Horizon:Volume 8C Chapter 60
Chapter 60: Students of Heaven and Earth
Thiiis goes like thiiis
And thaaat goes like thaaat
Point Allocation (Talking More Than Expected)
“Well done, Asano-sama. You have solved your problems in a few different places.”
Mochizuki spoke to Asano in the large basin being used as a training ground.
It was early afternoon, when they normally would have just eaten lunch, but they had instead continued training on Asano’s suggestion.
Asano’s spell let her place phase spaces. She had worked to use up all of her spaces during the morning, so now Mochizuki was inspecting the results.
Mochizuki had marked all of their locations and her job was to determine whether or not their intended purpose would be effective against an opponent.
As an automaton, she could judge what the person who had set up the trap had been thinking. She could not determine their motive behind it, but she could determine what ideas led to that choice. She used that to judge Asano’s training and, after analyzing her way of thinking from beginning to end, she had arrived at one conclusion.
…She takes this seriously.
To be honest, Asano’s weird way of talking had led Mochizuki to believe she wasn’t paying attention. So she had warned Asano to “be careful” and “try not to hurt yourself”. But…
…She really wasn’t paying attention!!
When walking around like normal, Asano would get her foot caught in a dip in the ground and trip or lose her footing. Once, she had even stepped right through the stone holding up bedrock, causing Mochizuki to fall with her.
Mochizuki had been worried, but those worries had evaporated after inspecting the girl’s handiwork.
“You have excellent focus.”
The placement of phase space traps was extremely precise, but also had an unpredictable fluctuation to it. She had taken a long time on today’s placements, but that was probably because the initial placement was everything for her.
She had spent her time thinking and then placed them in locations she had absolute confidence in.
That required focus.
She normally looked so unfocused, but only because she was thinking. When she needed to act, she would gather those thoughts and deal with it all at once. That was her style.
That trait was clear to see in the placement of her phase space traps.
As precise as their locations were, they were not based on nervous calculations. They were placed along the contours of the natural terrain.
That kept them from standing out as traps.
Phase spaces were invisible until activated, of course, but a cautious person would focus on any location that felt suspicious and stay away from it if something felt off to them.
Even with an invisible phase space, it helped to place them where you would have a line of fire on your enemy.
“So people tend to place them in obvious locations.”
“But iiif they’re toooo well hidden, you won’t have a liiine of fire.”
That delicate balance would be something she had learned recently.
…She would do quite well setting up traps with natural materials as well.
“But you mustn’t place them behind cover too much. Even if an expert warrior triggers your trap, they can still react to the trap breaking through the leaves and branches providing cover.”
“Yeahhh, I ran across some peeeople like thaaat before.”
She had recently fought the Tachibana Couple. They had been skilled enough to see the trap activate and still react in time. She had also fought a Yagyuu name inheritor who had a strong ninja side despite being a samurai.
She had lost, but it had been a good experience for her.
Now she had to find a way to reach greater heights and build up the skills and experience necessary.
“Based on your records, you did a lot of running around the Satomi mountains.”
“I diiidn’t have a choiiice. It was eeexhausting.”
Based on how she was walking now, that would have been a product of her focus. She could keep up with Mochizuki as they climbed the slope, but…
“Asano-sama, you should train in descending a slope.”
“Realllly? But I went uuup just fine.”
“Descending requires jumping depending on the terrain and accidents are common when you can’t identify loose stones. Ascending is simple to learn. Even crawling works fine for that. But descending is another matter. …Asano-sama, I have noticed that you avoid danger well while ascending, so I have determined you can learn how to descend easily enough.”
“I desceeended just fine in Satooomi?”
“Satomi’s mountains are like hills compared to Sanada’s. They have a lot of dirt ground and grass that will cushion your falls.”
“Wherrre will I be fiiighting next?”
“If you train here, you will be fine most anywhere, assuming the weather doesn’t change.”
Mochizuki then tested Asano.
…Is this the best way to put it?
