Her lungs were constricting; straining to breath. It was as though someone had their fingers around her throat whilst sitting on her chest; it was nigh impossible to breath.
Yue had collapsed at the side of the trail – much like her other trainees; almost every one of the newly recruited soldiers-to-be were slumped on the ground, gasping for air or trying to drown themselves in the lake off the side of the road. Yue pulled herself to the edge of the water body and proceeded to submerge her entire head in it.
After what seemed like an eternity, Yue dragged herself into the lake itself, allowing the cool water to envelope her entire self before coming back up to the surface for air. As soon as she managed to bring her body temperature back to normal, Yue spied at the few that still looked as though they were alive.
A small group of about ten stood together catching their breaths as they contemplated the situation before them – Lang and Zhao were amongst them, and so was Lei, the asshole who punched her before. Apart from the three she was better acquainted with, the other seven were men who were also part of her sector and were the part of the battle-ready squad – as the other trainees had dubbed them. Zhao was captain of the red sector whilst Lang was assistant commander for their platoon – and both of them looked too relaxed even after running for miles.
“I am not ever getting out of this water.” Yue stated as she dipped her head backwards to look up at the sky.
“The trainings are horrendous; I think we might die before ever seeing battle.” Someone had laughed from the side.
It had only been a week since the trainings started, but the pace at which the trainings had taken was harsh. On their very first day, the trainees had been made to carry two sacks of rice each to run with along a mountain trail. That meant running uphill, a lot. They started right a dawn and proceeded up the mountain trail throughout the entire afternoon with the sweltering sun beating mercilessly down upon their backs. A small horse drawn wooden trailer had followed the soldiers along their route, and it was during mid-afternoon, when there had been about eight cases of fainting trainees and six of them vomiting, did the trainees realise what it was for.
During the run uphill, Yue had blacked out after the company had reached the peak and Lang had ordered the company to rest. When she had regained her consciousness, she found herself lying against the sweating back of one of her fellow trainees, Hao Qian. Hao Qian’s sacks of rice were piled on the trailer along with a few other sacks – rather than placing those who had fainted on the trailer, Lang had ordered other trainees to carry their incapacitated comrades back down the trail instead.
By the time the company had reached back to camp, the kitchen had already closed for the night although there were bowls of cold soup waiting to welcome the trainees back. However, most of the trainees were too exhausted to feel hungry and had collapsed wherever they felt like it. When daylight arrived the next morning, Yue found herself curled up at the side of the entrance to the camp.
As the trainings continued to intensify every day, her entire body had been sore and had continued to ache. This was not like anything she had ever done before; her trainings camps for movies or TV series – and she had gone through a lot of different training camps. She had been in both period dramas and modern era films, she had trained with professional instructors before, but alas, it was still not enough to get through this smoothly.
“Alright, gather up. We’ll be heading back to camp soon.” Zhao called out.
“I want all of you to split yourselves up into two groups,” Zhao continued after everyone gathered around. “One group shall be the thieves and the other the guards. The objective for the thieves would be to get back to camp, whilst for the guards all you’ve got to do is to catch them thieves and get their sash.”
Catching?! Yue laughed to herself; watching a group of grown men play catching should be fun.
“The thieves win if more than half of them reach the camp. The winning team will get to start training late by two hours tomorrow.”
Hearing the last sentence certainly perked up all the trainees; an extra two hours of rest felt as though it was god sent. Yue was in the group of thieves along with fourteen others, without any further instruction, Zhao merely yelled out “Begin!” and chaos erupted. The guards surged forward towards the thieves as the latter group hurried to scramble out of their reach. Yue turned quickly and jumped straight into the water – diving towards the bottom of the lake, Yue propelled herself forward quickly with a series of hard pedalling -, gut instinct told her to look back, and when she did, she spotted one of the guards swimming furiously after her.
Panicking, Yue pushed herself back up towards the surface to gulp down more oxygen before swimming as hard as she could in the direction of the opposite embankment. Looking back again, she realised the guard had been joined by another and both men were gaining on her. As soon as she reached the other side, Yue sped straight into the cluster of trees, spotting a thick bush - Yue squeezed herself under it in hopes of losing her pursuers.
Breathing heavily, Yue covered her mouth and nose with one hand as soon as she spotted the two men. Both men were breathing equally as hard as she, spun round on their heels trying to spot Yue; before splitting up to continue searching. As soon as both men left her sight, Yue quickly climbed one of the trees and got right up to the canopy. Breaking through the top layer of branches, Yue spotted the camp and mentally devised a plan to get down from the mountain in the direction of the camp. From her aerial view, Yue could see a few of her fellow thieves running down the mountain trail as the guards chased right after them.
