I took a deep breath, focusing on the wall in front of me. For the last three years this was all I had thought about. Training. To pass my Hunter exams.
I closed my eyes as I hurled my body backwards, backflipping across the training mat and landing firmly on my feet on the other side. I hardly paused to catch my breath before I leapt into a forward cartwheel, striking out with my fist as I landed, attacking my invisible opponent, swinging my leg up in an arc to catch him in the chest, sending him flying into the wall.
I opened my eyes and looked at the empty, silent training room. This was where I worked hardest, not when the eyes of the other students were on me, although I revelled in the pleasure it gave me when I beat an opponent with an audience, but when I was alone and had no distractions.
I walked over to the wall where my sword was resting, sheathed. I picked it up, staring at it intently before drawing the blade. The sound echoed around the room and I stood, eyes fixed on the perfectly crafted blade, enjoying the feel of it in my hand.
'I will be worthy,' I said to myself. 'One day I will be the best.'
I took a few swings with the sword, cutting the air cleanly, the blade moving impossibly fast. I looked at my imaginary opponent once more, my eyes narrowing as I focused my blade on him.
As one, my sword and I attacked, the blade flashing in the harsh training room lights as I executed my rehearsed moved perfectly.
My breathing was still normal as my blade halted just short of where my opponent's neck was. I almost jumped out of my skin when the sound of clapping echoed around the room. I had thought I was alone.
'That was pretty impressive Miss Adachi. A few minor flaws but nothing that can't be ironed out with some more practise.' I wasn't sure how to reply to the man I did not recognise who was walking towards me, dressed in training clothes with a sword at his side. 'I was wondering if I might have a bout with you?' He motioned to the sword sheathed at his waist, silently asking my permission to draw. I nodded, shifting my grip on my own blade in preparation.
We respectfully bowed to each other before taking up the fighting stance. My eyes were quickly assessing the stranger. He was taller than me, almost reaching six foot, and strongly built, I could see the muscles in his forearms through his shirt as he tightened his grip on his sword. I could tell he would have far more brute strength than me. He was older than me, I would have guessed somewhere in his mid- to late-twenties but I couldn't be sure.
With hardly any warning he lunged, his sword heading straight for my right shoulder. I dodged out of the way of his blade with unnatural speed, telling myself to focus as I gained the upper hand, bringing my sword down in an arc towards his back. He spun around, blocking my swing and holding it.
The blades swung away from each other with the scrape of metal, and I jumped backwards to re-position my feet. Unfortunately, he took this opportunity to attack, raining down an onslaught of blows on my sword, which was defending my upper body.
He swing at my side, hoping to catch me off balance but he was too slow. I jumped out of the way of his blade, making him stagger sideways. My sharp eyes saw his body twist awkwardly and his eyes narrow in pain. His left hand involuntarily went towards his side, but he stopped himself as soon as he noticed what was he was doing.
But it was too late, I had noticed the old wound, still plaguing him, and had worked out a strategy to disarm him.
Running straight at him, I sheathed my sword, pushing it out of my way as I flipped forward, landing on my hands. I used the ground to propel myself at my opponent, landing only a few feet away from him. I hit the ground running and lashed out at him with my fists, catching him unawares in the jaw. He had hardly noticed what had happened before my foot was on the left side of his waist, kicking him backwards. I could see the the pain in his side flaring up again as he dropped to the ground, his sword dropping next to him.
I stood, triumphant, over my opponent, my hand on his neck showing I had won the fight. My chest was heaving up and down and he was breathing quite heavily, as though he had just had a serious work out.
'Very impressive.' I helped him to his feet again, handing him his sword back. 'I assume you've heard about the hunting game that will take place soon.'
'Yes,' I said, very aware I hadn't spoken since this stranger had arrived. 'Candravar told us about it earlier.'
'Will you be there?'
'I don't know. We've been invited by Salazar Dreix so I suppose I will have to go.'
'Are you not excited by the prospect of gaining Black Soul Hunter status without taking your exams? Most students would jump at the chance to skip exams.'
'I'm not sure. If I could win then that would be amazing and probably one of the best things that could ever happen to me.'
'But in a way I might feel like I cheated. Like I won it by chance or something. If I gain my Hunter status by passing my exams then no one can doubt that I deserve it, but if I win a competition then people can always say that I just got lucky.'
'You are far too talented to be undeserving of full Black Soul Hunter status Miss Adachi. Anyone who doesn't see that is a fool.'
'I would still like to prove it,' I said, my head held high and my voice hard and determined.
'And I'm sure you will.' A strange smile crept over the man's face and he began to walk away. 'I hope you can prove it at the game in a few days.'
'Will you be there?'
'I wouldn't miss it for anything. See you very soon Koemi Adachi.'
'How do you know who I am?' I yelled as he walked away from me towards the door.
'I can't tell you,' he replied secretively.
'Then who are you?'
'You'll find out soon enough,' he said as the door banged shut behind him.