Description: During a casual stroll along the beach, the enigmatic Peng You asks his youngest ward to place a little more trust in him as a teacher, and herself as a fighter. The girl is only just finding her feet, recrimination and self-doubt threaten to trip her up at every step, and she must accept that her assessment is not flawless in all things - most especially when it comes to herself. Her journey is just beginning. It would be a shame if she were to fall now. Especially as it seems that mountaineering is in her future...
The curious fact about Silence, is how many kinds of it there are. Despite being a Lack of something by definition, the notion of silence still manages to have character. Whether all consuming, relative, oppressive, or awkward, it is a Nothing that stands, the third actor in a 2 part play.
The relative silence that walks between Peng You and Ichika is a respectful one, as if it too has suspicions as to her Sensei's many secrets. Having collected his Punk Rock student just after the Hotel's complementary breakfast, he has not yet volunteered any information aside from that she should come along into the blistering heat, the pair of them venturing out onto the busy streets of Sunshine City.
The first clue of their destination comes when foot traffic dwindles away to nothing, followed soon after by a sharp drop in vehicles throwing dust and fumes across their path. The buildings become rougher, but also more colorful, garish smears of faded paint marking the broken faces of shop fronts long dead.
The second clue comes in the salty tang of the air, sharper and cooler as the mismatched pair stroll companionably down a gradual incline, the distant crash of the ocean growing ever louder.
And finally, the beach itself comes into sight. A short ways ahead, a stretch of dirty cement ends in a barrier of chipped yellow and blue pipes, beyond which the slab falls away some 20 feet to reveal a broad expanse of filthy trash-strewn sand. Bits of plastic candy wrappers and broken bottles poke from the coarse dunes, the grimy sand accessible by a dingy switchback set of stairs. Gulls cry in the distance, rising above the competing roars of ocean and city life. Far off shots echo back from the busted buildings like post apocalyptic punctuation.
Sandals scuffing softly through the grit, Peng You wanders his way across the broad stretch of cement, warn hands coming to rest upon the battered pipe railing. Face half hidden by the brim of his hat, he gazes down over the ruin without expression, allowing the simple neutrality of his regard to alter the tone of their shared silence. What was once patient, even companionable, grows heavy with expectation, before finally breaking beneath the weight of the ancient master's words.
"Tell me, Ms. Kasumoto," her Sensei begins, hoarse voice once more managing to slice effortlessly through the roar of distant waves. "What are the virtues of the sword?"
It has been a very eventful series of days. Ichika had awakened from dreams filled with legendary blind warriors and monstrous beasts of Japanese lore, only to realise that she has - for the first time in her life - slept through the first alarm and, shamefully, required the emergency second to raise her from her sleep. The new outfit still feels strange, even if it also feels... good. Her parents may not approve, but this is the outfit of a fighter. Nobody that is looking at her now is thinking 'schoolgirl' or 'tourist'. It is very agreeable.
It was hard to eat breakfast, but she makes herself do it. And then she is being swept into the silence of Peng You's presence. It's something she had noticed in their last trip as well. No matter how loud the city was around them, Peng You wore his silence like a cloak. She truly didn't understand the first thing about him, and that should bother her more than it does - but in the end, she can only think back to his, again, quiet intervention in the spar with Buck. The way he listened to her at their first real lesson. He saw her. Even when he said nothing, he acknowledged her. That went a very long way indeed.
Once again, she is confronted with the terrible neglect that is so endemic to Sunshine City. She shifts uncomfortably as the character of that stillness changes. She looks from the beach, to her Sensei.
She's getting better about it, too. Rather than fretting the answer and worrying about failing the test, she speaks honestly as to the first things that come to her mind. "It is a practical weapon, Sensei." She says, "The sharpness greatly amplifies the force of strikes, so a combatant with comparatively low physical strength can still be a threat. It adds reach, without being as unwieldy as a polearm. The steel can also be used for defense. A well-made sword can deflect any blow."
"Practical." Peng You repeats, offering the word out to the beach below as if curious of its opinion. However, if the beach has anything to say, it responds only in the rush of waves and the sullen silence of the forgotten. And, if he himself has any further thoughts on the matter, they are set aside for now.