Cringing, Yue watched as one of the thieves got tackled down by two of the guards hard; another thief throwing a guard over his shoulder; Zhao and Leng leisurely strolling down the mountain trail. Biting back curses, Yue made her way down from the tree after checking if the coast was clear, after which, Yue ran straight in the direction of the camp and just as she had expected, that route led her to the face of a downward slope.
Turning around, Yue saw Han, one of her earlier pursuer racing toward her. Without hesitating any further, Yue quickly ran down the slope, tripping over smaller bushes and exposed roots from the trees. Hugging a tree trunk for support, Yue looked back at Han and found him struggling after her, trying his best to not trip as Yue did.
“Oh come on! Han! Go away!” Yue yelled at Han as she slid down the uneven earth after releasing her hold on the trunk.
“No way in hell! I want that that two hour break!”
After saying that, Han slipped and fell, rolling over dirt, roots and rock before he could grab onto a nearby tree. Groaning in pain, Han pulled himself up against the tree and looked up at Yue; he hadn’t realised how steep this slope was.
“Jesus! You alright?” Yue called down.
“Forget it, it’s nothing. Han, your head’s bleeding.”
A thin trickle of red was moving slowly down from the edge of Han’s hairline; Han reached up and rubbed at it causing a smear of red across his forehead. Yue sighed slightly before making her way down to Han – very slowly. Yue lowered herself onto her butt and slowly slid down the slope, her arms by her sides, ready to grab anything for support in case she slipped.
“This better be a temporary truce!” Yue said before she reached the other.
“There’s no such thing as truce in a war!” Han yelled as he lunged at Yue.
“There is you idiot!” Yue retorted, rolling away from Han’s outstretched arms.
Sharp rocks tore at her clothes and exposed skin while exposed roots slammed into her bones, “WOAH!” Yue cried out; shielding her face as she rolled down the slope. Pain erupted from various parts of her body as her body continued tumbling without her control – as soon as she was able, Yue used her legs to slow the fall as her fingers dug into the dirt around her.
“Asshole! Are you trying to kill me?” Yue snapped angrily after she had stopped her fall.
Turning to glare at the offending male, Yue flipped him off with both fingers before starting on her descend again. She could still hear him yelling after her as she hurried from one tree to the next, stumbling over loose rocks and protruding roots. It took some time, but Yue managed to get down the face of the slope relatively unharmed and was faced with a straight dash towards the entrance of the camp approximately six hundred meters away.
Yue turned and spied that Han was still too far behind to pose as a significant threat any longer. Crouching down, Yue allowed herself a moment to catch her breath and to allow her burning muscles a little break. As soon as she allowed herself to stop, it was as though it was a sign for her sweat glands to work at maximum; sweat started to pour from her forehead and skin. Using the back of her arm, Yue quickly dabbed at the sweat droplets dripping into her eyes before forcing herself back up. If she wanted the two hour reprieve, she would have to complete this last leg successfully.
Quickly scanning her surroundings and one last glance back up at Han, Yue took in several deep breaths before pushing her muscles to their very limits – dashing as fast as she could in the direction of the camp. She could hear the beating of her heart loud in her ears; echoing loudly. Her lungs felt as though they were burning as she struggled to get new cycles of air back into them with every breath released.
Just a bit more! I’m almost there!
Yue screamed in her head as she saw several of her thieves standing at the camp entrance cheering her on although she couldn’t hear what they were yelling. Her entirety was just focused on pushing her across the safe line. The closer she got to the safe line, the faster her body seemed to be failing. Stumbling slightly over her own feet, Yue watched in slight confusion as the sky and earth started to merge before she felt the earth greet her face - hard.
Groaning in pain, Yue pushed herself off the ground and onto her knees as she tried to catch her breath. She was so close to the camp; it was less than two hundred meters away. Her eyes started to sting as sweat dripped into them – Yue sighed deeply as she tried to make herself stand; the end was so near but she didn’t have the will to continue on. Were the two hours really worth all this pain?
Yue’s face jerked up towards the camp. They were so close.
Horrified, Yue turned her head and saw as several thieves followed by handful of guards rushing towards her direction – the thieves getting taken down quickly as soon as they reached flat ground.
“Oh shit oh shit oh shit!” Yue stammered out before pushing herself up quickly.
Adrenaline coursed through her once more, making it easier to forget the pain momentarily. As soon as Yue got herself back on her feet, the camp didn’t seem that far anymore. She knew she would be able to do it – that she would be able to get through the finishing line.
And just like that, Yue got rugby-tackled from the side.