By Brendan Heard.
Deimos was thrust rudely towards the ring, along with three other gladiators. Goadmasters whipped his flesh raw, mostly for effect, and he played up the part of the wounded animal, hounded into battle against his will, though truthfully he hardly felt the flail tearing his flesh, nor noticed the blood dripping into the dust.
He was of large stature, thickly set with muscles, his face a grim and tanned visage with penetrating hazel eyes, crisscrossed with scars. The impassive face of a killer. He had a black iron cavalry helm, his armoured right hand ended in a bayonet fixed to the bracer, and his bare left arm held a bronze trident which burned a blue flame at the head, from slow-burning fuel in the stem. His family had been free, but his father had enslaved them all, through insurmountable debt, and he had been a gladiator since a he was a young man. His victories were many, and if he won this day it would make him a likely candidate for freedom.
But what would I do outside the ring?
Pantomimes from earlier acts lined the gladiator entrance as he exited, a titan about three times the size of a man in a bull mask with long horns played the part of Minos’ monster, and continued to paw as he was led in chains by an actor in the Theseus role. Deimos passed these, then calmly passed the chained lions waiting for act three, and finally exited into the amphitheater to the wild roar of thousands of bloodthirsty onlookers. The sound was but a droning static within his focused brain, behind his helm. Grim Pluto’s bronze head hung magically high in the air over the center of the ring, presiding over all. His glass-eyes glowed as they recorded the spectacle for the entire orbit, and wider Empire, as the Library was collecting and disseminating the feed.
Deimos lowered his face guard, a polished steel grimace, behind which his hazel eyes shone. The Goader wore rich red chain mail regalia, his horse snorting like a black dragon, and whipped him again. “Move dogs! Fate awaits the champion! Survive the day and move closer to freedom! Move you curs.”
The hovering, cyclopean bronze head of Pluto spoke then. Its eyes were lit up electrically, and its mechanical mouth opened in prayer to the fighters.
“By Pluto’s will, they are now in the presence of the gods and they will be judged accordingly to their acts. May the gods bless the family of the deceased and the deceased. May Pluto have mercy on the Roman people and all of Rome.”
The end of the prayer signalled the beginning of the tournament. Despite the massive ironclad horse, the Goaders quickly fled the arena. Deimos stood back-to-back with three companions who had followed him out. A dusky Ethiope named Oeleus, naked save for a stone helmet with a carved cyclops eye, armed with two scimitars of the Persian type. Upon his chest was painted the symbol of his protectorate barbarian god. Beside him was Mitgardden, who Deimos had fought both with and against before, a Nordic-Scythian clad in golden plate, and a cloak of red fox fur, wielding a shield and Wotanic spear, his chest painted with the nord rune for Tyr-Ares. Beside Mitgardden was a massive brute of fat and muscle, in leather trousers and high spiked boots, the Hibernian berserk Summanus The Skinner, all blue with woad and tattoos, his missing right arm ending in a spiked ball, and a jaw made of wood. His bare chest was painted with the wings of Nemesis, goddess of fortune and revenge. Deimos kept a watchful eye on Summanus, always, as he would turn on anyone, for any reason.
From the far end the early entertainment was released, and a great mechanical whale rose from the sub colosseum to the ring, and when its mighty jaws swung open out crawled twenty starving black bears. Slavering and biting each other and charging straight for him and Mitgardden and Summanus and Oeleus. Deimos waded into the fray, and slaughtered a great deal of the bears himself, suffering only a few scratches, and a bite to his leg. And when he raised his gory arms to the Praefectus, the portcullis raised at the far end of the ring, and their true opponents stepped out.
It was the Assyrian assassin Asor, known as The Arya. He wore a high silver armour, plumed with ostrich feathers, covered everywhere with spikes, and spinning a many-roped flail, each tipped with long razors. But beyond him, shaking the very ground with their footsteps, came the giantess Oroch, and her sister Elmoch. Both altered to massive stature, over twenty feet tall each, thick limbed and hairy. Their eyes looked insane, as they both rolled massive millstones, as per their character legends. They barely fit through the massive gate, and Asor laughed mockingly and spat towards Deimos’ company as they stepped back, hesitantly, before the sisters, and realized they were here to entertain as easy prey. The giantesses were as all such manufactured titans of bloodsport, they spoke not, but started down with a grim inhumanness, and the suggestion of chaos.
Deimos, however, paused only briefly. His compact with death was made long ago, and his devotion to Athena succored him in all hopeless moments. As always, accounts of Homeric heroism ran through his mind, and he repeated to himself
“Now the net of fate is thrown over you all.”
From my new book: The Dream God, available here: