Sweat dripped down Skyla's neck as she pummeled the punching bag, one fist after the other, tapping out her own rhythm. She adjuted her feet and continued to hit it rapidly and relentlessly.
"Thirty more seconds," Darien said from the other side of the punching bag, but his voice barely permeated Skylar's brain. She was laser-focused on this target, on striking it in time with the rapid beating of her heart. She stayed light on her toes and shifted from side to side, each punch strong enough to break bones.
"That's time, Sky." Darien let go of the bag and stepped away from it, and Skylar let her fists fall to her side. She wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of her arm and tightened her ponytail as she walked towards the bench.
"Tired already?" Myra asked from where she stood jumping rope.
"Maybe you'll understand when you actually train instead of playing with a children's toy," Skylar shot back as she wiped her face.
"Jumping rope is an underrated cardiovascular exercise!" Myra insisted. "It improves balance, coordination, and enhances speed. I've recommended it as part of the official program at least four times."
"And what has the result been each time?" Darien was wrapping his hands in preparation for his turn on the punching bag.
Skylar finished wiping her face and stood, walking over to the punching bag and positioning herself behind it. "Ready whenever you are, Darien. Let's see if you can top me."
"Bring it on." Darien cracked his knuckles and grinned, hopping a few times in place before stepping up to the punching bag. "Set timer."
"Ready, set, go!" Skylar announced. As soon as the word 'go' left her mouth, Darien was already pounding the punching bag, his gaze locked on the punching bag and his jaw set as he pummeled the bag so hard that the chain shook. Skylar could feel the impact of each of his punches through the punching bag.
He continued to rain down punches methodically, shifting from side to side and attacking in short bursts. Skylar checked the timer. Fifteen seconds left and so far he was behind her pace, as far as she could tell. With five seconds left to go, Darien took a step backwards and then struck the punching bag with all his force with a strong roundhouse kick.
Skylar felt the sting in her hand, but she wasn't about to show Darien that. "Showoff," she muttered as she stopped the timer. "Besides, I was faster."
"That may be true, but I was stronger."
"Strong punches don't help you after you've been knocked out by a return punch," Skylar retorted.
"And fast punches don't help you if you can't take them down," Darien shot back.
"Guys. It was a tie." Myra tossed her jump rope to the side and stepped up to Skylar and Darien. "We should all spar. Hitting a bag only gets you so far in this world, after all."
"I really don't understand your vendetta against punching bags," Skylar commented as the three of them made their way over to the boxing ring, repurposed for sparring. "Like, they don't teach you everything, but they're so helpful."
Myra shrugged. "I prefer natural workouts."
"And jumping over a piece of plastic is a natural workout?" Darien joked, and Skylar laughed.
"He's got a point."
Myra flushed. "Look, just do your workout, and leave me in peace to do mine."
"Sorry, My. I was only joking." Darien eyebrows furrowed as he saw the frustration on Myra's face, but he was kind enough to drop the subject. "I call winner."
Skylar rolled her eyes at his arrogance but ducked under the rope. "Come on, Myra. Let's show him what we're made of."
"I'll show him what I'm made of." Myra rolled onto the mat and sprang to her feet, adopting her fighting stance and narrowing her eyes. "Darien, count us off."
"Three, two, one, fight!" Darien chanted, and Skylar immediately launched herself forward, hoping to get the upper hand on Myra early with a feint and then an uppercut. Myra blocked the uppercut and retaliated with her own hook that passed just above Skylar's head, and the two of them stepped back to reevaluate their options.
"Come on, in a real fight you won't have this kind of time! One of you make the first move!" Darien shouted to them, and Skylar clenched her jaw. She waited for openings in Myra's posture, but none came. Despite Myra's anti-punching-bag stance, she was still a strong and strategic fighter, and Skylar knew it was unfair to underestimate her. But Darien was right. When push came to shove and they were out in the field implementing their training, she wouldn't have this much time to think about her next move. If there wasn't an opening, she had to make one.
Skylar lunged at Myra, waiting for Myra to take a swing or adjust her posture, and when Myra did lift one first, Skylar kicked her in the side just hard enough to drop her. The kick connected, and Myra winced and shifted her weight to the other leg but stayed upright. "That all you got?" Myra jibed, and Skylar clenched her jaw but didn't take the bait.
"Let's see you make the move, then," Skylar responded, waiting patiently for Myra to come towards her, but Myra only grinned. When Myra didn't respond, Skylar closed the gap between them and swung firmly at Myra's head. As Myra raised her arm to block the punch, Skylar aimed a solid punch at her chest, hard enough to make Myra collapse. Skylar tapped her four times in the face and chest to assert her dominance and then stepped backwards, extending a hand to help Myra up. Myra took it and smiled at Skylar, brushing her wispy brown flyaways out of her face.
"Good match. You won fair and square." Myra shook Skylar's hand and then ducked out of the ring. "Darien, finish what I started."