I joined my colleagues at the coliseum to watch the gladiators battle. It was a perfect day; perfect weather, warm with a slight breeze coming off the river. Joined by good friends and a few skins of Elbuurk's Golden Wine, we even got good seats from a wealthy merchant who couldn't get away from some business he had to attend to. We could not believe the fortunes that smiled upon us. We were prepared for a great showing of bravery and excitement. What we saw instead was a nightmare.
The first match was a simple duel between the veteran Karnath and some criminal whose name I immediately forgot. It wasn't a fight but an execution, an appetizer before the main show. In the opener, Karnath toyed with the man, tapping his sword and dodging his pathetically slow attacks. When the crowd got bored and started booing, Karnath did a quick swipe and the man's guts spilled out onto the sand. The people roared and Karnath threw his arms up in triumph, turned his back on the criminal and walked away to bask in the accolades.
But that was when things took a horrifying turn. The criminal was a dead man. Nobody could have survived such a vicious blow, but instead of dropping upon his own insides, he just stood there looking at the intestines piling up in the bloody sand.
After a few breaths, the man staggered forward. I figured at last the fight would be over but instead he surged forward, his guts dragging behind him, and buried his blade deep into Karnath's back. A silent gasp overcame the crowd as they witnessed the fall of their favored champion, but he too did not stagger from the lethal blow. Karnath simply looked at the blade erupting from his chest, spat up a mouthful of blood and pulled himself free of it. He turned slowly towards his would-be killer.
In a rage, Karnath struck out and, with a mighty clash of steel, knocked the blade from the criminal's hand. With the backswing, he cut the man's arm clean off at the elbow. The now delimbed criminal stumbled backward to recover his weapon, but Karnath had other ideas. The gladiator stamped a mailed boot down on a bundle of sand-covered bloody flesh that snaked its way from his opponent. With a heave, he pulled the criminal back towards him and proceeded with a series of cruel attacks that could only be described as butchery.
The crowd watched in silence, horror and awe frozen on their faces, as Karnath delimbed the man, who screamed all the while for mercy, but he would not die. His blood had long stopped pumping, but still he would not die.
Exhausted and confused, Karnath stepped back from his bloody work. The criminal, now just the remnants of a torso and a head, gasped and screamed. The gladiator scowled and walked out of the arena towards the barracks with a dark purpose upon the blood-drenched sword still clenched in his hand.
The crowd remained for some time, stunned by what they had witnessed. Nobody came to help the butchered man who still clung to life at the center of the arena. Though not a word was spoken, our minds were as one: we all feared whatever malady had struck him so would befall us too should we get too close.
How wrong were we to think that. The curse had already claimed us all.
Mar Plavos, First Son of House Plavos