Lisa paused at the top of the stairs, looking around. The open roof was partially covered by large red curtains draped between sticks, which helped to shade the people sitting inside the arena. The audience was seated in rows that rose up from the arena floor, on long stone platforms that served also as steps down. She stayed back for a few moments, using all her senses to assess the people around her.
On her side, even though many were facing away from her, she recognized quite a few citizens of New Babbage, urchins and adults. Dr. Maddox was there; Jimmy and Myrtil were side-by-side and cheering Beryl on, with Lo nearby. There were plenty of others, many of whom she’d at least seen, if not met. On the other side, she could see a few familiar faces – Dr. Dinosaur, Cortman and his gang, the ghost Henri, even some who must be part of the Bear gang – as well as others she didn’t know. All, though, were focused intently on the middle of the building, where, in a square, roped-off area, Beryl was boxing with a wolf.
Lisa growled to herself and stalked forward in a hunting posture, eeling her way through the crowd, which seemed too caught up in the fight to notice her. She reached the edge of the fight floor, looking carefully at Beryl. One of his eyes was swollen shut, and there were dozens of bleeding scratches on his body. He was moving rather slowly, too, which worried her. Dimly, she heard a bell ring, but it seemed neither of the combatants paid it any heed. The wolf attacked again, but Beryl managed to pivot to the side, dodging away. He then managed to push forward and punched twice. The wolf seemed shaken by the blows, going to one knee, but scratched back.
“Get ‘im, Beryl!” The shout from one of the corners caught Lisa’s attention, and she looked aside to see Tepic and Captain Hienrichs standing there, just outside the fighting floor. She’d managed to get to Tepic’s boxing tent a couple of times, so she realized that they must be acting as coaches for Beryl. Tepic caught her gaze, and called, “Hello, Lisa!”
His shout distracted the wolf, who turned and stared at Lisa, growling. Beryl took immediate advantage, ducked inside the wolf’s reach, and delivered a hard uppercut. The wolf fell back to its corner, and simply… vanished.
Lisa nearly sat up in delight at this victory for Beryl, but her motion was arrested when she saw another wolf appear in that same corner – a bigger one, and one that looked completely fresh. Beryl, hearing the bell ring again, limped to his corner and fell back against his chair. Tepic splashed him with water.
“Yer got this!” he said encouragingly. “Only another round ter go!”
“You said that last time,” panted Beryl.
“Err…” Tepic seemed stumped for a few seconds. “Well, yer didn’t kill it right this time, I guess. Remember, yer need silver ter kill it. Or yer gotta face it head-on, and show it who’s boss. Tell it ‘bad dog,’ and yer in charge.”
Beryl shook his head. “It’s wearing me down, Tepic.”
“Well… maybe if I steal the bell?” Tepic looked up at Captain Hienrichs. “I mean, move it strategically.”
The captain shook her head. “That would be cheating.”
“Wolves as gets up all the time is cheatin’,” Tepic muttered. He patted Beryl on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. Yer a hero. Yer gonna get through this.”
“Just keep… fighting. Right?”
“Or do somethin’ daft and heroic-like!”
Lisa’s whiskers arched forward in amusement. Time for *her* to do something daft and heroic, and she was quite looking forward to it.
“Can’t I do something smart and cowardly,” asked Beryl, only half-joking, “run out the door, and fight… anywhere else?”
“Err… no.” Tepic shook his head. “‘Cause yer a hero, and heroes don’t run.”
“Right.” The bell sounded, and Beryl got to his feet.
((To be continued…))