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Chapter 10: Gladiators

Curious to me that our most binding institution, perhaps the foundation of Junker culture itself, is that of the Arena Games. In it the dregs find contentment and catharsis, while we at the top learn the necessary virtues of stoicism in the face of death and the dynamism of violent and direct action. Besides, I love to see a man bleed.

Glave Truculla, Junker Proconsul

The Gladiators of Iskandria

Amidst the hovels and shanties of the destitute, the factory stacks and filthy tenements in which thousands live and toil in the Junker Sector, ugly plasticrete fortresses squat behind high walls. The rare visitor to this region notices many such buildings, heavily fortified slab-sided compounds containing large open-air courtyards behind strong walls topped with razor wire. The outsider might naturally assume these are Junker prisons, and he'd be correct, in a way, for they do contain prisoners of a sort. But the Junkers do not have jails, they do not lock their criminals away but rather convert them to industrial or military slaves - the Junker state itself is a vast prison. Should the visitor draw near one such fortress the sounds of explosions and gunfire might be heard from within, as well as shouts and the clang of metal on metal. What he has stumbled upon is a Gladiator stable, one of the hundreds of facilities for the housing and training of the ubiquitous Junker Gladiator.

Personal combat has been a staple Junker entertainment since the earliest days of the founding of Ironglass when prisoners would assemble for ad hoc brawls deep beneath the planet's surface, in mine shafts and pockets untroubled by guards and cameras. From these earliest times rituals and rules of order arose to govern the manner of fight and fighter that could be matched in a 'fair' battle, and gladiatorial games themselves have grown more elaborate as the Ironglass Imperium continues to construct high- tech arena complexes and stage ever-more astounding and extreme spectacles. Where one finds Junkers, one finds the games.

The Junker Sector on Iskandria has a reputation for staging some of the finest and cruellest bouts outside of Ironglass itself, the great wealth of the Junker Plutocrats and the easy access to more sophisticated ideas and technologies of the free city and other Tripartite Powers ensuring that the Iskandrian Games never lack for novelty or innovation. The Great Arena, itself built upon the highest point of the mountainous northeast and surrounded by the villas and holdings of the most important Iskandrian Junkers, is a marvel of technical savvy and sophistication - rarely has technology been so well applied to the science of killing outside of the military realm as it is in the cruel complex of the Great Arena.

The Great Arena, like the many lesser arenas that serve the Junker Sector's multitudes, is a complex containing numerous killing fields and duelling grounds capable of hosting many events simultaneously. Everything from intimate duels between champions and public executions, to obstacle-laden skirmishes and tremendous pitched battles are available for public consumption, and the modular nature of much of the Arena's venues and gimmicks ensure that the battlegrounds and the various impedimenta present within them need never be the same thing twice. As one rises up the soaring spiral of the Great Arena, from the enormous street-level amphitheatre to the private fighting chambers of the Junker elite, the games grow increasingly more sophisticated - and exclusive. The Iskandrian Games have proven not only popular with the masses of Junkers that flock to them but also with the native Iskandrians themselves, especially the labourers of Iskandria Minor. Even Senators and other high-ranking dignitaries from other Junker worlds, including Ironglass, make the pilgrimage to the Great Arena to see its famous blood sports.

The stables of the Junker Sector themselves are some of the richest and best run Gladiator stables in the Imperium. Each is sponsored by one or more wealthy individuals or families and run by ex-Gladiators called lanista. The Lanista Magni is the chief trainer and administrator of the school, and decides, among other things, the appropriate kind and level of training his Gladiators will receive, the proportion of valued to expendable fighters in his care, and which contracts he will pursue each season with particular arena venues. A successfully managed stable can bring wealth and fame not only to its sponsors, but also to its trainers and the warriors themselves.

The intensely violent nature of the training undergone at these stables is much like the games themselves, brutal, bloody, insane. While it breaks the bodies and spirit of many assigned to the stables, many of whom are criminals or press- ganged unemployed (though some few are volunteers!) it creates an unbreakable bond of respect amongst even the most heated of rivals - any who survive the trial by fire that is Gladiator training have earned the acceptance of their peers. This specialized training in close quarters combat coupled with the high motivation and self-reliance of the Gladiators made them ideal soldiers for the urban battlefield - unfortunately it also made them ideal defectors from the Junker ranks.

