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Chapter 563 – A Ruler’s Karma
“Ave Cesare, morituri te salutant!” Shouted three of the four gladiators in unison towards the emperor. A sentence that the partic.i.p.ants were meant to roar when in the presence of the current ruler, and which could be translated in Daniel’s language as, ‘Hail Caesar, we who are about to die salute you.’ Their determined tone was meant to show their will to fight, while their words exhibited their lack of fear towards death, and respect towards the ruler.
The emperor acknowledged the fighters’ intentions, but also, alongside the rest of the crowd, noticed how one of the four gladiators had remained quiet.
Most gladiators knew that during the main fights of an event, if the Emperor was present, he would have the right to dictate whether the losing fighter would be spared from death, or executed on the spot. This decision was usually swayed by the crowd, as these games had the function of distracting the populace from the empire’s daily problems.. Yet, sometimes, it was solely based on the emperor’s preference.
To not honor the emperor after his arrival was a statement mostly made by prisoners of war, which showed a lack of devotion towards their masters, the empire, and its ruler. These fighters, if on the losing side, would rarely be spared from death.
“You have found an unruly one.” Said the editor to an embarra.s.sed Cossus, who quickly looked back as his wife to find comfort. What the aloof wife saw on her husband’s face, however, were not the signs of restlessness, but a smile so wide that it threatened to rip the man’s fat cheeks.
Despite the editor’s words, and the crowd’s indignation, the emperor did not seem to take the att.i.tude of the fourth gladiator at heart. Instead, he raised his hand in a regal gesture, and uttered, “Let the games begin!”
Following the emperor’s orders, the burlier of Cossus’ two remaining fighters, as well as one of the two opposing gladiators with a matching physique and equipment, remained at the center of the stage, while the other two walked back into the entrance of the arena, and through the dark corridors.
Once alone on stage, the battle between the two men began.
Back in the waiting room underneath the grandstands, the last member of Cossus’ team was sitting back in his original position. His two swords lay crossed onto the stone slab he was sitting on, waiting to be held once again.
The noise of cheering and gasping reached the gladiator’s ears as if he was the one on stage, so clear that they caused him to be able to imagine what was going on in the arena without being there to see it. To focus while having to listen to this racket, he could imagine, was extremely hard.. Even more so for new gladiators, whose minds would be poisoned by the sound of metal clashing, and smell of blood.
The gladiator, uncomfortable with the unusual helmet, decided to take it off, but before his hands could touch its cold surface, the figure of a young woman emerged from the darkness, and approached him. In a few seconds, the swords were moved, and the warmth of the woman’s body was felt from the gladiator’s side.
“You will definitely win, right?” She asked with a silvery voice.
Before the gladiator could even react to her presence, the young woman reached for the man’s helmet, and with a gentle motion, forced his head to turn in her direction. Then, as the gladiator looked at her, her hand moved onto his chest.
With a feminine touch, she caressed the gladiator’s skin in a seductive way. She moved closer to him, and let her warm breath out towards the man’s shoulder. “If you win, I’ll let you join me in my room tonight.. So we can-” She added as her hand moved lower, onto the man’s abs and leather belt.
The woman’s hand did not stop and kept moving lower, but before it could reach her target, the woman suddenly stopped. Her breath stopped in mid air, her hand frozen still, and her body paralyzed in s.p.a.ce. The gladiator pinched the woman’s wrist with his index finger and thumb, moved it away, then pushed her upper body off of him with a not so gentle nudge.
Unbothered by the woman frozen in s.p.a.ce next to him, the gladiator resumed his original posture, and listened to the roars of the crowd with closed eyes.
Based on the crowd’s reaction, which alternated between cheers and shocked gasps, the winner of the battle was not too obvious. The two fighters, ma.s.sive in stature and equipped for war were evenly matched, and had spent the past few minutes exchanging one powerful blow after another, grinding at each other’s endurance like waves eroding a cliff. No blow too powerful to break the other’s defence, nor cut deep enough to incapacitate the other.
While evenly matched, however, this battle of attrition was bound to come to an end the moment one of the two fighters would inevitably cave in. Predictably, after what felt like an eternity for the spectators, the cheering reached an all-time high, then silence.
In the middle of the stage, kneeling onto the layer of yellowish sand, was Cossus’ fighter. With a pained expression hidden by his large helmet, he rested onto his large shield, which he had planted into the ground in an attempt to withstand his weight, and stop himself from falling. His right arm was wrapped around his stomach, where a vicious wound gushed large amounts of blood, while his sword lay onto the ground several meters to his right.
His opponent was not in much better condition. The equal number of cuts, bruises and swelling indicated that the battle hadn’t had a clear winner until the very end, where the man’s opponent had managed to inflict an incapacitating, yet non-lethal blow, securing the victory for his school, and a hefty sum of money for his master.
