Sofia finds herself in a wide plane, a grassland in the Horn of Africa similar to the one in the Shangri-la several days ago. The midday sun blazes on her tawny skin, covering them with dark sunspots, burning her so much she almost shines like a star herself. She rushes into the mouth of a cave to protect herself as much as she can, though she already aches with sunburn.
The cave reveals itself to be the mouth of an Egyptian temple, its outside nothing but a ruin but its inside as alive as the day it was built. Yes! She was here before back when she was in Egypt! It’s one of the Abu Simbel temples! She sees pair after pair of stone giants of Ramses II flanking both sides of a seemingly endless hallway. And above, a night sky of stars that look alive. She fears the colossus golems will demand her to solve riddles but they remain quiet, letting her pass without harassing her.
She arrives to the inner sanctum. The four gods: Ramesu, Heru, and Ra-Amun bathed in light and Pitah remaining in darkness, oversee the Shadow Game before them. There, Sofia sees Yifan and Maya sitting across a large circular table, a diorama of the whole Earth. Yifan has several cards out: the high mages, Kaiba, Pegasus, and one card facedown. Maya also wields forces of her own: herself, Yukio, Mathias, Miguella, Hassan, and several generals.
Maya moves the card depicting herself on a square next a card representing Secmeton, and declares an attack. The duel between the two “monsters” unfolds. The Ba, or bar of hit points, of the Maya card almost reaches zero but the Secmeton card is destroyed by battle, so Yifan places it in the Graveyard. Yifan draws a blank card from her Deck, and uses her mind to conjure an image of Maria! She Summons it near the Kaiba card.
It is Maya’s turn, so she draws a blank card from her Deck and conjures an image of Sofia on it. Then, she places the Sofia card on the edge of the board facedown, as if unsure where it should go. Sofia needs to help Maya while remaining hidden in darkness. She nudges Maya’s elbow, pushing her hand a bit to the tail of South America. Maya takes the hint, so she moves the Sofia card face down to the Strait of Magellan. Then, she does something unexpected; she taps the card with her finger, and starts singing in a falsetto:
And so I wake in the morning
And I step outside
And I take a deep breath and I get real high
And I scream from the top of my lungs
What’s going on?
And I say, hey yeah yeah, hey yeah yeah
I said hey, what’s going on?
“What was going on?” Sofia thinks to herself after she wakes up.
Maya did train her how to have lucid dreams and mentioned they would talk to each other through dreams one night. It seemed like Maya lured Sofia to hidden place to ask her for directions – for something. Once Maya got what she needed, she then gave Sofia directions of her own – or so it seemed.
Sofia browses the Internet a bit, not fully awake, unsure of what to do. Surely enough, the death of Secmeton is all over the New York Times, the remaining masters of mankind visibly scared. Enough of this. Sofia gets up, puts on her clothes, and makes her way to the East River. Sofia must have a bad habit of sleeping in because the sun already at its zenith, and she is hungry. Suddenly, a machine appears as if it waited for her the whole time. It looks like a spaceship from centuries in the future but comes out from the water. It opens the hatch, revealing a small seat inside.
Now Sofia gets it. She texts Jolene, “Going to the gym.”, knowing her friend will get the subtext, and climbs aboard. The hatch closes her inside and creates a computer generated panorama of the underwater world surrounding it. Sofia opens a virtual map and points to the Strait of Magellan. The machine obeys, darting to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, transporting Sofia to her destination within several hours. She opens the hatch, seeing Maya stand with her arms crossed on the rocky wind-blasted shore, as if defying the elements.
“So how’s your work vacation?” Maya welcomes Sofia; her face makes a jarring change from brooding to jovial in a fraction of a second.
Sofia steps out to the shore, getting surrounded by a multitude of little penguins as if they are giving her a welcome party. She sees Maya pointing at the penguins and hears her give them names: “Here’s Dan, Wayne, Frank, Eric, Ted, and Darren. And there’s Amy, Megan, Karen, Lisa, and Carrie.”
“Did you just assume their genders?” Sofia jokes.
Maya gives Sofia a warm hug, leading her to the windswept mainland, the penguins following her. It is time to advance Sofia’s training. The first task of the student is to follow the master in doing several stretches and balances. Sofia easily follows Maya’s lead, doing what looks like a few yoga exercises except maybe the balancing is more demanding.
Sofia begins to feel disappointed, even a little upset. It doesn’t look like Maya is taking her seriously. Then, Maya puts 5 kilogram weights on her arms, legs, neck, and waist. Sofia follows, and the “yoga class” becomes harder. Maya ramps it up to 10 kilogram weights. Sofia, though hardy like her teacher, has a lighter build and less training, making her strain rivers of sweat as she summons the greatest strength her body is capable of doing. Maya also trembles from the extreme strain, like she is also about to break any minute now.
