Zack skidded to a stop, and sheathed Galadhar before running over to Weston, who sat up, feeling dazed as he struggled to comprehend what just happened.
Then he saw that his knives had skidded far from him.
“You okay?” asked Zack, jogging over.
“How did you do that?” Weston demanded. “How did you do that one move?”
Zack looked at him, then said, “I don't know.”
“Don't joke about this, did you know that Specter was the highest ranked Gladiator in Redwall all this time?” Weston grabbed Zack's jacket collar. “I want to know how that just happened.”
“Um – all I can say is that I put my power into my sword,” said Zack. “Galadhar took over the battle after that, so I can't exactly say what just happened.”
“A Gladiator's weapon can't decide things for the Gladiator! Even if you gave it a name!”
Zack brushed Weston's hand off him before he frowned. “Can you correctly say that? When you're communicating with the game? Did you know that even though Gladiators is a game, the connection that submerges us into this digital worlds is alive?”
Weston stared at Zack, puzzled.
Zack shrugged. “If you feel a pulse from your weapon, it means that that weapon is alive. I can feel Galadhar's pulse coursing with mine, even in the real world.” Then he stopped. “Speaking of which, I do get access to the dome freely, right?” He grinned goofily.
Weston sighed. “I suppose . . . I'll go through with that promise.” There was no other choice, anyway, he thought. But to feel a pulse in my knives? Impossible.
“Hey, you guys okay?” called the announcer.
“We're good,” Weston called back.
And the arena moved on to the next arena battle.
Weston approached the knives, both of them lying together not far from him, and picked them up. For a moment, he looked at them.
As if the game was alive, he thought.
Then a throb of energy pulsed through his hands, a warm heat that felt like a light shock.
He looked at his knives, startled.
“Did you feel that?” said Zack with a grin. “Specter is alive. Because you gave it life the moment you chose it as your avatar.”
There was another throb, a light gentle one this time.
“How?” Weston asked. “How do weapons like these get their own lives? Weapons . . . shouldn't be alive. This – this can't be.”
“Thanks to the Core, that's how,” said Zack. “Well, I'm going back to Mikey. You can decide whether you believe that or not. I believe that our weapons are like normal souls who defend you.”
Weston sheathed his knives against his forearms, and the two disappeared from the arena, before rematerializing back in their original capsules where Mikey waited for them.
“Well, Zack? What do you think?” Mikey asked.
Zack grinned. “Awesome as usual. Gladiators.”
“You kept your promise?” Mikey turned to Weston, who was adjusting his jacket.
“You watched?” said Weston. “I don't like breaking promises. So I'll keep it. Also, he doesn't look like he's harmful to anyone.”
Zack grinned, hearing that. “Perfect! Thanks!” He looked around the dome.
“But I'm keeping an eye on him, because even though I say he's not harmful, that power I felt when he hit me . . . was really strong. Even if I was ranked higher than him.” Weston frowned uneasily.
“No, he's now even to you,” said Mikey. “He's also Level 50, as of this moment since your defeat.”
Weston fumbled for his phone, pulled it out, and looked through Gladiators' Level ranking.
He and Zack were definitely now at a tie.
“Damn him,” Weston grunted.
A kid's yell and the sound of a crash as someone slammed through a portal capsule, shattering the glass, caused them to turn around.
“Intruders?” said Zack, startled.
“Those attackers again!” Weston growled, but Zack was first to react, running forward and skidding to a stop in front of the kid to face a group of older boys leering at him. They held back on their weapons in surprise when Zack appeared. Weston reached them second and came to the kid, who lay among the glass shards, with several scratches, but nothing too bad.
“It's against the rules to harm someone with your Gladiator weapons!” Zack said.
“What's this, a kid trying to act the hero?” snarled one of the gang.
“You guys – you're the Neo-Predators, right?” Weston turned to the group, and saw their symbol marked on their jackets. A fanged creature with fins.
“Huh? Who's that?” said Zack, looking at Weston with confusion.
“A newbie who's been in the dark of Gladiators, this guy,” laughed another one of the gang. “Yeah, we're the Neo-Predators. We're a private team on the game. You do know about game clans, right?”
“Oh,” said Zack. “I don't really like being with clans, so I don't usually join them. So – you guys are the Neo-Predators? What's that, plagarism?”
There was a moment of stunned silence.
“That's an original name, brat,” said the second gang member.
“There used to be a corrupted gang called Predators back five years ago, I think,” said Zack. “You sure you didn't name yourselves their successors on purpose? 'Neo' is another word for 'new', right?”
“You know, we don't have time for newbies, we just want to give consequences to this kid here who just quit us,” said the third member of the gang. “Elian McGregor. You know how cowardly you look like with people protecting you?”
The kid lying behind them sat up, coughing.
“You okay?” Zack asked.
Elian shook his head. “Move. It's my problem, so back off.”
Weston looked taken aback by the reply.
“You heard him, kids,” said the first gang member. “Back off, hear that? Or we'll be the ones beating you up next.”
Weston grit his teeth, but then Zack turned from them and stepped to Weston.
“Okay, then, if you're going to handle it, go ahead, do it on your own,” said Zack to Elian.
“What?” Weston stared at him.
“Its the kid's problem,” said Zack.
Weston sent a fierce glare to Zack. “I am not backing down.”
Zack glanced back at the gang.
The gang advanced onto the kid, as Elian fumbled in his pocket, but before he could pull out his Gladiators weapon, there was a loud thunk and the gang whirled towards Zack.
“Back off from that kid,” Zack said, standing before them, Galadhar in hand. “If you don't, I will slice you through with this sword, Galadhar, and you will face a month's ban from the game.”
“Huh?” Weston looked at Zack startled. "Okay, I don't get where you're going, Zack."
“So you're back to intimidating us, just to get your Gladiators weapon out?” said the first gang member.
“Hey, Porcupine! I already told you, you shouldn't interfere!” Elian yelled to Zack.
“Porcupine?” said Zack, his hand going to his spiky dark hair as the gang burst into a round of laughter, and Elian looked regretful.
“You heard him, Porcupine, move out,” said the fourth member. “If you know what's good for you. You already said you'd back out, right? You have no business with us now.”
Zack smiled. “Well, I do have business with you now. I didn't come back to save the kid.”
That made the Neo-Predators, Elian, Weston, and Mikey stare at him.
“I think your name was Elian?” Zack looked at him as he approached like another predator. “I won't be interfering with your little scruff with them, but I have something I want to settle with them first, so you're the one who's going to back off,” said Zack, approaching. He grabbed Elian and threw him to the side, skidding against the ground.
Then he turned to the gang, holding his sword with both hands. “Let's begin. Firstly – with punishment.”
He swung his sword.