Cossus’ gladiator, now too injured to fight, did not raise his hands in submission-Instead, he went down on both knees. He then removed his large shield from the ground, and with the little strength he had left, he threw it away before showing his neck to his opponent.
As the crowd saw the actions of the defeated gladiator, they let out a deafening roar.
Who among them wasn’t a lover of this sport? Who among them didn’t know what these actions meant? A defeated gladiator was supposed to be a performer. A talented fighter, with skills that would put a feared legionary to shame, but a performer nonetheless. Part of their performance, probably the most honourable one, was to offer their lives to the crowd, and be fearless in the face of death.
The crowd was clearly impressed by this action, and so was the emperor, who rose up to his feet, and with a satisfied smile, approached the edge of the podium.
“Our regards to the winner, who triumphed in this spectacular match of skills, and to the defeated, who chooses an honourable death rather than a coward’s life!” His right arm was raised into a fist, an action which emphasized the respect he felt for the two warriors. “I speak for myself, and all of our beloved citizens, when I say that such a honourable character does not belong to a headstone. Be on your way, gladiators, and keep bringing glory to your schools in the future!”
As the emperor finished speaking, the winner planted his sword and shield to the ground. He then punched his chest with his right arm, “A honour to fight for you, Caesar.” He shouted as two men in white togas approached his injured opponent, and carried him out of the arena.
“A beautiful fight between Ferox, who has now earned his sixth consecutive win, and Potens, who has suffered his first loss!” Said the editor with pride. Then, as the last members of Cossus’ school opposition emerged from the entrance to the stage, he continued, “Now, for the last fight and main event of the evening, we have a battle between a tiger and a cub! A veteran and a novice! FLAMMA, who puts his eight win streak on the line against the swift, the powerful, NOCENTIa.n.u.s!!”
The moment the editor finished talking, the two gladiators entered the stage. One, the last fighter of Cossus’ school, while the other, a bare-chested gladiator of average height. Equipped with a large rectangular scutum, a sword, a full vizor bronze helmet painted in gold, a manica formed by golden metallic scales, a pair of heavy greaves, and a leather belt with an eagle shaped buckle, the gladiator marched fearlessly into the arena.
Despite his not so impressive stature, Flamma was respected by everyone as a legendary gladiator, who had fought over thirty fights and won most times. He was also known for rejecting his freedom, and keeping on fighting for the love of the fame and glory that the sport awarded him.
His opponent Nocentia.n.u.s, a name which meant swift and powerful, was the last member of Cossus’ roster of gladiators. Equipped with a leather greave and manica, a leather belt, and two swords, the gladiator approached his opponent while curiously looking at his surroundings.
The crowd, clearly unhappy about Nocentia.n.u.s’ behaviour, began to chant Flamma’s name while pumping their fists in the air, or slamming their hands against their chest. The support of the spectators energized Flamma, who raised his sword up to the sky, causing the crowd to roar even louder.
For a whole minute Flamma basked in the glory, after which the crowd became quieter and quieter, until no noise could be heard but the sound of leather rubbing against leather, and of boots digging into sand.
The champion advanced quietly but steadily. His scutum, painted with the red and gold of Rome around a fist sized shield boss, was kept in front of him, covering from neck to knees of his half-way crouched body. His sword lay onto the upper part of the shield, while pointed at his enemy.
Despite the tense atmosphere, Flamma’s opponent did not appear interested in him, as he continued to observe what he believed to be a crowd that had no affection for him. Had Flamma been in his opponent’s position, however, he too would have acted in a similar way, as what his eyes showed was not what his opponent’s eyes could see.
In the latter’s eyes, the entire coliseum was enshrouded in golden colored specks of light. Each person, connected to a cloud of power that buzzed around them as if to serve them, creating an otherworldly spectacle of light. None of these cl.u.s.ters, however, could be compared to that of the emperor, whose lights had attached themselves onto his skin, and were being absorbed, leaving only a golden shine around his body. To the eyes of a human, the emperor would appear like a deity, who was descending from heaven while still basking in its light.
This spectacle brought a form of comfort to the gladiator, who quietly stabbed his swords onto the stage’s sandy surface, and with a carefree motion, removed his helmet, revealing himself as Cossus’ last acquired slave, nigh-omnipotent cultivator, and aspect of karma, Daniel.
Flamma, usually devoid of any fear, could not help but halt his march as he noticed Daniel’s eyes shine of a pure bright light. For a moment, the champion among gladiators felt that his opponent was not a man to be fought against, but to be venerated.
After a few moments, Daniel realized that encountering such a large concentration of karmic power had caused his latent powers to emerge, instilling fear in his opponent.. So, after forcefully suppressing them once again, he put his helmet back on, and grabbed his swords. By his feet, a thread of calming mental power reached for his frightened adversary.
As Flamma was able to regain his composure and usual brave demeanor, he resumed his march towards his opponent… And so did Daniel.
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