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[Story] Sympathiae Et Fortis

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Author's Notes: Something I typed up awhile ago about what I imagined life as a gladiator would be like. Nothing to do with Final Fantasy, just a fictional one-shot.

It's loud. Everything is so loud. There is screaming and shouting above. The people of Rome go wild in the Coliseum. They clap their hands and stomp their feet, and cheer for their favorites and boo the unpopular and the cowards. It is all just a game to them. They simply observed from the stands, and at the end of the day, they go back to their homes and curl up in their soft beds and sleep soundly. But there is no such rest for a gladiator.

Hair that used to shine brilliantly in the rays of the sun is now dull and dry, a light sandy color more than anything, and thick with dirt and sand. His skin appears tan, giving the impression that he spends his days working under the sun. The scars riddled across his bare torso contrast against the darkened skin. Clearly he is not a Roman, as they are blessed alabaster skin and dark hair and eyes. No Roman has sparkling blue eyes and blonde hair or features even similar to his.

His name is Cassius. At least, that is his real name. To the people of Rome he is known as "Sergius," which in Roman means "servant." That is, after all, what he is. The Roman people call him this because they believe he serves them as an entertainer, that he does what he does for them. Cassius is none of these things, and he definitely does not fight for the Romans but for himself. Yet to remain a favorite he lets them believe this. He is a slave, bought and paid for, groomed since childhood to be a warrior. Or rather...not a warrior but an entertainer. He and others like him shed each other's blood and fight for their lives to survive for the amusement of the Romans. There is no reward, regardless of how many roses are thrown at one's feet or how many admirers a gladiator has. It's simply what they do, what they are conditioned to be.

It's dark underneath the Coliseum. The barracks are dirty and wreak of sweat and filth, and they are filled with men just like Cassius, slaves to the Romans. They are various sizes and shapes but everyone shares the same broken look in their eyes...everyone but Cassius. His breathing is slightly labored due to the horrid conditions that make it difficult to draw breath. He is nearly wheezing as his uncanny, bright blue eyes lift to see Seneca gliding down the corridor to sneer at him. The man is stout, and pudgy is a lenient word to describe him with. He is despicable, and Cassius makes his disgust apparent in his expression as he scowls up at his "master." He wishes so deeply that he could be invisible and thinks that he's gotten away with melding into the shadows until Seneca's eyes land on him.

"Alright, then, foreigner." He speaks with a disturbing smirk on his face that chills Cassius to the bone. "Last fight of the day. Emperor's specifically requested you. Hah! Imagine that! Asked for one of me own boys!" If one was unaware of the circumstances, the tone in Seneca's voice would be similar to that of a proud father. But Cassius knows better, and he is anything but proud. In fact, he is filled with dread. With a face as pale as a ghost, he lifts himself from the wooden bench that creaks in protest. He should have known. Everybody loves the foreigners. He follows Seneca slowly, who is chattering on about how much gold he'll receive should Cassius win the round.

They pass some holding cells that contain pacing lions. The animals are skinny and frail, kept that way to be desperate for their next meal, which is more often than not a gladiator that has displeased the Emperor. Cowardice is usually the best way to gain rejection and be fed to them. Cassius swallows thickly, his head turning over his shoulder to watch them as he wets his cracked, chapped lips. A sudden roar nearly startles him, mostly because it does not come from where his eyes are settled on the lions but in front of him. His head snaps forward and he stops, gaping at the magnificent creature.

Its fur is not dusty, dirty or matted as the lions' are but shines with the look of fine silk. The colors are so extremely exotic, as it is a bright orange color with a white underbelly and black stripes all across its form. It resembles the lions but has no mane, and its structure and obvious power dwarfs those of the other cats by far. Cassius has never seen anything more beautiful in his life. But it is the eyes...the eyes of the animal that catch Cassius's interest. They are blue, a piercing pale color, just like his. The giant cat growls angrily, ears folding back, and Cassius suddenly realizes that he sees himself in the great beast: foreign, fearless, ferocious. They are both caged animals, hostile to those they believe responsible of their slavery, never intended to belong in the world they are now forced to inhabit.

Cassius must break eye contact with the fascinating creature as he is handed a weapon. His eyes stare down at the small dull blade of a dagger in his hand as if it is a joke, and he looks up to see Seneca with his back turned, more than likely returning to his seat to watch the show. Cassius becomes utterly flabbergasted. "You expect me to fight with this?!" he shouts, but if Seneca can still hear him over the roar of the people above, he pretends not to.

His mind is racing. He can already tell where the people will expect the fight to go. Cassius takes a deep breath, hand curling around the hilt stubbornly. He will survive this, no matter what. With his chin raised high, he enters the ring and the door is slammed and locked behind him. The people cheer and applaud as his eyes adjust to the blinding sunlight.

Strewn about the ground along with roses thrown for previous victors are bits and pieces of broken weapons and shields, and of course there is blood. Plenty of blood to tell of the many battles that have already taken place.

Cassius' heart is hammering against his chest out of fear but he doesn't show it. Instead he raises his hands and waves to the audience to show his confidence as he waits for his opponent to appear. But the sound of mechanics and squeaking behind him signal that he will not be fighting a man.

Cassius turns to look over his shoulder and into the darkness.

Two fierce blue eyes stare into his and the blood in his veins turns cold, despite the heat of the day reflecting off of every surface around him.