“I leave it up to you to shift your focus when ascending to the appropriate focus when descending.”
Asano raised her head and strength filled her gaze for just a moment.
“Hmmm. Thaaat’s pretty tooough.”
Her gaze relaxed again, but that was fine for now.
She was sure to focus on her feet and her surroundings once she began her descent. She would trip and fall plenty of times, but she would learn more each time.
There were some – like Sasuke – who had a natural talent for mountain travel. When he was paired with Saizou in the mountains or forest, they demonstrated mobility and combat ability exceeding the Vice Chancellor level.
But not everyone had the talent and experience to fly through the forest like the wind itself. Like Mochizuki and Asano.
“Consistency in your movements is key. Do you get what I mean?”
“My taaactics remake my surroooundings into a weeeapon. I can uuuse myself as a distraction therrre, so consiiistency is more important than speeeed.”
“Testament. That is true for all ninjas.”
Just then, a loud noise burst from beyond the edge of the basin.
It came from a mechanical dragon. The red color marked it as Nabeshima’s Unambitious. The thunderous applause coming from the forest had to be the Terrestrial Dragon teachers.
“What was that?”
“Sheee’s flying straiiight up. She tooold me this morrrning.”
Until the day before yesterday, Nabeshima had still been training how to walk, run, take off, and land.
“So she too is improving step by step.”
Nabeshima hadn’t felt like this in her mechanical dragon’s cockpit in a while.
…Wow, I’m so high up.
For around three weeks now, she had been going through a program of mostly ground-based movement training. Even when training takeoff and landing, the Terrestrial Dragons had insisted she not fly higher than the Ueda Academy because doing it all at low altitude “looks cool”. However, that had been easier said than done, and…
…I can’t get much speed at low altitude.
The mechanical dragon didn’t so much fly as it launched itself with a lot of thrust. That process was repeated again and again in midair to achieve the wanted acceleration and to make course adjustments.
But landing required reducing that speed. At low altitude, even a slight stall or insufficient output would mean not reaching her destination or damaging her surroundings. But too much momentum would mean arriving at the landing site along a parallel trajectory to the ground, either passing it by or loudly sliding along the ground.
Her flight style had honestly been pretty rough before. She had focused on momentum and launched herself down from high altitude to land, figuring she only had to stop by the end of the long runway space available to her.
According to the Four Heavenly Kings of Ryuuzouji: “That’s basically how the Terrestrial Dragons of the New World do it.”
Simply put, real dragons were designed differently and flew differently because of it.
Also, Terrestrial Dragons had divine protections as living creatures. When flying, they would use their thrusters and wings to help them take flight as flying artifacts.
Meanwhile, a mechanical dragon used only its great power to fly, so it required a different flight style. They couldn’t be expected to fly in the same way as a Terrestrial Dragon that had benefits beyond simple power output.
Once the Four Heavenly Kings of Ryuuzouji explained that to her, she had agreed with them and brought it up next time she was doing takeoff and landing training. However…
“Listen up for a second. Your movements are pretty good for a mechanical dragon. I can tell you know what you’re doing,” interrupted the large Terrestrial Dragon named Kakei Torahide. He was a Lindworm-style, an excellent flying type. “But that’s all based on the small and illiterate New World species. Those are unintelligent animals, so their movements don’t have the culture ours do. They’re just beasts.”
“Dragons like that don’t truly live in their land. I mean, they literally do live there, but they don’t settle somewhere, govern it, and cultivate it. So as much as those inferior dragons and beast dragons resemble us, they’re like monkeys are to you.”
“So you’re telling me not to be a monkey?”
“You’re just copying the monkeys, so you’re even worse than them.”
“But that’s emotional reasoning.”
“Oh? You’re a smart girl.”
“Of course she is!” shouted the Four Heavenly Kings behind her while she continued listening to Torahide and the others.
“Beasts get slain by people.”
“And Terrestrial Dragons don’t?”
“Unfortunately,” said Torahide with a light shake of his body. This thick armor bore a fresh crack and wound at the center of the throat. “Being slain is an honor in dragon culture.”
