Just One More

Image by Roland Nikrandt from Pixabay

Fresh blood turned the dust in my mouth to mud, I gripped at the ground but my ring finger would not bend, at least it was too numb to know why. My opponent – an eldritch tormentor – kicked me onto my back. I was exposed to the scorching sun that bore through the roaring hum of billions of fighting rings.

The beast loomed over me, the silhouette of a nightmarish shape beneath the light, and I shielded myself with my all but broken hand. Beams of light pierced through splayed fingers and lashed at tender skin.

This was it.

It heaved and lifted its ungodly fists.

The bell rung out across the brawling tapestry, a low hum through the throng, the round was over.

With a derisive snort the beast returned to its corner and I crawled back to mine. By trembling hands I hauled myself up and heaved over the side, gazing out across the people who survived their own bouts, and those who did not.

Some thrived, some were haggard, but many were as broken as me. But what set bile to my coarse throat, what set my heart burning with nigh spent fury, was the rings where some had finished their fights and enjoyed the spoil for their toil.

I had fought as hard as them, I had suffered as they had suffered, even more so than some.

Why?

How many rounds must I endure before I was free or slaughtered?

The foul adjudicators shuffled throughout the rings, dispensing decrees and the like. A creature looked over me and shrugged, moving on. The woman opposite was deemed finished, she collapsed in relief and my furious bile burned hotter.

Why?

How many more rounds must I endure?

The bell rung out across the arenas, the next round was beginning. I contemplated not moving, leaning against the ropes as the fighter across from me enjoyed her respite… Despite myself I felt some relief on her behalf… then my gaze drifted across those who fought alongside me in their own rings, and across those of the dead.

I knew the answers, as much as I hated them.

Why? Because I must.

I pushed off and stumbled into the centre of the ring against my eldritch tormentor. It snorted and readied to rush me.

I raised my fists…

How many more rounds must I endure?

Perhaps just one more.

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