The beast reared its head and bristled at the lights and queer shadows beyond the thick iron gates. He curled its lips in distaste, moving closer into the shadows of his small enclosure as the screams and clamour intensified outside.
“Relax, have fun and just be yourself,” said Redhand, as he feebly rubbed the rippling creases in Cholo’s muscled back, “Be like the breeze, Cholo, like the breeze, or water, whichever one kills a gorilla, K?”
The mage was distracting. Cholo’s mind wandered to the white powder, maybe just a taste? Last time the taste turned to blood and bile in his mouth, had it not been for Lug, he’d probably be dead – just focus.
Beside him, men in robes tittered back and forth like mice, scribbling madly in their papyrus boards and calling to one another. Lug stood before him, looking through the gates at the crowd, a look of maddened anxiety or excitement smeared on his face, Cholo couldn’t tell.
A booming voice echoed in the ring outside and the crowd went mad. Through the bars, Cholo could see a small man, accompanied by two giant half-orcs sidling into the pit – a long staff at his side. He tapped the ground and a light bound from his staff to his feet and he began to float and ascend upwards.
Luggy twirled around, “Ok, game time,” said Lug, clasping both hands on Cholo’s wide shoulders. His fingers fiddling and he started muttering some incantation. The pupils in his eyes shot to the back of his head and his hair seemed to swim like seaweed around his face, Cholo felt stronger – if that was possible.
When Lug was done, he stood back. The next few moments he seemed lost for words, then, “I’ll be watching,” he winked.
The gates began to creek and grumble, hundreds of years of winding up and down, keeping monsters locked within the massive pit. A pit made for the enjoyment of the savage crowd above. On his side of the ring, Cholo looked in. The stench of blood and sweat swirled around him like gentle hands, beckoning him to enter.
Cholo stepped out and was met half way by the little man who had addressed the audience in a deep queer voice just a moment ago. He was a gnome, and now he spoke in a squeak.
“Good luck young man; may the Lord of Chance smile upon the odds today.” Again, Cholo felt strength and focus course through him.
The gates slammed shut, Cholo stood in a massive pit, walls around him high as a dam. He suddenly felt a gauge of nausea wash over him. His vision danced in shapes and blurs and a chill worked its way up his spine, then dropping like an anvil into the pit of his stomach.
The fighting ring was huge, 80 feet in diameter with 6 pillars standing like sentinel trees. In the middle the tallest column stood 60 feet into the air. Cholo could make out boxes placed on the top of each of these pillars.
A bell rung in the distance and the ground shook, Cholo only had time to see a flash of jet black fur dash past the 20 foot column at the other end. Adrenaline took him and he darted behind the first column, a thick 30 foot pole in the ground and began to climb.
Every step Cholo went up seemed to drain him, he felt sick, but it wasn’t of fear, something was wrong – Cholo had fought fiercer beasts before, but he had never felt this sickness.
Finally he reached the top where a box sat complacent. He ripped the lid off to reveal a small vial. Below, the Gorilla had reached the gate where Cholo had entered and began a wild rampage on the iron bars. Cholo saw an opening. Draining the vial he climbed back down the pillar, preparing to charge.
The Gorilla seemed to pay him no mind, Cholo aimed at the small of his back. Take out his spine he thought, slow him down. The charge was strong and fast, almost surgical, Cholo landed a bone shattering crunch from behind that would have killed a better man that even himself.
But Cholo was not fighting a man. The Gorilla turned on him. Up close, the Gorilla looked even larger. Froth exploded from its giant mouth, revealing sharp yellow teeth. Cholo realised his mistake too late, a sand-bag sized fist railed into Cholo’s stomach, sending him stumbling back, then another.
Cholo stepped back, looking for cover behind the pillar. The Gorilla pursued hungrily. Brunt force wasn’t going to work, he had to adjust and the sickness dulled his movements. He moved like an ant stuck in a thick porridge.
