Chapter 3 – In The Pits

“Good evening, Mr. Herrick”

Royce gave Jared a polite nod as he stepped through the door. “Good evening.”

“I’m really looking forward to your fights tonight.” The young bear said, as he closed the door behind him.

“Looks like you’re not the only one.” Royce replied. “The crowds are already starting to form out front.”

“Already?” This surprised the young bear.

“Yeah.” The big tiger shrugged. “Guess furs just can’t get enough of me beating my opponents’ brains out.”

“That’s right!” Jared said, eagerly.

“Well, I’d better go get ready.” Royce said. “I’ll see you later.”

Jared nodded and headed off to get back to work. The arena just didn’t prepare itself for a big night.

Royce headed to the training area, to the changing rooms. He was one of the few fighters who had his own private changing room, of course. He was the main attraction after all.

Alone in his room, he quickly stripped off his clothes. Within moments the big tiger was naked. He stopped to do a few stretches and warm up a little, flexing his muscles, watching them ripple beneath his skin.

It had taken years of work to get his body into such great shape, with such well-developed muscles. Of course, it had helped that he’d spent a large part of his early life as a slave involved in a lot of heavy labour, and usually owned by furs who preferred their slaves in good physical condition.

Whenever he thought about it, Royce always thought that his good body was the only good thing to come out of his old life.

He sighed. It was best not to think about those times, best to just forget about them and focus on the here and now.

It was time to get dressed and head out to the training area. He wanted to get in some work out time before his fights began.

He was soon dressed, wearing the traditional pit-fighter clothing. A simple loincloth and metal studded wrist and ankle bands. He’d heard some fighters disliked the outfit, but Royce had always found it more than comfortable.

Before heading on to the training area, he stopped to do a few quick stretches, warming up a little.

Royce stepped out of his changing room. As he always did about this time, he started looking forward to the night ahead. He locked his room behind him. This done, he slipped the key into the secure pouch he’d personally attached to the inside of his left wristband. Dressed as he was, he didn’t have anywhere else to keep it.

There were still a few hours until his first fight, so there was plenty of time to do some extra training.

There were a few other fighters in the private training area, working out with the various weights, sparring with each other, practising moves. He greeted them as he made his way to the weights.

The time flew by without Royce noticing. He was too wrapped up in his weight lifting. One of the other fighters had to interrupt him to remind him when the time of his fights drew near.

As he joined a few of the other fighters leaving the training area for the pits, he could hear the noise of the crowds, cheering and shouting, waiting for the fighters to appear. He smiled.

He couldn’t actually go out there to the pit until he was announced. So he stopped to wait at the mouth of the passageway that would lead him out to the pit. His opponent was already waiting there.

The fur’s name was Nathan. He was a big bulky polar bear. Royce had met him in passing a few times, but had never faced him in a fight yet.

“Hi, Nathan.” The tiger said, offering his hand. The bear nodded in response and shook the hand.

They waited in silence. Until Royce decided to say something.

“Look, Nathan.” He said. “When we’re out in the pit, I really don’t want to have to hurt you any more than I have to. Don’t hesitate to yield.”

The polar bear shot him an intense look. “And what makes you think that I’m the one who’s going to need to yield?”

“Because I am going to beat you out there.” Royce laughed.

“No, Mr.Herrick.” Nathan said, with a smug grin. “Tonight I’m going to beat you.”

“You think you’re the first to think that?” Royce smiled. “I hear those exact words from every inexperienced fighter I go up against and end up beating.”

“I am different.” Nathan growled.

“I hear those words a lot as well.” The tiger shrugged. “Just remember. Don’t hesitate to yield when the time comes.”

The bear beside him said nothing further.

The tiger sincerely hoped Nathan wouldn’t hesitate when the time came. That way the fight would end before he did the bear any serious damage. He wasn’t particularly worried. Very few failed to yield to him. The last had been several years back now, a young lion by the name of Killian…

The pit-fighting rules were very simple. Two combatants entered the pit, and neither left until one yielded to the other. Weaponry of any kind was strictly forbidden, but any form of unarmed combat was allowed.

