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MATURE RPG


May, 2010... Fantasy became reality. Worlds overlay for the briefest moment. Outworlders became stranded on earth as more than half the human populace vanished. Our World, our universe, was transformed.

Fiction is now reality. Humans and those now bound to this world will either learn to coexist, or battle for supremecy.

JUNE 13, 2019 - Family emergency  took a bad turn so had to stay away but now things are finally calming down. Hope to get going again shortly. Thanks for understanding. ~ZEPH

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January 17th

5pm

Book of Kells

 

 

 

The moment was rare; letting the world take care of itself for a few short minutes absolute heaven until her phone went off and she had to retrieve it. Lips smirked at his ringtone question.

 

“Yours is Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,” she quipped, answer laced with sarcasm as she slid back into bed on top of the covers with her phone. Obviously something else, her grin was still teasing.

 

Business as usual again, dealing with the mundane was welcome compared to everything that had come in the last few weeks. She watched him as she spoke on the phone, looking up at the blues that were always so expressively thinking… or lethal. She found both moods insanely attractive. Fingers reached up and lazily brushed his jaw, eyes narrowing for a split second to let him know he could stop over analyzing.

 

She knew he was and it had kept her alive over the last few weeks.

 

“Sometimes people are just people,” she whispered with her rum-rich timbre as she hung up the call, rolling up to provoke him with her ass-kicking ultimatum. She could when she tried.

 

“If its anything like last night… then sure, I’ll go another round with the champ.”

 

“Oh really?”

 

Apparently he wanted to go there.

 

Brow quirked, leaning in to whisper something in his ear that would make a sailor blush, nipping his earlobe to get her point across before she took her agile leave to get things together.

 

“Don’t think I’ll go easy on you”

 

“I’d be disappointed if you did,” she was aware he was now up and moving. Silk robe fluttered slightly as she strode barefoot with an armful of clothes out the bedroom door, plotting an ambush and snagging him around the neck into a languid kiss as he came through the doorway. Game on. "I thought nobody could catch you off guard... clearly I won this round," she quipped. Leaving would have to wait a bit longer.

 

+++

 

January 17th

8pm

The Harbor, Blue Collar Business District

 

 

 

It was dark, eyes quickly up at the sky as she locked her door. Snow flittered around them but the sky was clear, the city did that sometimes. Quick by car, it was usually a half hour walk or so if she took her shortcuts. Normally she would have taken him on that adventure, but given recent events it was more prudent to have the access to his car in case something came up.

 

It was a quiet neighborhood. Mostly old industrial type storefronts with a few neighborhood bars dotting the blocks. At night, no reason for any businesses to be open anymore except the glow and echoing conversations of good old fashion pubs. Getting out to unlock a gate that led to parking in between the buildings, she pulled her coat closer around her and crisscrossed her bag over her chest. She kept security extremely tight, especially in the winter. When it was cold she couldn’t go as often because she had to heat the place. Firing up the old boiler to warm-up the building cost money, and it was either keep the heat on in the shop, or there. It was left just warm enough for the pipes not to freeze and then she cranked it when she went. It was a special place, as was her shop and her home. The gym was special in a different way. She adored going there and reveling in the one thing in her life that didn’t change with the chaos of the world. Bringing him there brought a genuine smile to her lips as she waited for him to park and catch up.

 

The main entrance was no longer visible from the street, once she locked the gate behind him they were alone. Parking lot had been surrounded over the years by other buildings built without aesthetics in mind, so now it was essentially hidden from the world. She took the padlock off a chained gate at the entryway, and then the wire mesh door that protected the glass on the old windows. Built in the late twenties, it was a brick goliath that spanned a considerable amount of the block. Carved sandstone decorated the outside separation of floors like molding, corners and peaks also carved. What was once probably a glowing buff color sandstone against bright red brick was now grayed with time, recesses antiqued darkly with the age and dust of the city. Arched, tall windows went all the way around the roofline, decades ago bricked in and replaced with “modern” tilt-ins in attempts to be energy efficient.

 

“If something happens and we need to bolt, there is a fire hatch on the roof,” she was clearly now used to evaluating everywhere she went for an escape route. It had become necessary. “Far right corner of the gym. Stairs to the balcony, ladder up, lever pushes it up and out. Emergencies only… costs a thousand bucks for the fire marshall to come out and close it again.”