"Sharp, Balanced, Durable."
The usual mysterious smile that graces her Sensei's face makes its return, as does the note of gentle fondness that accompanies it. Turning his hidden gaze upon her, he studies the loudly dressed teen with quiet amusement.
"Sharp, I see, you have already come to understand. With each challenge you will hone your edge."
Hands folding together atop the rail, her Sensei continues his inspection, smile fading to a look of mild consideration.
"Balance, we have spoken of already. It will not come as naturally, but already you begin to see. This, I think, I will leave to you."
Gaze dropping to study the sword at Ichika's hip, Peng You lets out a breath, tone growing just a touch wry.
"Durability, however, will be your greatest challenge."
Turning away from his student, Peng You begins to walk along the railing with one hand trailing across its chipped, sun-faded surface. In no particular hurry, he approaches the steps down at a lazy stroll, chin dipping to consider the ground before the shifting hem of his robe.
"You stand now as a blade of Obsidian. Sharper than words, deadly, and yet with every failed blow you threaten to chip, or shatter. And so, together, we must make you into steel."
... oh ...
The girl had nodded along at first; she understood these three things. As Sensei said, she hardly needed help understanding that her sword is sharp, and unlike many teenagers she is fastidious in maintaining its edge. The mass-produced weapon has likely not been in better condition since it was first forged. Balance... yes, balance is challenging, but she understands the principle and again, as he says, she is working on it.
When he speaks of durability, though. First, she winces, because her thought goes to the battle with Nixie; the final conclusion, one shattering blow that she was unable to withstand. And then he goes right to the core of things. Not her physical durability at all.
The girl walks respectfully behind him, and her eyes follow his heels. For a long moment she doesn't say anything at all. She lets the thought percolate through her.
"It is, a difficult thing Sensei." She says, "I know that I overthink things, and that I am... passionate, at times." Passionate is certainly one word for it. "Sometimes those things feel like strengths. But they also make it, hurt, when I fail. Which has been often. I don't know how to keep the strength and, mitigate, the flaw."
That is how she sees it anyway. She understands very well that she came disastrously close to giving up at the very first hurdle, and that her thoughts of doing so are a fatal weakness which has never quite gone away. If he can really help her overcome that part of herself, it would be an incredible help.
But she can't rein in her own mind. Can he really help her with that?
The quiet hum of Peng You's response comes slow and reflective, bamboo sandals clapping against cement as he leads his student carefully down the switchback steps. He does not speak again until her chunky boots are sinking into the greyish grit of the sand, the master's own tread somehow leaving no prints within the rippled surface.
"I wonder," the Sensei muses, hands slipping into opposite sleeves as he wanders up the gentle slope of a dune, "Why your failures hurt."
Making the top of the rise, the ancient warrior pauses, long white hair fluttering in the cool press of the ocean breeze. Down below, a meandering line of rotting vegetation marks the height of the tide, waves rushing forth to crash well short of the festering barrier. Contemplating that line, the master breathes in the salt tang of the air, releases it in a sigh.
"Were you to challenge me, I doubt you would find shame in defeat. In your spar with Sensei Ariastra, even a single blow landed was a triumph. And yet your loss to Ms. Green was a painful one. Why?"
There is a downside to the silence. It means that there is nothing to distract Ichika from her own thoughts.
By the time her boots are on the sand, she has replayed her answer in her head a dozen times. Had she misspoken? Had she made a fool of herself again? But. No. She doesn't think so. She needed to be honest with her thoughts, or else there would be no point. Peng You can't read her mind.
Her eyes drift to the rot and decay so endemic to this part of the beach. But, she muses, the vegetable waste was at least natural. Not some scar inflicted by the human population. That was a small improvement. Not that she's in any hurry to get closer to it in her nice new clothes regardless.
"When I started the fight against her, I thought that I would lose. She was the more favoured competitor. Her earlier fights were very impressive on a technical level, and I only wanted not to embarrass myself." The girl says, letting her thoughts roll out of her. "As the fight went on, though. That changed. I found a strategy that was working. I could see a path to victory so clearly. It was exhilarating. To have someone I thought was better than me, almost at their limit."