Fights were usually very rough and very dangerous. While the rules said that one fighter had to yield, it was generally considered that a fight was also over if one combatant was seriously injured or rendered unconscious. There were also rare cases of a fight ending with the death of a fighter.

The practice dated back to ancient times, when the ancient furry tribes would use pit-fighting to resolve disputes between individuals, families and tribes. But in these modern times, it had evolved into the world’s most popular spectator sport. There were some small organisations trying to get pit-fighting banned, saying it was too barbaric, but Royce didn’t see them succeeding any time soon. The sport was just too popular. Those involved knew the risks and accepted them.

Turning his attention away from the bulky polar bear, Royce listened to the crowd, waiting for his cue. At the moment, the announcer was telling the audience about the fights scheduled for tonight. Royce himself had four ahead of him before taking on challengers from the audience.

It was an idea Boswell had instituted. Any member of the public could come forward and challenge one of Stone Walls’ fighters. Of course, they had to sign various agreements beforehand saying that they fully understood the risk. A big cash prize was up for grabs for anyone who managed to defeat the fighter.

The idea had turned out to be popular. Even more popular when the fighter the public could challenge was Royce. Recently, Royce found himself wondering what would happen if a challenger actually managed to win. He knew that Boswell wasn’t able to afford a big cash payout at the moment, what with all his son’s debts. His son’s debts were also the reason he couldn’t just stop the challenges, he needed the extra money they brought in.

“…And now!” The announcer was shouting, with a well-practiced dramatic delivery. “What many of you are here for! This arena’s current champion! Raging Royce Herrick!”

Royce could hear the crowd go wild. He started along the dark passage, closing eyes for a moment to soak up the cheers. He loved this.

The passage took the tiger directly out into the sandy-floored pit. He blinked a moment as he stepped out into the brightly lit arena. The audience grew noisier as he appeared. He made his way to the centre of the pit, throwing up his arms and waving to the crowd as he went.

“And his first opponent for this evening!” The announcer’s voice echoed about the arena. “One of our newer fighters here at Stone Walls! Nathan Frost!”

The cheers for the polar bear as he entered the pit were substantially less than they had been for Royce. A look of scorn was directed at the tiger.

Nathan stopped in the centre of the pit beside Royce. “Hope you’re ready to go down, hotshot.” He whispered.

Royce grinned up at him. “Funny. That’s just what I was going to say to you.”

“Fighters get ready!” The announcer cried.

The two furs in the pit took up their positions, facing each other a few feet apart in the centre of the arena. Nathan sneered at Royce while they waited for the signal.

“Fight!” The shout of the announcer rang out.

Nathan wasted no time in springing into action. The shout was still echoing when the huge polar bear charged forward, growling.

Royce stood his ground, and at the last possible moment sidestepped the charge. He spun around and slammed a fist down onto the bear’s back as he went past.

The bear went sprawling in the sand. The crowd cheered.

Nathan jumped to his feet, faster than Royce thought he’d be able to. The polar bear barrelled into Royce, growling and snarling.

The two combatants hit the floor, grappling with each other, Nathan attempting to pin Royce to the ground. The white-furred bear was stronger than Royce had expected. He was heavier than expected, too. The polar bear was using his superior weight, lying on top of him.

With the bulk of the bear pressing down on him, Royce found it almost impossible to breath. He had to get out from under Nathan quickly.

The tiger pulled an arm free from where Nathan was trying to pin it and whipped it around, his elbow connecting with the side of the bear’s neck.

Nathan let out a cry of pain and let up a little. Royce struck again, this time with a punch across the face. The polar bear’s hold on him loosened enough for Royce to bring up a leg between them. He threw his strength into a kick, knocking the polar bear away.

Nathan was fast to recover, getting to his feet from where he landed and charging at Royce again. But Royce was faster and didn’t waste a split-second. As soon as he kicked Nathan away, he jumped to his feet, and leapt aside just in time to avoid Nathan’s charge.

