By: Timothy Law
'Who are you?' wondered Bull.
Another punch to the gut brought Bull's thoughts and focus back to the matter at hand.
"Why don't you just stay down!" he yelled as he laid three solid blows to the Minotaur's head.
The first blow the cow shook off, the second caused its eyes to glass over and, after the third blow to the temple a dribble of blood ran out from between clenched teeth. The beast fell hard, and fast, dropping to the sand where it stayed, out cold.
Bull turned his attention to the remaining combatants. The last time he had been captured to compete for Tyrannus' pleasure he had finished third, savagely mauled by a grizzly bear that had been dumped in the pit to make things interesting. Third place had earned him a week in the cage, but at least he had survived; lived out another year, only to be caught again. This year Bull was determined to come first, to be the sole survivor. To finally discover what great prize awaited the winner.
"More! Kill!" called the booming voice of the Orc King, his chant immediately taken up by the fevered crowd.
The thumping jungle drums increased in pace, the skilled drummers thundering an intense rhythm. Bull threw punches and kicks as he waded his way into a pocket where five fought tooth and nail. With a crushing blow Bull snuffed the lights out from a squat man who attacked with wolverine abandonment. Bull claimed the claw-glove that the man wore but then discarded it as his hand was far too big for the glove to fit.
"Die, giant," whispered a voice in Bull's ear as a figure jumped on his broad back from behind and threw rope-like hands about his neck.
Desperate, Bull swung his elbows back again and again until the choking grip loosened. Then he threw his head forward and down and the worm that clung to his back flew over him.
"You die, snake," growled Bull as he slammed a foot down upon the man's face, all of his weight behind the blow.
There was a satisfying crunch as the victim's nose exploded in a spurt of crimson and then the choker lay still.
The three others involved in the battle took one look at Bull and then ran.
"Cowards," Bull called after them.
"Kill them! Hunt them down!" hollered the voice of the Orc King, heard clearly over the roar of the crowd and the thumping rhythm of the drums.
A small spear was thrown down from the chanting crowd, the weapon landing at Bull's feet. Without a thought he picked it up and tested the weapon's weight. It was not the great metal spike that he usually carried, the one his enemies knew as Bull's horn. It would do though when the only other weapons in the pit were fists, feet, knees, and teeth. That changed quickly though as an array of daggers, knives, short blades, and tomahawks suddenly littered the sand. The remaining combatants scrambled to pick up something, anything that could give them an advantage over the others. A pair of lizard men, marked with the same coloring came at Bull from behind. One had two axes while the other wielded a double-edged short sword.
"Think thisssss a sssilly game?" slithered one.
"Then thisssss issssss the sssssstage where you looossssse…" hissed the other.
Bull let his actions do the talking as he ducked easily under the clumsy axe blow that he predicted with ease. With his offhand, he caught the wrist of the second reptilian and pushed the sharp blade wide. Using his body, he sunk the spear point into the first lizardman's soft belly flesh and pushed and pushed until the creature groaned. With a shudder it died where it stood, shock plastered across its face. This all happened so quickly that it was over before either of Bull's foes could react.
"Ssssssythysssssiiissssss…" cried the remaining lizardman. "Thiisssss shall be our revenge…"
The short sword cut shallow markings along Bull's upper arms as he knocked each sweep of the blade aside. His dragon and phoenix tattoos looked like they were dying but the wounds were superficial, and Bull was able to battle on. The lizardman frantically stabbed until Bull was close enough to jab him in the maw. One punch was followed by another and then a swift kick and then the lizardman went down, dropping his bloodied blade. Bull picked up the weapon and without a thought stabbed his opponent in the head. As he withdrew the sword point he felt meaty arms wrap around his chest.
"Surprise!" rumbled a figure that was at least a head taller than Bull. "Me crush you, Bull-man."
Bull wriggled free and slipped out from the crushing grasp.
"Hey, you not Bull, you worm, slippery like eel," grumbled the giant.
Without a word Bull stabbed with the bloodied blade and then sliced the stunned figure across the throat.
"Bulls can be slippery too," he stated but the giant was not listening.
A plume of dust erupted from the pit as the figure fell, gasping and grasping its neck, blood quickly coating fat fingers, seeping past broad knuckles.
Bull gave the brut a kick before scanning the pit for any remaining foes. There were two or three on the other side of the square. Bull took a moment to catch his breath, looking up towards the stone throne, expecting Tyrannus to stop the fight. Instead, Bull watched as the figure in shadowy robes pointed directly at him and whispered something in the Orc King's ear. Tyrannus nodded eagerly and cried out in drunken glee, "Release the lion!"
