"He's a mysterious killer with a mysterious past. Unknown and unfathomable, but possibly one of the most dangerous men in Alarbor, Gavin Ryder!"
My presence was announced to a tidal wave of excited noise. I stepped slowly and deliberately forward, my eyes fixed on the electrodoor on the other end of the amphitheater which was opening.
"And his challenger, a woman from the harsh deserts of Scarabine who has bested more men than can be counted, a gal with guts and a whole lot more -- the quick, the elusive, the neigh unbeatable, our very own returning champion, the Phoenix!"
There was a roar of deafening cheers and applause. Apparently the Phoenix was quite popular. But I didn't like how the announcer had described my opponent. "Neigh unbeatable," he had said. And if she had defeated so many, what chance did I have? But I was determined to survive, now. I would fight like I never had before. I had killed others, surely I could kill this one, a mere woman. So what if she was good? I would force myself to be better. I bent my knees and tightened my grip on the lightning rod.
The Phoenix had emerged from the antechamber across the arena and into the stark light. She was short but compact with bare, sinewy arms. Like most Scarabines, she had sand-colored hair and angled eyes, but her skin seemed to have lost some of its tan in the sunless depths of the Underurbs giving her a wan complexion. She carried what looked like an electrowhip in her hands, but thankfully it didn't look functional. She stared at me squint-eyed as though appraising me, before wrapping her whip tightly about her hand and moving toward me.
I advanced cautiously, my lightning rod held out before me, my muscles tense as a taut elastic. At least I seemed to have the better weapon; as nasty as her electrowhip was, it did not seem too deadly. If I could just manage to spear her with the tip of my lightning rod I might finish the fight quickly and victoriously. Still, I wasn't about to underestimate her. Getting cocky could be fatal.
We both reached the center of the arena at the same time and we began circling each other, feinting and watching for a opening. I realized that I couldn't afford to wait for her to strike. I couldn't defend against her whip; I would need to make the first move.
I lunged. She was ready and fast as a dragonfly. She leaped to the side, twisted, and while my arm and weapon were still extended, she lashed out with her whip which slashed across my side, the wire cutting a long, razor-thin line down to my leg. I gasped with pain and flailed at the woman with my rod, but missed by a wide margin. She grinned malevolently at me and cracked the whip down again, this time scoring a deep cut in my back.
I backed off in an attempt to steady myself, but the Phoenix tenaciously pursued me, her whip darting in and out and stinging me painfully. I roared, ignoring the bite of her whip while I thrust out with the lightning rod. This time I scratched her leg, and she jumped backward wincing. I could not hesitate and I pressed my attack, stabbing fiercely again and again.
But despite the wound in her leg, the Phoenix evaded me, then whirled her electrowhip out, not at me, but at my weapon. The whip wrapped around it several times, reeling it towards the woman, who gave an almighty yank, and I was unable to keep my grip. The rod went spinning out of my hands and flew four meters away, skittering still further across the ground. I made to chase after it, or at least get away from the Phoenix, but her whip came searing across my shins, tangling my feet and sending me crashing to the ground. I landed in a crumpled heap, my body on fire with pain, and my mind ravaged by fear -- fear that I was going to die.
Suddenly the whip was around my neck and the Phoenix was tightening it like a garrote. Blood trickled from my neck, and my air supply was severed. I struggled feebly, but there was nothing I could do. Surely this was the end.
And then, suddenly, I could breathe. The pressure on my neck slackened.
"You're beaten," whispered the Phoenix in my ear. "You know I could kill you."
"Then why don't you?" I wheezed. I felt as though I might pass out very soon.
"There's no need to kill you," said the Phoenix. "I try not to kill when I can help it." She removed the electrowhip from around my neck letting my face drop to the ground. "And by the way, the name's Kris," she added. "I'll catch you later."