Writing Prompt: humans are the only persistence hunters in the Galaxy Games.
The thing was waiting inside a cave around the edge of a large, freshwater lake, with water that shimmered in the light of the three suns above.
I hugged the cliffside and stayed low. Crouching in the scrub, I checked my knife, still coated in the coagulated blue liquid that I assumed was the blood of my last kill. Wiping it on the growth around me, I inhaled and exhaled.
Two more. That was it. Two more kills and I could go home. They would come and collect me in the strange, pyramidal ships that seemed to defy the laws of physics and take me to Earth.
I wanted to go home. I didn't want to be on this godforsaken, alien hellhole any more. I wanted to eat real Terran fruit, drink water that didn't taste like metal. Most of all, though, I wanted to get back to my life.
Hunters. That's what they wanted. Three from each species in the known universe, dropped onto a neutral planet and left to fight it out until only one species survived.
The other two humans - I didn't know them - hadn't lasted three days. They were used to trophy hunts, elephants and weakened, starving tigers, not intelligent species that could fight back.
And they didn't fight back in ways we expected. None of the other species appeared to be persistence hunters, like humans, they were pursuit predators, or ambush predators. At first, this was a surprise, but I soon learned to turn it to my advantage.
I could wait them out. I could pursue them across the wide plains of the strange world until they tired, then stick them. That was my advantage.
And now, three weeks later, only three remained. I checked my right forearm and saw the lines of tiny, multicoloured gems implanted in my skin. When this horror show had first begun, months ago, every gem was illuminated. Now there were only two.
I didn't know what it was called, or where it came from, but I knew it was fast. It was bipedal but could run on all fours, at a speed similar to that of a cheetah. That had caught out Dan, one of the other humans I'd been dumped here with. The thing had leapt onto him and ripped out his throat before we could say 'oh, shit'.
I'd encountered the thing that I had decided to call a fastclaw again three days ago. It had pursued me into a forested area and I'd only managed to escape its grasp by climbing a tree. Unable to kill me in that first burst of energy, it had soon tired and retreated.
Then it was my turn. I began to follow it at a distance. When it turned to me and tried to attack, I would ensure I had an escape route. It did this three times during the pursuit, but quickly ran down its reserves. After a while, it stopped attacking me and put all its energy into escaping.
Only it couldn't. I pursued it at a slow and steady pace over miles of plainsland and hinterlands. It tired and eventually turned to hiding.
And now I was going to kill it.
I entered the cave quietly and slowly, knife raised, waiting for its last gasp attack. I could hear its low, clicking breath in the darkness ahead.
'It's over,' I said. 'Only one of us is making it out of this cave alive.'
I knew it didn't speak English. I didn't care.
T-t-t-t-t-GASP, came its strange breaths.
Then it lunged. Claws and fangs and wild eyes set into a pointed, narrow maw. One claw caught me across the shoulder and dug out a deep, bloody gouge. I screamed but lashed out with my knife, burying it so deep in the creature's stomach that my hand went partially inside the wound. Its skin was soft and thin, no predators on its home planet capable of getting close enough to puncture it.
It roared and leapt backwards, but it was too tired, and I followed it, plunging the knife into its flesh again and again. Cobalt blue liquid splattered across my face and the strange, leather-like armour we'd been provided with.
The creature gasped one final time, then fell silent after a single, pained gurgle. It was over.
Before standing, I lifted the creature's paw-like hand and sliced one of its clawed fingers off, pocketing it. Even on an alien world, I was still a hunter, and I was having my trophy.
I pushed myself up and allowed myself a proper look at my foe. It had no equivalent that I could think of, somewhere between a bat and a wolf, with a pinched face covered in scars, and tendrils that were splayed out around its head.
This creature had been the apex predator of its world. Its species hadn't been challenged in millennia. Then, like me, it had been transplanted to this world to face other creatures of equal ability. It perhaps thought it was going to use its superior speed and strength to get home. It hadn't counted on the extreme endurance and durability of the human form.
I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I didn't sense the walls closing in. I'd been so distracted by the pursuit that I hadn't noticed their fleshy sheen and vague pulsing.
My endurance was no help when the walls suddenly snapped shut on me like the mouth of a Venus fly trap. I felt my bones shatter under the immense pressure, unable to scream as my lungs were crushed.
Human endurance had triumphed over the speed and power of the fastclaw, but my hubris had left me open to attack from a creature that didn't even need to move to hunt. A creature that was content to sit and wait until its prey stumbled into its mouth, unaware of the danger.
The last thoughts I had before I burst open like a grape were of home. I thought of the crowning achievements of humanity, a species that had conquered its homeworld and even believed it could conquer the stars, that no other species out there could match us.
And I realised we were wrong.
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