Author: Philip Tudball

Etrian blocked a glaive swing that would have decapitated him, moving backwards and trying to find his balance. His attacker leapt in again, sweeping a low strike at his legs. Another hurried parry and another step back. A third attack, this a stab right to his centre. Etrian was able to bring his stave up vertically and sweep the blade left, he rolled with the push, rotating his stave around and turned his block into a sideswipe, it connected with a solid thud against his foes helm throwing its body sideways. Etrian pushed forwards, his next swipe reaching behind, sweeping his foe’s knees from under him and crashing him on to his back. His opponent lay sprawled in front of him, Etrian stepped forward holding his stave ready for a killing blow. He lanced forwards, ready to crush the throat. He thrust down, his stave slipped between the gorget, punching down onto the windpipe ready to-

“Lashrak! Va na klanash”

The words rang out around the arena. The killcode contained within them shutting down all movement in Etrian’s body, every joint locked in place instantly. The stave, only millimetres from its target, would not find its mark.

Lights went on, illuminating the deck raised above the arena. All around, looking in, ‘Vlorak warriors howled their displeasure at the downed warrior. It struggled its way out from under Etrian’s immobile form. A ‘Vlorak cub, his first spar, young and inexperienced. With an angry growl, it stalked towards Etrian’s rigid body. Spitting a curse it rammed it’s blade through Etrian’s chest, tearing through the metal casing, finding the synthetic nerves within before bursting out the back in a spray of ichor and mechanical debris. Etrian screamed, the same scream forced from a thousand throats before this one. His automated nervous system relaying every jagged shard up his brain stem, unable to hold back anything.

A wall section of the arena opened up, a network of machines appearing, carrying the shell of Etrian’s new body. Perfect in every way to Etrian’s species this new shell needed only a brain to start it functioning. The machines began to work, with a brutal efficiency they enveloped Etrian’s shattered casing. Etrian’s brain stem was ripped from the spent shell of the now wrecked body. This time he couldn’t scream, as much as he wanted to. In front of the watchers, and with little ceremony, Etrian was placed into the new shell. Another lesson in pain. Etrian’s new body began to activate, his stem bonding with the synthetic nerves and bundles of this new case.

This is why the ‘Vlorak would win. The perfection of their art and their unceasing practice against the styles of their foes. Soon these living cages would contain the remnants of Etrian’s species, like that of countless conquered species before them.

A new warrior stepped on to the floor, older than his predecessor. Etrian knew this one, they had fought before, it would know his moves almost before he made them. This would not last long before the pain began again. Etrian’s frame powered up, the killcode unlocked and Etrian stumbled forwards adjusting to his new body. The warrior bellowed a challenge, looking for that last weakness to expunge, the last skills to master.

Deep in his core, Etrian sighed, at the futility and the pain. If only it would end, no more fighting, no more resurrection just for more agony. If only he could close his eyes and let it all go. The ‘Vlorak warrior charged, sweeping his blade in a vicious arc. Instinctively Etrian raised his blade to parry.