Now the real sparring begins. Both women release a fraction of their power, eyes glowing red, brandishing swords of fire conjured by their willpower. Maya keeps a leisurely tempo for now, like that of a sarabande, moving slowly enough for Sofia to parry her assault without too much trouble. Thankfully, the fighters use minimal Ka on their swords, so even if Maya hits Sofia with the blade her student will merely get singed.
Sofia blocks Maya’s attacks and counters with gestures of her own right after, all while skipping around the field, kind of like a highland dance. Maya picks up the pace to a gigue, then a gavotte, lashing at Sofia with ever greater speed and strength. It gets to the point where Sofia staggers under the blows, forcing her to stand her ground and make a committed counterattack, not half-hearted parries.
Maya surprises Sofia with a sudden drop and a kick to the stomach, a Capoercia that slams Sofia into the cavity of a large rock near the ocean waves. Literally backed into a corner, Sofia strikes back with heavy cleaves. Pleased, Maya lets Sofia plow her way through, keeping it challenging just enough to make Sofia sweat. Sofia takes a gamble; she lunges forward, burning the wrist of Maya’s sword arm. Unfortunately for Sofia, her dance is clumsy and, stretching herself too far, leaves herself open.
It is a fraction of a section, but an hour from the womens’ point of view. Maya takes advantage of her sweet time and slashes her opponent’s abdomen. Sofia yells, a thin black line burned past her clothes and into her flesh. dropping her guard entirely. Maya, all too happy to take advantage of the opportunity, lands a low blow right into Sofia’s wound, making her fall to the ground, utterly defeated.
Maya examines the wound, taking care not to wince, though she is very tempted to do so. “As my great grand uncle twice removed, Clarence Jones, loved to say, ‘Better have blisters and a scar than a stump on your wrist.’” She says in an exaggerated genial tone.
“You don’t have a great grand uncle twice removed.” Sofia moans as she clutches her abdomen. “I mean, you probably do, but I doubt you know his name, or anything he said.”
Maya sits in a cross-legged position near her apprentice, cocking her head in a quizzical manner. “Have you ever watched the Magic School Bus?”
“What’s that again?”
“A cooky teacher sends kids on magic field trips to give them science lessons.”
It rings a bell. Sofia finally gets it, and makes a sarcastic laugh. Maya helps her to her feet – she points to a place behind Sofia. “Look! Wayne is brutalising Eric and Megan!”
Sofia crosses her arms in disbelief. “I don’t believe you.”
“No, really! I’m serious! It’s disgusting! It’s like hardcore porn by National Geographic!”
This catches Sofia’s morbid curiosity, so she cannot help but turn around and watch. Indeed, the hooligan Wayne violently pecks Eric into submission, tearing out several feathers, and proceeds to rape Megan. Sofia drops her jaw in surprise and disgust.
“PSYCHE! KIDNEY PUNCH!” Maya smashes the side of Sofia’s back, making Sofia double down on the floor again. “You fell for the oldest trick in the book. Unbelievable.” When Sofia complains how it can be a trick since Maya was telling the truth, Maya replies, “Yes, you can tell the truth but still use it for deceitful purposes. I am a lenient teacher compared to experience, which will teach you the same lesson by cutting your hand off instead.”
Maya helps Sofia to her feet again, but with no tricks in mind. She brings out a portable electric stove and invites Sofia to cook with her, which Sofia does. Maya instructs her on how to cook, not merely to make any food to eat, but how to cook well, to make the tastiest most nutritious food possible. Together, they cook fish alongside tomatoes, garlic, and ginger. They top off the fish with a pinch of butter and natural salt.
Sofia muses on what to call their meal. You cannot call it brunch because it’s too late for breakfast and maybe you can call it dinner, but what can you call all three meals in one? “Bulinner?” Sofia suggests, feeling silly. Maya laughs a bit, giving her approval. Why not?
“The smallest things are really the largest things.” Maya observes while they eat. Embarrassed at saying such a cliche, she elaborates. “People in the past tended to shirk off small physical things like your diet, the climate you live in, the land you live off of, your daily habits as not too important factors that determine your nature as a human being and the choices you make. But those are really the most important factors.”
