“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
A lone fighter stood in the darkened hallway which lead to the arena. He stood against a wall, preparing for the battle that would soon ensue. His armor lost it’s weight under the harsh adrenaline that pumped through his body. The sound of his heartbeat pulsed through his ears and the din of the crowd pounded in the corridor. They shouted his title. The dragon, that’s what they called him. Rumor had it that that was the way he was seen, a ferocious dragon tearing his enemies apart, swooping and slicing at a foe until they were no more. He didn’t disagree. In a way he admired the crowd for honoring him with such a name. No, his mind reminded him, no one is worth your admiration. His life stood testament that fact that no one was worthy of his trouble. He often wished could finally rid himself of the fools that he called the human race. He didn’t have any so called “friends,” and he didn’t care for any either. It wasn’t that he hated people, but he despised how they acted. Their habits. Their obsessions. Their disease. Most of them would only bring you down. The only one whom he had even loosely considered an acquaintance was the boy who took care of his sword and armor. He was one of the few he trusted with his real name and face, and that was partially because he couldn’t hide his face when he retrieved his helmet. However the child had not betrayed him yet, at least not to his knowledge. He looked back at him, standing further back in the corner of the corridor, where it turned to lead to the armory. The boy smiled at him. He turned his attention back toward the gate. Trust no one, that was a lesson he had learned the hard way. Never get attached. No one is worth your devotion. Even if the child knew him as Karth Valerius. He closed his eyes.
Suddenly he was in a different coliseum. His wrists were raw where his shackles had been. The guard next to him pushed him into a wall. “Fool, you think you're so great in the arena? hah!” The guard threw down Karth’s armor onto the bench that stood just behind him. The rage coursed through his veins. He didn’t hate people, he just despised their habits. Their shewed blindness. He quickly strapped on his armor and took his sword in hand, leaving his shield behind. He jogged coarsely up the slightly inclined corridor to the entrance to the grand battlefield. He coolly walked out onto the blood soaked sand that stretched on for what seemed like eternity. Marble pillars surrounded him like the legs of gods. The fire coursed through his mind. He looked back over to his enemy; it was no challenge. He was a farmer, a simple farmer, skinny and weak. A farmer who met his stare weakly, fear bleeding through his gaze. He hadn't earned death, it was chosen for him. A farmer whose family watched from behind a closed gate. He couldn’t do this, it was wrong. You are a fighter, you will fight, the voice echoed in his head. His rage was blinding. He looked up into the stands. His slave master gave him a grave look. There was no mercy here, only death. A drum sounded, signaling the beginning of the battle. The animal inside of him immediately took over.
His legs became springs, pushing off from side to side as he charged his opponent like an infuriated beast. Time slowed as the he met his foe. Karth threw his body and rolled his back along of the shield that his enemy thrust out, grabbing it with his arm and pulling it into his body as hard as he could. A ghastly snap rung into his ears. A cruel smile crossed his face as his darker side wrought it’s havoc. It might has well have been a warlord versus a peasant, and the fire in Karth’s eyes was that of a wild boar. Fear ripped into his enemies heart as he stared him down. Then the fury was unleashed. Like lightning he was on him a flurry of hits, each leaving a new scar on his sluggish opponent.
Finally his opponent landed a lucky hit and Karth’s blade went skittering across the ground, while the man followed up by smacking him across the face with a quick backhand. A small sentiment of hope played across the man’s mind as he delivered what he presumed to be the killing blow - a long arcing strike over his head. The swing came quick, but not quick enough. Karth’s arm lashed out like a snake and caught the swing with an iron grip. He turned back around, twisting his enemy’ arm as he faced him, the fire in his eyes burning more intensely than ever. The man fell to his knees, dropping the gladius in pain. Karth’s knee swiftly flew into his face, throwing the opponent straight into the ground. He dove, bringing himself down onto his chest knee first, the sound of shattering ribs filling the air with the groans of pain. Karth took him by the neck and lifted him as he stood. He looked into his enemy’s eyes for one last time. The fear. The pain. This wasn’t him. Reality suddenly set into his mind. He looked back to the stands where his slave master stood, nodding in approval. He dropped the victim. The man fell dead at his feet. No one deserved the death he gave. He could fight, that didn’t mean he had to. He had destroyed a life. A story. Something he couldn’t take back. He looked to the family behind the gate, where a small child let a single tear escape his eye. He was becoming numb. He was blinded and now his rage had shown him what he had become. This was not what he wanted. Another scar on his soul. Another scar that would never heal.