 

She was locking everything behind her as they went in, also a precaution, finally keying into the entry-way. The floor was dark jade colored flagstone, to either side were small windows for tickets; wrought iron still in place to “protect” the ticket-takers like an old bank. Above, a substantial globe light hanging from decorative chain was dark, blue glass with white stars. Keying into the foyer, she stepped to the left and unlocked a dark wood door to one of the ticket booths, a breaker box creaking open as she flipped several switches. The foyer came to life in a dim antique glow. It was stunning, deep wood wainscoted walls, more glass globe lights that even unlit could still be identified as a moon, the earth and a sun. Sconces on the walls that she'd turned on were clearly art deco.

 

“This was the place to be until the late forties. Boxing matches, basketball games. There are some old framed pictures inside of people dressed in suits and formal wear,” her voice echoed gently against the walls. At one time, the place had been magnificent. It still was, just more dusty.

 

A vibration under their feet was acknowledged with a glance. The boiler had just kicked it up a notch and the blowers had turned on.

 

“It doesn’t take long to warm up,” she was taking off her scarf, opening the main door to the castle and letting him in first.

 

Only a few service lights lit it up, but it was vast, straight up two stories minimum to open beams. The floor was beautifully planked wood, wide enough for two basketball courts side by side or a boxing ring in the center. They were surrounded on three sides with a balcony where several rows of benches gave spectators more places to sit. Under the balcony overhang, several boxing rings had been added at a later time. Punching bags still hung between them. Lockers on the walls. Old fashioned pull-up and climbing bars lined one wall. Climbing ropes. Everything was still intact.

 

Walking toward the closest ring, she clicked on the lights that lit up just that area a little brighter. This was her hideaway. A private stairwell in the corner went up to “offices” on the second floor over the foyer.

 

“I lived up there until after high school, we can crash there if we or you ever need to. I keep it up. Other than my banker, nobody knows this place is here. Could be a rally point if things ever go south,” again the planned foresight. “I can get you keys made.”

 

She tossed her coat over a bench, dropping her bag and sitting to remove her sweater and pull off her boots, peeling off her jeans to expose the black jogger's leggings she didn't use nearly enough anymore. One foot up at a time onto the bench tied up her favorite old pair of tennis shoes, also not used nearly enough anymore. Henley off, a close fitting grey tee shirt was beneath. Hair was wound up tight at the base of her neck in a twisted tie out of the way.

 

“At the very least, I need to be useful, not just defend myself. I know taking me out to Remy’s was a huge risk… I don’t want to be a risk.”

 

She sat and lifted her sheathed weapons from the bag and put them on the bench, forearms leaning on the tops of her thighs as she looked at them. She hadn’t intended on bringing them at first, but he’d said… pushed hard. He needed to see everything, even though she was reluctant. She kept telling herself he could handle 'her' at her worst. Doubt was lingering and clearly on her features.

 

“I want to be able to hold my own, without any help,” she was chewing her lip unconsciously. Meaning, she was ready to consider getting rid of her shadow. For good. “Tape, gauze, practice gloves are in that locker over there. Don’t know how you want to start. I'm at your mercy and expertise coach. Don't pull your punches.”

 

Looking over toward the locker, her brows went down slightly. Now that the air was being circulated from outside, a scent that had lingered in her memory at the shop from the night Remy’s went down was back. She’d picked it up unconsciously when she got out of the car to unlock the gate. Now, it was circulating in the room. She’d figure it out, or it was going to drive her crazy.

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Ryan parked his car in the hidden lot behind the gym, and together the couple made their way inside. 

 

Rorye had described the place as her father’s “old boxing gym,” but it wasn’t really a gym at all.  The aged two-story structure was the size of a small stadium.  Bricked walls, marble floors, and fancy lighting common in the 1940’s, made the place a historical monument.  Ryan had trained in gyms, studios, and even fitness centers, but this place was far grander than anywhere he had trained before.  This wasn’t an “old boxing gym,” it was a historic boxing arena.

 

Note was taken of the emergency fire escape.  “Good to know,” he muttered in reply. Gaze continued to explore the vastness of the arena as he followed his guide through the boxing mecca.

 

“I lived up there until after high school, we can crash there if we or you ever need to. I keep it up. Other than my banker, nobody knows this place is here. Could be a rally point if things ever go south,” she said gesturing toward the offices overlooking the ground floor.

 

“Are you sure no one knows of this place?”  The agent couldn’t help his skepticism.  A location such as this would be difficult to keep secret.

 

She nodded assuredly, “I can get you keys made.”

