"For your training, you'll be sparring with Maki," Panda-senpai tells him, in lieu of an actual opening. They're standing in the middle of the school's outdoor training grounds, milling about in a loose semi-circle.

Yuuji's head tilts in the direction of his upperclassman. "With Maki-senpai?"

"That's right," Maki-senpai says, coming to stand in front of Yuuji with one hand on her hip and newly-repaired naginata in the other. "Megumi told me that you're like me; the same species."

"Species?" Yuuji could already feel his brain burn. "What's that?"

"A muscle brain," Fushiguro said from his side, arms crossed and face dipped into the high collar of his uniform.

"It's rude to call Maki-senpai a muscle brain, you idiot!" Kugisaki snapped at Fushiguro, elbowing him in his side.

"Well, it's true," Panda-senpai says with a chuckle, to which Toge-senpai gives an enthusiastic, "Okaka!" and a thumbs up.

Maki-senpai tells them to shut up under her breath.

Her focus lasers in on Yuuji. "Anyway, that's why you're fighting with me. Megumi said you're strong, and I believe him. I didn't get to see you fight against that special grade last time, so you better show me what you're made of."

Her smile grows into a sharp grin, and she tilts her chin up proudly. "Don't hold anything back. I'm not the kind of person you'll need to pull your punches with. In fact, I'll even let you play dirty if you need to."

Yuuji clenches his hands into fists. Those kinds of things really fired him up. "Don't complain when you lose to me, senpai," Yuuji says, already cracking his knuckles and dropping into a ready stance.

Kugisaki, Fushiguro, and Inumaki-senpai shuffle over to the perimeters of the field, Panda-senpai taking a few steps back to referee their fight.

"Hoooh, I like the look in your eyes, rookie!" she spins her naginata and then crooks a finger at him. "You'll regret those words. Come at me. I'll knock you down a peg."

Maki-senpai's voice and smile send shivers of warning down Yuuji's spine, but he can't help the little bit of thrill that runs through his veins thinking of being able to go all out against someone and not having to keep his strength in check constantly.

Panda-senpai raises one big, furry arm, then slices it down with a cry of "Begin!"

Yuuji goes for a burst of explosive power to overwhelm his opponent. It's as simple as a head-in charge and a few jabs to test the waters, followed by a roundhouse kick. All of them are met with a block by his senpai's pole, or a swift palm to deflect.

The blocked blows seem to rattle Maki-senpai's bones though, so Yuuji presses his advantage by pushing forward with a quick flurry of hand strikes that strain her smile.

It seems to be going fine, but as the battle drags on, it becomes painfully obvious to Yuuji that in a war of attrition, Maki-senpai has more experience fighting in the field and a sharper technique. She inflicts small, seemingly light blows to Yuuji's vitals that he doesn't feel until they start adding up. Not to mention, with her added range from her weapon, Yuuji is finding it hard to close in on her without risking getting some nasty slices.

"What's wrong, Itadori?" Maki-senpai taunts as she backs off. She's favouring her right leg that Yuuji had struck with his heel in a well-placed kick to the shin.

Yuuji himself is holding his side and trying not to wince at the way she had jabbed the end of the polearm in between his ribs. "I thought I told you you could play dirty in this fight. Why are you holding back? You'll never win at this rate."

"Something about playing dirty in a mock battle doesn't sit right with me," Yuuji says through a strained breath.

"Ah, is that so?" senpai says casually. Something in her tone has changed, and it makes the hairs on the back of Yuuji's neck stand on end. "Then I guess I have to come at you to kill. Maybe then you'll take things seriously."

She springs into motion, and Yuuji jumps back just as her staff breaks the ground he was just standing on. With a whip of her weapon, chunks of the broken ground are flying at Yuuji's face, and he blocks with his forearms, sending dust spraying into his eyes. He coughs as some of it gets into his mouth and barely has enough time to blink through the sting when a heavy blow lands in his stomach and then to the side of his kneecap.

Yuuji backflips to try and kick Maki-senpai under the chin, but when he misses, he retreats a little further with a couple more handsprings. His left leg is numb and shaking. She hit the joint, and he feels himself lose feeling in the limb as he is forced into an involuntary kneel. Vaguely, he knows this is really bad. If he can't use his left leg, and his mobility is shot, then he feels like he could really die.

"Where did all that bravado from earlier go, first-year? Was Megumi lying when he said that if all of the Tokyo and Kyoto schools took you on without cursed energy you'd win?"

"That's just Fushiguro running his mouth," Yuuji complains, pushing himself to stand. "But, still... I'll prove that he's right." He falls back into a fighting stance and they charge back into the battle again.

Yuuji thinks of all the dirty ways he can get an upper hand; he throws dust, aims for the eyes, tries to steal her weapon, and pelts her with rocks for distraction. He plays any and all tricks he knows and at some point even takes the battle to the rooftops and then into the forest and then back to the field.

He can't seem to gain a complete advantage over her, but he's not doing as badly anymore. Something about having a scary senpai coming at you ready to kill definitely sets Yuuji's heart pumping with adrenaline.

Just like with Todo-senpai, she gives him vague advice as they fight; something about sensing his surroundings and the air as they fight and some more specific tips on how to deal with enemies with weapons. In an abstract way, it makes sense to Yuuji. Their advice, as abstracted as it may be, is straightforward and simple in a way that Yuuji understands. Maybe his senpai was right - they really were the same species.

By the end of the hour, they end up in a stalemate, with about the same amount of cuts and wounds littered across their bodies. Maki-senpai's wounds are all bruises and blunt-force trauma.

Yuuji is oozing blood from several cuts and has a nasty one on the side of his neck that's bleeding sluggishly into his collar. They agree to go see Ieiri-san at the infirmary, the other second and first years tagging along as their entourage.

Panda-senpai's hand scrubs through Yuuji's hair as he gives him a piggyback to the nurse's office. Toge-senpai hands him an opened water bottle which Yuuji takes with a rough, "Osu."

"This is the first time I've seen Maki spar this long with someone! Usually, they'd go down within 15 to 30 minutes at most. Good job lasting a whole hour."

Yuuji manages a whole moan into the plush fur of Panda-senpai's back. Maki-senpai really didn't hold anything back. Yuuji finds his eyes sliding toward his senpai. Fushiguro and Kugisaki are supporting her on both sides as she limps with them.

Yuuji had thought that since he'd fought with Todo-senpai, he'd be stronger than her, but Maki-senpai was definitely a beast just like he'd thought when they'd first met - especially with those cursed tools.

There was a reason she was a senpai after all. It made sense... Even just the way she walked was scary.

Yuuji's mouth split into a secretive grin. She had definitely knocked him down a peg or two in their spar; he was looking forward to learning more from his new senpai.