The Monsters by Boris Sanders
Even from my prison, I could hear the crowd, their cheers sending shivers through my spine, for I knew that probably meant more blood had been spilled. I have been a prisoner for longer than most. Forced to fight monsters for entertainment, each fight could be my last.
“Prepare him, he’s next,” I heard the slave master tell the two guards in front of my cell.
The guards turned to face me, spears firm in hand. Those two were new, the replacements for the two I killed in my last escape attempt. As a result, I was now always kept in chains. One would think that being restrained was the worst part, but I found that the constant rattling against the stone floor whenever I moved the slightest was even worse. It drove me crazy so I just lied on the floor whenever I wasn’t at the arena.
“You heard the boss, so no funny business. The spectators would be disappointed if we had to kill you down here, where no one can see it,” said the guard on the right.
He was acting tough. That’s until I gave him a death stare. I can’t deny that I was delighted to see him take a step back. He surely knew how many I had killed. All the others that were captured with me have already perished, but here I was still standing. I’m not sure if it’s because of my strength, my wits or sheer luck, but I have won every fight since my arrival. That’s the only way of surviving around here.
Sometimes I thought of giving up, letting the monsters kill me and be done with it. But that would just make the crowd cheer more, that would only make them happier. Everything was taken from me when I was captured; my homeland, my family, my freedom. Survival was the only act of defiance I had left. That’s why I decided to fight until I couldn’t stand anymore, so when the monsters finally kill me, I will have slain as many of them as possible.
The guard on the left was unaffected. He opened the metal gates of my cell and got hold of the chains that bound me, "Come, you are going to the arena, either way might as well go easy. It will be better for all of us," his voice thick and calm.
I probably could fight regardless of the chains binding me. I bet I could kill one before the other could even react. But I choose not to. My instincts were telling me that I would need all my strength in the arena that day, so I cooperated.
I let them lead me by the chain, taking short steps, enduring the annoying rattling of the metal chain against the stone floor. As we passed by the cages where some of the monsters were kept,, a strong smell of piss invaded my nostrils. At least they keep me isolated from the others, I thought. I wouldn’t be able to keep my sanity if I had to be around this smell every day.
We walked for a while, my short steps probably making the way to the arena take two or three times longer than in normal pace, but I wasn’t in a hurry to fight for their entertainment. With each step taken, I could feel the cold stone against my bare feet. But eventually, we reached the gates to the arena.
Whoever had fought before, wasn’t there now. I felt the smell of blood before I could see the stains on the ground. I had grown used to the smell of fresh blood after so long, mine and others alike.
I could hear the crowd chattering with each other, the babbling sound was almost deafening. How can they be so noisy? I always thought whenever I was this close. But in less than a minute, there was silence, all of them becoming quiet at once. That's because their emperor started speaking.
“People of Rome, today you will see a match like no other. Our champion Carpophorus, who has defeated more beasts than any other, will be facing his biggest challenge yet!" The crowd cheered, to the dissatisfaction of my ears, but after a hand gesture from the emperor, they went silent again. "I would like to remind you that Carpophorus has fought and killed as many as twenty beasts in a single day. Among them, there were lions, bears, and leopards. And not to mention the time when he killed a full grown rhino with nothing but a single spear. But today he will be facing something far more dangerous than a rhino. He will be facing a Manticore!"
The crowd went wild again. I instantly knew it had been a good call to conserve my strength as I felt this was going to be my most difficult fight yet.
The Emperor resumed his speech: "The Manticore comes all the way from Persia and is the mightiest beast to ever set foot in this Amphitheatre. It has the face of a lion, the tail of a scorpion and it's bigger and heavier than a bear. Its venom is deadly, and it's rumored to have the strength of five men. It's the ultimate chimera, and the Persians consider it to be the smartest beast alive. And the only one that has a chance of fighting this beast one-on-one and living to tell the tale is Carpophorus!”
I couldn’t help but smile internally. Flattery of all things, Mister Emperor? I thought. I’m going to show you that a single monster, no matter how skilled, is not enough to take me down.
"Release the chains, but keep your distance. The show will start soon." said the slave master standing behind me. I felt the tension emanating from the guards as they cautiously set the chains loose, then hastily retreated behind a metal gate that we had passed through earlier. But my attention didn’t stay with them long.
“And now, on the right side of the arena, I present you: Carpophorus!”
The metal gate went up and the crowd went crazy, cheering as if there was no tomorrow. At least for me or this monster, there won't indeed be. And then, from the gate on the right side of the arena, a tall gladiator with shield and spear in hand entered the fighting grounds.
The crowd was cheering louder than I had ever heard. They were the true monsters, even more than the fighters, for they rejoiced in the suffering of others. I flexed my tail, feeling it free from the chains for the first time in days. I could feel the hot venom running through it until it reached the tail's tip, and a few golden drops spilled on the floor.
“Release the Manticore!” yelled the Emperor, and as he did, the gates in front of me opened slowly, and the crowd’s cheers filled the air once again.
I roared as loud as I could and it was enough to make them silent. All of them seemed to be faltering now, except the gladiator on the center of the arena. He was wide-eyed but seemed determined.
As I set foot on the arena, the only thought in my mind was: Time to kill some real monsters.