At 20 kilograms, Sofia exceeds her mortal strength and is forced to bring out her Ka, or life force, from deep within her, making her dark brown eyes glow crimson. She looks across to Maya, whose eyes make her less like a human and more like a night predator. Sofia puts all her effort in controlling her Ka, taming the roaring rapids of fiery energy throughout her body, engineering it into a controlled river that flows around in a circle, around, and around, and around. Otherwise, her Ka would erupt like wildfire, burning her body and a kilometer of landmass into smouldering ash.
Sofia does a handstand with one arm, the penguins pile on top of her, and Maya sits on her feet with all of her weight, making her body, now superhuman begin to strain. “Good.” Maya purrs like a contented tiger. “Now the real training can begin.”
Sofia blinks. “Excuse me.” She begins to see red from all the blood rushing to her head.
“I will ask you several questions.” Maya says in a very grave tone. “For each one you get wrong, you owe me one bourbon. Sounds good?”
Sofia nods, visibly confused.
Maya starts the game: “In the red house lives a red man. In the blue house lives a blue man. In the white house lives -”
“A white man.” Sofia blurts out.
“Wrong. The President lives in the white house, who is a black man, you racist. You’re retarded.”
Sofia blinks several times, her eyes bloodshot. “I don’t understand.”
“I want you to think on your feet and see logical holes where you’d otherwise not see them, even under unbearable stress.” Maya explains, though Sofia remains skeptical. “Next question: what is the best way to burn grass in your backyard?”
Sofia wracks her brain for an answer but can’t find one. “A small match to keep it controlled?” She answers, her voice uncertain.
“Why would you burn perfectly good grass? You smoke it!” Maya scolds her. “And you don’t do it out in the backyard where a cop can see you. That was a major doobie. By Mary Jane’s bush, you’re retarded!”
Sofia frowns in frustration and disgust, too upset to say anything.
“Last question: on what side of the roof does the rooster lay its egg in the morning?”
Ah ha! Sofia knows this one! “Neither! Roosters don’t lay eggs!”
“I was going easy on you.” Maya scoffs. She gives Sofia several more retard tests but Sofia only gets another one right. “You must have been very sheltered growing up under Pegasus.” Maya complains. “If you went to a public school, you’d know half these riddles. I only invented one of them, the one with the weed joke. Don’t worry. You can live a full life despite your disability.”
“Come on!” Sofia shouts through gritted teeth, her resentment building. “I want serious training!”
“Oh, this is very serious.” Maya reassures her. “You can’t just fight. You have to dance in a battle. You must cultivate humor, wit, rhythm, lightness, and music in your martial arts. It is called martial arts for a reason.”
Maya feels Sofia buckle under the strain, folding beneath her like a pretzel. Maya gets off and surveys the tangled mess, wondering how to reassemble her. It’s like Maya needs to build Ikea furniture but lost the directions. “Wayne, stop it!” She shouts at the hooligan penguin as it starts humping Sofia. She kicks the creature away in a fury, cursing at the author. “Very original!”
Maya takes off her weights, then carefully removes the weights from Sofia before putting her back together. Sofia gets up, feeling so light without the weights she can dance on her toes. Maya does dance on her toes and invites Sofia to a boxing match.
Sofia accepts the challenge, eager to get revenge on Maya for humiliating her. The two fighters flit from one place to the next within the blink of an eye, like how the hummingbird goes about her business among flowers. Sofia lashes out at Maya in every way she knows how, but Maya effortlessly dodges them, while Maya in turn strikes with just enough speed for Sofia to block – most of them. Maya smacks her a few times, though not too hard. The penguins thoroughly enjoy the spectacle.
“Doctors know an easy way to diagnose cancer. If your hand is larger than your face, I have bad news for you.” Maya says. Sofia naively lifts her hand to her face, only for Maya to push Sofia’s face with it. “I do have bad news for you. You’re retarded.”
“I honestly think you’re just trying to bully me.” Sofia complains.
“A little bit.” Maya admits with a twinkle in her eye. “I last dunked a gamer nerd down the toilet when I was eighteen the day after my dad beat me and got drunk. I had to plead the cops to not arrest him that night. Now the gamer nerd complains about feminists all day.”
“Even in a tent city?”
“Especially in a tent city. He knows who I am.”
Sofia grows impatient. “Can I fight you for real now?”
Maya is overjoyed. She uses her Ka to create a burning sword out of the air. Sofia does the same and lunges at her opponent, glad to finally be taken seriously. The two women begin sparring once more. Maya’s quirky training regimen continues unabated. Still, Sofia is unsure what’s really going on or if Maya is pulling her leg in an elaborate prank.