“Cupcakes!” Pinkies voice rung out clearly through Sugar Cube Corner. The chocolate colored wood that formed the archways seemed to glimmer light on such a warm day. Twilight looked up gratefully using her magic to pull one over to her.
“Thanks Pinkie,” Twilight groaned. She had been practicing magic all through the night, and now it had begun to wear on her. She felt like she had been getting out of practice with her magic, which (much to Spike’s dismay) meant she had to stay up all night studying.
Unfortunately this also meant the spells that she had studied began to blur together in her mind. She glanced over as pinkie bounced her way to her.
“What’s wrong Twi’?”
“Oh I’m just tired Pinkie.” The joyful pink pony took a moment to think.
“I think Spike was looking for you.”
“What for?” Pinkie shrugged.
“I dunno, all I know is he came in here to see if I had any gem covered cupcakes and I told him that I didn’t and then he started...”
“Alright, thanks Pinkie!” Twilight quickly interjected before Pinkie got on a roll. Heading home, she wondered, what could Spike want?
“Dragon!” The crowd’s roar snapped Karth’s attention back to reality. Another flashback. They had been getting worse recently. He was a monster, a living weapon, and he knew it. The gatekeeper finished, “It is time.” Karth nodded as the gate in front of him creaked open and the noise of the crowd drilled itself into his eardrums. This was nothing new to him. He drew his sword and walked out onto the sanded coliseum. He didn’t pay the crowd any heed for they deserved nothing from him. The only one that had earned his attention was his opponent who stood at the opposite end of the ring. Karth sized his competitor up. He was tall and muscular, but his size betrayed him. It was doubtful that he could move as fast as Karth. The other gladiator’s armor was standard, covering his body and shoulders, but his thighs and arms were wide open, it wouldn’t be hard to get under his defenses.
“Friends! I bid you welcome back to the games!” The speaker’s voice quickly grew tiresome to Karth. It was the same exact speech as it was every other time he had fought. It didn’t matter, what was just a few more minutes waiting, simply staring at the man you have been appointed to kill? He tuned back in just as the speaker was finishing, “The Dragon versus The Destroyer!” So that was who he fought. At very least he had an intimidating title. It was time to see if he could live up to his name.
“What’s wrong with the gemfield by Ponyville, Spike!” Twilight looked over at Spike, who was faithfully toting books back and forth from shelves to Twilight’s study area.
“You know that I hate that place Twilight!” Spike pleaded.
“But why?! It’s still ripe with gems which is exactly what you’re looking for!”
“Yeah- but that’s where the diamond dogs were and....” Spike poked his fingers together nervously.
Twilight sighed. “Okay, fine. I’ll try to find you a new gemfield.”
“Thanks Twilight! Hey I, uhh, also have finished my chores! I was just going to head over to the boutique...”
“Fine Spike, just come back soon. If I’m reading right, this spell shouldn’t be too hard to do.”
“Alright! Thanks Twilight!”
Twilight looked down at the page. Positioner. Alright that seemed simple enough. She would just have to concentrate on gemfields. The hard part would be focusing over all of equestria. Oh well, she quickly glanced down at the open book and began casting her magic.