“But I don’t want to be slain.”
“That’s my point,” he said. “Try doing everything we can do. You don’t need to reach our level, but you can learn to emulate us using the mechanical dragon as a machine. So try it at least once.”
“I can do it all but I was still slain, but you can’t let yourself be slain when you do it all. So what is the minimum line you must reach?”
I see, thought Nabeshima. This training wasn’t just about whether she could or couldn’t do something. It was about filling her library of actions with real dragon movements, not just her instincts or imagination.
“Then I’ll do it.”
She was quick to make up her mind.
“Building up a library of movements will help all of Ryuuzouji’s dragons, so I’ll work through them all over the course of the break and remake the entire OS. Also…”
“If I already had all this ground-based movement training back then, I bet the battle at the Miura Peninsula would have turned out differently.”
She could have gotten a solid grip on the pliable crust without the dirt slope crumbling below her and occasionally spun around.
The Four Heavenly Kings of Ryuuzouji had to understand that too. So…
“Help me out with this. If I can improve my ground combat this much…” She looked up into the sky. “I can’t wait to see how much my aerial combat improves too.”
The Four Heavenly Kings of Ryuuzouji ended up staying inside after that. She thought maybe they weren’t happy about being forced into doing this, but after two days, they emerged to show what they had accomplished.
“This local workshop support system can work alongside the Ryuuzouji workshop. Link it to a transport ship repair site and – assuming appropriate materials are available – it can be used just like the blast furnaces back home. The standards will get a little confused, but we would need to at least remake the mainframe if you remade the OS.”
“Milady, do not think about improving the rest of Ryuuzouji with the OS.”
“Your victories are all the advertisement we need,” they replied with a smile.
She smiled back and cried later inside the cockpit. She had known she was promising more than she could deliver when she said it, so that counter hit her hard. She realized this was her first good cry since managing to calm down here after her loss. Damn. What am I doing crying on a campaign? Stupid summer break.
I won’t lose again.
And after finally mastering her takeoff training, she was starting on vertical ascent training.
She shot straight up into the sky.
She arrived so much higher than before.
Once she was high enough, Nabeshima held the heavens and the earth in her hands for the first time in a while.
She had last done this on her way from the Azuchi to Sanada, so it had been four weeks.
She had so much expectation for the “sky” as she made this full-power ascent.
What was this? Something felt wrong with the controls in her hand and in the rest of her ascending body.
She was ascending in the same way Torahide had shown her first as an example.
He had pointed all of his thrusters downward and then raised his output more gradually instead of pouring it all on at once.
…You make yourself float first and then launch yourself upwards.
You directed the force on your body upwards and then pushed up from there.
“This is the best and easiest way. The increase from the initial low output is like the warmup stretches or soaking you do before getting in the pool.”
“You’ve seen us do that?”
“To us, that honestly looks a lot like food gathering together and washing itself for us.”
“Sure does,” agreed the other Terrestrial Dragons.
“We wouldn’t actually do anything since eating people is forbidden, but man does it put you in the mood for a meat hotpot.”
“Right? It’s great to watch while you eat.”
“But humans barely smell like meat anymore, so I doubt they’d even taste good.”
Was that how it worked?
But as she flew under their watchful eye, she sensed something with her entire body.
She felt a powerful anxiety. She had flown even higher than this before, but this time it felt like…
“Oh, looks like she’s really reacting to it. It’s probably even easier to sense in that mechanical dragon.”
Hearing that comment from Torahide, Kiyomasa looked up overhead.
She was putting away the cloth for their picnic-style lunch and wrapping up Asano’s uneaten lunch separate from the main picnic basket, but now she saw an ascending mechanical dragon.
“That’s a real clean ascent,” said one of the Four Heavenly Kings of Ryuuzouji next to her.
“And straight. No shaking at all,” said another.
“I imagine so,” said Torahide.
“Why would you imagine that?” asked Unno, who was wearing a track suit.
