Ivy's Bitter Poison
Swish. The breeze of my opponent's fist grazes past my face. Without much effort, I grab his wrist while twisting his arm as I pull him closer to me. My breathing remains stable as I deliver a powerful kick to his abdomen, and he falls to the floor with a grimace painted on his countenance.
"Amazing, you lasted a whole ten seconds this time." Shadow's voice resonates from a balcony above, designed to oversee the practice rounds for training. His appearance is completely different now that he's changed out of his suit. We all wear the same generic outfit; a black t-shirt and joggers paired with black sneakers. He's more relaxed and sarcastic without the suit on, trying to hold up a gentlemanly façade.
"Sorry Ashe, I didn't mean to kick you that hard." I extend my gloved hand to help the man up.
"I'm not hired for my combat skills; I'm here for my expertise in explosives." He replies defensively as he takes my offered hand, and I pull him up. Ashe brushes himself off with an air of annoyance radiating off of him. "I don't even know why I'm here in the first place. You two mentioned Secretary saying something about 'building my skills', but all I'm doing is getting my ass kicked." He shakes himself off, the motion making his red hair dance upon his head.
"You should really try physically training yourself more." Raven chimes in, standing beside Shadow, looking quite bored with her head resting in her palm.
"That's rich coming from you. I hardly ever see you fighting." The artificial redhead retorts. He holds a hand at the spot I hit him, exposing his tannum skin under his shirt. His amber eyes compliment his short wavy hair.
Raven mimics herself holding her sniper against the balcony railing. "That's because you'd be dead before you even see me. Besides," She reaches over and grabs Shadow's arm. "I'm never alone in my setup— I've always got someone who can fight with me or give me enough heads up to avoid any confrontation." The gentleman next to her gives a slight bow to the two of us below, a playful smirk on his face. "You, on the other hand, are always alone. If your explosions go south, you don't take the rest of us down with you."
"Tch." Ashe crosses his arms over one another. "Well, it doesn't matter anyway 'cause Secretary wanted both of us to train. You talk big now, but wait until you're down here. I might not be able to take Ivy or Shadow, but I'm gonna kick your ass!" He frankly sounds like a kid whenever I hear him speak sometimes, even though he's supposed to be a year older than me.
"Gentlemen shouldn't speak that way to a lady, Ashe." Shadow teases the younger man as he leans over the railing as he and Raven exchange light chuckles at the 23-year-old.
"You'll get the hang of it, Ashe. Rather than challenging me to a one-on-one fight right away, how about we go over some basics?" I try to reassure him. His combat skills are atrocious, but he really should learn a few things in case of an emergency. "You were about to throw a decent jab at me, but your stance is too relaxed– you end up leaving yourself wide open. It's easy to block or counter you." I explain to him.
It's incredible how some of the recruits never fully complete a combat course considering our line of work. Secretary is always so busy with not only the company side of this building, but also the agency. She tends to focus on everybody's unique skills and hopes everyone will train other aspects of themselves on their own time. Shadow and I went as far as to tell Ashe and Raven that Secretary ordered them to attend training, even though it's just us trying to prepare them for future missions. Fog is another one of our members who can't fight well either, but he's out on a different, more technical assignment.
Some time passes, and Ashe still can't land a hit on me, but he's been able to dodge a few more attacks and block some with his forearms. I try not to strike with all my strength since I don't want to incapacitate a comrade. Shadow and Raven have disappeared from the balcony, no doubt training in another room. As I rotate my body around for another kick, a hand grabs my leg taking me off guard and throwing me to the ground. My body tenses with the impact, and my eyes are able to focus on long strands of dark brown hair flowing above me.
"You're not even paying attention, Ivy." Fox looms over me, and I notice Ashe on the ground adjacent. I didn't even hear her slide the door open. "Come on, get up." She extends a hand to both of us simultaneously.
"Just leave me on the ground, please." Ashe pleads with his arms covering his face. I accept Fox's hand, only for her to twist my arm around and pin it behind my back. She's not grappling with all her strength, but it still hurts like hell. I stomp my feet around hers, only to be greeted with excellent footwork as she manipulates my body with her own.
"Come on, I may be five years your superior, but you can do better than this." Fox insults me, successfully pissing me off just a little. I clench my teeth and ram my head backward. With my other arm, I grab her sleeve and toss her over my shoulder with everything I can muster. She effortlessly rolls my attack off, swiftly on the offensive again. She hurls several hooks and jabs, my forearms sore from blocking what they can. As she prepares for a roundhouse kick, I catch a glimpse of an opportunity. Rapidly, I duck on all fours, swinging my foot to throw her off balance. A thud echoes in the room as I catch my uneven breath, my hair sticking to the beads of sweat forming on my face. "Good," Fox sighs as she gracefully picks herself up from the floor. "Now, if you weren't so out of focus, it would be even better."
