For a moment, as my vision swirled, I thought that I saw three copies of the man, standing over me. All three copies wore the same identical scowl as they glared down at me.
“Come on,” I heard his voice through woolen ears. “Get up. We’re going again.”
“Come on, Cain,” I groaned, even as I rolled over onto my stomach and put my hands beneath me to hoist my tired, aching body up from the hard ground. “Haven’t you beaten me up enough today?”
Still, I pulled myself up, trying to force my fingers to once again tighten into fists as I squared off against my opponent. Although I felt like my entire body was covered in scratches and bruises, Cain looked as fresh as he had this morning, without a single mark on him – at least, none fresh.
“Now, this time,” Cain suggested to me, “maybe try not to choreograph your attacks so much. I can tell when you’re about to swing at me from a mile away.”
I groaned back in response. Of course Cain knew when I was going to attack! He had, during my time with him, demonstrated the uncanny ability to beat up anyone and everyone we came across.
On the other hand, although I still couldn’t remember any of my past, I knew that I definitely hadn’t been a fighter.
Still, facing off against this man who seemed as solid and implacable as a force of nature, I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself. “Okay,” I said, more to myself than to him.
And I charged forward.
This time, I decided to try and be as tricky as possible. I held my fists high, intending to drop them to a low swing at the last second. But although I started to bring my fists down, I abruptly switched direction, launching them back up towards the man’s jaw.
For just a second, I felt his skin brush against my knuckles, and I thought I had him.
A fraction of an instant later, however, Cain moved like a snake, and I found myself spinning through the air, my legs flying out from underneath me. My hand still hit something, but I couldn’t focus on it, and barely had time to exhale before I hit the ground on my back.
This time, Cain offered his hand down to me to help hoist me back up. “Not bad,” the man gave in reluctantly. “You actually connected with me, that time. A nice feint.”
“Didn’t help me much,” I grumbled back, although I accepted his help back up. Now, not only did my ass hurt, but my knuckles ached as well. What was the man’s jaw made of, steel?
Groaning as a shoulder popped, I took a deep breath, trying to get ready to go again – but Cain glanced up at the sky through the trees. “Sun’s setting,” he announced. “We ought to get moving. We’ve got further to go before we set up camp.”
“Not making it to a town?” I asked, although I already knew the answer. If there had been a town nearby, we wouldn’t have paused for the sparring session.
Cain just shook his head as he picked up his pack and slung it back on his shoulders. I bent down to do the same with my own pack, trying to ignore the complaints from my joints as I maneuvered the heavy load up onto my shoulders.
With his pack in place, Cain picked up his rifle, checking it with swift movements of his hands. I did the same to mine, the movements almost automatic now. Another skill that my guide had drilled into me, I thought to myself with a shiver.
With his weapon secure, Cain headed off into the jungle. “Come on,” he called over his shoulder, not bothering to glance back to ensure I was following.
I grimaced at how much it hurt to even walk, but I didn’t let the man get too far ahead before chasing after him. Cain might be trying, but I knew that I wouldn’t survive a night without him.
Up above our heads, as the sun dropped towards the horizon, some creature let out a long, mournful call. I felt a foreboding chill run down my spine, and I tried to pick up my pace, sticking close to Cain.
Despite the bruises he’d inflicted on me, I was glad to have him on my side.