“Which people?” Sofia asks. “What things did they think were important instead?”
“Philosophers in the past, specifically Western ones to my limited knowledge. I imagine they cared more about big metaphysical ideas like the state of your conscious mind, your relationship with God, or the philosophical ideals you choose to have. But all those things are based on the food we eat, the state of our bodies, and other ‘merely’ physical things. It seems obvious now but I doubt it was not too long ago. Even all the magic fighting stuff we do is just an extension of our bodies.” Maya speaks in slow, lazy way, not too sure of herself.
“What about the soul? This is a Yugioh fanfic after all.” Sofia inquires furter.
Maya nods, gazing at the waves lit into fire by the sunset, putting her thoughts together. She says, “I’d say consciousness, or the soul, is an emergent property created by the body. The actions of our cells create thoughts and various subconscious processes, which are not much on their own, but we fit them together like pieces of a puzzle. We create a fiction, a ‘virtual’ reality, where our little brain waves become somewhat coherent.”
“What if you seal your soul into Millennium Item?” Sofia probes further.
“I guess the Millennium Item uses magic to change its host’s brain or create a consciousness in some other way.” Maya ruminates. “My point is the soul is not an actual substance like a rock or a pervert penguin. You might as well say the music I play is a substance. My advice to you: do not become preoccupied with your thoughts. We are not a being; we are a doing.”
Sofia finishes her meal, laying back on the grass to see the stars. “Not to be disrespectful, but I think our readers are itching for a duel. We shouldn’t bore them.”
Maya brushes her concern away. “Don’t worry. Let the plot take a promenade through Central Park. Do some world-building. We’re not in a New York Times bestseller, and thank God for that.”
Sofia makes all sorts of sarcastic exclamations.
“Much high brow!”
“A great literature!”
Maya chuckles a bit, and says, “I didn’t discuss philosophy simply to bore you. It’s an appetizer of the next lesson, which you’ll learn when you’re ready. You’ll learn the final skill.”
“To transform into a dragon!” Sofia gasps. She trained under Maya in secret for three years, but Maya never brought it up until now.
Maya nods. “But not now.” She says. “Now, we rest and take the sword battles to the next level.”
“You tease!” Sofia scoffs as she lays down for a nap. She wonders if she actually likes Maya, and in more ways than one. It seems she does, a thought she finds amusing before she drifts to sleep.
The women awaken to a dusk sky an hour later. They build up their Ka, their eyes burning red again, conjuring flaming swords from thin air once more, but more; they project fire from their backs and crowns, transforming it into black wings and horns. The penguins take seats around them to observe the battle.
Teacher and student clash, throwing each other into the air, and from then onward dance as acrobats or birds, whirling around the landscape as if caught by a hurricane of the passions. They land on the base of the southernmost Andes mountains. Maya picks up the tempo of the exercise to a tarantella and gives Sofia a further challenge. “We’ll also play another game, a bit of a rap battle while we fight. It’s my turn. I clash blades with you, I deliver a line. Next time we cross swords, I come up with another line. Then, you’ll do the same.”
Sofia becomes baffled. “Are you kidding me? That’s the dumbest idea I ever heard.”
“You’ll like it. I promise.” Maya assures her, beaming in good humor. “It’ll teach you to think creatively on your feet. We must get out at least four iambs. Five is ideal. Also, we must rhyme four times – Hey! That works! – And…” She suddenly takes flight. “BEGIN!” The women tangle in the air like squabbling seagulls.
Gotta save the world! We gotta get lit!
But I must babysit a shrinking violet.
What can I do? Sofie doesn’t know shit.
She’s gotta get smacked in a royal battle blitz.
Poor fool! You’re serious, but really dumb.
Your heart is gold but your feet are lead drums.
Don’t be timid, girl! Seize power! Get drunk!
Face your fears! Unleash the beast! Have some fun!
Maya slams the wedge beneath Sofia’s ribs with her knee and ruthlessly throws her student to the rugged mountain below. Sofia stretches her palms out and, using her Ka as a shield, crash lands as a fiery meteor into a crater below. Maya lands nearby brandishing her red blade. Sofia swears at her teacher in frustration. “Ven a buscarme, puta!” Maya challenges her. Sofia replies with a fierce lunge, and they take off again, Sofia improvising verses of her own.