He will be fighting the beast.

It is provoked out of its cage with spears and sticks from behind and the gate is slammed shut.

His eyes lock once more with the beast, and as it saunters forward, the world goes silent around Cassius, save for the sound of the heartbeat in his ears and the low rumblings coming from its throat as it approaches. The people are still cheering but Cassius cannot hear them. He takes a deep breath, watching, analyzing, waiting as he adjusts his fingers around the hilt of the dagger. He will have to kill the magnificent beast...or be killed.

Despite how heavy it looks, the cat is lightning fast. It does a zig zag pounce side to side, confusing Cassius before lunging at him. He narrowly escapes the giant, razor-like claws with a somersault sideways. The cat continues charging in the same direction and attempts to clamber up the stone wall behind Cassius with an angry roar but to no avail. The people scatter out of fear, screaming, but return with laughter when the giant cat leaps away, irritated. Its eyes focus on Cassius again, whose muscles are tense, prepared for another attack. Its eyes reveal that it finally understands. There is no escape, only death, and it will be Cassius' or its own.

They circle each other, urged on by the crowd. The cat rushes forward, swatting a giant paw at Cassius and barely catches him across the chest before he can jump backwards, slashing at its paw with his knife. Blood splatters on his face and the tiger screams in agony, limping backwards a few paces to lick at its injured limb. He looks down to the stinging gashes on his chest quickly. Blood is dribbling down his skin, mixing with sweat, but he can't worry about that now.

Cassius watches. He watches the poor creature and is suddenly filled with empathy. The cat is confused, frightened and angry, and only wants to return home. And suddenly, he is unsure if he can kill this cat. His expression falters for a moment but his eyes glance up to the Emperor's box at the head of the Coliseum. Cassius can't very well see him due to the sun's position and the darkness beneath the shaded area of his seat but he was sure that if he could see the bastard, he'd probably be smirking that utterly annoying smirk he'd seen before. Cassius takes a deep breath and readies himself once more, wiping the blood and sweat from his forehead before they have a chance to drip into his eyes.

Round and round the ring they go, nicking each other here and there until finally the animal grows tired of the game. Cassius sees a flicker of intelligence in the animal's eye. It has a plan, and he doesn't realize this until it lunges towards him with its full power and he has no time to escape. As its massive, powerful legs smash against his chest, Cassius' knife is thrust upward between the cat's ribs as he looks into its eyes that are only mere inches away. And he stares as a realization dawns on him. This creature had no intention of killing him.

The beast gives a roar of pain as they fall together, and the wind is knocked out of him as the full weight of the beast collapses on top of him.

The entire arena is silent. The Romans stand from their seats to see if the growing pool of blood in the sand belongs to their warrior or their beast. It's as if all of them have taken one big breath together and are holding it. Everything is still...until Cassius wriggles out from the underneath the beast, gasping for breath and covered in blood. They all scream in joy and cheer, clapping their hands so excitedly. Cassius thought he saw people crying because they were so relieved and happy. Disgusting. He coughs, wiping some of the red liquid from his forehead as he looks to the beast and is surprised to find it is still alive, still breathing. But there is a look in its eye...It knows. It knows it would only be subjected to endure this again and again if it survived as Cassius had over and over, and so it gave its life instead of wanting to live in such a way. It was the most intelligent beast he had ever run across. Its eyes plead for an end, groaning weakly, and Cassius's heart aches as he takes his knife in hand and plunges it into the beast again and again until its chest no longer rises and falls with the breath of life. The people scream in delight. And the cat becomes still. It is now Cassius wishes to be.

One would have to look very, very close to differentiate the sweat and blood on Cassius's face from the tears that he doesn't realize he is shedding as he reaches forward to stroke the silk fur of the cat. Cassius whispers a prayer of passing that he learned long ago from his homeland but is interrupted as the people begin to cheer.


He rises to his feet and moves to the center of the arena, waving and even blowing kisses. The soul of the poor creature weighs heavily on his mind, though he is determined not to show it. The Romans cheer lovingly and for the first time a rose lands at his feet...and then another and another. No. This is wrong. Absolutely wrong. Still , he smiles and waves before turning his gaze to the Emperor's box with hope.

He isn't sure if he hopes for the Emperor's favor, which allows him to live, or disapproval...which allows him die.

His heart hammers against his chest as he watches, waits. This is the moment that is the most important for a gladiator. Even though a man may have taken down 10 opponents on his own, his fate is still in the hands of the Emperor. He swallows thickly, his throat dry from excessive action and lack of water. The only sign of movement from the Emperor's perch above is a dark shape moving forward in the shadows with an arm outstretched. His thumb is pointed sideways, and the anticipation is killing Cassius. He watches, his heart beating faster until...the thumb turns upwards.

The Emperor approves of his actions, yet Cassius finds a heavy dread suddenly weighing on his shoulders. He feels his gut wrench and become heavy inside himself and his gaze shifts back over his shoulder longingly to the cat that lays in peace, selfishly wishing now that he'd let the beast kill him instead. But it's too late now...and no one would show him compassion with a swift death that he gave to the cat without hesitation. No, his would be slow and excruciating and torturous. That's how Rome likes their gladiators killed.

The crowd cheers and screams and cries his name. No...not his name. Their name. Sergius is a name they have granted him and it is not one that he will accept as his own. His name is Cassius...Cassius of Brittania.
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