Back at the headquarters, Tristan fetched Adelaide some water so that she could take a few more painkillers, which helped to alleviate the steady ache that had set in. As they reached the ward where she had been earlier, Melia directed Adelaide to a small shower room, for which she was grateful. Tristan excused himself and headed back downstairs whilst she showered.
The warm water was a welcome sensation to Adelaide as she stood under the high pressure nozzle. Shampoo and conditioner were nearby, along with a sweet scented shower gel that reminded her of gingerbread. Working carefully around her sore leg, she scrubbed herself with the loofah provided until her skin was clean and tingling. The towel was soft and fluffy and it took so much discipline not to simply sit there enfolded in it.
A small bundle of clothes had been brought in whilst she was showering and there was note on top.
“Please wear these,” she read aloud, “they will be your training gear from now on. I’ll get you another set when I can, T.” She examined the hand-writing, knowing now that it was Tristan’s, noticing the sloping, scruffy and yet readable slant of the words, wondering to herself what it could reveal about him.
Opening out the bundle, Adelaide picked up a pair of dark, grey tracksuit bottoms made from a light cotton-type material, complete with a matching tank top and jacket. She put them on slowly, reluctant to leave the warm embrace of the towel. The tracksuit was very comfortable, however and she instantly felt at home in it. Whatever the material actually was, it allowed her to breathe and it kept her at the perfect body temperature. As she pulled the jacket on, a small hair brush fell out of the folds, a hair tie wrapped around its handle. Picking it up, she ran it through her hair a few times before tying it back into a tight ponytail. Glancing at her reflection in the mirror to make sure everything was in order, Adelaide picked up her crutches and made her way out of the room.
Tristan was sitting outside in his own tracksuit, coloured a dark shade of green, waiting for her. He stood up as soon as she emerged and gave her a quick once-over.
“How’s your leg?” he asked, motioning towards the lift.
“Better,” she admitted. The lift pinged and the doors opened. “Which floor?” she asked as they stepped inside.
“B2,” he said, watching her press the correct one. “We’re going subterranean baby.”
As they rode down, he turned to her and smiled.
“I should warn you,” he said, “Dekker is a tough nut and she will work you hard, but she isn’t cruel.” Adelaide nodded. “She might go easy on you at first, because of your leg,” he mused, “but she will expect you to up your game when you’re better.”
“Are you two... you know?” Adelaide asked, her curiosity getting the better of her. Tristan gave a good natured scoff as the lift came to a stop and the doors opened out onto a long, white corridor. He stepped aside and motioned for her to go first.
“We’re just really good friends,” he elaborated as they started walking down the corridor towards a pair of stainless steel doors at the end. “I mean, we’ve dabbled. I’d have been stupid not to, but it didn’t go anywhere. We work better as friends.” He shrugged this off and Adelaide really believed him when he said it. “Now she’s more like a sister to me, which is good. Emotions can make things awkward.” He opened one side of the doors and held it for her.
They emerged into a vast gymnasium hall, filled with all sorts of acrobatic equipment from ropes and mats to large bars and even a rock-climbing wall. The room itself was empty but Adelaide could hear music coming from another set of double doors at the far end of the hall to them.
“This is where you’ll mainly be training,” Tristan said as he walked her around the edge of the room. “I’ll be with you when you’re doing most of this stuff and there’s loads of health and safety paperwork to fill in, but you won’t need to worry about that until you’re fully healed. For now, we’re just kind of showing you around.” The music grew louder as they approached the other doors.
“Through here is the combat training room. When you enter here you’ll be working under Dekker so if she summons you, it’s here you come, okay?” Adelaide nodded. Reaching out, Tristan opened the door and stepped aside so that she could enter.
Adelaide walked out onto a balcony that ran around the edge of the entire room. Large blocks of fluorescent strips hid the fact that there was no natural light at all here. Rhythmic rock music pounded out of four speakers, positioned in the corners of the room, making the floor of the balcony vibrate.
Cautiously, Adelaide stepped up to the edge and looked down, gasping at what she saw. Large weapons racks and folded equipment hung on or stood against the walls, staffs and swords in all shapes and sizes. A set of targets hung against one of the walls that had been peppered with bullet holes, ear muffs and gloves covering a table next to them. The centre of the room was mostly bare aside from a large rectangular mat that covered two thirds of the floor.
On this mat stood Dekker, clothed in the same shade of tracksuit as Adelaide, holding a large wooden staff behind her in her left hand. Eight men formed a wide circle around her, armed with smaller versions of the same weapon, evenly spaced apart so that, whichever way she stood, Dekker could see no more than five at any one time.
As she watched, the men attacked, moving on a silent signal. Adelaide’s breath caught in her throat as the first man to reach her swung with all of his might for Dekker’s head. She dodged easily and brought the staff round to strike him as he lurched forward, using his own momentum against him and forcing him to run into one of his comrades coming from the opposite side.
