Authors: Sean-Michael Argo
Gladiators Vs Zombies
By Sean-Michael Argo
George Romero, the man who brought us the zombies.
Andy Whitfield, for showing us what heroes are made of.
The title says it all… Zombies are the ultimate bad guys, and we love pitting them against all sorts of heroes. I have been a zombie fan for years, and fascinated by Roman Gladiators for a lifetime, so it was only natural that I eventually write a mash-up story. In this tale of blood and honor we are given glimpses of a wide variety of characters that inhabit this imagined ancient world. In this book you will encounter much in the way of Latin terminology and a wide variety of historical references. It is important to keep in mind that this book is fiction, and not meant to serve in any way as an accurate depiction of gladiators, historical events, or religious beliefs. While I have made attempts to present a story that has an authentic feel to it, I have taken a great many creative liberties. I do hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
The rabbi Ezekiel looked out across the battlements towards the vast Roman army, his gaze moving across the earthworks and tents of the amassed legions, falling finally upon the massive wooden platform the Romans had constructed. It stood at a great height, and had been growing day by day for months. Soon the edge of the platform would reach the gates of Masada, the mountain fortress upon which the last remnants of the Jewish revolt waited
to make their last stand.
While he watched workers hammering and lashing, swarming over the platform like so many ants, his mind traveled back to the beginning of the revolt. So brightly had their courage shone, as radiant as their swords and spears, though not yet tested against the strength of the Legions. In the early days of the struggle, the Jewish rebels had been victorious in skirmishes with the local garrisons, and the fires of revolt had since
spread across the region. Victory and freedom seemed within their grasp, yet all too soon it was snatched away as the Roman legions marched across the region, bringing reprisal with them.
Ezekiel turned his back on the army below, and looked upon the people of Masada, all of whom had gathered at the temple to hear his words and receive his judgment. The men were haggard and war-weary, the long months of siege having taken its toll on both their numbers and their spirit. The women stood silent and stoic, their hearts as hard as their faces. The children did not play or sing, only gazed with hollow eyes empty of mirth or innocence.
“Our time on this earth is done, my flock. Soon the Romans will be at our gates, and we all know what the Pax Romana will mean for us. The men will be killed where they stand. Our women will be defiled, many unto death. Our children will be taken as slaves and raised to love other gods,” intoned the rabbi as he stepped down from the battlements and walked among his people. We cannot allow this terrible fate to befall us.”
“What to you propose rabbi?” spoke Kohath, one of the few veteran warriors who had taken up a sword to join the revolt. We stand upon the last ground left to defend, nor is there any hope for escape. Is it the dishonor of suicide that you seek to set upon us?”
Ezekiel knelt to pick up a fistful of sand from the ground, and held it above his head so all could see. “I will use the letters, and I will breathe life into a man born of sand and clay. A golem.” As the rabbi spoke a murmur went through the assembly, some backing away in terror, others whispering in excitement.
“You speak of ancient things Ezekiel, dark magics that were outlawed by King Solomon ages ago.” Kohath argued as he stood firm, his hands crossed over hid chest.
“Do not fear! It is with this man of clay that we shall bring terror and defeat upon the Romans. We shall set our hands against them even after death, for no grave can hold the wrath of God. We are doomed, all one must do is look out upon the armies set against us to see that we are doomed, but we are His chosen people, and shall not pass so meekly from this world.”
“Dishonor or darkness,” spat Kohath as he turned to look out at the Roman legions camped below. They are poor choices old friend, though I would strike at the Romans if given the chance. Darkness it is then.”
“Darkness it is.”
That night Ezekiel and two of his disciples mixed blessed water with sand, shaped the form of a man from cold clay stored in the damp darkness of the inner temple, and set themselves to the task of creating a golem. The rabbi and his disciples sung prayers and spoke the words as they crafted the man of clay. They burned incense over the body, and sent their god the sacrifice of the camp’s last goat, their offering thrown on a ritual fire so the smoke could carry their prayers skyward. At the end of the ritual, Ezekiel took his carving tool and wrote the sacred words upon the forehead of the golem. Upon the last stroke of the last letter, the eyes of the clay man shuddered and opened.
The people of Masada gathered around the temple as commanded by Ezekiel, and he brought them down to the inner sanctuary one at a time. Each person was led down the shallow steps, held arm in arm by the two disciples as Ezekiel prayed over them all. They were brought before the man of clay, who was now bound firmly in the center of the temple. The golem’s teeth gnashed as he moaned like a starving man struggling against his bonds. Each person was presented to the golem, some more willingly than others, and the creature would bite the hand offered to it. Then Ezekiel would again bless the person and anoint them with oil, saying “With this sacrifice of flesh we call upon your wrath, Mighty God.”
The dawn had broken across the sky by the time everyone in the camp had been bitten, including Ezekiel and his disciples. Everyone in the camp had armed themselves as best they could, some with sword and shield, others simply with sticks and rocks. They shared a common meal, breaking bread as a tribe one last time. Then, as the dawn gave way to full morning, they began to die.
