About the Book:
When her mother and brother are murdered, young noblewoman Accala Viridius cries out for vengeance. But the empire is being torn apart by a galactic civil war, and her demands fall on deaf ears. Undeterred, Accala sacrifices privilege and status to train as a common gladiator. Mastering the one weapon available to her—a razor-sharp discus that always returns when thrown–she enters the deadly imperial games, the only arena where she can face her enemies.
But Fortune’s wheel grants Accala no favors—the emperor decrees that the games will be used to settle the civil war, the indigenous lifeforms of the arena-world are staging a violent revolt, and Accala finds herself drugged, cast into slavery and forced to fight on the side of the men she set out to kill.
Set in a future Rome that never fell, but instead expanded to become a galaxy-spanning empire, Accala’s struggle to survive and exact her revenge will take her on a dark journey that will cost her more than she ever imagined. Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan is now available from Tor Books.
EXCERPT of Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator, Chapter 2:
Out onto the balcony, past my clusters of miniature fruit trees, I stepped right up to the railing and in between two parallel bars. The bars ran back toward my apartment for a length of four feet before curving down to terminate in the balcony floor. The hot summer wind buffeted me as I gripped the bars on either side, thumbing the small built-in disc controls. At once my aer chariot broke away from the structure of the balcony and glided out over the Wolf’s Den, House Viridian’s family compound on the Aventine.
The Den was home. I was born and raised there, schooled in Viridian history, fed lists of Viridian virtues, surrounded by Viridian cousins so that when I reached eleven years of age and entered junior school with the children of the other noble houses, there should be no doubt in my mind that the greatest gift Fortune could bestow upon a newborn was that it should come into the world from the womb of a woman who had married into House Viridian.
We had been taught that Viridians traced their genetic origins to the sons and daughters of Remus and Numa— honest and hardworking, rising from simple stock to achieve a nobility based on honor and tradition, renowned for our skills in strategy and our logistics expertise. As such, we had always occupied the Aventine. Our allies, House Calpurnian and House Flavian, held the Esquiline and Caelian Hills. The Calpurnians were skilled agriculturists with a long history of seeding barren planets with carpets of oxygen- rich greenery, while the Flavians were experts in the design of faster- than- light engine technology and communication platforms, connecting the citizens of the empire as she continued her eternal expansion. Together, we three houses were formally known as the Caninine Alliance.
Steering the chariot away from the plaza and parade ground (no point announcing my presence to the guards and soldiers), I shot low over the roofs of the stacked, terraced buildings that housed my extended family. Great flags bearing the emblem of the golden wolf flapped in the morning breeze atop the barracks hall. The compound’s armored walls, decorated in faded gold and malachite green, wore cracks like old cowhide. Its ancient structures might be worn and crumbling, but the Den, like the hill fortresses of the neighboring houses, was considered a sacred beacon— a center from which a house’s power radiated outward, managing its galactic province, territories, legions, assets, and possessions. Tradition dictated that each of the eight houses should possess one of the seven sacred hills upon which Rome was founded. The obvious problem of sharing seven hills among eight houses was pragmatically and symbolically solved by the emperor and his family— encompassing the other hills by classifying their “hill” as Mother Earth herself. The emperor’s house, the current being House Numerian, took on the honorific Sons of Romulus, the hero who founded Rome city after slaying his brother Remus in a fight over whose village had bigger walls.
Activating the homemade frequency decoder on my armilla, I dropped below the sensors of the western guard tower and slipped over the boundary wall. The decoder flashed to indicate that it had completed its job a split second before I passed right through the yellow- tinged security dome, thankfully without suffering disintegration.
I shot past the small balconies of administrators and military officers who lived in the crowded apartment blocks below the fortress, opened up the throttle, and pulled clear of the Aventine, the wind whipping my robes about as I met with the aerway and vanished into the rush of morning traffic, dodging in and out of flying chariots, palanquins, and transport convoys.
