Chapter 30 - Awake

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 The closing ceremonies were magnificent.

To end the tournament the organisers refitted the immense arena itself, turning it into a colossal amphitheatre capable of housing three thousand spectators along with the Gauntlet finalists. An immense walkway split the theatre in two, its surface covered by a glistening red carpet adorned with bands of gold. The walkway itself sloped upwards from behind the stands, levelling out at a height of almost twenty feet where it then made its way to an immense podium hewn from gleaming black marble.

When a fashion consultant had arrived unannounced following her recovery from the final fight, Codi realised uncertainly that she had achieved celebrity status. Already the story of her refusal to lie down and accept defeat spread like wildfire through the other competitors. Many had approached to shake her by the hand. In a word, it was weird.

She refused to be dolled up despite Vasco's protests. All she deigned to do was have a shower and put on a fresh set of clothes. When she walked out in front of the crowds she would stand in all her unremarkable glory, clad in trainers, leggings, hoody and black hat.

Varlin went first, his rugged features offset by the suave, satin coloured suit he wore. However, only she seemed to notice how bizarre his rock-like frame looked when encased in such finery. The announcer, the man who had been roaring introductions and results throughout the whole tournament finally revealed himself. His name was Dray Meraux, a portly man, perhaps in his late forties with a bushy brown beard and balding head of hair.

He roared out his introduction though a microphone, gesticulating wildly to the applauding masses as he did so. As well as the three thousand people crammed into the expensive seating of the amphitheatre the rest of the surrounding stands were chock full, stuffed with those without the funds to get a front row seat. The announcer carried on, and on a huge screen behind the podium a compilation of Varlin's tournament highlights played.

Even from the considerable distance between then Codi could see the reel playing clearly. It progressed right from his first knockout in the Mayhems right the way through until she was watching herself be thrown around like a rag doll in the final match. Only on the recorded playback did she see how punishing some of his assaults had been, and she began to understand the feat of toughness she had unwittingly performed. Dutifully the noise of the onlookers subsided as Varlin's introduction came to a close. Then it was her turn.

This time Codi welcomed the reporters and crowds happily, a feeling of utter satisfaction taking hold. Cameras flashed, mouths whistled and screamed, eyes followed; she walked into the eye of the storm as though born to it. Her ordinarily sullen exterior fell away and she waved to the crowds, a smile on her face. With every step she took the announcer narrated the reel of her own tournament highlights.

By the time she turned her gaze to the screen it showed her dangling in the Mayhem, clinging on to Dustin Morto's legs for dear life, Kye standing on the walkway above. Her smile broadened at the sight of their first real meeting. The collection shifted into her group stage fights, tactfully cutting off the incident with Cassandra Riven just as she jammed her staff against the girl's throat. Then the knockout stages flickered by and she only half remembered most of what the screen showed. At the time she'd been going on instinct.

The final clip gave her an outsider's view of what it had looked like when she flattened Bruno Varlin. It made her feel good to see it from a decent angle, without the follow up of crashing face-first into the dirt. When she reached the podium the announcer approached and hung a heavy, platinum coloured medallion around her neck. Shaking her hand warmly, he grinned and motioned with his head towards the second place stand.

Codi took her place obediently, giving a final wave as the cheering died down. In the front rows, just ten meters distant she caught sight of Vasco and the rest of the team and gave them a nod. They sat on chairs cushioned with plush burgundy, and every one of them had pride in their eyes. Vasco gestured back with one thumb up and mouthed: "a natural."

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