The white cloth was dropped and immediately Karth’s battle instincts kicked in. His feet snapped into motion, making precise, swift strides toward his enemy. His breathing focused into trained quick bursts. The familiar weight of his blade rocked at his side as he quickly planted his foot and jabbed at the behemoth's leg. The counter came faster than he had anticipated. His attack was easily deflected and he took a hit from The Destroyer’s pommel squarely in his face . He gathered his thoughts for a moment. The ferocious blow had hit him so fast that his mind was still wrapping itself around it. How did such a man move so quickly? Normally he could anticipate anyone’s movements just by the flex of a muscle or a change in their stance. As much as he would have liked to stand in thought for a while his opponent had begun to take the offensive, coming toward him like a rabid wolf. Karth snapped back into his battlemind. He needed to win this with strategy, not by force. He watched his opponent carefully. A quick twitch in the right shoulder. Karth quickly sidestepped what would have been a crushing blow. He recomposed himself and led it with a swift upward strike, aimed right at the man’s bicep. Their blades met with a tremendous clang and the crowd exploded into thunderous applause. His mind solely trained itself on his fighting. A quick strike, a parry, dodge, duck, a powerful swing, parry, thrust. His mind was a flurry of movements, gathered from years of experience and training, yet, despite all efforts, his enemy managed to deflect and counter his every move, no matter how sudden or complex. Parry, parry, Slice, lunge, jump, swing, dodge... His brain suddenly went blank. What was happening? This was not the time to lose focus! His animalistic half hadn’t even kicked in. His armor was almost immediately cut through, the enemy’s jagged blade making a fine cut across his chest while his mind still devised the next move.
The world began to spin.
The blade cut deep, but Karth felt no physical pain, only the bitterness of defeat. Karth, the dragon was defeated. He fought himself to maintain consciousness as he put his hand to the wound. It was warm and sticky and his wound stung a little when it made contact. He pulled his hand back and observed the damage, already knowing the results. Blood rolled down his fingers to his hand and continues to drop to his wrists. Time seemed to slow around him. He looked up at his conqueror. He had earned his title, and Karth’s death was the ultimate proof of that. With his defeat his enemy would become a dragon slayer. His gaze dropped to his foe’s feet. He embraced what was about to come, to know that he was equalized with the world that he hated. Would he find himself in heaven? No, surely not. Hell was the only place that he could possibly be destined for. He wouldn’t be able to stand heaven. At least in hell he would have a purpose. There would be action, pain, never a dull moment. He gazed up as the sun cruelly glinted off his enemy’s armor as he looked to the stands for a thumbs down. It came almost immediately. The tip of the blade touched down on the back of his neck. It was a soldier’s death. His opponent at least granted him that. He felt the gladius rise. He closed his eyes and he prepared himself to embrace death.
Twilight studied the page that sat on the dark mahogany desk that sat in front of her. Had she cast the spell correctly? She quickly glanced at the map of equestria that sat just to the right of the ancient tome. Nothing. The map was absolutely blank. In theory, there should have been locations lighting up that represented the gemfields. There had to be at least one somewhere, so where was it? She sighed and dropped her head. She began walking to Rarity’s Boutique to tell Spike the news.
Karth’s eyes opened in a very different place. How had he gotten here? He looked across the landscape. Dirt. Dirt stretched for miles. The only thing that interjected the otherwise flat terrain was the craggy rocks that jutted rigidly from the soft earth as well as small rough cliffs that stuck up on the eastern and western sides of this wasteland. There were a few lush trees every here and there, but other than that it was just earth, and...holes? There were holes everywhere. A few had mounds of dirt sticking out of them, but most were simply wide open. There were no signs of life anywhere. Was this purgatory? Was his body dead back home? No, his soul wouldn’t have been commended with purgatory. He had earned himself hell. He looked down at the wound in his chest. It wasn’t as bad as he had originally seen it to be, but it had begun to sting. He quickly slipped his hand under his armor and ripped a small section from his tunic and fabricated a quick makeshift bandage. That would hold it for a little while, but not forever. He would need medical attention eventually. Driven, he walked north, trudging through the soft earth and skirting around the endless holes.