Eternal Rome spread out before me, gleaming in the light of the morning sun. Perpetually pristine— white marble temples, majestic porphyry towers, and haughty civic buildings of shining granite, architecture infused with vertical light- filled channels that lent the city a celestial glow. She was breathtaking. The noise and bustle of the traffic dropped away when you beheld her magnificence. The capital of Mother Earth, which was in turn capital of the imperial province of Terra Firma. Jewel of the provinces, the wellspring of civilization, the axial city upon which the entire galaxy turned. Honor, justice, loyalty, imperium, the Pax Romana, the Senate and the people, the Twelve Tables of Roman Law— these were the virtues and institutions that made Rome great. That was the way we were taught to think of the city, the way her solemn beauty reflected those ideals, but the last two years had taught me to look past the surface of things. I’d learned that the real Rome, devoid of honor and justice, lay behind the scenes, where old wounds festered. Three hundred families governed the empire. Forty- nine families led by consuls ruled over the three hundred. Seven families led by proconsuls ruled over the forty- nine, and one emperor and his family ruled over all. Like unruly children in the class of a strict tutor, the representatives of the great houses of the city feigned amity and cooperation as they carried out the dirty business of running the empire. Feuds between families, some millennia old, played out in assassinations, espionage, and double-dealing, but none of it was ever publicly acknowledged; it all stayed hidden beneath the façade of civilization. On the surface everything was peacefully perfect. You’d never have known that a civil war was raging, threatening to tear the empire apart.
The civil war started the moment House Sertorian launched their unprovoked attack on Olympus Decimus, but a potential conflict had been brewing for a long time before that. Two decades earlier the Sertorians began making a long play to take a step up in society and become one of the eight great ruling houses. They even bought up property in the Carinae, the fashionable district at the base of the Esquiline, to be near one of the sacred hills, but internal power disputes and factional fighting prevented them from rising very far; tolerance and cooperation were not natural Sertorian traits. Then the charismatic Aquilinus Sertorius Macula came to power. Aquilinus not only united his house, he gave them the essential ingredients they had lacked in their quest for upward mobility: roots and a connection to the ancient past.
He reminded his people that, as the Viridians looked to Remus and Numa, House Sertorian could trace their genetic lineage to the ancient emperor Caligula. Although it was commonly understood that Caligula was completely insane, as well as demonically creative when it came to indulging his sadism, the Sertorians weren’t dissuaded in the slightest from adopting him as their ancestor and guiding influence. Aquilinus argued that what others called madness and cruel excess in ancient emperors could not be seen as sinful or blameworthy. He didn’t believe in the gods but he was of the opinion that emperors were a close equivalent, the highest point of human achievement. So a superior man’s passions could not be understood or contextualized by mere mortals. He argued that Caligula’s excesses should be embraced as an essential component of Roman character and emulated by those of the Sertorian nobility. To concretize this, Aquilinus developed a manifesto of genetic superiority, a path that he promised would lead to a Sertorian- led empire, a shared vision all Sertorians found very appealing. His manifesto united the factions of his house like nothing before, and within a few years they were powerful, influential, and wealthy beyond belief, exploring every avenue for profit in the most ruthless and backhanded ways. They were just waiting for their chance to swoop on a weakness, and ironically it was my own house, which sought to deter them more than any other, that gave them the means to elevation.
It came about when the old emperor Julius Heliogabalus Caesar died, his mind and body crippled by millennia of inbreeding that even radical gene therapy couldn’t correct. Heliogabalus’ madness reached its zenith with the decision to memorialize himself and each prior Julian emperor going back to Julius Caesar by sculpting the planets of a distant solar system into a series of monumental busts— which turned out to be not so easy, as some of them were gas giants—leaving the imperial treasury’s coffers nearly drained. My uncle, the Viridian proconsul Quintus Viridius Severus, led a contingent of houses seeking to reestablish a republic in which the elected representatives of the Senate ruled the empire in place of a single dictator. Unfortunately, House Numerian, famous for its powerful warriors and land barons, chose to reestablish the existing model, and our house was left in the lurch, having backed the wrong horse.
The Sertorian leader went out of his way to make a strong impression on the new emperor, promoting his house’s mastery of finance and commerce, and donating vast sums of money to fill the empire’s coffers. The result was their elevation to the Council of Great Houses, commonly known as the Eight, and possession of the Palatine Hill, right opposite us, on the other side of the Circus Maximus, a position of honor, traditionally owned by the wealthiest house after the emperor’s. Aquilinus became a proconsul and was granted a province that they named Aeria Sertorius. He wasted no time introducing corruption into areas of commerce no one had previously thought to exploit and using the proceeds to shower the mob with festivals to increase House Sertorian’s popularity.
