Long after Anton and Galen had been ferried off, Szethei worked up the nerve to stop by the infirmary. Not to check on her opponents, but to have her own injuries checked, superficial as they were. Zhirrik had flat out refused to come, not wanting another "off-worlder" to touch him. From what Szethei could see, his injuries hadn't seemed serious, so she didn't force him.
She didn't have to look too hard for the place, the smell and residual heat of her opponents' blood trailed through the grass, and was all too easy to follow. The blue wisp met her outside, and discreetly guided her to a separate entrance, not one used by her defeated opponents. It was much friendlier now, having either forgiven or forgotten the ill treatment it endured from the dragon-dogs earlier that day. It also seemed to understand what she was seeking, and fetched for her the head medic. This fellow's attitude was less friendly, and after a cursory exam, he grunted, thrust a small container (antiseptic, from the smell) into her hand, and brusquely gestured her out.
Through the darkening twilight, she made her way back to the snack area, and found Zhirrik already at the table they had occupied earlier that day. He had claimed the top platform, and was nonchalantly flicking the last bits of grass and debris from his coat. Whatever his injuries were, aside from the crack on the head he'd given himself, he was bearing them well.
Some of the other competitors were lingering at the nearby snack stand. Most were shooting Zhirrik looks ranging from wariness to outright disgust, and Szehtei immediately saw why: his neck still bore a bloody stain. And with a faint chill Szethei realized he was actually regarding it with something like pride.
He didn't look up when Szethei leaped up beside him, but his muzzle had peeled back into a satisfied grin.
"<I got him,>" he said finally, "<Got him good. The fool thought he could pin me down, make me submit. Ha! And you,>" he added, twisting his head to regard her, "<I saw what you did to the other one. Well done, I didn't think you had it in you!
"<You do realize,>" he went on when she made no reply, "<This isn't over. We have another fight coming, and after that, yet another. We didn't do too badly, working together. Don’t you think? True, we're not unscathed, either, but we can do better. As long as we look after ourselves, watch each other's backs, we can do this!>"
When Szethei still said nothing, he finally deigned to raise his eyes.
"<Come, now,>" he said impatiently, "<This isn't the time for guilty conscience. Did you really think we can win this with making nice with every freak we meet? You understood what it took to defeat those brutes back there, they would have done the same to us!>"
"<Perhaps,>" Szethei said quietly, "<But we don't really know that.>"
He grunted, and rolled his eyes, and returned to flicking grass from his coat. He didn't notice Szethei silently advancing, staring down at him.
"<However,>" she went on, "<I do agree that we could work well together. We'll need to, if we're going to win this.>"
Zhirrik's grin widened, evidently pleased by her words. He stretched languidly, clearly basking in his victory, and turned to smirk at her. His smile vanished when he found her snout inches from his face:
"<But you seemed to have forgotten something very important, Zhirrik,>" she hissed, "<You still work for me. This means we do things my way, not yours. Got it?
"<We'll hurt if we have to, but only when I deem it necessary. But there'll be no more mauling, no more crippling. You so much as scratch our next opponent without my say so, and you will regret it. And I'm not going to warn you again.>"
She loomed over him, staring hard until he finally dropped his gaze. Then she leaned down to hiss in his ear:
"<Now get down. You're in my spot.>"
He stared back at her, disgusted and fuming, and didn't move. Her eyes widened and she slowly brought her hind foot up, ready to deliver a hard kick to his rump. With a petulant hiss of his own, he slunk to the seat below.
"<And clean yourself more thoroughly,>" she added sharply, "<You still stink of your victim's blood. If you truly think you're better than the other competitors here, then start acting like it.>"
She tended to her cuts and scratches as Zhirrik washed the last traces of blood from his coat. By the time they had finished (Szethei passed him what was left of the antiseptic, which he tossed away with a sullen sniff.), the moon had risen. Szethei had swept what debris he had left on her level, not caring when Zhirrik's mane and back received most of it. While he settled down for the night, snorting and grunting as he made himself comfortable, Szethei put her head down with a sigh. At last she could yield her weary body to a much needed sleep…
"<If I may,>" Zhirrik's murmur brought her back, "<There's something I wanted to ask. Something of minor importance,>" he added hastily when she turned to glare at him.
"<What's that?>" she grumbled irritably.
"<Right before we met our opponents, you were staring into one of those mirrors. You saw something in that mirror. What was it?>"
Szethei's eyes widened; in all the chaos and mayhem of the round, she had nearly forgotten about that. She lifted her head to frown into the growing darkness, not sure how to answer. Because she wasn't sure what exactly it was she saw. Only that, in the mirror where her face had vanished, something rippled back into view...
"<Nothing,>" she said aloud, "<Just the mirror playing tricks.>"
END ROUND ONE.