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Authors: Joy Spraycar

Changing of the Glads

BOOK: Changing of the Glads
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Changing
Of the
Glads

 

By

Joy Spraycar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2013 JOY SPRAYCAR

All Rights Reserved

Cover Art by Amelia Chitulescu

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or

transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

FIRST EDITION

Published 2013 by

MIDNITE DREAMS PUBLISHING

 

 
 
 
Dedication
To Ty
Who dreamed of being the fighter

Acknowledgements

 

I want to thank my husband, Steven, for his love and support, without which my writing career would not have become a reality.  I want to acknowledge my critique partners,
Malena Knapton and Annie Oortman, for their help, and input.  Thanks to Annie who did triple duty as critique partner, editor, and good friend.  I love you for all your help and support.  I also want to thank my wonderful cover artist Amalia Chitulescu, you always transfer my desires into the perfect covers.

 

CHAPTER 1

 

 

A
shiver of guilt slid across Zalphia’s shoulders in spite of the oppressive heat pouring from the cloudless blue sky and beading sweat on her skin. Perspiration dripped from the matted ends of her dirty-blonde hair, seeped over her eyebrows, and stung the narrow slits through which she scrutinized her opponent crouching just a few feet away. Tension knotted her back and pulsed in her clenched jaw. Another match. Another life about to be thrown away. And for what? Pleasure? The Clubbers? 

Chancing a quick glance at the regally dressed spectators, her eyes narrowed. Who were they to decide she should spend her life as a Glad? Or that any human being should fight to the death merely for their amusement?

Zalphia’s dance-like shuffle resumed as she circled the wiry brunette. The silt dusting the arena floor billowed and caused a cloud that dimmed her vision and clung to her moistened skin, changing it from its normal bronze to a khaki tan. She licked her lips, tasting the grit. 

Zalphia stood – heavily muscled legs shoulder-width apart, knife clutched solid in her right hand, razor claws adorning her left hand, and her well-defined forearms twitching slightly – and waited. Waited for the moment when this Glad would realize her every move had been anticipated, her every attempt to land a blow foiled by Zalphia’s adept visions. The moment this opponent, so new in her forced fight for life, could see nothing ahead. No way to turn that would not be blocked. No way to strike that could land. No way to defeat the more experienced Glad standing before her and stay alive. It would be then that Zalphia would strike and claim yet another victory.

Platy had brought her to Afri because these Glads were rumored to be cunning, swift, and strong.  But this girl was no better than the other three Zalphia defeated this day. No better than those she usually faced across the ocean. Here, she hoped for true competition, a challenge, or hidden somewhere deep inside – maybe, just maybe – a welcomed relief from this pained existence. 

No! She couldn’t think like that. Dying wasn’t an option. Not when she dreamed of someday escaping from the arena and no longer being a Glad. She would walk into a different sort of life.
One she longed for with a husband and family, but knew she would probably never experience.  One without cages and the horror of being forced to kill or be killed.

Zalphia shook her head to dispel the thoughts. She had to keep her mind on the fight. Breathe. Concentrate. Defeat the adversary.

Real life would come after this match, or maybe twenty, or several hundred. Whenever she killed enough that no trainers would pit their Glads against her, maybe then.  But until that happened, she was trapped, chained to this existence.

Heat baked her mood, leaving it darker than the skins of the people in this miserable land. A land filled with air so thick it burned her lungs and made drawing each breath a conscious act of defiance. But defy it she would. She’d fight the heat, fight the fatigue growing in her abused muscles, and fight anyone they pitted against her. She was a Glad. A killer. And her ultimate goal hinged on winning.

Then the moment came, exactly as Zalphia pictured it while still nestled against the cool gray walls in the safety of her cage. The time when the automatic responses borne by practiced repetition inside a training hall lapsed and her opponent lost her way, unsure of what to do next.

The girl stilled, her limbs frozen in place as if a frigid blast suddenly appeared from the far north and caked her in ice. Her slender face took on a ghostly glow beneath her bronzed skin. Panic widened her ebony eyes and rimmed the irises in red. Even the yellow flecks adorning the brown turned a shade of crimson. Her gaze flicked like the tongue of a snake, this way and that, searching for clues, a way out of the trap she found sprung in spite of her best efforts.

