Chapter 8: Training
THE next morning, I was thrown into training, which was fine with me. The faster I trained, the faster I’d leave. But a part of me didn’t want to leave the safety of the city. And part of me didn’t want to leave Abby behind, either.
I sat with my legs out, holding my feet to stretch my hamstrings. “How long will it take me to learn to control my powers so I don’t kill anyone…or myself?”
Abby sat on the ground beside me in the same stretch. “Depends on how well you control your emotions and how quickly your endurance increases. It can take several months or sometimes more than a year, depending on how severe a person’s childhood was. Some people learn emotional control quickly, but for others, it can be dangerous to bring up old emotions.”
“My childhood wasn’t bad.” I sat up and relaxed for a moment. “I mean, I don’t think my dad accepted me once my powers came out. He was pretty hard on me after that.” I ground my teeth, still shocked that he’d kicked me out. “But a lot of people have it a lot worse than that.”
She nodded. “There are only twenty-five of us here, but most have horrible stories from childhood. Most were just kids on the street when the Watchers found them. Parents had kicked them out or they’d run away from home. You’re lucky. It’ll probably only take you a few months to control your powers well enough.”
I twisted to my right and held the stretch. “I don’t have months.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Just do the best you can. When you’re ready, you’ll know it.” She stood, arching her back to stretch.
I could’ve watched her stretch all day, but I caught myself staring and pulled my eyes away, not wanting to be obvious. It killed me that I was attracted to her. I just wanted to be mad at her. Wanted to be cruel to her. But something inside me knew she didn’t want to do what she’d done and she truly felt sorry about it.
A guy who looked strikingly similar to Jesse, only slightly taller, walked to the front of the room. He clapped his hands together. “Everyone find a seat.”
As I followed Abby to find a spot, the man stopped me.
“Ian.” he said, thrusting out a hand.
I nodded as we shook.
“I’m Reilly. My brother Jesse and I are the trainers here. It’s good to finally meet you.”
I just smiled, unsure what to say.
“After seeing you fight during the test, I’m curious what you can do.” He motioned toward the center of the room. “Come on. You’re up first.”
I cocked my head. “I thought I’d just be watching today.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” he said, then headed into the center of the mats.
I followed, wondering what exactly awaited me.
Reilly gestured to Abby who met us there. She placed herself directly in front of me.
My eyes widened. “You want me to fight…her?”
“Why not?” Reilly said. Amused laughs came from the onlookers. “Scared of a girl?” The laughter grew at his taunt.
“No.” Heat rose in my cheeks—all four of them, I think. “I mean— It’s not that. I’ve never hit a girl in my life.”
“What if she hits you first?” he said.
“I’d do my best to restrain her, but I’m not gonna hit her.”
Abby shrugged. “Think of it as supporting women’s equality. You can treat me equally to a man by hitting me.”
Okay, that was hilarious and I nearly burst out laughing but managed to cover it up just in time with a confused grimace.
Reilly tried again. “Alright, what if she comes at you with a knife intent on killing you?”
“I’ve never really thought about it.” I frowned, contemplating the unlikely scenario. “I guess if I absolutely had to hit a girl, I could do it.”
“Then imagine this scenario is the same. Imagine Abby’s trying to kill you. We encounter female Hunters, so you might find yourself in this situation someday.”
Okay, maybe not such an unlikely scenario. “I’m not sure I—”
Abby’s foot slammed into my jaw, sending me spinning to the mat below. Damn, she kicked hard for someone without powers.
I rubbed my jaw as it hung low. “I thought you said no more surprises.”
“No surprises,” she said. “This is how we train. If you’re serious about going to check on your parents, the last thing you want me to do is go easy on you.”
I’d seen something in her eyes at the waterfall—something playful and innocent. Only a glimmer of that showed now. Training was apparently a life or death matter for her, and she was trying to keep me alive.
Half of Reilly’s mouth stretched into a smile. “Sorry to be so rough on your first day of training. You’ll understand why it’s done this way soon.”
Still a little dazed, I looked to Abby and picked myself up from the mat. Her blonde hair hung in a ponytail, and though she wore no makeup, she was still gorgeous…even if she had just kicked me in the face.
“Don’t hold back. I can take a hit.” She prompted me forward. “Hit me. Or, at least, try to hit me.” Confidence saturated her grin.
What had I gotten myself into.
“I don’t think I can hit you.” I tugged at my shirt uncomfortably. “I don’t wanna hurt you.”
Abby relaxed into a casual stance. “You said you’ve never had any training, right?”
