By: Adam Gaylord
Deep in the bowels of the Coliseum of the mighty Astrolian Empire, the orphan, Sol, is raised by a makeshift family of guards and fellow slaves to become the most famed Gladiator in all the land. Alongside K'nal, his giant Frorian fighting partner, Sol must battle cunning warriors and fantastic beasts to delight the crowd and stay alive. But when an oppressed populace transforms Sol into a revolutionary folk hero, the Empire sends its most ruthless assassin to put an end to the uprising. Sol’s only chance is to do what no slave has ever done: escape from the Coliseum and the only home he’s ever known.
Adult, Fantasy, Adventure, 259 pages
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A baby’s cry.
Grall was sure that was what he’d heard. In the depths of the Coliseum a person became accustomed to various cries of pain or despair. Prisoners, men broken physically or mentally, called out in the night. Spoils, the women given to victorious fighters to do with whatever they saw fit, cried out often. The beasts, crazed by captivity and seclusion, howled and cackled. Even Grall, though the proud young guard would never admit it, sometimes fought back tears that came in the dark. Over time, one could learn to block out the sound completely.
But the cry of a child, an infant, a sound that had no place in this world, could not be ignored.
Grall made his way slowly down the roughly-carved stone hall, unenthusiastic in his search for the sound’s origin. He knew what was expected of him when he found the child. His stomach clenched at the thought.
“I don’t need this,” he thought aloud, his voice barely a whisper. “I should be in bed.” In truth, only minutes before he had lain wide awake, willing dawn to come and give him a reason to abandon his tossing and turning. With the day came his duties; blessed menial tasks he could lose himself in, briefly forgetting his loss.
Grall had come to the Coliseum only a few months before. He had been a guard in the city of Astrolia, capital of the Astrolian Empire, until he refused to participate in a drill using live captives. His protests changed nothing. The captives had died regardless and he had yet again angered his captain, the man that controlled his fate. As punishment he had been transferred to the Coliseum, a post feared by guard and soldier alike. Far more than the danger and brutality, what inspired dread for the post was that for all intents and purposes the Coliseum was a closed system. Be you slave or guard, once you entered it you probably didn’t leave. He had begged his captain, promising him utter obedience. But for the Captain, Grall had made it personal. It mattered not at all that Grall’s young wife had just given birth to their first son. Neither did it matter that he would probably never see either of them again. Even if he managed to be one of the few to live long enough to see retirement, his son would be grown with children of his own.
He had been all for packing their meager belongings and making a run for it, but his wife’s cooler head had prevailed, as always. They lived in the middle of the Astrolian Empire, two week’s hard ride in any direction from free lands if they had a mount, which they didn’t. She was still weak and sore, not yet recovered from a difficult childbirth. Most importantly, they had a brand new baby. In the best of times the road was no place to raise a child, and they would be in hiding.
“No,” she had answered stoically through her tears, “you will go to the Coliseum. You will send us your pay. I will raise our son.”
He protested and argued to the point of exhaustion, vainly fighting the logic in her words. Eventually he conceded, packing his bag and leaving his family, barely started, standing at their doorstep.
He still grieved for the son he would never know.
And now there was this.
About the Author:
Adam Gaylord lives with his beautiful wife, daughter, and less beautiful dog in Loveland, CO. When not at work as a biologist he’s usually hiking, drinking craft beer, drawing comics, writing short stories, or some combination thereof. He’s had stories published in Penumbra eMag, Dark Futures Magazine, Silver Blade Magazine, and Plasma Frequency Magazine, among others