The bear skidded to a halt and twisted to face Royce, wearing a menacing expression. The tiger watched his opponent, waiting for him to make a move. This fight had gone on long enough. He should have defeated an amateur like this by now. It was his own fault really. He’d grossly underestimated Nathan.

The polar bear rushed him and swung a punch. Royce dodged it easily, grabbed the arm by the wrist and yanked Nathan forward, pulling him off balance. Then he slammed a foot into the bear’s stomach, knocking the breath from him.

As Nathan tried to recover, the tiger moved in on him. The audience was cheering wildly, but Royce had been a pit-fighter long enough to learn how to block out the cheers and focus on the battle.

“You have speed and strength, Nathan, I’ll give you that…” Royce said. He delivered a fast punch across Nathan’s muzzle, then another to the side of his head. Nathan was staggering back, raising his arms in defence as he tried feebly to block Royce’s blows.

“...But you have no idea how to use them properly.” With a primal growl, Royce spun around, bringing one foot up and around. It slammed against Nathan’s head. The polar bear went down, his body hitting the pit floor with a loud thud, landing face down.

The polar bear groaned and started to get up, but Royce wasn’t going to let him. He planted a foot on Nathan’s broad muscular back to hold him down and grabbed an arm. He pulled with all his strength until the polar bear beneath him cried out, snarling in pain.

“Yield, Nathan!” Royce growled down at his opponent. “If we continue, I will have to hurt you! This fight is over!”

“No…” Nathan rumbled. He started to struggle against Royce’s hold, trying to throw the tiger off.

Royce was left with no choice. He twisted the arm in his grip. There was a horrific tearing sound and a pop. He was certain he’d just dislocated the polar bear’s shoulder.

Nathan cried out, his snarls echoing around the arena, and started thrashing, making it more difficult for Royce to hold him down. The crowds cheered louder.

“Yield, you idiot!” Royce hissed. “Or I’m just going to have to hurt you more!”

Nathan paused for a second in his struggling, gritting his teeth. “No.” He said, quietly.

“Then I’m sorry for what I’m about to do.” Royce said with a sigh.

The tiger didn’t hesitate. He gave the dislocated arm another wrench, drawing more cries of pain from the fallen polar bear. Then he let go, stepping back to deliver a swift kick to the ribs.

He wanted to finish this. Nathan was being very stupid in refusing to yield. He wasn’t the first new fighter who came into the pit believing he could never lose, but that was no reason to injure him too badly. Royce just hoped he could get Nathan unconscious quickly.

The polar bear was trying to raise himself up. Royce sighed and slammed a foot down on the back of his head, smashing Nathan’s head into the floor. The bear stopped moving.

Royce crouched beside Nathan. The bear’s eyes were closed, but he was still breathing. He was out cold.

The big tiger stood and threw his arms up in victory. The crowd roared, but somehow the announcer still managed to make himself heard.

“And it looks like Nathan Frost is unconscious!” The announcer was shouting. “Another victory for the champion!”

The medics were already running to Nathan with a stretcher as Royce retreated from the pit for a moment, to catch his breath and get a quick drink of water. Then it would be straight back out there.

He still had many more furs to beat.

* * * * * * * *

The fights went on throughout the evening, and Royce didn’t lose a single one. None of the opponents he faced were even able to offer him anything approaching a challenge. And Royce had not been expecting anything different.

Between each fight, the big tiger would retreat from the pit to get a drink of water and a quick rest before heading out again.

As time went on, he became more and more of a mess, his fur soaked with sweat and coated in dust from the pit floor, not to mention the occasional scratch or cut or splash of blood from an injury he’d dealt to an opponent.

But Royce didn’t care. As he always did, he was loving every minute of this, his heart was pounding, and adrenalin was pumping through his veins. To say it was a rush would have been an understatement.

The night wore on, and the crowds in the audience never seemed to tire of Royce’s continuous victories. And eventually the time came when the tiger defeated his final opponent, beating him into the ground.

Amidst cheers and shouts, Royce left the pit. Once he reached the end of the passageway leading from the pit, he collapsed against the wall, sinking to the floor with his back against it. A waiting attendant gave him a waterskin before heading back to his duties.

