Monday, February 25, 2013

The Gladiator and the Beast

Gal gripped his gladius tight as he waited for the door above him to open so that he could make his way up the ramp into the arena. He hated the waiting, it was the worse part. All he wanted to do was get out there, have his match, kill whoever or whatever was up there, and get back to the cells to wait for dinner. He could not deny the excitement of battle, but fighting for his life for the entertainment of a mob of onlookers was a chore forced upon him, not a choice he was given. That could sour a lot of things.

This would be his twelfth match, making him a rising star in the arena. That was no small accomplishment for a half-ogre bastard. The organizers usually made sure the likes of him died early. He was fairly sure that his mother would have paid them off to remove her little embarrassment. She had kept him around as a slave until he had made the mistake of asking for the truth. Now he was just a disgrace to be removed.

Gal stood head and shoulders over most humans, though a head shorter than a fullblooded ogre. His skin was tanned from long labors under the sun with the olive tone of his mother favored over the sallow color of his father. Arms like carved granite stretched down towards his knees. For the match he pulled his tangle of black hair behind his head in a loose ponytail. Most of the scars he had earned were readily displayed, the most impressive was a jagged white line slashed across his back.

He was normally only allowed a loincloth as clothing, but for the match he was given his usual armor. A manica of segmented plates covered his left arm. It was spiked and had a single claw at the end coming over his hand. His feet were covered with armored greaves. In his right hand he held the gladius that had gotten him through his matches so far.

A crack of daylight spread above him as the doors parted. He walked up from the cool, dank depths of the holding area and into the simmering afternoon sunlight. The crowd gave a cheer and he raised his sword in salute. He did not give a damn about their applause, but it was good to have the spectators on your side. They might well determine life or death at some point. As well, crowd favorites could earn special perks. His rising status as a champion had earned him such a boon just last night.

He had not slept nearly as well as he would have like, especially with a match the next day. However, two noblewomen had paid his trainer handsomely to have his company last night. It was an open secret that the women of the aristocracy liked to take gladiators as temporary lovers, including ogres and half-bloods. They might never talk about it in public, but the hedonistic women whispered of their sexual adventures in private, sharing the lurid details. When he was a servant he had overheard tales of some of the trysts and now he was one of them. He had made the duo howl with pleasure and was certain that they felt the gold had been well spent. Remembering them was making him turgid as he waited for his opponent to be announced.

It turned out he was going to be a bestiarus today. The announcer said something about an accident changing the matches. Gal sensed his mother’s hand in that. Steeling himself, he faced the gate at the opposite side of the arena where his challenge would come from.

The heavy grate raised up like a monster opening its maw. Prodded out was a huge creature with scaly black skin. It stood half again as tall as Gal. The front legs were clawed while the back were hoofed. Its head was a mix of bull, bear, and serpent. Another misbegotten experiment of the fleshwarpers being used as entertainment.

The beast did not take long to set its sights on Gal and charged. It roared as it barreled across the dirt floor, kicking up clods of dirt. Gal waited till the last second before leaping to the side, narrowly avoiding impalement on by the wicked horns, and slashing the creature’s flank. The beast howled in rage as black blood oozed from the wound.

The creature turned quick to make another lunge. Gal was ready, diving under the attack and thrusting up at the creature’s chest. The stab was shallow, the scales stealing the power from the thrust. The snarling monster swept its claws at Gal. He blocked the first with his armored arm but the second raked across his chest leaving four bloody lines. Gal backpedaled away as the creature lowered its head for another charge.

Gal dodged the beast’s charge by ducking low under its horns. However, at the last moment he reached up and grabbed at one horn with his free hand. Kicking off of the ground he arced up through the air as the beast found its head yanked to the side. Gal’s arm was nearly torn from its socket, but now he was straddling the monster’s back.

The monster bucked trying to throw Gal free. He held on, though, with powerful legs and by digging the claw of his armor into the abominable creature’s shoulder. As it swung its serpentine neck around so it could bite him, Gal stabbed down with his sword. Again and again he thrust until the monster stumbled to the ground. With a two-handed chop, he severed its head.

The crowd roared its approval and Gal gave them the expected salute. He then walked back to the holding area, standing tall and proud until out of sight. He slumped, the excitement gone, while attendants saw to his wounds. He would need to rest for his next challenge. He intended to keep living to spite his mother.

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