in plain sight. Steadily, he rose and spat out the blood filling his mouth and motioned for his opponent to continue. Gracchus now boiled over with rage, cursed the sight of defiance before him and charged once more.
    Once more Cattianus went down onto the sands, but not from Gracchus’ attack. Hastily,
Cattianus dove low, narrowly missing Gracchus’ curving blade. Behind his foe, Cattianus
countered sending a hard kick to the back of Gracchus’ knee. The big man fell to the knee but only for a moment and soon was back on his feet. That brief moment had been all that Cattianus needed.
    So enraged Gracchus had been his skin burned red with fury and his veins pulsed with
anger. Turning to meet the retiarius, he was only greeted by his net as it entangled like some
great cocoon. Gracchus fumbled about clumsily until finally it was he himself falling onto his back. Silently, Cattianus loomed over his fallen opponent. Matters could have been settled swiftly with the trident to his guts, but that would have been too good for the likes of such a man.
    Living under the same roof as Gracchus and training under the same man mattered little
to him. Each day and every night Cattianus had been reminded of how little his worth from the secutore, always followed by the promise of death. Well, this day one of our promises will be kept, Cattianus mused silently.
    Without ceremony Cattianus tore the bull helm from Gracchus’ skull so that their gazes
might meet. Unlike Agrippa, who died with acceptance and honor, Gracchus’ eyes were filled with impotent fury. Even if he could free himself from Cattianus there was not he could do but die. And with a wrench and a twist, that was what he did, though dying in a pool of his own life’s
blood and filth, that rage never left the gladiator’s eyes.
    A wave of relief filled Cattianus like the passing of a cool spring breeze. Before the
waning sunlight of the ending day, the arena had been filled with the dead. Before him stood the obstacles that formed the wall blocking his freedom and now it had been tumbled. Through those ruins he could see that little hut, those children, and her. He looked to the balcony, to the nobles, elites, and old Quadratus. But no speech was given, no mention of victory. Even the spectators in their furor seemed puzzled, until the senator raised his hand once more.
    Suddenly, the blaring of horns erupted, filling the arena, and the gates opened revealing a
dozen glaring eyes ready for slaughter. At the forefront, barely visibly, was a grin filled with
malice. Cattianus retrieved his net and braced himself once more, victory or no, freedom would be his. The onlookers screamed and howled one last time, their voracity for the sight of blood being sated, for a time.

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