“No, no, no!” she barked at one girl whose technique was particularly sloppy. “Your form is all wrong! Try it again, and do it right this time!” The girl, whose name was Ivea, shrunk back from the harshness of Alessandra’s tone, and immediately began running through the exercise that she and the other recruits had been ordered to do.
Alessandra stalked back and forth in front of the line of recruits, eyeing their work, shouting out criticisms here and there. There were about a dozen boys and girls in the room, ranging in age from 11 to 15. Most of them stared at Alessandra with a mixture of fear and awe on their faces, because despite her disgraced status, she still was one of the most talented thieves in the clan, and the new recruits had heard stories of her exploits. There was one girl, however, who stared at Alessandra with undisguised contempt and half-heartedly worked through the exercise she was supposed to be doing.
“You!” Alessandra barked suddenly at this girl. “What’s your name?”
“Meela,” the girl sneered. She was tall, almost as tall as Alessandra. Her head was shaved, except for black bangs that hung down just above her eyes.
“Well, Meela, when I teach a class, I expect my students to follow my instructions,” Alessandra snapped.
“Why should I listen to you?” Meela retorted, folding her arms across her chest defiantly. “I know all about you. You’re the lowest ranked thief in this clan because you screwed up and got a bunch of your clanmates killed. I don’t know why you didn’t get kicked out.”
Alessandra glared at her for a moment, and then beckoned her forward. Meela rolled her eyes and sauntered away from the line of students and stood right in front of Alessandra.
“You and me are going to give the class a demonstration,” Alessandra said in a too-sweet voice, smiling toothily. “Defend yourself!” And with no more warning than that, Alessandra began raining punches and kicks upon her young antagonist.
Meela was quick, and had good reflexes, but that applied to Alessandra as well. Meela, unlike Alessandra, was untrained, and no match for someone with Alessandra’s experience and knowledge. Meela managed to block Alessandra’s first punch, but before she could retaliate, a second blow hit, and then a third, and they just kept coming, and it was all Meela could do to keep Alessandra from landing a blow. After a few seconds, she slipped, and Alessandra slammed a fist into Meela’s stomach. As soon as Meela doubled over from the blow, Alessandra swiftly kicked her in the head, knocking her backwards onto the floor.
“That is why you should listen to me,” Alessandra said, as Meela laid on the floor moaning and clutching her stomach and head, “because I know what I’m doing, and you don’t.” She turned from Meela and faced her class. “Exercise 6, now!” she barked, ignoring the groans coming from the incapacitated Meela.
She stalked around the training room, glaring at her students intently, occasionally yelling at someone who was doing something wrong, even more occasionally offering a terse compliment to someone who was doing something exceptionally right. After a few minutes, Meela recovered sufficiently to resume her place in line, and began running through the exercise, trying very hard to avoid Alessandra’s gaze. Alessandra was pleased to note that Meela was running the exercise perfectly, although her face was beet red and she still looked away from Alessandra anytime Alessandra glanced over at her.
“Okay!” Alessandra yelled suddenly, clapping her hands for emphasis. “I want all of you to pair off and spar. Standard rules apply!” Standard rules meant that there were no rules, except that you had to refrain from killing or maiming your partner. Anyone who failed to adhere to this rule was summarily exiled from the clan. Clan leaders wanted their recruits to learn how to fight on the streets of Serotopolis, not killing and crippling each other.
“Teacher,” Alessandra heard a voice say meekly. She looked over and saw that it was Meela. “There are an odd number of students.”
“Thinking of revenge?” Alessandra asked with a wry grin.
“No, Teacher,” Meela replied, a sickly look on her face, “but I am eager to learn. I apologize for my rudeness earlier. I should have known that what may or may not have happened to you in the field should have no bearing on your ability to pass on your expertise.”
“Now I know how Bezzum feels when I act meek to him,” Alessandra muttered under her breath.
“What was that, Teacher?” Meela asked, confused.
“Nothing!” Alessandra barked. “If you would like to spar with me again, so be it, but I warn you, I won’t go easy on you this time either.”
“I would not want you to,” Meela replied in a firm voice.
Alessandra looked around the room to make sure everyone had found a partner, and then she bellowed, “Begin!”
This time it was Meela who took her by surprise. Alessandra just barely had time to block Meela’s incoming fist, and for a few moments, she was somewhat shocked to find herself on the defensive. Gradually, she overcame her surprise, though, and for a short time, it seemed as if the two of them were fairly evenly matched. They were trading blows back and forth, neither one of them managing to land a hit, but each of them giving as good as they got.
Then Alessandra received a greater shock. Meela feinted like she was going to hit Alessandra on the right, but then, quick as a vieja, slammed her right fist into Alessandra’s left side. Alessandra grunted in surprise, but quickly recovered. Before Meela could take advantage of her successful blow, Alessandra smashed her foot into Meela’s hip, staggering her, and then hit her with a hard uppercut that knocked her flat on her back.
“You’re a quick learner,” Alessandra said in an impressed voice, standing over Meela with her feet spread apart and her fists on her hips.
To be continued…