In this chapter Luca/Avi returns to the moment his final earthbound life ended, while he was fighting in the Colosseum as a gladiator. In her former incarnation as Leander, Cass fought alongside him. Luca hopes he will gain an insight into Cass's life path and the lessons she needs to learn. He takes Devin with him, knowing Devin will be more able to remain objective.
(Warning: contains descriptions of gladiatorial combat and death).
You can catch up on chapters one through twenty-one via the New series label at the top of this post, and thank you very much for reading 💕.
22 A Fight to the Death
are we going?” asked Devin.
the hell are we going there for?”
enough space to open a doorway in time and absolute privacy. I’d found the idea
of a school librarian walking into the Ludus Magnus alarming enough.
Someone wandering into the Colosseum while the games were in progress would be
that housed the generator was small. There was barely room to walk between the
equipment inside of it. I could put the entire thing under a non video
and with additional locks on the door and total darkness inside, I figured it
would be safe enough.
said Devin, as we half ran through the empty hallways. “Say something. Reassure
me that you have a plan at least.”
a plan,” I replied.
continued in silence until we reached the shed door with its heavy chain and
padlock. Once we were safely inside and my protective spells were in place, I
reached for his hand. Even though it was almost pitch-black I could still see
him clearly. Light Mages, as the name suggests, were masters of light. I had
yet to encounter darkness so absolute that I could not find a fragment of light
surprised when his eyes met mine without hesitation. “This is cool,” he said.
The connection between us was buzzing. “You look a bit like an X-ray, but I can
still see you.”
looks like… energy. Light.”
happens now?” he went on. “Although this would be a great place to make out,
I’m pretty sure that’s not why you brought me here.”
wish. I cleared my throat.
“We’re going to look for that common ground you mentioned. And I need your help
because this is not a situation I can be objective about. I… I’m scared.”
won’t tell you not to be. I’m sure you have a good reason. What should I do?”
Listen. And remember. Vestis aequaliset contego,” I added,
followed by, “Non video.” Then I braced myself. All the spells in the
world weren’t going to protect me from returning to that day. “Amphitheatrum
Flavium, Nonis Augustis, 166.”
done for my trip to the Globe with Cass, I adjusted the time and position of our
arrival before our surroundings settled. We were in the second tier of seating.
It was late afternoon and the arena had just been cleared of its most recent
victims. Our seats were low enough to escape the attention of the political and
social elite, but high enough to have a decent view of the games.
of fifty thousand voices, the heat, and the smell were overwhelming. There was
a sense of anticipation similar to the one created by the spectators at
tryouts, but it was mixed with a thirst for blood and death, adding a
disturbing undercurrent that even a non-guardian could feel. I experienced a
few seconds of disorientation even though I knew what to expect. Get a grip,
Luca. If you lose yourself, we’ll both be stuck here.
held my hand so tightly I winced. I leaned into him as we sat down. “Give
yourself a minute to adjust. I gave you a layer of protection from the worst of
other hand he smoothed the toga he was now wearing and stared at his knees.
After a couple of breaths his grip relaxed a little. “So,” he said in a low
voice, “we’re in Rome, right? This is where you come from. It’s like a…” He
raised his head. “Like a stadium. What happens here? Chariot racing or
something? I can see some horses.”
chariot racing. This isn’t the Circus Maximus. It’s the Colosseum.
You’re about to watch a fight to the death.”
groups of eques gladiators were waiting to enter the arena. They wore
helmets with two colored feathers identifying the lanista to whom they
belonged. The colors looked out of place, as if the men and boys wearing them
were about to perform in a play rather than fight for their lives. Their armor
was minimal—a manica to guard their sword arm, and a small round parma
shield held in the other. The horses fidgeted, sensing the nervousness of their
riders, hooves stirring up the dust. The herald sounded. It was time.
close, Avi,” said Cass. “Don’t dismount unless it’s to get another spear for
won’t,” I agreed.
I were wearing red feathers. We, and our group, were underdogs and not expected
to win this particular fight. Our lanista had complained about the risk
to his stock loudly enough to be paid double. It didn’t matter to us. We’d die
just the same.
fear confused my senses. I was unable to form a complete picture of the
Colosseum—my eyes captured isolated images only. The feathers on the helmets.
