“Okay lads, quietly now,” Erebus of the Aventine whispered to the rest of his gang. “There they are.”
He nodded in the direction of the four Palatine gang members. Leant against the olive stall, this rival gang appeared relaxed and carefree as they laughed and ate olives, spitting the stones at one another.
Vitus—known otherwise as ‘The Macellarius’—almost shouldered Erebus out of the way, so eager was he to have his bloody way with these Palantine children. Moving in silence and hidden in the long shadows, he crept toward his prey, passing his brutal cleaver from hand to hand.
Early as it was in the morning, the market’s usual crowds had yet to gather. Only the odd slave could be seen as they made purchases for their masters’ kitchens, and a naked noble—head shaved and make-up plastered on his effeminate face—stumbled across the square, reeking of wine.
The shadows hid the Aventini as the gang followed after The Macellarius, hugging the walls and creeping toward their prey. Oblivious, the Palatine gangers laughed and wolf-whistled at the naked noble. They only realised the danger when it emerged from the shadows.
Sophus launched a cruelly barbed net at the slender Greek known as Zephyrus.The barbs struck home, sinking into the Greek’s tunic and exposed shoulder. His scream of pain alerted the rest of his gang, but for nought. The Macellarius burst out of the shadows and charged across the square. A vicious sweep of his cleaver split the back of Zephyrus’s knees wide open.
The Palatine gang responded, springing toward the Aventini. The stocky Gaul, Bolgios, blocked the sweep of Erebus' gladius with a spiked buckler before reversing the blow and jabbing it towards his attacker’s face. Erebus stepped sideways with casual ease and buried the slim dagger he held in his other hand deep into the Gaul’s right ear.
The remaining Palatine, Seneca, backed away slowly, smiling at the Aventini. He pushed two fingers into his mouth and gave a sharp wolf whistle. Immediately a massive, dark shape the size of a pony appeared from a nearby shop doorway. It moved with a slow, almost bored grace that belied its bulk, and leapt at Erebus. Slavering jaws clamped around Erebus’ exposed throat like a mantrap. The Aventine fell, blood pumping from his neck as the beast shook him like a rat.
“Cave canem, my Aventine friends!” Seneca laughed as he threw his lasso with such accuracy it ensnared the bull neck of The Macellarius. “Cave canem!”
Sophus dropped his net, soiling himself in terror as he turned to flee, but an arrow hit him square between the shoulders and he dropped to the cobbles.
“Here boy!” Seneca shouted to his pet. “Would you like a treat?”
The great hound, his slobbering maw dripping with Erebus’ blood, snarled and padded towards The Macellarius, who lay helpless in the coils of the lasso…