Horizon:Volume 8B Chapter 40
Chapter 40: Average One on the Testing Ground
If this continues to come true…
When will I
Be able to believe in it?
Point Allocation (Get Over It)
In a shadow created by the afternoon sun, a boy raised both hands in celebration and leaned back against the wall.
He stood on the aft thruster of a large aerial ship floating in the sky.
I actually did it, thought Terumasa.
He had fully repaired the ship.
Including the final adjustments, he had expected it to take until the 14th, but…
“Four days early. I actually got it done by the 10th!! And in the middle of the day even!”
A glowing woman-shaped Mouse slapped her hand on his head.
“G-g-g-good jo-jo-jo-jo-job. Terrific, Terrific.”
“Hey, you did a good job too, Osakabe-hime. I wouldn’t have known how to adjust the deeper parts without you.”
“Testament. That was a compliment.”
Osakabe-hime said “twirly” out loud while she spun on the spot. It may have been her way of acknowledging an assessment more than an expression of joy. And…
“Compliment you too, Terumasa.”
“Oh, did you finally learn my name? The whole thing is Ikeda Terumasa. You can search me out with that if anything happens, so try to remember it.”
They may have reached a mutual understanding during their repairs of the Azuchi.
His job was to repair and control the ship. Osakabe-hime’s was to assist him, sometimes perform the work herself, and also submit the data he needed.
With the exception of the repair spells, she seemed to be doing a lot more work than him. Given the location of the repair sites, it was best if they could run power tests right away. It also helped that a Mouse like her did not wear out as fast as a human and did not need much in the way of food or shelter.
Those were more or less all she brought to the table, but she had been a huge help.
Of course, all of her work was built on the foundation of his instructions.
He would make a guess, make some predictions, and look to the right answer. That process took a lot of intuition and experience, so a Mouse or automaton would end up eliminating those things as “mistakes” and never reach the right answer.
So her more relaxed attitude let her accept his answers either directly or through compromise.
That allowed him to give her instructions that he knew she would follow. And as a result…
He looked up to see that the torii-style thrusters on the back of the Azuchi had been restored.
This had been a big job and it had been necessary to assist the Hashiba forces as a whole, so he had really felt the pressure on this one.
But he had done it. He had actually finished the basic work late at night on the 7th and he had thought that was enough. He had based that on the decision to have the Azuchi repaired by the 10th and so he could get back to his original job.
But then he had had another idea.
…Why not see it through to the end?
Did that mean he was growing a sense of responsibility and affection toward his work as a construction expert? Or did he just want to ride the momentum he had built up with such a good start on this big job?
Either way, he had fully completed the repairs.
He had only needed to get the ship up and running again, but he had gotten greedy and been free to keep going, so he had done the rest as well.
The armor was none of his business. Nor was the state of the internal frame.
But if they chose to use gravitational acceleration cruising, they would find the power system was good as new.
He felt proud of that.
The Azuchi was leaving Kantou on the 10th, so he had worked to see how much he could get done by that day and he had arrived at the perfect answer.
“I did it!”
“Asano, Ikeda is acting all weird.”
Asano caught the lernen figur that Nabeshima tossed her way.
They were in the forest near Sanada Academy. This was the area of forest where some ruins had recently collapsed.
Sanada had said they were free to use the collapsed basin that measured a few kilometers across. Sanada also asked them to draw up a map if they could.
Asano felt like Sanada and their Terrestrial Dragons should do it, but…
…Thiiis was prooobably their suuummer homework.
That explained why the Terrestrial Dragons were so friendly and watched over their training every day. Also…
“If you have word from the Azuchi, you can take a break here.”
Mochizuki of the Sanada Ten Braves was working as Asano’s coach.
She was a name inheritor, a skilled fighter, a ninja, and an automaton. Asano was not the athletic type and she knew she could be hardheaded, so she found it difficult to disobey an instructor like that.
After all, she could not win with logic. And even if she could…
…Thaaat logic would be puuutting my preferences firrrst.