Soaring high above the River Tiber, I passed the Palladium— the atmosphere-scraping statue of Minerva in full armor with her shield raised, lightning spear ready to cast, the great guardian of the city wreathed and decorated to celebrate her festival.
A niggling voice at the back of my mind told me to stop into the temple at the base of the statue and make a sacrifice. I’d missed my chance back at the apartment when Bulla surprised me. But no, Minerva would have to wait. I simply didn’t have the time. Roman life was set to a strict calendar of festivals. The Festival of Minerva was drawing to a close, and tomorrow the teams for the Festival of Jupiter’s games would depart. My life would be over if I couldn’t get back on the team today. How could I live with myself if I stopped to honor Minerva and in doing so missed a vital window to turn things around?
The aerway I was on ran on a counterclockwise route around the outer edge of the city, a longer route but normally quicker unless it was a busy day, and now that the news of the new rounds at the Colosseum had been released, I could already see the traffic starting to bank up, so I prayed for Minerva’s help and switched up two lanes to Via Cordia, which would take me right into the heart of the old city.
The downside of my new route, though, was that I had to double back a little, passing the eastern side of the Palatine. It took me right past the imposing ruby and onyx compound of House Sertorian. Great black flags whipped about in the wind— the emblem of the crimson hawk at their center, wings and claws outstretched in the moment before it snatched up its prey. The building had a circular base and interlocking layers of smooth, curving arcs that rose up and terminated in sharp points. It was supposed to symbolize the hawk’s talons rising up from a drop of divine blood, but to me it best resembled a bruised and bleeding artichoke.
Shortly after House Sertorian joined the Eight and had a powerful voice in the Senate, they started questioning the precise location of the traditional boundary between their new province and ours which neighbored it, insisting we were in possession of a couple of thousand light- years of space that was rightfully theirs, specifically the ice world Olympus Decimus. The world had only one major asset— its ionosphere was filled with supercharged particles that accelerated the speed of transmission signals passing through it. It was a valuable communication hub, but even so, not important enough to go to war over. Everyone was shocked when Aquilinus sent ships into Viridian space, bombed our settlement on Olympus Decimus, and laid claim to the world for House Sertorian.
Our side protested to the Senate immediately (my uncle Quintus had served in the legions with Aquilinus and hated the man with a passion) and began to mobilize to retaliate, but before a ruling could be made, Aquilinus ordered thirty- six simultaneous bombing strikes on key Viridian outposts spread across the border of the contested space. His ruthlessness impressed houses Tullian and Ovidian, and they allied themselves to the Sertorians. Turning their backs on their gods, sacrificing worship of Mithras and Diana in order to follow Proconsul Aquilinus, they joined what became known as the Talonite Axis, a coalition of self- serving greed and ambition that threatened all the ideals that made Rome great.
Aquilinus had judged his combined fleet powerful enough to eliminate our defenses in a single, coordinated assault, but in typical Sertorian fashion, he overestimated his strength and underestimated ours. Uncle Quintus commanded our legions with those of our three allied houses in a counterattack that repelled the Sertorians and secured most of our territory, though not Olympus Decimus. He showed them that Viridians are tough, resourceful. We fight to the end; we don’t surrender.
By the end of the first year of fighting, we had the Sertorians on the back foot and were close to total victory, but then Proconsul Aquilinus, as if by some minor miracle, managed to convince one of our allies to abandon us and take up with his axis. The defection of House Arrian was a shock no one saw coming. Arms manufacturer and creator of the force field technology vital to the running of the empire, House Arrian was an ally we couldn’t do without. The tide turned, from four houses to three in our favor to four to three against.
About the Authors:
Claudia Christian is an actress, writer, singer, songwriter, director, producer, and voice-over artist. She has starred in studio pictures such as Clean and Sober with Morgan Freeman and Michael Keaton and in TV shows such as sci-fi megahit Babylon 5 and the new Showtime series Look. She lives in Los Angeles.
Morgan Grant Buchanan is an Australian writer of sci-fi and historical fantasy. He writes comics, film, and short stories.
Courtesy of Tor Books, I have a copy of Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan for one (1) lucky winner!
Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends July 29. I’ll draw a name on July 30, and notify winner via email.
ENTER DAILY TO INCREASE YOUR CHANCE OF WINNING!