“You have an admirer,” Riki told Evadna, a cheeky smile enveloping her face. “He’s a looker too. Tall, broad shoulders, blue eyes. I can’t tell you his hair color ‘cause his head is covered.”
“I don’t see anyone,” Misha commented, her eyes still searching the crowd.
Riki turned about to see for herself. “He was there a moment ago. Never fear, he’ll turn up again. I’ve seen him almost every time you’ve been up for a fight.”
Evadna narrowed her eyes at Riki. “Sounds more like you are the admirer. You should talk to him when next you see him.”
Riki made a face at her. “Please, I think I know when a man is interested in someone. He is interested in you. Besides, he’s very secretive, keeping his head and the bottom of his face covered.” Then she gasped, grabbing Evadna’s arm, “Maybe he doesn’t belong here. At the Follows, I mean. Or, he is one of those people who is always on missions and is under deep cover.”
Misha interrupted. “They’re calling the next event. You better line up, Evadna.”
Pulling her arm out of Riki’s grasp, Evadna re-fastened the clasp of her sword belt. “Keep your eye out for him then. If what you say is true, he’s bound to show his face again. Misha, see if he is an agent of the Follows or if we need to notify our superiors.”
Misha nodded, while Riki looked petulantly on as Evadna headed over to the line-up for the next event. She had been successful in each portion of the Tournament she had participated in so far. She was about to enter the Semifinals. There were twenty semi-finalists. There would be eight in the Finals. Making it this far was already farther than she had expected to go. Making it to the Finals themselves would be a shocking feat.
Up until this point, the fights had been one on one. Now, each contestant would be tested in their ability to fight against two opponents at the same time. And their opponents wouldn’t be the other semifinalists, but actual agents of the Follows. The agents were those who were on active duty. Evadna would give it her all, but she did not think she would succeed in this round.
Her name was called and she stepped into the arena. It was a dirt pit, with stands surrounding the perimeter and even more people crammed into every available space. The din was deafening. She stood there alone while the announcer spouted off the rules of the event. She would have to fight two opponents without weapons and without magic. She had to knock them out or get them to concede in order to win. There were more rules that prevented death and serious injury from occurring, but those rules were written in stone and recited at the beginning of the Tournament.
Evadna surveyed the stands, waiting for the announcer to finish his commentary. She found Riki jumping up and down and waving at her. Evadna couldn’t help but smile. Then Riki started pointing, jabbing her hand violently to her right. Evadna followed her pointing hand and saw the man Riki must have been talking about. His head and the lower part of his face was covered, but his eyes stared at her with a directness she could not mistake. She felt the world wobble beneath her feet as the air whooshed out of her. She had to be mistaken. He couldn’t be here.
“LET THE FIGHT BEGIN.”
Evadna shook herself as the announcer’s words sunk in and she whipped around to face her opponents. They ran at her from opposite sides of the arena. They wore coverings around their faces, exactly like the man in the stands. She quickly calculated their height and weight, who was slower. She spun to her right and engaged the fastest of her two opponents. Her goal was to incapacitate the first before the second opponent had a chance to reach her. Problem was, these were seasoned fighters. They knew her moves and they knew how to think on their feet. And the problem with the dirt arena was that it was flat and empty. She did not have much to work with.
Riki winced as Evadna took a particularly nasty hit from one of her attackers. Her hands curled into fists, she began cursing underneath her breath. Evadna had been unsuccessful in taking down either of her attackers so far. They were relentless, working like a well-oiled machine as they slowly but surely guided Evadna into a corner.
“Friend of hers?” the mystery man asked.
Riki had been so absorbed in the fight, she’d forgotten all about Evadna’s admirer. She spared him a brief glance. He had somehow managed to find a space right next to her. “We’re partners.”
“Hm. How long have you been partners for?”
“None of your business. Now shut it and let me pay attention to the fight.”
Much to Riki’s annoyance, the mystery man chuckled.
In the next moment, they watched as Evadna tricked one of her assailants into opening himself up and she took him down speedily. Her remaining assailant took advantage of the moment to knock her in the head. Staggering, Evadna tried to evade, but she wasn’t fast enough. The watching crowd cringed at the sound of breaking bone. Shouting with the pain, Evadna closed the space between them, moving with breathtaking speed.
“Come on, come on,” urged Riki. “You’ve got this!”
The fighting continued for what seemed to Riki like an eternity. Evadna would get in some good hits, but then so would her opponent and they’d both have to regroup. At one point, Evadna’s opponent had her pinned to the ground, telling her to yield, but Evadna wouldn’t. She maneuvered out of her opponent’s hold and the fighting continued. Eventually, the gong sounded and the fight was brought to an end simply because time had run out.
“Ah, come on!” Riki complained loudly, shaking her fists. She wasn’t the only one upset to have the fight come to a close. “She had him. Give her more time.”
“Glad she has such a loyal partner.”
Riki had forgotten about the mystery man again and turned to him, startled and suspicious. “Who are you?”
He laughed at her. “A friend. It was a pleasure.”
Riki watched him as he cast his eyes once more upon the arena. He seemed to freeze for a moment, his body locking up, and then, as if wrenching himself away, he disappeared into the crowd.
“Was that him?” came Misha’s breathless voice. She appeared to have been running.
“Yeah,” said Riki with a frown. “Said he’s a friend.”
“Did you find out anything else?”
“No. I was rather invested in Evadna’s fight. He was being a nuisance.”
With a disgusted sound, Misha rushed off following the mystery man’s trail. With a shrug, Riki went to commiserate with Evadna.