Many famous Gladiator stables are represented in the present Junker para-military Gladiator forces, some of which come entirely from one stable and have known one another their entire lives. Wealthy stables such as the Falconi and Deca Therax are capable of supplying entire troupes of well balanced and veteran warriors, specialist schools such as Varro Amazonia have provided a corps of highly capable leaders, and the great flesh farms of Miln Dragolic and Grox-in- Chains ensure that fresh reinforcements for Gladiator armies will always be available.

Warriors of the Great Arena

Brutal, ignorant, animalistic; easy enough to classify these beasts. But they fight well, and they have honour - that last fact alone raises them above their masters.

Triad Boss Murakami Shinichi, Overboss Eight Clans East

In the immediate aftermath of the Syntha occupation of important sections of the Iskandrian Neutral Zone, and despite their blatant violation of the Partition Treaty, Viridian and VASA intervention remained limited and carefully observant of the letter of the law. Not so the Junkers. While it is true their actions did not constitute a full-scale invasion, the penetration of the NZ by hundreds, if not thousands, of irregular Gladiator forces was not, as one Ironglass official described it when confronted by an angry Viridian diplomat, "The criminal actions of a few escaped prisoners in no way associated with the Imperial Government."

The truth, of course, is something else entirely. Ever-eager to seize upon any opportunity, however marginal, the Plutocrats of the Ironglass Sector quickly mobilized an irregular force to infiltrate the NZ for the purpose of gathering intelligence, seizing key regions on their borders, and, of course, the time-honoured Junker pastime of looting. For this task they chose Gladiators, experienced fighters in arena blood sports, both because these warriors were motivated and self- sufficient in a way the staple of the Junker legions - the convict soldier - was not, and also in order to distance themselves politically from their actions in much the same way as VASA chose to act through intermediaries and Viridia to support an ostensibly native Iskandrian force. The Junkers were playing the same game, though with perhaps a bit more cynicism and less thought to observing treaty conventions; as the unlawful stripping and relocation of industrial equipment and material in regions bordering the Junker Sector or the wholesale pillaging of numerous commercial districts demonstrated early in the conflict that the Junkers intended to play the game by their own rules.

And what better pawns to play the Junker's brutal game than the trained killers of the arena? Subjected to harsh conditioning from birth, inured to pain and deprivation, and trained in close quarters combat, the Gladiators are fierce opponents. Life is cheap in the great arena, doubly so when one considers that the most horrible deaths comprise a mere moment's entertainment for the braying masses, and the fatalistic Gladiators have developed their own grim code of honour to suit this uncompromising environment. They worship strength, whether in an individual or institution, and many have developed deep bonds with their stable - the combination school, barracks, and prison where these warriors spend their days perfecting the art of killing under the tutelage of retired master Gladiators.

Each stable is the property of a wealthy Junker aristocratic family, and much of the fighting of the games contains a subtext of clan or family competition at the highest levels, a gruesome articulation of Junker political ruthlessness. Stables specialize in one or more styles of fighting, some of which require a great deal of skill and specialized equipment such as the Retiarii and Provocators, and such extremes of dedication and identification with a particular style and its attendant iconography often becomes fetishized as a kind of cult. This can be a double-edged sword as it not only provides the Gladiators with a kind of solidarity and sense of purpose that allows them to face the horrors of arena combat, but may also make them intractable and difficult to control. Indeed, some cases of open rebellion in the Gladiator ranks have been heard of, and it is even rumoured that the great Arsonists Revolt of the last century was in fact led by Myrmillai of the Jurgonax stables acting as high priests of an apocalyptic fire cult.

It is clear that the particular stresses of a Gladiator's existence can cause such mania, and most arena fighters can be considered at least partially insane. This has been highlighted in the recent conflict as many of the bands of Gladiators turned out to operate independently in the neutral zone often deviated from, or wholly abandoned, their goals and have instead rampaged across the Free City in orgies of looting and destruction. Somewhat more alarming are the reports of Warlordism, Gladiator teams uniting under strong leaders to proclaim their independence from their Junker masters and lay claim to sectors of the city- one such strongman named Hamilcar has even proclaimed himself Emperor and Successor to Iskander! Clearly Ironglass cannot control what it has unleashed upon the city, though one can speculate that perhaps this was their intention all along, to compound the chaos in the Free City in order that no one faction could restore stability before such a time as the Legions were mobilized and the Junkers were ready to act.