Even when her logic was based on something emotional, like “I don’t have the courage” or “I just can’t”, Mochizuki would respect that choice. But when Mochizuki accepted it too easily, it ignited her contrarian side. Wowww, I’m a paiiin in the butt.
She knew Mochizuki was probably just trying to be nice. Automatons did not wear out easily and the heat was not a problem with her cooling system, but she still let Asano take regular breaks.
Like this one.
She hated being seen as a “guest” from Hashiba, but the only way to avoid that was to learn these lessons and prove herself in practice. It was all about practice. She had really enjoyed the past few days because she had been able to learn new things and rethink the skills she already had. And yet…
Asano: “Whaaat is it? I’m tryyying to train.”
IT: “I just thought you might want to know I finished my big job here.”
Asano: “I’m tryyying to traiiin.”
Stopping for this message made her feel like a guest again when she was supposed to be proving herself, but she also understood how happy he had to be finishing a big job like that.
Asano: “But, anyway, congraaats.”
IT: “Um, thanks. How are things with you?”
Nabeshima turned her way from over by the mechanical dragon and made a winding motion with her right hand.
She apparently meant “wrap it up”.
Nabeshima would be training with the Terrestrial Dragons after taking a break. They were apparently starting with the absolute basics. She had put it like this last night: “They’re finally letting me run tomorrow. I swear they’ll never let me fly at this rate!” But the Terrestrial Dragons had noted that her basic mechanical dragon movement could use a lot of tightening up.
Their claims made sense and she had sensed some problems there herself, so she was going along with it.
Nabeshima was enjoying her time here just as much as Asano was.
Asano: “How arrre you?”
IT: “Eh? Oh, testament. I’m about to go submit my report and then head straight for Mikawa.”
…Ohhh, yeah. He said sooomething about some investigaaation or sooomething there.
Asano: “Whaaat about the Shirasaaagi Castle?”
IT: “I’ll get to it later. Mikawa comes first.”
Ohhh, she thought. So you caaan do the impooortant stuff fiiirst.
Repairing the Shirasagi Castle would help recover P.A. Oda’s aerial forces, but Ikeda’s spells were still experimental and the ship would be given to him afterwards, so they must not have expected much fighting out of it.
That suggested the Shirasagi repairs were more about P.A. Oda showing Kantou they could not be kept down. It would show they could shrug off the damage done by the Musashi.
Of course, the Shirasagi repairs had to be important for Ikeda personally.
But it didn’t do so much for the nation as a whole.
So he was putting the Mikawa investigation first.
Asano: “Goood luuuck. You could uuuse the poiiints.”
IT: “Yeah. It shouldn’t take me long. Also…”
She did not feel like asking what he meant. But…
IT: “They say Nagaoka is getting along well with the Swedish Chancellor on the Musashi. Some important teacher joined us and she saw him there.”
Asano: “Heee’s our enemy nowww.”
She made sure to say that first, but at the same time…
Asano: “I’m sure Kaaani-san will be deliiighted to hear it.”
IT: “Yeah. Anyway, I just thought I’d pass that along.”
“Sure, sure,” she replied before ending the divine transmission.
“You sure took your sweet time,” said Nabeshima with a smile.
“Y-youuu passed it to meee! Youuu did!”
The Terrestrial Dragons held a hand to their mouths alongside Mochizuki.
“Oh, dear. Is someone in love?”
“That is a difficult judgment for an automaton to make, but based on past examples, probably so.”
“My, my! That’s something that will never happen to our Unno-san!”
“I heard that, you assholes!” shouted Unno, who was inspecting the remnants of the collapsed ruins and working with Kiyomasa to figure out how best to set up a defensive formation there.
Those two were keeping some distance between them, but they were working fairly close together here.
Asano had expected them to see each other as enemies, but…
…They caaan work togetherrr when they have a taaask to complete.
She rolled her shoulders while wondering if she could do the same.
She had gotten enough of a break, so…
“Baaack to the training. If you’re reeeady.”
Mochizuki determined Asano had an aptitude for this.
Not just as a ninja, but as one of the Ten Braves.
