Chapter 20 - New Friends, New Enemies

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 Jacob Barrow slumped gratefully down in the ragged old armchair that had served him well for the best part of a decade. Beer in hand, he turned on the tele-screen and took a deep breath, apprehension settling into the back of his mind. The last few days his time had been hoovered up by disciplinary action at the school. Only now did he have a chance to confront the real thing on his mind.

Flicking over several channels he pressed his lips together as coverage of the Gauntlet flashed on. He knew the Mayhems would have finished by now, but if he was lucky he’d be in time to catch who made it through. When the image first flashed up it showed a recap of the final Mayhem. The recording rolled for a few minutes and he didn’t see any of Brax-Delta’s fighters. Then the image faded out, replaced by two commentators.

Well, it’s been a quite an opening to the Gauntlet competition, folks,” the man on the right began. “I think I can speak for everyone when I say we’ve seen some of the most impressive arena constructs to date.

Have to agree with you there, Jason,” the woman answered, nodding enthusiastically. “I know we’re only through the preliminary rounds but I feel like I’ve seen everything in these past few days. It’s going to take a lot for the melee rounds to measure up!

Too true, too true.” The man swivelled in his seat to face the camera. “So let’s a have a quick recap for those of you just joining us. Every Mayhem this year delivered across the board, some with expected results and others with some shocking upsets.

Battlecast Academy once again put on a strong display, taking eleven of their twenty-five competitors through to the group stages. Heavy favourite Bruno Varlin secured his space in spectacular fashion, eliminating eight contestants from his Mayhem. Other notables from Battlecast included the Ripple Thawborn, who many regard as the favourite to take second place, and new Battlecast fighter, Chris O’Leary, who delivered a sparkling performance in only his first competitive year. I tell you, Lisa, he’s one to watch.

Barrow shifted impatiently in his seat as the camera panned back to the female commentator. “He certainly is. O’Leary may only be a freshman by Gauntlet standards, but he’s come in like a man on a mission.

As well as the expected haul from Battlecast, other power academies performed strongly. Atlantic, Orion, Olympus Mons and Holdfast all positioned themselves well, but I think our biggest upset performance came from the Nebula Academy. Only three of twenty fighters made their way into the groups.”

But don’t forget, Lisa,” the man cut in. “One of those three is Thade Arvaughn. They may not have put up numbers, but in this case it’s quality not quantity. Arvaughn went toe to toe with Bruno Varlin in the quarter finals of last year’s Gauntlet, in one of the most exciting bouts the tournament has seen. Things don’t get much closer.

A good point. Never count an academy out.” She smiled knowingly at her colleague. “And I think that brings us neatly into the biggest shock that this year’s tournament has delivered.

The man clapped his hands together. “You are exactly right. I think, until a couple of days ago, most people didn’t know this little fringe academy even existed, but the Mayhems have put this extraordinary little group on the map.” Barrow took a swig of beer and leaned forward, eyes widening in anticipation. “For those of you who missed it, I’m talking about a tiny little place called Brax-Delta Academy, situated on Kantha, a fringe industry planet.

Now when they arrived here under some controversial circumstances, it had been ten years since a fighter from Brax-Delta made into the group stages. Now hang onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen, because this one’s a doozie. This year, they entered a single team, just five people. And how many do we think made it through to the groups this year?

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