Emerald Legion, Chapter seven
“Practice makes perfect” – wherein lessons are learned, and much butt is kicked
Garth looked up blearily to see that Imra was already up and dressed, wearing some skintight bodysuit of silvery-gray, over which she was even now attaching her golden psi-metal adornments.
“It’s not morning already,” Garth strenuously objected, flinging one arm over his eyes to block the light now filling the room.
~Yes it is, and it has been for some time. Rokk’s already up and on his way.~
A rapping at the door-frame served to underscore to Imra’s statement, and Rokk could be heard outside, “Wakie-wakie, kids. Time to kick each other’s butts…”
~Come on in Rokk, we’ll be ready in a second.~
Somewhat dubiously, Rokk entered the bedchamber, pointedly looking at the wall, only to start as Imra stepped directly into his view. He sighed in relief upon noticing that she was completely clothed. “So, no Champion’s Garb today? You are going to have to learn to fight in it eventually…”
~I know, I just want to work with what I know before I start adjusting to that outfit. I’ve already made an adjustment to the cloak so that it pulls free without effort. The last thing I need is someone grabbing the silly thing and yanking me off-balance…~
“A good choice,” Rokk then raises his voice, “Will Garth be joining us today, or is he afraid of getting his ass kicked by a girl?”
Pulling his Champion’s Garb up, Garth hops one-legged into view. “Yeah, yeah. I’m ready. Bring it, oh, talker of big talk.”
“No bracers today?” Rokk notes, pointing out the missing bits of Garth’s Champion’s Garb.
“No bracers, ever.” Garth corrected, “They were made of conducive gold, and it’s hard enough to aim lightning bolts without the pull of the metal making it arc back towards me. The stuff has a mind of its own, and I don’t want to have to fight my costume to use my powers…”
~Ok, move it. I’m getting bored already.~ Imra declared in a no-nonsense tone that left both of her fellow Champion’s looking questioning at each other as she strode out of the room.
In the room that the Champion’s had cleared out in sub-level 3, Imra was stretching in a manner that caused Rokk to stop dead in the doorway, only to have an inattentive Garth plow right into him, before pausing to similarly admire the view.
~Keep staring at me like that and the next thing you’ll see is me kicking your ass.~
“So, Garth, your girlfriend has suddenly transformed into the master of smack-talk.”
~Get your champion-of-the-world-washed-up-ex-sports-god butt out here, ‘Kid Cosmos,’ and I’ll make you eat those words.~
Garth just threw his hands up with a bewildered expression on his face. “Shouldn’t have called her ‘fiesty,’ man. You brought this on yourself.”
Rokk stepped out onto the mats with Imra, who was just uncoiling from a yogic posture on the ground in a move that some gymnasts would consider challenging.
“Well, you’re certainly flexible…” Rokk began, but was suddenly backpedaling desperately as a rain of blows came at his face, seemingly from all directions.
~Less talky-talk, more fighty-fight, pretty-boy.~, Imra thought with a cool mental clarity that Rokk found as disturbing as her aggressive attack.
‘Ooof’ Rokk was getting punished, and only the reinforced metal structure of his Champion’s Garb was going to spare him from bruises on the ribs she had just kicked. “Aaagh!,” and then he was on the ground, having had his legs swept out by a graceful spinning sweep. She was back on her feet and smiling at him.
“Can we have a time out for me to catch my breath, Kung Fu Super-Chick?” Rokk pleaded, hauling himself to his feet.
~Sure. Want a blankie and some warm tea with that?~
“Seriously, Im, what’s up with you?”
~Nothing’s ‘up’ with me, I’m just a better fighter than the both of you put together, and it’s my job to whip you into shape. And, for your information, I don’t like ‘Im.’ My name is Imra. Champion Ardeen, if you piss me off…”
“Now wait a second…”
~No, you wait a second. I’ve been training my body since I was old enough to walk, and while Titanian physical conditioning isn’t *currently* an active combat art, it was designed from the martial arts styles of old earth. What looks like fluffy prana-adjustment moving meditations are a series of effective blocking and striking techniques. You’re an athlete. You’re hell on the magno-ball court and in great shape, but you’ve never actually *fought* anyone.~
“And you have? I don’t think so…”
~I’ve practiced all of these moves since I was a girl. And yes, when I hit you just then, it was in fact the first time I’d ever actually struck someone with these techniques. Are you going to tell me that they weren’t effective?~
“No. You know what you’re doing. I get that, and I’m ready to learn, oh, sensei.” Rokk added with a sarcastic half-bow.