You think you’re smart and chic!? Damn smarmy bitch!
You just got daddy issues! Admit it, witch!
Keep ridiculing people, and you’ll get a stitch
To match your crocodile tears and cheap tricks!
Call me a whore!? You know nothing of love
Or duty to anything above!
You only have your ego! You’re evil!
Like Yifan, an unrepentant devil!
Sofia tackles Maya head on, not caring about the searing cuts from her opponent’s blade. Fueled with fury and unleashing so much wrath she’s almost at the dragon stage, she pile drives Maya deep into a dark cave, getting them both buried in rubble.
Maya laughs in the darkness, her pain mixed with great pleasure. “You’re getting there! You dirty dog! You’re doing it!”
Sofia tightly clutches Maya’s waist. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to.” She would kowtow to Maya’s feet, begging forgiveness if she could.
Maya gently dissuades her, adding: “Why do you feel sorry for being angry? I gave you a hard time. Your feelings are valid.” This moment takes Maya back to when she was in Egypt, buried under mounds of rubble in a cave. The dark night of the soul is a cliche, but Maya could say her time in Egypt was definitely that moment for her. She had a choice; she could either let herself die in her loss, pity, and confusion, or she could climb out of the mess and try again. She tells Sofia everything of that moment.
Sofia is deeply touched by Maya’s tale. She asks Maya if she can tell her something. When Maya affirms, Sofia says: “I used to be an orphan before I was adopted by Pegasus. – There’s a cliche if there ever was one! – It was more like a homeless shelter than any place a child could live in. I even considered becoming a baby prostitute. Thank God I never made that decision.”
Maya pities Sofia, even if only for a small moment. At least Maya had the choice of being a “soft prostitute” when she was a star duelist, not unlike what actresses and pop stars sometimes do in their careers. Maya never took it but it was a privileged option by comparison.
“How did you end up in Pegasus’ care?” Maya asks.
Sofia answers, “Pegasus used to adopt orphans, especially if they came from poorer countries., like the Bragelina couple. But he had this Michael Jackson vibe too where he wanted to take sad children to his Neverland to give them a childhood they never had.”
“It’s really touching but also creepy and pathetic.” Maya observes. “I wonder why he refuses to grow up.”
Sofia knows the answer but does not feel like getting into it, so she resumes her story. “Pegasus once visited Kazakhstan, my homeland, presenting a mock Millennium Puzzle. He said that any child who managed to solve it would be adopted. Well, I stole it, naively believing I could sell it for the gold it was worth. Needless to say, it wasn’t. I got really upset but couldn’t think of anything else but to solve the Puzzle over the course of a few weeks. The police eventually found me, put me in jail, and returned the completed Puzzle to Pegasus, but Pegasus was so delighted with my achievement he adopted me. The rest is history.”
Her story causes Maya to ruminate for a long time, lost in thought. She did not fully know Sofias backstory until now. Perhaps, she wonders, she should be more sensitive to such a vulnerable girl. After all, was not Maya kind of like Sofia when she was a teenager? I mean, maybe, but Maya never let herself be vulnerable like Sofia does. She would lash out by being a delinquent instead. And if Sofia lived in luxury for the past decade, why is she still vulnerable now? – And it is just her, or is a flint of rock stuck up her – no, it is Sofia’s elbow. Well, that is compromising.
The women use their powers to lift away the boulders on them and exit the cave. They conjure their wings once more and fly down to the shore, but with no battles. They take each other’s arms and hop their way back in huge leaps and bounds in a little warm down dance.
“You did good today, kid.” Maya says, lifting Sofia’s chin up.
“I’m not a kid.” Sofia says in return.
“I’m sure you’ll prove it in due time.” Maya gives Sofia a warm hug, which Sofia tries to return but cannot in full confidence in herself.
Sofia cannot help but smirk a bit to herself as she climbs the ocean shuttle to return home. Indeed, she had quite a workout. Before she shuts the hatch, she asks Maya if she can join the fight to capture the next Millennium Item. Maya says yes, which leaves Sofia with a happy heart on her way home.