“Pwuah!” In between just two heartbeats my body was ripped from its sleep. My pulse rushed through my head as if every beast on the continent was chasing after me. My eyes shot wide open, watering under the sudden infall of light. Something heavy had smashed into my body - it was Mae. She was laying on top of me, her hands cupping her head as her sparkling dark eyes watched me in amusement.
“Wakey, Brother!” she greeted me with a wide grin.
“Was there no other way to wake me up?!”
“No! Brother looked like he was having a nightmare! Quick intervention was needed!”
“I didn’t have any nightmares though!”
“Of course! Because I woke you up quickly!” Mae responded with unshakeable confidence and held her hand out in front of her, signing me a thumbs-up.
I stumbled through the garden - still half asleep - until I reached the platform where Rika was already waiting for me. Her black top fluttered in the light wind, revealing the parts of her tight battle-suit.
“Ah, morning. So what do you want me to do?” I asked.
“Straight to the point, huh? I’ll have you run a few rounds and then we continue.”
I had expected something more...unusual, especially considering how concerned Evelyn was. I for my part was also nervous - Rika was basically still a stranger, changing from a lightful woman to someone with a pressuring authority in the blink of an eye. Yet this training started off like your common physical education. I began to jog around the outer edge of the platform while Rika was sitting on the ground, wearing a slight smile on her face. Every few minutes she would order me to increase my speed, but it wasn’t anything dramatic. Around five rounds later she stood up, her smile growing wider and more gleeful.
“Well, that should have warmed you up enough.” Rika stopped me, stretching her arms above her head. “Now punch me as hard as you can.”
I stared at her, rather confused, but she looked totally indifferent - her smile didn’t diminish at all.
“I-is this some kind of joke I don’t get?”
“Nope! Hit me with everything you’ve got!”
I hesitated. Is she for real?
“Don’t worry~...I will block it anyway you know?” Rika jiggled.
It couldn’t be helped. Should I aim for a harmless spot like her shoulders? She said everything I got though...so I should go for her head?
I decided to go for the former. Using the distance between us to gain speed I prepared a punch. Once I was in reach however, she just side-stepped and dodged my attack. Immediately after, I felt a touch near my neck while something knocked my leg forward, causing me to smash back-first into the ground. The impact resonated through my chest, forcefully pushing the air out of my lungs. This was the first time I became aware of breathing as a life-sustaining act as my chest wasn’t able to suck in air no matter how hard I tried.
“Don’t worry, I’ve softened your fall so you’ll be fine in a second.” Rika noted, clearly unconcerned.
You ‘softened’ my fall?!
She squatted down and gave me a flick on my forehead. “Also, your intuition is pretty good, well done.”
My lungs gasped for air while I struggled to get back up again.
“Was that really necessary?” I asked, trying to get rid of a bitter taste in my mouth.
“Hmm, I mean probably not? But at least you now have an experience for what happens if you mess up.”
“There wasn’t even a way for me to not mess up!”
“What are you mad about? You are not dead or anything.” Rika looked at me as if I was the one acting weird.
We proceeded to go over some basic stances, punches and kicks until Rika asked me to attack her once every second with everything she had just shown me. I went through the imaginary checklist - feet shoulder width apart, my right foot in the rear and slightly rotated outwards, fists on chin level - then I began to throw punches and kicks at my instructor. I was still slightly hesitating at first and threw punches that wouldn’t seriously hit her, but Rika dodged everything with such ease that I got more and more forced to go all out.
Bring my leg up, tilt my upper body back and shoot my hips forward, I thought as I prepared another kick.
The execution went as I had intended. However, Rika just disappeared from my sight and I found myself smashing into the ground once again. I realized that falling in itself wasn’t so bad, much worse was the confusion which followed right after since I couldn’t perceive what exactly caused me to fall - Rika’s movements were too fast for my eyes to follow.
“Your kick was too fast. I told you to attack every second so stay on time.”
“Being too fast is a reason to knock me down?!”
“Negative stimuli enhance learning speed.”
Is this woman even sane?
We continued our training for a while. I focussed more on the rhythm - it wasn’t that hard to strike once every second, and maybe if I’d go for different spots I’d be able to hit her at least once. I threw a kick just below her ribs, one more punch at her face, followed by another kick that should have hit her abdomen, yet no matter what I tried, I could not hit her.
“Why are you stopping?” Rika asked, confused as I stood still.
“How can you be so fast?”
She touched her chin and looked at me thoughtfully. “I’m fast? Aren’t you just too slow?”
Ignoring her counter-question, we continued. I instantly sprinted at her. One punch at her chin, a kick against her hips, rotate and throw another punch at her ribs. Then, finally, I noticed something.
She has dropped her guard! Her face isn’t covered...I may be able to land this one!
I striked...and saw the crystal blue sky. Birds were flying above me. I laid on the ground, spitting out some of the short grass that was in my mouth. Rika sat down cross-legged beside me, trying to catch her breath again after laughing too much. “You fell for it!”
That was probably the hardest part for her during this entire session - collecting herself after this fit of laughter. My frustration must have been readable on my face as Rika slowly calmed down.
“Wait...you really thought you could hit me? You are just a child!”
I didn’t know if Rika was serious about her compliment...if it even was one to begin with. The fact that I was drenched in sweat and dirt while she appeared as if she had just returned from a pleasant little stroll didn’t make it any better either.
We finished training and walked back through the garden to the luxurious main building.
“Your body is pretty resilient despite you not looking the part, but we’ll still have to train your muscles specifically. A few pullups and pushing exercises two days per week added to your training with me should be sufficient for your age.”
“Ah, okay,” I replied half-heartedly.
Rika watched me, not once did the small smile vanish from her mouth, then she gave me a soft hit on the back.
“If you manage to land one blow on me in these coming two years, I will treat you to some food.”
One may call it dumb but it actually lightened my mood a bit.