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Two days later, just after dawn
Nicky paced through the ancient stone halls of the monastery quickly, bare feet slapping across the stones and echoing loudly. Her sweatshirt had long become uncomfortably restricting, so she was down to a borrowed set of loose pants and a tank top. While she walked, she held out in front of her a large tome, retrieved from the small library under promises to be very careful with the old parchment. It was a book only in the loosest sense, more a series of scrolls bound at one end, with a thick lacquered wooden cover to protect the silk inside. She had it open to the fourth scroll, having memorised the first three already. Each one held diagrams and instructions for part of the form she had expressed interest in learning, and in the entirety of the fourteen hours she had held it, it had never left her possession. Sometimes she thought that not having to sleep had its advantages.
She arrived back at the training hall her and Alex had been using. She wouldn’t have left, but she had insisted that she at least eat something, as weeks without food, though not having a tangible effect on her, drove her nuts. Accordingly, she had breakfasted with the rest of the monks, listening to the low chatter of morning conversation in a language she didn’t know while staring at the scrolls in front of her. Now back in the hall, a piece of dried fish still sticking out of her mouth like a lollipop, she barged across the room and set the book down on the lectern she had borrowed for just such a purpose, back off a few feet, and settled into her breathing exercise.
It had taken a while
to beat into her head that, while she didn’t need
to breathe, the chi wouldn’t flow without air, but now she was circulating regularly. It helped that the scent of old stone and nature was among her favourites.Finishing her breathing, she began the series of intricate movements shown in the scroll, correcting herself whenever it felt like she might be off somehow. It had taken remarkably little time to get her motions smoothed out, though she still needed correction when she didn’t understand something, especially since she couldn’t read the chicken scratch in the scrolls, only see the illustrations. Soon, though, her instructor and translator would arrive and she could begin in earnest for the day. It might irk her slightly that he had to sleep, but she refrained from commenting, at least in part because she was too engrossed in what she was doing.
Alex would have spent most of his past few days with Nicky, making sure everything she was doing was exactly as it needed to be with little change in form. He seemed at times especially hard on her when she made mistakes, almost as if he was expecting perfection at the very start. His punishments usually had to deal with some sort of physical exercise, not because it would hurt or be a pain for her, but because he knew for her it would be mundane and boring.
This morning he had woken up and was told about her having the ancient texts he would have a grin across his face when he saw her at breakfast with it. There were 12 masters in total, but Alex was offered a seat at their table as they watched over the monks. He would understand any word he had heard, the language was pretty much his first after all. After breakfast he seemed to take his time meditating as if he was becoming one with the entire area around him once more. When he felt he was finished he would walk toward the training room and close the door behind him. “Okay, let’s see it Nicky.”
he sounded almost like he was halfway kidding, but he really wanted to see her master chi in such a short time, he was hoping to see some sort of flow to it. If she wanted to show him anything else; now was the time.
She almost didn’t seem to hear him, but her movements suddenly switched, gracefully shifting into her neutral stance. A small breath out escaped through her lips, her eyes closed, and she fished the little ball out of her pocket. She placed it into her right palm, keeping her hand open and rolling it in between her ring and middle fingers, then began to move again. This time, though, it was nothing out of the books or
anything he had taught her. Two days ago she had realised she could feel the chi flow, even if she didn’t have any control over it, and had started toying with stances and moves while everyone else was sleeping, experimenting with how the flow shifted as she did. Now, she started into what looked almost like a water dance, though she didn’t actually know that term at all.
Her arms swept out in a wide circle, palms out, and then rapidly spun in until they were pressed together at her chest. Her left foot left the ground, spinning her in a single circle before she used the momentum to stomp the ground, at the same time thrusting her right hand out and letting out a loud shout. And the little ball flung out from her fingers and thwacked against the wall almost twenty feet away with a very loud thud, rebounding like a stone and leaving a chip out of the wall.
Nicky returned to her neutral stance, then her eyes flicked open and grinned at Alex. ”So I think I get it. A little, at least. I still dunno how to do what you do, but I can feel it, anyway.”
Under her breath, low enough she thought he wouldn’t hear, she added, ”First thing I’ve felt in a long time, too.”
Alex would look with an almost confused look on his face as she did her form. A grin slowly growing on his face as he watched her throw the ball. “Good, excellent in fact. You will learn to do what I do, but this shows me your body is starting to get used to releasing your chi. You are already miles ahead of 80% of the fighters in this world. Let’s see if you can get farther.”