…She ticks a lot of the boxes.
Nabeshima did as well. Surprisingly, so did Kiyomasa.
In human emotional terms, this was probably a pleasant thing, but an automaton like her would not intrude on those emotional things.
Instead, she focused on teaching this girl her own techniques.
Asano stood at the entranceway to a lot of different possibilities.
What kind of tactics would she specialize in? What kind of personalized touches would she introduce to those tactics? She might think she had already made those decisions, but she had not.
Mochizuki had taught her how to walk and run in the mountains or in a wasteland, as well as how to choose her footing along the path she had chosen.
She appeared especially interested in learning how to move along mountain paths. She asked about all sorts of terrain patterns she could choose as paths and they began a practical lesson whenever they found one.
She was learning them one by one.
She had to be smart.
But she was not what people called a genius. She gradually built up knowledge instead of having a sudden flash of insight. She made sure she was well prepared instead of rushing right on in. Which showed…
…She has an aptitude for this.
Mochizuki was the same way. She defeated her opponents with her many learned responses and her ample preparations.
But she had lost to the Date Vice Chancellor after using up all of that. Musashi had again defeated her with the spontaneously but officially named “Master Tenzou Love Love Homerun”.
Careful preparations were not enough against them.
But be that as it may, she still had to teach this girl her techniques. So…
Their break was over and Asano attached her bamboo bottle to her hip hard point.
“Starting today, we will begin practical lessons with traps and combat techniques, but let us hold a quick sparring match first.”
Her surprise was to be expected. She wouldn’t have expected to be asked to fight before she was trained in combat techniques. She had some training already, but she would not have expected anti-personnel combat until later.
But there was something she had to learn now.
“I am not all that skilled,” said Mochizuki. “I have already lost to Musashi, so I think it is safe to conclude that you can never surpass them by following in my footsteps.”
“There is something I want you to see before we begin today’s practical lessons. I think you will understand in only 5 seconds.”
Kiyomasa and Unno both turned around.
They were in a depression full of collapsed dirt and rubble. The forest itself had been slanted by the crust movement, giving it a twisted shape.
Asano and Mochizuki were fighting atop the dirt piled up flat there.
This was obviously for Asano’s training.
But Mochizuki’s stance was unusual. Her right leg was positioned forward and her left leg backwards.
That gave her equal ability to move forward or backward.
That was not something used for training.
…It’s too unique.
Summer break had only just begun and they had plenty more time for training, so why use such an idiosyncratic stance now?
Kiyomasa felt something more standard would be better.
And Asano was a name inheritor, so she was prepared to respond.
Unno must have been interested because she tilted her head and asked a question.
“Hey, how does that girl fight?”
“Testament. She opens an armory-like space behind her and uses its contents to attack.”
“Perfect for a ninja.”
“That’s not all.”
Kiyomasa had seen Asano’s combat records.
The girl could predict her enemy’s movements.
During the Keichou Campaign, she had attempted to eliminate Ookubo, a Musashi name inheritor. To do so, she had drawn in Yagyuu Munenori, who served Ookubo, and tricked him. She had been attacked by the Tachibana Couple afterwards, but she had managed to escape.
Right now, Asano was probably trying to predict how Mochizuki would fight. She never spoke much, but her phase space had to already be stocked with new weapons and such.
She would be able to fight on the level of an entire company of warriors. So…
…Carelessly testing her is a dangerous move.
Kiyomasa saw Mochizuki gently swaying back and forth.
She had set up a rhythm between attacking and withdrawing.
Normally, it would be best to rush her when she was pulling back. The standard skeletal structure made it harder to move backwards than forwards and she would also have difficulty gathering her strength.
But the positioning of Mochizuki’s feet let her move in either direction just fine.
Even if she chose to flee to the left or right, she could use her rear foot as a pivot point to swing her front leg to the side and begin moving without delay.
…In that case…
“Figuring out what you would do if that were you?” asked Unno.
Kiyomasa shook her head.
“No, I wasn’t.”
That was true. Because…
She had briefly imagined someone else moving in ahead of her.