The sun glinting through the gaps in the awning. Splattered blood along the
wooden boards at the edge of the arena. The emperors, Marcus Aurelius and
Lucius Verus, unmoving and expressionless. Waiting. For us.
hear the low roar of the mob interspersed with catcalls from the nearby
spectators. I only caught the odd word, and none of them made any sense to me.
Sweat was already trickling between my shoulder blades and the strap of my
shield slid across my palm. I tightened my grip.
us,” said Cass as the herald sounded, urging her horse forward. We lined up,
facing our emperors. Both were middle-aged, impeccably dressed, with their hair
and beards ornately curled according to the current fashion.
walked to the edge of the Emperor’s Box. I was relieved. He was the more
lenient of the two co-emperors and more likely to grant missio if he were
the sponsor of our fight.
Missio was the last hope of a defeated gladiator.
We could appeal to the sponsor of the fight, and, if our performance had been
entertaining and honorable enough, a reprieve from death was sometimes granted.
watched, Lucius Verus stood up, dismissing the attentions of the girl draped
over the arm of his chair. He whispered in the ear of his co-emperor, who shrugged
and sat down again. My heart sank. Dread settled in my stomach like a bowl of
have heard that I am recently returned from the wars,” Lucius Verus called down
to us. There were a few cheers from the senators sitting nearby. “Victorious,
of course,” he added with a brief, insincere smile. He leaned his elbow and
forearm against the rail at the edge of the box. “I have found today’s games a
little dull thus far. I trust you will reward my success with something more
impressive. Die well, equites. Entertain me. Or I will kill you all
He sat down again and lifted a goblet of wine
to his lips. The girl returned and he allowed her to massage his shoulders.
Marcus Aurelius made an impatient gesture and the herald sounded again. This
group of gladiators moved to their prearranged starting point. For one endless
moment no one moved and an unnatural hush descended on the Colosseum. Then, yelling,
an eques with green feathers on his helmet launched his spear. The crowd
roared and the horses surged forward.
almost immediately that we were outclassed. It was fortunate for us that the other
two groups were hell-bent on destroying each other. At least the attention of
their best gladiators was not focused in our direction.
of the co-emperor’s threat, we threw ourselves into the fight. It was chaotic—a
jumble of fighting techniques and abilities. Adrenaline and desperation carried
me through my first kill, and the slide of sword through flesh brought grim
satisfaction. I am a gladiator. The crowd screamed its encouragement. My
opponent’s blood was thick and sticky, coating my fingers.
I, working together, circled the edge of the arena, picking off equites
from the other groups as they became vulnerable. She unhorsed them, and once
they were on the ground, I finished them off while she did her best to cover me.
Sometimes her spear caused a mortal injury and my job was easy. Other times I
had to dismount and it was a frantic struggle, with only my speed and wits to
protect me from fighters with superior strength and experience.
spectators noticed what we were doing. We obtained the crowd’s support. “Duo
fatalis,” people began to shout, and the cry spread from row to row until
most of the audience was expressing its support for the “deadly duo.”
Gladiators continued to fall. All of our red-feathered cellmates died.
bruised and bloody by the time we’d beaten the last of them. My tunic was stuck
to my skin in several places. My blood? I don’t know. It doesn’t look any
different from theirs. Despite the heat of the sun I felt strangely cold.
My legs were trembling and I locked my knees, fearing I might fall down and
end, we’d had no choice but to fight on the ground. Our knowledge of each
other’s fighting style was what had saved us. We’d fought as a team. Her eyes
blazed with triumph as she acknowledged the cheers. She grabbed my hand and
raised my arm alongside hers. I stood taller. We’re alive. We survived.
Verus beckoned us over. We stopped under the Emperor’s Box, glad of the shade
it provided, and waited for him to speak. I didn’t know about Cass, but I was
shrinking from the thought of the lives I’d taken. I was horrified to realize I
didn’t know how many.
you stopped?” asked the emperor. We exchanged wary looks. What does he mean?
He examined his fingernails. When he lifted his head, the malice on his face
made me recoil. “Your owner was paid to put on a show. You’re not done. Not
while more than one heart beats in this arena.”
