Chapter 2 - Friends and Enemies

The arena area of the city was almost entirely deserted at this time of day. Since the arenas didn’t open until after dark, the place didn’t really come alive until sunset. Then it would be crowded beyond belief with furs clamouring to get in to see the latest fights.

Royce strolled across the main plaza around which the various arenas were gathered, the only other furs present being a couple of city-owned slaves cleaning up the mess left behind by last night’s crowd.

The tiger was headed to the Stone Walls Arena, the largest and most prestigious arena in the city. Of course, the fact that it was the only place you could see Royce Herrick fight had something to do with its popularity.

He avoided the main entrance, circling the large cluster of buildings until he reached one of the rear entrances. With a large hand, he knocked on the oak door.

A few moments later, it opened a crack. A young grizzly bear stared out at him. It was only a split-second before a look of recognition flashed across his face.

“Mr. Herrick!” The bear spluttered, throwing open the door. “I didn’t know you were going to be coming in this morning!”

Royce stepped inside and the bear closed the door behind him. It felt good to get in out of the heat.

“I wasn’t expecting to come here this morning, Jared.” The big tiger shrugged. “But I’ve got a few things to discuss with your father. Is he about?”

The young Jared nodded. “He’s over at the south pit. Want me to take you over there?”

“No thanks.” Said Royce. “I know the way.” He left Jared to get back to whatever he was supposed to be doing.

The tiger made his way through the arena buildings. He’d spent so much time here; he knew every inch of the place. Through the back store rooms, through the changing rooms, the fighter’s private training area, fighters’ public training area (some furs were willing to pay money just to see fighters train), the various lounges and out to the main pit.

It was a massive circular chamber with a high domed ceiling far above. At the centre of the room was the fighting pit itself, round and menacing, with the metal mesh fence surrounding its edge. Tiers of seating sloped away up from the pit all around.

As Stone Walls’ star attraction, pretty much all of Royce’s fights took place in the main pit. It was the largest, with the greatest seating capacity.

Royce circled around the pit to the opposite side, and the way to the south pit.

The south pit was basically a smaller version of the main one. Royce arrived to find a couple of slaves repairing the fence around the pit. Must have been damaged in the excitement of whatever fight had taken place there last night. It wasn’t unheard of.

The slaves were being watched over by two furs. The larger was a grizzly bear, Jared’s father, Boswell Kincaid. The other was a wolf, just one of his employees, Kyle, if Royce remembered right.

After a few moments, Boswell noticed that Royce was there. His face broke into a huge grin.

“Royce, my friend!” He beamed. “What brings you here? Shouldn’t you be resting up for your fights tonight?” The big bear strolled in his direction, walking with a limp and with the help of a cane.

Boswell had been a pit-fighter in his youth. Royce knew the limp was a result of the injury that had ended his career. It was a story the bear had told him several times.

“I had to come by, Boswell.” Royce said. “We’ve got some things we have to discuss.”

“Well, let’s go up to my office.” Boswell nodded. “We can talk there.” He turned back to the wolf. “Kyle, keep an eye on things down here for awhile.”

The wolf nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Boswell led the way. His big office was located high up in the building, above the fighting pits. The arena had been built in such a way that the owner’s office had windows that looked down on each pit.

It was a wide, well decorated office. Royce was very familiar with it and its many crowded trophy cases, filled with the spoils of Boswell’s many past glories.

Royce closed the door behind them once they arrived, as Boswell ambled over to sit at his desk. The tiger followed, taking a seat opposite him.

“Help yourself to a drink.” Boswell motioned to a pitcher of fresh water on the desk as he absentmindedly tidied some papers.

“Thanks, but no.” Royce replied.

“So what was it we need to discuss?” The bear asked.

“The money you owe me.”

Boswell stopped what he was doing. “Ah. That.”

“You haven’t paid me in five weeks, Boswell.” Royce said, firmly. “I’ve been patient because you’re my friend, but…”

“You know there have been problems.” Boswell tried to explain. “What with the trouble with Aidan…”

“I am well aware of your eldest son’s gambling problems.” Royce interrupted. “And how you’re continually trying to pay off his huge debts. But this is starting to become a serious problem that needs resolving.”

“I know, I know.” The bear sighed.

“I’ve offered to try and help…” Said the tiger.

“This is a family matter, my friend.” Boswell shook his head. “It will be resolved within the family.”

Royce stopped. That was just what he’d been told all the other times he’d offered. But the look on his friend’s face was heartbreaking. He really wanted to do at least something...

“Look, I can wait a little longer.” He said. “But I thought I should talk to you about this.”

“I will get this resolved, Royce.” Boswell said, firmly.

“I know you will.” Said the tiger. He stood to leave. “I’ll see you later, right?”

Boswell managed a smile. “Of course. Any night that you’re in the pits is a big night. I’ll be around.”

Royce left, making his way back downstairs. He wanted to get back home and get some rest before returning later to get some training in before his fights.

