he crowd reeled. Shouts in the back of the audience grew louder, mixed with the clamor of the fight and the voices of wager-makers. Pharan shifted deeper into the shadow of the brick and mortar pillar that rose by the side of the pit to arch into the vault above. Spectators pressed forward. Three dozen voices rose.
The Ithecal was down again.
His opponent, a human, pranced before him; parading with lifted arms for the hollering masses. Half a head talker than Pharan, the man looked like a child next to the Ithecal’s towering form. He moved with the rolling, self-assured gait of the seasoned fighter. Scars marred his skin. Sweat and blood covered his body. His smile was victorious. In the past four rounds, he had all but domineered the fight—and he knew it.
The dance had started slow, testing. The human had circled the other man, lunged forward and retreated. He had landed, one, two hard blows before pivoting out of the Wyvarnth’s reach again and again. He ducked. Waved. Feigned.
And he made a show of it.
There had been at least one instance when the smaller man could have followed up his attack with another strike, unprosecuted. But didn’t. You are drawing it out, for the crowd, aren’t you?
, Pharan thought, watching. But it cost you.
Although he had led the fight even in the rounds he had lost, the human was wheezing. His breath was a cloud before his face and he stepped carefully on the leg the Ithecal had landed a stray hit against earlier. Behind him, his dragon-faced opponent rose to his feet. He, too, looked exhausted. Exhausted, but not like he was willing to give up just now.
Pharan looked to the side where chalk marked the odds of the fight on a board of black. White smeared the dark surface where the numbers had been corrected more than once. The Avriel considered the odds, ran the numbers. Checked the results, again.
To his side, a squat man grunted as the fighters drew back into their corners; the sound bored, irritated, more than angry. Few had expected the Ithecal to win—they had expected him to look better losing. Pharan looked over the gathered men and women one last time, then eased towards a figure sitting beneath the slate with a hide-bound notebook in his lap.
The pock-faced man waved off as Pharan drew near. “Too late. Next match.”
“Three silver. On the Ithecal,” Pharan said undeterred.
The bookmaker starred at him, then past him. Someone near the arena lifted a shoulder. Pharan saw the movement from the corner of his eyes. The man with the notebook starred at him again. Greed worked his face.
“Up front”, Pharan agreed.
He was still counting out the coins as the sound of the fight once more rose behind him.