Centurion Cyprian Africanus awakened in a cold sweat, his heart pounding in his chest and his pugio dagger in his hand. Dreams, just dreams, he told himself. He had been in the underworld, fleeing from hordes of dead souls. Many soldiers of his own cohort had been at his heels, most of whom in the waking world yet lived. Wine, he needed wine. Being a man of the sword, he had developed a thirst for drink, though he kept it within as much moderation as any man could. It calmed his nerves unlike any other balm. Ever since his tour of duty in the hard north, against the savage blue painted men, nothing else would suffice.
He stood up from his cot, crossed the room, and poured himself a hefty measure. Quaffing
the bitter wine and savoring the taste, he focused on the warmth of the liquid as it spread through his body. Calm now soldier, it was just a dream. As the heady potency of the wine cleared the fog of sleep from his mind, he dropped to the ground and began doing push-ups, then crunches, followed by a stretching routine. With his workout finished he toweled the sweat from his body while draining a cup of water from the basin, then began strapping on his. This was his way on all mornings.
Cyprian emerged from his tent and fastened his centurion’s helmet as a messenger approached him. “Centurion Cyprian Africanus, your century has been chosen to lead the vanguard. We assault the mountain within the hour.” Then with that, the messenger went on his way, no doubt to deliver orders to the rest of the cohort. Cyprian simply grunted in assent and nodded, then walked into the encampment of his soldiers, bellowing for muster.
Within minutes the soldiers stood in perfect formation, the light of dawn glinting off of polished armor, their spear-tips shining like so many stars. One hundred of the hardest men in all the legions of Rome, he thought to himself as he looked out. We have walked across the broken swords of countless armies, each man a veteran of a dozen wars. It was an honor to lead the vanguard, one that Cyprian and his men had earned. Let these Jewish rebels hide behind their mountain, and we shall root them out.
The assault platform was a vast construct, a testament to the engineering power of a modern military. To see it made the centurion’s heart skip a beat. He’d seen it under construction for a gruelingly boring score of months, never giving it a second glance. Yet now, before him it stood, glorious and mighty. The century assembled at the base of the platform, and, as the drummer beat out a marching rhythm, the formation began to move up the platform.
The sound of war-horns was in his ears,
as Cyprian marched alongside his soldiers. The platform was wide enough for ten legionaries to march shoulder to shoulder, and the century pounded up the structure towards the gates of Masada. With their voices they bellowed out a marching cadence, with their hands they beat spears against their shields every fourth step, creating the fearsome display that had struck fear into many enemies in wars past. The whole of the encampment was watching below, and the relief columns cheered them on as the Roman army marched upwards.
As the column neared the gates, Cyprian began to grow wary. Archers should be defending the walls, and by now they should hear challenge from the soldiers waiting to defend the gate once it fell. Silence was all that met the Romans as they drew near. “Shields!” barked the centurion, and his men responded, bringing their rectangular shields over their heads. In an instant the column was protected from above, forming a roof through which arrow and stone would nary penetrate. Their shields were smeared in siege oil, a recipe of Cyprian’s own divining, designed to deny purchase to burning pitch or any other unsavory liquids hurled at them by the defenders. And yet none fell.
“Battering ram!” Cyprian commanded as the column reached the gate doors unhindered. A ripple went through the column as disciplined soldiers stepped aside to allow more soldiers carrying a thick wooden pole to move through the ranks. The iron tipped pole looked like a giant arrow, covered in rope handles and wood darkened from much use. The cohort had used this very ram several times in battle, and Cyprian had heard legionaries around the campfire refer to it as ‘The Bitch.’ It had earned its name, and soon in the hands of twelve strong men it earned the name again, as its point drove open the gate in eleven strikes. The crossbeam splintered to bits, and the doors swung open.
“Take the center!” yelled the centurion as the column poured into the mountain fortress. The soldiers rushed into the center of the fortress and began forming the square formation, their shields locking together as the men stood side by side. His gaze swept across the empty compound, the hackles on his neck rising, for still no enemy harassed them. No defenders met their entrance, and in minutes the entire century had entered the fortress while the relief column waited at the base of the platform many yards below.
“Steady lads! Let them come to us.” Cyprian intoned as his assault began to lose its momentum. The marching cadence had ground to a halt, and the soldiers stood silent. Then they heard the moaning. At first it was a lone voice, then a cacophony of voices. “Steady!” cried the centurion as he moved out from the square, a bold habit that had earned him the derision of his fellow centurion officers, and yet won him the total loyalty of his own men.
He walked several yards forward searching for some sign of the enemy, and soon his eyes fell upon the first of them. Cyprian could tell by the man’s clothing that he was a rabbi, though his clothes were torn and bloody, and the man’s demeanor was strange. His skin was ashen grey, and he moved with an awkward pace, as if searching for something. The rabbi’s head turned towards the centurion, and his lips drew back in a snarl as he let out a bestial scream. Cyprian took a step back. Something was shaken in his soul, some primitive fear had gripped him, and he felt as if he could barely stand.
