Led by their captors, the Roman legionnaires, the New Mutants behold an incredible sight – Nova Roma, an ancient first century Rome style city hid in the Andes, just as Roberto’s mother believed. They found it, Dani exclaims. She’s got it backwards, Sam Guthrie replies grimly. The Romans found them. And they don’t seem too pleased about it neither.
The tunnel they just went through seems to be the only way through the mountains. And those clouds hide the valley from the air. They probably don’t get many flights here anyway. The weather around those peaks is supposed to be really nasty. Rahne marvels that the city is beautiful. If only Roberto’s mother could be with them to see it. Roberto grimly reminds her that his mother was pulled from his grasp in the rapids and swept downstream. She could be injured – or worse.
Why do they let those legionnaires herd them like sheep? Their powers make them more than a match for them. Why don’t they escape and search for his mother? Dani advises him that they are in no shape for a fight. These people speak English, so they’ll ask their help. Perhaps they have found her already.
Amara, the strange girl they found in the Amazon and who seemed to be unconscious in Sam’s arms, whispers to him that they mustn’t resist the legionnaires. There is much more here at stake than their lives. They have mistaken her for one of their party. If they betray her, she is doomed.
The mutants are put into a cell and told that their fate will be decided the next day. Rahne checks for eavesdroppers and assures them the coast is clear. An angry Roberto turns to Amara and demands some answers.
She introduces herself with her full name: Amara Juliana Olivia Aquilla. Her father is Lucius Aquilla, first senator of Nova Roma. She apologizes to Roberto for his mother. She prays she is still alive or that her death was quick and painless. Couldn’t she be in the city, Roberto points out. If she were, she would be here, Amara replies. Roberto clenches his fists in helpless rage and fends off Cannonball’s attempts at sympathy.
Dani observes that Amara was disguised as an Indian when they met and seems to be afraid of discovery. Hardly the behavior of a senator’s daughter. Amara begins to explain that they are not all Roman. Much of the city is descended from the Incas who fled here centuries ago when their own land was conquered. Nova Roma is a republic, but the Incas were an absolute monarchy. A faction has arisen, seeking to transform Rome into some kind of imperial state. She is part of the opposition to that party. If her father’s enemies learn of her activities, it could ruin him politically, and the Republican cause with him.
Why her interest in his mother’s expedition, Roberto asks. She retorts that they are wary of strangers. New Rome has survived for so long solely because of its isolation.
The Mutants discuss matters away from her. Rahne and Roberto distrust Amara, whereas Sam defends her. She hasn’t harmed them and, if she hasn’t told them everything yet, it’s probably because she’s scared. Rahne retorts that she is keeping things back. Dani wishes Professor Xavier were there or she were a telepath like him. Suddenly, inexplicably Dani’s psi-power merges her mind with Amara’s, finding the girl’s most terrible nightmare and projecting it for all too see – namely a tall woman shoving Amara into a pit of lava.
Amara breaks down in fear, mumbling about the Black Priestess and her pit of fire. How she is going to kill her like so many others. Angrily, Sam asks Dani why she did that. Dani apologizes. She didn’t mean to. Sam has had enough. Walking to the door, he votes they blow this joint. Sunspot remarks Sam’s power is unfocused. He intends to shatter the door. He ignores Amara’s cry of warning and smashes the door. The next moment, scores of darts automatically fire from projectors hidden in both the cell and the corridor outside. They are tipped with a Curare derivative. Paralysis is virtually instantaneous. Unconsciousness quickly follows.
Meanwhile, in the Senatorial baths, where those august personages go to refresh themselves after a grueling day on the senate floor and where in the process much of the real work of government is accomplished, a tall man walks inside. Another smaller, plumper man who is currently being massaged addresses him as Marcus Domitius and wishes to talk with him. Curtly addressing the other man as Aquilla, Marcus Domitius Gallio tells him he is in a hurry. He has urgent business. Having to do with the outlanders captured this morning? Aquilla asks with a smirk. How could he have known? Gallio’s centurion wonders. Gallio orders him to be quiet.
Aquilla gets up and rattles down what else he knows. The strangers are children. Two boys and three girls, about his daughter Amara’s age. His spies keep him well informed as always, Gallio mocks. He prefers to think of them as patriotic citizens, Aquilla smirks. What are Gallio’s intentions towards the prisoners? The law is quite specific, Gallio replies coldly. It makes no provision for age. The boys go to the arena and if they survive they will join the girls on the auction block to be sold into slavery. With a broad smile, Aquilla remarks he knew the commander of their civic guard wouldn’t fail to do his duty. Aquilla’s faith in him is touching, Gallio remarks stone-faced. Now if he will excuse him…
Aquilla dismissively stares after Gallio, aware that the other man would rather see him in the arena. He’s all that stands between Gallio and his ambition. And if he must sacrifice children to stop Gallio, then he shall.
