Young women are disappearing from Rome. At first, no one in power noticed, or cared, because the women were prostitutes or low class denizens of the Suburra. But now the palaces that cover the Palatine Hill have seen daughters and wives go missing…
It’s late summer, and Rome is a hot, dusty city. The story opens at the Circus Maximus where chariots kick up thick clouds of dust as they dart around the track in the last race of the day. The crowd jumps to its feet cheering as the Green driver narrowly avoids flipping as he cuts past the Blue chariot to win the race. It’s Green’s third victory of the day, and anyone who wagered on that team is likely to take home a lot of money. The crowd remains standing while Domitian descends from his booth to place a wreath on the Green driver’s brow. As the crowd calms, the organs and trumpets start playing a slower, more mellow song indicating to the spectators that it’s time to settle bets and go home. The setting sun casts long shadows on the bleachers, and most people start collecting their belongings so they can get home before dark.
As the investigators are leaving the Circus Maximus they hear a woman’s scream from a nearby street. Most of the crowd looks away and makes a point to ignore what they hear. However, sharp eyed investigators notice a woman dressed in the clothing of an equestrian being pursued by two muscular brutes. The sun glints off a dagger in one of the man’s hands. The investigators pursue the attackers and manage to corner them in a alley off the main street. The attackers are soon handily defeated by the group of investigators. The attackers are not dead, but they are badly injured. In the rush to make sure the woman is safe the two men seize their chance to kill themselves. One stabs the other in the neck with a dagger laying nearby and then promptly drinks a vial of hemlock.
The woman is unharmed though shaken up. She introduces herself as Livia the wife of the wealthy equestrian Junius Silanus. She insists that the investigators accompany her back to her home where her husband will reward them greatly for saving her. The investigators take a moment to examine the bodies of their fallen foes before accompanying Livia back to her home. The two men are muscular and wear the plain tunics of the lower class. Their bodies are scarred as if from a lifetime of fighting. There is a small uppercase theta branded on each of the back of each of the man’s neck. The gladiators among the investigators recognize this as a brand used to identify gladiators as belonging to a particular trainer. However, the origin of this particular brand remains a mystery. One of the men has fallen in such a way that his skirt has risen up. The first thing the investigators notice is that the man has been recently castrated. The investigators make note of this and accompany Livia back to her villa.