Chapter 255 – Standing for One Minute
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Saki rubbed her stomach still feeling the pain from the elbow thrust.  It was the first time the woman actually made a direct attack.  The intent was clear.  It wasn’t even the real fight yet.  ‘She’s got enough force behind her power to actually push me back.  It’s still just her power doing it, but to fight toe-to-toe with me…’

The entire time Saki expected to see some trick or special power from her.  Anything that would make it clear.  Maybe she used magic or something out of those annoying books Yuki obsessively collected.  Yet it never surfaced from Rheia.  The woman seemed set to fight only using her body.  Almost as if anything more was unnecessary or perhaps it was flashier than she wanted.  Either case, it was a simpler fight than Saki expected to get from the one at the top.

“It’s not over yet,” Rheia commented, noting the staggered Saki.  She straightened up from her attack.

Brushing off the rest of the pain and locking her legs to stand, Saki stiffened her back in preparation.  “You’re right about that!”  She charged forward going straight for Rheia.

Chapter 255 – Standing for One Minute

As she already expected, a frontal attack did just about as much as it had before.  Nothing changed in that aspect.  Rheia remained too fast to break through her defenses.  However, the new pattern introduced by Rheia’s elbow before confirmed the new status quo.  Rheia countered immediately with a quick left jab across Saki’s face.

The blow knocked her back, even though her feet remained firmly planted.  Leaning back from the force, the sting in her cheek reminded her she needed to be aware of her own defense.  When Rheia followed up with another sharp two punches, Saki jumped back just as the first strike came in.  It seemed to come in slow motion with her heightened senses.  Rheia’s fist barely grazed her cheek significantly reducing impact.  A bit of redness still appeared as if getting a carpet burn.

Saki rubbed her jaw and face a little trying to adjust to the sting from the one punch that fully connected with her.  ‘Need to remember to defend myself.  She’s actually on the offense now.’  However, resting wasn’t allowed.  The Atlantean’s offensive didn’t stop with just a few punches.  They seemed more like tests than anything compared to the next one.

Dodging still worked, but the speed of the most recent attack wasn’t like the previous.  ‘She got faster?!  Was she holding back this whole time?’  A backflip took her out of reach of the next attack.  Barely even landing, Rheia was already on top of her again.  Forced to keep dodging, Saki made no progress against her attacker.

Rather than just evading each thrown punch, Saki converted her maneuvers into counterattacks.  Sliding down, she tried to sweep with her legs.  Taking a blocked punch to deliver a returned fist.  Little did it helped, all she managed to do was keep her in the fight in an active role.

‘Those hands, if I can just tie them down I might be able to get a clean hit in.’  The fact that everything she threw against the woman ended up blocked by her hands started to bother Saki some.  She didn’t have a certainty that getting a real hit on the woman would do anything, but even the sign was enough.

Strategy or not, it was enough of a plan for her to try something.  When the next attack came as expected, Saki blocked her fist.  She clamped down firmly on Rheia’s wrist to keep her from moving.  The accompanying arm tied up shortly after with Saki snapping out to lock down both.  “Now I have you!”

Rheia grinned with delight seeing her target taking advantage of the situation.

Saki flipped around while still holding onto her wrists.  While in motion she kicked Rheia, but as she landed, it didn’t seem to do anything.  ‘I sort of knew that wouldn’t do anything.  Whatever she’s using on her hands to absorb my strength was likely on the rest of her body just in case.  But screw it!’  Not satisfied with just the hit, especially when it didn’t seem to do anything.  Saki tightened up her hold on Rheia and closed in, swinging her head.

The pained echo of two skulls smashed together rang through the city of Atlantis.  It stunned Saki for a moment, not expecting it to hurt as much as it did.  “Damn!  It’s like your head’s made of steel!”

Even Rheia seemed a little fazed by the attack not striking during the opening.  Pain didn’t seem as strong for Rheia compared to Saki, but it did affect her a little.  “Your head’s pretty tough as well.”  Laughter broke out through her lips threatening to move through her whole body.  “You’re very amusing and unusual.”

Still rubbing her head from the ringing pain that threatened to turn her brain into a pudding, Saki paused by the surprising reaction.  Unlike all of the others that came before her, Saki thought she saw happiness in her face.  It wasn’t delight in killing or anything so base and violent.

Recovering from her interruption, Rheia composed herself once more.  “Please, let’s continue.”  Eagerness appeared in her face now.  She looked forward to what Saki would try next.  A smile drew over her lips.

‘She certainly seems to be having fun.’  The next round of attacks came in, wasting no additional time.  The timer on the one-minute clock was still moving, only half cleared.  The test seemed only interested in if Saki could pass based on whatever rules Rheia determined.  The best guess that Saki had was falling to the ground, due to the unusual setup.  It was the only thing that made sense.  So far she succeeded in not falling.  However, it was getting worse.

Each attack came in faster than the last.  Saki tried to strike back when she could, but she wasn’t used to dealing with someone at the same speed as her.  Even only having her powers for a couple of weeks, all of the fighting made her grow used to a certain speed.  Her opponents always moved too slowly as if they stood still.  This was so foreign to her, adjusting took a lot more work than she expected.

While flipping end over end to evade the most recent strike her hand slipped on the wall for a moment as if she had no traction.  It was so brief she almost didn’t notice it.  She only saw it because only her hand held her in contact with the wall.  ‘Damn, I almost slipped up there.’  Leaving the moment behind, she charged back into the fray with Rheia.

Seconds ever so slowly ticked by for the two speedsters.  Everything occurred almost invisibly to any possible observation.  Only the fractions of fractions of seconds they appeared during clashes could be seen and even that would have been a blur to anyone normal.

