Here’s a sneak preview of the first page of The Last Gladiator! Remember you can get your copy by preordering today and getting it at midnight tonight! Be the first to read it and share what you think! I’ll announce the winner of our giveaway tomorrow morning and they’ll have both Roma Aeronautica and The Last Gladiator to enjoy!
Steam billowed around the entrance to the train cabin. Passengers clutching satchels and heavy bags mingled with businessmen in formal overcoats and soldiers in uniform. With a hefty ker-chunk, the door was opened by a sharply dressed porter.
“Rome, Central Station! First and last call!”
Lucia Rhodanus Fortem muscled her way through the packed platform. “Excuse me, s’cuse me.” She said, pushing her way towards the main staircase.
The station in Neapolis had nothing on this place, Lucia decided. Roma Central was slammed with commuters, tourists, and traders. Upon ascending to the main station level, the traffic only increased, but only the tourists seemed to notice the beautifully frescoed ceiling and the intricate chandeliers. Iron grilled elevators moved between floors with a whirring of gears and cogs, while vendors called out from a plethora of shops nestled in alcoves along the walls over five stories tall. Open air terraces ran along each layer, creating the effect of a massive valley within the steel trussed station. Stomach-grumbling food smells mingled with the unwashed scents of travelers.
Checking her money-pouch, she fished around for a moment. People streamed around her, some grumbling at her as they passed by. Not enough to buy a hot meal, she decided. The motion of the crowd began to push her to the side, and she allowed it, finding a space by the wall between a flower shop and a cobbler. Her hand felt the familiar slip of creased newsprint, torn from the Neapolis Standard, and she pulled it out, excitement flaring in her chest.
Come one, come all! Brave and daring heroes wanted for the arena. Join the Ludus Magnus! The famous school of gladiators in central Rome. Earn incredible amounts of money! Fame & fortune await the bold and the talented.
Inquire in person at the Ludus Magnus! Located next to the Coliseum in Rome.
Hurry, hurry, hurry for this final training session under the illustrious Lanista Horatio Ilyensio, famed champion of the arena for six years.
An address and several illustrations of gladiators in combat filled out the rest of the advertisement.
“Gladiator training, eh?”
The cobbler was standing against the wall next to her, reading over her shoulder. The man spoke with an eastern accent, and absentmindedly stroked his weak goatee. “I heard they’ve been shutting them all down. Emperor wants the new Mechagladiators to replace ‘em.”
“Not a chance. Nothing can replace two gladiators in the arena, battling it out, the crowd baying for blood.”
The cobbler laughed.
“The Coliseum is half empty, even on the weekends now. I’ve heard they don’t kill anyone anymore. What’s the point of a ‘fight to the death’ if no one dies?” A customer entered behind him and he turned.
“I guess that is what happens when you cannot use slaves for your fights anymore. No freeman wants to die for some coin. All those men join the army. At least you earn real glory that way.”
Lucia frowned, but she ignored the man. He’s just bitter because he isn’t a gladiator. She thought, folding up the piece of paper. Lucia took comfort from its message, and prepared herself.
She jumped back into the sea of humanity, following the flow of people up to the streets. Asking around, she finally found the right trolley line that would take her past the coliseum. She was certain she could find her way to the ludus. “I just need to find the coliseum first.” Lucia whispered. For the first time in her life, she felt in control, in charge, of her future. I’m ready for this. I practiced with Phillip. I read all those books. I know what it means to be a gladiator.
The squealing of trolley wheels pulled her out of her reverie. She deposited the handful of copper coins into the till and the operator handed her a small ticket. “Baths Line, leaving.” He called.
Lucia pushed her way past several other commuters and slid into a window seat. She craned her head as the trolley began to move. The city seemed to expand upwards around her as they traveled away from the Station. Marble and steel structures, some reaching seven, even eight stories high, stood brick to brick with ancient temples. Lucia was glad to see that they were packed with people as well. It brought her comfort to know that, even here in Rome, people still believed in higher powers.
Rome seemed to be a city where people were always moving, always busy. Very different from Neapolis. Everyone there is always taking a break, even in the heart of the business day.
I’m glad I left. Her face darkened slightly, as she pushed aside the feelings of loss and regret. Gods know I’m doing the right thing. I’m doing the only thing I can do. What I want to do. I refuse to be part of their so-called business. Roughing up traders and stealing from slumlords is not much of a business. Neither in smuggling.
The drab view of utilitarian industrial complexes surrounded by concrete walls covered with plastered signs and advertisements soon replaced the gleaming marble temples and government buildings. Grey soot and smoke covered the streets in a light fog.
“Next stop, Coliseum Maxima!”
She slipped through the crowd, her single bag jostling other patrons. Finally, freedom as she stepped out the rear entrance. Lucia had to step quickly up onto the curb. Several horse drawn wagons followed closely behind the trolley, their drivers looking for a quick opportunity to pass the vehicle.
The friendly ting-ting from the trolley’s bell gradually faded into the distance.
She walked around the great coliseum, following the curve of the street. There were only so many buildings right next to the arena, and surely one of them would be the Ludus Magnus. Many of the buildings had crumbling brick and stone facades, some looking a hundred years old or more. She walked past them, the sidewalks pretty empty in this section of the city. A steam-powered trash hauler clomped past. Four burley men accompanied it down the street. They hefted and dumped large refuse containers from the factories into the machine’s boxy rear. A mechanical screech followed by the slow hum of the trash compactor greeted her ears. She hurried past it, arriving at a set of weathered wooden doors. They were easily twice her height, festooned with layers of advertisements for gladiator events.
“Battle of the Century! Silent Sicaro versus the crazed Capuan!”
“The Delia Twins delight in a race to kill the most enemies possible!”
“Weekend Special – Four battles for the price of two!”
“See the reenactment of the century – Caesar crossing the Rubicon! One showing only!”
Lucia felt her heart skip a beat. Here it must be. Her head craned upwards. She spied the corroded copper letters arching over the doorway. “Ludus Magnus – Trainers of Heroes” She read. The Great School of Gladiators.