He ripped open the container and dumped some of the water inside over his head, cooling himself off. It felt a little strange to waste water in such a manner, but this was one of the very few circumstances when he felt it was okay. The arena always had plenty of water to spare, it being a necessity for the fighters in order to keep the place running. He did feel a small pang of guilt about doing it though, what with Boswell’s money worries.

He also gulped down some of the water. Water after the last of his fights always tasted especially good.

The tiger closed his eyes, allowing himself a moment to rest and relax. Before long it would be back to the pit to take on challengers.

But he’d never thought of those as ‘real’ fights. In the year since the arena had been doing this, Royce had yet to be challenged by anyone even approaching the fighting skill of even the most basic ‘real’ fighter. He’d come to look upon these challenge sessions as nothing more than a mildly interesting distraction.

“Tired?”

Royce opened one eye and glanced up. Boswell stood there, smiling down on him. The tiger closed his eyes again, returning to his rest.

“Not at all.” Royce replied. “I’m just resting my eyes for a moment before I head out there again for the challengers.”

“Just thought I’d come down and check on you.” Said Boswell.

The big tiger glanced up at him. “Why? You’ve never felt the need to do so before.”

“I wasn’t aware I needed a reason to check on my friend and biggest money-maker.” The bear looked offended. “Why so suspicious?”

Royce shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe I actually am tired. And still worrying about your money troubles.”

“Well, I can tell you now that my money troubles have been solved.” Boswell smiled down at him.

“Really?” That surprised Royce. “That’s great! How?”

“It’s a little complicated.” Said Boswell. “And I believe its time you were headed back to the arena. I’ll explain it all tomorrow.”

The tiger pulled himself to his feet with a grin. “Sure. I’ll look forward to it.” He threw his now empty waterskin aside. “Wish me luck.”

“As if you need it...” Boswell chuckled, as Royce headed up the tunnel toward the arena.

Royce glanced back at the bear and almost stopped. He’d known Boswell a long time, so knew his body language pretty well. There was something about the bear’s posture and the look in his eyes, a look of… what? Sadness? Suddenly he was concerned.

Before he could do anything, the announcer in the arena was calling his name. He’d have to catch up with Boswell later and find out what was going on. Right now, he was needed.

The muscular tiger proceeded out into the arena, the cries of the audience greeting him.

* * * * * * * *

The challenger fights went exactly as Royce expected. He took on numerous furs with no fighting skills at all. He’d long since got into the habit of going easy on these challengers. Even then, it was a rare occurrence for a fight to last more than two minutes.

The night started to draw to a close, and eventually reached the point where he had only one challenger left to deal with before the tiger could call it a night. The pit attendants were already helping his penultimate challenger out of the arena

He was looking forward to it. As much as he loved pit-fighting, he also loved relaxing after a hard nights fights…

“And now our final challenger of the night!” The announcer was droning in the background. “A brave young leopard by the name of Armin Paraz!”

Royce glanced up at the name. It couldn’t be…

But it was. Entering the pit was the leopard companion of the wolf Tobias Clandrell who had been bothering him. He was wearing a pit-fighter’s outfit that showed off his athletic body.

They met in the centre of the arena and stared at each other.

“And just what are you doing here?” Royce wanted to know.

“I’m here to fight you.” The young leopard replied. “I’d have thought that was obvious.”

“I hope you realise, I will beat you.” Royce said.

“Perhaps you will.” Armin was wearing a smug expression. Royce was already looking forward to personally wiping that expression off his face.

The announcer called for the fight to start, and both combatants sprang into action. Royce sprung forward, making a grab for the leopard, but Armin leapt back, staying out of his reach.

He was fast, Royce had to give him that.

The big tiger crouched and dived at Armin, managing to tackle him by the legs. The two furs went down, hitting the sandy floor. But before Royce could do anything further, Armin lashed out, kicking him across the chin and slipping from his grasp. The leopard rolled away and was up on his feet again in seconds.

