Chapter 24: Rematch With the Wall

Energia: Titans of Verità
Table of Contents (For Catching Up)

On a normal day, the training hall was reasonably empty. Aside from the trainees, who were spending their time there getting beaten to a bloody paste, and Melcroft, who watched their struggles with sadistic delight, no one ever seemed to go in there. Anna had assumed that they had the room reserved to themselves until they had all cleared basic training. For all she knew, no one aside from them was allowed inside. That or everyone who wasn’t lazy went to a different hall somewhere else in the building.

Today, however, was a very different story.

Anna arrived in the training room before anyone else and started stretching to kill the time until the others and Melcroft arrived. Soon after her, both Sal and Alex arrived, both of whom were still rubbing the sleep from their eyes. Only Sal greeted her. A few minutes later, Tommy arrived with Eitan, who stared at the American with murder in his eyes, under his arm. She wasn’t surprised to see Cara arrive last; Anna had tried to wake her up, eager to have someone to witness her upcoming victory, but she had simply rolled back over in bed and gone back to sleep. There wasn’t a shred of embarrassment or shame on her face as she sat down beside the others. If anything, she seemed proud.

Normally, Melcroft would arrive shortly after she did, typically with a cup of coffee and a sinister grin. However, it wasn’t their instructor who entered next. Rather, it was a small group of older Operatives, all dressed casually and talking to each other as if they were about to watch a movie. Soon after they arrived, another group appeared. Then another. Within thirty minutes, there was a small crowd packed into the training hall.

And all of them were looking directly at Anna.

“What’s going on?” Tommy asked, casually approaching one of the onlookers.

“You haven’t heard?” a taller man in a black jacket answered. He jabbed a thumb at Anna. “Apparently, that girl made a bet with the Shinobi. Says she can clear the obstacle course in one go! After we heard that, we had to come and see!”

Tommy turned and stared at her with wide eyes. At the same time, Anna could feel all of the other trainees looking at her. She shrugged, trying her best to hide the anxiety that twisted her stomach into knots. Great. She thought. Now I’ll get to embarrass myself in front of everyone in Order. She clenched her fists tightly. No. I can do this. I will do this!

“He’s joking, right?” Tommy asked as he returned. “I mean, you wouldn’t do something that reckless, right?”

“Apparently she would.” Eitan sighed, rubbing his eyes. “Hopefully they’ll all clear out after she’s done. The last thing we need is for all of us to embarrass ourselves.”

“I want to know who told them,” Sal said casually, eyeing the crowd. “Whoever it was must have made it sound like quite the show. They must’ve been close by when the bet was made, too.” His eyes slowly drifted towards Cara. “I wonder who it could’ve been.” The sarcasm practically dripped off of his words like water.

Noticing his gaze, Cara threw her hands into the air. “Wasn’t me! Must’ve been one of the other girls! Maybe Hina told everyone about it!”

Anna scowled at her. She’d only met her last night in a drunken stupor and she was already calling her nicknames. How did she even remember her normal name?

“Doubtful.” Alex said. He sat in a calm, meditative position, his back to the crowd. “Hinata is not…” he paused to find the right word. “Sociable? Yes, that is it. She is not sociable.”

“You know her?” Anna asked, perking up.

“Not personally. Our families have been long time friends.”

Before she could grill him further, Melcroft finally arrived at the training hall. She forced her way through the crowd, tightly clinging to her mug in one hand and waving people off with the other. Her usual smile had been replaced by a confused and infuriated glare. “Make way!” she shouted. “I’ll report each and every one of you to Milldrew if you don’t get out of my god damn way right now! Ugh, you’re like a bunch of high schoolers! Move!” By the time she made it to the trainees, she was huffing for breath and covered in a light layer of sweat. “Seems like we’ve been made into a show!”

“Are they allowed to be here?” Eitan asked.

Melcroft shrugged and sipped her coffee. “So long as they don’t try running interference, I don’t see the harm. But it’d sure be nice if they would shut up!” she turned back to the crowd. “All of you, cram it! The newbies are getting started!”

This sent a wave of murmurs through the crowd. After a moment, everyone finally went silent. All eyes were on Anna.

“So…” Melcroft heaved an exhausted sigh. “Do I even need to ask who wants to go first? Or should I just tell Ironchase to step up?”

The crowd erupted at her name. They started chanting it, gradually raising their voices from a quiet whisper to a roaring thunder. While she normally would have reveled in attention like this, Anna felt anxiety twist her stomach into a knot. Despite this, she put on her most confident smile. They came here for a show. She thought. May as well give them a good one. She stood up to a loud cheer and made her way to the starting line. Time to do or die.