"That… was her out of focus?" Ashe is still on the ground, sitting up with a dumbfounded look on his face. "...Arhghghr!" He furiously exhales as he dramatically lays down on the floor again. His reaction has me laughing internally, and I ease up on my stance.
"Haven't you two been on missions together? How have you not seen her fight?" Fox inquiries.
"Raven said it herself earlier. I'm usually separated from everyone 'cause of how risky my skill set can be. I don't think I've truly seen any of you fight. Even if I have, it's only a glance, not up close like this." Ashe rests defeated on the padded ground.
Fox places a fist to her hip. "Well, if you actually came to practice–"
"Even if I do practice, there's no way I'll get to your skill levels. Shadow trained both of you for years, so there's no way… ahhhh hell!" Ashe groans. "I might as well kamikaze my way out if I ever get caught."
"You'll never get anywhere if you don't start, though." I kneel by him, poking at his obliques.
"It's not like I haven't trained…" Silence follows his statement. Fox and I don't believe him for one second, the presumption apparent in the shared gaze we give the redhead. "What's with those looks you two? I mainly do the parkour course on the floor above when everyone else has a mission but me. It is rare… but I do actually try!"
"Well, that's great then!" I smile back at him. "That explains how you've gotten away so quickly from your own setups. What'd be even better is learning to at least defend yourself or someone else. Imagine one of the kidnapping cases we had a few months back. If Shadow was preoccupied, would you be able to go in and assassinate the abusers?" He’s about to say yes when I continue my phrasing. “Without blowing up any innocent victims.”
I continue poking his side rhythmically. "If you had some of the basics down, you'd not only be able to protect yourself but also others."
"...I guess you're right." He sits upright, placing his hand against his cheek.
"Of course I am." I give a smug look before propping myself back up. "I've already done more than enough training with you, though, for today; Fox, it's your turn." I turn away from the two, just catching the look of despair entering the redhead's golden eyes.
"Wait, don't leave me with her! She hates me! You know what she did to me on our last assignment?" He pleads out. As I face them both from the doorway, his arm is outstretched to me.
"Sorry, I can't hear you!" I wave as I leave the room behind me, the sliding door bouncing shut. I hear a few faded curses thrown at me as I walk away. Ashe's childish behavior puts my mind at ease. Everything is so simple with him; it makes it easy to forget our actual line of work. In an odd way, he reminds me of Luke sometimes.
I make my way down a few doors until I hear a couple of voices behind one of them. 1417. The 14th and 15th floors are strictly training grounds, with everything from padded rooms, rock climbing, weight lifting, cardio, shooting ranges, obstacle courses, a swimming pool, and more. I give a knock on 1417's entrance before entering.
I slide open the door just in time to see Raven deliver a decent strike with her foot. Though, Shadow easily blocks the hit given how slow she is. Shadow diverts his attention from practice to me. "Hey Ivy, you finally get tired of the ticking time bomb?" Evidently referencing the hot-headed Ashe.
With his concentration off of Raven, she takes the opportunity to counter another strike. Even without looking at her, he keeps blocking hit after hit. Her moves are a bit sloppy, but at least she's got some basics down. I lean against the doorframe, "You could say that. Fox came in and lectured us for not training seriously." I sigh, my facial expression relaxing. I scratch my face with my finger, an awkward smile crossing my face. "Raven… I don't think you're gonna get very far this way…"
"Shut up! I'm not going to improve if I do nothing." Raven keeps putting her all into her attacks, even though they don't seem to phase Shadow much. She appears a lot more motivated than Ashe, at least.
"Exactly, and I get a great massage out of it too." Shadow manifests a playful grin. This only makes Raven angry, and her beatings fiercely continue. If only the whole team had started practicing together sooner, we wouldn't have such a difference in our strength levels. We used to let it go before, but with Secretary handing us more difficult missions as time passes, we can't afford to leave our teammates defenseless. Especially if she starts assigning us solo missions; although, I’ve never seen anyone go alone before.
"It's not very gentlemanly to tease a girl, Shadow." I cross my arms as I stare him down. He lets out a disappointed sigh and seriously grabs Raven's slender wrists, seizing the assault.
"You have some strength, but it could be improved. Just training enough to carry and run with your rifle isn't going to cut it. The execution of your punches and kicks aren't bad, but you lack power." His ocean orbs stare into Raven's dark blue ones. "You should lift more and learn to block and counter an attack." Letting go of her wrist, she backs off while giving an understanding nod. She looks pretty defeated– the usual outcome when someone goes up against Shadow.
Rather than continuing, she passes by me to leave and makes one last comment. "You know if it were a battlefield with my sniper and you, I'd definitely win." She sticks her tongue out and leaves, her hair dancing behind her figure. She's right, though. She's an excellent shot; only at the beginning did she struggle a bit. The only way she wouldn't hit a target is if they were able to sneak up on her. Since she's never alone or always chooses a spot that makes it impossible to sneak around her, we rarely have to worry. Her skills often get limited to her transport abilities, her sniping left as a last resort.