He was passing the training area, on his way back to the way he’d come in, when he stopped, noticing that a bear was already working out in the training area.

It was Barnell, the third of Boswell’s three sons, and the only one who followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a pit-fighter. He’d earned the nickname ‘The Brute’ due to his massive size and muscularity. He was bigger even than Royce. Royce had fought him once. And beaten him.

Barnell was just warming up as Royce watched. The bear was dressed in the simple loincloth and metal studded wrist and ankle bands that was the traditional pit-fighter attire.

“Hey, Barnell.” Royce called out.

The bear started. He looked at the tiger. “Royce? What are you doing here? I wasn’t expecting anyone to be around here at this time of day…”

“Just had a few things to talk about with your father.” Royce said.

“Aidan?” Barnell guessed.

Royce simply nodded before changing the subject. “You squeezing in some extra training then? I’m pretty sure you’re not in the pits until tomorrow.”

“Extra training never hurts.” The big bear shrugged. “Especially if I’m going to get good enough to beat you when we get around to that rematch you promised me.”

The tiger laughed at this. “You’ll never be able to beat me, big guy, and you know it.”

“We’ll just have to see about that, won’t we?” Barnell said, in a mock growl.

Royce just smiled. “Well, I’ve got to get going. See you later.”

“Later.” Barnell nodded.

Leaving the bear to his training, Royce went on his way.

He departed the arena by the same way he’d entered, the heat striking him full on as he stepped outside.

The tiger strolled leisurely across the plaza, bound for home. As before, the plaza was pretty much deserted. But for one exception.

There was a big lion sunning himself on a bench near the centre of the plaza. Royce sighed as he recognised him. He really wished he hadn’t run into him. Of all the people he could have encountered…

The lion looked over at him. “Well, if it isn’t Royce Herrick.” He called. “The guy who crippled me.”

“And good morning to you, Killian.” Royce shot back.

Killian got to his feet. Royce couldn’t help his eyes drifting to the slightly odd angle at which the lion’s left leg was twisted, and, as always, he noticed the way Killian’s left arm hung limply at his side. It was, after all, his own handiwork.

“What brings the big star of the pits out at this time of day?” The lion sneered.

“Sorry, but that’s none of your business.” Royce pushed past him, intent on going on his way.

“I’ll bet it involves crippling more furs…” Killian snorted.

The tiger stopped and turned to face him. “You know, I’m sick of going through this every time I run into you. Yes, I crippled you in a fight. But that’s the way fights go sometimes. You knew the risks of being a pit-fighter. So just get over it already and stop bothering me!”

With a snarl of anger, Royce left. He chose to ignore the lion’s glare of pure hatred. Killian was harmless. Best just forget about him.

He caught himself yawning a couple of times on his way back home. He really wasn’t used to being about this time of the morning. He wanted to get back to his bed and get a quick nap before starting on the business of preparing for tonight.

The trip through the streets of Pyre took Royce only a short period of time through the back alleys that he knew so well. No one troubled him, for which he was glad.

He arrived home, unlocked his door, and entered. Once inside, the big tiger stretched and unleashed a colossal yawn. A quick drink, and then to bed…

He stopped as he entered the kitchen. Someone was there.

The wolf named Tobias was leaning back in a chair, feet resting on the table. He looked bored.

“Ah, you’re here at last…” The wolf smiled.

Royce’s sword was out in an instant. “How the hell did you get in here?” He demanded.

Tobias sighed. “You know, if you didn’t want furs getting in, you shouldn’t have an open doorway up in your bedroom.”

It took Royce a moment to realise what he meant. “The balcony? You got in via the balcony?”

“Yes.” The wolf shrugged. “Bit of a climb, but what the hell, I could always use the exercise.”

“What do you want?” Royce said. “And speak quickly. I’m going to be throwing you out onto the street any minute now.”

“Just wanted to remind you that I’m still around.” Said Tobias as he got to his feet. “Just in case you were starting to think Armin and I were simple idiots who you wouldn’t be seeing again.”

“And where is you’re little leopard friend?” Royce asked. His eyes were scanning the room, making sure nothing was missing.

“He’s running some errands for me.” Tobias answered. “And you can stop checking out the room. I didn’t touch anything.”

“Get out.” The tiger growled.

“Before I go, just remember,” Tobias said. “You can be more than what you are now. You can be something better. And I can help, if you’ll let me.”

“I’m fine as I am, thank you.” Royce rumbled. “Now get out.”

The wolf left without another word. Royce was left alone with his troubled thoughts.

Tobias still worried him, wandering around with what he knew. Just what did the wolf want from him?

He didn’t care. He grabbed himself a quick drink of water and headed to bed, where he fell into a deep, yet troubled, sleep.

To Be Continued…

Read Chapter 3...

Raging Tiger/Kuman the Barbarian/Mitchell and Michael/Going Under/Beware the Transformer/That Day/Working Bears/Heart of a Hero

The Art Gallery/The Library/The Comic Store

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