“Because.” Torahide turned her way. “The most important aspect of ground-based movement training isn’t to run with your front and hind legs. It’s to learn how to move using your entire body. That gives you a feel for controlling your entire body. It comes naturally for us, but not so much for mechanical dragon pilots. We do it without thinking, so focusing on the specific movements of our limbs is actually a pain.”
“Once she learned how the entire body moves when she moves each part and vice versa, she did low-altitude takeoff and landing training which requires precise power control. So what happens when she simply launches herself upwards with her thrusters after all that precise work?”
“I’m not a dragon or a mechanical dragon pilot,” said Unno.
The Terrestrial Dragons across the way huddled their heads together.
“Did you hear that? Unno-san isn’t even trying.”
“The young think they can get away with saying ‘I don’t know’ forever, don’t they?”
“Eh, it just means she’s stupid.”
Unno raised her fist toward the gossiping dragons and they fled.
“Now, now. Don’t be mad. …Anyway, um.” Kiyomasa thought about this as training and considered what state Nabeshima would be in now. “She has a better feel for the entire mechanical dragon now and she knows how to control the acceleration power too.”
“And what does that mean? She is making a clean ascent, just like I asked her too.”
Testament, thought Kiyomasa. Her Caledfwlch could fly for short periods using its rear thrusters, so she used that as a starting point here.
“She must feel anxious,” she said. “She has previously flown her mechanical dragon quite well and felt like she was one with its movements, but that was all based on her own imagination. Now that she understands how real dragons move and the logic behind it, she will have noticed the differences in her own movements. Especially when focusing only on the thrusters for a vertical ascent.”
“Correct. She is feeling the entirety of the dragon for the first time. She is realizing just how heavy dragons are and how difficult it is for them to fly. And she should be learning just how meaningless a dragon’s great size and strength are in the sky. After all, there is no ground to brace against. Yet her senses are much sharper than before. Without slamming on all her power at once, she can tell just how unstable her balance is up there.”
“She is finally ‘living’ as a dragon in a way she wasn’t before. …But the real test is yet to come. The descent is going to terrify her, but that’s just what it means to live as a dragon.”
Kiyomasa saw Torahide turn toward the Four Heavenly Kings of Ryuuzouji.
“Hey, that girl is going to be a hell of a pilot. I guarantee it. None of our people ever got this far in so short a time. …Yeah, I mean you lot!”
The Terrestrial Dragons fleeing through the forest quickly saluted and Unno raised both arms to mock them. Kiyomasa assumed that last part was some kind of local custom, but then she saw the acceleration light slowly descending in the sky.
…We are making good use of our time.
It was summer, but she could predict great results from their time spent here.
Was Fukushima viewing this same sky?
Fukushima was viewing the sky.
She was sprawled out on the dirt. She could hear the cicada cries and…
“God, you’re hopeless. I should’ve ignored you and gone into the mountains.”
Sassa’s voice was followed by departing footsteps.
She tried to scramble to her feet, but…
“Don’t try to move right away. I cracked your ribs.”
She supported herself with her arms and saw Sassa look back over the shoulder of his summer uniform. He clicked his tongue on the riverside clearing they were using as a training ground.
“You’re way too distracted for this. Don’t even bother forcing yourself to train right now. You’ll just injure yourself. I’m not gonna hold back just cause you’re a girl.”
She nodded and noticed that Ichinotani’s shaft was bent.
…How did that happen?
She remembered using it for defense. He had stepped straight toward her and then leaped at her.
“You looked ready to dodge it, but then you froze in place.”
“No, that isn’t what happened…”
“It was the end result anyway. Thinking up a plan isn’t enough for training. That’s why I hit you.”
Ichinotani’s shaft was bent and…
…My ribs are cracked.
But she didn’t have her defense to thank for the light damage. Sassa must have held back, despite saying he wouldn’t. He had adjusted his strength to damage the spear and then do only light damage to her.
