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Gideon in Exile

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Gideon woke up in the barracks well before dawn. She had hardly slept but felt incredibly alert. Today was a perfectly fine day to die. It was the first day of her first munera. She did not feel nervous. She felt nothing like the anxiety she had when she first met Domitia, the Editor of this troop. Then she had come to negotiate and audition for her life. She wished Domitia to "buy" her mother's debt from the asinine death cult that had effectively owned Gideon since the day she was born. If she remained in their service she would not pay off her debt until and unless she lived to be 79 years of age. And if by some freakish disaster she bore a child while in the cult's service the child would incur more debt and inherit all of Gideon's. However if Domitia decided she was a worthwhile investment, Gideon could earn her freedom in 15 years. Sooner if she did well in the arena and obtained prize money. But best of all, even if she was not successful and died in the ring, her debt, (and that of her mother's), would die with her. Although Gideon's mother had long since passed into the void a final time, the debt supposedly weighed upon her spirit in the afterlife and that thought, whether true or not, weighed upon Gideon as well.

Gideon was good with the sword, having been trained by the embittered captain of the temple guard. But she was utterly willful, hateful and insubordinate and not fit for guard duties. Nor was she fit for any other service in the moronic death cult. The ossified nuns and the decrepit necrolords despised her and wanted her gone, but hated her too much to release her, no matter how counter-productive keeping Gideon in servitude turned out to be. But if Domitia came to them, with cash in hand and convinced them that she intended to hurry Gideon towards a gorey demise then they might jump at the opportunity to be rid of her without staining their own honor by killing an indentured free-person with their own hands. With so much at stake, that audition and negotiation had been nerve wracking. But it had been a success and now here she was, a neophyte gladiatrix of the Third Southern Corp.

Technically she had "lost" her freedom as a result of the transaction whereby the Editor purchased her debt. Since no free-person can be a gladiator she was deemed to have defaulted on her debt and became subject to imprisonment or slavery. However by venerable custom, as long as she retained her Editor's approval she need fear neither. And her Editor would approve of her so long as she was willing to fight. Gideon was always willing to fight. So now she needed only to concern herself with the very real likelihood of dying in battle. Possibly as early as this morning. But today was a perfectly fine day to die.

The newest and youngest gladiators would fight in the earliest bouts of the day, well before the official opening of the Munera. She and other recruits would grimly hack at each other for the entertainment of the lower classes of spectators who could not afford the main event. If she was not killed or grievously injured, she might be allowed to participate in the opening parade that evening. These prospects brought neither fear nor excitement to Gideon. Instead she felt a smooth icy calmness settle over her entire body. Every breath of air felt thick, soothing and cool. The sensations of her morning routine, washing, dressing, even each bite of oat gruel felt exquisitely detailed. The world around her seemed to have slowed. She suspected this was simply adrenaline augmented by the knowledge that each of these actions could be the last she ever experiences this side of the void. But it also pleased her to think that this was what if felt like to be doing exactly what one was destined to do. It came to her during her meal that her new debt, which she now owed to Domitia meant nothing to her. Now that it was irrevocably severed from her mother's name it bore weight on her at all. She couldn't care less if it was ever expunged. Instead she realized that this day was what she had lived for. Her love of the battle would fulfill all other existential needs. As long as she could swing her great sword, she would be content. And the fact that the day she failed to swing her sword would likely be the day she died was perfectly acceptable to her.

After eating, she still had plenty of time before she needed to be at the arena but she walked directly there. As the faintest predawn light started to illuminate the city she passed calmly and quickly (not running, Gideon never ran unless she had to) through the dusty city streets. Along the ways she passed only a few other souls; a couple of ambitious plebeians and handful of slaves and peasants preparing for a long day of toil and servitude but not a single patrician or member of the ruling elite. Most of those would have been up late into the night enjoying themselves at pre-munera festivities and few would likely stir until the opening parade. No nobles, not likely even her own Editor would bother to come to the arena to watch her fight. However there would be plenty of plebeians there enjoying the cheap entertainment while they could. One or two lanistae might be there however to supervise their trainees or at least inspect the fruits of their recent labours. Her own lanista, Balaat might actually be there to watch her fight. Her relationship with Balaat was... well it was not quite describable at this point. She was terrified of the woman, furious with her, and desperate for her approval. In fact, the thought of Balaat was the first disruption to the perfectly still and calm state of mind that had settled upon her this morning. The thought of Balaat was like a chilling gust of wind that shivers the glassy surface of a still pool, scattering light in a frantic spastic dance. Yes, Balaat would definitely be there for Gideon's first fight. She would be watching with amused contempt. She would be watching with a clearly expected outcome. But what was she expecting? Gideon's victory, humiliation, or violent death? Gideon had no idea.