Trial and Error

Lily took several steps back from the point of danger where the warning had emerged. She contemplated the hulking figure in the distance. She would need to somehow close the distance, destroy a part of its armor, then get close to the damaged spot without dying. Judging from the multitude of skeletons that littered the landscape around the thing, its killing power was immense.

To achieve her objective, she would have to rely on the advantages granted to her alone – she would have to rely on her metallic legs.

Her prosthetics were initially intended to make up for her handicap, but as she was carried by them on her way to this point, she had come to view them as powerful tools. They required no energy and never tired. By increasing the amount of mana granted to her legs, she could dramatically increase the output of force and kinetic energy. They could move and change directions faster than any organic limb, and with no bones to crack and fully round joints, they enjoyed a free range of motion which allowed them to be manipulated in impossible ways. It was possible, for instance, for her to rotate her calf a full circle around the knee joint without issue and at high speeds. Made of metal, reinforced by mana permeating them, they were far more durable than any organic tissue.

If she was to accomplish her goal, she would need to learn how to best utilise these properties to her advantage. That required training, and experimentation.

Back in Azoria, there had never been much opportunity for learning how to fight. It was the famed Academy City, after all. It was the home of researchers, of teachers, of academics; not of warriors or mercenaries. Most of the adventurers who ventured into its Labyrinth were simply passing through, or otherwise warriors attracted by the high volume of lucrative Escort quests frequently issued through the Guild. With the exception of a few family-run dojos and schools, there were few places to learn martial arts within Azoria, and minimal interest amongst the populace in putting in the time to practice it.

That said, Lily had, at one point, read up on various forms of Martial Arts when she was undergoing a self-conscious phase and obssessed over keeping her body in shape. While she had eventually settled on running as her main form of exercise, she had read books on the theory and basics of martial arts.

Having created significant distance from the point of the warning, she bounced on her heels and experimentally, clumsily, attempted to throw a kick in midair. The power of a kick was, she knew, derived from the amount of force applied, as well as the angular velocity of the limb. Therefore, she attempted to bring her artificial leg as high as possible. With the upper section of her thigh still being organic, the angle she could attain was limited, but she brought it to the maximum permissible. Naturally, this movement caused her weight to be unevenly distributed, and as she was winding up, she lost balance and fell to her side, landing hard on the ground.

She grumbled as she got up, then re-attempted the kick. This time, she made conscious use of her other leg as a counterweight, going through the motion slowly as she slowly adjusted her weight, keeping her centre of gravity level. As she completed the motion without issue, she reset her position and did it again. And again. Numerous times she performed the slow-motion kick, carefully memorising and habitualising the numerous minute shifts in weight. When she was satisfied with her form, she did it faster, but with minimal force. And again, faster. And again, faster.

When thirsty, she drank. When tired, she slept. Throughout it all, she continued to practice the kick, going faster each time. By controlling the form of her magic, she could use her magic’s manipulative property to artificially increase the speed of the leg while only minimally increasing the kicking force, by simply visualising the faster movement of the limb through space, changing the magic’s <<form>>, but not its <<power>>. As such, her kicks became faster, and natural experience allowed her to learn to regain her balance after each kick.

Eventually, her kicks gained speed to the point of being barely visible to the naked eye. She started to add a little more force, increasing her magic’s <<power>>. The first attempt resulted in the much higher momentum sending her spiraling off balance and tumbling to the ground. Again, she re-adjusted the counterweight and re-attempted the kick, again failing. Again, and again, countless times, she attempted the kick, eventually getting the form correct, then slowly increasing its power. After many more tries, she finally managed to consistently execute a roundhouse kick with magnificent speed and force, while landing in a balanced, recovered position despite hitting no target. Without a target, she had no way to gauge exactly how much force she was applying, but she believed it would be best to master hitting empty air and recovering from there, before learning how to followup a successful hit.

From there, she continued to practice, changing up her routine. She practiced kicks with her other leg, then two, three, four, six, thirteen-hit kicking combos, weeding out unnecessary movement through trial and error. She practiced jump kicks, axe kicks, somersault kicks. She learned how to throw a kick midair, from a number of awkward positions. Twice she ran out of food and water, and on both counts, she took a quick break to scavenge more supplies, returning with more packs than the previous hunt.

At one point, she noted that her legs were getting worn and battered from overuse. Using the fine control over her magic honed by her constant practice, she removed them and built herself new ones, identical in length, from the scrap around her. When she Extended to them, however, she felt no different than when she had donned the older pair. Lily surmised that her mind and magic had been conditioned to accept that she “possessed metal legs”, and now integrated them on a conceptual rather than physical level. As usual, she had no way to test this. Therefore, she ignored it and accepted it as a convenient blessing.

Eventually, she gained enough confidence in her skill and form to construct a simple target from the scrap around her. She welded together countless pieces of scrap, forming an amalgamate pillar approximately one metre in diameter and two metres in height. She made the base of the target a cone, with radius ten metres and conical height four metres, to keep the target in place. All in all, the target towered over her.

Readying herself, she prepared to execute her kick at full force, then decided against it. She had taken so long to construct the target, it would be a shame if she somehow destroyed it in a single hit. Not that it was at all likely, but… the possibility existed. First, a warmup. She wound up, deciding to put roughly a third of her maximum force into the attack. She pushed lightly against the ground, launching her into the air. Riding the momentum of her jump, she brought her leg backward mid-jump, then lashed out, twisting her body, targeting the area just above the centre of the target. She watched as her leg made contact with the pillar… and completely blew it away. The entire top half broke off from the rest of the pillar and flew into the distance at an amazing speed. Having felt only a small amount of resistance, Lily’s torso completed the rotation, suspending her mid-air, her legs already in position to perform a follow-up kick, which she now had no need for. She landed on the ground softly, cushioning the impact by bending her knees.

She looked at the results of her trial and smiled sheepishly at nobody in particular. She brought her hand up to the back of her head and scratched it. That was a rather unexpected result. If the target she took so long to painstakingly create was destroyed so completely with only a third of her maximum force, it would probably be a futile endeavour to try to make another target.

She walked up to the Supply Kit on the ground and grabbed a packet of hydration fluid. As she reached down, her unkempt, dirty, coarse green hair brushed against her hand, causing her to raise an eyebrow. It seemed that at some point, her close-cropped hair had grown below her waist. She glanced at her metal legs, dull and rusted, and laughed. If anyone were to see her now, would they recognise her?

She grabbed the packet of hydration fluid and looked in the direction of the metal figure she was to face. Drinking deeply, she narrowed her eyes. Her preparations were mostly complete. All she had to do now was face down this enemy which she knew nothing about. She supposed she would have to rely on trial and error.