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Red and Blue, water and fire


Thunder King

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January 13th

Mali Benjawan delivered a few more kicks and punches to the heavy bag before her arms dropped to her sides. It had been a good workout, heart rate had been up and she'd no doubt burned a bit of the ice cream she'd had last night off. She grabbed her water bottle and took a swig before sitting down on one of the benches. She was breathing a bit hard, having pushed herself just a little longer than normal. She was actively working on pushing herself beyond her previous limits, always going forward, always working harder.

She wore her usual workout clothes; loose fitting long sleeved shirt and sweatpants. Even in a school full of superhumans, she felt self-conscious about her physique, and hid it beneath baggy clothing. She leaned back, her breathing evening out. She wiped her forehead off with a towel and took the ear buds out of her ears.

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Even though it was a Sunday morning, Claremont Academy did not lack for students who would be up early on the weekend for some extra time training. Though for whatever reason, this morning the school's gym currently had only one additional occupant.

Giang Trang was poised at the end of one of the balance beams in the gym, the length of the beam behind her. She was wearing black yoga pants and a white cami top, while her feet were currently bare. Both hands extended out in front of her, she took a short breath, then exploded into movement, executing first one back handspring and then another back along the beam, before finishing with a back ariel. As she landed, one foot in front of the other, the Asian teen ended up having to whirl one of her arms in a clockwise motion to help properly maintain her balance.

There was a small frown on the teens face as she realized the chaotic weeks that had followed her leaving her father's home in Hong Kong had left her more out of practice than she had thought. Hopping off the beam, she went over to pick up a towel and her bag so she could make her way to the showers. But then she noticed that the other teen who had been there in the gym as well had finished with her work on the heavy bag.

Giang hesitated a moment, not sure if she should bother the other teen right now. Though this might be the opportune time to introduce myself. She thought to herself before she started over to where Mali was seated.

"Excuse me. You are Mali correct?" She asked as she drew near. "My name is Giang Trang. It is an honor to meet you." She then added, given a slight bow with her hands together in front of her as she spoke.

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Mali returned the bow, albeit a bit awkwardly. "Nice to meet you, too..." She said, smiling. "Working the balance beam?" She had, apparently, noticed the other girl dismount and approach her. Mali reached down into her bag and pulled out a bottle. "Water? It's nice and cold." She held it up, having pulled it out of an insulated bag in her gym back. She knew how tiring a good workout could be, and how thirsty it can make you. That, and it was always a good idea to meet new friends with offerings of friendship.

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Giang turned slightly to look back at the balance beam before looking back at the other girl with a small nod. "Yes, it has been a bit too long since last I had the opportunity to do so." She replied.

She took the offered water with another small bow. "Thank you." She said before opening the bottle and taking a drink.

The Asian teen then glanced over at the heavy bag Mali had been working out on before looking back at the other teen. "You are trained in Muay Thai?" She asked, though it seemed rather rhetorical. "A true hard style. But that seems to suit you very well."

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Mali grinned. "I appreciate the point of say, Tai Chi, but brute force is more my thing. A good fight is a challenge, forces me to push myself. To be better and stronger. Every fight is a lesson."

She had noticed the tattoos, and smiled. "Giang, that's Vietnamese, right? Nice tattoos, they're really cool. That's the I Ching trigram, right? Not sure what the parts are..."

Her first impression of Giang was one of serenity. Giang seemed calm, relaxed, poised. Nothing like the excitable, energetic Mali. Mali almost felt jealous of Giang for these traits, but that passed. The world was a place of variety, and the differences made the world a better place.

She put her towel around the back of her neck.

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Giang smiled slightly as Mali mentioned Tai Chi while explaining why she preferred Muay Thai. "Yes, I do not believe Tai Chi would be the right fit for you. I was thought to adjust between soft and hard as a situation dictates. I would not say what I was taught was better, only better for me, just as Muay Thai is better for you."

The teen then nodded when Mali asked if her name was Vietnamese. "Yes, it means 'river' in Vietnamese. I grew up in a small village in the northern part of Vietnam." She replied, before asking in return, "Mali is Thai, correct?"

When the other teen mentioned her tattoos, Giang turned her head slightly, as if to look at them, before she replied, "Thank you, I suppose. But in all honesty, they were not my choice. I have had them for as long as I can remember." She then gave a slight nod. "You are correct, the center tattoo is 'Kan', the I Ching trigram for water. The others, including some you cannot see, are related to the Wu Xing, or more specifically, to the 'element' water in the Wu Xing."

