The moment I entered the Arena again, the same mind-numbing nerves that had assualted me the last time re-appeared. The crowd's shrieks hurt my ears more than they should and I felt my stomach twist into knots inside me.
From the other side of the ring, my opponent eyed me. He was a tall man, lean and muscular with powerful calf muscles and bulging forearms. Oddly, he was bare chested, giving me some hope that I might be able to do some damage. The four-foot bladed weapon in his hands soon dissuaded me from that idea. The man narrowed his eyes at me, glaring like an angry pitbull. I gulped and shifted uneasily on my feet, trying to quash the panic rising in my chest.
We started circling one another, slowly at first but gradually gaining speed. He feinted, swiping for my left calf before changing tack and trying to slice my midriff. I darted out of the way and lunged for his shoulder, only to have my blade smacked aside by my opponent's parry. Then he charged me like an angry bull, slashing and hacking at any part of me within striking range. I danced out of reach time and time again, barely avoiding the blade.
If I didn't keep moving I'd be skewered in seconds. A flash of memory from earlier that morning came back to me, of me jumping out of the way of Vengeance's claws as he attempted to reach my ribs.
Then it hit me. Of course. His ribs. With all this uncontrolled hacking this man was focussing on keeping the blade in front of him, trying to run me through with the sheer brute force of his muscular frame. Leaving his sides completely unprotected. All I had to do was goad him into making a particularly wild swing and I'd have him.
"Hey dog face" I hissed tauntingly "Come and get me you great clutz! I'm right in front of your face, why don't you swipe me? You great neanderthal, put some effort into it. You look like a hulking great clown chasing me like a child in a tag game. Come on, chase me you imbecilic dolt!"
The man roared in fury and swung hard at my head. Waiting until the last second I ducked under the blade and rammed my own weapon hard into his lower abdomen, blood spraying into my face as my opponent fell with a monstrous bellow, writhing in the dust like a creature in agony. Then, suddenly, he was still.
I stepped back, eyes wide and panting. He was dead. I had won.
The crowd went mad, whooping and cheering like animals as I staggered back, eyes popping out of my head in shock. I'd killed him. I'd killed the man. I'd only ever killed one person before, but not like this. Not in an Arena surrounded by jeering crowds. Not in cold blood.
I was still in shock as the guard lead me out of the ring and back into the side stalls. I stood in the corner, trembling and thinking over what I had just done. I'd killed a man. I'd killed a man with my own hands. His blood stained my skin. It stained my very soul.
I'd killed him to save my own life.
Then realisation dawned on me. If I wanted to survive I'd have to kill a good many more men than this, and in the same cold-hearted fashion. It was fight or die here, there was no other way out.
This wouldn't be the last kill I'd have to make if I wanted to stay alive.
It was a hard thing to believe, and I didn't want to believe it. But I had to. It was the truth.
The cold, hard truth.