The crowd got louder as those sitting closest to the entrance saw her pinchers. By the time we reached the center of the arena, most everyone was standing and chanting.
“Begin the fight. Begin the fight. Begin the fight.”
Once the chant died down some, the crowd began to stamp their feet in unison. Its echo reverberated off the walls. People blocked out the sun as best they could as many did not have adequate shade. It had made a few men end their fights quickly and their wives fearful their husbands might return home without beating hearts if the judges felt they were rushing the fights. Some men had forfeited their fights and were willing to suffer the consequences. You could only do this once without the possibility of being punished to death. The ones not able to bribe their way to the lesser charge found themselves dragged out along with their wives who were foolish enough to attend.
“Kill, kill, kill him! Kill, kill, kill her! Kill, kill, kill the beast!”
I was one of three men left, stoic as I sat on my colossal scorpion, waiting for her to settle down. Whoever found himself on the opposite side of ‘the battling man’ would go down in history as a hero for simply fighting him. It was predicted he would kill the both of us, but if ‘the battling man’ was only able to kill one of us, the dead man’s quest for glory would transfer to the lesser man. My legacy was guaranteed if I presented ‘the battling man’ with challenges suitable enough to sustain the crowd and astonish the judges.
While men hid behind their wooden shields to gauge their opponent, ‘the battling man’ threw spears with countless accuracy, plunged daggers deep into any opponent’s torso, and took his time killing with his sword when you begged for mercy. Any great fighter knows you can’t fight when you’re scared. I listened to every sound a sword made as it hit mine. It taught me what a poorly made weapon sounded like and taught me where best to strike on a well-crafted one. I learned to act according to the weaknesses of my opponent’s physicality. If he took a pause to regroup, it became my opportunity to attack. While my animal of choice was not covered in fur or feathers, I made sure to get acquainted with them in case I was forced to ride one. I watched their defenses and offenses when they were fighting. I watched what happened when they did not respect their owner. Not every weapon was made equal and not every animal struck as asked.
It’s the main reason my lifeless body wasn’t being dragged with ropes tied to my ankles once the fight was over. It was me relishing in victory, sweat dripping off my chin, and my wife crying tears of joy instead of loss when I returned home. It was my opponent’s body being laid on the stone slab with his face covered with cloth. It was his wife on her knees, insisting he was only sleeping when she claimed him days later.
There were no rules when the fights began. Older men challenged young boys barely with hair on their chests. Crossbred reptiles clawed at giant insects with powerful stings. Snakes 50 feet long with six men strapped to its back fought other snakes just as long and as wide as the thickest tree. Tigers with heads the size of three regular sized tigers put together eviscerated packs of hyenas.
Having more animals in the arena made for better entertainment, but it was a risky move. It made for sloppy fighting. The battles became more serious as more rules were enacted. Age limits were set in place and similar creatures fought together of defense, strength, and size. Tigers fought lions, bears fought against each other, cassowaries with massive wingspans fought emus of similar aggression. There was more at stake each time someone won and lost now.
The crowd was still stamping their feet by the time I got her into position. I wasn’t one to give names to those who fought underneath me, but this female was a special kind of scorpion. At a body 20 feet long, she had with venom strong enough to kill any sized animal if she dug her stinger into its meaty flesh and send a man flying through the air with one swipe from her segmented tail that I called the ‘swiper.’ The common reaction of her size was half fear and admiration. First time crowd members relaxed only when they saw my extraordinary control of Zia.
Her black carapace, smooth on my hand, let me know when she was ready. We watched as our opponents made their way into the arena, the man and his female black widow spider, although she looked smaller from afar. Her body seemed half the size of Zia and her long, shiny thin legs could easily be cut if I could get close to them without putting us in danger. I was confident victory was mine even though this man towered over me by a couple feet when they were close.
I could tell he had bought her from a breeder whereas I raised Zia when she was small enough to hold in my hands. Despite the spider’s smaller size, she moved quicker than I had realized. My opponent was confident in his skills, as he sat straighter, but so was I. We both were seasoned fighters looking for one thing only: to kill each other as quickly as possible.
Without flinching when the horn sounded, Zia raised her tail over my head and extended it down on its target. The spider moved out harm’s way, Zia’s stinger never coming close. I sensed her anger and let her chase after her prey for a bit. The spider would eventually succumb to its fate and so would the man, but let me discuss more how we got to that point as the crowd grew silent.