The Gladiators at War

What is best in life? To break bones and rip flesh, to maim, to pound down anything in your way. To give pain - to take pain and ask for more. I'll burn this whole world down to light our way to hell!

The Warlord Knax Ultra, excerpt from a pre-battle speech

The Junkers wasted no time in exploiting the chaos of the Koralon and Syntha attacks to secure areas of Iskandria Minor immediately adjacent to their Sector, and key Sectors such as Fors Morthori and Sindant quickly fell to the onslaught of the Gladiator packs that surged across the border. But very little consolidation was possible with the use of such troops, and much of the Gladiators success would be in their looting and their disruption of enemy action in these areas - and the creation of a buffer zone between the hastily mobilizing Junkers and the dangerously close Syntha.

Early Gladiator success against the Syntha were promising, though from the reports it must be concluded that Iskandria Minor was never regarded by the Syntha as a primary field of operations until the Junker escalation in that area forced them to commit more troops to the southern sectors of the Island Continent. The Triads of Eight Clans East proved a bit more difficult for the Gladiators to handle, primarily because their mastery of the locale (the NZ of Iskandria Minor is, after all, effectively their backyard) and hit-and-run tactics greatly frustrated the inexperienced Gladiator gangs that attempted to penetrate Triad held areas.

But the Gladiator's mission was not merely confined to Iskandria Minor - in fact Gladiator bands were sent throughout the Free City in an effort to sow disorder, gather intelligence, and perhaps steal certain key artefacts believed left over from the reign of Iskander himself. More of this story has come to light in recent weeks, and it seems the Junker high command placed great stock in the rumours of fabulous and potent formulae, substances, and technologies hidden by the Great Tyrant's successors during the General's War - such artefacts were the goal of numerous bands of roving Gladiators encountered as far away as Greyburn and Vomeen Bal in the opening stages of the conflict. Their degree of success or failure is unknown, what is known is that such bands, and others like them, formed the nucleus for the future Warlord armies that now operate independently on both sides of the Ophidian Straits.

It is estimated that some one hundred and sixty-three Gladiator forces, ranging from nomadic bands to entrenched armies, have now lapsed into a state of autonomous rule best characterized as Warlordism. Uniting behind strong leaders, such bands maintain an indifferent or openly hostile relationship to their former masters, and pursue their own goals within the NZ - generally looting, burning, and fighting. These relatively small bands have proven a thorn in the side of not only Syntha, Triad, VASA, and Viridian forces but also the Koralon. Indeed, some of the stiffest resistance to the alien invaders has come at the hands of the Warlord Vulgrin operating along the Eith and Sun City border.

These Warlord armies have found no shortage of new recruits either, whether from the refugees and wanderers of the NZ to the deserters of the Junker Legions - it seems the independent Gladiator armies are viewed by some as the most attractive alternative to a life of helplessness in the city or in the grasp of the Legions' Lictors. Already new 'stables' have been set up in Warlord camps, and recruits drill in the time-honoured fashion of the traditional stables. It has even been reported that, in the midst of all the carnage and conflict of the NZ, the Warlords have begun to sponsor their own games for the amusement of their army and their newfound subjects. Such rulers, now scattered all over both island continents of Iskandria, have set themselves up as aristocrats on the Junker model, and pitilessly exploit whatever subject peoples they encounter.

But still many Gladiators serve their imperial masters, either as raiding and intelligence gathering units deep within the NZ, or as useful adjuncts alongside the newly raised Legions. In this last capacity they serve not only as guides and scouts, but as shock infantry - still far more capable and courageous than the average Legion conscript soldier. Even as Operation Arkadian Dawn fills Iskandria with off-world reinforcements the role of the Gladiator has not diminished, indeed they are some of the most pervasive and entrenched of all Iskandria's combatants, having fought against every faction and in nearly every sector. The Junkers have long held a reputation as a wild card - and if anything the Gladiators are the most extreme manifestation of the Junker propensity to make things difficult for everyone, including themselves.

  • Gladiator Landscape 1
  • Myrmillo
  • Secutor