Breaking someone's face in was so satisfying. Blood sprayed on Thessala's face as Ino landed hard on her back. Thessala grinned, licked her lips in a theatrical fashion, and let out a high-pitched, eerie yell as she took a step back. She'd let Ino get up and continue the fight. They were just getting started.
Credit where credit is due: Ino was back up right away, fired up by their first hits. With her bloody face she looked even more threatening. The crowd cheered and yelled, fired up by their first sight of red.
Ino swung her sword, aiming to slash Thessala's arm, but she must have been disoriented from the fall, because the swing was a breath too slow. Thessala, instead of jumping back, bent deep to the side, one hand sword touching the sand, Ino's blade slashing the air above her head. It ws more fun this way. More theatrical. Grinning, she used the sword in her other hand to aim an upward cut at Ino's thigh as she came up from below.
Alexius poured the wine, and Thessala accepted the cup. It was not excellent wine, but good enough for a tavern. Besides, she was parched from the exercise, so she drank a few gulps before really tasting anything.
"Rome is... Rome. I don't know if I'd call it amazing... but it definitely could be worse too."
"It could always be worse. We could be slaves... oh wait" Thessala snorted with laughter. Even as a slave, she did like Rome. If she was ever going to be given her freedom, she was probably going to stay.
"Do you hope for freedom someday? What would you do with it, if you were free?"
It was not like Thessala had not contemplated that before. She shrugged anyway.
"It would be good to have my freedom back, yes. But I would probably stay in Rome... even with the dark places, there is no other city like this one. It's just a question of what I'd have the skills for... maybe I'll be a fortune teller. Or I'll beat up bodyguards for money." she added with a grin.
"Oh yes... much worse things, when the opposite of winning is injury or death. Although as far as I know, gladiatrices don't risk the latter as often as the men."
"Accidents happen" Thessala smirked. It was a common thing gladiators liked to throw in her face: gladiatrix fights were not usually life or death, unless it was a special occasion. They fought like they were, but in the end, they were more entertainment than outright killing. Thessala was good at entertainment, and she was good at making all of it look real. And accidents did happen, if someone got carried away. The audience usually didn't mind.
"I was born in Germania... a roaming tribe attacked our village and those who didn't die were taken and sold as slaves to the Romans. So that's how I ended up here. But drinks... let's get some."
So, they both had sad stories. Or stories that other people would have seen as sad. Thessala's happened a long time ago, and she was not dealing with it anymore. This life was more exciting than farming in Thrace, anyway.
"Look at us barbarians, sitting here" she grinned as a pitcher of wine was brought to them. "Isn't Rome just amazing?"
"There is something about the audience... and their cheer. When you're a slave, that's important... to know you're actually interesting and being noticed. And then when you fight... it becomes kind of addictive, doesn't it?"
"It definitely is. But there are worse things to be addicted to than winning" she agreed with a grin. If she had been a free woman, maybe her interest in fighting would have been more of a problem. As things stood now, her addiction also meant survival. And on the long run, maybe freedom. But even if she was destined to bleed out in the sand, she was going to enjoy the fight.
"Before I was sold to the ludus, I worked with horses in the stables. Apparently being able to control horses made me strong enough, so when my old master died, I was sold to the ludus. I had a sister, but she was sold to someone else... Anyway... that is all such a long time ago now. I try to live in the present, the best I can. If that makes sense."
"It does." Thessala nodded "I had siblings too, when I was young... before my parents sold me to get out of debt. But maybe we should get drinks before we talk more about this, no?... So, where are you from? Before the ludus?"
"Bacchus' Cup is great. I've been coming there for years, do you know it is run by a former gladiatrix? Bellona... quite a woman. And she knows how to run a bar too."
"Go figure" Thessala smirked. Alexius seemed to have a thing for gladiatrices. She had to admit, she was curious about this other woman, one who had managed to leave the arena behind and find another kind of life for herself.
"But we can go anywhere you'd like. I may have paid for this, but as far as I know, you're free with me as long as you return to the ludus in one piece. How did you become so good at fighting anyway?"