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'Mali is Thai, yes, though I was born and raised in Freedom City." She said with a nod. "Muay Thai is what I was raised on, though I've picked up a bit here and there, I prefer to stay pure to my original style as much as I can. Your tattoos are very cool. I recognized the trigram, but the rest is kind of alien to me. I understand what you're saying about them though.:

She glanced at the equipment around them and chuckled. "I love the facilities here. They've got a lot of cool stuff. Really helps me keep up the routine I started at home."

She was curious if Giang had powers, and what kind, but she felt it inappropriate to simply ask. If Giang wanted to share that information, she would.

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Giang gave a slight nod as Mali mentioned living her entire life in Freedom City and how she preferred to stay focused on Muay Thai instead of branching into other martial arts styles. "I can understand the desire to remain true to your original style."

When the other girl mentioned the schools training facilities, Giang looked about a moment as well before looking back at Mali. "Yes, the school is very well equipped for a wide range of activities. It is certainly well beyond what I had growing up, though I was content with what I had then."

"How long have you been a student here?" Giang then asked the other Asian teen.

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"Since March, I mean, well. This is technically still my first year at Claremont. I, er, got caught, back in February of last year..." She said, somewhat awkwardly. It was fairly common knowledge that Crimson Tiger operated in Freedom City before Mali Benjawan started attending at Claremont. The fact that she'd lied about her age and nearly got into a lot of hot water was not common knowledge, but most people figured she'd been brought in to Claremont after something happened. Either way, she wasn't sure how much of what Giang knew.

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"Caught?" Giang asked with a slightly puzzled look on her face. But then she seemed to consider something and gave a small nod. "Is it common that the students here were first encountered using their powers by an older hero before they become students? Or do some of them find their way here in other ways?"

The night Raven had found her trying to escape men working for her father was still quite fresh in Giang's mind, as it had been little more than a month. The Asian teen was still not exactly sure why Raven had been in Singapore that night, the mysterious woman had certainly not explained.

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"Well, you see...I don't have powers, per se. I was out fighting crime. Summers figured it out and called my dad. I got in a lot of trouble, but they decided to enroll me here instead of say, ground me for life. I don't regret it, but, man it was stupid of me." She chuckled nervously. She remembered how dumb she had been, going out and patrolling like that. It did give her a slight edge, though, having fought crime in the real world for a few months, and it had come in handy in plenty of situations.

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"I see." Giang replied when Mali admitted that she had been sneaking out to fight crime when the Headmaster had discovered her and reveled the fact to Mali's father. While Giang had been able to recognize Mali's fighting style as Muay Thai, she was not familiar enough with it to know its philosophy and teachings. "I could see how some might say that was very foolish, but I would think it is also very brave. Not many would think to take such a risk, particularly without powers." She paused a brief moment and then gave a small smile, "but then most who would say that are likely not as skilled a fighter as you."

"One of the styles I was trained in is Vovinam." She then continued. "And my master always had me greet him with the same salutation every day, 'Iron Hand over benevolent heart."

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"Muay Thai teaches us to stand up for what we believe in, and to stand up for others. It is not a style for bullies or cowards, but a style for increasing one's strength and fighting for a just cause." She said with what was probably the first serious look Giang had ever said. It was obvious that Mali took the philosophy of her style very seriously. "Though it's hard not to enjoy fighting, at least a little bit." She said, slipping into a smile.

"I see what you are saying. There is no point to kindness without the strength to use it. Is that it?" She wasn't sure, but she also wasn't afraid of being wrong, either.

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"That is a very worthy philosophy." Giang replied in a sincere tone, noting the change that came over the other teen as she spoke about her style.

"That is part of what Vovinam seeks to teach." Giang then replied. "As I indicated earlier, Vovinam does not favor Hard or Soft, but seeks teach how to apply each in the correct relation to overcome a particular problem, both in combat and in daily life. It is to remind one not only of trying to find the correct harmony between Hard and Soft, but also that one’s goal should not only be to help oneself, but also to help others live in peace and harmony."

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Mali nodded. "The wisdom to know when to go with the flow, and when to strike with ferocity. I can appreciate that. Heck, I could learn that lesson myself, sometimes." She chuckled and looked down. It was true, she did like fighting a bit more than she wanted to, and it had gotten into a bit of trouble a couple of times in fights. It always worked out, though, because she was at least smart enough not to pick fights with people she had no chance to beat. It was important to her growth as a hero, a martial artist and a person to never become arrogant, or to assume any given foe was weak. That sort of arrogance was dangerous, and she was taught to always be mindful of that.

"So what kinds of stances and techniques do you use?" She asked, always curious as to how people carried themselves in combat.

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"It often depends upon the situation." Giang began as Mali asked her about techniques and stances. "But I generally begin by focusing on defense at first, to provide time to more fully assess a situation. But lately, when I am ready to focus more on offense, it has been less often with my martial training."