Her hand absently moves to rest on the hilt of her sword, and she lets out a deep sigh.
"I let it slip away. I misjudged my own abilities. I needed one more hit, just one, and I was overconfident in trying to claim it."
She turns back to face Peng You directly, then. The girl's bright blue eyes are clear; no hesitation in the frank assessment of her own failure. "I know I cannot win every fight. There are many people, yourself and Ariastra-sensei included, who are far beyond my current level."
She hadn't, actually, seen Peng You fight -- yet everything about the ancient man made her confident in that statement.
"... but that is not true for Greene-san. Nor is it true for Fadel-san. I could have won those fights. I did not, because I made flawed decisions. That is... a self-inflicted wound."
Thoughts exhaled into the wind with just a touch of humor, Peng You offers the ocean a secretive smile. There is certainly something about the ancient figure that speaks of hidden depths. But whether those depths are strengths, or some other form of layered mystery is difficult to say. Striking the man could yield little result, or cause him to burst apart into so much phantom mist. It is, after all, not physical might that he seems inclined to employ as her teacher.
"The only blade sharp enough to cut Ms. Kasumoto, is wielded by ms. Kasumoto."
There might be a light teasing edge upon those words, a gentle jab, but even the fragile feelings of a budding teenager can tell that the elder doesn't intend it to be malicious. A sense that is reinforced when his conical hat tilts up at the side, the vague hint of a shadowed eye winking conspiratorially in her direction.
"It is true that up to now, you have been the whip that drives your ambitions. You who set the obstacles, and you who met out punishment. In times long passed, those of similar mind would have done so physically. I believe the term is, self flagellation?"
This time, her Sensei's smile is wide and openly mischievous, though still aimed out toward the waves.
"So willing to hammer yourself. And yet, if I were to ask you how to forge a sword...?"
The gentle teasing draws a light blush on the girl's cheeks, and she looks away. Her hand falls from her sword, instead running through her hair as she lets her eyes wander down the beach, whilst the pair remain still. At least, for the moment.
As always, what he says is very true. Her parents had never demanded anything of her but that she try her best. Her teachers were demanding in the sense that they had high standards, but none of them have ever rebuked her. Because she has always applied herself diligently, and if there's one thing that Kasumoto Ichika puts into the world, it is her fullest effort in all things she does.
She has never wanted to let anyone down. It would be a terrible betrayal of their faith.
"In the sixteenth century, when Christianity was growing popular, yes." She mumbles, falling back on academic trivia as a kind of crutch. "But, I've never had much use for that kind of God." She makes herself look back at him, trying to tease apart the last part; the most interesting one. How does the sword relate to this?
"Heat, and cooling." She says, "Hammering is necessary to refine the shape and fold the steel, but the art is in the proper application of temperature to avoid the, brittleness, and stress placed upon... the... material..."
She trails off slowly. Confusion and doubt edging into her voice, because she's really not sure she could possibly be understanding that implication correctly.
Peng You continues to smile as doubt enters his student's faltering response, allowing another of those silences to settle itself between them. Not a long one, just enough of a pause to allow the girl time with her thoughts before he turns to face her, gazing down into her confused features with simple kindness.
"You are no sword smith, Ichika. Had you chosen a different path, these blows you land may have helped shape you. But you have chosen a harder path. One with heat and pressure that will only grow the further you walk. If we are to make a blade of you, then you must learn to trust that I, and your other Senseis, will wield the hammer."
Smile having faded as he spoke, it is a solemn-faced Sensei that reaches up in an attempt to rest three fingers lightly upon the young girl's forehead, fingertips rough and dry. It is an odd gesture, almost a benediction, and yet the master's presence lends it a ceremonial quality that keeps it from veering into silly.
"I do not expect this will be easy. Some burdens are not so readily dropped. But much good will be done if you can turn your mind forward, and trust that we will be here to correct you."
