Chapter 26 - Make a Mark

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 The bar exploded with noise as one of the fighters onscreen was sent flying by a thunderous punch to the stomach, before his descent came to an end against the metal plating of the arena floor. The boy, clad in a suit of white armour, scrambled upright in time to lock horns with the girl who’d just launched him through the air.

Jacob Barrow took a swig from the current beer and watched the fight unfold. True to his personal promise, he hadn’t missed a shred of the Gauntlet coverage since the Mayhems had finished. However, the viewing had not always been pleasant. In particular, watching Codi come face to face with Bruno Varlin in the group stage had been a bitter pill to swallow.

That being said, he marvelled at how far she’d come in the weeks since the friendly tournament. The group stages impressed him immensely, although he admitted a moment of alarm when she nearly throttled the life out of Cassandra Riven. Still, by Gauntlet standards that had been nothing out of the norm.

His attention turned back to the screen when once again the male fighter went slamming to the ground after a perfectly executed arm throw from his opponent. The girl from Battlecast skipped out of range of his retaliatory kick, as nimble and uncatchable as smoke. Her white hair gleamed in the light as she darted forward again and delivered a precisely placed kick to her adversary’s ribs when he rose again. The impact fired him backwards.

To his credit, the boy rolled backwards smoothly with the momentum and came to his feet, but Barrow could see the outcome of the fight already looming. And it seemed the real-time commentators could see it to.

And that’s another hard fall for Arvaughn,” the man said, and Barrow could almost hear him wincing at the fighter’s misfortune. “It looks like Ripple Thawborn has started the knock out as she means to go on.”

You couldn’t be more right, Jason. This girl means business. She’s making light work of one of the fighters many experts picked out as a title contender.”

Barrow was forced to agree with the sentiment as Ripple drove on. The hulking male simply wasn’t built to keep pace with her stinging, fast paced attacks. It would probably only have taken one square hit from Arvaughn to flatten her, but Ripple moved with the grace and ease of a hardened veteran, effortlessly gliding around the scything haymakers and frustrated jabs. Then she suddenly slithered inside his guard and drove the four outstretched fingers of her right hand into his windpipe like a knife.

Arvaughn went down to his knees, choking for breath, but instead of finishing him there and then, Ripple took a step back and looked around. The noise from the Gauntlet crowd burst forth like an erupting volcano and as the camera zoomed in Barrow could see the vulpine smile on the girl’s features.

In a move perhaps engendered by rage, frustration, or both, Arvaughn suddenly surged forward with a powerful thrust from his legs. Ripple couldn’t get out of the way and took his shoulder square in the stomach. For a moment Barrow thought that this might be the turning point.

But the Battlecast fighter adjusted her footing in the blink of an eye, absorbed the considerable force of Arvaughn’s body weight, and then shoved him backwards, simultaneously bringing her knee up hard into his face. He dropped like a log.

The screaming from the crowd swelled again as the announcer’s voice boomed out the name of the victor. Barrow took another drink and slouched back in his seat, regarding the girl grimly. This was what Codi had to look forward to if she made it as far as the quarter finals, and that thought made him less that optimistic. As far as he was concerned this girl, Ripple, was the most dangerous fighter he’d seen in years.

He brooded over this fact as the other opening knock out fights continued. At this juncture the immense Gauntlet arena was split in half and matches went in pairs. The entire first bracket of combat played out before his eyes over the afternoon, and the atmosphere in the local pub on Kantha was nothing short of ecstatic. However, their reactions to the fighters from their own academy were oddly mixed.

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