Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: ENTERTAIN (04/27/17)
By Hannah Gaudette
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The crowd's roars and jeers, deafening in their ceaseless echos, pierce my ears and shatter my resolve. I glare right back. Do they think I want to be here? Fighting to appease them? Dying to amuse them? Or do they think I'll kill the man sent out in this arena to fight back?
Heart stuttering, I turn my head from the innumerable screaming humans and close my eyes. My palms are sweaty. They are laced with sand and grit. Will my blood soak into this sand today, or will it be the blood of the opponent?
Panic lances my chest, and my eyes are thrown open. Of course I will not murder. I will not be forced to kill. A slave I may be, but my conscience and eternal judgement belongs not to the man who owns me. Besides, many of these wretched games end not in blood. Sometimes the crowd will call for mercy, or so I've been told by lucky survivors. Or . . . perhaps unlucky.
For they are the ones who must do it again, again, again, while the blood of others gathers on their hands, an indelible stain.
The Romans' cries explode in furious cheers. I look towards the entrance. This is the man they expect me to kill? We are similar in height and in build, but he must be far older than I, and he brandishes his sword like it is an object to which he can command to do his bidding and it will obey. Aside from that, I can see how the crowd treats him. Not with the jeers with which I was beckoned in, but with the exhilaration and flamboyance through which one might welcome their hero.
A rock settles deep in my stomach. I was not sent here to kill. I was sent here to be killed.
They don't know who am I. What I've done. What I've run from. In defense of what I love, I've killed more men than I wish to count. But in cold blood? For sport? For the amusement of an audience? Never. And never shall I.
For several jarring minutes I find my stride, deafened by the crowd, shaken by the force of our weapons. I judge the man's skill. He's good. He's a killer. But he's not a fighter.
As the battle escalates, I feel the heat of it burn in my blood. My hands are quick to remember reflexes, instinct, precision. I can feel the attention of the crowd sway with their loyalty as their hero begins to tire. He has fought for too long. Against myself, a fighter young in years, he weakens. This is no casual slave he fights.
And here my conscience returns. I am soaking in the perfidious attention of the crowd. This is what I've run from. This is what I threw away with my past when I abandoned the emperor's service. It is far too simple for me to regain it now.
Perhaps this is what I was brought here to learn. I could never truly change.
Gods of Rome and of Heaven . . . I enact a vicious counterstroke and try again. God of Heaven, if this is how I am to end, a murderer and tyrant, strike me dead here and now.
The man before me, his forehead bathed in sweat and furrowed in exhaustion, stumbles upon the sand. I look to the crowd, awaiting their decision.
Almost as one, they call for me to slay him. I think I hear a few cries for mercy, but they are swallowed away by this bloodthirsty chant. I feel stone around my heart and soul. It would be easy to end this now. To become the hero of these people, to expunge their former distaste and repulsion, to give them the show they want to see.
But do I truly desire to be the revered one of a bloodthirsty, shameless people?
Their chants become louder. My heart throbs. My fingers tremble around the hilt of my sword. I have not been struck dead yet. Perhaps this is not meant to be the end, nor how I will ultimately finish this race. There is sand still slick on my hand, but will there be blood?
The crowd screams as one. Shudders travel down my spine, into my fingers.
My decision is made.
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