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Videl threw herself to the side in a last ditch effort to avoid Mark's punch. Though she managed to avoid getting hit by her brother, the maneuver left herself slightly off balance which he immediately capitalised on.
Suddenly a flurry of what looked like Ki-enhanced jabs were sent her way, and the Satan girl only managed to half-heartedly throw up her left arm in order to prevent the full brunt of the attack getting through.
"Heh, you know you can't win," taunted Mark as he leapt backwards to catch his breath.
"I wouldn't bank on that," she said, panting as she too tried to catch her breath. She leapt forward within a moment's notice and attempted to smash her fist straight into Mark's gut but connected with his right fist as he blocked the blow.
Mark grinned as he took advantage of the girl's momentary surprise and used it to lash out with his left knee, making a solid connection with her right thigh. The younger Satan gasped in pain before she forced herself to sway to the right in order to dodge another one of Mark's blows, but it was to no avail as he followed through with a swift jab to her shoulder.
'That's going to leave a bruise in the morning,' thought the girl as she slid between Mark's wide-open feet, extending both of her arms so she could sweep her brother off his feet with her momentum. She grinned as she heard a thud behind her before she quickly spun around and leapt backwards, out of Mark's reach.
"Not bad," the older of the pair complimented as he stood up, brushing himself off. "But don't think you've seen the full extent of my strength either."
Videl's face cracked into a smile. "You weren't the only one who was taught that little Ki trick by Gohan."
"You mean the punches?" asked Mark as he coated his arm in Ki, a thin, light blue aura surrounding it.
His answer was a lightning fast flying kick to the stomach, the same technique he had just demonstrated having been replicated by his younger sister.
Videl capitalised on her successful attack by rushing the boy, using Ki to enhance her speed just as Gohan had taught her. It was ridiculous just how many practical applications enhanced speed had, barely even a third of what she realised she could now accomplish had occurred to her the other day when she had been running through the fields.
Mark was taken by surprise obviously as he struggled to keep up with the girl's blows, barely managing to block every fourth or fifth strike. Videl took a second to also note that the difference in speed made it difficult for her as well; he was a little too slow for her to get the timing down right when she anticipated his next movement.
After what seemed like a few minutes, Videl's gasps for air intensified as she leapt backwards once more. Though a variety of bruises littered various parts of Mark's skin - Videl was well aware that he wasn't seriously hurt - she was arguably worse for wear. Her biceps felt as though they had been turned to jelly, since vast amounts of Ki had been pumped through them in a short period of time. Even moving her arm sent an odd numb sensation coursing through the rest of her arm.
She bit her lip in an attempt to hide the smirk that covered the entirety of her face as she admired her handiwork. Never before had she gotten the better of her brother in such a manner. "So do you want to call it quits?"
Mark wiped away a dribble of blood flowing down his chin, before he shot back, "I didn't think you would be forfeiting so early." As siblings, their verbal fights were just as important as their physical ones.
"C'mon, don't you think it's a little embarrassing to be beaten up so badly by a girl?" she mocked, hoping to hit Mark where he was normally most vulnerable - his ego.
"The fight is far from over," said Mark as he cracked his knuckles with a grin. "You've improved a lot Videl, but I think you'll find that I'm far from a one-trick pony."
The crimefighter was unsure of how to interpret her brother's words so she shrugged them off. "Alright, fine, but don't say I didn't warn you when you end up in the hospital."
Her taunt was met by silence. Videl looked towards her brother in confusion. Much like her father - and to be honest, herself - Mark never let such things pass by. However her eyebrows quickly furrowed as she saw a deep look of concentration on Mark's face.
She eyed him warily, staring at the open palm that he held in front of his eyes. Was this some kind of trick? Did he intend to draw her close and then smash that very palm into her nose or something of the like? She came to her own conclusion moments later when she saw the smirk her family was known for upon his face; he would never try to trick her with such an open face like that.
"It's been a good match, Videl," he said as he moved his open palm to the right of him. A small ball of blue concentrated energy appeared a centimetre above it and Videl's eyes narrowed in fear as she recognised it to be very similar to that destructive ball of Ki Gohan had shown her a while ago. "But this is where it ends."
"Good morning, sunshine!"
Why did Gohan always have to think of himself as funny? Mark opened his eyes to slits, still groggy and disoriented. His Sensei was hovering over him, smiling and obviously wide awake. Wherever Gohan had gotten his ideas of sunshine, he didn't know, but it was still far from dawn, he reckoned. The pitch-black skies told him that much.