Royce attacked again, and again, and again. Each time, Armin either avoided his lunges and slashes, or got away from the tiger before he could do any damage.

It got annoying very quickly.

“Just what are you doing?” Royce demanded, pausing for a moment. “I thought you were here to fight.”

“I’d like nothing better than to fight you.” Armin grinned back at him. “You’d be surprised at how good I am. But I’m acting on instructions here. Trying to prove a point.”

Royce tried another attack, but again Armin managed to dodge, ducking out of the way and jumping back.

The audience were certainly unhappy with this lack of violence and blood. They were booing the young leopard.

“What could this possibly be proving?” Royce asked.

“That violence doesn’t always solve everything.” Armin told him. “You’ve been trying violence and are no closer to defeating me than when we started.”

The tiger sighed. “You and that wolf are going to a lot of trouble just to annoy me.” He said. “Frankly, I don’t care about whatever ‘moral’ lessons you two seem to want to impart on me. All I see is that you’re here simply wasting my time.”

Armin nodded. “Then let’s not waste any more time and I’ll get to my second point. Sometimes, there are ways to resolve a situation other than resorting to violence."

The leopard raised his arms and called out. “I yield!”

He turned back to the shocked tiger. “See? Situation resolved. Without us having to beat each others heads into the floor.”

Royce had another way of putting it. “No. You just wasted a lot of my time for no good reason.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” Said Armin, with a shrug. Without another word, he wandered away, accompanied by the disappointed cries of the crowds making up the audience.

The tiger turned away and headed out of the arena himself. He quickly forced aside his annoyance at the waste of his time by the leopard. He was now done for the night and could get some rest. He’d figure out what to do about the strange and irritating pair that seemed interested solely in bothering him. But that could wait until tomorrow.

Right now, he’d head for his private changing room, where he’d be able to rest a little and get cleaned up. Then he’d get changed and track down Boswell to find out what was up…

But as he left the pit, someone was waiting for him. It was Barnell Kincaid.

“That was a strange challenger.” Said the tall, heavily muscled bear. Barnell was dressed casually.

“Isn’t it your night off, Barnell?” Royce asked. “I’d have thought you’d have better things to do than hang around watching my fights.”

“Oh I just got here in time to see your last few challengers.” Barnell grinned. “Been out all evening, saw some action. But I was passing on my way home, so I thought I’d stop in and see how things were going tonight. Another night of victories, I assume?”

The tiger shrugged nonchantly. “I suppose so.”

Barnell shook his head, smiling. “I really need to talk to my father about getting a rematch between us scheduled.”

“In fact, I was going to go see Boswell once I get cleaned up.” Said Royce. “I’ll bring up the subject of a rematch while I’m there.”

“Okay.” Barnell grinned. “I can’t wait to beat you into the ground.”

“Right.” Royce laughed. “You keep on dreaming, Brute.”

“Oh, I will.” Said Barnell. “But I should probably head home now. See ya later, Royce.”

Royce waved farewell to his friend and trudged off through the back areas of the Stone Walls arena. It was almost deserted. Most fighters would have finished a while ago. Royce always attracted more challengers, so always ended up being out in the pit for longer.

With most fighters gone, so had most of the attendants that ran the private areas. There were only a few still about, organising and supervising the cleaning slaves. As soon as the last of the crowds had departed, the slaves would set about the arduous task of cleaning the place in preparation for tomorrow night’s round of fights. Royce didn’t envy them.

It was while stifling a yawn that he arrived at his changing room. He pulled out his key and unlocked the door.

Royce stepped inside, stretching his big body as he went. He stopped suddenly.

His changing room wasn’t how he’d left it. Furniture was overturned and his possessions lay flung around the place.

And there was a dead body lying in a pool of blood. Worse than that, it was the body of someone he recognised.

It was the tigress he’d slept with. Lily.

He stood staring at the body, not knowing what to do.

To Be Continued…


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Raging Tiger/Kuman the Barbarian/Mitchell and Michael/Going Under/Beware the Transformer/Servus Inc./Farewell to Free Will

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