“Ok Twilight, I guess If you can’t find anything we can go back there.”
“Spike, remember, they won’t bother us anymore after Rarity bossed them around” Twilight chuckled to herself. She remembered how scared Spike had been when Rarity was taken. Now there was nothing to fear. She smiled as Spike got on her back and she trotted off toward the southern gemfield.
A bush rustled behind Karth. He turned swiftly, hand readily on his blade. There was nothing. Everything was silent. He slowly backed away from the bush. There had to be something there. Suddenly something grabbed his legs and pulled him to the ground. He twisted and looked back where his feet were. Nothing but a mound of dirt. His blade flew from his sheath and cut the mound in half. Nothing happened. Not a yelp. Silence.
“Show yourself!” He was getting frustrated. Suddenly a massive dog leaped in front of him. This was no average mutt however. It, like him, stood on two legs. But this was not the strangest of it’s elements. In it’s hand it held a spear, made of smooth but sharp rock. It wore armor that was also made of stone. Two more brutish beasts burst from the ground behind him, spears at the ready. Three more emerged just further down to the back of the armored dogs, grinning feverishly and sporting vests with jewel encrusted collars.
“You walked into our territory!” The smallest snarled.
“Now you work for us!” The largest of them grinned.
“Now, YOU will pull our carts!” Screeched the lanky dog excitedly.
The armored hounds took a menacing step closer, encasing him in a circle of spears. They can’t have a moment to consider, he decided, take them off guard. Karth’s sword moved fast, a swift horizontal strike that just scratched across the rocky chestplate of his first opponent. The armored dogs instantaneously became a flurry of spears, jabbing and swinging, making a complex labyrinth for Karth to maneuver around. It was all he could do to avoid the hundreds of strikes that flew at him every second. The unarmored of the hounds dug their way around their field of holes and grasped at his legs, making attempts to throw him off balance. At long last they succeeded, and almost immediately one of the stone spears found it’s way to the exposed back of his calf, while a wide swing slashed the bandage open and re-cut his sword wound, only much deeper. He rolled to the ground, grasping at the rivers of blood that flowed from his body. He felt the pain surge it’s way into his mind. No survivors... his mind fought battled his will to maintain control. We’ve done it before, why is it any different now? He slowly rose to his feet, the pain subdued by the burning rage that now coursed through his body.
“You will come with us now!” The lanky dog half stuttered, seeming shocked by the sight of blood. Karth’s eyes met the dog’s, animalistic fury prepared to destroy.
Twilight happily trotted onto the valley like field.
“Alright Spike, we’re here!” Spike sprung awake from the nap he had been taking on Twilight’s back and groggily took in his surroundings.
“Where are we?” Spike half said, half yawned. But Twilight payed him no attention. She instead was noticing the flurry of movement on the other side of the field. Curiosity sparked her interest.
“Come on Spike!” She sang as she took off towards the fray in the distance.
Karth’s first strike shattered through the dog’s spear and cut across it’s exposed abdomen. He sheathed his sword and quickly ducked an oncoming spear as it was thrust over him. He grabbed the tip and viciously shattered it over his armored shoulder. Like a whirlwind, he spun around and planted the spearhead just above the center of the dog’s armored chest, forcing the hound into the hole behind it. The final fighting dog attempted a desperate swing for his head. An attempt Karth easily dodged as he brought a swift and powerful kick into the frightened animals midsection which immediately caused it to crumple, releasing it’s weapon. Karth grabbed the spear and, in one fluid motion, turned and flung it at the apparent leader of the pack, slicing across the dog’s shoulder as it retreated. Then his ear picked up something else that was approaching his backside. He turned and drew his bloodied blade, bringing it parallel with his eyes, prepared to strike the stunned purple pony that stood before him.