She cocked her head in thought, clearly playing it up. “Then let’s make this a little more interesting, shall we? If you can get a single hit on me, I’ll do your laundry for two weeks. But if you can’t, you’ll do my laundry for two weeks.”
“Ooooohhhh,” sounded from the onlookers.
They were putting me on display, trying to get a reaction out of me. That’s why they did it this way. They were testing my emotion control.
“Abby is the weakest of all of us, Ian,” Reilly said.
“If you’re worried about hurting me, don’t.” That sly smile came to her lips again. This was a bad idea. “Like I said, I can take a hit.”
My pride got the better of me. After all, how hard could it be to get just one hit on her?
“You’re on.” I returned her sly grin.
Our audience laughed and cheered as I reached out to shake on the bet. Shaking her right hand, I clamped onto it and tried to yank her toward me for a left cross.
She was too quick. She spun her back to me, shoved her hip into mine, then flipped me to the ground in one fluid motion. I let out a loud oomph on impact.
“Ooooo,” sounded from around the room.
“Clever. I like that,” she said, circling me like a vulture.
I rose to my feet again, shaking off the humiliation.
What followed was nothing short of utter embarrassment. I threw one clumsy punch after another in Abby’s direction, never once landing a hit. Abby effortlessly deflected or blocked every attack. Several times, she latched onto my arm or leg and flipped me to the mat. She even kicked my fists as I threw punches. She was toying with me.
Then she started landing hits. For a slim girl about a half-foot shorter than me, she really knew how to throw a punch. She’d tricked me with the test, but there was nothing covert about this. It was designed to enrage me. The only flaw in their plan was that I couldn’t bring myself to be upset with her anymore.
I lifted myself from the mat and said, “Had enough yet?”
That brought a laugh from everyone.
Abby giggled but didn’t drop her stance.
“Alright.” I nodded respectfully. “You win.”
Claps and cheers filled the room. I held my aching side, but my ego had taken a worse beating.
Abby gave a shallow bow in response. “Better luck next time.” That smile crossed her lips again—the one that said she had a bit of a mischievous streak about her—then she headed off and sat with the others.
“Well, that went about like I expected,” Reilly said. Snickering filled the room. “You didn’t get angry, though. That’s good. You did well enough, especially considering your opponent.”
“What do you mean ‘considering my opponent’? You said she’s the weakest of all of you.”
“I meant she has no increased strength or speed.” A clever grin stretched across Reilly’s face. “When it comes to a fair fight, though, few can beat her consistently. While we only train three days a week, Abby trains six. She’s learned to use our weight and strength against us.”
“Gee, thanks for the warning.” My words dripped with sarcasm.
“You can see how this type of training’s useful if you can’t use your powers, though, right?”
“We’ll train you to fight without getting angry when you’re not using your powers. But when you need your powers, you’ll have to use anger or fear to trigger them.” Reilly seemed completely relaxed in this role as if it were second nature to him. “Close your eyes.” He circled me. “Think of something that severely angered you in the past.”
I closed my eyes and rifled through my memories until I found one from about eight years ago.
“Do you have it?” he said.
“Now, submerge yourself in that memory. Relive it.”
I found myself back in my old barn, light beaming through slits in its weathered, wooden planks. I’d just tried to decorate my father’s new green tractor for him by spray painting it yellow and blue.
A vein bulged from Dad’s forehead when he caught me. “What did you do to my tractor?”
“I— It was a s-s-surprise for you.”
“I can’t belie—” His eyes nearly bore a hole through my head. It was almost like he wanted to hit me, but he was holding himself back. “You’re grounded for a month.”
He stormed out of the barn.
Once the initial shock wore off, my insides were boiling, senses heightened. The tainted sensation seeping from my bones. Not just in my memory. It was happening to me right then as I stood in the training room. My hands shook as I realized what was coming next in the memory. This thing inside of me was about to blow the barn apart and shatter every window in our—
“Pause the memory.” Reilly’s voice was calm. Subtle. “Hold that anger. Memorize how it feels, where you feel it in your body.” He came around in front of me. “Now, focus that energy in your body into your defense.”
My eyes snapped open to see a fist hurling at my face. I deflected and countered, going on the offensive, pushing the anger into my attacks. My accuracy wasn’t great, but my arms moved with blinding speed. A few of Reilly’s counter-moves nearly landed.
When his defense broke, I planted my palm solidly into his chest, sending him across the room. People scattered as Reilly flew between them and slammed into the matted wall.
My heaving breaths reeked with aggression. But once I realized what I’d done, I snapped out of it.
Confounded whispers filled the room.
Abby looked like she was about to laugh as she patted Reilly on the back. “Glad that wasn’t me.”
