Lily groaned, putting their Switch down beside them and sitting up.
"What happened?" a voice whispered, carrying the impression of smugness behind the words.
"That match was so laggy, it felt like I was fighting their internet, not their character."
The voice snorted, its source coming into view. A girl with long, curly reddish-brown hair and deep brown, almost black eyes sat on the bed next to them, wearing a black hoodie over a loose red t-shirt. Lily knew she wasn't actually there, of course. Kassandra, their once-protector, now constant companion, rolled her eyes. "Didn't make much of a difference to you, though, did it?"
"No, I beat them easily enough..." they sighed, trailing off. Talking to Kassandra was an odd experience, now. How were they supposed to talk to someone who knew everything about them?
"That's definitely one of the weirder parts of all this," she mused, responding to their idle thought.
They weren't sure how to respond to that, and neither was Kassandra. They groaned, collapsing back onto the bed. The two lay there in awkward silence for a minute, unsure what to say.
"Gah! It just feels like I don't get to do anything now!" she shouted, startling Lily.
Lily sat up, looking at Kassandra with concern. "Do you want to do something? I'm not doing anything important right now, so..."
Kassandra stopped, mouth open as if to say something. She sputtered for a moment, seeming genuinely shocked. "I... What do I want?"
Lily frowned at that, putting their hand to their chin in thought. They sat for another minute, that awkward silence building again.
"What if..." Lily began, hesitant, "we try to find something you want to do? Like Magnolia did for me, with the Switch and the drawing." They nodded to a sketch sitting on their nightstand, their work looking downright passable these days.
"If it was that easy, I'd have done it already. I have as much access to that stuff as you, don't I?"
"Argh, I just... This is so frustrating! What the hell would I even do? It's enough to make a girl want to just hit something, and hit it hard."
Magnolia cleared her throat, startling both Lily and Kassandra as they noticed her in the doorway. Kassandra flushed as she realized she'd been speaking aloud.
"Well, Kassandra... That can be arranged."
"Wait, you want to fight me yourself? You and me, one on one. You're... what? Lily's okay with this? You're okay with this?"
"I mean, if she wants to do it..." Lily said, their softer voice interrupting Kassandra's confusion.
Magnolia raised an eyebrow. "I had some time. What, are you too scared I'll win?"
Kassandra's jaw dropped. "You... actually want to fight me."
Magnolia shrugged. "Why not? Sounds like a good way to burn some of that frustration, and it sounds like a good workout."
"You seem... awfully prepared to do this."
"Of course she is. Don't you remember her mentioning it?" Lily asked.
"Lily, I wasn't there. How could I-"
They did... something. Lily wasn't sure exactly how, but they pulled the memory out and presented it in entirety to Kassandra.
"She boxed? Really, now. That's... Well, I can respect that, honestly."
Magnolia chuckled, pointing to the changing room of her small private gym. "Are you going to fight, or are you just planning to forfeit already?"
Kassandra flushed, shooting Magnolia a glare, which she laughed off as they walked into the room. Two sets of athleticwear lay there, clearly tailored to Lily and Magnolia's measurements. Magnolia quickly shed her dress shirt, folding it up and placing it on the bench. Lily blushed, but Kassandra rolled her eyes. She quickly changed, putting on a black sports bra and athletic shorts.
"Wow," Lily whispered, awe in their voice, "Damn."
"I don't get the appeal."
"You two certainly have your own appeal," Magnolia remarked, looking over Lily in their white clothing that matched her own.
"Thanks, but no thanks."
"Ah, yes," Magnolia blinked. "I had forgotten you don't like thinking about that kind of thing. Well, I apologize, but I do expect to be able to appreciate my property, Kassandra, even if you're using it right now."
Kassandra's gaze dripped with venom as she stepped out of the changing room, heading into the small padded room that was normally used for yoga.
You know she was trying to get a rise out of you, right? Lily thought.
"Yeah, I know. Doesn't mean it didn't work," Kassandra grumbled.
Magnolia gestured, inviting Kassandra to make the first punch.
She waited a moment, assessing Magnolia's stance. I should be able to...