 

“Alright then,” Harker agreed.  “If the shop is compromised, we’ll meet here.  If this place is compromised, then we’ll meet at my apartment.  If my apartment is compromised… then ARMA H-Q is probably the safest bet.”

 

The operative had another apartment on the other side of town, but it would be irresponsible for him to tell her of its existence.  If she became compromised or captured, he would need a place to conduct operations from.  ARMA headquarters wouldn’t be suitable for covert deployment.  The installation had far too much visibility.  Furthermore, he acknowledged the possibility ARMA wouldn’t always be considered an ally.  To some such a notion might sound paranoid, but at this point, nothing was outside the realm of possible.

 

Ryan set his black gym bag on the bench near his chosen locker.  Enchanted armor was peeled away a layer at a time and placed neatly inside the storage space.  The hunter’s weaponry was removed as well, though not without mild hesitation.  Once most of his clothing had been discarded, he became acutely aware of stadium’s frigid air.

 

Black duffle was unzipped, and more appropriate attire became accessible.  Black Adidas sweatpants were pulled quickly over his Under Armor athletic shorts, a white stripe running down the length of each leg.  Black tank-top was covered just as swiftly by a matching hooded sweatshirt.  His feet were left bare, as was typical of most martial artists.

 

“At the very least, I need to be useful, not just defend myself. I know taking me out to Remy’s was a huge risk… I don’t want to be a risk.”  Rorye said, as she finished tying the laces of her tennis shoes. 

 

Harker’s thoughts drifted back to the evening she mentioned.  He had killed a lot of people that night.  A speedster and nearly twenty, heavily armed mercenaries had been slain by his hand.  Taking her had been as risk, but she had held her own.  She followed orders, remained calm under pressure, and spilled a share of the blood herself.  Still, it would take more than a single training session to make her mission ready.

 

Rorye arranged her blades on the bench nearest to her, “I want to be able to hold my own, without any help.  Tape, gauze, practice gloves are in that locker over there. Don’t know how you want to start. I'm at your mercy and expertise coach. Don't pull your punches.”

 

Ryan eyed the sheathed knives on the bench.  She was prepared to take this sparing match to the absolute limit of her abilities.  He knew the Karambits were her weapon of choice, but he hadn’t expected her to bring them to the gym.  A hand-to-hand engagement with a speedster armed with knives was a dangerous proposition, training or otherwise.  Training blades would be preferred, unfortunately he hadn’t brought any with him.  They weren’t exactly something he carried around in his daily workout bag.

 

“Well first, we won’t need those today,” he gestured toward the blades.  “On the off chance you get lucky and actually land a shot, I don’t need anymore stitches.”  He chuckled, “I’ll bring some training knives next time.”

 

“We won’t be needing those ratty old boxing gloves either,” he told her.  The fighter reached into his duffle and drew a pair of MMA training gloves.  Padding on them was significantly thinner than standard boxing gloves, and the fingers were open to allow for grappling.  Gloves were tossed toward her lightly, “Those should fit you.  Oh, and make sure you have a mouthguard.  Don’t want you losing any of those pretty teeth when I knock you on your ass.”

 

Harker flashed a playful grin before shoving his own mouthpiece into his sweatshirt pocket.  Gloves were synched down on his wrists and then flexed until they fit comfortably.  He shrugged his shoulders a couple times and gave his neck a quick swivel side to side.  “Ready?  Let’s warm up, then we’ll see whatchu got.”

 

“Can we get some music going in this place?” he asked.  He doubted an ancient place like this had a USB connector, but surely it had some kind of sound system.  It was an arena after all.  “I prefer to work out to music.” Another sarcastic smile, “Ya know, some ‘Eye of the Tiger’ or something.”

 

The ARMA operative led Rorye through several laps around the indoor stadium.  They ran until they were both sweating despite the cold.  A hundred pushups and a hundred sit ups were followed by light stretching.  Then it was time for some work on the heavy bag.

 

Ryan assessed how strenuous the warmup had been for his new pupil.  Weightlifting and cardio had become a part of his daily life.  Albeit, in light of his recent op-tempo, he hadn’t been as disciplined in his training regimen.  The agent had memberships at several different gyms throughout the city.  Even with his abilities, weapons, and ARMA tech, maintaining his physical condition was essential to his performance in the field.  For Rorye, super-speed would have limited use if she lacked the necessary endurance.

