Doc Sharpe waited in the Arena holding room, a place where a number of gladiators were preparing themselves for their next bouts. The alchemist stretched, and bounced up and down on his toes, keeping himself loose. A group of four gladiators were further down the hall, practicing on the training dummies, keeping themselves ready. Nice kids, they were, and apparently up and comers for the Arena. A few others were doing their own rituals to prepare, meditating, or stretching like he was, or talking to some of the other gladiators, exchanging tips.
Miri had gone first, and apparently (and unsurprisingly, to him, she had a talent for a show) made a spectacle of a time against a muscle bound brawler of a gentleman. He’d only caught a few glimpses, but as always, Miri’s style was as much art as it was violence.
An administrator walked in, and shouted, “Lookin’ for a Sharpe, Doc Sharpe! You’re up next!”
He jogged up to her, a short, dark skinned woman with curly hair that was only barely contained by a hair tie. She glanced up at him, and nodded. “Right, you’re goin’ up against… Wait, that… that can’t be right. The Mauler? Th’ fuck… JERRY! Go get the beast controllers, this is supposed t’ be a one on one fight, not a fuckin’-”
Sharpe interrupted her, quietly curious. “What’s the Mauler?”
She glanced at him as a runner came up to clarify what the administrator wanted. “It’s a dinosaur. Biggun’. Think they called it a… Rex? Somethin’ like that.”
Sharpe’s brain raced, as he tried to make sense of what the administrator was saying.
Tyrannosaurus Rex, one of the largest dinosaur or beast specimens alive today. Hugely powerful bite, apex predator in its regions. Thick scaled skin, horrifically strong body. Only seen in pictures. Fascinating creatures, lovely in the wild, worthy of the translation of their name of King.
“Wait. I…” The administrator glanced at him, dark eyes suspicious and curious.
A small, quiet but powerful voice in his head spoke. His voice, slightly more edged, sharper.
Kill it. I need a show of force.
“I’ll fight it.”
Her mouth dropped open in shock. “Wh-what? Mate, this is a…. You can’t handle this thing solo. I’m sure we’ve got something else that y’supposed to fight. This thing will eat you. Literally.”
The voice continued: So what if it does? Then I’m not useful. That’s what this team needs. Mallory’s the Conscience, Glaz is the Magic, Miri is the Face, Bolke the Protector, and Larch is the Weird One. What am I good for? I’m the Killer. So let’s kill it.
“I said I’d do it, so I’ll do it. If it eats me, well, one less gladiator you have to worry about, and the Rex gets fed. Plus, it’s what is on the matchups, right? You’re going to get in trouble if you delay the matches, I’m willing to bet.” Doc crossed his arms, looking at the disbelieving lady
She glared at him, then shook her head. “You’re lunch, then. Do whatever you need to prepare, ‘cause you’re up in two minutes. Head to the west box. Fucking deathwish maniac.”
He nodded, and jogged off towards the west box, thoughts swirling as he went through the preparations. He downed the mutagen first, then considered the rest of what he’d prepared. He’d need everything. And even that might not be enough.
If I’m not useful, then there’s no point to me. I have to be useful, and honestly, killing and taking things apart is the only thing we’re good at. So practice. And show them what I could have done, but never did. Show them I restrained myself. Show them I can be trusted, by annihilating this beast. Or die, and then we won’t have to worry about being anyone’s anything ever again. We’ve told the truth, we’ve set them on the path. I need to keep proving I’m reliable.
Sharpe paused, then accepted the truth of the words. As much as the others said they valued him, and he believed them, he held no value in himself. This was, as he had found out later, not how most people viewed themselves. But it was still the truth of how he saw himself, he was a tool, something to be used until it was no longer useful. He didn’t want to die, of course, very few living beings truly did. But the need to prove himself was overriding even the caution he normally reserved. He needed to be trusted again. He needed to show that he was still useful.
And I need to be more powerful. We aren’t going to get anywhere unless I’m tested in the crucible.
