Despite a tropical rain forest one hundred fifty feet above us, a flat ice arena surrounded our expedition team on all sides. Far above, on uncushioned bleachers, spectators stood, frozen in their cheers. The highest seat stood empty, and a guard stood in a protective stance near the door, as though urging someone through. Not far from us, the two battlers were frozen in combat. One was ready to decapitate the other with a curved blade. The other stood resolute, his eyes unblinking as he stared into the dark eyes of the first, a silent dare that chilled me to the core as I looked into those frozen, pale orbs.
We spread out to investigate. Even in our parkas, the cold bit our flesh and chilled our bones. Somehow, not one of us had dressed quite warmly enough for this.
I chose to enter the gladiator pens with my assistant. All around us, large, frozen men lounged. Some crouched at a game of dice, while others napped, frozen mid-snore. Each was as dark in coloration as the gladiator outside– the one who was so ready and eager to kill the paler one.
The gladiators who were ready to fight wore simple leather harnesses to protect their backs and torsos, with a kilt of thick, studded leather to protect hips and groin. Leather sandals with laced-on calf protection were included also, along with studded wrist guards. Each man held whatever weapon best seemed to suit his body type. One had a great axe, while another held the tiniest of knives. Some chose fist wraps, while others held spears. Only one held a weapon that could damage at a range without being thrown– a bow and twelve arrows.
I closed my eyes to try to imagine what a standard day must have been like.
The men below roused from their slumber somewhere farther below than I had explored thus far. They made their way up and waited, just out of sight of the arena itself. In my mind, I followed the first pair of men out. The crowd cheered for them, and they gave some form of a salute. I imagined the person who had been in the high seat would have said some words, and the fight began. The man I followed wielded a curved sword, while the other held daggers.
The two paced in a circle around each other. They searched for weakness with hawk-keen eyes, and the man with the daggers shot forward. His movements were quick, and only faster reflexes with a sword saved my man from losing a kidney as he quickly retaliated.
The knife man snarled as a piece of his ear fell to the sand.
My assistant’s hand on my arm brought me back to reality, and the two of us began to sketch the scene in front of us. We used an entire sketchbook capturing everything from the general scene to the tiniest of details, and only then did we reach for the cameras. Our sketches were important for catching the natural lighting, while the cameras caught details and exact measurements, with the help of measuring lines and rulers.
Several more sketches began in another notebook, detailing the lay of the room and its dimensions. Extensive notes listed the construction materials, the current temperature, and possible construction methods. We were nearly finished when the foreman called us back.
“Hoy! Doc and Nancy! We’re going up! Unless you want to freeze, hurry along!” His bellow echoed strangely.
“We’ll be out shortly!” I called back as I finished the last measurements. One could never be certain that a frozen, underground arena would remain where it was overnight, after all. Nancy and I returned to the lift once we finished, and I paused to look at the two gladiators.
As we rose, I thought I saw the pale one look up at me. When I blinked, however, his gaze was once more a challenge to his dark counterpart.
We returned each day for a week, until some of the members of our expedition became bored– primarily the demolitions expert and our fighting man, who spoke disturbingly often about wrestling panthers, and how to avoid cliche Indiana Jones-style traps.
For the most part, those of us with work to do could ignore them, and we did as we explored deeper, and deeper, until we reached a sudden stone wall all about us. It looked natural, and fit the geography of the area far better than a random colosseum.
Once more, we recorded our findings, and continued to photograph, sketch, and take notes. I reserved two notebooks for speculation, to let my imagination play without interfering with my work.
Finally, after every inch of the compound was charted, graphed, photographed, sketched, and noted by three different groups, we met in the center, by the two fighting men, and began to compare our notes.
“Had I not seen this, I would not believe it,” my shivering companion, Doctor Melende, murmured in awe.
“In that, we share.” I agreed as I looked around. “It’s as if time stopped down here. It’s both frightening and beautiful.”
Nancy shook her head. “I fail to see the beauty in so many dead bodies.”
The rest of us became somber as that realization set in. Truly, there was no way these frozen figures were alive, though we had no doubts they had once been, the freeze was simply too deep, and too much time had passed, for any of them to revive if they were thawed.
Slowly, I rose to my feet. “Perhaps, with more study, we can learn why this happened, and what caused the sudden freeze.” I placed a gloved hand against the pale gladiator and paused. He was not wearing the typical leather harness, but shining steel armor. How had I not noticed before? “Has anyone studied this pair in depth yet?”
“No.” Doctor Melende spoke up. “Nobody has, and nobody wants to. I keep hearing rumors the pale one moves.”
“We need to record them.” I nodded and gathered my equipment to begin. “I will not leave until we have them recorded. I’m not certain if this was an unusual event, but it warrants more attention than it has been given.”