By the time Crandall and Mike stepped into The Pit, Ash and Dragon were already sparring. Crandall rested his forearms on the ledge surrounding the sunken padded ring watching the two men fight, while Mike donned a pair of sparring gloves. When Mike pushed a pair toward Crandall, Crandall scowled at him and then returned his focus to Dragon and Ash.
Ash moved quickly, darting in to jab or kick, and then spinning away. He was flash and fire. No, that wasn’t right because fire burned out of control. Like a gust of wind, stronger than he looked, and sneaking through cracks in Dragon’s defenses. Crandall winced for Dragon as Ash feinted one direction and then swung a low kick sweeping Dragon’s legs out from beneath him, dropping him on his back.
“Put them on,” Mike said. “Or no practicing.”
“Fuck you,” Crandall said without taking his attention off the two below.
While Dragon moved slowly to regain his footing, Ash darted in. Crandall saw the opening he left by following Dragon’s eyes. He’d set Ash up and, in a flash of solid muscle, Dragon caught the man who was too eager to score another hit, and flung Ash over his head, using the momentum to roll himself up to a crouched position, ready for a counterattack before Ash hit the far wall with an oomph.
“I’m serious, man,” Mike said. He leaned on the ledge beside Crandall, keeping his voice low. “We get beat up enough in the field. We don’t need to bruise each other too.”
“Uh-huh, and Ash isn’t going to be sore after that move.”
Mike’s exasperated sigh barely registered over the sound of Ash’s quick flurry of blows, each one caught by Dragon’s expert blocks. As Ash backed up to catch his breath and reassess their battle, Dragon lunged forward with steady swings and kicks until Ash’s eyes widened and he ducked and rolled to one side to avoid being backed up against the wall.
“He’s learning,” Mike said.
“I thought he was all that.” Mike snorted and Crandall continued. “He sure acted like it last time I came down here.”
“He’s better than you are.”
“Are you denying it?”
“No.” Crandall stood up straight and rolled his shoulders and head. A soft crink popped from his neck before he relaxed and pulled on his sparring gloves, padded around the knuckles, but leaving the fingers free to move, grab, or whatever he needed to do, if only he knew what to do.
“Look, Crank, he’s going to keep putting you in your place until you learn not to let you attitude get in the way. You can’t beat a vampire by mouthing off either. Don’t let him piss you off and you’ll do a lot better. You might even learn something.”
Crandall stepped around Mike, but paused with his hand on the latch to the pit’s door. “I already have. Ash prefers quick lightning strikes, but Dragon puts defense over offense. He looks slow, but he knows what’s what better than Mr. Pretentious there. Who usually wins?”
Mike met Crandall’s unwavering stare. He slowly licked his lips, and Crandall had his answer even before Mike finally admitted it. “Dragon. He’s the best of us by far.”
Ash used his speed to inch Dragon towards the wall with quick strikes and a strange spinning move that Crandall noticed could herd Dragon in a desired direction, but couldn’t quite figure out how Ash was doing it. Just as it seemed Ash had the upper hand again, Dragon struck. He’d been doing little more than blocking and watching, but when his body tensed, shifting from defensive to offensive, Crandall grinned as if he heard the switch being thrown. Three quick seconds later, Ash lay sprawled in the center of the pit, flat on his back with his arms pinned under Dragon’s knees.
“My turn,” Crandall announced.
He opened the gate and stepped through, leaving it open for Mike to follow. Once Mike closed the door, they each took up a position at the four cardinal points of the room. Despite the pit being a circular design, they formed a perfect square until Dragon stepped forward, his eyes on Mike.
“Remember the rounds?” he asked.
Mike nodded. “We take turns rotating in and out until one man’s left standing.”
Dragon’s smile graced his lips, but not the rest of his expression. “Yes,” he said. He turned toward Crandall. “You and Mike start. When the first man falls, Ash will step in.”
Crandall glanced at Ash, and then Mike, before looking over Dragon’s shoulder to answer. “And then whoever loses that fight steps out so you can fight.”
Dragon nodded and waved Mike into the center of the ring. “Then you’ll return to fight the winner of that match.”
“Me?” Crandall barked a sarcastic laugh. “Maybe I’ll kick Mike’s ass.”
His smile widened and sparkled in Dragon’s eyes. “Maybe you will,” he said. “I hope you do.”
Crandall pushed away from the wall holding him up, and walked up to Mike, staring into his eyes until Mike diverted his gaze, covering the move by turning to face Dragon. “Let’s do this,” Mike said. “Maybe once we burn off some energy we can come up with some idea of what to do about the Blood Moon vampires.”
Up Next: Fire and Ash