APOKRYPHOS: THE HIDDEN EARTH: VIGNETTE 03: The Beast in the Arena

She could hear the roar of the crowd outside the gate. It was a strange comfort to her. The rhythmic beats of their clapping, cheering, stomping allowed her to breathe, to find her center, to
prepare as she did. The words came back, stinging with the phantom pains of memory.

“Attack with all you have,” Master said in his dark voice from the black flames. “Do not hold back. They are the enemy, and you hold nothing for them. They are to be torn down and leftin the dust. Do not hesitate, do not back down, and above all else, hold no fear. You are our perfect little Dark Star, and you will fight for us. Do you understand?”

She hadn’t at the time, but over the years, the words had been beaten into her, and she understood now. She was a monster on a leash, created by the man in the black flames to fight and kill whatever was put in front of her. All memory of life before, if there had been life before the pits, was gone. The shadows hummed to her, flowed from their comfortable places out of the light over her, turning her scared flesh black, bringing a coolness that was pleasant and comforting. She closed her eyes and focused. When she opened them once more, they were merciless red pits of fire.

She was ready.

The door opened and she moved into the pit. Tonight’s arena was massive, much bigger than anything she’d fought in so far. At least a hundred yards across, maybe as many wide. Dirt floor. No weapons, no traps that she could see or sense. Magic was nulled here, and it was hard to hold onto the shadows, but the shadows were alive, and they as much a part of her as she oft hem, and they would not abandon one of their own, even here.

He came through the other door, massive, easily sixteen feet tall, nearly as wide. Muscle,sinew, fire and horns. He was likely a Lord of Hell of some sort. She could smell brimstone, hate, and rage on him. He was raw power, physically and magically. She knew none of that mattered. He was cocky. He knew he’d win. He had no fear. She would teach him. The man said the words. She didn’t care about the words. The words didn’t matter. They were words for the watchers, for the cheering crowd so they knew who would win the paper and the gold. She heard her name, what the man in the dark flames called her. “Daughter of the Fallen.” Words with no meaning. She waited for the only important thing. She heard it. The bell. She was gone in an instant, faster than her demon opponent could react. From where she was to his throat in less than the blink of an eye. The massive creature would have cried out if it still had a throat, but she tore most of his neck out with her teeth, sliding past him and as she did, shoving shadow into him until he exploded. She landed hard on the rough ground behind him, covered in his entrails and blood.

The entire arena was silent as she stood, tasting the sweet blood of her fallen foe. His blood was power, and she felt it course through her, fill her, amplify her own abilities. After a moment the entire place erupted in noise; people shouting, cheering, booing, crying out. She listened to none of it, only moved back to the door as she was supposed to. Perhaps master wouldn’t hit her this time. Perhaps she’d been fast enough this time. It didn’t matter. She had won and she would eat. The noise fell away behind her as she moved through the door back toward her cage.
A man in the crowd shook his head in awe. No one paid him any mind as he produced a small blue gem and held it tightly in his hand.

“Arus? It’s Mori. You were right. They have something special. As soon as I know what she is, so will you. All I know right now is that they call her Kagan.”