Getting up required some serious rolling around and belly flopping, but soon enough the teenager found himself standing upright, rubbing the final remainders of sleep away with his knuckles.
Gohan stood waiting for him at the edge of their encampment, clearly as awake and alert as ever. While his student was still slouching and dragging his feet, the young man was nearly bouncing on his legs.
"Come, let's go!" the excitement was clear in his voice, like it had been a lot as of late. Perhaps it was seeing his trainees progress the way they did that made him so happy. "I don't want to waste any time today." Without informing Mark further, Gohan headed off, forcing the boy to pick up his speed and follow.
"Where are we going?" Mark knew perfectly well that it was a futile question to ask. when it concerned training, Gohan was as secretive as it could get, like knowing would equal failing. But then again, having to jog his way through the early morning darkness just so happened to pique his curiosity.
The expected silence followed. Both men continued their journey for a handful of minutes, until Gohan halted so abruptly that Mark bumped into him, not looking where he was going. He tried to simultaneously take in his surroundings and rub his shoulder, which felt like he had tackled a block of concrete.
They were in the middle of a decent-sized clearing. There was nothing special to distract the eyes, just moss and grass and trees everywhere. The whole atmosphere of the place was as tranquil as it could get; even the birds hadn't woken yet to fill the sky with screeches and tweets.
Without Mark's knowledge, Gohan had moved himself to the middle of the open space. When the Satan boy finally caught on, his breath held in his throat at the sight of his Sensei in a fighting stance.
It was a bit frightening, really. Gohan simply stood there, slightly bent knees and raised arms, palms open and ready to curl into fists. His dark eyebrows were furrowed ever so lightly, but his mouth was a smile, not a grimace. It exuded an air of confidence that could make the strongest of men piss themselves in fright. Mark scanned for any kind of flaw that could be broken or used to his advantage, but there simply were none. His stance was flawless.
"Gohan, what's the meaning of this?" Mark queried, raising his brows to show his confusion.
His Sensei chuckled softly, not moving an inch. "I've decided that today I want to see just how much you've progressed ever since Yamcha took you under his care."
Mark was leery of those words. The meaning of them rang true, but he wasn't so sure whether he wanted them to.
"S-So," he couldn't help but stumble at the prospect. "You want me to attack you?" His studied his teacher again, hoping that a second glance would show the spot where he'd be able to smash a dent in Gohan's defense.
Gohan chuckled again, his smile growing just a little wider. "With everything you've got."
Training in the Son Dojo had taught Mark many a helpful fighting tactics. the very first lesson that had been pounded into him, quite painfully, he might add, was that you should never rely on brute strength alone. He had held this ideology his father had taught him close to heart for nineteen years, until Yamcha had handed his ass to him so badly that he could still feel the scar on his dignity. No, tactical play was best.
The best strategy he had come across since his time under Gohan's wing had everything to do with keeping your guard up. For one, it was absolutely unacceptable for a warrior to spare himself even a single moment of distraction. A fighter had to be clear and focused, aware of everyone and everything. It should also be on the lookout for ways to work around his adversary's guard.
If anything, the most important element was the element of surprise.
Mark saw no other alternative. Gohan was just too aware and alert. Going for broke, he charged.
It proved to be just as futile as he had expected. The second he threw a balled fist at his Sensei's face, he felt his legs swing away underneath him. For a second, he tumbled and tumbled, nothing but air beneath his feet. As it turned out, his face got the honor of being acquainted with the ground. He'd still be plucking blades of grass from between his teeth at the end of the day.
This went on for a while. Dawn crept over them, rays of sunshine warming their skins and shedding light on the scenery. The clearing would've been absolutely stunning, had Mark been able to find the time and observe it. Unfortunately he found himself staring at trampled soil more often than not.
"Again." Gohan had barely said anything else over the entirety of the morning. Any else had been feedback on his fighting style, which, as it turned out, proved to be very helpful. As the bruises on his form continued to swell to the surface, so did the time that every one of his attempts took. Mark could swear he had even pushed Gohan a step back once.
The boy obliged, dashing at the still and immovable wall that was his master. He was careful not to lean into his steps, so he could jump in any direction at any given time. That was something he had learned after what was likely the fifteenth assault of his face against debris. He pulled his fist back when he was just out of range, throwing it forward immediately, hoping to strike true.
Gohan merely swatted his hand aside.
Mark jumped back, bouncing on the tips of his toes for a second or two. Then, he swung out his right leg, aiming at his adversary's face. When an arm was raised to block the blow, Mark feinted, swivelling on the ball of his foot and kicked outward. Gohan managed to stop him only just in time, a hand pressed flat against his broad chest.