Staring into the girl’s rounded face, Zalphia pushed her mind out and sent it racing through her opponent’s fearful black pupils and inside her head to grasp the rope of indecision. Zalphia wound it up, pulled and twisted it tight until the girl’s thoughts were tangled in knots, solid and immovable. 

With her opponent unable to react, Zalphia leapt forward and brought her blade down, knocking the girl’s knife to the ground. A quick turn and a shoulder to the brunette’s ribcage caused a whoosh of air to rush out. Raising one eyebrow in satisfaction, Zalphia watched her opponent crumple to the ground. 

This was it. 

Zalphia paused, her chest constricting at the prospect of what always came next. She took a shaky breath, then scooped up her opponent and slammed her to the hardened arena floor. The
ground shook beneath Zalphia’s feet, and more of the fine silt settled across the tough leather of her sandals. She pounced, landing square across the Glad’s chest and pinning the girl’s arms and body against the ground.

Slimy with sweat and shaking from the effort of the short bout, the girl cowered. Terror masked her face, and her eyes begged for mercy.

Platy always said a Glad should meet their death with confidence. Allowing terror to show on one’s face showed weakness. But could Zalphia really blame the girl?  No one planned on dying when they entered the arena. Plus Zalphia had ten years of experience, and it was this Glad’s first fight. Hardly a good match.

Never having been in her opponent’s position, Zalphia wondered if she did find herself trapped beneath another Glad, would her face carry that same look? No, at the ripe old age of twenty, she had seen way too much to be fearful. The end would be swift. But was it painless? Zalphia hoped for her opponent’s sake it was.

Closing her eyes, Zalphia pushed the weak thoughts away. She would leave this match still undefeated, a champion. Only once did she come close to losing. And it had been her first match. But she learned valuable lessons she would never forget. Back then, she killed in a panic to survive, but now… now, she did all in her power to defeat whomever they placed in front of her. It had nothing to do with the crowd or the Clubbers. Nothing to do with her trainer and the money. She fought in the hopes of freedom. With a picture of how that would feel planted firmly in her mind, she faced the next move. 

Inhaling the musky scent of terror as it rolled from the brunette like waves of heat off pavement at noonday, Zalphia crinkled her nose. The smell mixed with dust and sweat was nauseating. She concentrated, reaching deep for strength. If there was a higher power, and Zalphia believed that there was, then she hoped that each Glad who met their end while fighting in the arena would inherit something better than this tortured existence in the afterlife. 

The crowd began their chant, “No Mercy Zalph. No Mercy Zalph.”

Zalphia let her gaze rake across the packed arena. Row after row of Clubbers sat on cushioned seats shaded by billowing cloth. She raised one eyebrow as the chorus rolled over her.

Platy would revel in the chant. This was what she lived for, to hear her Glad’s name echoing across the arena. To Zalphia, it signaled a job well-done. A job she longed
not
to have, but there was no way to change what she had become. She closed her eyes and listened to the voices calling her name, letting it sweep through her and lend the strength it took to end yet
another
life
.

The long, metal claws topping each finger on her left hand caught the noonday sun as she raised them high for the audience to see. Skulls dipped toward her wrists, and the metal plates broke at each knuckle. The razor-sharp ends still sported blood from previous matches. She waited as the crowd took a collective breath.

Silence was the cue. She shuddered in one last gulp of air then swallowed the familiar guilt.  The talons penetrated deep into the girl’s chest, splattering blood across Zalphia’s face, chest, and thighs as the tips cut through flesh and bone and reached the beating lump that sustained life.

Shock and surprise clouded the girl’s features. 

This had to be what she expected, wasn’t it? The girl knew no one but the victor left the arena alive. Death came to all eventually. Even a champion only remained so until they were bested by a more-skilled Glad. Yes, all matches ended this way. Death and life meted out by skill and luck.

The light fading from the girl’s eyes tugged at Zalphia’s conscience. She swallowed hard and stuffed the guilt into the cold cavern of her mind where all the cruelty she was forced to inflict was held. Then she shivered, jerked the heart out, and held it over her head.

Victory, and all that went with it, was hers. 

The crowd roared, jumped to their feet, and waved their hands.

Zalphia could care less about the din, the shouts of praise, or the adoration of the crowd. How could she care about the Clubbers? The ones who kept the Glads living this way. Being in the arena wasn’t something to aspire to, nothing to be proud of, unlike she’d believed when she’d been chosen at five years of age. However, pleasing the Clubbers meant better food, more comfort, and some semblance of a life. 