He would reach into his pocket and pull out what looked to be a balloon that had yet to be filled up. With it a bag of them. Alex would walk out of the room and turn the corner where there was water and fill up 5 balloons with water. Coming back he would place them down. “ Learning to disperse your chi is just the first step, now you must learn to concentrate it into a single point. Grab one of these.”
he himself would pick one up and hold it in his hand. “Pop the balloon with your chi. After this we will work on control of chi, because we won’t want to get into how you can completely do what I did without control first. Otherwise your Chi could come out as a danger to others.”
He would look at the balloon and without even seeming to touch it the entire thing popped water splattering everywhere. “ If you focus on releasing chi through one spot you will find that you can easily pop something like a water balloon, after you pop a water balloon, you will work on crumbling rocks.”
his eyebrows would raise as if he was expecting her to make some snarky comment towards him.
Nicky watched him blow apart one balloon without seeming to move, and her eyes were intense
as she studied every facet of what he had done, though she couldn’t actually see anything. She listened as he gave his instruction, then nodded once and began staring at the next balloon. Her breathing changed, becoming a slow intake followed by a rapid series of tiny breaths out. Internally, she could feel her build up, but without her form, she had no idea how to release it, if she was being honest. Still, he had done it, so she could too. He wasn’t an alien or anything. So she stood, staring like she intended to develop laser eyes, at the balloon in front of her. Her fists began to clench, but still nothing happened.
Alex watched her intently, his directed his chi to his eyes so he could see her chi better and how it was flowing. “If you need to do you movements that’s fine for now, just know eventually you will be forced to not do you movements. What will you do if you are trapped with no space for your arms? Allow the chi to move through your body, imagine it like a river, and you are opening the dams from your inner being into your physical body and then out of your body.”
He would continue to watch her and a few students who were passing by looked on in amazement that she had already gotten to the point of the water balloons.A few of them would speak in chinese about helping her learn a few tips and tricks they had learned, but they would do it when Alex left.
Nicky nodded again, and then immediately stepped back two paces. Hopping onto her left foot only she did a series of spins, right leg only coming down to push off the ground at the end of each turn. The spins carried her scant inches forward, but she began to pick up the pace until, just outside of the range where she could simply kick, she lashed out with a shout and a roundhouse kick. Although she didn’t pop any of them, all four vibrated intensely for a few seconds. The last one on the row had two pinholes that were now streaming out water slowly, where the pressure had been just enough to tear a bit of the rubber but not enough to rupture the whole balloon’s surface.
Nicky let out a growl of frustration, and turning to Alex, she noticed the other students muttering to each other and looking at her. ”Hey, don’t make fun of me, you bastards! I just got here, I can’t do all this shit in one week!”
Her face turned bright scarlet.
Alex would look to the students who seemed to tilt their head at her for yelling at them. “They were talking about helping you, but I can't blame you. You don't know Chinese. They were trying to be quiet so I didn't hear them. It’s not allowed here for students to help someone with their training in the first 3 weeks.”
Alex would sigh as he picked up one of the water balloons and held it out for her to grab again. “Try to imagine this, imagine yourself breaking out of a small cardboard box, but only in one direction, then imagine letting your chi flow that way as well.”
he knew it was a hard task, this is where most people tend to make mistakes and not be able to control it or give up. “Also try to remain in control, uncontrolled Chi can be very dangerous.””Oh. Uhhh. Okay. Sorry.”
Nicky grinned sheepishly at the other students, rubbed the back of her head, then turned back to her task. Okay. Cardboard box. I can do that.
She felt the flow, a river of energy inside her that swirled and eddied, some places deeper than others, some more turbulent. Though the cardboard box didn’t quite work in her head, she knew what he had meant by it. She pictured a sluice gate in the water, and ever so slowly opened it. She directed the resulting flow out towards the balloon, but only managed to make it quiver. Curious, she reached out and poked it, rewarded by a pop and splashing water all over herself. ”Shit! Damn it, these things are two thin, if I can just poke it open. You shoulda warned me, Miyagi!” “Of course they are thin, what else did you expect, Nicky? Would you rather me give you a rock now to try it? See if you can’t crumble that?”
