Bensin, teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?
However, should you ever be unfortunate enough to end up as a gladiator in the arena yourself, that would be a whole different story. Although the weekend games are usually not intended to result in death (that would be a waste), accidents can and do happen. Gladiators fight with razor-sharp weapons, after all, and injuries are common. In addition, gladiators tend to be violent by nature, and in the course of daily life in the arena, they are constantly looking for opportunities to prove that they’re tougher than those around them. Newcomers, especially, tend to be victimized until they learn to stand up for themselves. Fighting (except during official combat practice times with a trainer supervising) is strictly against the rules due to the danger of “damaging valuable arena property”. There are always multiple guards standing ready to put a stop to any altercations with the help of their shockwhips and dartblowers (more about those later). However, any gladiator would tell you that proving yourself is always worth the cost. If they’re quick, they can usually get in a few blows before the guards step in.
Few people come voluntarily. Gile Murton, Red Arena’s manager, sometimes purchases slaves from their owners, if he finds some who are especially skilled in martial arts. In the city of Jarreon, enslavement (usually involving sale by auction) is a common punishment for certain crimes. So if Gile hears that a talented athlete, soldier, or someone else with the right skill set has been convicted of a crime and enslaved, he will place a bid in an attempt to secure the person for the arena. He occasionally offers a contract to a free martial artist, but this is rare, and it’s even rarer for anyone to accept it. Becoming a gladiator means being paid a generous sum in advance and then committing to a lifetime in the arena – and gladiators’ lives are notoriously short. As you can imagine, not many people would choose such an option, even though few outsiders have any idea of the strict training conditions and cruel treatment glads in Red Arena face on a daily basis.
Is there a distinct or unusual type of food or meal that we might be served in Red Arena?
The arena features a number of different martial arts, some of which are familiar in our world. Boxing, wrestling, mu tokk, Skeyvian scimitar dueling, spear fighting, Nelirian double daggers (fought with a dagger in each hand), and cavvara shil are the main ones mentioned.
Cavvara shil is Bensin’s area of expertise. It involves a combination of kickfighting, which is similar to our kickboxing, and cavvara dueling, in which fighters strike at each other with a sword-like weapon called a cavvarach that has a hook about halfway along the top edge of the blade. You win a duel either by disarming your opponent (hooking, kicking or knocking the cavvarach out of his hand) or by pinning his shoulders to the ground for five seconds. Fighters wear a narrow shield-like guard, called a shil, on one forearm, and use it to block an opponent’s blows or kicks.
|This scale model of a cavvarach was designed by a high school student at Morrison Academy and printed for the author on a 3D printer.|
What types of vehicles, animals, technology, etc. are used to travel in or to Red Arena?
Technology in the Krillonian Empire as a whole is very similar to that found on Earth today. There are a few unusual items in use there, however. Guards and trainers at Red Arena always carry shockwhips: long, stiff whips with an adjustable strap that fastens around the user’s wrist. The whips deliver a painful blow that leaves a welt for several days. Pressing a button on the handle sends an electrical charge through the whip, and anyone struck with it then receives a painful electric shock. Gladiators are regularly lashed with shockwhips as a penalty for fighting or other rule breaking, or as a consequence for failing to meet the fitness goals their trainers set during workouts.
Red Arena guards also use dartblowers, which are little tubes about the length of a finger, worn on a cord around the neck. They contain tiny darts which, when they pierce the skin, cause a person to go limp and lose control of most muscles for several minutes. This is useful if glads are fighting each other, threatening arena staff, or otherwise engaging in potentially dangerous activities. A prick from a dart will leave them slumped motionless on the floor long enough for anyone in danger to get away or for guards to call for reinforcements. The glad is conscious and can still hear what’s happening around him, he just can’t move or open his eyes. The dart wears off gradually, and after that, he’ll have a headache for several hours.
During breaks after meals and between workouts, gladiators hang out in the rec room and play cards. A card game called ruple is particularly popular.
When a gladiator defeats his opponent out on the sand, he is rewarded with a day of “champion privileges”. This involves a morning of exciting virtual reality video games and an afternoon of movies and (healthy) snacks. As you might expect, the video games and movies are always quite violent.
The manager’s name is Gile Murton. He oversees arena operations and does everything he can to acquire talented new warriors and make sure they become vicious killers to raise Red Arena’s ratings and bring in as much money as possible. He makes no secret of the fact that he doesn’t care about anyone or anything unless they bring profit to the arena. However, he can put on a very warm front when he’s trying to recruit potential gladiators, and he always acts friendly and proud toward glads who have just won in the arena games. However, he has no qualms about using people in whatever ways suit his purposes. All the gladiators at Red Arena hate him, and so do most of the guards and trainers.
There are ten trainers at Red Arena, each responsible for ten gladiators. They create and are constantly updating individualized training plans for each glad, adjusting them when necessary to make allowance for injuries. Trainers have the extra incentive of a generous financial bonus whenever a glad in their “ten” wins in combat against another arena.
An assistant trainer works with each trainer, helping to supervise the gladiators’ workouts and combat practice. They take over training responsibilities twice a week when trainers have the day off.
Guards are always present during the day, ready to protect trainers if the glads in their ten turn on them. Some guards patrol the arena at ground level, shockwhips and dartblowers at the ready. Others look down on the gym, rec room, etc. from balconies at the second-floor level, where they can use their dartblowers as necessary while keeping well away from any possible danger.
What types of plants, animals, or sentient races might we encounter in Red Arena that we don’t see on Earth?
Slavery in the Krillonian Empire is not based on race; people from any race can be enslaved as a punishment for certain crimes. (Attempting to help slaves escape is one such crime.) Large numbers of people from certain provinces, such as Tarnestra, have been enslaved all at once as a consequence for resisting Imperial annexation.
How can gladiators leave the arena?
Permanently? There’s only one way: in a bodybag. But Steene is determined to find a way to get Bensin out alive, no matter the cost….
Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published twelve books (two YA action and adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, and five anthologies of her students’ poetry). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.
Email: [email protected]
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Please join us again next Monday for a trip to the land of Tanniyn, in Realm Explorers Part XCVIII!