He almost came to regret his decision as light flooded the dim corridor. Air rushed to his face, drowning the deafening cheers of the crowd on the other side. He could hear them since he had left his cell, the hundreds of thousands of feet that made the whole main arena shake, the muffled cries that demanded more, and the screeches of the horns that announced the end of yet another match. Blood rarely flowed in the arenas and when it did, it didn’t stain the ground for long. No, usually the only blood was the one boiling in the veins of the participants and in those of the spectators, or the blood thumping in his ears when he was in the center of it all. Perhaps tonight would be a bit of both…
It felt as if the world started to move again after stopping completely for a moment. His heart was pounding and he forced a smile on his pale face as he stepped into the outer rim of the arena. He had to look, if not for himself or for his audience, for Io. He couldn’t let the young Ehnar worry for him, plus Alexis would beat him to death if she knew what he was about to do and how he felt anything but confident about it… He knew he could do it, somehow. Probably. He had to do it so feeling indecisive about it changed nothing, he was backed into a corner, something he had gloriously achieved himself, and he had no option but to fight his way out.
The spotlights were on him and the three other gladiators that had been chosen that night. Well, “chosen” was perhaps a stretch. True the one in the green corner had been picked almost randomly to fill the slot, but he and Jams had instigated this whole thing, and Kietro had been more than eager to try anything to squeeze herself in-between them. Why she did that, he never knew, but it seemed she had either a grudge against Kietro or a weird fetish for getting into situations that could lead up to violent altercations. Altercations she could then be a part of, sometimes not even to win or beat other people up, but simply for the “thrill of it”.
He looked around and saluted the audience and the casters twice, doing his best to smile as confidently as he could until the moment he would be able to put on his mask. The smiles and the waves were for the audience and the favor points he could get, the mask was for the sponsors, to give a more mysterious image and aura to his gladiator persona. Everyone knew his face but it wasn’t to hide his identity, it was to hide his weaknesses during the bouts and to give himself courage by making himself believe he was becoming someone else, a better, stronger, version of himself. And even if it was only psychologically, and partially, true, it felt right. Finally the first bell rang and he put on the wooden artefact that would hide his features.
It felt as if he was underwater again: everything felt distant and cold, but his heartbeat seemed to calm down instantly. He closed his eyes and focused his mind, which was becoming clear again, on himself and the reasons that has pushed him to do this. Io, he was here to avenge. Or at least, if not to restore their honor, to show that there was still hope. Kietro, he had to defeat. If he could beat him this round it would be perfect but beating him was the top priority. He had to show him what he was capable of and what he, as a more veteran of the league than him, could not. Alexis, he was simply here to prove wrong, to piss her off, like always. And Nerio, he didn’t really know. To show him that he had grown, perhaps?
He had grown. That was obvious, mostly in physique, but also in mentality. He knew he had been too proud, and wrong. But he had learned from this. He hadn’t finished learning, of course. He would never finish learning, as Nerio often liked to remind him, be he dared to believe he had learned enough to call his own bluff tonight. At least, if not for him, for them. Io deserved to know they weren’t alone… The second bell rung and his whole body tensed up. he would have to be ready for the third one, a single misstep as it began and he might be done for. The column, the path, the house. The column, the path, the house. He reviewed his battle plan in his head. Everything would work, it had to. And if it didn’t… well he would make it. Or the arena be damned, he would never utter a single stupidity like this ever again! The third bell rang, his legs felt heavy but as he jumped, he caught the fleeting look of surprise on Kietro’s face. Maybe, just maybe.
A sort of short summary of the opening scene, or prologue, from a story I have had in mind for quite some time now. Perhaps this will motivate me to try to explore it in more detail… Maybe, just maybe.