Among most of the sentient species of Creation there are tales of The Arena. For some it is something they know of as a veritable fact, victors that have returned after being there. For most it is the stuff of legends but tales they think of as being based off something real that perhaps their ancestors knew of.
There are no species that know of it, to whatever extent, that doubt its existance.
To the Hunters, those that make trophies of every other species they encounter, The Arena is something they prepare themselves for their entire lives. It is the one exception to their existance. At any time one of them could be called and their eternal hunts are to be set aside for the competition. Though they know of it, the hunters do not know the specifics...anymore than any other species does.
All that is known is that any time one of them could be called to compete...
...and that Hunter, so honored, will emerge victorious.
Knowing this and experiencing it are two separate concepts. The Hunter was not sure how he had gotten here. Testing the walls had revealed nothing other than what he'd seen on a variety of wavelengths...they were firm and would not give. Their were markings he recognized from ancient texts that told him where he was, which sent a thrilling surge through him, but nothing in what had been read on the subject implied staying in such a small room.
Separating fact from rumor was not working as he had often thought it might.
Behind him a wall slid up, the scraping of stone almost painful on his senses. It was disconcerting how surprised he'd been, after having inspected all the surfaces around and not being able to detect any trace of an opening anywhere. Turning, weapons systems that had been lax coming online, activating his personal cloak, he strode out and into...
It was both bigger and smaller than the Hunter had expected. Knowing of the place hadn't provided much in the way of detail but his imagination of it had filled in so many details. What he saw and felt was mossy, ancient, the ground covered in growths that seemed to be as much a part of the surroundings as though the Arena itself had been grown rather than built. Above was a starfield so dense the place had to be close to the galactic core...but he couldn't place the constellations.
Obviously he had been transported from a great distance.
Yet there was no evidence of technology anywhere about him.
The scraping of another opening and he turned towards it, crouching with targetting systems coming up.
The Hunter shifted through various wavelengths, guessing an opponent with a cloaking field of its own but nothing came up. An edge of anticipation and it thrilled to it, a worthy opponent that he would have to find another method to detect. What could not be seen could be found any number of other ways.
No sound of movement, no disturbance of the atmosphere about him, no scent to catch. Stalking towards the opening cautiously, the Hunter strained his senses to their very edge.
It would be very disappointing if this place was so old that the transporter for his opponent didn't work anymore.
Turning slowly, carefully scanning his surroundings, it occured to the Hunter that if that were the case then it might also be possible he could be stuck here. Perhaps if he could isolate the technology behind the transportation system...
...a sudden trilling sound he had never heard before caused him to whirl back to the other opening.
Still various wavelengths revealed no presence.
He did not move. Sometimes the greatest skill a hunter could employ was patience. Minutes stretched on and on and on.
Knowing patience was important was not the same as being patient.
Frankly, the Hunter hated to wait. He'd always been more of a blast at everything that moved type. It was just being here, this nearly sacred place, that had varied his standard approach.
Still, sometimes the old ways were best.
Bringing the shoulder cannon online, it picked a random spot near where he'd heard the sound and was about to fire when the trilling sound repeated. The Hunter paused, standing up and looking down. The sound had been close but low.
Something scuttled across the ground.
Leaning down quickly, he scooped it up.
It squeaked at him.
Removing his helmet, deactivating the cloak, the Hunter inspected the creature with some mild curiosity. No visible skeletal structure, an intense ring of muscles in a rather bizarre configuration, no limbs to speak of if you didn't count the numerous nubs along the bottom that it apparently used to move about. There seemed to be two openings on either side, one of which he assumed was a mouth, but otherwise it was a ball of fluff.
It was barely a foot in diameter.
Cocking his head at an odd angle, turning it slightly in his hand, he couldn't quite figure out what it was. Idly looking around the area about him again it became clear that there was nothing else alive here but the two of them...
...but that would mean.
He looked at it closely.
It trilled again and squirmed around in his hand.
This was almost worse than the concept of being trapped here alone had been.
Although, the creature was rather (there was no word for 'cute' in his native tongue) hard not to look at. The sound it made wasn't entirely unpleasant. Setting his helmet on the ground the hunter straightened up and moved it closer to the side of his head to listen to that noise again.
Total blackness engulfed him and although the Hunter quickly worked out what had happened he couldn't quite allow himself to believe it. The thing had lunged quickly, stretched its mouth to an impossible degree, and took his entire head up to the neck. There was a scraping sensation on his throat guard which gave him a slight pause when he realized it must be gnawing on it in order to literally bite his head off.
The Hunter's species were not prone to panic.
They never panicked.
So, he knew he wasn't panicking.
It was probably a good thing that no other member of his species was around for the very muffled noise he just bellowed out.
Trying to pull it off wasn't working very well. The gnawing noise was unsettling, especially considering the thing didn't have teeth. He was fairly sure it couldn't get through his neck guard...but he'd also assumed it was totally harmless a little bit ago so he wasn't about to take any chances.
His first instinct was to blast it off...which he almost did when the swivelling sound of his shoulder cannon made him realize that despite the fact it was indeed pointed at the creature that meant it was also pointed at his own head.
Scratch that idea.
Extending the blades on his gauntlet, he tried prying it off. It screeched shrilly, a sound that was unbearable from having his head inside it, but it wouldn't come off. It was far too tempting to stab at it but that would risk stabbing himself.
That gnawing noise was really starting to get to him.
Retracting his blades, he opted for the only thing he could think of. He slammed both fists into it...or at least that was his intention. Just a second before his fists made contact he could see clearly again...
...okay, technically he could see the whole time but he'd clamped his eyes shut sortly thereafter.
There were distinct disadvantages to being able to see in as much detail as his kind could. A fact he'd never appreciated before his head had been inside that...whatever it was.
He sat up quickly, having knocked himself on his own ass because he hadn't expected it to move and had double slugged himself.
Fortunately he hadn't passed out.
Unfortunately, he wasn't sure where it had gone. Rolling onto his belly, straining his eyes, he surveyed the ground about him as carefully as he could. The growth about him had obscured it the first time but he could see it fine when he'd been holding it. Being so small he hadn't noticed it at first, expecting a more sizable opponent. Now he was prepared.
There was a cuttling by his feet and another bite.
Hissing, sliding onto his back and grabbing his foot in pain. It had taken one of his toes.
For something with no teeth...that had been an amazingly clean slice.
Stopping the bleeding was not difficult, he had received far more greivous wounds than this. It was more annoying than anything else. Nothing had ever managed to get so close to him without his being able to see it first, certainly not been able to do as this little beast had done.
There was a faint trilling to the left of him at some distance.
It was fast.
Maybe the Arena had chosen him a worthy challenge after all. Just because it was so small he had severely underestimated it. Though he was not sure it was naturally cunning or actually intelligent, clearly it was formidable.
He whirled to his right when he heard yet another trilling.
He hadn't thought it could possibly be that fast...
...and it almost sounded like it had been at a distinctly different pitch than the first.
There was another trilling behind him not so far away and a rapid shuffling. He rolled to a crouch and fired, missing it but close enough that it went sailing in the air at a good angle for his second shot to nail it.
It had been a different color entirely.
Had there been more than he'd seen?
The Hunter turned slowly when it heard a sudden burst of trilling at some distance but constant at varying pitches. Scanning the area about him he noted that not only were there a multitude of minature heat signatures in the space around him...there was also a lot less growth on the ground than there had been before.
He counted roughly 50 of the trilling beasts quickly encroaching on his position.
His kind did not panic.
Charging his cannon he got ready to fire a rapid volley.
Welcome to The Arena.