What lurks in shadow

It had been a long fight, as these fights went, but now it was drawing to an end. The man had lasted minutes, where seconds were the norm, but now he was hard put to keep his feet under him. Any moment now it would be over. And then it ended. And the audience stared.

"Replay this!" someone hissed.

It happened again.

"Replay the whole fight," another voice demanded.

They watched it again:

A tall man cleared the last of the three reinforced doors of the double airlock, rubbing his wrists where they had been cuffed behind his back till seconds ago. A few steps into the hall he stopped, carefully taking his bearings. Not much to see. A lighting panel above the observation window at his back provided the only illumination, a tiny isle of light in a sea of shadows. A couple of beams loomed in the darkness, a forest of misshapen trees of steel, hinting at great heights and wide space hidden in the gloom. That is, the casual observer could see nothing – those watching the replay used a combination of night and thermal vision while the man inside the hall… he pushed a pair of welding goggles from his eyes and murmured, "Interesting".

He made another step and from the shadowed ceiling shot a huge black spike, right for his heart. Usually it was over at this point, yet somehow the man had dodged the thrust, throwing himself aside, and when he stood again, a blade was in his hand. The spectators had started for a moment, fearing a sever breach of security, before realising that the 'blade' was just a shard of concrete, from where the floor had shattered in the past under the impact of the battering spike. The man now kept his eyes fixed on a specific point of darkness – and with the hiss of live coals hitting water, from this point dropped a figure out of nightmare.

Three meters high at least; the head alone, deltoid in shape, more than a meter long, lacking distinctive features but for the row of gleaming teeth forming the lower end, dripping a viscous slime. Three-fingered claws clenched and unclenched, adorning arms, each longer than its human opponent. The creature stood upright on equally long legs, thick with muscles. Behind it, tripling easily its length, a long serrated tail, topped with the massive spike, whipped through the air in crazy eights and circles. All that an ebon black, reflective as obsidian. Living, most deadly, wild obsidian.

"Beautiful," the man said under his breath.

Maybe to prove the inappropriateness of this statement, maybe merely attracted by the sound, the beast dropped on all fours and pounced. The man dodged the attack, rolled to his feet, jumped clear as the tail blade came for him and threw himself backwards just in time as it swept over him in the backswing. The creature hissed again, stared – if it had eyes – for a moment at this surprisingly elusive prey, and attacked once more. Running this time on its hind legs, front claws extended for the kill. Its tail flailed, bent scorpion-wise over its own back, left and right to keep the victim from escaping sideways. The man didn't try to. He stood there, motionless, as death bore down on him, then dove, impossibly, past clutching claws and clashing jaws, to strike himself. The concrete blade found a soft spot, where armoured belly joined the armoured thigh. Inhuman shrieks filled the air. A human scream followed.

Somehow the man managed to avoid the thrashing tail, though the sharp scales scraped shirt and skin clean of his back. Once on his feet, he staggered backwards, away from the still screeching beast. His blade – dissolved to nothingness; his right hand, cradled to his chest – scorched, as if he had made a grab for the business end of a plasma torch. A smoking, shapeless lump of flesh, no longer recognisable as human. The creature, apparently dealt the minor wound, closed in again. On all fours, limping visibly, but no longer shrieking. Instead it hissed, venomously, and rained a hail of tail strikes on its opponent. It took at least a dozen trials to hit the target, and then it was just a glancing blow. Enough to throw the man some twenty meters through the air, to land with an audible crack. Enough to end the fight. Or so it should have been. The diamond-shaped head turned to observe the man rise stubbornly, painfully, to all fours, then to his knees and, finally, his feet. He stood there, swaying, a few steps from the door where he had started, and refused to yield. As clearly visible to the observers, he was a mess. His back striped red with gashes where the tail had all but missed him; his chest partly caved in where it had not; his hand a ghastly ruin. Yet still he faced the monster.

Which did the unthinkable thing. It made a few slow, careful steps until it reached the light. Then rising to its full impressive height – it brought the right claw, ramrod-straight, to the side of its head. The spectators gasped. The man stared. Somehow, somewhere the creature must have seen this gesture – and understood its significance – and now it gave a foe who had fought well a last salute. The man grinned through a mask of pain and returned the salutation with his good hand. He made no movement to escape as the beast stepped closer and wrapped its claws quite tenderly around him. Two at his back, the third, opposable as the human thumb, across his chest. The huge head dropped, until it came as close to face-to-face as it could ever be with such a size. And then the man jerked once and slumped, and the observers saw a black claw dripping red emerge from his back, left to the spine. A moment later predator and prey had vanished into the vast shadow-filled background of the hall.

"Most remarkable," one of the watchers said. "I believe this is the first time that any kind of imitational behaviour was observed. And then such an extraordinary performance."

"Not really extraordinary," another replied. "The soldiers salute all the time. I bet, in the old facility, she saw it quite often. A simple hand wave. Plus, a lot of creatures possess a way of formal greeting. It does not even take too much intelligence to make the transfer. For example, dogs can learn to interpret the body language of cats and vice versa. We shouldn't make too much of it."

"I wonder, why she did not perform the usual head-bite," mused a third.

A/N: Second chapter anyone? There is more where that came from, but to make the rest public, I need to know that anyone would read it