The rabbi moved towards the centurion, his gait some shuffling sprint, screaming and gnashing his teeth. Cyprian fell back quickly and rejoined the ranks as the rabbi came onwards. The rabbi lurched into the open ground of the main plaza of the fortress, and the rest of the men saw him. They too had the fear in them, Cyprian could see it, that same bowel emptying primal fear. The rabbi paused, for the briefest of moments, his eyes burning yellow and hateful. Then the defenders of the fortress revealed themselves.
Across the fortress screaming voices erupted as dozens of the Jewish rebels entered open ground. All of them had wounds on their hands, blood on their clothing, and the same gnashing teeth and deadly pallor as the rabbi. Cyprian could have sworn the rabbi looked directly at him as the creature screamed, and the entire rebel force surged towards the soldiers.
“Spears!” cried the centurion, and a flight of pilium spears flew out from the square. Many of the rebels were impaled, and yet all of them kept charging, as if unaffected by the spears piercing their bodies. Seeing the enemy only pause, the centurion barked “Second throw!” and the men deeper inside the square hurled their spears, to similar effect. The enemy would not be slowed, and were upon them. Cyprian freed his gladius from its scabbard and yelled, “Draw sword!”
The Roman square was a flash of iron as one hundred of Rome’s finest raised their swords and prepared for the attack. The first wave of rebels crashed into their lines, slamming themselves into the shield wall with reckless abandon. In mere moments, Cyprian could see that these were creatures, and far from being mortal men. Killing blows would barely slow them down; some of the rebels having taken mortal wounds several times over just kept coming. The centurion saw scrabbling hands tear shields away from legionaries and begin tearing at the men with hands and teeth. In a moment of pure terror, Cyprian saw that some of the men were being literally eaten, as if the rebels were ravenous beasts.
After several more bloody moments of combat, Cyprian lost sight of the greater struggle as the rabbi himself rushed the centurion. His mouth running with blood and meat, the rabbi looked less like a beast and more like a monster of legend. Centurion Cyprian Africanus was not a superstitious man; however he had fought in enough wars with the blue people to assume that whatever horror he saw before him was real enough, and he raised his weapons. The two met in a bone-crunching embrace, the rabbi slamming against Cyprian’s shield with inhuman force. The centurion bent his knees and torqued to the side, sending the rabbi-creature to the ground with a shattered arm. Cyprian recovered and, just as he brought his shield back into position, the rabbi was again upon him, grasping the shield and wresting it from his grasp, all the while seemingly impervious to the many thrusts from the centurion’s shortsword.
The rabbi-creature forced his hands under the centurion’s armor, causing the Roman to lose his balance and fall to the ground. Cyprian nearly vomited with fear as the rabbi-creature crawled atop him, and brought its mouth down to his face. The centurion managed to get his sword up in time to prevent the rabbi-creature from biting him, though only barely, and the blood-crusted teeth chomped down on the iron blade. Cyprian lost his grasp on the sword, and screamed in pain as the rabbi-creature’s hands began tearing and beating at his armor, so hard that he could barely remain conscious.
Cyprian’s hand fell to his hip, and his hand closed around his pugio. The centurion managed to get his hand around the throat of the rabbi-creature, before it could react he plunged his dagger into the thing’s temple. To both his relief and surprise, the creature began twitching violently and collapsed upon him. Not wanting to be caught on the ground, Cyprian threw the body off of him recovering his gladiaus, and sprang to his feet.
“Romans! To me! The heads! Take their heads!” Cyprian bellowed as he flew into combat with another rebel, cleaving its head from its shoulders as if to lend credence to his bold words. The century had been halved in number within moments, though, as a testament to the Roman war-machine, the remaining soldiers fought back with discipline and determination. Through the carnage they reformed the square, fighting back-to-back and shoulder-to-shoulder against the rebel-creatures. When one man would tire or fall, another would step forward to take his place.
The relief column had begun pounding up the ramp once battle was joined, and arrived within minutes to aide in the struggle. Shouts of the creatures’ weaknesses were called from Cyprian’s century, and the fresh soldiers quickly helped turn the tide. The last of the creatures were put to the sword, and soon there were none standing. Cyprian took command of the relief column, and instructed them to search the rest of the compound. The order had already been given to kill, defile, and enslave every living person in the compound, so no stone was left unturned.
Cyprian chose two of his century’s best surviving men to accompany him into the temple. The five Romans found the door unbarred, which was unusual for these curious zealots of Judea. Typically great treasures of gold and spice could be found within their temples, and after the hardest fight of his life the centurion intended to claim it. They descended the shallow stairs into the center of the temple, and there found the golem.
To the eyes of a Roman soldier, the golem looked like any other man, though with a strange tattoo on his forehead in the language of the Judean tribes. While his men ransacked the temple, Cyprian knelt down, bringing himself to eye level with the tattooed man. The centurion looked into the man’s eyes and recognized the same feral hatred and hunger as he had in the rabbi and the other rebel-creatures. And yet, the tattoo intrigued him. As such, the centurion did what any good Roman soldier would do, he cut the man-creature’s head off.