Alex bent down and picked up a rock in his hand, he seemed to focus for a moment and the rock crumbled to dust in his hand. “ That is the next step, but you are not ready yet, that is why you have these thin balloons… just trust me on this. This is a requirement in your training. Without it, your Chi will be wild, and hostile even to yourself, I can even show you what it would feel like if I let my chi loose without much control over it if you’d like.”
He’d seem to take a deep breath as he looked back at the door and then back to Nicky, “I am going to give you, 24 hours, make a hole in a balloon at the very least, while holding it in your hand, without poking it. Or, you will have to meditate for 20 hours with me.”
Alex would nof a slight smirk crossing his face as he spoke. ”Oh God, not more meditation. Fine, I’ll do it in twelve, and dump it on your grey ass head, old man!”
She snatched up a balloon and sat, cross-legged, on the floor, holding it up on one palm at eye level while the other hand rested on her knee. Her jaw set almost comically as she narrowed her eyes, and her tongue once again stuck out while she concentrated.
It actually only took her six hours to pop her first one, but she only managed to do it reliably after another ten. Twice, she had managed to lose control and wound up almost destroying her own clothes and the stone around her before she brought it back down. Another two had her able to pop it in midair, so she managed to give herself a break by slinging them overhead and trying to pop them over specific target she drew on the floor in chalk, a combination of skeet shooting and bombing runs.
Alex would walk in after about 12 hours; he had a cigarette in his mouth as he walked in blowing out the smoke gently. “Okay, so, show me what you got.”
he would say. He would have his traditional monk robes on him. He would lean against the nearby wall as he waited for her to show him how she was able to get it in 12 hours. “You know most people take at least 2 weeks to be able to have the ability to constantly express their chi through their fists without a problem, let’s see where you got in 12 hours, shall we?”
Nicky grinned at him, then threw a balloon over his head, timing her punch into the air to detonate the balloon directly over his head. As water washed down, she hoped it put out his cigarette, but regardless, she had accomplished her goal.
The water would wash over his entire body, and put out the cigarette in his mouth. His eyebrows raised as he looked down at his wet clothes. He would nod, ”Color me impressed, if there ever was a chosen one, maybe you were it after all.”
he’d say in an obvious joking tone. After chuckling to himself for a second he was finally speak again, “Now, if you’d like we can go ahead and start the next part of your training, you have learned to release it, and you have learned to release the chi in a concentrated point. Now, we learn to control how much you release. One of the reasons most people take so long is because they will get exhausted with the amount of effort it takes. But you, I guess you don’t have to worry about that.”
he would grin at her before standing in the center of the room. “Alright… I’m going to show you why control is important, when you start to learn how to use it all throughout your body and at once, it can become an overwhelming force all around you. If I don’t control it and I unleash it as much as I want; then this will happen.”
He would take a deep breath letting his arms go to his sides, suddenly a massive amount of chi would come out of him, the entire room would feel heavier for anyone in it. Alex’s Chi was heavy it would start to oppress Nicky’s chi, if she could feel pain she would have felt it, but since she didn’t it would just feel like a heavy oppressive force on her. Alex would release his Chi with a deep sigh as the force lifted and he looked at Nicky.
Walking over and picking up a rock he would hold it out for Nicky, “Take this rock. Split it in half, if you unleash your chi on it, it’s going to crumble, if you concentrate it can be split in half. I want you to keep trying until then.” ”Uhhhh. Okay?”
Nicky shook her head, trying to get what felt like pressure out of her ears. She had no idea what else had happened. Maybe it had more of an effect on people who weren’t cursed like her. She slapped her left ear with the same palm like she was trying to know her brain loose while she took the stone with the other. Staring at it, she sat down on the floor, cross-legged, and again, held it in her open palm at eye level. This time, though she was more confident. She might not know what the hell chi was, despite Alex telling her several times, but she knew she could blow stuff up with her mind. And the movements were helping, but she wanted to try this one all on her mental power alone.
She concentrated hard for maybe twenty second before the thing not just crumbled, but exploded
, sending chips flying everywhere. She saw
several bouncing away from her eyeball. In shock, she blinked and looked up at Alex. ”Okay, so maybe that’s not as easy as it sounds. You wanna give me some sort of advice there, old man?”