Reilly’s glanced at her, then shook off the hit as he pushed himself from the ground and headed toward me. “You pack one hell of a punch. That’s one awesome ability you’ve got there. I bet we can use that to train you quicker. How do you do it?”
I shrugged. “I have a photographic memory. Maybe the increased strength and speed feed on it to replicate moves.”
He frowned. “You don’t think it’s a power?”
“I don’t know.”
“What about your speed? You’re faster than anyone else here, too, except maybe Euan,” Reilly said. “Any idea how you do that?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think about each move. It’s more of a reaction. Almost like my subconscious is deciding for me, but I can accept or reject what it’s about to do. If I let it go on its own, it gets faster.”
“Let’s experiment with how well it works.” Reilly motioned for Jesse. “Jesse and I will spar for thirty seconds. Watch what we do, then switch places with Jesse and repeat his moves.”
Jesse stood and headed our direction, a scowl crossing his face as he looked at me. Once at the ready, he gave Reilly a nod. Reilly threw several rapid punches at him, then flipped his body like an acrobat for three kicks. Jesse blocked or redirected all of it, flipping nearly the same as Reilly to avoid the kicks. At times, it looked like a dance.
Once they finished, I replaced Jesse and went through the exercise of recalling anger. The dark sensation was awful, as if my life-force were being corrupted into something dark and twisted. Just before it consumed me, I harnessed and focused it.
Reilly came at me with the same string of attacks he’d used against Jesse. I blocked most of his punches and kicks, but Abby caught my eye on the mats behind him, killing my focus. As my body flipped into the air to avoid his final acrobatics, he caught me. I slammed into the mat below with a grunt.
“Not bad,” he said.
“Let me try one more time.” I pushed up off the ground and purposely put my back to Abby.
He gave me no time to think. He launched right back into the same moves. This time was more refined, more focused. I didn’t miss any of the blocks. As my feet left the ground, my body flipped like it’d been doing this all of my life.
When my feet hit the ground with a solid landing, Reilly stopped and shook his head.
“I’ve spent most of my life learning how to fight and you’ve spent three minutes. That’s awesome. So not fair, but awesome.”
My anger wasn’t subsiding, so I breathed deep, slowing my pulse, calming the beast inside. I had a sinking feeling as I weighed just how taxing it would be to daily relive these painful emotions then toss them away, especially with the darkness tainting all of it. This training would be rough, but I’d do anything to control my powers.
“Let’s try a different exercise,” Reilly said. “This time, I want you to think of something less painful. Something sad.”
I closed my eyes and thought back to my grandfather’s death. The darkness within crept from my marrow. It wasn’t as strong this time or filled with rage.
My eyes opened, signaling I was ready.
Reilly lifted his hands to the ready. “Now, attack me as best you can.”
I threw an onslaught of strikes Reilly was barely able to deflect. With a little effort, my speed increased. Reilly used his powers to keep pace, but I broke his defense and sent him to the mat with a stout kick to the stomach. People behind him started to flee, but to their surprise, he didn’t launch across the room like before. He only slid about ten feet across the mat.
Reilly rose to his feet. “That was perfect.” He shook his head and rolled his shoulders, loosening up his joints. “There wasn’t nearly as much power behind that kick as there was behind your earlier punch.”
“So my level of emotion controls my level of power.”
“Now you’re getting it.” Reilly smiled. “As long as you can control your emotions, you can control your powers and pace yourself so you don’t harm yourself or give out too early.”
“What if I need my powers quickly? Will it always take me this long to recall emotions?”
“Eventually, you’ll learn to recall emotions at the drop of a hat without even thinking of the memories.” Reilly motioned for someone behind me to come up. “Let’s try one more thing.” He nodded, directing me to turn around. “Fight him without your powers.”
As I turned, Jesse hurled a fist toward me. It crashed into my jaw, spinning me around and to the floor. He wasn’t using his powers, but it was still a hard punch. Before I could make it to my feet, he caught me with a stiff kick to the stomach, flipping me over. I groaned as I spun to the side, narrowly dodging his next kick. He looked like he wanted to kill me.
He launched another kick, but I managed to grab it. I pushed his leg back into him, causing him to topple. He was fighting sloppy, thinking I’d be an easy opponent. And he was right. But I wasn’t making it quite as easy as he thought, so he probably wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
I leapt for him, hoping to pin him down. With a quick roll, he was out from under me. I rolled to my feet and stood just in time for a kick to the gut. A grunt escaped my lips as I doubled over. I didn’t care if this was training, this prick was having fun beating the crap out of me.
