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The Legacy of Androva Series

New Book, New Series, Twenty-Second Chapter

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 💕.

(Update: October 2019. Spell Tracker is now available in full via the New series label. Just scroll down to the bottom of the page to start 📙)

22 A Fight to the Death

“Where are we going?” asked Devin.
“The generator shed.”
“What the hell are we going there for?”
I needed 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 a disaster.
The outbuilding 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.
“Avi,” said Devin, as we half ran through the empty hallways. “Say something. Reassure me that you have a plan at least.”
“I have a plan,” I replied.
We 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 within it.
I was 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.”
“What do you mean?”
“It looks like… energy. Light.”
Or magic.
“What 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.”
I 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.”
“OK. I won’t tell you not to be. I’m sure you have a good reason. What should I do?”
“Watch. Listen. And remember. Vestis aequalis et 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.”
As I’d 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.
The roar 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.
Devin 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 it.”
With his 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.”
“No. Not chariot racing. This isn’t the Circus Maximus. It’s the Colosseum. You’re about to watch a fight to the death.”
Three 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.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

“Stay close, Avi,” said Cass. “Don’t dismount unless it’s to get another spear for me. Safely.”
“I won’t,” I agreed.
Cass and 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.
Rising 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.
I could 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.
“That’s 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.
Marcus Aurelius 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.
As I 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 bad stew.
“You may 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 myself.”
 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 is it.
Each 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.
I saw 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.
Conscious 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.
Cass and 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.
Gradually, 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.
We were 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 disgrace myself.
At the 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.
Lucius 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.
“Why have 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.”
Gods. He wants us to fight each other.
“We could be your champions,” offered Cass. Always so much smarter than I, she tried appealing to his vanity. “Duo fatalis, fighting only for Emperor Lucius Verus.”
He 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.”
He 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.
“They can’t make us fight each other,” she said.
“No, they’ll just kill us both.”
“Let them. I’d rather that, than I be the one to kill you.”
It felt 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?”
“Not necessarily. But if it’s the other way around, I won’t care, will I?”
“I’m not going to kill you.”
Out of 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.
Cass looked over her shoulder and took a step backward when she saw them. I heard her sharp intake of breath.
“What… what if I wanted you to kill me?” she said.
I shook my head, not understanding.
“I’d rather you killed me than they did. We could… we could kill each other and deny him his champion.”
“W-what?” My mind could not make sense of the words. Her face swam out of focus.
“We’re warriors now. We can live together in the Fields of Elysian, Avi!” Her expression was pleading. Scared. “I want to stay with you.”
“What if 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.
“We won’t,” she said. “Please.”
The guards were nearly upon us. I nodded. “All right. If you’re sure…”
“I’ve never been more sure about anything. Follow my lead.”
She 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.
Pain 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.
My mind 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…
Cass 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.”
I pushed 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, 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.
Her lips 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 alone.
“You OK?” I asked.
He gave me an incredulous look. “You’re asking me? Did… did I just watch you die?”
“Yeah. Sorry about that. I would have warned you but I wanted you to be completely objective.”
“Objective,” 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?”
I turned 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 late.
“No,” I said to Devin. “She’s not in the crowd. She’s there. She was the one who killed me.”

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