“NO!” Zack yelled, drawing Galadhar as he ran forward.
“Zack!” gasped Weston, but with his speed Zack had managed to get in front of Astrid and block the sword of her opponent. He pushed back hard, and the stranger sprang backwards, having been taken by surprise from the speed.
Weston skidded over beside Astrid, shoes grinding against the ground, as Zack and the stranger stared at each other.
“Astrid! Astrid, you okay?” Weston called.
“How is she?” asked Zack, not turning away from the stranger.
“Um-” Weston checked her for injuries. “A few grazes, but she's worn out, and just fainted. I think she'll be okay, but . . . can you actually faint in Gladiators? And why the injuries?”
"This is real life, Weston, not in the virtual world, so she will get hurt," said Zack, turning to him. "And yes, you can faint in the game, if it affects your mind enough. Take her away from here."
Weston froze, sensing a tone of tension in Zack's voice.
“Hurry,” said Zack.
Weston picked Astrid up in his arms and sprang away from him.
Zack turned back to Astrid's opponent. “You are . . .”
“Sawyer Axelrod,” said the stranger. “I'm sure I've seen that sword of yours before.”
At that, Zack's eyes fell onto Sawyer Axelrod's own weapon.
Then he glanced back. “Actually, I wasn't asking for your name, but thanks for it, anyway. And you were . . . that guy at the airport whom I ran into.”
"The airport?" Sawyer frowned.
“You ran into him before?” Weston gasped.
“By accident. And then I ran.”
At that, a light of recognition flickered in Sawyer's eye. “That's right. Just after I left a café where my online opponent on Gladiators took a wrong tournament and I ended up Gladiating twenty weaklings and a bug on the website.”
“Huh? What?” Weston looked at the two back and forth.
Zack raised his sword. “Sorry about that. My sense of direction is so horrible I even bring it with me when I get onto the computer. Guess I couldn't meet you under friendly terms, then, Dragos.”
He attacked first, running straight towards Sawyer and raising his sword. “Don't you dare hurt my friends!”
Sawyer smirked and raised his sword, letting Zack slam Galadhar against his.
“So you're Galadhar,” he said. “If I knew back at the airport, I might have razed the place around there to ashes.”
He suddenly slipped low to the ground, and kicked, making Zack slip and land on the ground. Sawyer struck downwards, but Zack managed to roll out of the way. Then he swung his sword upwards at Sawyer, who ducked below the blade. With a wave of his hand, Zack yelped and escaped before an arc of lightning could hit him.
Weston stared as the two struck at each other again with quick strikes, still carrying Astrid without realizing it.
Astrid groaned, and slowly opened her eyes. Then saw Weston.
“Huh? What? What happened?” she asked.
“You were knocked out,” said Weston, relieved. “You okay? Can you stand?”
“I think so,” she gasped, and with Weston's help, got to her feet.
Then Astrid heard the sound of metal clashing and turned to it, then gasped. “Zack, are you an idiot? That guy is-!”
“I know!” Zack cut across her.
Astrid stared, stunned.
“Apparently, they already met before,” said Weston. “As Dragos and Galadhar . . .?”
“I know that!” Astrid snapped. “My point was-”
“Whoa!” Zack gasped, just barely able to jump backwards from a slash Sawyer made from up front.
The lower half of the front of his jacket had a cut, and it hung on Zack like loose cloth.
Weston stared. “Zack!”
“Damn it, that could have gone through,” said Sawyer.
“Don't get distracted thinking you're strong,” said Zack, and leaned in for a thrust right at Sawyer's face.
Sawyer backed off, cupping a hand over the thin cut that appeared on his cheek.
“What?” Weston stared, stunned.
Astrid winced, startled.
“Well, your sword's name was obvious in the first place, that's why I wanted to Gladiate you online,” said Zack. “Who wouldn't guess that the Dragon Knight won't be having a dragon?”
Sawyer dropped his hand. “Guess I was taking things too lightly as well.”
Now, he put both hands onto the sword, and took his turn to strike first.