Black, the kind of all-consuming dark that forced the imagination to conjure phantasms to stave off madness.
I heard the clanking of chains long before they snapped taut in the large wooden portcullis creek and began to move. Three large clangs, unlocked the outer doors. It had been days since I had seen the sun. Orange-yellow burned my eyes at the squeeze through the widening wound, but I did not look away. I embraced the pain, savored it so I could remember it when I returned it tenfold.
The smell of old rotted wood replaced the stench of musky and damp stone as the bars of the gate crawled past. Alternating bands of light and dark were a clock of sorts, counting down to the moment of execution. The outer doors crossed the halfway point and a wall of throat-searing heat washed in, carrying the stench of sunbaked piss, a sea of bird shit, and fresh-spilled blood. As the way cleared, a large man, more scar than skin, undid my shackles, shoved a rusty dull sword in my arms, and kicked me out onto the sand. A wave of “boos” slammed into me, making my bones rattle and my heart pound.
The arena was huge. Thousands filled the stands, and if they all rushed the sands there would still be room to dance. To the left, the sand gave way to steel grates where Spearman waited to surprise unsuspecting fools. To the right, a series of ramps, stairs, and walls allowing tactics and strategy to play a role in the spectacle. On the far side of the arena was a mock castle where teams of the damned could compete in games of defeat and defend. Directly in the center of the battlefield, hard to see with the sand reflecting the blazing sun, stood three heroes; gladiators scripted to win the day’s battle.
I looked out at the crowd, thousands of dirty malnutrition faces cheering or jeering, bowing and drinking, all lusting for blood. I could have endorsed their barbaric ways. The life of a gladiator appealed to me – the simplicity of fuck, fight, win – was seductive to all my kind. However, to feed this infernal machine, thinking and reasoning beings had their lives destroyed, their kith and kin conquered and killed or worst, sold into slavery to appease the mob.
Curious thing about the miserable … grant them the slightest reprieve from their wretched lives and they will, for a time, forgive you, the very being who made their lives this way. Broken fools. I have made ending slavery, when and wherever I find it, my Nex Primotis, my life mission that I will cease when I am dead and not a moment before. Alas, in so many lands across this world, this insidious practice is all – social, economic, and religious dogma. Sadly, I cannot punch a society hard enough to change its mind so I will do the next best thing.
“You want blood?!” I shouted to the mob.
Their response shook the earth. Mouths opened in animal roars until even thick lipped Nubians appeared lipless. I could feel the sand jump and rain on my toes. They wanted blood. I would give them so much gods-damn blood it would make a miscarriage look like a baptism.
I looked down at my feet. I hate sandals. I was not expected to last long so along with the four-foot strip of cloth that was given to secure my genitals, I guess they were a generosity. A step forward, the heroes matched my stride. The crowd began chanting, “Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!”
I thought about the measure of my competition. The one in the middle leading the pack wore bright brass armor with a full-face helmet. No telling how many he had to kill to earn that. An eight-foot winged spear and ablative shield told me he was sadistic. He liked to want his opponent so he could play to the crowd, draw out the execution. A coward, but their champion. He would be the one I would do my work on.
The large one on the left wore leather armor and dragged the Warhammer behind him, a clever tactic to show how heavy it was. Dumb brute. The small one on the right carried two short swords in his hands, a long sword on his back in various daggers, and blacksmith tools on his person. Clearly a fighter. I would destroy him utterly.
As we closed, I remembered the sword in my hands. I tossed it aside. The crowd went nuts. Hollering and mocking laughter filled the stadium, the harmony jostling atop the thunderous stomping feet. The champions wasted no time.
The Spearman fainted a thrust and fell back, making room for the brute to swing his massive hammer and the blades and to circle around and flank me. I caught the hammer and kicked his balls into his throat, then I took his hammer and drove his head deep into his chest cavity. The crowd winced and released a collective “Ooooo!” I moved on before his body fell.
The champion drew my attention, forcing me to open my back to the little savage, by banging his spear against the shield and issuing a challenge.
“Fellow gladiator! We, condemned to die upon the sacred sands—”
I rushed him and laid all 200 pounds of me behind the punch, crushing his helmet into his face. I heard his teeth rattle around inside the metal. He dropped like a corpse. I turned just as the bladesmith launched his attack, slapping his weapons aside and breaking his arm at the elbow.
He screamed but remained conscious. Good. I went to work. I snapped both wrists, tore his Achilles’ tendon off his heel and folded his knee back until it stopped making that ripping noise. Next, I pulled his fingers apart until I saw the bones in his hand. He never stopped screaming. I could have killed him but I did not. I wanted them to hear.
Back to the champion.
The crowd was quiet, frighteningly, graveyard quiet. Here in the hinterlands, slaves, slavers, and inbred rubes have no knowledge of Psionics; I used that against them. Subtly I linked the minds of everyone in that arena, not to me, but to him, to their champion. I woke him.
They felt his pain and fear and confusion. Then they felt his petrifying terror as he recognized my face. I peeled his helmet off, showing them his ruined face. More hung off in bloody scraps than was attached to his skull. Blood, dark and thick, still flowed. Using my Psionic Hand, I reached into his chest and grabbed a cluster of his central nervous system. With the slightest twist, I flooded his body with excruciation.
I felt the crowd recoil. My skin raised and pimped as hundreds in the stands emptied their stomachs, puking on everything, the floors, themselves, each other. Waves and pulses of agony simulated broken bones, flayed flesh, childhood nightmares, and a deep unending pool of starvation. They wept and bawled and cried out and I only twisted harder. Some tried to flee, stumbling and flailing as they fell pain-blind and their limbs disobeyed their commands. It took minutes to finally snuff his life out. They stayed with me, against their wishes and crippling despair, they stayed with me until his light blew out.
I stood, proud, victorious, and shouted to the mob again.
“Have you had your fill?!” There was nothing but retching and weeping, and the whisper of the weary wind. “Send me another! I will drown this land in blood to earn your love!”
No one clapped. No one spoke. I cheered myself as I left the “sacred sands.” Once I was back in that dank oppressive hall, I heard the stands, somberly, empty. I wondered who would dare attend my next match.