Many things exist or happen in the world which are far more real to some than others, but the fame – or infamy – is well known. In certain places, people live in fear of being raided by enemies, of being captured and enslaved. In some places, wars rage, and violence has become so normal that it can be entertaining. It will often be the case that what is normal for one group of people is a bizarre happening to another, and what is the obvious thing to do is unthinkable depending on who you are and where you live. In amongst all these things are fighting pits. To some, these are very real. But elsewhere, they have heard tales of them, either from the past or the present day, and usually stories of them are passed around to scare or warn. Sometimes, though, to entice.
Fighting pits are pretty much as described. Basically, people are made to fight – sometimes they chose to but rarely – and they do so before others, so they fight below the audience. It is such a basic, common-sense feature that is always happens. You could go to a small dip in the land where two desperate communities watch their selected fighters compete to see who wins this annual contest, or a much more luxurious stand where captured combatants bleed out in full view. The fighting happens in pits of all kinds. But the term also comes from the fact that many places are underground hideouts with cells reaching down into the depths of the land. People can see out lives of darkness and violence, kept against their will, brought up to fight for entertainment, then returned to their cells. Or worse. But whatever the setup, many fighting pits are prisons as much as anything, and being dragged into one is a sheer dread for millions of beings.
Fighting pits are known around the world by many, maybe even most people, but they are not everywhere. For one, they have a tendency to occur where warfare and violence is so prevalent it can be turned into entertainment. In most instances, fighting pits are there to thrill and amuse. However there are a few other purposes too. Sometimes they are used to hone the skills of beings and to weed out the weakest warriors. These will often be found in areas of constant battle. Another use is to eradicate your enemies. Yes, you could just wipe out an enemy force, but sometimes you want to do it in a more prolonged, humiliating way, or perhaps you want to do it in secret. Again, in an area of long term war, a pit might exist where the influx of prisoners go, and never make it out of. Sometimes they will be used to scare people into submission as much as entertain the audience. In the history of this world, many of the more famous pits existed at the behest of a powerful ruler, who would sit and watch the show with underlings and soldiers, keeping them delighted but also putting the fear of ending up in there into their heads. It might even have produced tougher, more ferocious fighters from the prisoners, if they could be made to obey.
The other place pits can be found are remote locations, in order to not be found. These ones tend to be the more select pits, run by powerful and knowledgable people, often assisted by someone with strong influence who has a use for the pit. Most pits are average to less in condition, coming into being by necessity or opportunity, yet some are well kept, strictly managed, with an established hierarchy. Often, they have been there for decades, even a century or two. If you end up in one of these, escape is near impossible, and yet there will be more chance of fighting your way to glory.
I think the best way to fully explain these places is to give a variety of examples. For instance, the mutant army that dominates from Eastern Europe to the human sanctuary of Eden are, unsurprisingly, intensely anti-human. So while they maintain the act of being a militarised force with rules and regulations, there do exist a few pits they throw human prisoners into. The mutant army has no real use for human captives. If they were able to get their hands on an inhabitant of Eden, then the knowledge that person has would be vital. But other humans in the area are weaker in tech and certainly in organisation than the mutants, so they are essentially pests to be got rid of. They might cast a monster or someone in there, but mostly to watch them tear into the humans. These pits are typically crude structures dug into the harsh land, with no individual cells, just a bottom where all end up. Food is thrown in to be fought over. The aim is for all within to end up dead one way or the other. Humans will be brought up, often in batches, and have damaged weapons thrown at them. Sometimes they won’t fight, so the mutants know to use rewards or threats to get a reaction, and if not, everyone gets gunned down by the guards. They never offer escape. No one leaves. The mutants watch to be entertained, yet also to feed their hatred and that of any others who may be doubting. Humans are shown to be the weaker, vicious creatures they truly are.
These places might be called death pits rather than fighting pits, but even hateful mutants don’t want it to seem that obvious. A fighting pit offers a fighting chance and that often makes the inevitable destruction of the prisoners all the more satisfying. This is true of all the places and all those who run them, of course. Humans who hate mutants equally have similar pits, although they have to be more careful when keeping super-soldiers under guard, but these also provide much more entertainment. In fact, the stories of the end of civilisation – in the aftermath of the Shadow World’s arrival here – feature many super-soldier filled pits, created by those who made the mutants. When mutants were rebelling or deemed a threat, many rulers and ruling factions decided to kill off their creations the more entertaining way. Sometimes, this was a big mistake.
Across the southern coastal areas of Europe, a number of market towns have become established and trade among them and the many smaller settlements is now flourishing. When competition spills over into conflict, usually mercenaries are hired, yet specialised fights have also been known to be arranged. They cost less in terms of time, blood and money. But there are a few fighting pits along the coast as well, often containing captured pirates, criminals, mercenaries or people who can’t pay their debts. While life in these is harsh, it isn’t nearly as dreadful as those previously mentioned. Freedom can be earned. Those who win often can become celebrities of a kind. They are a source of business and income as well as entertainment and punishment.