The girl’s vacant stare dragged the pain of killing back behind Zalphia’s eyes. Guilt clawed its way up her spine. 

No! 

Platy’s voice echoed inside Zalphia’s head, “
Emotion is bad
.”

She tore her gaze from the vacant eyes. Shoving the offense away from where her vanquished opponent’s blank stare pulled it, Zalphia pushed it down into her throat and struggled to swallow it. She sent it down into her chest, hoping her heart would bear yet another pain. It
was the only way she knew to cope. After all, she was a Glad. This was her life. Winning was the only way to survive.
Winning was the only way to freedom.

Standing, the heated air burning with each breath, she turned so every Clubber could see the cold, calculating look plastered across her face. The look they came and sat in the heat to witness. The look that increased the volume of their cheers. 

Blood oozed in rivulets down her arm from the warm heart. Taking one last look at the crowd, Zalphia cast the still-pulsing organ into the dust beside its owner, picked up her blade, and strode to the edge of the arena.

Her Armor stood between her and the safety of her cell. Zalphia paused, right hand heavy with the metal claws raised toward the heavens, and left hand hanging at her side, the double-edged knife held by the tip of the blade.

He slipped the weapons from her and deposited them on the bench. Zalphia braced herself for what would come next.  The discomfort and humiliation she endured at the hands of the Armors.

A wicked curve split his face as he again approached her. “I’ve been waiting all day for this.” 

He stuck his fingers beneath her privates’ cloth flap and licked his lips as he fondled her. 

“You are too gorgeous to be a Glad. Maybe I’ll come visit you tonight. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

Zalphia bit her tongue, hard enough that pain drove the desire to break his neck from her mind. He wasn’t the first to assume he could take advantage of her while in the seclusion of her Glad cell, but Platy always made sure she was not harassed once she left the arena.

He withdrew his hand. “Ah, yes. I can’t wait. Now, let’s see what hides beneath that leather.” He leaned close to her ear. “I love a woman with cleavage I can see in spite of the leather you wear.”

He undid the buckles at her shoulders, letting her breasts free. His hands squeezed and pinched.

Zalphia gritted her teeth and let her gaze flit to the covered seating above the gray stones of the arena wall and to the prying eyes of those close enough to see her being exposed.

Twenty-five rows of regally dressed spectators, segregated in twenty-five sections, surrounded the vast arena. Zalphia wondered how many Clubbers it held.  It didn’t matter. No need to know. Her job was to perfect her fighting and defeat her opponents. She wondered if the Clubbers could even see the practiced moves between two solitary Glads in the midst of such a giant expanse. 

Waiting as the Armor satisfied his urges, she let her mind drift to her dreams. Yearning for a time when she would no longer endure rough hands, bruises, and cuts, both physical and emotional. When he finished with her, she let her mind slip to the weapons sitting within arm’s reach. If only she could scoop up the knife, plunge it where it would do the most damage, and exact her revenge. But doing so would only result in punishment, if not death, and how then would she obtain her freedom? 

No. She must resist the urge to gouge out his eyes with the bloodied claws and allow the continued harassment by any and all who wished to give it. Punishment she endured at the hands of Platy for one minor infraction still played across her mind each time she desired to follow her own will. Slaves of the arena were not allowed to retaliate in any way against anyone but another Glad. So she must stand stoically and let them fondle, grope, and please themselves at her expense, expected and endured by more than her alone.  

The Armor replaced the leather and redid the buckles before stepping back to his bench. Zalphia retreated into her holding cage. The heavy iron door slid to the floor, causing the ground to tremble beneath her feet.

She dipped her hands into the bucket of water setting closest to the alley through which the Glads first entered their cages. Swishing the cool liquid through her fingers and rubbing her palms together seldom took the red stains away, although it did lighten them a bit. She rubbed up her arms, cleaning dirt and debris from her toned muscles. She’d stopped trying to totally rid herself of the remnants of her opponents. They remained plastered to her body and emblazoned on her mind. Drops of blood dried to a deep black. Those that hit her in the face smeared as she splashed the water there, removing what she could of the salt from around her eyes. She was rubbing a wet hand across the back of her neck when her trainer appeared in the alleyway.

BOOK: Changing of the Glads
3.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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