 

          Ryan held the heavy bag and instructed Rorye to deliver several basic combinations.  Next, he told her to strike the bag repeatedly. “As hard and as fast as you can until I tell you to stop,” he had said. 

 

With a little effort, the operative willed his abilities to activate absent any immediate threat.  Time within the boxing arena slowed.  Rorye’s punches continued at a pace faster than the heavy bag could recoil.  For her trainer however, the strikes seemed to flow slowly through the air. 

 

Harker analyzed her form.  Position of her wrist when hitting the weighted bag.  Tilt of her chin, movement of her shoulders, even the alignment of her hips as she swung.  Pivot of her feet, and her footwork as she telegraphed the next strike to come.  From a boxing standpoint, her form was pretty decent.  Clearly, she’d had some formal training in the past.

 

“Alright, that’s enough,” Ryan said once he was satisfied with his assessment.  “Let’s get started.”

 

The mage hunter walked to the ring and slid under the bottom rope, rolling effortlessly out onto the mat.  “Make sure you take off your socks and shoes before you come up here.”  Sensing her doubt at his request he added, “trust me, you’ll see why.”

 

Mouthguard was placed in his mouth, then Harker pulled his hoodie over his head and tossed it aside.  Balled fists came to his waist and he flexed his muscles in mock intimidation.  He was joking, but also aware the ring’s lighting added definition to his physique.  Modesty was an overrated virtue.

 

Once Rorye had joined him in the ring, he extended a gloved hand in her direction.  Touching gloves before the start of a match was a traditional sign of respect.  Then he stepped away from her and assumed a fighting stance.  Fingers of his lead hand waved her forward, “Alright girl, show me what you got.”

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“Are you sure no one knows of this place?”

 

Eyes wandered over the large space fondly, her daredevil self once upon a time had scrawled her name on some of the beams that could be reached from the balcony railings.

 

“I have it listed as a derelict property and owned by the bank. Even if anyone knew it was here, they don’t know I own it. It would only become a problem if someone wanted to buy the block and develop it, which I don’t see happening in the near future.”

 

“Alright then, if the shop is compromised, we’ll meet here.  If this place is compromised, then we’ll meet at my apartment.  If my apartment is compromised… then ARMA H-Q is probably the safest bet.”

 

She nodded and made her way toward her corner to change, eyes peering up at the vent on the ceiling. After a few moments the red ribbons started moving. Old fans were still kicking. She worried about the day they wouldn't work, unsure if she would be able to fix them. Time brought age and the place would either have to be let go if it began to wear out or be brought back to life by someone that could afford it.

 

“Well first, we won’t need those today”

 

Sigh was light as she looked at the sheaths. She was hoping for at least a chance she could explain how… everything… worked.  It was always a worry, especially with Chris the day before. Frustration brought anger, anger brought problems. Ryan wasn’t an enemy though. She’d never had an issue with anyone other than someone that was threatening her. A warning might be needed, it wasn't a good idea to provoke something without at least a warning.

 

“On the off chance you get lucky and actually land a shot, I don’t need any more stitches.” 

 

Eyes narrowed at him. Smartass.

 

“We won’t be needing those ratty old boxing gloves either”

 

Balled up hand towel from her bag was launched in his direction. She had a pretty good aim.

 

“I’ve had those for years,” she quipped, brows down as she caught the pair he tossed at her.

 

“Those should fit you.  Oh, and make sure you have a mouthguard.  Don’t want you losing any of those pretty teeth when I knock you on your ass.”

 

Smile at him was sarcastic. She had a brand new one somewhere she never opened. It wasn’t like she was doing anything here except by herself. Thinking a moment if it was upstairs or down there, she got up and opened a locker that had obviously been hers for a long time… it may or may not have had boy band pics in it when she was younger. She’d never admit to that.

 

Several candid actual photos were still stuck to the inside, before the onset of digital had made everything poof. The larger of the two was of her and her older brothers in the center ring that was no longer there. They had stopped their sparring to take a selfie with her, her bright purple braces under a wide smile next to their stupid sweaty mugs. She’d been eleven, twelve maybe? The other was a little more damning, the summer after high school graduation. She sat on the tailgate of a truck, four others with her in the photo in various stages of laughter. Some had beer bottles in hand; she was one of them, wearing the leather jacket she still owned. Hair had been exceptionally long, pulled over one shoulder in a cascade of waves. A man’s arm was around her shoulders, temple pressed to hers, the dark gaze now haunting as it smiled out from the picture. Eyes gave it a longer glance than it should have as she pulled on the gloves Ryan had given her, the fuel for so many things in this life captured in that one photo. Peering up on the top shelf, she pulled the mouthguard case down. Check. Locker was closed.