"Since it's almost sunset anyway, how about we head out for the day?" His soothing voice streams into my ears. His demeanor is so different from Ashe's. Even though he can be a tease, he's much more mature between the two.
"Nah, I was going to shoot a few rounds, maybe head to my lab after to run some tests. Care to come with? Or do you have other matters to attend to?"
"I'll come shoot a few rounds, but I'll leave poison HQ to you." He gathers himself, and we exit together, heading for the shooting range.
Walking further down the halls on floor 14, Shadow and I pass by another training room, the door left partially open. Through the space, I can see a few younger individuals training. New recruits being evaluated, no doubt. It reminds me of the first year when I joined Arrowspring's organization, mostly drills with very few and easy training missions. They had me compete against other boys and girls in my age range to appraise my expertise in different skill areas. I've never seen or worked with most of those people again after that introductory year. I was placed into Unit 47 when I was 16 years of age, but I was still undergoing training for three more years, not taking on more missions than needed until I turned 19. More specifically, I was learning to fight better and handle poisons.
"Say," the pale man next to me speaks up from the silent walk we've been having. "You've never told me why you joined."
"We're not supposed to discuss that kind of information. Why do you ask now? Cause of the new recruits?" He's asked me this question a few times but typically drops it after I inform him that he already knows something about me that no one else knows.
"Yeah. They remind me of when you first came. Plus, most of you know my back story, which I think is a bit unfair, don't you?" He shrugs his shoulders, and we continue to walk toward the practice range.
"Well, you know my real name, so…" I trail off, reminding him that he has a vital piece of information from me.
"That's only because I was in the lobby when you first arrived here. Whenever floor twelve or above are mentioned, as a member of the agency, you can't help but listen in. It's your own fault for stating your name along with the location you wanted to go to." He trifles back. Floors 12 and 13 have many of our individual "offices" and meeting rooms.
"Well, it's your own fault for being an open book. If Secretary didn't erase all your information from that orphanage, it would've been easy to figure out who you are to the rest of society. If you really wanted to, couldn't you just figure out my life story on your own?" I huff.
"So you're not going to tell me, huh? It's not the same if you don't tell me yourself. I know you have a family–"
"Not so loud!" I twist and turn to make sure no one is behind us, even though Shadow could probably sense if someone was nearby.
"Sorry…" He pauses and continues, making his voice even softer, "I know you have a family, so does Fox and Sec, but I don't understand why you'd take this kind of job when it could put them at more risk. It makes me want to know… just what pushed you to this extent." In the seven years I've been here, he's never been so serious about this question.
I try to make light of it, giving an awkward laugh and saying, "If you knew my story and my name, I just know you'd find a way to make my life miserable."
"Me? I am but a humble gentleman; why ever would I try to make your life miserable?" He chortles back at me. Good– he's returned to normal again.
I don't like talking too much about the past. My mom died a couple months before I turned 15; the twins were two, and Luke had just turned seven. We ended up losing the apartment we lived in, which in turn left us homeless. Dad became a hopeless drunk for a while, and I was forced to resort to petty crime since laws prevented me from having a job still. I knew it wasn't right, but someone had to take care of everyone. The government wasn't helping us; not that I hate our government, it just takes them so damn long to do something that isn't considered urgent.
One day, a group of kids from school came up picking on Luke and me. I told him to go home; home being a small tent I was able to steal that was set up on a low-traffic corner of town. They started pushing me around, and I couldn't hold it back anymore. I pushed back. I kicked, and I screamed, and I bit, and spit, and scratched, and scraped, and thrashed. I didn't realize how angry I was. I took out all my frustration on those three kids. And Secretary just happened to be walking by the area where I fought those kids. After the kids hobbled away, calling me psychotic and deranged, she took me under her wing. She told me to come by Arrowspring's Art and Jewelry after cleaning up and healing the injuries I had sustained. I don't regret going berserk on those kids. That's the day that changed my life.
Shadow and I ultimately make it to the shooting range in peaceful silence. He kindly opens the door, motioning for me to enter first. A few others are in here, assuredly assigned to other units. The setup is simple; the three walls behind the range itself hold several firearms ranging from pistols to rifles to semi-autos. A much greater spectrum to choose from compared to the few I store at my residence. Tables underneath the guns stationed the ammo to load them with.
Shadow picks up a sleek handgun, and I designate myself with the same model. We take our stances, a partition between us, as we remain in silence, the only noise being the resounding gunshots from the other participants. I pick up the ear muffs allocated in the open booth; with the muffs on our ears, it's a bit harder to talk anyway. I adequately line up my pistol with both hands, aiming at the paper target 50 meters away. I steady my breathing. In. Hold. Out. In. Hold. Out. I feel my heartbeat slowing and my focus strengthening.