Swinging the staff around, Dekker ducked and spun it above her own head, causing it to connect loudly with several weapons. This wasn’t like the movies, Adelaide mused, where each man seemed to wait politely for the others before attacking. They all went for her at once and none of them held back. Dekker’s movements were a blur, however, each step a seamless and practised dance into the next, the only sound the grunts and cries of the men and the loud cracking noise of wood on wood. The music continued to play as the men dropped, one by one, and Dekker’s moves widened as the others tried to avoid her, each step falling in perfect rhythm with the drum beat.
Finally, only one man remained and, with a practiced sweep of her staff, Dekker took his legs from under him, winding him completely. As he fell, Adelaide exhaled, realising that she had been holding her breath. Spinning the staff round, Dekker brought it to rest once more in her original stance.
“Show off!” Tristan shouted as the music died down. Dekker turned to them and bowed, smiling, before reaching out to the nearest man and helping him to his feet.
“Come on down!” she shouted to them, handing her staff to the man now standing.
“That was awesome!” Adelaide said as Tristan steered her towards some stairs at the back of the arena, staying next to her as she made her way down, just in case.
“That’s why she’s the best,” Tristan replied, failing to keep the pride out of his voice.
“Are all Valkyries like that?” she asked. Tristan shrugged.
“Don’t know, she’s the only one I’ve ever met. Bit of a rare breed, I think.” Dekker approached as they reached the bottom of the stairs and he embraced her again, recoiling a moment later in mock disgust. “Ewww, you’re all hot and sweaty,” he whined, turning his nose up.
“You love it and you know it,” she said, slapping him on the back before turning to Adelaide. “Looking good, that outfit suits you.”
“Thanks. That was brilliant!” She felt herself going red as she looked at Dekker but the other woman didn’t seem to notice.
“Cheers. I’ve done better but I just wanted to show you what you were getting into. Granted you won’t be able to do that for the first few weeks at least, but if you listen to me and do what I say, you’ll be alright.” She stepped back a bit and looked down at Adelaide’s foot. “How are you at standing without the crutches?”
“I don’t know,” Adelaide admitted truthfully. “It’s still quite sore to walk on.” Dekker nodded and stepped back further.
“You can’t really use them on the mat. Give them to Tristan and try to walk towards me. Don’t worry, if you start to go, we’ll catch you.” Nervously, Adelaide handed the crutches to Tristan, leaning on the stair rail so that she wouldn’t fall. Tentatively, she took a step forward, using her stronger left leg to push off. As soon as she put all of her weight on her right leg, however, she felt it begin to buckle. A pair of strong arms caught her and she looked up into Dekker’s blue eyes, a kind expression echoed back at her.
“Told you we’d catch you,” she said softly. Tristan stood back, watching nervously as Adelaide straightened up again and tried to take another step forward, with Dekker’s support, onto the mat. He was desperate to help but a warning look from Dekker kept him in his place.
Eventually, they reached the centre of the mat, which was now empty, the men having left to get cleaned up and nurse their wounds. Dekker let go of Adelaide slowly, stepping back as she got her balance, ready to help again if needed.
“How does that feel?” she asked, her voice still gentle.
“Sore,” Adelaide admitted, “but not as bad as it has been.” Dekker nodded.
“This is going to be where I train you in various forms of combat, including self-defence and basic weapons mastery. It also doubles up as a shooting range when necessary,” she motioned towards the targets on the walls. “Now, the Sisters assure me that your leg should be back to full strength within a fortnight so we’ll save any real work until then. For now though,” she held her hands up at arm’s length, palms towards Adelaide, “I want you to punch me, as hard as you can.” Adelaide looked as her as if to make sure that she meant it and Dekker simply nodded. Giving an inward shrug, she balled her hand into a fist and swung with her right arm, striking the side of Dekker’s left palm.
“Not a bad impact,” Dekker admitted, “though I reckon you could do better when you’re yourself again. Little tip though.” She lowered her arms and made her own hands into fists. Bringing her right fist up to her waist, Dekker thrust her arm forward in a straight line until her whole arm was outstretched, her fist stopping a foot or so in front of Adelaide’s face. “You swing when you punch, try punching from the hip, it will give you more force and accuracy. See?” She showed Adelaide one more time but in slower motion before raising her palms.
“Try again.” This time, Adelaide used her method and punched from the waist, feeling the shockwave in her arm as she connected with Dekker’s hand. “Good! That was much better, again,” Dekker commanded. They did this several more times, Dekker having to stop once to catch her when Adelaide lost her balance. Eventually her shoulders began to ache and her punches became weaker.
