Chapter 3 - Brax-Delta

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When they pulled up to the front entrance of the Brax-Delta academy, Codi wasn’t quite sure what to think. The building didn’t quite live up to the expectations she held of a Gauntlet training facility. The dull grey cube squatted moodily in the centre of a run-down industrial district in the capital’s southern quarter, flanked by old warehouses and factories on either side. She could see cracks and split marks in the concrete exterior and a scrawling mess of graffiti on the right hand wall. All in all, it didn’t look like much.

Barrow guided the car into a parking space near the opaque glass double doors, unbuckling his seatbelt as the car sank to the ground. Codi, who had not deigned to bother with the safety measures, clambered out of the vehicle’s confines as fast as she was able.

“So this is Brax-Delta?” she asked, still not quite convinced by the dilapidated lump looming in front of them. “What a dump.”

Barrow sighed. “I know it’s not the nicest looking building, but they’re under-funded. It’s amazing this place has been going as long as it has.”

“No wonder their fighters never get anywhere,” she muttered.

“Do you want to do this or don’t you?”

She made a sweeping gesture toward the doors with one arm. Her chaperone rolled his eyes and started walking, and she fell into step behind him, still letting her gaze wander dubiously over the academy’s exterior. She’d seen pictures of the big academies on the inner planets, the ones that churned out the high ranking fighters, and they put this glorified storage building to shame. Granted, she’d never followed the Gauntlet too closely – getting access to a tele-screen was difficult for someone like her – but one year she caught the finals being broadcast in one of her many schools.

She delved for the vague memory, hunting for some clues as to exactly what Barrow was getting her into. One thing she remembered for definite was that the final fights had been nothing short of brutal.

“Right, I need you to understand something,” Barrow said as they reached the door. “Drake Vasco is not your ordinary teacher.”

Codi cocked an unimpressed eyebrow. “Meaning what?”

“I know you’re used to flying off the handle, talking back and winding people up. In a school that kind of stupidity will slide, but I guarantee that if you pull the same nonsense in here you’ll regret it.”

“Is that a threat?”

“No, it’s observation. Drake is not someone you want to push.”

She frowned but didn’t reply as he pushed the door open. When they stepped into the building itself she found the aesthetics improved dramatically. The smooth marble of the lobby floor gleamed under the interior lighting and two small rows of chairs lined either wall for visitors. In its entirety the lobby was only about thirty yards square, and at the far end a desk waited for them with a receptionist engrossed in the morning’s paperwork.

When they reached the desk itself the woman looked up and Codi almost recoiled in surprise. She was beautiful; long, luscious waves of chocolate brown hair, emerald eyes twinkling behind a pair of crystalline glasses and skin so perfectly smooth it didn’t seem real. The blue shirt she wore hugged her body tightly with a name tag reading “Holly” pinned over the left breast. A wave of self consciousness swept over Codi as she glanced down at her own shabby appearance. The old grey hoody, the faded jeans, the ripped trainers, and the black beanie over blacker hair – by comparison she looked like she’d crawled out of a dumpster.

“How may I help you?” the receptionist purred.

“My name’s Jacob Barrow. I have an appointment with the head instructor.”

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