Due North [Episode 2]: Same Night, New Fight
Water horses, sentient houses, disappearing cats, grave whisperers, semi-dead grave robbers, minotaurs, bearotaurs, satyrs, dryads, sirens, and more!
Tony Hall walked into Due North’s one and only gym, strutting up to the ring in the centre, basking in the crowd’s cheers and laughter. He’d fought in this ring for nearing five years now, five nights a week – same as any other job.
In those years, he’d faced all sorts of opponents: small, impossibly fast fighters; large, bulky fighters who moved slowly but packed a punch and a half; bears; bearotaurs, terrifying bear-minotaur hybrids; bearees, which are towering creatures that can split into several smaller bears and still not be against the rules since they aren't technically more than one entity...okay, mostly bears. He had about evens odds on winning, which weren’t exactly thrilling, but, for reasons beyond even his own understanding, he drew larger crowds than anyone in the history of the ring.
He ducked under the ropes, his confidence ebbing and flowing through him, absolutely loving the cheers of the only town in the south of England with “North” in its name. Then his opponent entered the ring, and it went up in a puff of smoke, leaving a sputtering river in its place.
Tony looked into a face held somewhere just under two feet higher than his own, a snarl rippling across it. One eye was covered with a scar, leaving it permanently shut and the other stayed steadily transfixed on Tony, as if it were looking right through him, instantly identifying his every weakness. Apparently having chosen to fight bare-chested, three tally marks could be seen tattooed on the left of the minotaur’s chest and Tony really did not want to find out what they were for. While most fighters used their species’ characteristics to their advantage, the minotaur had wrapped a cloth over his horns and some of his head.
The act of kindness did nothing to ease his worries, and only one word blazed through Tony’s mind.
Mr Tunt’s disapproval began to take over that singular thought, clouding Tony’s assessment of his opponent. I don't want you to wind up in a hospital. Or worse, in the ground! Tony had joked about wanting to be cremated, assuring him he had nothing to worry about (three broken noses, a fractured arm, and a sprained leg later, there wasn't exactly nothing to worry about, so much as only recoverable injuries). He protested but eventually gave in, realising there was no way to talk Tony out of it.
It was initially just about the money. Tony had wound up in Due North quite by accident. His parents had been killed in a botched, still-unsolved burglary, leaving his eighteen-year-old self with little money, a flat he could no longer afford to stay in, and no relatives to turn to.
Eventually, he found his way to Due North and to Mr Tunt's brownstone, sanctimoniously named Tunt Towers even though there just the one, average-sized building. He gave him room and board in exchange for handyman services, which, as it turned out, Tony had a particular knack for.
There was only so much the old man could do though, and Tony didn't want to burden him for longer than he had to. He picked up other jobs around town and eventually caught wind of Frankie's ring.
It was initially just about the money. But each blow, delivered and received, helped to numb some of his constant pain. He had gotten quite good at keeping it hidden, but it never lurked further than just below the surface. Each punch helped push it lower, pushing the rainy day upon the dawning of which the cloud would burst further into the future.
So, Tony stayed on. He stayed on in spite of promotions at his day job, and eventually he stayed on instead of them. He couldn't be called a professional fighter - none of them could be, on account of the ring not being entirely, well, legal - but as far as he was concerned, he was.
Tony shook his head clear and tried to regain some of the confidence he entered the ring with, pushing aside all other thoughts with a deep breath. He tried reasoning that larger opponents may be stronger, but they’d be slower too, but knew from experience that was more of a human rule than a universal one. Before he could come up with a more actionable plan, Frankie, the ring organiser and referee, blew his extremely shrill whistle (which Tony had begged him to replace multiple times) and the fight began.
The minotaur, contrary to what Tony had come to expect, had no characteristic bellow or over the top pre-fight intimidation sequence. Instead, he nodded his head as a sign of respect, and Tony couldn’t help but return the action.
The pair circled each other, beginning the fight as usual. The minotaur stared at Tony unblinkingly, drawing his attention to eyes Tony had only ever seen on a snake. His irises were soaked yellow, shining in the ring’s similarly coloured lighting, and his pupils were thin black slits. His chest heaved mechanically up and down, each breath a deliberate action, each deliberate action mimicked by his pupils.
Then, the calm before the storm ended and Tony realised why his opponent had his horns wrapped – he didn’t need them in the slightest. The minotaur unleashed a flurry of fists, throwing Tony this way and that, his body never hitting the ground before another punch threw him awry. With a huff, he shoved Tony in the chest, pushing him into the ropes on the other end of the ring, where he took hold and managed to get some much-needed relief. The minotaur stood in place, not a single bead of sweat on his brow, nor a strand of hair out of place. The tussle had apparently taken nothing out of him at all.
Frankie offered Tony a bottle of water from the side lines which he took gratefully, and had to stop himself from downing whole for fear of cramps. The next few minutes went a little better than the beginning of the fight, with Tony getting in a few punches of his own. “Few” being the keyword.
Just as Tony thought the fight was called, the minotaur faltered. It was an almost imperceptible mishap, a block thrown up a second too late, but Tony saw it. He seized his chance, loosened his arm, tightened his fist, and swung at his foe’s chest, knocking him back with surprising strength.
Speed on his side, Tony didn’t let his small window go to waste. He lunged forward, rapidly jabbing three more punches into the minotaur’s chest, then (cautiously) swinging at the side of his face for good measure.
He pivoted and grabbed his head in a headlock, waiting for him to tap out. Even with the apparent advantage, Tony braced himself for a painful upcoming manoeuvre, something that would knock his temporary advantage out of the park and have him pinned down instead, but the minotaur conceded, and Frankie blew the whistle, calling the fight. Tony exhaled and lay flat on his back. He was still heaving when Frankie pulled him up to announce him to the crowds and was grinning absurdly wildly as their cheers grew louder. The minotaur shook his hand and left before him, not a hint of malice or disgrace in his poise.
Frankie handed Tony a significantly larger wad of notes than he was used to, which he took with a cheer of his own. He waved his winnings at the crowd, then ducked out of the ring. Leave when you’re on top, right?
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