“Ready?” Melcroft shouted with just as much excitement as the first day. Behind her, the crowd’s volume dropped to a quiet rumble. “Go!”

Anna bolted forward, charging at the wall at full speed. Her mind raced to put a strategy together. But before she could come up with one, she was at the foot of the wall and leaping upwards. She scrambled upwards in an attempt to get over it before it could attack. Unfortunately, just as she hoisted her chest over the top, a powerful blow took her in the stomach and knocked her back down, though she still kept her grip. A loud ooh rose from the audience.

Another attack began to form on the wall’s surface. In a moment of panic, Anna threw herself to one side, evading the attack at the expense of sacrificing her balance. Luckily, she managed to recover just in time to avoid another pair of metal fists, both of which were aiming for her arms. However, just as she started climbing again, another attack took her head-on, knocking the wind from her lungs.

She ground her teeth against the pain, forcing her grip to stay firm. Another ooh echoed in the hall as she kicked off again, throwing herself upwards. She hoped that her momentum would carry her over. But before she could get going, a sudden attack took her in the jaw, knocking her off the wall with a loud thud. This time, a variety of reactions came from the crowd. Most of them were either screams or something along the lines of an exasperated “God damn!”

Kill them later. Anna thought as she stood up and pushed down the swelling bubble of anger in her chest.

The crowd roared as she lunged forward. As she moved, she could see the black surface rippling to prepare a massive attack. She’d seen this pattern numerous times now; it was usually the last thing she saw before waking up back in her bed. This time, however, she managed to roll out of the way well before the attack came. Then, heart racing, she leaped up again, firmly grasped the top of the wall, and pulled herself up.

She could feel the wall shift beneath her foot. Cheeky bastard’s trying to knock me off balance! She realized, spotting a larger shift in the surface just beneath her breasts. If she didn’t do something, that one would knock her back down. Given the size of it, she wouldn’t be able to get back up if it did. Her breathing became faster. If she lost the bet, then she’d-

Calm down. She thought, taking a deep and long breath. Time seemed to slow around her as the smaller of two fists came flying at her. Her mother’s words came to mind, words that she had forgotten a long time. “Do you know how I always beat the monsters?” she had asked.

“Cause you use their weaknesses?” Anna had answered. “That’s what Dad says you do!”

“No, that’s how I kill the monsters.” Her mother had laughed. “Before I do that, I have to beat them. To do that, I need to exploit their strengths. I need to make their power into mine. It isn’t about exploiting a weakness that’s already there; it’s about turning something they depend on against them.”

Anna hadn’t known what she had meant back then. Her mother had just said that she would someday. But now, as Anna felt the cold steel of the nanobots shifting beneath her heel, she thought back on those words. She rolled them over in her mind as if hearing them for the first time. Exploit their strengths. Make it yours. Be faster.

It all happened in the blink of an eye. The wall’s first, smaller attack came as quickly as a bullet. Just before it hit, Anna lifted her leg, then drove her heel down on top of it before it could retract. With her new boost in momentum, she rolled over the top of the wall and fell back to the ground. On the other side of the wall, a fist the size of a horse flew outwards, striking only at the air.

For the first time that morning, the gymnasium was completely silent. She could still feel their eyes, now wide with shock, on her. But there wasn’t a single sound. She knew she was breathing heavily; she could feel it in the movement of her chest. But she couldn’t hear it at all.

Eitan and Tommy were the first to cheer, shattering the silence like glass. Alex joined in a moment later, though his came a bit more forced and awkwardly. Sal and Cara were much more enthusiastic as they finished the cry. A moment later, it seemed that the rest of the audience remembered what they had come there for. Soon enough, the hall was once again filled with the shouts of excitement and delight.

Huffing, Anna sat there at the bottom of the wall. A few yards ahead, the rope dangled from high on the ceiling, as if it were challenging her. She stared at it with wide eyes. It almost seemed like it wasn’t real. Did she really just do that? She half expected the wall to punch her again and snap her out of her fantasy.

But it was Melcroft that broke her out of her shock. “What’re you doing, Ironchase?!” she shouted. “You’ve still got the rest of the course! Come on! Go, go, go!”

Anna felt as though she had been thrust back into her body after an ethereal experience. Still breathless, she rushed towards the rope. Despite her exhaustion, she was more confident than ever before. It was just a rope that flailed around! How hard could it be?

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