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. Such beauty only comes around once in a lifetime and so the Emperor mandated that only the most valiant warrior would be eligible to make her his wife. For years gladiators battled to the death for the love of this young woman called Minerva. It was said that her voice was more breathtaking to behold than that of angels’ choirs and her laughter more intoxicating than the sweetest ambrosia. All pined for her affection and fought that much closer to death when in her presence. By the time she was but eighteen, thousands of men had given their lives for a chance to make her theirs. Out of those still fighting, a beggar’s son named Adelphos most certainly loved her far greater than anyone else did. Whenever he entered the Arena his eyes immediately turned to his beloved watching from high above. Minerva, seated next to the Emperor, barely paid any attention to these brutal contests. The Emperor, on the other hand, was thrilled to see men throw their lives away so willingly for the love of a woman. At first, he was intrigued and became obsessed with the way the gladiators would do anything when competing for Minerva’s hand. Surely, he thought, such men would not stop their killing in the Arena. He soon became paranoid and believed that there were those who would try to steal her away for themselves unjustly. The Emperor quickly locked her away, only allowing her to leave her chamber high atop the tallest tower in the kingdom to witness the gladiators dying for her. If there was anything the Emperor loved more than watching his subjects battle to the death for her love, it was showing her exactly what men were willing to do for her.
Often gladiators shouted their love up to her seat high above the Arena floor after killing an opponent, and other times they would recite poetry or sing love ballads, all hoping to win over their love sooner rather than later, lest they succumb before the end of the tournament. None, however, ever did succeed in arousing Minerva’s interest, until the Emperor called one of the fighters to her attention. “Look at this one,” said the Emperor after a very fierce but quick duel. “I have noticed the way he fights, but even more intriguing is the way he seems to watch you.” “They all watch me, my Liege,” said Minerva, as she turned her bored gaze toward the bloody young warrior stood staring back up at her. She usually would casually look at her suitors as they tried to gain her attention for a second or two, and then return to her sleepy state of boredom and relaxation upon her pedestal. But this one was different. The way he just looked at her after the fight and then trekked back to the gladiator’s chambers was strikingly different from the others. They were all so taken up by her at this point, and all were aware that each chance to present their case to her could very well be their last, that they used every opportunity to sing and call out to her. The fact that this one didn’t must have struck a chord somewhere in her young heart that she was forced to take a second glance, and for the first time her eyes met those of one of the young men dying to be with her. The next time Adelphos was to meet a combatant in the Arena Minerva paid full attention. She didn’t stop watching him from the moment he stepped into the Arena to the second he retreated to his chambers. He noticed this, as he took a look in her direction before the fight began as he was accustomed to, and throughout the entire fight he couldn’t help but to take his eyes off his opponent to sneak a glance at Minerva. It
was during one of those brief seconds that he was distracted enough to let down his guard, and his opponent’s dirk found its way underneath his left shoulder blade. Minerva lunged forward even further from the edge of her seat and gasped in horror, as she feared for Adelphos’ safety. The Emperor noticed this, as he had also noticed Minerva’s unusual interest in this fight and this particular fighter. For the first time during the entire tournament, it occurred to the Emperor that this beauty was to be won by a gladiator and that he would not have her for himself. It was this precise moment that the Emperor began to formulate a plan. Roaring in pain, Adelphos focused his complete attention on the one currently standing between him and the woman he loved. It took a half a second for Adelphos’ soon-to-be victim to remove his dirk from Adelphos’ shoulder, but in that time Adelphos was already prepared to deliver the death blow. With his sword pointed straight towards his opponent’s heart, Adelphos proceeded to thrust it forth with all of his might and fury. Steel met flesh as Adelphos’ blade pierced yet another of Minerva’s would-be-lovers’ hearts. However, this was no swift, calculated blow usually dealt by Adelphos; this one was made out of pure anger and thus was thrown rather uncarefully, leading to Adelphos getting struck by his opponent’s dirk again. This time it was merely a glancing blow, but by the time his most recent victim lay in the sand on the Arena’s floor Adelphos had now the first two wounds he would receive during the pursuit of his love. With blood pouring from the gaping hole beneath his left should blade, and more trickling from a modest gash stretching from his hip to his heart, Adelphos once again stood before his dead adversary and looked upon the beautiful Minerva. For the second time, their gaze met. Even from all the way on the Arena floor he could see all of the
perfections in her face as she smiled at him. She, too, noticed his handsome, muscular physique and began smiling a girlish smile and even waved to him. Before he left the Arena, Adelphos looked back and saw Minerva’s dark hair swirl around her tiny neck as gusts of wind began to blow with increasing ferocity. Before the sandstorm completely obstructed his view, Adelphos’ infatuation began to grow even more. “She will be mine,” he said to himself. A much larger gladiator standing nearby laughed and said, “Not if I have anything to do with it, runt,” but Adelphos was too completely absorbed with Minerva to hear. As the number of gladiators vying for their chance to be with Minerva decreased at a rapid rate, and as Adelphos’ valor in the Arena continued to rise, the Emperor grew increasingly worried. He began losing sleep and checking on Minerva several times during the night to make sure she was still there. The Emperor realized he would lose her eventually and this made his heart grow cold and bitter. His love for violence and thirst for power had already made this Emperor one of the cruelest Sigmus had ever seen, and now his twisted love for Minerva made him an even more dangerous mad to cross. As he watched Minerva gaze longingly at Adelphos as he fought, and heard her cringe almost to the point of tears every time he was almost caught off guard, his hatred for festered like a disease in the blackest of Sigmus’ undercity pits. “Halt, gladiator,” boomed one of the Imperial guards as Adelphos strode towards the entrance to the Arena. “The Emperor has decreed this be a fight with no arms,” he said, pointing to Adelphos’ sword. Hesitantly, Adelphos pulled his blade from its sheath and handed it to the guard.