 

“Ready?  Let’s warm up, then we’ll see whatchu got. Can we get some music going in this place?”

 

Brow cocked at him, she actually did have something hooked up but it definitely wasn’t that high tech. Was he serious?

 

“I prefer to work out to music. Ya know, some ‘Eye of the Tiger’ or something.”

 

“Smartass.”

 

She was a runner, so the laps were a great warm-up. Push-ups were a strength as well, moving business stock wasn’t an easy job, and here she’d been pushed by her pops in upper body strength. She’d boxed some boys her age when she was a teenager, proud to say she’d done fairly well until they said they didn't want to hurt a girl. Almost through however crazy many push-ups he wanted to do, she pulled back to sit on her heels, stretching the back of her arms. Damn. Finishing the rest after a stretch, she was pissed at herself. Furl of her brow evident.

 

Sit-ups… the pause for a moment before she started was filled with a bit of apprehension. She would push herself through it, not really wanting to explain why. Slower than the push-ups, her form was impeccable and pace steady.

 

She got up, still pissed about the push-ups. Hands on her hips, she squinted at the bag. Hitting things. She needed to hit things for a minute to burn off the annoyance.

 

“As hard and as fast as you can until I tell you to stop”

 

Nod was quick. Instead of getting weaker as she tired, hits became more powerful; almost as if the recoil was feeding off its own kinetic energy. Her ring stung under the glove, buzzing with the bite of something that should definitely not be on her finger while she was hitting something. She had no choice. When he said to stop, she shook the offended hand once. Fuck.

   

“Alright, that’s enough, Let’s get started.”

 

Breath heaved once, hands at her sides.

 

“Make sure you take off your socks and shoes before you come up here.”

 

She quirked a doubting expression at him.

 

Trust me, you’ll see why.”

 

She obliged. Toe pulled the heel off one foot, then repeated for the other. Socks were pulled off and stuffed inside.

 

“I feel silly,” she grumbled quietly, wiggling her toes and picking up her mouth guard from the bench in time to watch him flex. That broke a laugh.

 

“You are such a smartass,” she accused lightheartedly.

 

Hand ran across the mat affectionately, it seemed like some kind of ritual to pace the side before getting in. Hands gripped the bottom rope for a moment, looking up at him as his attention was elsewhere. She did it more often than she would admit, catching his small inflections of personality when he was with his own thoughts. Small facial expressions, the brilliance of his eyes. He was incredible to look at.

 

“Showing off, is that part of the lessons?” voice was quiet, the laugh had soothed the grouchy mood. “Distract the opponent, got it.”

 

She pulled herself up to the mat and went through the ropes. She was aware she was graceful, and the agility doubled down on it. Knowing it was there and what it looked like in motion were entirely different. The way she carried herself seemed effortless when it was moving, a natural momentum that lead into the power to change direction on a dime; missed by most when she was swathed in a loose sweater or normal clothes if one didn’t know what they were looking for.

 

It had been so long since she'd been in the ring. Hands found her hips again, eyes on the mat before looking up at him. Mouthguard in, exhale was long, the glove touch bringing a glitter of excitement into her chest. It always did. Now, over a decade later, something darker lived with it; anticipating the violence that followed.

 

“Alright girl, show me what you got.”

 

Focus was intent for a few seconds. She straightened suddenly and put her hand up, “I’m sorry… I just…”

 

Both hands leaned on her thighs as she breathed. Pulling out her mouthguard and padding over to him, arm slid around his neck to pull him toward her and press her lips against his cheek briefly.

 

“Thank you for this,” she said quietly and returned to her spot, putting her mouthguard back in.

 

Eyes narrowed as she shook herself out and set a fighting stance.

 

“So… I just hit you? Like, you’re the kid from sixth grade that tried to kick the crap out of me? I hurt him. I don’t want to hurt you.”

 

After his response, she pulled in a large breath and released it.

 

"Okay, school bully. Got it."