He wants us to fight each other.
could be your champions,” offered Cass. Always so much smarter than I, she
tried appealing to his vanity. “Duo fatalis, fighting only for Emperor
wasn’t distracted even for a second. “Don’t presume, boy. One contest in the
arena does not grant you that degree of influence. If you win, I might
sponsor you. Uno fatalis has a much better ring to it.”
stepped back. I was too shocked to do anything but stare. Marcus Aurelius
pressed his lips together but said nothing. The crowd caught on fast, and began
shouting for their preferred winner. As far as I could tell, opinion was quite
evenly split between “Galli”—me—and “Germani”—Cass.
can’t make us fight each other,” she said.
they’ll just kill us both.”
them. I’d rather that, than I be the one to kill you.”
like the ground was shifting under my feet, and I resisted the temptation to take
hold of her arm to keep my balance. My sword was getting heavier by the minute.
I managed a smile. “You’re so sure you’d win?”
necessarily. But if it’s the other way around, I won’t care, will I?”
going to kill you.”
the corner of my eye I noticed movement at the entrance to the arena. I turned.
It was the Praetorian Guard. The emperors’ elite security detail. If we’d been
in any doubt, this proved Lucius Verus was serious in his threat.They’d execute us without a qualm. Slowly.
Painfully. Not just because we’d refused our emperor’s bidding, but to entertain
and appease the mob. A gladiator who would not fight was universally despised.
looked over her shoulder and took a step backward when she saw them. I heard
her sharp intake of breath.
what if I wanted you to kill me?” she said.
my head, not understanding.
rather you killed me than they did. We could… we could kill each other and deny
him his champion.”
My mind could not make sense of the words. Her face swam out of focus.
warriors now. We can live together in the Fields of Elysian, Avi!” Her
expression was pleading. Scared. “I want to stay with you.”
you’re wrong? What if we go to Tartarus instead?” Cass often had nightmares
about being tortured by the Furies. Her previous owner had convinced her all
slaves were destined for Tartarus because all slaves were inherently wicked. Yeah.
It’s all our fault.
won’t,” she said. “Please.”
guards were nearly upon us. I nodded. “All right. If you’re sure…”
never been more sure about anything. Follow my lead.”
raised her sword and we began to fight. Neither of us had a shield anymore. My
feet dragged on the ground as if unseen hands were holding on to my ankles to
keep me from moving. A wound on my torso exploded into life. Oh. My blood,
after all. This might be bad.
lifted me out of my body. The sound of my blade hitting hers was muffled. I
struggled to focus. I think I’m dying. Leander, I’m scared.
drifted. I kept fighting. It could have been one minute or ten. Then a new
thought came to me. If I died, they would let her live. The small thread of
hope grew bigger. Another block, another parry. I blinked. For a second it was
like we were training again. I’ll be alone. I don’t… I don’t want to be
alone. But I could save her. I wanted to save her…
maneuvered our positions until we each had the points of our blades against the
ribs of the other, with only the strength of our shield-arms keeping us apart. “Now,”
she said in a low, fierce voice. “Now.”
my sword forward a little, then a little more. When I felt it pierce her tunic,
I stopped. Her sword sliced through my ribs and I choked, my breath turning
into a gurgle of pain. Gods, it hurts. I collapsed. She screamed. I
tried to tell her she was safe now. The Colosseum disappeared before I could
form the words.
Germani, Germani!” shouted the mob. Cass’s scream was buried underneath the
roar of approval. She fell to her knees, bending over the dead body, my body,
pressing her hands on either side of the sword embedded in its chest. The blood
continued to flow inexorably out of the wound, seeping into the tunic and
creating a spreading shadow in the dirt.
were moving. I wished I knew what she was saying. I had departed that physical
covering as soon as its heart had stopped. Whatever final words she’d spoken,
she’d been the only one to hear them.
I heard a
kind of strangled groan next to me. Devin. I’d forgotten he was there. I
was so grateful to see him I nearly threw my arms around his neck. I’m not
OK?” I asked.
me an incredulous look. “You’re asking me? Did… did I just watch you die?”
Sorry about that. I would have warned you but I wanted you to be completely
he repeated, swallowing. “God. It was brutal. I can’t believe people used to do
this. Where’s Cass? Was she in the crowd or something?”
back to the arena. Cass was standing again, head bowed. Lucius Verus and Marcus
Aurelius were at the edge of the Emperor’s Box, applauding. I realized the mood of the mob had shifted. Although it had
been demanding blood just a few moments before, a wave of sentiment swept the
stands with increasing intensity. Some spectators were openly weeping. Too
said to Devin. “She’s not in the crowd. She’s there. She was the one who killed