When facing an opponent like Mochizuki, that person would fearlessly move out ahead and Kiyomasa would follow after.
Who was it she felt so comfortable giving that leading spot to?
She did not need her imagination to tell her that one. But…
“I really need to work on this.”
Her relationship with Fukushima was broken. If they could not pretend none of that had happened once summer break was over, then it was possible she would have to move out in front.
So she had to think about something else right now.
“I need to imagine myself in her position, don’t I?”
“You’re a scary girl.”
Kiyomasa wasn’t sure how to respond to that.
Denying it felt somewhat wrong, but she didn’t want to agree with it either. She settled on assuming Unno was not looking for a response.
“Look, they’re starting.”
Unno gestured over with her chin and Kiyomasa looked to see Mochizuki moving forward.
She had converted the swaying into her movement.
…It happened so naturally.
The automaton’s movement was so smooth it would catch you off guard if you were not paying close attention.
“Oh,” said Nabeshima, jerking back a bit.
She suddenly realized Mochizuki was moving forward.
When did that happen? she wondered, but this explained why Mochizuki had been chosen as a coach. Honestly, I was kinda underestimating you. My bad.
…But Asano does the same thing.
Asano’s storage phase space was originally meant for shipping, but she instead stored weapons in it and activated them with spells.
She used guns, cannons, spells, and sometimes even water, sand, or construction materials.
She would be using primarily guns right now.
That was the only option if she wanted to protect herself in case something happened while on Sanada land. Larger weapons like cannons might be thought of as excessive self-defense. And…
…Nagaoka left us.
Asano had been casual about it in her conversation with Ikeda earlier, but it actually meant a lot.
Still, she probably didn’t think it mattered much and she was not trying to replace him.
Nevertheless, she had chosen to use guns because their gunner wasn’t with them anymore.
She probably wasn’t sure herself why exactly she had done that.
Maybe it was meant to fill the gap left by Nagaoka, but she would be creating a new gap by replacing some of her own weapons with the guns.
This was not done in his honor, nor was it meant to remember him by.
She would deny any of that if asked about it.
But Nabeshima had known Asano long enough to feel certain she had prepared guns. So…
“Are you ready?”
Mochizuki moved forward.
She approached by about 12 steps, crouched low, and…
She sped up. At the same moment, Asano took a half step back.
Asano fell back onto her butt.
She admitted defeat on the very first move.
Mochizuki came to a stop.
She was about 6 steps away from Asano.
She straightened up and stood with legs together.
She saw Asano seated where she had fallen.
Her arms were extended forward with the palms out to say “stop”.
She had admitted defeat. And after only seeing Mochizuki approach.
…I am not sure what exactly cowardice is.
But she could say one thing about Asano’s decision.
“Well done, Asano-sama. That was a close one.”
Kiyomasa’s shoulders lowered in a sigh of relief.
Unno shrugged next to her.
“That’s no fun.”
“I can’t have you injuring my underclassman for fun.”
“Oh?” said Unno. “You saw what Mochizuki did there?”
“Testament,” confirmed Kiyomasa. “During her approach, she used the movement to alter her knee joints.”
It had happened in a split second. And it had happened right as she was crouching, so it had been difficult to notice. However…
“Her very next step was longer. Only by about 3cm, though.”
“She can do that more each step, for a total of 30cm by the end.”
“That much?” gasped Kiyomasa.
An extra 30cm each step would mean 60cm between both legs.
Since a Far Eastern sword or a European short sword were about that long, Mochizuki could give herself the reach of a maneuverable sword with just her legs.
…And she makes the change midbattle.
Even against an opponent with a long weapon, she could arrive within her own striking range before they expected it.
And by then, her opponent would have to step back for the optimum range of their own weapon.
But Mochizuki could also change the length at will.
She could suddenly retract that extra reach, or she could give her legs different lengths when making a turn in order for a rapid turn or a spin turn.
That was why Asano had admitted defeat.
“That’s a smart underclassman you’ve got there,” said Unno. “As soon as she noticed what Mochizuki had done, she realized she could not compensate for it.”