 

Focusing on the blue, she was unaware her pupils changed, flushing out wide to engulf the dark amber almost completely. She had an incredible ability to center her balance and stay on her feet, and an almost preternatural sense of motion. Eyes never looked where hits were sent, they were focused on his, her ability to judge the distance and deliver an accurate strike still exact. As with the bag, it was like an avalanche, the more motion she generated the faster it became and the force increased. Perhaps inhibition was being lost, or something else was taking over as her aggression escalated. As it intensified, strikes began to shift purpose from tentative defense and take-down, to something much more powerful. It was becoming very clear she was not the 'broken', altered human that she thought she was.

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“Showing off, is that part of the lessons?”

 

          “Fear and intimidation are valuable tools in any conflict,” he answered in feigned wisdom.

 

          “Distract the opponent, got it.”

 

“Sun Tzu once said, ‘The greatest victories are those which require no battle.” The Soldier said profoundly.  A smirk cracked across his features.  He hadn’t a college degree, but he had read a book or two about his trade.

 

---

 

          Harker readied himself for the woman’s advance.  Confused when she abruptly called for a ‘time-out’ and then approached him.  Her embrace was welcome, if not unexpected. 

 

Lips touched gently to his cheek, “Thank you for this.”

 

“Yeah, no problem,” he said sheepishly.

 

“So… I just hit you? Like, you’re the kid from sixth grade that tried to kick the crap out of me? I hurt him. I don’t want to hurt you.” Rorye asked as she returned to her side of the ring.  Doubt accompanied her query.

 

“Let’s see if you can even hit me,” the agent quipped.  “Then we’ll worry about whether or not you can hurt me.”

 

---

 

          For the initial exchanges, Ryan stayed on the defensive.  Punches were slipped, dodged and parried with relative ease.  His abilities made him slippery and unpredictable.  Movements were made to effectively evade attacks and didn’t always align with orthodox martial arts form.  A technique unique to his skillset.

 

Speedsters were a weakness for him in sudden engagements involving immediate lethality.  Guns, knives, and the like, when combined with enhanced speed, meant when the foe inevitably landed a strike, the result could be fatal.  Thus, his aversion to Rorye’s blades.  However, in prolonged engagements, Ryan’s abilities shined against even a skilled speedster.  Mistakes weren’t a death sentence, and he could capitalize on weaknesses speedsters didn’t even know they possessed.

 

As when she had been striking the heavy bag, Rorye’s quickness was developing momentum.  An interesting prospect.  Did this mean she couldn’t utilize her full speed without gradual escalation?  Did the power require fuel before it could reach its full potential?  A theory her trainer would have test.

 

Soon Rorye’s onslaught threatened to overwhelm Ryan’s masterful defense.  Concern for his wellbeing seemed to have subsided in part, as she succumbed to the urge to actually hit him.  Eventually, she would land a blow, but he would decide the when, where, and how. 

 

          Until this point Harker had evaded all her attacks.  So, it probably came as a surprise when he held his ground and absorbed a shot to the body.  Already her next punch was in motion, which was precisely why she fell.  Lead foot had been swept while in a state of transition between strikes.  Having crowded her with his body, the agent was able to knock her down with a firm, but effortless shove.

 

            “You good?” he chuckled.  Of course, she was… he hadn’t even hit her yet.

 

          Ryan waited for her to get back to her feet.  Smug grin on his face as he held out his glove once more.  After her fist had bumped his, he retreated a few paces and resumed a fighting stance.  He would play with her a little longer.  Observe how quickly she angered.  Then the lesson would begin.

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“Sun Tzu once said, ‘The greatest victories are those which require no battle.”

 

Corner of her lips quirked up. She had that book, a few really nice old editions in her shop. For some reason after the world ended people were really interested in learning how to outsmart opponents. The older ones were more popular… revisions to later editions and all that book snobbery as reasons they gave her.

 

“Let’s see if you can even hit me. Then we’ll worry about whether or not you can hurt me.”

 

Great.

 

…another reminder that she’d gotten the short end of the magus stick. It was one of her pet peeves, kindling a bit more volatility behind the narrowing of her eyes before she threw her first punch. She'd suspected he was fast, but damn. The moment she made contact, she knew she was fucked, moving to try and stave the inevitable… not fast enough. The second her foot was swept, a catlike reflex had begun to save her footing to recover, broken by the resulting shove.

 

She always hated what came after, back smacking the mat.

 

It was over that fast.

 

Son of a...

 

 “You good?”

 

“I hate you…” she said with deadpan annoyance from her horizontal position, staring up at the ceiling.

