Chapter 19 - Underdogs

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 Sprinting out of the fighters’ corridor, Codi let out a joyful whoop as she pulled the head brace off and shook her hair free. Making it out into a passage crowded with braying spectators and flashing cameras she looked frantically for her team mates. After a moment she spotted Max and Vasco, standing out higher than the others and she barged her way towards them while the Gauntlet attendants kept the spectators back.

When she finally reached them she leapt on Vasco, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. He caught her, keeping her up while she let out another triumphant yell.

“We did it!” She let go with one hand, pumping her fist in the air. Vasco released her and let her drop back to her feet.

“Nice moves out there,” Max complimented, giving her a nod.

Vasco smiled ruefully. “Well, you didn’t exactly do what I told you out there, but here you are.”

She flashed him a mischievous grin and shrugged. “A win’s a win.”

“We’ll talk about that later.” He ruffled her hair until she ducked away. “Besides, you got a little help.” Codi looked back towards the arena, following Vasco’s pointing finger where she saw the fighter in black making his way through the crowds. He spotted her and made a small salute before disappearing in the opposite direction.

“D’you know who he is?” she asked.

“Not off the top of my head.”

She nodded slowly, watching the space where the boy had been. One question stuck in her mind. Why? Why had he helped her? He’d been oddly friendly, but that was a far cry from keeping another competitor in the tournament. She shook the question from her mind for the time being. Whatever his reasons, she was still in the Gauntlet despite running headlong into one of the most powerful fighters in the tournament.

As they made their way out of the main arena corridors the adrenaline of the Mayhem began to wear off and Codi became acutely aware of an aching sensation in her ribs where Arvin Lee’s hammer-blow had landed, and where Dustin Morto had unleashed the bulk of his onslaught. She took a deep breath and winced at the pain generated by such an action.

“Happens to everybody,” Vasco said without even looking at her. “You never know how much of a beating you’ve taken till you’re out of the arena.”

She raised an eyebrow but didn’t bother replying. She’d have had to be pretty deluded to think she’d get through her first round without any damage.

They met up with the others in the group back in the main mess hall, where more fighters were gathering to watch the next Mayhem of the day. Some hadn’t fought yet, some were through, and others were already out but remained to support their team mates. Although Vasco suggested they eat, Codi suddenly felt like someone had tied a lead weight to her legs. She decided to go back to her dorm room, get out of her exoskeleton and relax.

Loosening all the bolts and unzipping the back, she let the armour fall to the floor of her little room. Once she’d changed into her familiar, comfortable hoody and leggings she slumped onto the bed, staring at the ceiling. Aches throbbed all over her body, but she didn’t care.

Lying there, she wondered if, somewhere on Kantha, Jacob Barrow had seen her make it through. She hoped so. He’d earned that much. In some small way at least, Codi felt like she was competing for him, with an obligation to make good on the chance he gave her.

“Well,” she said softly to herself. “I’m getting there.”

***

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