Alex watched her carefully as she unleashed chi into it. He held up his hands to guard his face as tiny pieces flew everywhere. Alex sighed as he picked up another rock and dropped it infront of her. “Yes, I want you to imagine that rock in your hand. Close your eyes, and imagine slicing it completely in half with a sword. A sword is a dangerous weapon, but yet it is easily controlled as long as you wield it from the hilt, you wield your chi the same way, you wield it with your connection from your body to your spirit. You control it with how hard you swing.”
he seemed to walk away and back to the door to watch her follow up with what he said. A sword, huh?
The only swords she had seen had been in the old-as-hell movies her dad had watched when she was a little kid watching her baby brother, so she tried to remember what that had been like. One huge blade almost as tall as a man, with three or four little prongs off the sides where you gripped it. So she mentally swung it overhand. But nothing happened.Oh, right, the chi thing,
she thought to herself as the image dissolved. She reformed it in her head, then swung it again, mentally and ironically yelling the word freedom while she did so. The wall across her palm from her face nearly exploded, chunks of masonry vaporising and more stones raining down. A vertical pie-slice of stone, starting on the ceiling just behind and directly above her head and continuing forward until it was nearly a foot wide and several inches deep, was simply gone
. She looked up, wincing, and simply said, ”Ooops.”
The stone in her hand was completely unscathed.
Alex watched closely but when the stones began to almost explode he would instantly bring his hands up to his face to help protect himself again. He looked at the massive amount of stone missing as he shook his head, a grin on his face. “No more chi training. I want you to meditate for 2 hours. Then join me upstairs in the dojo. I’m going to teach you how to fight before we go any further. You need to have a more calm mind and stronger mental fortitude, I am going to help you with that.”
he would wait for her response, and then head back upstairs towards the dojo.
Just after noon, local time
Nicky had given up on mentally timing meditation. ‘Two hours’ had little to no meaning to her in general, which ruined her meditation, as she had to constantly open one eye and look at the hourglass she had ‘requisitioned’ from the monks. As a result, walking into the main dojo of the temple, she was nothing but irritated and bored. That stopped the second she walked through the heavy, lacquered wooden doors. The first noise she heard was the slap of fist on flesh, almost immediately followed by the crack of wood being blocked by an arm. She glanced around and saw something she thought only existed in movies.
Fourteen monks sparred in various areas of the place, presided over by a surly looking man with a shaved pate and mustachios she was fairly certain she could use as a swing. They were using anything from bare hands to broadswords to staves and nunchaku. Off to one side, a separate group of students were doing forms, being watched by two men in a way that reminded her distinctly of Alex in his class, though she supposed that was probably inevitable. She strode unconcernedly past everything, though in deference to her new fascination with doing this right, she avoided her old blustering steps directly through the other students. Once she stood in front of Alex where he waited, she grinned at him.”So, Master Roshi, what are you gonna kick my ass with first?”
She seemed indifferent to the several students who stopped what they were doing to watch, though internally she took note that apparently word had spread about what had happened in the other room.
Alex seemed to look over and see her approaching, he grinned at her as he took a deep breath. I will tell you what we are going to do. We are going to do some simple training exercises for the first three hours, and then.”
he would walk over to the wall and grab a sword as he tossed it on the ground. His eyebrows raised at her as he walked in front of her as well. “I’m going to throw punches a certain way, I need you to do the same thing that I am doing, and throw the punches the same way..” he would get into a stance and take a deep breath as he started to throw punch after punch in front of him. It was slow so she could see every inch of his form.
She copied his form as best she could and threw a punch tentatively, then a little more confidently, trying her best to match his pace. After no more than a few seconds, she became irritated at the attention she could feel on her back, but shook her head and tried her best to ignore it. She focused all of her attention on trying to match her teacher’s form as exactingly as she could. Not that that was much.
Alex would stop and say, “Keep going I am going to correct you.”
Correcting he did, walking up to her he would stare for a moment before holding a hand out for her to stop and then getting behind her and crouching down so his head was at her level he would gently grab her arm and show her the corrected form, with her own arm doing it. He would take a step back and nod to her to show her she needed to continue.
She corrected her form as best she could, but her inability to actually feel
her muscles was beginning to show. No matter how much she tried, she had to correct after every punch, and her patience was flagging, both with herself and with the world that had cursed her to this. And then a laugh from behind her caught her ear and what was left of her patience snapped like a log in a fire. Wheeling around, heedless of whatever reaction Alex had, she snarled into the room, which had mostly gone back to their own business, ”So, think it’s funny? Little girl trying to do big boy martial arts? White girl comes to China, thinks she can fight? Fine, tough guys, let’s see what you got!”
