Rome: 3 September, 96 AD. Sextus Ingentius Verpa, imperial senator, notorious informer and scheming minion of the despotic Emperor Domitian, has been butchered in the night. The murder of a cruel master by a slave driven beyond endurance, or the first move in something infinitely more dangerous? The Emperor has decreed that punishment will be swift and has commissioned Gaius Plinius Secundus - better known as Pliny the Younger - to investigate. Pliny is no detective, but unless he can find the murderer by the close of the 'Ludi Romani', or Roman Games, all Verpa's slaves - forty men and women - will be burned alive in the arena. That gives Pliny just fifteen days to uncover the murderer. Fifteen days that will draw him deep into an underworld of secretive cults. Fifteen days to unravel a plot that leads to the very heart of the Imperial household. Fifteen days that will threaten the very stability of Rome itself.