However, nearby in Spain, there are several pits close together, run by a sphinx and his three wives. This individual has contacts around the Mediterranean and can bring in better fighters as the need calls, but he also has friends and followers in other places. The more richer merchants and town elites will travel there to watch the superior fights, and to meet the more important guests from abroad. These pits are run as fighting pits first and foremost. Anyone new gets a cell down the bottom but the more you win, the higher you rise, and the living conditions become better at each level. The level of fighting is much higher and competing here is more likely to get you noticed. For this reason, individuals voluntary join. They have to be treated like the rest, this is part of the deal going in, but if they truly believe in their skills, they know they can leave here with high paying work on offer. Sometimes, people are sent here to become better fighters. It is even suspected that a couple of the pits are nothing more than training arenas to create soldiers for paying customers. It would explain a lot.
A fighting pit that surprises many is one found on a small island near Madagascar. As stated in a recent post, the gleaners are all over Madagascar, but this is also a place of powerful magic. So this pit is one for magic-users, because even weak ones can summon serious power to wield, making for a much better show. As expected, magic is used to keep the prisoners there and to keep gleaners and other intruders out, yet some kind of arrangement has to be going on. Who has made it with the gleaners of Madagascar is unknown at the moment. But those who end up there are chosen with care and the combat is broadcast to select individuals using the abundant magic present, so there are some strong gains to be had, despite the risks.
At this point I should talk about the two most notorious fighting pits from history. The first was called Hell. An obvious but apt name. It was owned by a devil-beast who was a powerful and tyrannical ruler in Great Britain long ago, best known – by those who remember such things – for being involved in a three-way war. He was opposed by two sides: one a family of devil-beasts, another a faction of aegis. He ruled over much of the land and commanded thousands of warriors; he was also a cruel being with no use for prisoners and a love of displaying his power. For this reason, a deep and harsh pit was made and many ended up there – mostly prisoners, yet a good number of his own followers too. Due to the nature of the war and his own power, all kinds of beings lived, fought and died there. At one point, he had an aegis from one side and a devil-beast of the other fight on the basis that the winner would leave. According to the legend, he kept his word. When his end came, so too did Hell. Supposedly, it collapsed during ferocious fighting, and after everyone had scattered, few wanted to find it again.
The other fighting pit is the Hungry Bastard. This was a nickname rather than an official title, yet it is this that remains spoken in stories – no doubt a creation of dark humour. This is said to have existed at the bottom of a sea, perhaps the Atlantic Ocean, but no one knows for sure. Back during the Raging, somewhere in the first century after the Shadow World merged with ours, a number of powers allied and sent their prisoners to this place. The story goes that people poured in dozens a day, that the conquests of the allies ensured a steady stream of captives, and yet the Hungry Bastard was never close to being filled. It was a grim, brutal place, there to slaughter the incoming victims, if it also produced many savage, broken warriors who went on to serve their captors. It consumed for decades as a world of billions became one of millions, this being just one of the causes, until those who fed it were all defeated. The pit itself was never found, so none truly know what became of it. Perhaps it still sits, waiting for more food.
There are many ways to die in this world. Also to suffer. Also to make others suffer. This is not a pleasant place and most understand it, even embrace it. Fighting pits are a practical outlet in many ways, yet often represent more darker and crafty appetites. They have their uses, and so while now and then something goes wrong somewhere, when prisoners break out or an outside attack occurs, they never go out of fashion. As mentioned at the beginning, most of the world hears of them only, and the horrors within. To many, fighting pits sound grimly entertaining. But to others, they are everything – a life of blood and brutality and captivity.
I should also mention another feature about the pits. As much as those who run them enjoy their power and often stamp their authority on their prisoners, they all have a deep dread. Anyone who runs or works at a fighting pit has a lingering, whispered fear. For most, this fear never materialises, but the tales of when it does spread around. Havoc, the infamous warrior, has a habit of breaking into fighting pits. He leads his gang of mad-dogs around the world at breakneck pace (usually he does but he is currently sitting things out) and expects every member to do their part. He has recruited many from the pits. It is every pit owner’s nightmare that Havoc will show up and slaughter everyone in charge, for that is his practice. Afterwards, he makes everyone fight and chooses some to join him, others he may just let go. Of course, this means those confined within a pit wouldn’t be too keen to see Havoc and his gang appear either, but for many, such an end would be far better than the life they live. Especially if they can see their captors and tormentors dead first.
Fighting pits are told in tales, some true, some complete fiction, many a mix of both. In a world as cruel and callous as this one can be, none doubt such a thing could be happening. Too many have tasted what people – of all kinds – can do to others. Slavery exists. Murder is matter-of-fact to some. War is celebrated by certain groups. While there are more peaceful and secure realms, while there are many people who live better lives than most, even they know what individuals and communities can be pushed to. Essentially, everyone knows that if you end up in a fighting pit, hope you’re the one at the higher level, looking down at the unfortunates who kill or die, who are just striving to live another day. Of course, also know that if any of those unfortunates could get their hands on you, they’d likely bite your throat out. If the roles were reversed, so would you.