The hour passes so quickly I can scarcely believe it's actually passed at all. If it weren't for the sheer agony I've been in for the past hour, I might actually have found it peaceful. When the guards finally take me down off the wall, I feel like my arms have actually been wrenched out of their sockets. They don't seem to sympathetic however, and decide to vent their own personal testosterone-induced issues on me. It's a wonder I'm still alive at all by the time we come to the edge of the arena. Stripped naked to the waist, weaponless and bleeding and bruised beyond almost all recognition, I'm not exactly an imposing sight. The Elders are sitting in a high loft at one end of the arena. The steel-haired woman stands and calls out over the whooping crowd of Light Reapers.
"Friends, kinsfolk!" she calls. "This is a joyous day!"
The crowd roars their agreement. I swear I can hear Melody and Lynette's voices nearby.
"I bring before you the scum of the earth - Sable, the so called Dark Reaper of the Night. He is a murderer of the worst kind, the worst scrapings that that race of gutless whelps could ever produce. He has taken a human girl captive, she now bears his mark and the only way to free her is to kill him! What say you?"
A shriek of "Kill him!" arises from the crowds. I snort, and Light Reapers are supposed to be full of goodness and truth. What a load of bullshit. I howl as I am shoved forward into the merciless sunlight, the crowd jeering and howling at me as I stumble to regain my balance. The mark on my wrist blazes strongly - Ellie's fury growing with every passing second. I can only hope she will survive this - or that I die quickly enough to sever the bond or something. But I know that will never happen. When I go, she will follow.
"I'm sorry Ellie." I whisper. "I'm sorry for everything."
A trapdoor at the other end of the arena cranks open and a pack of monstrous draugs come prowling into the arena. Bone white, venom yellow and a sickly pale green, they look like monstrous hairless bear-dogs. Their lipless mouths reveal rows of sharp pointed teeth and the empty sockets where their eyes should have been are as black and empty as hellish abysses. I can feel the pack watching me, moving almost as one as they advance from across the arena, accompanied by the shrieks of the crowd. Steel-hair gives one last proclamation.
"Die evil one!"
The draugs spring, racing across the arena's sandy floor in unison. They move as one, silently co-ordinating their attack. There is no time to run, I can only try to dodge the massive wall of claws and teeth as they fly at me. Thankfully my reflexes are still good and I can avoid the worst of the attacks, but there are too many to avoid them all and their teeth and claws still tear long ragged marks across my ribs, my legs, my chest and arms. I lose blood fast, still desperately trying to keep away from the jaws and teeth of the draugs, their maws growing ever closer as I lose the will to fight.
Then, with a howl of anger, one of them cannons into my chest, claws rending through the damaged skin of my chest. Crimson blood spurts from the wound and, at last, covered in blood and too weak to stand, I fall flat on my back in the sand. The lead draug snarls and the pack close in, so close I can smell the stink of their breath. I close my eyes, my own blood seeping into the sand around me and pain tearing through me. As I wait for the end to come, I can only utter three final words, so faint none but I can hear them.
"Forgive me, Ellie."