"Very good!" the young man complimented. "But you're not trying hard enough! Again!"
Over the past twenty-five tries or so, Mark had been feeling irritation beginning to boil inside of him. What enraged him even more was his own anger, stupid as it may sound. His proper sense of thinking was beginning to slip away from him, replacing itself with a burning desire to bash Gohan's skull in. Just as Gohan threw him, yes he actually threw him into a tree, Mark tried a different approach.
Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. With every breath he felt the stiffness in his form diminish. The anger remained, but he forced it into his limbs with a sense of tranquility. He would let his anger be his guide, alright, but that didn't mean he could let it take him over.
Gohan stood across from him, smirking, just leaning against a tree like nothing had just happened.
"What's the matter," he said. "Giving up already? You haven't even been a decent challenge to me! I was hoping to let you taste the forest floor a few more times before the end of the day."
Mark ignored the words, raising himself up to his full length. He returned Gohan's grin, which grew wider as he saw his Sensei's waver, but only a little. He sprang on the balls of his feet, upping the tension between the two. Certainly it had to be Mark to make the first move.
So he did. He went for Gohan, again, but this time with a little more restraint than usual. He kept his body leaning back at all times, so he could throw his form back quickly to avoid any oncoming blows. When he was only half a foot away, he punched once. It was blocked by Gohan, obviously, as the martial artist crossed his arms in front of his chest, letting the hits land on his lower arms.
Mark saw his chance in this. He punched again, and again, and again. Soon this fists began to flurry, striking that exact same spot over and over and over again. Gohan stood his ground as well as he could, but Mark sent every bit of frustration that he could pull from within himself to his bruised and by now bloody knuckles. Slowly, Gohan began to slide backwards onto the dead leaves and twigs. Only a few millimeters at once, but still, he was forced off his spot. When you accounted that, along with Mark not giving him a chance to switch to offense, and suddenly the Satan boy had all the advantage.
Nothing about what Mark did he left over to random chance. Every hit was calculated, aimed with deadly precision. He never strayed from his objective; 'punch his face in, smash his nose...'
Then, as he noticed Gohan clenching his teeth with effort, he feinted. Once again his fist sailed at that now bruised spot on Gohan's arms, but it shot upwards right before impacting. He hit home, hard.
Bones crunched loudly as Mark smashed Gohan's nose in. A fountain of blood exploded underneath his fist, mingling with his own blood on his knuckles. Gohan stepped back, clearly dazed, clutching the now broken mess of cartilage that was his nose.
He had done it, he had actually managed it. He had landed a blow on Gohan, and what a hell of a blow it had been. His attention wavered due to his enthusiasm, so he only noticed the elbow dropping on his shoulder when it was too late. The hit landed so hard that he actually screamed.
"Bery, bery good, young grashobber," his Sensei said, muffled by the crimson liquid trying to drip into his mouth. A few stray drops of it fell to the leafy floor below.
"What do you mean, 'very good'?" Mark groaned, a hand on his shoulder. "Yeah I hit you, but you hit me at least twice as hard."
Gohan snorted his nostrils, freeing his airways of whatever blood and mucus still remained. When he spoke again, his voice was much clearer.
"Ah yes, I did, but like you said, you hit me as well," Gohan told him. "And what exactly did you do to achieve this?"
"It was actually really easy," Mark confessed. "I just used my anger as fuel instead of a personality trait. It made my head clear and see a lot of things differently, more effectively." He gratefully took Gohan's offered hand, rising from the ground.
"Why yes indeed, young grasshopper," the Sensei said. "You, my pupil, have learned to always keep your eyes on the enemy, and your mind as well, no matter how furious you may be. You, Mark Satan, have learned the art of Tranquil Violence."
"Teach me how to shoot fire balls."
Seventeen's curiosity had now officially been tickled. Here his newest student was at what he could only guess was close to six o'clock in the morning demanding to be taught a new technique.
"Fire balls?" asked Seventeen, his eyebrow raising in a show of amusement. "I think someone is beginning to mix up comic books and their Ki training."
If Videl was frustrated, she didn't show it. "Mark and I had a spar, he shot this ball of Ki at me - it looked like a fireball."
"Ah did Gohan perchance teach him a technique that he did not teach you? Maybe you aren't as strong as you think," Seventeen teased with a grin. "Or perhaps you're not his favourite student anymore."
She grit her teeth slightly before retaliating. "It could also be that he's one hell of a better teacher than you, you've barely taught me anything in the time we've had together."