Abby stood, seemingly upset, like this wasn’t completely normal. Was she about to jump in and help? My eyes went wide at her as I shook my head, warning her not to get involved. If Jesse used his powers, he could accidentally kill her.
Jesse came for me. I lowered my torso to grab him around his stomach. Bad idea.
He braced himself then grabbed my waist and pulled me up off the mats. Dropping backward, he planted me back on the ground like a pro wrestler.
I fell off to the side. Gritted my teeth hard. I’d had just about enough of this. The darkness inside began to blossom into a sick feeling of death as it infected my muscles.
Jesse came for me again with a flurry of punches.
And I deflected them all, easily, openly using my powers.
I went on the offensive. Broke his defense. Kicked him square in the stomach. Jesse launched across the room. It didn’t sound good when he hit the wall. He fell to the mats, wincing at the pain, and gave me a look that said I was dead. He ran at me with inhuman speed, attacking me with everything he had.
“That’s enough, Jesse.” Joseph started to step in, but Reilly put a hand up to stop him.
I deflected every last one of Jesse’s attacks. When I saw my opening, I dropped him to the floor using one of Abby’s moves from earlier, and pinned him to the mats. I drew my fist back. Everything in me wanted to pound his face, but somehow, I managed to stop myself.
Reilly reached down to give me a hand up. “You let your anger get the better of you, but you managed to stop yourself before it went too far. That’s good.”
Jesse got to his feet and hesitated before choosing a direction—me or the door. Asa stood, giving him an inclined look from the top of her eyes that might have killed a normal human. Jesse’s sigh was nearly a growl as he stormed out of the room.
“Look at that as a blessing.” Reilly clapped my shoulder. “You have someone to trigger your anger so you can work on controlling it.”
I turned a flat stare on Reilly, not amused.
Once again, I’d demonstrated that my friend-making skills amounted to beating the crap out of the locals. I was on a roll. At least this time the local deserved it.
Reilly had me sit and watch everyone else for the rest of the class. He asked me to take in the moves so I could use my powers to replicate them in a couple of days. Those who fought in the class had exceptional skill. They executed fast, brutal takedowns. Good thing we were more sturdy than normal people. I felt sorry for any Hunter who was on the receiving end of these people’s attacks.
Watching the moves would’ve been easier if my eyes hadn’t kept wandering to Abby periodically. The last time they found her, she blushed with a smile.
Late that evening, Asa had Abby show me to my new quarters. We went into the South Passage to the showers, then took a left into the hall labeled Private Quarters. Pairs of towering doors were staggered on both sides for quite a ways with normal-sized doors cut out of them.
“What’s up with the doors?”
“The twelve-foot doors are the originals.” She pointed to one of the high door seams. “Artie and Joseph sealed them and cut normal-sized rectangles in them for doors.”
My mouth hung open as I marveled at the size of the doors. “Why were the original doors so large?”
“Giants built this city about five-thousand years ago from what we can tell.” She said it so nonchalantly, as if it weren’t the weirdest thing anyone had ever said. “We had to chisel out the stairs so we could use them.”
I was sufficiently weirded-out at that point. How do you respond to a statement like that?
“What, you haven’t read about the giants in the Bible? There were quite a few, actually.”
“I hadn’t really thought about that. I’d just assumed that was fantasy.”
“I don’t know,” she said, shrugging. “All I know is that this city is the best evidence of giants I’ve ever seen or the best forgery I’ve ever seen.”
She had a good point. Why would someone forge something like an entire city of giants?
We passed several doors as we spoke. When we reached mine, Abby held out a key.
“Wow.” I took it from her. “No one’s ever given me an apartment before.”
She shrugged. “Technically, we’re giving you a cave.”
I snickered as I unlocked the door and opened it. My jaw dropped. “Whoa. Definitely not a cave.”
Like everything else in the city, the ceilings were ungodly high. The massive living area had a kitchen and dining area on the left wall. The living room was sunken into the ground, surrounded by three steps down on all sides, and filled with brown sectional couches and recliners around a square, rustic coffee table. An open office area lay in the back with rooms on each side of it. A staircase followed the right wall up to the loft, which had to be at least seventeen-feet high, maybe more. The loft had a retaining wall to keep people from accidentally falling off. I assumed that was the bedroom.
The smooth stone walls gave the place a strange castle-feel. So that was how people lived several-hundred years ago. I looked over at the refrigerator. Okay, maybe not exactly like they lived.
“How do you like it?”
I put the key in my pocket. “It’s awesome.”
“Great. Everything’s fully stocked. If we missed anything, just let me know.” Abby smiled. “Enjoy.” Then she disappeared into the quarters next to mine.
She was the girl next door.