It is almost frustrating how much sense it makes. She has learned so many things in her young life, absorbed so much knowledge, and most of it self-guided. But those were in areas where the limits were known; where she didn't have to apply the teachings to anything so slippery and mutable as her own self. It is an easy thing to memorise facts, learn principles and put them into practice. But fighting is not something she can learn from a book. She should know. She has tried a very great deal to do just that.
She needs to accept that... they do, in fact, know her better than she knows herself. At least in this.
The girl swallows hard, and bows her head as the old man reaches out with the gentle motion. She lets it happen. She even gives a solemn, "Yes, Sensei."
And then, perhaps unexpectedly, she laughs.
It's a genuine thing, bubbling out of her before she can stop it, as though she has just heard the most amazing joke - and then she jerks back, clasps her hands over her mouth. "Ah! I'm sorry, Sensei!" She blurts, "It is just... oh, no. You will think it is ridiculous if I explain. Please forgive me!"
More ridiculous than she already feels?!
The sudden onset of laughter might have taken many off guard, but Peng You merely grins as the girl's hands go to her mouth, hand lifting from her forehead to ruffle through her messy locks with easy humor.
Though it can not be seen, the shift of his hat suggests the raising of a snowy brow, hand dropping away to clasp loosely behind his back. Long hair tossed over his shoulder by the insistent breeze, he turns easily on the spot, tacitly inviting the girl to walk beside him on a slow stroll down the beach.
"There are few things I have not heard. When one has lived as long as I, even the smallest surprise is a thing to be relished. Your words are safe with me."
Ichika is startled by the easy lift of the hand and the way he ruffles her hair. She's more surprised still that she can accept it. Even from her own family, she hated it - the only person it had ever felt right coming from, until now, was hundreds of miles away and probably worrying about how she took her most recent and very public loss.
She falls into step beside him, and for a moment, she lets that silence return on her terms, as she weighs her words. And then, again, she finds herself moved to honesty.
"This outfit." She says, gesturing down herself. "It says to the world that I face it boldly. That I carve my own path. That I will not be caged or defined by expectation." All things that she dearly wished were true about herself; ideals for her to live up to, even as she struggles to do so. It is one thing to admire the fashion. It is another to live the principles.
"I was just struck that, the first thing I do after defining myself like this, is to agree to try and submit myself to your authority, Sensei. That is not very... 'Punk Rock' of me." Her smile, though, and the lilt in her voice, shows that she is not taking this as some deep or serious concern. It genuinely does amuse her greatly. There's an irony there, but it isn't enough to threaten the lesson.
"Hmmh." Peng You grunts in response, the amused noise muffled by closed lips.
"Rebellion can be a cage of its own. It is good you have not exchanged one shackle for another."
The quiet approval in her Sensei's voice matches the ease with which he walks beside her, the patience with which he met her silence. As before his steps seem to leave no trace in the gritty sand, attention focused off toward the distant skeletal hulk of a long abandoned Ferris wheel.
"But now," he continues, tone shifting to one of quiet but firm instruction, "the first stroke of the hammer. During your battle with Ms. Green, you had a plan. It was not, I think, a bad tactic. But have you recognized its primary flaw?"
Ichika's boots, of course, leave quite deep prints. Ones which will need to be smoothed back away by the insistent rise of the ocean. It's quite a contrast to the light touch with which her Sensei walks upon the world. But one which, if she's noticed, she doesn't remark on; she is too busy riding high on the approval, and then... bracing herself for the hammer to fall.
"The, primary, flaw." She echoes, and after a moment's thought, she shakes her head. "No, Sensei. I have remonstrated with myself a lot, but I don't think I know which was the greatest mistake. Rather than... go through them all, I would be grateful if you would share your insight with me."
The answer is given simply, but not unkindly. It seems that a gentle tap of the hammer has been chosen for this particular lesson, a simple correction and insight from a somewhat removed perspective.
"You did not fully abandon your strengths, but your plan was built upon the fear of her greater speed and evasiveness. You chose to put yourself at great risk for greater reward, but that risk was not as necessary as you thought. Had you been confident in your own ability to ware her down, to force her to expend herself, you may yet have won. That is what I want you to think on. Much like Buck devoting all of his energy into trying to steal your momentum, sometimes it is the measured approach that wins out."