"I'll have you know that my teaching methods are just fine," said Seventeen before muttering, "It's just that they're not as effective when I'm teaching weaklings."
"Let's test it then," Videl said a little too eagerly, a hint of realisation flashing across Seventeen's face as he understood that she had lured him into this position. "If I don't learn how to fire these balls of Ki before the end of the day with your instruction, I'm a bad student, but if I do, you're a lazy teacher."
"Considering that it took the first humans years to summon Ki externally, I'm sure we'll discover the truth when you fail miserably."
Videl wasn't phased. If Mark could do it, then so could she.
"Heh not bad," chuckled Seventeen as he nodded his head, acknowledging the small wisp of smoke floating away from Videl's palm. "You've still got a long way to go however, try and not let go of your Ki the second it materialises in your palm."
"It's not as easy as you're making it sound," groaned Videl. If anything it was like attempting to grab hold of a tiny, slippery needle in a large haystack. Finding her Ki source was hard enough already and occasionally she lost track of it all together, but even if she did lay your sights upon it, the real challenge was pulling it out. "It's so much easier when I'm using it to enhance my muscles or something."
"Probably because that's just you moving it around through your body," mused Seventeen. "When you let go of it then, while some will still dissipate, a fair chunk will return to you which makes it easy to draw on again and also is far less taxing on your energy reserves."
She nodded to her new Sensei before tuning him out and attempting to draw her Ki out once again. The sun had almost fully set and twilight was quickly fading, but the amount of time she had spent trying to create a ball of Ki was hardly indicative of the effort she had put into each attempt.
This time around she couldn't even feel the warm pulsating feeling that slowly increased in intensity as she drew closer to her core, just a strange, tingling sensation that found its way to every limb. She could easily envision this as a sort of river, a constant stream of energy that flowed through her like blood.
She got to her feet, somewhat shakily, and patted the dirt from her knees. She stretched her arms above her head, yawning. The last light of the day was starting to fade already, giving the skies a deep and beautiful amber hue.
"Oh, so I figure we're done training for the day?" Seventeen chided. "The real exercise hasn't even begun yet." He was leaning against a tree, his arms crossed in that pompous manner that made Videl want to punch his face in. Somehow, it didn't irritate her as much as it used to.
"Yes, training is over for today," Videl said, stalking away towards camp. "I'd love to try and squeeze some more invisible forces from every hole, but right now all I can think of is getting something to eat and a few hours of sleep. So if you don't mind, I'm going to get some well deserved rest."
Seventeen sighed. "Fine, go, but only because you've been showing good work today."
"Right," Videl nodded. "I'll keep in mind that I have to ask for your permission before I do anything. Boy will you be annoyed, every time I call you when I have to cross the street."
"Don't push it," he bit back at her, but not without a smile.
"Hey, I'm warning you! Don't ever dare call-"
"Yes, I know, I know," Videl said, now laughing freely. She looked up at Seventeen, to those blue eyes that were always so scarily vacant. They didn't seem so empty now, more amused.
Before she walked away to their mutual camping site, she spoke to him once more.
"Hey, I know I can be stubborn and everything, but I still appreciate you training me. I guess, what I mean to say, is thank you."
"No problem, kid," Seventeen said. "But I mean it, don't ever call me mother again."
His muscles were sore, his bones were sore; everything simply hurt like a bitch. Mark winced as he pulled his feet up by the fire. After he had managed to break Gohan's nose, quite effectively, he might add, his teacher had resorted to the usual workout routines. Only with Gohan it was anything but normal.
It was dark already, but the fire was very pleasant and inviting. The two of them had decided to eat in solitude tonight, to enjoy a bit of peace for once, instead of having to throw themselves into the ruckus that always came with the end of the day. Right now everyone at camp would be dragging around sleeping bags, personal items and toilet accessories, running amuck like chickens without heads.
Gohan was staring into the flames, seemingly deep in thought. The way he ate a sausage from his poke without even regarding it seemed almost automatic. Mark wondered if he even registered the taste.
Over the last few days, Mark had truly learned to understand Videl's appreciation for this guy. Despite the fact that he still had an aura over him that the Satan boy couldn't entirely place, Gohan had the gentlest heart he had ever had the pleasure of knowing. That, and the most air-expelling gut punches he had the displeasure of being acquainted with as well.
"Hey Gohan," Mark said, effectively grasping his Sensei's attention. "I was wondering, how is my sister as a student?"
Gohan smiled at that. "Well where do I begin?" he acted as if to count on his fingers. "At first she was hostile and leery, never giving me the benefit of the doubt. So, very much like you. Secondly, she gave up on hating me from a distance and just did her best to break a limb or two. So, again, a lot like you. And, like you, she slowly realized that all I wanted to do was teach her in Martial Arts."