 

Every time she increased her speed, the backlash was always her greatest fear. The faster she moved, the harder she hit or rebounded, including when it wasn’t in her favor. It was a flinch response she’d developed from learning the hard way that her newfound abilities came with consequences; namely broken fingers. In the back of her mind she had a trained muscle memory to pull back to avoid injury, something she no longer had to worry about but still lingered. The more she punched, the more the fear subsided, the harder and faster her hits became. She could tap it at any time, the psych-out a serious hindrance in the start of a fight.

 

Sigh was pulled in and let out in a good-natured huff.

 

Kip up sharp, it was obvious she had more skill than she was letting on. Back on her feet and pissed off, she shrugged her shoulders to shake off the sting. Spine tingled, a flicker of anger touching the edges of her eyes at his smirk. The thoughtful, determined quirk to her lips was not going to last long at this pace.

 

Fist bumped, round two. As he resumed his stance, she changed hers. She wasn’t just a boxer; she could kick hard enough to knock a man’s teeth out. What basics she'd learned a long time ago, had definitely been mastered. Gloves metaphorically off, she'd leveled up, completely avoiding the same mistake as before that had knocked her on her ass. It was becoming obvious she was a ridiculously fast learner made even more so by the altered skill; what she saw, she could imitate with a keen spacial awareness sans miscalculation. It was quickly evident why old friends avoided sparring with her. They didn't want to get their ass kicked by a girl.

 

Now, there was also wrath hiding in the wings. Unpredictable, brutal and deadly, it was already tapping on her consciousness to get her attention. The vicious conscience on her shoulder was watching with great interest, beginning to feed off her anger and it was starting to bleed into her movements. They were not fair shots. If she had a weapon in her hand they were intended to be torturous, cutting tendon and connective tissue until her opponent was incapacitated and suffering. Their results were meant to be cruel. Unpredictable, changing on a dime, and powerful as hell, the self control was starting to shed; peeling away to reveal a peek into what was to come.

 

 

 

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For the ARMA operative, time passed at a crawl.  Stadium so silent within the confines of his mind, that he could hear all the minute audiations in the massive space.  Beating of his heart, exhale of his breath… her breathing, even the touch of her toes as they glided across the mats surface.  The focus his abilities allowed, would be incomprehensible to anyone lacking such gifts.

 

          Change in her stance was noticed, as were all the other seemingly imperceptible movements in her form.  Pivots of her feet, tension changing in her knees as weight was shifted, tilt of her shoulders as they chambered her strikes, glance of her eyes as they acquired their targets.  In concert, these miniscule motions telegraphed Rorye’s maneuvers before they had even been executed.  Skilled fighters trained to limit the visibility of these foretelling acts, so they would go unseen by their opponents. 

 

However, it is impossible to eliminate these tells altogether.  Physics and human physiology have requirements that simply can’t be denied.  Great fighters instead learn to conceal or disguise their strikes, so they can be delivered before their opponent has an opportunity to react.  Unfortunately for Rorye, Harker’s eyes perceived even the feintest of telegraphs.  His reaction to her every move, instant and seemingly perfect for the occasion.

 

When presented with a threat, every sentient being goes through the same mental process.  Perceive, decide, react.  For the average human, it takes more than .25 seconds to perceive the threat.  Another .25 seconds to decide on a course of action to address the threat, and then finally .25 - .5 seconds to execute the reaction.  Professional warriors train to make the “decide” step in this process instinctive and immediate, but the other steps cannot be negated.  Even speedsters are forced to go through this mental process when confronting danger.  Ryan’s abilities made this process instantaneous.  Which meant in some ways, he was faster than even those blessed with supernatural agility.

 

          When the fight resumed, Rorye led her first combination with kick-boxing styled roundhouse to his front leg.  The kick was fast.  Too fast.  Ryan hadn’t the time to evade or block the attack, which left him with limited options.  Lead foot was raised slightly, knee turned toward the incoming strike.  A dull “clack” could be heard as bone collided against bone.  Rorye’s shin crashing forcefully against Ryan’s knee.  Given the speed of the kick, her leg should have snapped, but it did not.

 

          Ryan had witnessed her leaping from the multi-story fire escape just the day before.  She had landed with poise, unphased by a fall that should have shattered her lower extremities.  Deduction advised him, Rorye’s bones were sturdy enough to withstand his Muay-Thai counter.  Still, it had to hurt.  His knee hadn’t escaped injury either, it would certainly be aching in the morrow.