The lion was the biggest that Bull had ever seen. It seemed ridiculous and pointless then as Tyrannus or one of his foolish followers had tried to make the beast seem even more frightening by attaching large spikes around its hindquarters, to give the false impression that the beast was monstrous, a manticore, or some other creature of legend. Bull could see the size of the thing and the power, the aggravation and frustration built up within the proud lion's mind. It did not need a costume; it was dangerous enough as it naturally was.
"Easy there," Bull murmured as the shaggy mane swung his way.
Holding up his hands and tensing his muscles, Bull prepared for the mighty lion to leap. Instead, it turned away, almost to say that Bull was not worth it, instead there were bodies littering the dusty square, far easier a feed. The lion casually meandered over to one of the fallen lizardfolk and casually tore off a limb.
The crowd responded with cries of disappointment, aimed at first towards the lion and then at Tyrannus. The Orc King reacted, shouting back orders. Three from the crowd jumped into the pit and approached the lion while Bull and the other two remaining competitors watched on. One from the crowd had a whip, the long leather strap flicked out and caught the great jungle beast across the maw while it fed. The lion rumbled a warning and continued to eat. The foolish orc cracked the whip again, this time drawing blood from one of the poor lion's ears. The shaggy mane left the meal and the lion's eyes focused on the orc that attacked it. In a blur of movement, the beast had the orc knocked down. The whip lay discarded as the lion tore off the orc's pig-like face. This brought cheers from the crowd; they wanted blood, not caring how it got spilled. The other two orcs saw what the lion could do. They looked at each other, dropped their weapons and ran back towards the safety of the crowd, calling on their kin to help them back into the obscurity of the throng. In typical orc style those so called friends pushed the foolish volunteers off the steep walls and tried to beacon the lion over. One of the other remaining competitors, a shaved dwarf that dragged along behind it an oversized sword gave a salute to Tyrranus and then approached the lion from behind.
Bull reacted moments later, running as fast as he could towards the lion. Too late though, the dwarf got there first and with great effort swung the giant blade awkwardly towards the majestic beast. It bit deeply into the creature's left flank causing the lion to roar ferociously. The jungle king savaged the little warrior, swatting the dwarf with a meaty paw and then leaping upon the fallen warrior to rake its front paws from helmeted head to bare torso. In wild fury the lion turned on the two orcs and knocked them down before slowly stalking Bull. The crowd was whipped up to a frenzy; Tyrannus shouting the loudest, demanding another kill. Bull stood his ground and awaited his fate, the lion slowly drawing down upon him. The giant sword slowed the beast as it still remained wedged between a pair of ribs. Bull could see the beast was tiring but still it was determined to somehow survive, escape, and wander off somewhere it lick its wounds. Bull felt the same way.
"I wish I could get you out of here," said the barbarian, saddened by the sight of the proud jungle king brought low. "I vow one day to avenge you."
The lion chose that moment to attack, a slow and clumsy pounce that Bull saw coming. It still took all of his strength and then some to catch the lion's open jaws and to keep them from closing on his throat. With an incredible heave Bull managed to break that mighty jaw, both lion and he falling in a heap. The crowd erupted, causing Bull to look up, hoping it was all over. Looking up from where he lay, Bull discovered a warrior dressed in blood splattered chainmail standing with one foot upon the dead lion, two of the spears from the lion's rump now jutted from the great beast's ribs.
"No more kill!" announced the voice of the Orc King. "Me declare warrior Jus-Deon the winner!"
Bull stood up, gingerly finding his feet.
"Well done," he said, thrusting out a bloodied arm.
"Quite the survivor," laughed Jus-Deon. "I could have sworn that the lion killed you."
"A sad waste," muttered Bull. "It was either I killed it, or it killed me."
"I think you will find it is common belief that my final blows stole the beast's life," said Jus-Deon, continuing to laugh.
"The orcs will believe whatever it is that there king suggests," replied Bull with a forced smile. "You and I both know better though."
"Enjoy your prize, friend, as I will enjoy mine," suggested Jus-Deon as serving girls flocked around him, leading him away, their giggles drowning out any further possibility of talk.
"We will meet again," vowed Bull. "I hope not as enemies."
Second place was better than third, Bull discovered. He was seated amongst the orc soldiers at the further end of the table in the Feasting Tent. Jus-Deon was at the head of the long table in a seat to the left of the bulk of the Orc King. Scantily clad serving girls vowed for Jus-Deon's attention as the greater share of the lion's carcass was dumped in front of him. Bull smiled to himself as he picked at the bones of a mountain bird. Lion was not his favorite food, from the look on Jus-Deon's face it did not sit well with the so called winner either.
