Fatal Hope

Fatal hope.

I open my eyes as the big doors swing open and I step out of the damp warmth of the underground tunnel into the scorching sun. The first sight that burns into my retinas is the vast brownness of the floor of the open arena. The sand shimmers as of course, the evening sun bounces off it. In the distance, a figure stands with a large menacing mace raised proudly in the air, bellowing incomprehensible words. Although I can’t quite see his face, his glare sends chills down my spine, drawing me into the abyss of despair. Undoubtedly, I’ve heard too many stories about him. I cannot truly gauge how dangerous he is from here, but one thing is apparent. He is different from every other person I’ve fought against so far—Jom, the Terrible, The Black Death.

The crowd snaps me out of my reverie. Its frenzied cheers and music, dripping with bloodlust, ripple through the stadium, drowning out everything else except for the tight feeling in my chest. I close in on the distance between us and the man’s features come into view. He is six and a half feet tall with the musculature of a war god. The waves of intimidation that roll off him and his jet-black gear hit me strongly. Now, I can tell there is indeed little my five-and-a-half feet tall, barely-fed body and low-quality sword can do against his utter might. My grip subconsciously loosens around my sword’s hilt in despair. Is this where it all ends? Are all my efforts going to be for nothing?

Moreover, two months ago, the power-hungry King Fregr’s infamous Niurean troops invaded my hamlet. They had basically thrown us into unprecedented chaos and carted away many of our young women, children, and young men, myself included. Certain villagers like my wife and little girl were lucky enough to escape. Only Dryuf really knows where they are, at least until I go looking. The soldiers shared the captive women among themselves and sold the children into slavery. The men were also in this trash of a place to fight for sport.

Hellish is the word that describes these past two months. I’ve spent my time bloodying and killing strangers. I’ve had fights five times – barely escaping the last with the skin of my teeth. Besides, I have wrung out hope and every drop of willpower to claw my way out of this hellhole into the light—to my family. Then, here is the final obstacle. The final warrior I have to beat to complete the tournament and have the administrators grant me a wish within their power. This is basically my chance at freedom—however, he looks insurmountable, but I have hope.

I close my eyes and the images of my family pop up in the darkness of my mind. My left hand tightens around the sword’s hilt in response. I didn’t come this far to lose. They are waiting for me, I mutter with gritted teeth. Oh, great Dryuf, ruler of the six worlds. Bestow your powers upon this unworthy servant. Eyes twitching in angst, I size him up once more to assess his strengths and weaknesses. He now assumes a nonchalant pose with his mace gripped idly on his right arm but there isn’t any weak point or opening.

The main thing I have going for me is my left-handedness. A pain for many fighters, and they never quite adjust to it in time. On the other hand, this man looks like he has fought just about every type of warrior, and he has the scars to show for it—especially the gnarly one across his right eye. How troublesome. As we lock gazes, I nod, but he doesn’t return the gesture.

The gong rings, and everywhere goes silent. It is time. I advance slowly, but the man isn’t on guard. Perhaps he doesn’t see me as much of a threat, which is even more troubling. And insulting—but boy, does that matter now? Honour can wait. A win is all I need. I circle him, my sword raised for a strike. Still, Jom doesn’t flinch. All he does is eye me from the corner of his eye. Is he that confident? Or do I seem that weak? The gong rings again. An eighth of our time is gone. If we continue this way, he will walk away victorious. I am the challenger after all. Perhaps,  that’s basically why he doesn’t attack.

Tired of waiting, I lunge at top speed with a sword thrust, my body slightly crouched. He picks up on my body movement and parries my strike with his mace in the blink of an eye. What reflexes for a man his size?! As I try to regain my balance, a shadow is cast over me instantly. I look up to see what it is. It is a dreadful sight. It is his other arm, ready for a smash. I motion to skirt past him and ready myself for another sword strike, but the speed of his arm foils my plan. My head barely gets out of the way before it lands.

It hits my back and sends me sprawling on the floor. The force is energy-sapping—so much that I can’t get back up. There is no strength in my legs or my back. Is this the end? No. With a muffled groan, I move to forcefully get up. His ominous shadow is cast over me once more, larger this time. I turn to look at the man who stands over me with a maniacal grin plastered on his face. He kicks me hard in the belly and sends me rolling on the floor. Blood spurts out of my mouth, tainting the brownness of the arena floor. With a swagger, he walks up to me. When he speaks, his words are comprehensible but laced with life-sucking venom.

You lost the moment you thought you could win. No one ever makes it past here. Your hope is your downfall.

It strips me of every hope and will to fight. My body goes rock-solid. The moisture that slides down my face is the only vestige of the vitality that has escaped my body. I hang on to the film of fond memories that roll past in my mind. The faces are my only solace in this horror story. Meanwhile, the comfort is transient as his mace’s whooshing sound snaps me out of my reverie. As my eyes open, they do so just in time to watch it come down on my face with murderous bloodlust—everything however blacks out into oblivion.

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