Magnolia slammed the side of her arm against Kassandra's, throwing her straight punch off course. She ducked below Kassandra as the overcommitted blow threw her off balance, slamming a fist into the shorter girl's stomach. Magnolia winced as her hand slammed against muscles that felt like woven steel.
Kassandra used her hesitation, pushing Magnolia back with a strong shove. The taller woman stumbled back, steadying herself a few feet away with a smirk.
"Not very coordinated, then? Seems like you have a lot to learn." Magnolia closed her eyes for a moment, then they snapped open, a determined light shining in them.
She began feinting, throwing punch after punch but not getting close enough to strike, trying to throw Kassandra off guard.
"What, too scared?" Kassandra taunted. Ignoring the feint, she rushed in, aiming straight for Magnolia's face again. It wasn't very masterful, but it would certainly hurt.
Magnolia leaned to the side, the punch passing harmlessly past her hair, and then grabbed Kassandra's arm. Not giving her time to react, she rammed an elbow into her gut, which gave Kassandra her turn to stumble.
Kassandra glared at Magnolia, her gaze darting around, looking for somewhere she could strike. She swung again, and Magnolia scoffed. Another obvious and telegraphed strike.
Then she noticed that Kassandra's other hand was in motion, aiming for her gut. She learns quickly, she thought with surprise, bringing her hands down to block the surprise attack as she dodged the decoy swing. The impact hurt, even through her hands cushioning it. Magnolia grimaced.
"Strong," she grunted, making a mental note to herself.
"Yep. Want a demonstration?" Kassandra grunted as she swung with the last word, aiming for the same place she'd just tried to hit. This time, Magnolia was prepared for it. She sidestepped the blow, using the opportunity to get a hit on Kassandra's back. The girl coughed in shock at the impact, stumbling to her feet.
Kassandra swung again. What? It was the same trajectory. This time, Magnolia used her forearm to send it off course, landing another elbow into Kassandra's gut. Kassandra stepped back, Magnolia breathing heavily.
"So you wanted to..." She gasped for air. "Wear me down?"
Kassandra stood in a sloppy stance, sweaty and flushed but still with fire in her eyes. "Pretty much."
Kassandra broke the stance again, rushing in for another hit. Not giving me time to recover, are you?
It was the same maneuver she'd used earlier. A fake hit to the face, followed by a gut blow. Magnolia stepped to the side, only to see that Kass had been swinging the arm at her face in an arc.
The blow landed.
Magnolia stumbled back, shocked. The skin around her eye looked darker, a reddish tinge seeping into it as she righted herself from the blow.
What did you just do, Kass? Kassandra could feel the horror woven into every one of Lily's words.
She's going to kill us. She can't go to a meeting like this, and she is going to be pissed, and she is going to kill us or leave us or sell us or-
I don't think she will, but... if this impacts her work, I can't- Lily cut off, their anxiety pulling their mind into a thousand worst-case scenarios at once. Magnolia being genuinely angry at them, not giving them attention, or... They didn't think what Kass said would happen, but the idea still terrified them. What if she was right?
"Oh hell, oh hell, oh hell..."
Magnolia laughed, a strong, clear sound that shocked both Lily and Kassandra silent for a moment.
Is... that a good sign? Kassandra thought frantically at Lily.
I don't know... As if they'd been standing just behind Kassandra, Lily stepped forward into her vision, grabbing onto her arm in fright. I just... what if...
Magnolia clapped her on the shoulder, and she jumped, taking a step back. She looked amused at that, and shook her head with a smile.
"That was a nice hit."
"Thank... you?" Kassandra studied her face, but there didn't seem to be any sarcasm in that statement. Both she and Lily let out an internal sigh of relief.
Magnolia stepped to the door into the room, grabbing her phone from where she'd set it down. She examined herself in the black screen's reflection.
"You really got me good. This makes me think we should use safety equipment before we continue, Kassandra, since you clearly pack a punch."
"Alright?" she said shakily.
Magnolia gestured, and, still feeling unsteady, she followed her into the changing room. Magnolia rummaged around in a locker for a moment.
"I haven't used this in ages, so it won't be in the best condition, but I'll just have to order new ones later," she said, grunting as she pulled something out of the locker. Two sets of boxing gloves and padded headgear came out, and she nodded, satisfied. "These should do. Now, I should have ice over here..." She looked around, finding the water cooler in the gym, and wet a small cloth with cold water. She pressed it against the bruised area below her eye, sighing with relief.