"That could been you," rumbled one of the orcs that Bull was wedged in between. "Women, red meat, wine, not piss to drink…"
"Happier here," assured Bull, taking up his cup of dark ale and slamming it into the orc's cup.
"Are you certain of that?" asked a voice, murmuring in Bull's ear.
Bull saw the look in the orc's eyes change from merriment to fear.
"I was hoping that I could perhaps coax you away from this chaos," the voice continued, and Bull felt a feminine hand slide along his back and up to his shoulder, giving it a suggestive squeeze.
"I would be happy to follow you anywhere," lied Bull, turning in his seat to give the hooded figure a beaming smile.
"Come then, leave your plate and cup, follow me," beckoned the waif of a woman.
Up close Bull noticed that she was pretty, probably the most beautiful face he had ever seen. She was very thin, but still somewhat alluring. Not usually Bull's type, but her confidence intrigued him.
"Excuse me, comrades," grinned Bull continuing to act interested. "I believe it is already time for something sweet."
"You funeral," rumbled the orc beside Bull, the other warriors purposefully ignoring the robed figure.
In the darkness of the robed woman's tent, Bull lay back upon a canvas cot. Silk cushions gave some comfort but otherwise the tent was bare.
"You are the true victor," the robed woman suggested. "I am Pe, Priestess of Wth-rew-Ichta…"
The name of the god was unfamiliar to Bull, but there were so many gods, past and present. Many of them he had stolen from or somehow annoyed. For the moment Pe and her god seemed to want to reward Bull. As the grey robe dropped to the floor of the tent the barbarian noticed that Pe was showing.
"You are with child?" he asked, curious. "What do you need me for?"
"I am blessed with the seed of Tyrannus and the egg of Wth-rew-Ichta," announced Pe.
As the name of the god was spoken, Bull noticed the creature growing inside the woman pulsed with a strange blue light. Humanoid, but certainly unlike anything that Bull had ever seen before, the child had the head of a bird with an elongated beak and leathery wings that wrapped around its torso like armor.
"The loyal servants need the seed of strong warriors to help build a great army," continued Pe.
Another figure stepped into the tent, a young woman, curvaceous and naked.
"Another egg awaits to become awakened," purred Pe. "Wth-rew-Ichta has seen your strength, your cunning in battle, it is your seed, champion, you have been chosen by Him."
Bull struggled to rise from the cot as the girl stepped towards him.
"This will take but a moment and then you can return to the feast," Pe stated, urging the serving girl to join Bull.
"Thank you, but no," Bull stammered, pushing the advancing girl away.
"No?" growled Pe, her eyes flashing blue. "You refuse the summoning, the gift of The Great One?"
"Yes?" said Bull, uncertain. "I guess?"
"None may refuse the gift of Wth-rew-Ichta Atoo-ak-Hganthar!" stated the priestess. "Give your seed or die."
"Perhaps later," suggested Bull as he left the cot in an eruption of cushions.
"Guards!" commanded Pe.
Immediately, four orc warriors entered the tent through the front flap. Each of them wielded a sharp spear which they trained on Bull.
Without a word Bull ducked under one of the sides of the tent causing support ropes to snap and that side of the tent to sag.
"Find him, your fools," commanded Pe as Bull ran off into the darkness. "Find that warrior or lose your heads.
Bull considered heading back to the feast to warn Jus-Deon, but every path seemed to be swarming with orcs. Instead, he headed away from the fires and the pit, the place of feasting and the foolish Orc King. A great steed, midnight black, was tethered on the outskirts of the orc camp. With fumbling fingers Bull managed to get the rope undone, leaping bareback upon the mount.
"Go, go, go!" he shouted, kicking the beast in the flanks.
The horse reared up with a shocked cry before breaking straight into a wild gallop that took Bull quickly away from the orcs who had been attracted to the noise.
"Where to go, where to go," muttered Bull as he clung on for dear life.
Sneaking a look back he noticed Pe stood flanked by at least a dozen of the serving girls, all with glowing blue eyes, all resting a loving hand gently upon their torsos and the creatures growing within. Twenty orc warriors crowded protectively around the priestess and her followers; they need not have feared Bull though. All that he wanted to do at that moment was get away.
A day later Bull gave the midnight steed a gentle pat. He left the beast to feed upon a clump of lush grass beside a fast running stream. Looking down from the mountain ridge, the barbarian could see grasslands play out before him. Bull estimated it would take him a week to get back home. There he planned to tell to all who would listen, everything that he had learned.