Chapter 29 - Sometimes Violence Solves Everything

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 Nobody really cared about the semi-finals. The media surrounding the Gauntlet had compiled enough snapshots and discreetly acquired footage to piece together the conflict behind the scenes between Codi and Bruno. That, coupled with Brax-Delta's enduring underdog story, meant that everyone was watching and waiting for a final clash between them.

So when Codi emerged victorious from a twenty minute slugging match with Chris O'Leary in the penultimate fight, she also found it hard to care. Actually being in the final of the tournament wasn't the point. She had a score to settle and that was all that mattered.

She would get the chance too. The other semi-final had probably been Varlin's toughest match, but that hadn't stopped him winning. Although Dustin Morto's sheer size gave him an advantage, in the end the reigning champion's technique and experience saw him through to the last stage of the tournament.

The press storm that engulfed the pair following the day of the semi-finals had dwarfed anything Codi had experienced to date, but it was a different kind of media mayhem to earlier rounds. No-one asked her about teams, about sponsorships or the future. All they were interested in was how she planned on beating Bruno Varlin. In truth, she and Vasco hadn't quite come up with an answer to that particular monument of a question, but it meant she didn't have to babble on about the business side of the tournament anymore.

So she gave them what she could without giving away what little game plan the pair had managed to cobble together. Looking for holes in Varlin's game wasn't easy, and until a few hours before the final match they hadn't found any. But eventually, after sifting through every recorded fight of his tournament, Codi spotted something. It was small, almost negligible, but it was more than she'd seen before: a tiny exposed window in Varlin's otherwise impregnable exterior.

He had a dodgy knee.

It took hours of footage, but the revelation suddenly clicked in Codi's brain when she realised she'd hardly ever seen Varlin jump. Despite the added reinforcement of the exoskeleton servos he never utilised the capacity to leap unless he had no choice. Once she realised this she started looking for evidence. It didn't make much of a difference over the course of the tournament, but she could see him using his expertise to keep his left knee clear of the fighting.

So now she had a target. Codi had no illusions. In a fair fight with Varlin she wouldn't stand a chance, so she needed to even the odds somehow. If she could find a way through his guard and injure him she might just be able to put herself on a relatively level playing field. Maybe not the most sporting attitude to take, but frankly, she didn't give a damn. If there was one person in the tournament that didn't deserve her respect, it was him.

Codi led the way down the Arena corridor ahead of Vasco and the others, focusing her mind on one thing: hurting Varlin. Although she wouldn't admit it to Vasco, she didn't care about winning. Whatever way they dressed it up, this was her shot at payback.

The cameras flashed and the voices of journalists rose in an obnoxious crescendo as they approached the entrance. Then she spotted Bruno Varlin coming the other way, his coach and a handful of team mates in tow. She deliberately caught his eye, her look blackened with cold rage. He looked back, but the look of easy distain had vanished from his normally scathing features. Now he looked angry too.

She could guess the reason. It had been a shock to the Gauntlet world when Codi had managed to get past not one, but two of the Battlecast Academy's best fighters. Bruno now had the pride of his home academy, hell, his home planet resting squarely on his shoulders. The weight was different for him. People expected him to win.

Codi could guess easily enough what people thought of her chances, and as a result, winning the tournament didn't factor into her game plan. She already had a guaranteed second place, a finishing position that already shattered all expectations of Brax-Delta.

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