 

          Whether the block had inflicted pain or not, Rorye pressed on with her assault.  Right cross snapped forward, glancing lightly off Ryan’s head as he narrowly weaved beneath her strike.  A stiff jab from his lead hand slipped under her punch.  Fist connected solidly with her jaw, nullifying the next attack in her combination and staggering her backward.

 

          The Soldier felt a pang of regret.  He hadn’t meant to hit her that hard.  She had increased the intensity of their match, and incidentally walked into his counter.  Still, it was the first time he had struck her with a closed hand.

 

          Rorye recovered quickly.  Stance was steady, her gaze unflinching.  An energy burning ominously at the edges of her eyes.  It seemed her power was beginning to uncoil itself.  Yet, she seemed to hesitate before initiating the next exchange.  Her trainer seized the opportunity.

 

          Harker dashed forward with another brisk jab.  Though, he was immediately reminded why he had been on the defensive thus far.  His hand was deflected with ease.  Countered by a chop to the nerve cluster at the inside of his elbow.  Another punch followed before he could retract his arm, landing inside the cavity of his armpit. 

 

Already he had thrown a hook with his opposite hand, but Rorye weaved nimbly to avoid the attack.  Two punches battered Ryan’s abdomen in rapid succession.  He recognized her form.  She was working his body just as she had worked the heavy bag earlier.  A chill down the agent’s spine told him to lean backward, so he did without question.  Rorye’s hook zipped past his face. 

 

Sixth sense alerted the agent to evade again, dip in his opponent’s shoulder explained the reason.  Head slid awkwardly to the side and the leather of Rorye’s glove brushed his cheek.  Uppercut had been avoided.  While her arm was extended, Harker caught the limb in his grasp and pinned it tight to his body.  Jerking motion breaking her balance, before he contorted her arm into a vicious twist.

 

Ryan could have taken her to the ground, or even broken the arm, but he refrained from executing the technique at full speed.  Accidently hitting her too hard was one thing, accidently breaking her arm was something else entirely.  Instead, he held Rorye’s arm in a lock, forcing her body to writhe in a way she couldn’t muster any further offensive against him.  A break in her battle rhythm.  A chance for him to recover from the blows he’d taken to the body.  A second’s respite, but only just.

 

Rorye winced as she attempted to resist the joint manipulation.  Darkness in her eyes at the realization the lock was secure.  Then, she was a blur of motion.  Acrobatic flip allowed her to escape the hold.  Ryan knew she had talent, but he had never encountered anyone with enough dexterity to perform such a maneuver.  Aside from himself, of course.  Her arm unwound and she managed to grasp his in the process.  Yanking him off balance as she used his planted stance to stabilize her landing.

 

Another icy tingle at the base of his neck.  Pain was coming and there was nothing the Soldier could do to prevent it.  Positioning was compromised and he found himself overextended against a faster opponent.

 

When her feet returned to the mat, Harker had been pulled too far forward to defend himself.  Rorye’s rear leg flashed forward with a powerful kick.  Top of her foot smashing hard against his groin.  A loud “slap” seemed to echo through the gym.

 

Ryan managed to push her away before the pain emerged.  Two steps backward, hands returning to their proper posture… then he faltered.  A knee dropped to the mat and he raised an open palm to signal “stop.”  Agony burned at the pit of his stomach, the urge to vomit fluttering somewhere in his chest.

 

“Hold up,” he wheezed through gritted teeth.  “You caught me pretty solid on that one.” 

 

Head lowered slightly, but he was careful to keep watch of Rorye from the corner of his eyes.  At this point, he wasn’t certain she would relent in her assault.  The darker energy within her was beginning to manifest.  Her strikes had been precise, unrestrained, and ruthless.  The operative had intended to draw out this savage essence, but he hadn’t expected it to reveal itself this quickly… this easily. 

 

Perhaps, she was allowing it to take hold because she trusted Ryan could handle its strength.  Or perhaps, she simply lacked the ability to control it.  Whichever the case, one thing was certain.  Rorye had stepped up her game, and if they were going to find the extent of her power, he would have to do the same.

 

“Alright, I’m good.”  Ryan declared after a few deep breaths.  In truth, he hadn’t really recovered yet.  Further delay might jeopardize the progress they had already made.  So, he would ‘Walk It Off.’  The fighter gave each leg a shake, shrugged his shoulders and settled into fighting stance.  Gloved hand was extended toward his sparring partner.  Smiling through his mouthguard as he teased, “It’s a good thing you kick like a girl.”

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