Chapter 22 - That's What Makes You Human

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  Lady luck certainly seemed to be smiling on Codi today. She almost couldn’t contain herself when she found out that her fight with Cassandra Riven would be conducted with the quarterstaff weapon system. Not only did it let her unleash her strongest skill set, but it also largely negated the other girl’s vicious close-quarters aptitude. So as she circled, the crowd roaring in her ears, Codi allowed herself a fleeting smile.

Facing an older, more experienced opponent, however, she checked any impulse to engage recklessly. Riven may not have been in her element, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t dangerous. Not only that, but if Codi managed to win this fight then she would most likely secure her place in the knockout stages.

Her fight against Yuri Drevok, the boy from Ursa Major Academy, had gone by the book. Vasco’s coaching and a full day of specific preparation to deal with a wrestling opponent paid dividends as she picked him apart with a kind of precision she didn’t even know she had. Staying out of reach, delivering thunderous volleys of punches; by the end of the half hour time limit Drevok had barely landed a hit and the judges had scored Codi as the unanimous victor.

She thought there would be more of a feeling of elation, of accomplishment. After all, that win had been her first one-on-one victory that she could take one hundred percent credit for. But it just didn’t feel that way. Maybe it was because it hadn’t even seemed all that difficult to beat him. He was too slow; his style had played to her strengths. She had been in complete control from the moment the fight started.

Things were different now, however. Codi met the steely eyes of her opponent as they edged back and forth, sizing each other up. The boots of her exoskeleton slithered across the smooth marble of the arena floor. Even the individual bouts had been livened up with bizarre scenery, in this case a kind of ancient castle interior, with staircases, balustrades, pillars and balconies that either fighter could use.

Riven took a step forward, her staff lashing out. Codi parried away to her left then thrust out with both hands, aiming the end of her own weapon at her opponent’s throat. Riven jerked her head back out of reach with inches to spare, and then stepped back, resetting her footing. The sizing up began again.

Acutely aware of the crowd watching her every manoeuvre, Codi couldn’t shake the feeling that things were getting dull. Despite what Vasco had told them all with regard to putting on a show, she wanted – she needed – to generate some kind of response from the crowd. When she’d kicked Arvin Lee into empty space in her Mayhem the screams of the spectators felt like a blast of adrenaline. And standing about waiting to be hit? That wasn’t her style.

Codi closed the distance them in two long shuffles and locked her staff against that of her opponent. Now in a bind, she let out a snarl of exertion and wrenched the other girl’s staff aside. In the same motion she lowered her head like a bull and leapt forward, ramming the other girl head to head.

She felt the satisfying jar of impact and when she jerked her head up again she was gratified to see Riven tumbling backwards. The girl rolled with the impact, however, coming to one knee a few yards further back with her staff held across her body. Then she shifted her footing slightly before launching into an upward leap.

As Riven went skywards Codi’s mind joined the dots. The girl was trying to get up and over her. Accordingly, she bunched her legs and jumped up to intercept.

The staffs clacked together, but Riven got the best of the exchange, twisting her body aside and laying a stinging elbow across Codi’s jaw as she flew by. Codi hit the ground on one knee, but she knew her opponent wouldn’t be wasting any time. She whirled and came to her feet, just in time to block a hammering downwards swipe and deflect it away from her head.

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