~I just want you to know one thing Rokk…~ Rokk’s eyebrow arched and she continued with a grin, ~This is going to hurt *you* a lot more than it hurts me…~
Garth watched the two of them move, and it was clear that now that he was mentally prepared, Rokk was able to block most of her attacks, although he seemed to be moving in slow motion compared to her. His own attacks were perfunctory at best, and it seemed increasingly obvious that Rokk was still not taking this seriously. “Man, don’t do it, she’s gonna mess you up…” Garth muttered, but it was too late and Imra yanked Rokk forward as he made a half-hearted strike past her head and as he stumbled forward she leapt into the air, sprung off his back and kicked him hard in the back of the head. He went down like a thunderbolt, but rolled to his feet in time for Imra to just miss a stomp to where his head had been a moment before.
~You *suck.* No wonder they stripped your title!~
Garth winced as Imra’s head rocked back from the force of Rokk’s backhand, and he rushed forward as she staggered back. Rokk was already apologizing, hands in the air, “Stone! I’m sorry, oh lords, I didn’t mean…”
Imra shook her head and regarded him with a grin, rubbing her sore jaw, ~Don’t apologize, dummy. It’s about time you started actually playing to win and not jerking me around.~
~Shut up, Rokk. I *made* you hit me. I earned that, and I’ll throw the regen-pack on it and not even have a bruise in the morning. It’s all part of the new game we’re in. Are you honestly telling me that if one of those gunmen at the Mindfire den had been female you would have held back? ‘Cause she would have shot you dead, and walked right over your corpse to shoot at us, buster, and we can’t afford that kind of thinking…~
“It’s not a ‘because you’re a girl’ thing, Im…, *Imra.* My hardest challenge match was against a girl. She put me in the hospital, actually. It’s a ‘don’t like to hurt my friends’ thing.”
~That’s very noble, but training was your idea, and we aren’t training how to lose here. We’re training to survive, and to survive, sometimes you’ve got to be willing to do things you don’t want to do. Do you think I really want to hit you?~
“I *was* wondering for a minute there…” Rokk said, rubbing the back of his head pointedly.
~Do you think I want to hit Garth?~
~Garth, you’re up. If I sense you holding back, you aren’t allowed in my quarters for a week.~
Garth and Rokk both blinked at that bald statement, and Rokk was the first to react, “Oh wait, I didn’t realize that there was an incentive plan, can I try again?”
~Don’t push it, buster. I’ve got more where that came from.~
“You sound like an old holo-vid, Imra, nobody talks that way,” Garth said confidently as she lunged towards him.
Rokk watched the two of them move, and Garth was using his mass to good effect. He didn’t have the advantage of a metal-reinforced suit to cushion her blows, but he just kept shrugging off her attempts to throw him off-balance. Finally he got ahold of her arm and in a second he had wrapped around her like a python, and she was barely visible behind his biceps as he threw them both to the ground and drove the wind out of her with his weight.
“My big brother liked to wrestle with us, it was get good or get beat up...” Garth explained with a grunt as he continued rolling around, smacking Imra into the mats with every roll, keeping her off-balance.
~Yes, very clever. Off, now.~ Imra thought as her dainty fist drove backwards straight into his crotch.
Rokk missed a second of the action as his eyes involuntarily closed in sympathy for his fellow male, but when they opened, Garth was rising shakily to his feet looking pale and Imra had rolled to one knee a few meters away, where she was wheezing for breath.
Neither of them seemed to be interested in pressing the attack, and all three were startled by the arrival of Queen Sarya, who chose to announce her presence by clapping her approval for the scene she had just walked in upon.
“Highness,” Rokk said with a bow, “we didn’t expect to see you down here…”
“Whyever not, Champion Krinn? This figure doesn’t maintain itself,” she added sweeping her robes off to reveal a skintight bodysuit similar to Imra’s but in a dark jade green. The figure in question was a fine one indeed, bulkier than Imra’s, but with no trace of fat, and indeed quite shapely for her age, which Rokk was not nearly suicidal enough to inquire about…
Garth had already put two and two together, and walked gingerly over to Rokk. “So, we’ve just been suckered.”