“I want you to do that every day,” Dekker advised, “twenty with each hand, then swap, then repeat the whole thing twice more. Your arms and shoulders will ache at first because you’re not used to it, but you will build your strength up until it is second nature. Eventually you will be able to level a man with a single punch.” She looked at Tristan but he backed away with a laugh.
“You’re not demonstrating on me mate,” he joked. “Last time we did that I was in the ward for two days and had the mother of all shiners.”
“What a puppy,” Dekker joked, shaking her head and rolling her eyes at Adelaide. “If you’re going to be a wimp about it, then bring the girl back her crutches and we’ll go sort out her ID card.” Placing her arm around Adelaide’s waist, Dekker guided her to the edge of the mat where Tristan was waiting. Together, they left the training room through a small wooden door that opened into a locker room. Reaching into one of the lockers, Dekker grabbed a bottle of water and drained it within a minute.
Moving through here, they found themselves in another lift lobby, this one slightly larger than the one that Tristan and Adelaide had come down into, though the white walls were no less bland.
“Once you have your ID card,” Dekker said as they stepped into the lift carriage, “you’ll be able to go pretty much anywhere in this complex aside from the weapons store, McGordon’s office and the classified archives, mainly because you need hefty security clearance to enter those.” She pressed a button and the doors closed behind them. “On the top floor is your hospital wing, as you know. We’re in the lower basement, which is the gym, combat and training area. Above us in B1 is the underground car park. Ground floor is the main lobby and entrance hall, on the first floor are offices and board rooms and second floor is the cafeteria. They make a mean pot roast every Friday,” she said with a grin. “Everything is on the house, have as much and as little as you want, there’s no shortage of food when you’ve got the Cauldron of the Dagda.”
“The what?” Adelaide asked, confused.
“Something you’ll find out about if you visit the archives on floors three and four. I recommend you do your homework there, especially when it comes to species identification and the laws of our people, big emphasis on those. Floor five is McGordon’s office and the classified archives, floor six is the research centre and political conference rooms and seven, as you know, is the hospital. Any questions?”
“Yeah, loads,” Addy began.
“Good, save them for later.” The door pinged and a metallic female voice announced that they were on the first floor and ordered them to have a good day. Dekker stepped out first and made a beeline for a small reception desk to their immediate left.
A mature looking woman in a purple blouse and black pencil skirt looked up as they approached, frowning when she saw Dekker.
“You could have showered first,” she said, her accent local.
“Oh come on Delores,” Dekker said, leaning on the counter and flashing her a brilliant smile, “you know I just couldn’t wait to see you. As soon as I got the chance I rushed up here, thinking how much I missed your beautiful face... and the rest of you,” she added with a wink. Delores tried to look stern and disapproving but there was a faint blush on her cheeks and she rolled her eyes.
“What do you want, Valkyrie?” she sighed, leaning forward slightly so that they could clearly see down her top.
“We have a newbie here in need of an ID card, my lovely,” Dekker said, motioning to Adelaide. “McGordon’s orders. She’s to join my branch.” Delores looked over and, after smiling warmly at Tristan, took Adelaide in.
“I see,” she mused, turning back to her computer. “Name and species please.”
“Adelaide West... erm, witch, apparently.” This earned a glance up from Delores over the top of her horn-rimmed glasses.
“Not too many of them left undeclared in these parts,” she said conversationally as she tapped away at the machine. Reaching under the desk, she pulled out a small digital camera. “We need a photo, if you don’t mind.” Adelaide nodded and, smoothing her hair back, smiled as the camera flashed in her face.
“Nice,” Dekker commented, looking over Delores’ shoulder at the picture. “Photogenic, just like your mother. Good genes there.”
“Hey,” Tristan said, a warning note behind the amused tone, “behave.”
“Oh come on,” Dekker moaned, “I was just paying the girl a compliment!”
“We know where your compliments lead,” Delores mumbled, hooking the camera up to the computer. Dekker looked offended for a moment before shrugging and waiting for her to finish.
“Right, that’s all uploaded,” she said after a minute, “and your card should be ready tomorrow.”
“Haven’t you got anything she could use in the meantime?” Dekker asked, leaning forward a little more on the desk, her voice laden with charm. “We wouldn’t want the poor girl confined to the ward until then, would we?”
Delores looked at Dekker for a few moments and then sighed, reaching down under the desk again and emerging with a small white card.
“This is just a temporary one, so you can move around until then.” She handed the card to Adelaide, who took it with thanks.
“Delores, my dear,” Dekker said, taking her hand and kissing it softly, “I owe you one.”
“Yes, you do,” Delores said, pulling her hand away. “I finish at five.”
“I’ll be here,” Dekker purred, biting her lip. Tristan cleared his throat and, placing his hand on Adelaide’s shoulder, steered her away and back towards the lift, pushing the button for the archives on the fourth floor as Dekker darted inside.
“You have no shame,” he scolded, trying not to grin.
“Would you have me any other way?”