“She could calculate out the difference if Mochizuki always used the same step length, but when that number can change at any time, there’s no way to know how far she will move.”
Asano divided a phase space into compartments and used the contents to strike back at her opponent.
She determined where to place those phase space compartments by predicting her opponent’s movements.
…But when that opponent’s movements are so variable, the phase space compartments she’s already set become useless to her.
So she admitted defeat.
It was a good decision. But…
“She’s smart, but she needs to go for it anyway. You can’t have her wussing out in an emergency, right?”
“Hence the training camp.”
Kiyomasa finally understood why Takenaka had sent Asano and the others here.
Asano took Mochizuki’s outstretched hand and stood up, her eyes focused directly on her coach. And…
“Listen, Asano-sama,” said Mochizuki. “I can do that, yet I have lost to Musashi twice now.”
Asano looked to Mochizuki.
The automaton was looking to her with a seemingly emotionless face.
But Asano appreciated that. This person could decide what was and wasn’t necessary without letting any extra emotions or useless thoughts get in the way.
“Telll me one thing.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Howww can I keep myself frooom losing?”
“Asano-sama,” said Mochizuki. “It is said that people cannot imagine a genius beyond their own imagination.”
“Do you know how ordinary people can fight back against a genius beyond their imagination?”
“It is simple.”
Mochizuki must have already known the answer. And it had to be something she had known for a long time, not something she had just come up with.
“Genius is about ideas. A genius thinks up something new, not based on the existing knowledge and wisdom of ordinary people. And ordinary people cannot come up with those ideas because their thoughts are founded on those things.”
“I knowww thaaat.”
She was the same.
There were several “geniuses” at her school and even more throughout the nation. Plenty of people could instantly reach an answer or reach their answer in a way no one else had thought of.
But she had competed against them.
She did not have the talent they did.
Instead, she had studied her textbooks. She had gone over them time and again to drive the fundamentals into her mind.
Mochizuki was exactly right.
She never had those flashes of insight or brilliant ideas that geniuses had, so she only ever reached the answer using existing knowledge or wisdom.
But this automaton had more to say.
“There is one way for an ordinary person to overcome a genius.”
“Listen,” said Mochizuki. “Genius is about ideas – about flashes of insight. But those ideas only apply to that one situation.”
“Let us say an ordinary person has performed an ordinary action one time. So…”
“If you are aware you are ordinary, you can look back at what you did.”
Do you see where this is going?
“Once you make an adjustment to that move, it becomes something an ordinary person could not come up with on the spot.”
Is this a good sign? wondered Mochizuki when she saw the look in Asano’s eyes.
So Mochizuki answered Asano’s prompt for more.
“Then you continue to adjust your ordinary moves. Over and over again. You will end up with something other than a genius’s immediate flash of insight, but when other ordinary people see it, they will wonder how you did it.”
Mochizuki pointed at her own face.
“We have one such person here.”
She pointed at Asano.
“And another. By combining both our ordinary knowledge, we can nearly guarantee success. Do you now see how our situation is perfect for solving the problem at hand, Asano-sama?”
“Testament,” said Mochizuki. “We have arrived at a point where we can defeat a genius while remaining ordinary.”
“Yeah, let’s see if that pans out,” commented Unno with a bitter smile. Kiyomasa sensed a newfound closeness in that.
They had been enemies before and they still weren’t quite allies.
But she appreciated that Sanada was training her underclassmen. Those two still had a lot of room to grow and the long break was the perfect chance to let them bloom.
When the Azuchi had picked up Nabeshima’s unit and Asano after the Keichou Campaign, they had been exhausted and injured, but more than that, they had felt defeated.
Asano in particular had been at a loss about what to do. Nabeshima tended toward keeping busy at times like that, so she had distracted herself by repairing her mechanical dragon.
That hadn’t worked for Asano, mostly because she had never before experienced such a major defeat. Katagiri had considerately taken her along on jobs, but…
“Kiyomasa,” Hachisuka had said. “You probably shouldn’t let Katagiri know, but the underclassmen say they can’t stand him.”