Circling around, Cholo made a scramble for another pillar, this time a 40 foot one, trying to make distance. For the time being, the Gorilla looked lost, searching for Cholo, trying to pick up the scent of blood and weakness that trailed heavily on him.
Cholo climbed, slow and desperate, the Gorilla caught sight and rumbled towards him. At the top, Cholo found another box. Ripping it open, he finally saw something useful.
A beautifully crafted broad sword stood hilt up in the box. Cholo didn’t have time to admire it as the Gorilla charged into the pillar, sending quaking shudders up to where he stood. He pulled the sword out and dropped it beside him, picking up the large wooden crate instead. The Gorilla was half way up now and Cholo aimed and waited.
As the Gorilla reached the final hand holds, Cholo hurled the wooden box down on its head. It did nothing. He bent to grab the sword, catching sight of how high he was. If he suffered another hit like he did at the bottom, he’d be flung to his death. Behind him, massive, callused hands pulled a great hairy beast onto the ledge.
Cholo sheathed the sword in his belt and began to climb down, but he was too slow and the Gorilla sank an anchored fist down on Cholo’s head. Cholo gripped the pillar for dear life as stars exploded from his vision. He edged a few feet down just away from the Gorilla’s reach.
The animal howled in frustration and stood on its legs, pounding its chest.
Cholo finally reached the bottom, his legs were jelly and he could hardly think anymore.
The tallest pillar towered over him. If 30 feet made him stronger, and 40 feet granted him a sword, at 60 feet, he was determined to find something that would really help. He bounded for the 60 foot column and began to climb once more.
He was almost half way up, slipping and sliding as his finger coordination began to dull like his senses, when he felt the column shake violently. He glanced down and saw the Gorilla’s fierce, violent eyes lock with his and the animal began to ascend, swinging effortlessly from hand-hold to hand-hold.
As abruptly as the sickness had taken over him, Cholo suddenly felt an intense energy beat through his blood stream. His eyes narrowed in focus and his body seemed to finally react to what he wanted. Muscle memory returned and Cholo began ascending faster.
Cholo’s hand touched the flat edge at the top, just as the Gorilla’s humongous palm slapped down on the opposite side. Both clambering to reach the top first. Finally they both stood face to face in the middle of the enormous fight ring atop the tallest pillar, surrounded by blood curdling shrieks for blood and murder. And the wooden box stood in between them.
The Gorilla flashed forward as Cholo ripped the sword from his belt. A giant black fist pummelled against Cholo’s shoulder, but Cholo reacted too quickly and the blow glanced off him, with a spin, the Half-Orc turned into the Gorilla’s centre, the sword swung upwards, gliding through flesh and hide, sending sparks of crimson into the air. The Gorilla flew backwards, never stumbling, simply falling, 60, 50, 40 feet, it’s eyes rolling in mad frenzy as the sword gash burst forth a spray of blood.
With an unceremonious thud, the Gorilla dropped 60 feet to the ground. He twitched twice, then died.
Cholo could only hear a faint buzzing noise as his head pounded viciously. His chest screeched in agony with every breath he took. Sheathing the sword, the barbarian opened the crate in front of him, revealing another vial. Taking the vial, in his mouth, he began to drink – a drink to the beast, a drink to an adversary.
He lurched forward, eyes wide in shock and confusion. The empty vial dropped to the ground and shattered. Cholo could feel his body heat up and burn, his insides vibrating wildly as he staggered toward the edge to climb down. But the climb seemed almost instantaneous as his feet touched the solid ground within mere seconds, the pillar that had been thick as an Iron Sentinel tree was now a mere pole that Cholo could easily wrap his arms around.
He looked around in surprise and realised that the ring had tightened too, the Gorilla lay by his feet, a rag doll in comparison. Cholo had grown to 20 feet tall.
It was too much, frenzy took his mind and the barbarian began to bezerk as an unquenchable anger filled his heart. He ripped the gorilla in half and threw the bloody rag into the audience.
“GIVE ME A REAL CHALLENGE” he screamed as his world began to darken and sleep muffled his mind.