He didn't know exactly when he'd come around, but now that he had things were all jumbled and confused. He could swear that he had been burned to death in a horrible fire, in Gotham; a final end after a life of struggle and misery. But everyone here tells him that he's been here for as long as some of the other slaves. Training in the Ludus. To fight for glory in the Arena.
He's struck in the chest, sent flying by a shield bash.
"Excellent strike, Mallus." Doctore, called, "Raziel, you will never be champion if you are continually distracted while fighting. Focus!"
"Doctore, you waste your breath." One of the other gladiators, the current Champion of Capua, Crixus called, "The way he keeps his head in the clouds, he doesn't deserve the glory."
The rest of them cheered at the sentiment.
"Big words Crixus!" he found himself shouting, his anger piqued, "I'll show you what I can do! Any time, anywhere."
"No." the larger man simply stated, "I am Champion. You must earn the right to challenge me."
He stepped forward, intent on showing the Gaul exactly who he was dealing with. But Doctore put a stop to that, his ever-present whip gripping his throat and yanking him back onto his ass.
"Enough!" He yells, "Back to sparring. All of you!"
So he picks up his shield and his weighted training sword and turns to face his opponent.
He is no longer sure exactly how long he has been here. Maybe he has always been training in this Ludus? The image he held on to; one of a city, reaching for the sky, with towers of glass and horseless chariots and metal birds. A world where the Gods walked among men, descended from their home amidst the stars to intervene on behalf of the beleaguered mortals… Maybe it was just a fever dream. A hallucination brought about by an infection or illness?
He shook the thoughts from his head and stared over his knees and across the great chasm. This Ludus, House Batiatus, was built generations ago on the very edge of a cliff. So that only three walls were needed to keep the slaves and Gladiators from escaping. Three walls and a vast open nothingness; a drop so far that he couldn't even comprehend such a vertical distance, nor conceive of a way to measure it.
He knew, too, that he shouldn't be out here at this hour, Dawn was only a few short hours away and tomorrows training would begin with no further thought to his recent victory. He was no Champion of the Games, nor even a true Gladiator. But he was given reward all the same; for a performance that Dominos said was inspiring. His blood lust and brutality had been a thing of beauty, and so he was rewarded with a thing of beauty; for a single night.
He would like to think that he had conducted himself as a man; made love to the delicate flower that Dominos had sent to him. But in reality their coupling had been more about animal passion; fulfilment of desires and pent up lusts finally allowed release.
"Raziel." He breathed deeply of the chill night air, allowing a content sigh to escape his lips. His name sounded so sweet when it slipped between her lips.
"You should be in bed." He told her without looking back, "The sun will rise soon and your duties will resume within the Villa."
"As will yours in the arena." She told him, sitting down beside him and leaning against his arm.
They watched the stars for several moments, allowing the majesty of the starry sky to envelop them as it lit the vast chasm below.
"What happened today?" She finally asked, "I have seen you in training, and I have been here long enough to know that things like that don't just come from nowhere. It was like the Gods had granted you favor to carry out their Vengeance against the heretics."
He had been standing behind the heavy bars, waiting for them to rise and allow him and the others entrance to the arena, where they would execute the prisoners that stood there. Well, they would execute them if their recent training had amounted to anything. The prisoners were armed with swords and shields, and each of them had the bearing of a man who knew the value of his own life, and knew exactly how many he would kill in mortal combat to preserve it. Their charges were read, a string of horrible murders, tortures and ritual sacrifices to some Demon-God, but what caught Raziel's attention, was the disgusted chatter of the guards that kept them from fleeing back into the tunnels that could eventually lead to freedom.
How they had tortured children in front of parents. Parents in front of children. Younger sisters used before the horrified eyes of elder brothers….
The guards continued to converse quietly and deep down, something within him snapped. He threw his sword through the bars and then began to climb, leaping nimbly from the bars, to the wall and back again, grasping the heavy iron near the top of the twelve foot high cage. It took only a moment to force himself through the slightly wider opening and then he was through and falling to the ground. He hit feet first and ducked into a roll, coming up with his sword grasped in his right hand.
No one noticed him for several seconds; the guards were too stunned to react, as were the other slaves, and the audience and officials were more focused on the criminals in the center, some hundred-and-fifty feet away from him. He closed the distance quickly and struck the first one a maiming blow to his sword arm. The crowd's confusion quickly turned to cheers and applause as he spun around and hamstrung the same man. He stabbed another man in the chest, piercing his left lung and laying him low. Then the other condemned took note of him and began to fight.
He pulled his sword free in time to block and strike that would have found his unprotected back, the other man was strong and he staggered back, tripping on one of his previous kills, but recovering neatly with a roll and coming up just inside the effective range of another who had swung for his head. His sword came up in a flash and the man was no more, his lifeblood flowing freely from a wound that began near his navel and ended at his shoulder.
Things became very hectic after that. There were a dozen men still, all well trained and pressing tightly about him. He dodged and struck furiously, lashing out with sword, fist and foot. He was vaguely aware that the arena had gone deathly quiet, and at one point, he caught a glimpse of the other slaves, come to help him but standing in slack-jawed amazement. The pommel of a sword had caught him on the back but he rolled with the blow and landed a hard right across the jaw of the man nearest to him, sending him reeling and buying himself a small opening. With the man down the others had not yet closed the gap he'd left and Raziel struck with vengeance; Skewering the unprotected flank of one man and then pulling free and biting his sword into the unprotected leg of another, reversing again and neatly separating his head from his body as he fell.