“What did he do now?”
Thanks to that, Kiyomasa had remained worried about Asano.
But now Mochizuki was working with the girl. Her coach pointed toward a patch of short trees in the basin and said she would teach Asano some practical techniques.
All of this was bound to be crucial for Asano.
…And for me.
I need to learn how to get by on my own.
Kiyomasa heard a deep rumbling in the sky.
It came from the east where an oblong, light blue form was visible.
That was the Ariake.
“Oh, the Ariake has opened its armor for the Musashi,” said Unno. “The Azuchi’s repairs are complete now too, aren’t they? So if the Azuchi doesn’t leave Kantou before the Musashi leaves the Ariake, they’ll have to battle the repaired Musashi.”
“I heard Musashi would be leaving for Kantou on the 10th. That’s today, so what about their repairs?”
“They apparently completed them on-ship while visiting the Kantou nations. Because they can’t depart on short notice inside the Ariake. So,” she said. “Now that the Azuchi’s repairs are complete, the Musashi must be entering the Ariake for a full inspection. That should take until late in the night. …And you know what happens then, don’t you?”
“Testament,” was all Kiyomasa said about that.
This was like a code passed between the Azuchi and the Musashi. They would not meet and they would not speak, but the Azuchi would leave Kantou late at night and the Musashi would arrive to take its place and defend the region.
“It’s all such a pain.” Unno pointed into the southeastern sky. “It took a while, but it seems to me the Azuchi’s departure signals the end of everything that went down in Kantou.”
Christina looked up as the sky rotated around the Musashi.
This was the blue sky of early afternoon. She had expected it to be hot since it was summertime, but it was surprisingly nice out thanks to their altitude and the atmospheric buffering.
…Nördlingen had its defense barrier and some level of atmospheric control.
The Nagaoka residence had been on the outskirts and thus beyond the range of that, so whenever she had walked to Nördlingen proper, the subtle difference in environment had made it feel like a journey to a foreign land.
But she had abandoned all that to be here now.
She walked toward the stairs leading up to Musashi Ariadust Academy.
As nice as the weather was, the artificial structures still soaked up the heat of the sun. Shimmering heat rose from the stairs and some mist was periodically sprayed on the landings to keep them cool.
And when she looked up to the first landing, she saw…
“What took you? I was about to head on up, assuming you were already up there.”
“Why didn’t you?”
He pointed toward the bow.
“I saw you on your way here.”
Had he thought he could see her if he climbed to the first landing?
Or had he been on his way up and looked back on a whim?
Either way, she was glad it had worked out this way. I’ve gotten awfully easy to please, she noted.
She walked up alongside him.
“Let’s go,” he said and she gave a “Testament” in reply.
“Where is your swimsuit, Tadaoki-sama?”
“I’m wearing it below my clothes.”
She had no idea how to respond and just about died. Her hands needed something to do, so she clenched them into fists and waved them up and down a bit.
“…What are you doing?” he asked.
“T-this is your fault.”
“Hm? Oh, I get it.”
He held out his hand.
She was briefly confused, but then she realized what he meant.
He had misinterpreted why she was falling behind and flailing her arms on the stairs.
She probably should have told him he was wrong and told him her dirty mind was to blame, but if they would both benefit from this, then why not go along with it? So…
When she took his hand, he squeezed and pulled.
“Sure,” he said, pulling her along. You know, Tadaoki-sama, when guiding someone up the stairs, you need to pull up to support them. Hurrying them forward like this is actually dangerous.
Then they passed through the mist.
They looked up to see Musashi Ariadust Academy’s school building.
“I do wonder how this is going to work out,” she said.
“Yeah, holding a meeting while playing at the pool seems irresponsibly casual to me.”
“I don’t mind, Tadaoki-sama. After all…”
They were about to discuss Sweden and Musashi’s relationship. They would primarily be working out how involved she and Sweden would be in Musashi’s Honnouji Incident intervention.
Christina summed up her main thoughts on what the future held for them.
“You never know what is going to happen with these people.”
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