Progress proved empty.  The only thing that seemed to succeed was Saki’s standing in the test Rheia set forth, but it wasn’t something that Saki really cared about.  Pass or failure wasn’t an interest to her, though she didn’t want to fall either.

Saki slid down the wall a few meters from the last punch that actually connected.  ‘Dammit!  She keeps getting hits on me, but I can’t even slow her down for more than a moment.’  It didn’t take long for her to charge back in full steam.

“Why do you keep charging in blindly during the sparring matches?”

“Master?” a young Saki questioned, looking very confused.

A quick exchange of blocks flew off between Rheia and Saki trying to break through the other’s defense.  The speed of the attacks kept increasing.  Percussive blasts began to echo from each clash rumbling the wall.  Dust leapt free from the ancient holds as the intensity of the fight increased.

The middle-aged man towered over her looking a bit bewildered by the girl.  She had tons of energy and more resolve than any of the other students, despite the exclusion the others embargoed on her.  “This class’ focus is on self-defense, not tournament competition.  While I teach you both sides, I never see you using any defensive moves.”

“Is that a problem, Master?”

Rheia slipped through moving just a bit faster.  Two open palms, with the bottoms of the forearm together, landed deep in Saki’s stomach.  The force threw her off her feet and fell towards the ground.

He sighed a bit, disappointed she hadn’t understood one of the fundamentals.  “Saki, the reason you’re always losing to him is not because he’s older or more skilled than you.  It’s because you only ever attack and never give yourself a chance to read your opponent.  A good defense can defeat an opponent just as well as a swift attack.”

Her body spun out of control speeding to the ground below.  If she hit it the test would be over, that was how she felt Rheia saw it.  She didn’t even know what might happen as a result.  Saki just didn’t want it to happen.  Yet stopping her body didn’t seem possible.  Their fight had stepped up the strength and speed of their attacks.  Anything that got through was more than she could deal with.

“If all you do is attack, all you will do is fall on your back each time, Saki.”

‘Like I need to be reminded of that at this moment!’  The base of the wall was nearly in reach.  If she hit the earth, she couldn’t imagine how much it would hurt or if she would survive it.  She always imagined her body had been tough and resilient, but the force made her question it.  This wasn’t like the other fights.  She needed to stop herself.  ‘Can’t…right myself…’

Images of the boy she always challenged but never beat, appeared in her mind.  Rheia’s behavior reminded her of him so much.  They seemed very alike in the way they looked at her.  Even beaten she never gave up against him in all of the times she sparred with him.  She looked forward to the future when she put him on his back.

‘I won’t…fall…not here…’

Three meters remained, less than a second counted down until impact.  Saki was out of time.  ‘I won’t give up here!’  Matching the wall with her eyes, she timed out the motion.  Her hand slammed out to the wall gripping it.

Cracks ran up from where her hand met the stone.  A groan and yelp of pain struck Saki as her whole body whipped around and slammed into the wall suddenly pulled to a stop.  “Damn that hurt…”  She looked up at her hand that saved her just centimeters from the ground.  Her fingers embedded into the stone from the sheer force.

Staring down at how close she came to the earth left her with a strange feeling in her stomach.  It felt like she was falling and lying down at the same time.  Her body didn’t know how to feel even if her mind understood.

It didn’t matter for long though.  Saki saw Rheia coming in after her, not letting the break rest.  Planting her feet on the wall, she threw herself up and over Rheia to return to a safer position.  It put her on top, even though it meant nothing with the way their fight played out thus far.  ‘Defense, huh?  I guess I do take a little too much after those idiots.’

Rheia turned around and followed with a swift strike for Saki’s face, which she evaded.  The increase in speed on her attacks started to become something she could see more clearly.  ‘Watch her movements.  Move with the flow of the fight, not against it.’  Saki deflected the next couple of strikes, pushing them away from her.  ‘I’m too focused on ending the fight that I couldn’t see anything else.  I have to be smarter when I’m against a stronger opponent than myself.’

As her mind calmed, the defense Saki put up became more difficult to penetrate for Rheia.  Counterattacks actually slipped through the woman’s defenses.  Then Saki’s foot slipped again.  ‘I felt that again, what is that?’  It distracted her at the wrong moment allowing her fist to connect, however before all of the motion finished Saki pulled with the strike converting the rest of the energy into a throw.

Rheia flew up the wall sliding on her back meters away from Saki.  She started to stand up, but Saki was already gone.  However, Rheia couldn’t react to it.  Something seemed wrong.  “Huh?”  Both of Saki’s arms wrapped around her waist, locked in together.  She felt her feet lifting off the ground.

Everything turned around and the world seemed to have flipped.  The wall rushed to her face.  Stone pulverized and pelted her face.

An explosive force ripped through the wall.  It looked as though a bomb went off, tearing through everything.  Debris rained down and even shot out through the interior.  The explosion ripped through both sides of the wall to the surprise of the citizenry below.

Even more of a surprise was something shot through covered in smoke from the hole punched through the fifty-meter thick wall.  Another thing blew through the smoke trailing behind it.

Uncontrolled, the first crashed into a tall five story stone building blasting up even more smoke and debris from the collision.  The second finally broke free from the smoke revealing Saki.  She came to land on a nearby rooftop a story short to the damaged one.

Breaking free from the rubble and ripping the rooftop apart, Rheia surfaced from the destruction with only a little more dirt on her uniform.  She wiped away the crushed stone powder from her cheek as she stared across to Saki.  “You pass!  Let the real fight begin now!”  Rheia grinned with delight preparing her next attack.

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