Mark snickered despite of himself. "Yeah, it's almost like we're twins or something."
Gohan laughed with him. "Yeah, you really are something else," he confessed. "I must say, I don't think I've ever seen anyone this determined to break my nose. One of you two actually succeeded." He pointed at the jutting and spiky form that had been his nose a few hours prior. He had patched it up with a few strips of bandages and had then immediately continued to brutalize Mark in his workout. How he did it was a mystery.
"But, you know," Mark hesitated. "Do you... like her?" the question had been on his mind for quite the amount of time; he hadn't missed how Videl had always tried to cover up the dreamy gaze in her eyes whenever she spoke of Gohan.
His Sensei's lips curled into a soft grin. "I knew you would ask me that at some point."
Mark was impatient. "And?"
"In all honesty," Gohan bit a chunk off a sausage. "I don't really know. No matter how much strife you have with your sister sometimes, you have to admit that she is a really amazing person."
Mark nodded his consent to this. True, Videl was perhaps the most determined person he had ever known. It was one of those few things where she made him fall into the shadows.
"She told me how you kept beating her four years in a row," the other mused. "She said it with such ferocity that I was sure she would be the best one day. Her perseverance is in the least to say admirable."
"Yes," the boy agreed again. "But what of her other qualities? You don't seem like a man with a short temper."
"Who knows?" Gohan said, chuckling. "But, if you really want the honest truth, I can tell you under one condition."
"And that is?"
"You tell this to no one," Gohan said, half a stern look in those dark eyes of his. "I don't want any feelings to get hurt and I also don't want any misunderstandings."
Gohan exhaled, as if he had something heavy to get off his chest. "I might, okay?" he confessed, shrugging. "For one I'm not really certain; I've never been the romantic type to begin with. She's very special to me though, in her own way. Sure, I might like her because she's an independent, pretty girl, but that's not all there is about her."
Gohan's eyes began to sparkle a little; Mark could see it even in the dark of night.
"What I mean to say is," Gohan needed a moment to find the right words. "She's very unique. She's fierce and strong, but she had a great sense of judgement. She might have a bit of a temper, but once she gets to know you she really is the sweetest thing. You know, when she's not trying to crush my skull."
Mark laughed, hard. "Yeah, I understand completely. Don't worry yourself over it. If you like her, you'll know that soon enough."
"I suppose so," the Sensei said. He sighed. "Just look at me, master of the Martial Arts, getting girl advice from that very girl's twin brother. Life is strange sometimes, isn't it?"
"You can say that alright." Silence fell, which Mark used to contemplate Gohan's words. So he liked her, quite obviously. Perhaps he didn't see it himself yet, but time would bring the two together. If needed, he'd change his name to time and do it himself.
Realizing this, he silently wondered to himself how he could have ever agreed with a single standpoint of his father. Gohan wasn't dangerous to Videl. If anything, there was no place safer for her to be than by his side.
Soft snores came from his left. Gohan was lying sprawled across the grass and leaves, fast asleep. Mark wondered if Hercule still had any tricks up his sleeve. Whatever the would be, he simply knew that someone would end up getting hurt. The man lying next to him, most likely.
He had already contemplated confiding in Videl, to tell her that she had to be watchful. Only he couldn't. Simply saying the words would already feel like treachery. And betrayal between siblings was the worst, in his mind.
There was another option, however. Mark watched the dark canopy above him, mentally flipping a coin that would never land on its side. For every solution he pitched, three issues arose to the surface and wiped his plans right off the table. When all had failed and there was nothing left to do, it was time for the last resort.
He rolled onto his side, sleep beginning to catch up with him. Tomorrow he would see if he could confide all of this in Gohan. He trusted his Sensei enough to keep his secrets with him. And, if there was anyone who he would rely on to keep the situation peaceful, it would be Gohan.
As his eyelids began to close, his last thoughts of the day slipped into his consciousness like mist across the plains. They were thoughts of what his father might be planning on, and every doom scenario he went over. All he could do now was pray that it would be nothing too radical, but that was idle hope. Hercule was never the person to do anything subtle. He was a man who got what he wanted, and there was no reason to doubt that he would kill for it, should it turn out to be needed.
He dreamed a strange dream that night. Videl, Gohan, his father and something that he couldn't place, a silver gleam of metal, perhaps, wove in and out of his subconscious. He woke up the next day, a thick sheen of sweat on his forehead.
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