"From the right!", Taisa shouted, warning about the approximation of two opponents.
"Hold on," answered Gawa, although she guessed the girl would know what to do.
The benti felt the two thin arms around her neck, and then they slowed down, preparing for the impact.
When the other benti struck Gawa, she didn't even shake. More than that, she returned the hit, unbalancing the opponents and leaving them behind. In high-ranked races, there were permitted dangerous attacks and even weapons. In the rank they were racing in that moment, however, pushing and throwing down were the most close to the battles that Taisa would face, if she passed the test. Zivar's rules. Gawa knew that the girl had much more potential, and that worried her.
More opponents were getting close, now from the left. This time, Gawa was the one hitting first, but without the expected strength. The benti and the boy that mounted him were thrown to the side, but recovered soon and stroke back, also unsuccessful. The duos bumped into each other some more times, without any real menace, until Taisa get tired of that. She released the saddle, and, when Gawa hit, she extended her left arm, grabbed the boy and pushed him, throwing him down from his benti, finally. Maybe she still have a chance, thought Gawa. After this fight, the other racers seemed to let them alone, and the race was just running again.
Between the two and the final line, there were only three more teams. Right in front of them, Gawa recognized a girl riding a brown benti, not much bigger than her; they were from that region, and the girl lived in Taisa's village. Ahead, a tall benti, slim and with very long legs, carried a boy on her back. Gawa guessed that she was the fastest between the four, but, even so, she and her boy didn't advance. Looking further ahead, she understood why: the benti leading the race was huge, and would easily bring down anyone who got too close to him and his also strong companion. Any approximation would require caution.
Taisa was probably thinking about a way to get rid of that situation — at least, she should be —, and the benti felt when the girl quickly looked back. Bwekavin mount — that meant windbreaker and called Red Wall by the zivar — was in a certain way too close, but also too distant: the duo should advance, or they would lose the race; but, if Gawa sprinted right in that moment, she would be too tired before reaching it. A fight against the team from the village might not be so hard, but the others would get an advantage while they were busy fighting; overtaking the slim benti would be more complicated, if she was really the fastest; and pass that bulky leader would surely be a problem... If they followed the trail.
If they went around them, through the...
"We'll have to go back to the grass," saida Taisa, aloud but not shouting. That really seemed to be the only option, but if they slowed down... "But we have to keep our pace!"
That was it, then: run through the grass as if it was a common trail, without the usual caution. A hurt benti would be of no use— "a benti that can't run is a fish that can't swim", was the saying —, and any racer would choose to slow down or to take the cleaner path. Taisa was now suggesting that they did not choose any of the two options. It was dangerous... But it could work.
"Side," cawed Gawa, and right after it she felt Taisa pulling the saddle to the right.
The benti leaned swiftly to the chosen side, and one moment later they felt again the rub of the long grass blades.
As soon as she realized she was being overtook, the girl from the village and the brown benti worked hard to not let that happen: they proceeded firmly trough their path, side-by-side with Gawa and Taisa. Taisa was maybe wondering that the boy on the back of the tall benti would stop the progress of that duo, but, instead, he gave them the passage. That is what I would do, thought Gawa.
The bulky benti and his human partner were, in fact, a little slower than the others, and it didn't take very long for Gawa, Taisa and the other duo to reach them. The boy looked to the sides, clearly uncomfortable with the situation, since he couldn't defend both sides at the same time. While the boy was thinking about which side to defend, the Bwekavin got closer, now big and imposing as it should be. They would only need to enter it's shadow, and it would be over.
Finally, maybe because Taisa's fragile aspect, the leader decided to give more attention to the other duo. They slowed down and were left behind, as Gawa threw herself into the trail again, glad to not have find any dangerous obstacle in the grass. Some combat noises were heard, and the benti felt less pressure from the girl's legs.
"Taisa? What happened?"
"That's amazing," the girl answered in a distant voice.
"Taisa? Taisa? Pay attention to the race!"
And as if she was just awaken from a deep sleep, the girl shouted:
"Run, Gawa! Run!"
Gawa didn't wait any further, and sped up as much as she could. Taise retook the posture with an uncommon firmness, and that, more than the enormous mass of rock that rose right ahead, made the benti understand that they were in the final stretch.
And she was really fast. Gawa could see her head slipping at her left, and, slowly, she and Taisa were getting behind them. That couldn't happen, and Gawa tried to speed her pace even more.
"Faster!" shouted Taisa, "Come on, Gawa!"
The benti felt in her legs a pain that she hadn't felt for a very long time. She was getting tired, and, if they lost the race, it would be a problem. But the legs ached, and they were being left behind...
"Please, Gawa! For my mother!"
Being hit at full by the words, the benti decided she wouldn't lose. Her legs were burning, but she was taking back their position. The opponent was shouting incentive words, Taisa was shouting, too, and Gawa was cawing and also the other benti, and for some instants all the voices were mixed into a loud and incomprehensible sound, and when Gawa believed she couldn't keep the pace and bear that tremendous effort, the children got silent and another sound was heard, the sound of a benti, indicating that someone entered the Bwekavin's shadow.
And the race had ended.
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