Stepping into the Arena, Adelphos looked immediately to Minerva. The first thing he noticed was that her face was pale and she could barely hold her head up. Looking closer, he saw that she was crying. He felt a lump swell up in his throat and his chest grew heavy. This was an uncomfortable feeling for him, and he did not like it. He looked at his love with sadness and sympathy and wished to be done with the tournament so that he could battle her sorrows and not other men. Turning his attention to the Arena, Adelphos saw five men, all armed with axes or swords. He turned back to the guard who had taken his sword and said, “You said this was unarmed combat!” The guard smiled and pointed high up to the upper level of the Arena. “Emperor’s orders,” was all he said. Adelphos spun around to see the Emperor grinning evilly at him and Minerva crying even harder. He cursed and spat and cursed again. He now realized that all the while Minerva sat and looked down at him and watched him fight, the Emperor decided against giving up that beautiful girl so easily. He turned to the five other gladiators competing for the right to marry Minerva but did not fear death. “For me to be with my love, thought Adelphos, I will never be able to stop fighting.” He looked up at her again and waved. The six fighters began circling each other, each of them looking puzzlingly at the unarmed Adelphos. The one closest to him, a large brute with an ax in hand and bear pelt on his back, charged at him from the left. Adelphos scrambled, keeping his back to the gate behind him as to not let himself be taken from behind, and moved quickly to avoid powerful swings from the large bearded man with the ax. This man was called Kimbo, and he also loved Minerva, even though she couldn’t stand the sight of him.
In fact, aside from Adelphos, she hated and feared every man she saw fight inside of the Arena, but she feared the Emperor the most. He laughed as Adelphos struggled to dodge blows from Kimbo’s ax. His plan had already come to fruition. “I will never stop bringing in new gladiators,” he thought. “No one will ever win the tournament, and once that one is dead she will have to love me!” Kimbo swung his ax over his head and barely missed splitting Adelphos in half. Moving faster than he ever had before, Adelphos used Kimbo’s own momentum against him and kicked him in the knee as his ax hit the ground. As he fell, Adelphos threw a flurry of kicks at his upper body and head. Losing the grip on the ax in the process, Kimbo hit the ground and rolled over to quickly return to his feet. Adelphos swooped in low to pick up the weapon while throwing a high kick that landed on Kimbo’s face, knocking him back enough so that Adelphos could pick up the ax and spin around to deliver a fatal whirlwind attack. Adelphos spared a second to look back up at Minerva before turning to the other four men. Three of them had simple long swords, but the fourth had a hooked blade, almost shaped like a scimitar but with a more menacing curve to it. All four were locked in a vicious battle amongst one another, as they often twisted and turned to strike at new opponents or try to steal a cheap shot at an entrenched opponent. The man with the hooked blade, Raja, caught one man with it in the midsection and showed off the awesome advantage of turning an ordinarily non-fatal wound into a devastating deathblow. His opponent’s entrails spilling to the ground as fell to his knees and died on the ground, Raja turned to the other two men fighting nearby. He swung his deadly blade at the both of them and caught them each under the ribs. Fortunately for
them, they were struck with the tip of the weapon and not the hook, and were spared its brutal power. Adelphos charged and sunk his ax into Raja’s left arm. Too dull to slice through, the blade stuck and wasted precious seconds. Adelphos could not get it out! Raja howled in pain, his reflexes enabling him to hit Adelphos hard on the head with the hilt of his blade and then pushed him to the ground. Clinging to the ax, Adelphos pulled a nice sized piece of Raja’s arm with him to the sand. As he lay on his back, Adelphos watched as another of the fighters was about to swing down with his sword at Adelphos’ neck. His muscles tensed as he prepared to drop the blade on Adelphos and Adelphos thought he wouldn’t be fast enough to avoid it. Suddenly, the fourth fighter, Magnus, stabbed him through the chest with his sword just before he began his downswing. Pulling his sword free, Magnus then turned to face Raja as the other fighter’s body fell limp next to Adelphos. Adelphos grabbed the long sword and abandoned the bulky ax as he stood. Raja saw this and, ducking under a swing from Magnus, raced back at Adelphos angrily. The two men parried deadly swings until Magnus joined the melee. Swinging his blade in frenzy, Magnus struck Raja lightly in the chest and hit Adelphos’ blade enough to throw him off-balance. Distracted, Adelphos was stabbed in the stomach by Raja’s death-bringer. Raja laughed raucously as he slowly pulled his blade from Adelphos’ body. Adelphos watched in horror as his own insides spilled onto the sand. Minerva screamed like a banshee; the scream was so deafening that all three remaining gladiators were stunned and turned to look. Seeing Minerva looking so sick and horrified did something deep in Adelphos’ heart and flicked a switch in his head.
Turning back to Raja, who was still laughing, Adelphos hacked at him with his sword until what remained of his torso finally fell to the ground. Adelphos winced in pain as he raised his sword once more and turned to face Magnus. Magnus stood ready, and fairly confident, as he circled Adelphos, who now was forced to remain stationary and could only turn as his opponent circled him. When Magnus had almost walked a full 180 degrees around him, Adelphos stole another glance at his beloved Minerva. To his despair, she was no longer seated next to the cruel Emperor, who sat laughing. The Emperor never took his eyes from Adelphos during the next minute. Adelphos looked back at Magnus and grimaced as he began to close in on him. Lunging, Adelphos swung his sword at him. Magnus parried, and Adelphos’ momentum carried his weakened body to the ground, never to rise again.
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