"Let's go, then." Bacchus' Cup would do just fine, for now. If they didn't like it, they could move somewhere else later. Thessala chuckled at the question, mulling it over. "Honestly, I am not sure? I just like doing it. I must be some talent the fates gave me. Back when I was a house slave, I once killed a robber, and my masters decided I was better off being sold to the Ludus. I didn't mind. There is something about all those people watching you fight, right?... And the rest is just practice. But you probably know that."
Ino belonged to the Ludus Magnus just like Thessala did. They lived in close quarters and even trained together, but Thessala did not particularly like the woman. Still, and least she knew how to whip a crowd into a frenzy, even if her performance was a bit... crude. They were going to make a good show, the two of them, before Thessala wiped the sands of the arena with the overconfident little minx. The two dimachaeras circled each other, swords at the ready.
Thessala lunged first. Blades rang out loud as her who slashes were blocked by Ino's two swords... leaving the middle open, body to body. Thessala's lips curled up in a feral grin as she threw her head back, braided ribbons flying, and then slammed her forehead into the other woman's face.
There was only one thing Thessala loved more than walking into the arena to fight:
Walking into the arena first.
It was the opening day of the Games. Finally, after weeks of waiting and training, the Amphitheater came alive with thousands of people, as it was always meant to be. The air vibrated from the shouts and cheers, the sand was just warming up from the sun, and it was all clean. No blood stains, no pieces of weaponry, no ribbons and flowers cast down by the spectators. All-new, all alive, and full of possibility.
Thessala was going to own the arena today.
She walked through the doors, and into the sunlight, and a leisurely pace, like a big cat stalking its prey. Her body moved in well-calculated, seductive ways, making her outfit swirl around her with every step. She was dressed all in black, with red ribbons braided into her dark hair, and her eyes painted with kohl. She flashed a smile at the spectators - more like the snarl of a predator. She kept her two swords down, one point scraping along in the sand, blades glinting in the light. Amulets and talismans hand from her belt, chiming as she walked, too soft a sound to reach the audience's ears, but adding to the overall effect nonetheless. Thessala was a witch, a woman of the shadows from the distant, magic-filled lands of Achaea, a being of power, strength, and unashamed cruelty.
She was here to fight. But more importantly: she was here to entertain.
Sometimes Thessala wanted to make an impression, and went out in full gladiatrix regalia, with her face painted and her hair done up. People would stare at her, either in bewilderment or excitement, depending on how often they frequented the games. But today, she didn't feel like going through the trouble. She just wanted to have a drink with Alexius, and she did not need to be a witch for that. Dressed down like this most people would not look twice at her.
"All ready? I'll make sure she comes back in one piece. Or maybe she'll make sure of that."
"I'll protect you" Thessala grinned as they walked out. She had certain privileges, and everyone knew Alexius anyway.
"So where would you like to go? Do you know Bacchus' Cup?"
"I know of it" Thessala admitted, falling into step next to him "Is it any good?"
Oh, she would. Rana had a long road ahead of her if she wanted to become a famous gladiatrix, but Thessala did not see her giving up anytime soon. And who knew? Maybe if they ended up in the arena together, she'd let the girl kiss her again.
"We walk back now then? I need more focus on the way underground. I never been under ground before."
Alright, so maybe she had more to learn first than others. Thessala chuckled as she walked ahead, leading the way through the winding corridors under the arena.
"Try to pay attention. With some luck, you'll be walking this way a lot."
“Yeah… you're definitely a match for most men. Maybe that's why they won't let you?"
"That is definitely why" Thessala grinned back "They don't want me to break their delicate little confidence."
"I’d spar with a gladiatrix sometimes, back in the old days. But maybe they let us do it, because we were more than just friends?”
Thessala arched an eyebrow. There was definitely a story there. She'd have to ask around with the longer-serving members of the Ludus, see if she could find out the details. Or she might have to get Alexius drunk enough to tell on his own.
“I’ll come and spar with you again then. I’m sure it can be arranged. Now however… I think a bit of cleaning is in order, before we go out for a drink.”
"Speak for yourself" Thessala grinned, setting her weapons down before she moved over where buckets and pitchers of water were kept for this specific reason. She dunked her head, getting some cool water everywhere, before she stood up "I'll meet you at the gates in a minute." she grinned before she walked away to change her tunic in her room. She'd emerge a few minutes later, simply dressed, but ready to go.