Fukushima wasn’t sure she could adjust her strength so precisely when attacking through her opponent’s weapon like that.
She knew Sassa was strong enough to have broken straight through the spear and her torso. He could have destroyed her entire body with the vibration provided by a simple touch.
She could not do the same.
She watched him leaving once more and bowed from her seated position.
“Thank thee for thy instruction!”
She felt a straining in her right ribs along with a chill-like pain, but she had to be courteous.
But when she inhaled after speaking, the sweat poured from her.
She was injured.
Recovery would probably take two or three days with divine protections and spells. In the meantime, she would be stuck with indoor training and stretches that wouldn’t place a burden on her side. However…
…I am pathetic.
She was two weeks into the training camp, but she had yet to see any improvement.
Fukushima stared into the sky while listening to the cicadas.
“The break is already half over…”
She had heard the Musashi and the Ariake had arrived in an eastern Protestant principality near Kyou’s western border.
That probably put it west-southwest of here. But to avoid the cold air, the Shibata Team was set up in a basin on the southeast side of the mountaintop, meaning the mountain blocked the Musashi from view.
Probably a way of telling us to focus on our training, she thought, noting the thoughtfulness of the decision. But…
…Sassa-sama is so strong.
For the past two weeks, she had been undergoing basic strength training under Sassa’s instruction and the occasional combat training against Maeda’s ghost warriors.
She had sparred with Sassa a few times, but she had never come close to matching him.
She was frustrated to find her attacks could not reach him.
She was trying to use Headfirst Fall and ideal movements, but she couldn’t even circle around him well and she would end up out of breath after only ten or so minutes.
“And then I lose…”
She would compliment his skills and ask him how he had done it, but he would always turn around and leave.
She must have been too pathetic for him to answer. Even though he had chosen to skip his usual training in the mountains to assist her.
She had tried to work at it more, but she still couldn’t hit him.
He had left again after she essentially self-destructed.
But she did have one new opportunity.
Kani’s schedule and post had changed after she began improving Sasamura. She now spent most of her time in the Shibata fleet’s workshop and testing ground, so the training ground she had been using was free.
Fukushima wasn’t sure what Sassa’s reasons were, but while he had mostly observed her and prioritized his own training before, he had started including light sparring matches as an official part of her training regimen three days ago.
They would spar once in the morning and once in the afternoon, but she had yet to land a single attack. And on occasion…
“Hey, take this.”
He would make an attack that she simply could not avoid, so she would take it as he demanded.
She should have been able to dodge them. However…
…I feel like I can avoid them.
But then her body would stop moving.
She would reach that conclusion in her head and stop there because it was good enough.
But this wasn’t an issue of pride or overconfidence. She knew herself it was a bad sign.
Yet her body would still stop there.
Was she sick of fighting?
Was she so sick of it she couldn’t find the motivation to dodge an attack she had dodged countless times before?
Her body could move if she told it to.
It was a communication failure. That term reminded her of Kiyomasa.
The first thing that came to mind was how she had made Kiyomasa cry. Did that mean she had yet to accept what had happened?
Situationally, Kiyomasa had said she loved Fukushima, but there had been a miscommunication, that miscommunication was entirely Fukushima’s fault, and it had hurt Kiyomasa.
Besides, even if Kiyomasa had said she loved her, that love had to be a thing of the past now.
She had to hate Fukushima after being hurt like that. She had only said it to throw out that love so she could hate Fukushima now.
Fukushima flung herself onto her back, slamming the back of her head against the ground.
She felt more of a vibration than pain and her vision briefly went dark. But…
The rapid position change made her right ribs ache.
“Ow ow ow,” she muttered, wondering what the hell she was doing. And…
“Hey,” called Sassa in the distance. “You’re injured, so training’s off for the time being.”
Instead of sitting up, she twisted around to face Sassa who was pointing back at her while walking.
“Even I can tell you’re distracted, idiot. Toshi will tell you a good place in the mountains, so go live up there for a while, got it?” he said. “What you need right now is mental training! So get to it!”
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