Gallio returns to his home in a state of rage, demanding wine and cursing Aquilla. He is greeted by his wife, Selene, who coolly comments on this scene by asking if he had a bad day. Gallio explains that Octavian captured some alien children with extraordinary abilities. With them in his service he would have been invincible. But thanks to Lucius Aquilla, he is forced to uphold the law and deliver them to the arena.
Seductively, Selene remarks how often she’s heard Marcus curse Aquilla and wish him dead. She could accomplish that with ease. Gallio refuses. When Aquilla falls, he wants it to be by his hand. He would rather not resort to her black arts. The day will come when her black arts may be his only hope of salvation and victory, she coolly informs him. She leads him down to the catacombs beneath their villa. Since he refuses her arts arcane, she must resort to other means to vanquish his enemies and win him the imperial thrown he craves. After all, is it not a wife’s duty to serve her husband in all things?
With a gesture and a burst of blinding light, a stretch of blank wall transforms into a door. Despite himself, Gallio shivers at this minor demonstration of Selene’s power. At moments like this, though, he loves her fiercely. He also fears her as he does neither man nor gods.
Within the cell is a “barbarian,” the traitor Castro, who explains that he serves a great lord who wishes to exploit the natural wealth of this land. An alliance would benefit both him and Gallio. In return for mining right, he would provide weapons, guns whatever assistance Gallio requires. Gallio decides to consider this proposition and thanks Selene. They will continue their discussion once the barbarian has been bathed.
In the house of women adjacent to the Julian circus, female slaves are housed before their sale. Unaware of the danger they are in, Rahne and Dani – along with the more knowing Amara – enjoy being pampered.
One of the slave girls marvels at Rahne’s hair; she has never seen anything like its color and texture. Rahne complains that her furlike hair never grows except when she cuts it and then only to this length. She envies Dani’s long hair. She never had to wash or comb it, Danit retorts. It can be a real pain when it’s tangled. Could she not cut it then? Rahne suggests. And look like her? Dan retorts playfully to which Rahne splashes her. Another servant serves them wine. Despite Amara’s whispered warning that it’s drugged, the girls swallow it down and immediately become inebriated.
The servant informs the slave mistress, Melantha, that the drug is having its result. Melantha orders her to drug them again at breakfast. That way, they’ll be cheering right along with the rest of the crowd when their companions fight each other to the death.
Amara eavesdropped on the conversation and is horrified but can’t do anything at the moment with too many people about. She can only wait until everybody is asleep. Later, she plans to inform her father. He’ll be shocked to see her, as he set her to the outlands years ago to save her from the Black Priestress and her unholy fire cult. Amara was to stay away until he discovered her true identity and crushed her evil. She chides herself for not telling the mutants before.
She tries to wake the other girls by informing them what horrors await them once they are sold as slaves. They have to escape tonight. But the drugs have dulled the girls’ minds. She wonders why she wasn’t affected despite the drug’s potency.
She decides that she has to leave the girls behind for the moment in order to reach her father. However, she has barely made a few steps before she is brought down by an attack of migraine. Feeling all hot inside, she sinks to her knees. She’s had those attacks before and they come more frequently now. Is she diseased or cursed? she wonders.
What a pleasant surprise, someone suddenly addresses her. You! Amara shouts in horror as she sees who has discovered her. With an evil smile, Selene remarks how flattering it is that Amara remembers her. She has no idea how glad Selene is that their paths have finally crossed. Amara is a gift from the gods that she shall make very good use of.
At that moment beneath the circus, Sam and Bobby find themselves shackled to the wall watching two gladiators train. Any luck with the chains, Sam whispers to Roberto. The other boy however cannot summon enough strength to break them. The gladiator named Falco turns to them, explaining that the drugs make them weak to keep them out of mischief till the he games. What happens then? Roberto demands. Amused, Falco strokes his chin. Plucky little lad, isn’t he? He’ll fight. Them for starters. If they survive, they’ll have proven themselves worthy to become slaves of Nova Roma. If they’re lucky like them, they’ll maybe get the chance to earn freedom, become citizens.