"That should keep the swelling down. With all luck, it shouldn't look too undignified." She stood up, placing her headgear over the cloth, ignoring the water that dripped out as she did so.
"Put on that equipment, would you, Kassandra? I doubt you're satisfied with just that."
"Yes, M- Uh, yes, of course." For a moment, they felt a dissonance, as Lily's brain tried to complete the statement as it usually did. Magnolia smirked. "Lily, I thought you didn't want to interfere?"
"That was me, actually. It was a reflex. You've got them pretty well trained, after all." The bite in their voice at the word 'trained' felt... less venomous than usual. Lily was happy with that, after all... why be annoyed about it?
Magnolia raised an eyebrow at the venom in her voice, but didn't comment on it. She walked back into the padded room, and Kassandra followed.
Magnolia, breathing a little less heavily now, raised her gloved fists.
Kassandra swung. Wild, uncoordinated, but powerful. That's how she knew to fight. Don't give them a chance to think. Look for an opening.
She feinted for Magnolia's stomach again, but as she swung at Magnolia's head again, she had ducked to the side before Kassandra had even thrown her punch. Damn it. She's playing with me now.
She focused, her eyes tightening as she ran at Magnolia again. If she's trying to counter my plans, then I'll just use no-
Her single strike, aimed at where Magnolia should have dodged, connected with nothing. Magnolia had dodged the other way. Had she anticipated that Kassandra would attack outright in anger?
She coughed as Magnolia hit her back again, then jumped back and waited for Kassandra to move.
She couldn't think. She needed to act. She swung again, trying to catch Magnolia with an angled swing again like before. Her punch connected with a raised fist, and Kassandra drew in a sharp breath as Magnolia stopped right before she uppercut her jaw.
"Is..." Magnolia panted, "that... my win?"
Kassandra let out that breath, still tense from the panic from nearly getting hit.
"Y-yeah. Your win."
Lily groaned, their exertion catching up to them as they lay back against the wall of the padded room. Although, they supposed, it's really Kassandra's exertion. It was quite the odd experience to be so tired while they hadn't actually done anything.
Magnolia sipped a cup of water beside them, looking tired, but satisfied. Both of them were drenched in sweat, and even Kassandra's form in their mind's eye looked like she'd run a marathon. But it had felt good, even if the idea of fighting their Mistress still made them feel a little apprehensive.
Oh, brighten up. She was the one who suggested it, Lily.
They nodded absently, looking at Magnolia's bruised eye. The swelling hadn't gotten particularly bad, so it looked like it would be fine. The worst she'd get was minor discoloration, and that'd be easy enough to cover up with makeup.
Sore, exhausted, but still feeling the rush of the fight, Kassandra started chuckling. She couldn't really put a reason to it, but it just felt right. After a few moments, Magnolia broke down, laughing with her.
This felt good. She could understand a feeling like this. Perhaps she'd never see Magnolia as Lily did, but she now saw she could learn to see her as an equal - at the very least, as a friend.
She stretched, yawning. As she did, she noticed something.
"That's odd. That feeling of... not being able to move is gone. Not moving physically, but..."
Magnolia nodded, setting down her empty cup. "You found something you enjoy. Something you can be passionate about, but that won't hurt you."
"I thought hurting me was the point," she said, smirking.
"Well, not if you get good at it."
Get good at it...
"Does that mean I can... keep doing this? With you?"
"Well, it wouldn't always be me. I have responsibilities, after all, but I think I could make time on occasion."
"'Wouldn't always?' Are you saying you'd find me an instructor? Can I... Would you?"
Magnolia smiled. "Ask them."
Lily rolled their eyes. "Of course you can! Why would I say no? It makes you happy, doesn't it?"
"Well, lessons might be fun, then. It'd give me something to do, and I do like being active... Not to mention, it'd give Lily a good workout."
Magnolia smiled. "I'll have to find an instructor of my own, if I want to keep up with you."
Lily and Kass both grinned, and Kass raised her fist to her forehead, moving it forward in a mock salute.
"Keep up with me? You can try."