Rokk realized that he was right, Sarya and Imra had clearly talked this over, there was no other explanation for their matching skin-suits.
Sarya stepped onto the mat and said, “So, who’s first…”
The three young Champion’s sat on Imra’s bed, which seemed to have become their informal meeting area.
“So,” muttered Garth sourly, holding a heating pack against his back, “Venegarian women have super-strength.”
~And they’re resistant to telepathy.~ added Imra, massaging a hand-shaped bruise on her arm. ~Or, at least *she* is.~
“Lesson learned. Queens who have to face regular honor challenges to hold their thrones are not to be underestimated.” Rokk agreed.
“Wait a minute.” Garth began and Imra just shook her head. “You were cheating!”
~Obviously, Garth. I’ve never been in a physical fight in my life. Remember when Rokk hit me?~
~It’s fine, Rokk. The point is, he hit me because he *wasn’t thinking.* I made him so angry, he just acted, and that gave him the advantage against a telepath. I couldn’t anticipate that he was about to hit me, because he realized that he’d hit me the same time I did, as it was already happening.~
“Then how come I was able to grab you? You weren’t setting me up for that dirty hit, were you?” Garth glared suspiciously.
~Well, it was the plan, I had no idea you were going to crush the breath out of me so effectively. The slamming around and keeping me disoriented thing was very effective. If you hadn’t stopped to gloat, I wouldn’t have been able to get my bearings…~
“Hmm. Things sure would have been different if I’d used *my* powers,”, Garth proclaimed before turning to Rokk and drawing a deep breath. “Rokk, I’m not sure how to say this, but you were really moving slow out there…”
~It’s true Rokk, I’ve seen the vids of your championship matches, and you moved like a dancer. When you were on the court, your serves were blindingly fast and incredibly coordinated, but I didn’t see anything like that today.~
Rokk remained quiet, eyes closed, with his hand against his head, shaking it slightly as if attempting to deny his friends questions.
“It was the same at the drug-lab. You floated in, and sort of hung there in the air, using your powers…”
“Enough! Yes, I’m slow and clumsy.”
~That’s not what I meant…~
“No, but it’s the truth. I *was* really fast and coordinated once, but that was back when I had a living nervous system.”
“I don’t get it, you’ve got nerve-implants? I thought those were supposed to make you *faster?*”
“No. The short version is that I got poisoned by a rival player, and the drug he used killed every single nerve cell in my body, except for my brain, which was protected by the blood-brain barrier. I was paralyzed and powerless.”
“That sucks! Did they find out who did it?”
“Oh yeah, the pony-tailed creep is in Takron-Galtos. They ruled it attempted murder. He won’t be out for years.”
~But, you were walking when I met you, and you had regained your powers…~
“The drug ended up replacing my nervous system, settling down in the same pathways where the cells had been. It’s a crystalline powder, superfluidic in structure, and it contains and channels my magnetic field. It’s actually a lot stronger than a normal Braalian nervous system, but it *isn’t* a nervous system. I can’t walk, or move my arm, or any of that. I’ve spent over a year re-training my biomagnetic field to move my muscles for me, and even then, I have a regulator chip installed in here,” Rokk tapped his chest, “to keep my heart and lungs and other systems working when I’m sleeping, or in case my powers fluctuate or are blocked. So yeah, I’m just a little bit cyborg, Garth. It’s Coluan photonic tech. Any normal tech wouldn’t work in a Braalian system, due to the magnetic fluctuations.”
“So yeah, I *know* that I’m slow, and clumsy, and nothing near what I was a few years ago, when I was a star athlete. I can walk, but I can’t run. I can’t dance. I can’t jump around or do gymnastics or roll to my feet. But every day my control improves.”
~I’m sorry Rokk, I had no idea.~ Imra said, placing her arm on Rokk’s shoulder.
“Yeah, I just thought you were a little cocky or something.” Garth said
Rokk laughed, “Oh, I am cocky. And I meant what I said. Every day, I improve. A year and a half ago, I couldn’t get out of bed. Today, I’m ‘clumsy and slow.’ Next year, I’ll be as fast and coordinated as either of you. And I *will* regain every single move I’ve lost. That’s not a fantasy or goal or a dream. That’s a *fact.*”
“I believe you buddy.”
~I was so critical about the Braalian love of competition, but it’s really made you into the fighter you need to be. I’m proud of you, Rokk.~