Hardly seems a fair match with them drugged, Sam, points out. Falco laughs nastily and tells him that, when Lanista’s finished his work, they’ll be ready and willing to take on an army bare-handed.
By noon, the circus is filled to capacity and the plebeians are eagerly anticipating the show to come. The official start of the day’s event is signaled by the arrival of the editor – the sponsor and ceremonial master of the games, Senator Marcus Domitius Gallio, and his wife, the Inca Lady Selene. Accompanying them are Dani and Rahne, both radiantly beautiful looking like young princesses. Only their glazed eyes and languid movements betray the drugs used to keep them compliant. Nothing they see or feel bothers them, because they don’t believe it’s real.
A fanfare of trumpets announces the gladiators, the retarius Falco with net and trident and the secutor Rogier. The gladiators offer the traditional greeting while, inside, Bobby and Sam are forced to drink drugged wine. The lanista explains that in a minute they’ll both be consumed by a berserker rage that’ll give them a madman’s strength, endurance and resistance to pain to compensate for other lack of skill at arms.
They are pushed into the arena facing the gladiators without any weapons. Sam shouts at Roberto to resist the drug. They aren’t killers. Roberto tells him to speak for himself. He changes into his Sunspot form and the gladiators get worried. Does he frighten them? he mocks. He is a mutant, but many who see them call him a monster. Perhaps this day he’ll prove them right! He swats the two men aside easily with a single blow. The crowd becomes excited betting on whether he’ll be able to win all the coming fights.
Sam begins to sweat, fearing that he and Bobby could flatten the place. And why not? They want to make them slaves! He tells himself to maintain control, but then he sees the girls also crying for blood. If they want a show, he’ll give them one, he decides, flying toward the heavy armaments and animals now released into the arena.
With Sam also displaying his powers, most of the gladiators scramble to safety, others are trampled by the panicked horses. The boys take no notice and do not care. When Bobby realizes that chariot intends to run him down he jumps between the two horses – a considerable risk since he isn’t invulnerable, reaches the chariot and severs it from the animals. Then, he takes care of the charioteers. As Bobby eliminates the chariots, Sam turns his attention on the second “tank” with equally devastating results. Unfortunately, that move has him “cannonball” right into Sunspot.
An advisor of Gallio, Agaius, is concerned. Suppose those barbarians turn against them? More composed, Gallio points out that the boys are still only human. Should things get out of hand, five-score crack archers stand ready to send them to their ancestors.
Roberto shouts at Sam, reminding him how, when first they met, Sam struck him down from behind like a coward. He sees now, how easily Sam reverts to type. Does he wanna make something of it? Sam asks and attacks again. Bobby pushes him head on and both of them land on the ground, exhausted and flattened by the impact, but their fight is far from over. Though they have exhausted their powers, they are still consumed by berserker rage and now beat on each other with their bare fists.
Still influenced by the drugs, Rahne refers to one of them as her love and urges him to kill the other. Sam has edge in size and uses it to good advantage until Roberto begins to recover the use of his power and threatens to throttle Sam. Rahne is horrified. Sam must not be harmed! She must save him!
She swats away the legionnaires trying to stop her and turns to her wolf form, jumping into the arena. Her change activates the mindlink between her and Dani, which serves to snap Dani to awareness. She realizes that her three friends have gone crazy. So was she, not long ago, she recalls. She cheered them on. In their frenzy, they’ll murder each other, unless she can stop them. She needs to shock them out of their drugged state. She concentrates and, with her powers, summons a specific image from their minds, that of a stern looking disappointed Professor Xavier.
Dani succeeds in stopping the three of them and she too jumps down. Sam asks if Bobby is okay and apologizes. Later, Bobby tells him, assuming they have that long. The natives are looking very restless. By the way he’s sorry too.
The mood has indeed turned ugly. Citizens are shouting that they are spawn of the Black Priestress – demons - and shout for the archers to kill them. The archers await Gallio’s orders. Surprisingly though, he shouts at them to lay down their bows. The he turns to the crowd explaining this is a time for rejoicing. Their most ancient prophecy has been fulfilled. And as editor of these most sacred games, he bestows upon these children the laurel wreath of triumph. He tells them to behold the one whose hair marks her as a descendant of their divine patron, Gaius Julius Caesar. And whose miraculous transformation reveals her to be of the same blood as the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, founders of Mother Rome herself. These are not children of men but of the immortal gods and he welcomes them among them!
They’re cheering, Bobby realizes. The mood has turned. Relieved Dani hugs Rahne and promises everything is going to be just fine. Only Sam remains doubtful.