The roar of the crowd was deafening as the combatants were announced. He paid as little attention to it as possible, as the announcer was beginning his rant. More magic, as much as he could fit in. His body shifted and warped, his bones creaking with the enhanced muscle, skin hardening until it was almost as tough as stone. He knew that the massive kings of the dinosaurs were faster than they looked, he’d need to be faster. He made a mental note that he’d need to learn the Bull’s Strength spell at some point, and adapt it for his body.
“In our east corner, it’s this Arena’s Favorite Ravening Hunger, the Beast Who Only Thirsts For Blood, THE FLESH TEARER AND SOUL RIPPER, MAULER! He’s taken down three teams of fine gladiators, but this afternoon he’s just going for a snack, as we have someone solo going after our massive beast!”
There was an ear splitting roar as the dinosaur shrieked in oppressed rage, stomping into the arena. Magic flared as it kept the beast from entering and snacking on the audience, and some of the controllers corralled it back into its corner.
“And in our West Corner, we have a Tiefling with a Deathwish, a scientist who no one can say is either man or monster, but probably hoping to be put out of his misery, Doc Sharpe!”
He drank the last extract, and his muscles vibrated with twitchy intensity. He gazed at the Mauler, a majestic beast with numerous scars down its scaly hide. The teeth were sharp and unbroken, the muscles in its legs standing out even against the thick scale. It spied Sharpe, and let out another roar, this one clearly of challenge. Its head was bigger than the mutagenically charged alchemist, even changed as he was. This wouldn’t be a long fight. One way or another.
The flare went up, signaling the start of the fight, the wranglers of the Mauler retreating back into safety. The magnificent dinosaur let out another roar, and began charging, but Sharpe was faster, wings flaring out and flapping almost as quickly as a hummingbird’s. He launched himself forward, slashing at the meaty thick muscles in the neck, trying to strike home for the jugular vein. He could have taken to the air, and remained there, launching and throwing daggers and javelins, but he didn’t have enough of those to bring the beast down.
He blazed past, blood on his claws, streaking towards the tail and attempting to get out of range, when the massive beast hopped slightly, twisting in the air as it did so, and the air grew dark as Sharpe smelled, the hot, stinking breath of the beast close in on him. He pushed harder on the wings, but was not fast enough. The massive teeth closed around his leg and wing, and he could not help but yell in pain.
The T. Rex tossed his head up, flinging Doc high into the air. His one wing shredded, and his leg bleeding profusely, he couldn’t right his flight. He flailed, and looked down, into the gaping maw of the T. Rex.
He twisted, hard, trying to avoid getting any more of his limbs caught in the teeth as the beast tried to eat him, and then there was nothing but darkness. The pressure was crushing as the powerful muscles forced him down the throat of the beast. It was like the heat box, again, only he’d never get out. He’d gambled, and lost. The panic of being in the Heat Box again started to settle into him.
No. No, this isn’t the end. It’s only the end when I’m dead. This isn’t the box. We’re not seven years old anymore, and this isn’t Urvine’s punishment. I do not show weakness. Now let’s carve our way out of here. The inside of the throat is not nearly as protected as the outside.
With desperate speedy calculation in the crushing darkness of the animal’s throat, Sharpe tore, and bit, and slashed with all that he had. Had to get out. He had to get out of the beast before it swallowed him again, crushing him further down. Air was getting to be a problem, he’d not had a chance to get enough air before being swallowed.
Get out get out get out get out get out get out…
Blood and gore gushed and there was still so much meat to go through, he kept clawing and biting until….
Light. Blessed light. The stench was even worse when exposed to air, but he pulled and carved away more flesh with his claws as he pulled himself out of the dinosaur’s throat with every bit of his strength left.
Blood surged around him as the last, dying gasps of the majestic beast wheezed out of it, out of the massive, Sharpe sized hole he’d torn through the Rex’s throat.
He staggered to his feet, the silence of the audience deafening, as more gore surged past his ankles and filled the dirty arena floor.
“I think… I am in need of a bath.”
Applause, and cheering began shortly after, as he tried to wipe off some of the gore, to no avail.
I am still useful. I am still alive.