It is, of course, good advice. Ichika hadn't thought of it in those exact terms, but he is absolutely right about the foundation of her strategy. She walked into the fight expecting to lose, and her entire battleplan was built upon the premise that she was fighting uphill. When she saw the first opening and took it, and was rewarded, it had encouraged her to try again. Fearful that if she didn't seize a perceived opportunity to finish the fight in one fell stroke, she would not be given another opportunity.
There are many ways those two words can be spoken, but Ichika means them entirely sincerely. She accepts the critique, and her mind replays the battle for her in this new light. That memory of hers is as much curse as blessing; she may never truly escape the ability to relive her own mistakes. Useful, but dangerous, if she isn't careful.
She tries to be more gentle with herself, this time.
"Wearing her down was my instinct. It is even what my, power, seemed to be enabling with its protection. But I was afraid that if I drew it out too long, I would be caught in one of her traps." Which, ironically, was exactly what had happened - arguably because she was too focused on offense to notice everything the cunning Darkstalker had set up for her.
"I will try to trust my instincts and myself more in future, Sensei. As I will trust that you will tell me when both need, correction."
The short bark of amusement breaks free of her Sensei's chest, escaping toward the sky like a bird from its cage. The smile that he turns on her is wide and fond, steps coming to a shuffling halt as the full weight of his attention falls upon her.
"Yes," he assures her, still seeming more amused than challenged by the hesitation in her words, "I will. As, I think, will Senseis Ariastra and Ichijo."
Smile retreating to a close-mouthed grin, then, he continues without pause, turning to continue their lazy stroll toward the distant amusement park, and another set of stairs winding up from the beach.
"As for this power of yours. Rei Hazuki has grown comfortable with the understanding of his own power, but that does not apply to others as easily as he might think. There are sages, those with the power to transform energy from one state to another, and there are conduits. But, if you wish to know more of that..."
Left hand emerging from behind his back, the ancient spreads his fingers and checks them against the horizon, gauging the morning hour as easily as someone might check their watch.
"Perhaps you should take a trip. I believe Buck would benefit from a chance to, stretch his legs. A hike to the peak of Mount Shasta, I think. Surely that would do some good?"
The smile that colors Peng You's expression is a touch more devious than is normal, but he did just suggest she go climb one of the tallest mountains in the state on a whim.
The laugh has her blinking, but the smile prevents it from feeling like a joke at her expense. It might have been a little cruel to start walking again just before revealing that he knew about the trip to see Rei, though. The girl's mild confusion transforms into full-on embarrassment, and she actually stumbles a step before she can catch herself when the name is spoken aloud.
H-how did Peng You even KNOW that name? She was sure she hadn't said it in the clips that reached social media, and the idea of the old man sitting down to check FightTube videos on his phone was... impossible for her to imagine. Once again, her cheeks colour furiously. She doesn't even know why. He hadn't chastised her for it; she wasn't prohibited from pursuing her own studies. She hadn't done anything wrong, exactly.
But it still felt like he'd seen a secret, somehow.
"What he said has stuck with me." She admits, slowly. "It is a puzzle. And I don't feel I yet even understand enough to ask the right questions. But I will continue to try." Sages and conduits. Those are two words which mean a lot more to her than wizards and sorcerors. "I would very much like to learn more, Sensei. Mount Shasta... I wonder how it compares to Mount Fuji, other than being a little taller..."
The thought is exciting. As a city girl, she didn't get to go hiking very often. The trip up Mount Fuji really had been one of her most treasured memories. Japan had looked so beautiful from that height; as though she could see the future stretching out before her in all directions. It had been easy to understand why her ancestors had considered it a home worthy of a Goddess.
"I think Buck will enjoy the chance to show me the nature of his homeland, as well. I'll suggest we go as soon as possible!"
And if Buck is really lucky, she'll even be able to resist the urge to lecture him on the geneology of the trees and animals they will undoubtedly come across.
Log created on 13:12:55 06/18/2023 by Ichika, and last modified on 07:27:59 06/20/2023.