Alex’s eyes would raise as he saw Nicky spin around so quickly. “If that is what you want Nicky, that is permitted here. Just don’t kill anyone or actually try to physically hurt them to the point of not being able to move.”
Alex would be grinning, the look on his face said that he expected this at some point. He would start to speak in Chinese to the man he saw laugh, the man couldn’t have been more than 18. He probably had been practicing since he was 12. Alex explained that Nicky wanted to spar, the monk would turn to her and nod, bowing to her before putting his fists up. “Yong Shun, Hǔ shì” he would say declaring his fighting style and name. ”What the hell did he say? You know what, doesn’t matter.”
She went through all the motions of cracking her knuckles and popping her neck, although there was no sounds to evidence that it had any effect, and the little curse she uttered belied that she was expecting it to.
The man shuffled into a stance as the mustached instructor motioned everyone else back into a circle, giving instructions in Chinese that Nicky didn’t even bother listening to. All of her focus was on the man in front of her. He looked calm and ready, and for once, that actually gave Nicky pause. If I just rush him, he’s gonna throw me around like a ragdoll. I gotta be smart about this.
. She shockingly even bowed to the man, though it was curt and rude, but still something she hadn’t bothered to do up until today. Alex would feel her chi suddenly drop precipitously. She was obviously planning to do this with only her native strength and exceptional endurance.
The man seemed to also sense the drop, but took it as a sign of opening, and as soon as she finished sketching her bow was in the air, driving his knee for her face. She thought she had it easy, leaning back to dodge only to watch his foot snap forward and catch her in the ribs, sliding her a few inches and nearly toppling her. He came up off that move shouting his breaths, fists slamming out in precise motions to hammer into her belly and hip while she was off balance, sending her over her tipping point and onto the floor.
She got up slowly, light dancing in her eyes. This one was taking her more seriously than even Alex had, launching into an attack as soon as she was up to her feet again, relentlessly assaulting her defenses. But it seemed no one had told him of her unique nature. She felt the pressure of blows as if they were sledgehammers, but her guard went up as she had been taught so recently, and now she had the advantage of time. But she didn’t want to wait him out, even though she knew she could. He had laughed
at her, and that mean there were lessons
to be taught.
During a kick from his right leg, trying to drive up underneath her raised arms, she made the unexpected move of whipping her head forward, slamming into his toes with everything her neck could muster. She missed the end of his foot and for a moment his toes were sliding down her face inside his slippered shoe. Her forehead finally made solid contact with the top of his ankle, and as he pulled it back in reaction, she snatched his ankle with both hands and snapped a kick into the back of his thigh, just below the buttock.
He staggered back, but she wasn’t done. Now that she had the offensive, she wanted to keep
it, and she proceeded into the series of spin kicks she had taught herself, only without the chi buildup. Unfortunately for her, this was probably one of the most obvious attacks she could pull, and he easily swept her supporting leg out from underneath her, tossing her into the ground like a toy. As she staggered to get up, the boy lunged forward, slamming both palms into the side of her ribcage with enough force to sound like a gunshot and send her flying across the room to tumble along the floor and bounce off of the wall.
Still, she got up. He looked surprised, as she smiled at him menacingly and stalked forward again. She had dropped out of form and was now moving like a brawler again, accelerating into a run and a diving punch. He shook his head, sidestepped, and delivered a blindingly fast set of three punches to her temple, sending her crashing to the floor again.
This continued on for several more minutes, the boy beginning to look actually tired, before the mustached instructor called a halt. He rattled off something in Chinese to the other students, who answered in a chorus that sounded like a “Yes sir!” to Nicky. Remembering her manners almost too late, she returned the bow the boy had given her, though Alex could see there was still some fury in the back of her eyes as she returned to face him.
Alex would grin at her as he walked forward, “You lost control again, I want you to use that form, the form I just showed you. Against that.”
he would point towards a punching bag that seemed to be kind of an older style looking one. If she punched it, it would feel like hitting a bag of rice (Because it was). Alex would walk back over and once again go behind her grabbing at her arms and if she let him and show her the form once more. “Now, go and get your anger out. Five thousand-punches.”
he would be grinning at her as he watched her, if she did it he would also be following along with her pace to mimic the form so if she ever needed help she only needed to look at him.