Chapter 7 - Winners Don't Always Play Fair

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 After a week at the academy Codi began to warm to the regimented lifestyle. Maybe it was simply because after each punishing day of training she didn’t have the energy to be rebellious anymore, but whatever the case, she found she was enjoying herself.

Vasco’s jibes and his abrasive manner still niggled at her, but after the incident of several days ago she did her utmost not to let her temper out. At least, not on other people. Several dings and dents in the wall and floor of the training centre paid testament to the times she’d failed to keep reign on her emotions. The dumbbells were big, heavy, and made a very cathartic sound when hurled at a hard surface. Better she took out any frustrations that way, however much Vasco complained about the damage.

Things moved at a blistering pace. Even after only a week Codi had the majority of the basic techniques virtually encoded into her movements. When someone took a swing at her in training she didn’t react by thinking, she did it automatically. Nobody was perfect yet; she’d taken and dished out her fair share of punches during the adjustment period, but now it seemed that the group were ready to start moving on to something a little more extreme.

Lined up on Sunday morning, they watched and waited as Vasco arranged a large group of padded mats into a square. After making dozens of minor adjustments he eventually nodded and made an approving mhm. Then he opened up one of the lockers built into the wall of the room and pulled out five black bags. Walking over to the group, he dropped one at the feet of each, and then faced them.

“I’ll say this for you all,” he began. “You’ve done better than I expected. But, it’s one thing to drum all this stuff into you in a controlled environment. It’s time you found out what it’s like to try hitting something that will hit you back.” When the group exchanged looks Vasco gave a vulpine smile. “Sparring time, kids.”

Codi’s eyes lit up and she immediately dropped down on one knee to open the bag. The zip opened with a faint hiss and she delved into the recesses of the bag. Her hand closed around some coarse fabric and she pulled it free. Dangling from her hand was a heavily padded top, woven of a flexible black fabric.

“These are your practice suits,” Vasco explained. “They’re made to fit you specifically; should feel like a second skin. Just stick ‘em on.”

Codi needed no second bidding. In a matter of seconds she pulled the lightweight top over her head and smoothed it down over her body, admiring the suit in the light. It fitted perfectly, just as Vasco described, with harder protecting plates over the shoulders, elbows and chest. The areas between these were padded too, but with softer, more malleable material that didn’t impede her movement in the slightest.

Going back into the back she pulled the rest of the gear free. First she freed a set of padded leggings, similar to the ones she already wore but reinforced along the knee joints and with heavy guards across the thighs and shins. Then she picked out a pair of dark grey gloves padded in the same way, and when she put them on she could feel a firm brace around her wrist. With all the impacts soon to be absorbed this was a welcome addition.

The last item she found in the bag was a helmet…sort of. Once she figured out how to put it on the thing left her face exposed, instead having a kind of frame that protected her jaw and cheekbones. Seeing her confusion at the design Vasco smirked.

“That’s a toned down version of a real Gauntlet head brace,” he said. “They like to be able to see the faces of the fighters, so the frame is designed just to protect the bone structure. That way you can’t do too much serious damage…theoretically.”

“Theoretically?” She gave him an incredulous look.

“There are incidents – injuries – some more serious than others.” Vasco shrugged. “It is a fighting tournament after all.”

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