Chapter 25 - When to Pick a Fight

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 It was time. Three full days had passed since the interviews, leaving time for the remaining competitors to rest, recover their strength – in some cases recover from injuries – and time for the administrators to finalize the knock out bracket of the tournament.

Codi stood with the others in the fighter’s lobby, watching the screens with everyone else. The officials had summoned the remaining competitors to watch together as the brackets were drawn, and she could guess the reason easily enough. With just thirty-two remaining, whittled down from a pool of over three hundred, each individual would be able to look their first opponent right in the eye as soon as the match was drawn.

Max stood beside her, hands in pockets, his face impassive as he waited for the screens to come alive. However, she could see his fingers nervously fidgeting beneath the fabric. He gave her a nervous smile and turned his eyes back to the screens. Kye stood by them as well, arms folded as he waited. His face showed a kind of easy curiosity, but no hint of anxiety.

Looking at his face, Codi smiled to herself and rolled her left shoulder. It was still stiff from the four hour sparring marathon she and Kye had undertaken following the debacle of the interview. He hadn’t held back and she’d felt his frustration each time he slammed her to the mat or landed a punch.

But this time she’d simply taken what she perceived was coming to her. The way Kye took out his frustration in the sparring arena presented her with an alarming mirror image of the way she herself operated, and it made her realise that to get back into Kye’s good graces she needed to let him blow off steam. Never in her life had she fully accepted responsibility so comfortably. For him, she was willing to do that.

Her gaze wandered over the other contestants. A low hum of conversation swept around the room as the others exchanged muttered words. She saw the group from Battlecast, five of them having made it through to the knock out, and they seemed in high good humour. Codi didn’t really blame them. If rumour was to be believed then the possibility of a Battlecast sweep of the podium slots was all too real. Varlin caught her searching gaze and a vicious smile slithered across his face.

“Hey,” Kye said, nudging her. “Don’t give knucklehead over there the satisfaction.”

She nodded, and managed to give what she hoped was a dismissive smirk before tearing her gaze away from Varlin and back to the screens. They came to life in a flash of white and Codi tensed in anticipation. After bold, black letters declared Bracket One, the first pairing of fighters came up, their portraits spinning into the foreground of the shot. After the interviews they’d all had to endure a photo shoot in full Gauntlet armour.

Chris O’Leary’s face appeared first, a thin smile on his face in the photograph. The other portrait was a hawk-faced girl from the Olympus Mons academy on Mars, but Codi didn’t recognise her name or her face from earlier rounds. A glance at the Battlecast fighters told her that O’Leary was not worried. Already he had returned to chatting with the others on his team with an air of carefree disinterest.

The screens flickered in an out and the next pairing appeared. Ripple Thawborn’s translucent features showed next, and this time her opponent was not so easily dismissed. The male in question was a young man named Thade, from the Nebula Academy, one of two from that group who had qualified, and although Codi hadn’t run into him yet, everybody knew his reputation. The semi-final of last year’s Gauntlet was something of a legend, where Thade had fought Bruno Varlin to the bitter end of a thirty minute bludgeoning match. Codi nodded and found herself hoping that Thade would eliminate the Battlecast competition.

The match ups for the first bracket continued on. Eventually Codi saw her own face flash up on the screen. It was strange seeing herself looking back at the camera, a blank expression on her face. She didn’t remember much about the photo shoot, just an uncomfortable feeling of being judged. Looking at the camera was about all she could manage.

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