(WP) The Last Warrior

(WP) The Last Warrior

The empress stood up, a tall, lithe vision in royal purple, surrounded by her retinue, in a box high above the stands. Her face was covered by a long, dark veil, signaling the mourning period for her late husband.

“Congratulations, warrior! You have fought most valiantly, and for that, you shall be richly awarded. But first, you must challenge my champion.”

The crowd below her roared its approval, baying for yet more blood. The warrior stood in the center of the arena, chest heaving, sweat dripping down her brow, into her eyes. She blinked the sweat away, wishing that she could at least have a drink of water before facing her final opponent.

“But wait! You need a weapon. I don’t wish to hear that the empress is unfair to the warriors who fight for her name and empire,” The empress boomed again, and she waved an elegant hand, beckoning someone forward.

A young woman in a fine gown stepped forward with a massive tray of weapons, all of which gleamed wickedly in the bright afternoon sunshine, holding them out to the gladiator.

She frowned, poring over them: there was a long, rusted blade, a sharp khopesh with two glittering, gleaming sharp ends, two sharp silver knives with mysterious symbols carved into the hilts, a shield with the empress’s symbol on it, a lion with something hanging from its jaws, and finally, a halberd with a sharp, gleaming golden tip. The warrior selected the shield and the pair of knives, strapping the shield to her left arm, and she tucked the knives into the pockets of her dirty, ripped tunic. She smiled at the woman and bowed her head, indicating that she had made her choices. Then, as she was backing away, she held up the shield and one of the knives, a signal to bring out her final challenger and begin.

The empress smiled down at her, then shouted down from the stands: “It appears that our warrior is ready to face her last opponent! Bring him out!” She told the guards, and the baying, roaring crowd went quiet, the air hushed with ugly anticipation.

The guards flanked the figure that was emerging slowly from the tunnel in front of her; she swallowed, feeling as if she could feel her heartbeat everywhere, in her throat, her wrists, the back of her knees, roaring in her ears and inside her head, blocking out all thought except for one: To win. To be victorious. At any cost.

She was so close to her freedom that she could taste it; she hadn’t come this far, hadn’t practically drowned in the blood of her competition, to lose now. She would not allow it.

The guards and the figure between them emerged at last, though the gladiator could not see her opponent’s face; a hood had been drawn up over their head.

That was fine by her. She didn’t need to see one’s face to make them concede. A fierce heat built up in her blood, screaming at her to rise and fight, to cut and rend until she saw blood, until she was unopposed.

The bell rang to signal the fight to begin, and she moved without thinking, charging her opponent and moving to kick their feet from under them.

But her competitor was just too quick. There, and gone, a flash of black and a gust of wind. In the motion, the hood fell back, revealing a tiny young woman with pale skin, eyes blacker than sin, and a feral, fanged smile.

What was going on? Surely this was a trick. A jest. Nonplussed, the warrior stopped, looking around. But then a cold hand closed around her throat, and she was up in the air, dangling, limp as a ragdoll.

Then the girl threw her as if she weighed nothing, and then she was on the ground, gasping for breath.

What was wrong with her? She had to defeat this woman, if it took every ounce of strength and defiance that she had.

She reached into her pocket and grappled for her knives, desperate to defend herself. She couldn’t lose, and already bitterness was gathering in the back of her throat, as if her body had given up before she’d even began. She screamed, a hoarse, vicious sound of frustration and defiance.

She scrambled to her feet, and just barely had time to raise her shield in front of her body before the girl struck again. The shield rattled, and the warrior used all of her strength to shove the girl back; the girl fell, almost, but managed to catch herself.

The gladiator charged again, roaring with rage and bloodlust, one knife tucked in between her fingers, hidden just so. The pale woman was fast, but not fast enough to block the shield coming at her and the knife in her fingers. Knocked off balance when the shield hit her, the warrior reached up and slashed at her throat, the tip of the knife so sharp that it ripped through the skin like paper.

The gladiator smiled to herself, certain that now she had the upper hand.

But it was simply not to be, for her opponent had coughed, and the skin slowly knitted itself back together.

Her mouth dropped open in shock. What kind of mad sorcery was this? It didn’t make any sense, because she was sure she’d dealt a killing blow.

But her eyes hadn’t been deceiving her. The woman smirked, cracking her neck lazily. “That hurt!” She snarled, her voice thick with an accent that the warrior didn’t recognize. She must have come from a faraway land. “You’ll pay for that, human.”

“Less talking, more fighting, whatever hellish creature you are!” The human quipped in return, smirking and raising her hand, beckoning her opponent forward, taunting her shamelessly.

The creature roared, a deep, guttural sound that exploded out of her throat.

The crowd screamed raucously, full of stomping feet, screaming in dozens of different languages, and clapping hands.

At least they had their attention, the warrior supposed. She reached for her knives and realized that she had left the weapon on the sand, covered in sticky, black blood. She swore to herself quietly and began to run, but her opponent appeared in front of her, as if born from smoke.

“Oh no, I’m not making this easy for you!” She snarled, and her teeth snapped mere inches away from the warrior’s neck; she felt a gust of air as she twisted out of the way.

Backed against a wall, quite literally, the human thrust out a fist, the knife clenched between her fingers, and it was as if her hand had met cold stone; there was an ugly crunch as her hand gave way against the creature’s stomach and broke.

The creature was laughing, brushing off the blow as if shooing away a particularly annoying fly.“

I will truly enjoy ripping your body apart for the lions to eat… At least you won’t have died in vain, you foolish, arrogant thing.”

The human snarled through clenched teeth, but the sound was strangled as the undead woman wrapped a delicate hand around her throat.“Say goodbye, human. Enjoy your last moments.”

**