The Asian teen held out her right hand, as she dumped some of the water from the now half empty water bottle Mali had given her. A few inches above the palm of Gaing's right hand, the water stopped in midair, before forming into a perfect sphere as it continued to hover in place.

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Mali's eyes went wide as she stared at the little ball of water. "Okay...that, that is cool." She said with a grin. She always liked seeing peoples' powers, they were so diverse, so cool. From Koshiro's awesome paper control to Indira's shapeshifting and Kristin's telekinesis, super powers were always cool to her.

"How long have you been able to do that?" She asked. "If, if you want to talk about it. I mean, it's okay if you don't, I get it." She added hastily, not wanting to poke her nose where it didn't belong. She chastised herself a bit for being overly eager to get into someone's business. Luckily, GIang didn't seem the type that would be insulted, and seemed that she'd either answer the question or politely refuse.

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Giang smiled slightly as Mali's eyes went wide and commented on her power being "cool." The small sphere of water then shifted into a small Chinese dragon and began flying in small circles in the air. "I first started showing signs of my powers when I was about thirteen." She replied. "I had always been a fairly good swimmer, but one day, I was swimming in the river near the village I was raised in, and I just, how would you say…'took off'? I had never swam that fast, though I am a good bit faster now. My ability to control water developed not long after, and I have learned to use it in a number of ways since."

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Mali watched, fascinated. Fascinated by Giang's gift, and by the beauty of water in motion. The way it sparkled and shifted, the way it flowed and moved. It was as if it danced in the air.

"Why do I feel like quoting Bruce Lee?" She giggled. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. She said, in a rather poor Bruce Lee impression. "I like that quote, I remember it when I focus too much on katas and practicing, and too little on learning to adapt to the situation."

"Well, anyways, I love to swim. Hard to swim with all the boys around here sometimes, though." She admitted.

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Giang smiled at Mali's Bruce Lee quote as the water dragon finished circling and the water dove back down into the water bottle, not a drop falling out onto the floor. "A very apt quote." She replied. "To be certain my martial arts training, as well as meditation techniques I had learned, proved very useful in having the focus, discipline and control needed to truly learn to use my abilities. As the quote indicates, water can be soft, or it can be hard."

She then gave the other girl a questioning look. "Why would the boys make it difficult to swim?"

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Perhaps it was because it was just the two of them, but Mali decided to let the other girl see exactly why swimming around boys was a bad idea. She rolled up her left sleeve, pulling it up to the shoulder. Her arm was like that of a bodybuilder, rippling and defined.

"That's why, only all over." She said, indicating her abdomen. "Lots of training means I've got a lot of muscle, and most boys don't like that. Where I used to go to school I'd get teased and made fun of for it. SO I just don't bother with it anymore. It's virtually impossible to find a swim suit with sleeves, and even that would cling too much for my taste. Better that I keep myself out of the water around them."

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Giang regarded Mali's muscular arm and her comments about the rest of her muscles being similarly well developed due to her extensive work out regime, as well as problems that had caused for her in the past. "I truly sorry your previous peers choose to ridicule you for your physique." She replied sincerely.

The Asian teen paused for a few moments, before she spoke again. "So besides the opportunities for continuing your intense physical training, what has being at Claremont provided for you? Are there any particular classes that you believe are more useful than others?"

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"Tactical simulations, education about heroes and villains. The history of superheroes. Anything that teaches me how to be better at what I do, you know? It's like...we try to make the world a simple place. We try to make it easy, black and white, good and evil. It's not always that easy. When I was beating up muggers, drug dealers and gang bangers, it was easy. I knew who the bad guys and good guys were. Now I think I'm smarter about things like that. I've learned to take in a situation, figure out what to do, and then do it. Rather than, you know, charge in and hit things real hard until they fall down. What about you? How do you like it here?"

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"I have only been here a short time, but thus far I am enjoying it." Giang replied as Mali asked about how she liked Claremont. "In some ways there are similarities to how I was raised, but in others it is very different."

"Beyond the basic subjects that are the core classes here, my prior instruction focused primarily on history, reading the Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, and studying the teachings of Confucius and Buddha. The number of options here is almost overwhelming, and I am not entirely certain just yet what I may want to focus on."

"But in truth, the biggest difference for me is this is the first opportunity in quite a number of years to truly be able to interact with others my own age."

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Mali smiled. "I went to school with a lot of rich kids. A lot of rich white kids. They weren't very receptive to a muscular Asian girl most of the time. The fact that I could beat up the football team meant I didn't get any dates. Here though? Here I'm not a freak. I have friends, and people like me, some people even like that I'm so strong. It makes me feel so much better knowing that people like me. I also love the variety of courses. I mean, I'm no A student, but I enjoy learning more than just what my old school was willing to teach me."

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