He had been forgotten. He must have been.
Charles Burket leaned his head against the moist stone wall. The subtle coughs and moans of other prisoners were all he heard. Everyone in these overcrowded cells were either dying from disease or infection.
Charles knew he would join them in their agony sooner than later. He had been held in this cell, shared with around twenty other men, for nearly a month. At least, that was what he believed. There were no windows in these damp cells, giving no hint of when the sun rose and fell. Time seemed to be a gift lost to his past.
The only hint of daytime anyone received was when a guard came to extract a man. They always came during the day. At least, that was the information everyone had gathered from those who returned.
Alas, most never came back. Those that did were prone to infection from injuries they acquired while freed from these bars.
Needless to say, as morbid as these cells were, Charles had no desire to ever walk beyond the metal bars.
No one did.
Charles raised his shackled hands to wipe at an itch on his clammy forehead. I’ve been gone for so long. He thought. He knew, unlike the others here, he had the possibility of freedom. If only his friends took the effort to find him.
If they ever decided to take the effort to find him. He had been abandoned once before, by the very people he called his friends.
Would this time be any different?
Everyone in these cells were rebels, including him. They all had been brought over in wheeled cages to the Allegiant city of Ambrotos. In other words, he was far from home. Even so, he allied with an Allegiant prince and princess. They had titles that could easily save him from the hell he was living. If they ever resolved to free him.
Would the princess even think of chasing after me? He could not help but wonder. They enjoyed exclusive company with one another, but she was hardheaded. She despised getting dirty. No, Princess Fanny would never travel this distance to find me.
He was a far way from his home, and all she wanted was to return to hers. She wanted to once again be accepted by the father who had exiled her.
She would chose a home over him and he knew it. It was foolish to date such a selfish girl, but there was something about her that he couldn’t shake from his very core. He could never have enough of her, no matter the stigma that surrounded her.
A month ago, Charles left his group of friends in search of this princess, Fanny. She was a wicked girl with a snarky attitude, but he missed her. Charles could have anyone, but it was the vain princess he wanted most.
There was something about her.
People who ran the Allegiant slave trade found him, a lone rebel, before he had the chance to return to her. Caged and shackled, he traveled by ship. For days, they sailed along the coastline until reaching northern lands. There after, they were wheeled off to Ambrotos.
He never made it to her, and now he missed her more than anything. Because he saw something in her that most people didn’t seem to understand. No one looked into her deeply enough. Everyone was quick to judge her outward attitude, never attempting to dig a little deeper.
He could only wonder, did she yearn for him?
Everyone’s heads jerked up as they heard the clicking of heavy boots against the hard stone. It came from outside the cell. It was time.
A strapping man, though rugged he was not even twenty, stood outside the cell eyeing the sickly men. Adonis. He had a youth the other guards lacked, yet his muscular physique was more impressive than anyone who aged him. Scars lined his sun-kissed skin, gifting him with a threatening appearance that sent shivers down the captives’ spines. His dark eyes held little sentiment whenever he extracted a man.
There were rumors about him, whispered among the slaves. He was a merciless killer, a breed of man woven by his father’s training.
Or, stories of Adonis were meant as subtle entertainment for those who had none, holding no truth.
“Charles Burkett,” Adonis’s rough voice called out as he took a slackened hand and scratched at the short hair prickling from his head. He didn’t seem to care much for the death sentence he just placed upon Charles by calling his name.
“Here,” Charles managed to say. He could hardly hear his voice over his pounding heart.
This is it.
“You’re up, let’s go.” Adonis said, unlocking and pulling the cell door open. No one made a move to run. The cell was everyone’s safety net, the bars protecting them from the evils of the outside world.
Charles forced himself up and forward. The rapid beating of his heart drowned out the sounds of the ill and injured men. He would join them soon.
If he was lucky.
He was younger than the other rebels, only eighteen. If they died outside these bars what chance did he have of surviving?
“Good luck,” he could vaguely hear the words of one of the men. Charles gave him a curt nod, trying to express a confidence he had lost.
Of course, it was unusual to wish another man luck. None of these men took the time to befriend another. Giving one words of encouragement was senseless. Friendship could only lead to a man’s ruin.
Thus, they remained strangers, comforted only by their own thoughts.
Charles trudged past the bars, stepping outside the cell for the first time in weeks. Or was it months? Time was lost to him.
“Follow me,” Adonis said in a gruff voice.
Charles obliged, as he had no other choice. Where was he to run? These cells held never ending pathways that would send a rebel in circles. It was a maze meant to keep the slaves locked up until death met them.
They continued to walk down the twisting halls, Adonis strode, but Charles was only able to drag his wobbly legs onward, struggling to keep up. Sweat beaded from his cool forehead. This is it.
When a light appeared at the end of the hallway, Charles knew his time was near. He was about to reach the outside world.
Adonis came to a stop once they reached the exit and released him from his shackles. A large gate was all that stood between him and what laid beyond.
He gulped, but his dry mouth gave him nothing to swallow. He was not prepared.
All his years training as a rebel warrior couldn’t prepare him for this.
“Ready?” Adonis asked, no sympathy visible on his face. “If you do well, you will be rewarded with a bountiful dinner.”
Charles let out a heavy breath and looked out past the metal bars, sunlight emanating through them, heating up his paled face. “Ready as I’ll ever be,” he lied just as the bars began to creak open, gradually rising to the ceiling above.
He needed to be ready. Gladiators never lasted long.