Another one bites the dust. Another brave challenger, years upon years of training, just for this moment. Seconds ago, the crowd had cheered in bloodthirst as he delivered strikes, and gasped in mock sympathy as he took them. But now, he is no more. Nameless, titleless. No more than a corpse, blood still trickling from a dozen wounds, painting the sand a grotesque shade of deep red. And in the few seconds that it takes for the servants to drag his body off the arena, he is gone. Wiped from their minds, all his uncanny feints and impressive flourishes no more than a fading afterthought.
Another brave challenger, this time, a fresh face. A young woman, her smooth skin free of the myriad blemishes and scars that were all too common here. No doubt drawn to this place by promises of prestige and glory, riches almost beyond comprehension. As she raises her sword and shield, eyes fixed on the hulking champion before her, the crowd goes silent. Everything else fades away. One moment, the tense, almost tangible premonition of impending death.
And the next, chaos. Years upon years of training fall to the wayside as they charge, two comets of flesh and metal on a grim, fatal collision course. The young woman strikes first, the steel bulk of the shield connecting with her opponent's chin, sending him staggering back. She steps out with her right foot, closing the distance, and thrusts her blade into his exposed abdomen as he recoils. First blood. The crowd cheers, drunken spectators leaping to their feet, shouting incomprehensibly.
Outside, she maintains her composure. Eyes fixed on her enemy, lips pursed, emotionless. Inside, she's a wreck. Her heart is pounding. Her hands are clammy and trembling. Her mind is in chaos: all those years of preparation seem so far away, so out of reach. Beneath that mask of expressionless focus, she's scared. Because she knows. She knows that she now stands where so many before her have been. She knows where they are now: forgotten, scoured from this world, as though they had never existed. And she knows that the same will happen to her.
A moment is all it takes. A moment of distraction, a momentary opening for her opponent to exploit; and he does. The hammer comes crashing down. A wave of intense pain, then of shock, then of panic. Another strike, and the world becomes a blur. The ground rushes up to greet her, her tears—partially of pain, partially of hopelessness—mixing with the blood flowing freely out of her, seeping into the sand. Everything is red now. The beating of her heart, the cheering of the crowd, the heavy breathing of her opponent; everything melds together into a rhythmic thud, thud, thud. The hammer raises a third time, and with a triumphant roar, connects with its helpless target.
Another one bites the dust.