After a few more moments of furious fighting he stood with heaving chest as his head whipped back and forth between his two remaining opponents. They circled slowly now, wary of him; looking for an opening. He had picked up a second sword somewhere and both came into play as they rushed him. They spun, blades flashed and a horrid cacophony sang from their little melee until one sword found soft flesh followed a moment later by his other sword. Unfortunately both swords were buried in the same opponent, and quite stuck. He abandoned them without a seconds hesitation and rolled away just in time for his one remaining opponent to decapitate his friend. The man screamed and charged, Raziel threw himself sideways into a dive but the man was on him in an instant, abandoning his sword in favor of getting a grip on the elusive and unarmed Raziel.
The crowds cheering had almost resurged before strangling itself again and Raziel and the other man grappled furiously. Fighting for position as they struck blindly into any flesh they could, each hoping to kill the other man and preserve his own life. Eventually Raziel got a hold of the man's wrist and clung desperately and he twisted for leverage, wrapping both legs around the man's arm and planting his feet against the man's chest. He pulled hard, arching his back and fighting against the man as he tried desperately to keep his arm from straightening out. Raziel kept at it and was eventually rewarded with an audible snap and a blood curdling scream and the man's arm bent entirely the wrong way. After that, the fight went out of him and it was a simple matter to finish off the last cult member.
"I don't know," He answered after a moment, "I was entirely myself, but… I don't know. It was like I had stepped back and allowed my desires have control of my body. Allowed my true self to come out…."
Things had gone straight to hell after the new kid's first appearance in the Arena. His fire was gone. Just… gone. So he had been forced to send him to The Pit. Lucretia had raised hell, invoking his honour and the name of his noble father, but he had to do what he had to do. The Pit wasn't the most respectable place to enter his fighter, but it was his last chance to turn a profit on this waste of life.
The wooden bowl landed by his head, slopping the gruel onto the sandy floor and he attacked it even before it had settled, his aching body responding to the sudden movement with more of the same; not used to much movement after being folded into this tiny kennel for so long.
"Ahh, there he is." Batiatus exclaimed as he approached the tiny cage, "Are you ready for your last chance?"
"…What?" he asked as he tried to crawl out of the now open cage, only to collapse on the sand without ever even moving his legs. He relished in the feeling of his body finally being allowed to stretch to its full length. It was glorious.
"Your last chance." Barca reiterated, "You will fight today. To the death, here in the Pit. It's your last chance not to die."
"Later. For now eat." Barca dropped a stale bun by his head and laughed when he attacked it, hardly even tasting it in his rush to eat something more substantial than the watery gruel.
He laid there for a long time after he'd eaten, the usual sounds of the pit seeming to fade into the glory that was the sensation of not being stuffed into that damn tiny cage.
"Get up." Barca woke him with a kick. "You fight soon."
"And you better not fuck it up." Batiatus told him, "I've got a lot of damn money riding on you to win you little fuck."
The fights were hellish. His opponents were no longer men, maybe he wasn't either. Animals tearing each other apart.
Fate decided your weapon.
He killed every opponent they set him against, until Dominos decided he had his fire back. Then they brought his back to the Ludus. Where he trained, and fought, and became Champion of Capua. Celebrated above all others as a God of the Arena.
Until a challenger came. He fought with everything he had, but his opponent was younger. Faster. Stronger. It was a close thing, he'd nearly won, but in the end it he who lay on the ground. Disarmed and with the razor point of a gladius pressing into his neck. The signal was given and the point pressed a little close. Fire seared his neck as the wound grew. Breathing became impossible.
His head grew fuzzy.
The world faded away.
He woke with a start, drawing in a breath of slightly smoky air that tickled his throat.
"Ahh," Said a kind voice, "You are awake."
He lifted his head and stretched the stiffness from his back.
"Who are you?"
"I gave up my name long ago, young one." The man said, "Buy I was once referred to as 'Mentor' by my students."
He looked at the man. His eyes penetrating the dim and flickering light of the single candle that adorned the table between them. He exuded an air of diminished majesty, like he had once been able to shake the heavens. But the signs of age were present as well.
He seemed familiar somehow, like he should be an old friend, or perhaps a beloved teacher from his youth.
"I know you." He decided finally.
"You may recognise my presence." The Mentor finally answered, "Last time you stepped too close to the brink I attempted to contact you, but you were not educated in the arcane."
"You were the presence in the darkness. You wanted to give me something, or for me to take something." He answered, recalling back to the time between fighting in the war and waking up in a private clinic just outside of Gotham.
"I was indeed. And I did." The Mentor allowed, "but you were not yet ready."
"Am I ready now?"
"No. But now that I have reached you, now that you have allowed me to make contact, it will be easier to do again. And I can help you become ready."
"Ready for what?"
"I need help child. The world is in grave danger, and in times of greatest peril, I am reincarnated in order to preserve existence. Only you are not ready. And I cannot be reincarnated until you are, or all is lost."
A/N: Another chapter done. Hope you like it, cuz I'm basically flying blind with this now. Just writing whatever tickles my fancy. I'm hoping it will all be held together by some shred of plot, but if that isn't the case, I hope it's at least entertaining.
Until next time.