Clash of Hexennacht:Volume1 Chapter 13
Chapter 13: Battle in the Witches’ Sky
The warm welcome of a Shinto bombardment
Horinouchi felt there were a number of subtleties to this battle.
She was over the sea, about fifteen kilometers south of the Uraga Channel. Her altitude was approximately three thousand meters. The sun was out and clouds formed as the temperature rose in the early morning.
The bottoms of the clouds were flat and she was firing on Hunter below that sea of clouds.
…Everything is going well so far!
Hunter was primarily a close-range fighter. With her stability spell, her attacks were just as powerful in midair.
But the sky had no obstacles and an absolute floor like the surface of the earth. When running, there was a great difference in the behavior of someone actually stepping on the floor and someone setting up an artificial floor with a spell.
On the other hand, Hunter’s spell acted just like a real floor, so she was even more stable than when on the ground itself.
Her movements were rough, but each individual step was accurate.
And Horinouchi was aware of all that as she pursued her.
She repeatedly fired Akerindou from a dozen meters away.
She sealed off her opponent’s movements.
…And then I settle this with my Normal Frame!
That was the best strategy she could think of.
Hunter’s Magino Frame had a powerful cannon, thick armor, and great mobility. But while her Normal Frame still had powerful armor and the close-range pile bunker was dangerous, the secondary cannon that used the same power source was not all that powerful.
And even if she could make quick straight-line dashes through the air, her flight spells were slow.
Horinouchi on the other hand could fire rapidly and powerfully even with her Normal Frame and she had excellent mobility. She would not be outdone in anything but armor strength.
…So I can win this if I don’t let her use her Magino Frame.
But how was she supposed to do that?
She had a reason to be in a hurry.
Hunter had been falling back to the east and attacking whenever Horinouchi drew close.
Horinouchi had hit her a few times with counterattacks.
Her speed would immediately drop and Horinouchi would gain more ground. To prevent Hunter from charging at her, Horinouchi defended herself with projectiles and moved forward once more.
She was wearing Hunter down by repeating that pattern.
But there was some resistance and she did not like how the Suzaku would give a strange cry every time Hunter was hit.
…Does it have to shout “weeeeeeeeird!” like some kind of weird bird? Is this thing really the Suzaku?
She decided to mute it and concentrated on firing, but she was more worried by the fact that her hits did not seem to be affecting Hunter much.
…This is dangerous.
She understood that these hits were heating up the girl’s Phlogiston Heart.
“Has she calculated out the damage from these hits versus her natural divine protection recovery so she knows the exact amount of heating needed to summon her Magino Frame?”
If so, she was in trouble.
A Phlogiston Heart came down to willpower, but the amount of heat was influenced by the quality of one’s emotional excitement.
It was important to have a gap.
Even if one was emotionally excited, it would provide little heating if the emotion came from mere conceit or selfish joy.
It was the struggle against an opponent or the desire to fight despite the damage one had taken that heated up the Phlogiston Heart.
Adversity would heat up the heart.
In that way, even if Hunter was intentionally taking these hits, it would be providing her Phlogiston Heart plenty of heat.
…I may be gaining ground, but I still need to seal off her every movement!
During the battle with Kagami the day before, Hunter had rapidly heated her Phlogiston Heart. She had appeared with her Magino Frame already summoned, but that too had to be the result of some kind of Phlogiston Heart heating technique.
Horinouchi had wished for an official ranker battle because she did not know what that technique was.
An official battle would set any rank changes in stone and prevent her from escaping any possible drop in rank, but it also meant the heat of their Phlogiston Hearts both began within standard ranges.
Hunter had not immediately summoned her Magino Frame in those conditions, so she had to have some trick for rapidly summoning it.
Horinouchi needed to seal that away.
She could not let Hunter escape on the Magino Frame almost immediately and settle this from afar.
But if the girl managed to build up the heat like this, the result would be the same.
She knew she had to hurry, but…
“You’re distracted, Horinouchi!”
She did not care. She continued firing, made sure the other girl could not escape, and circled around her while firing some more.
She hit Hunter again. The pattern remained unchanged.
But Hunter had intentionally taken the blow.
She had done the same to defend several times already. She would use her stability spell to take the blow on the Hedgehog’s armor and fully deflect the attack.
But this was different.
Hunter was blasted diagonally down and to the left.
She made no attempt to hold her ground.
…She switched off the stability spell!?
…You only get one shot at a surprise attack!
First, Hunter heated up her Phlogiston Heart by getting hit while also learning about the attacks from Horinouchi’s Akerindou.
She of course defended, but learning through her body was the fastest way.
So she ended up taking more hits than expected.
The damage could suppress her Phlogiston Heart’s heat, so she used the stability spell to let the damage escape through the Hedgehog. But…
She found it odd that getting hit and letting the damage escape hurt more than absorbing the damage. But after doing that a few times, she learned just what kind of damage it was.
Horinouchi’s attacks were a fusion of penetrative power and a solid impact.
At the moment it hit, the arrow-shaped bullets would act like armor-piercing rounds, but as soon as they dug into the opponent’s armor, they would permeate the inside of the opponent using kinetic energy and reinforcement spells.
With just penetrative power, the arrow might pierce straight out the other side.
With just a solid impact, the arrow might be blocked by the armor.
To achieve both, the power she fired was longer than otherwise necessary.
The tip contained the penetrative power and the back contained the impact power.
That was the true purpose of the arrow shape.
These were not bullets or shells and they were not shaped that way just to follow the shrine maiden theme. They had gained that shape as she sought the perfect form to bring her victory.
“And that’s why she goes all-out on offense instead of defense. This is no laughing matter!”
Horinouchi’s full-power blast was probably the only thing that could compare to the pure power of the swing-by cannon blasts fired by the cannon form of the Hedgehog’s Magino Frame.
The only flaw was the difficulty of maintaining the initial speed. Unlike Hunter’s swing-by method, Horinouchi’s shots did not accelerate or maintain their speed midflight, so Hunter had the advantage at longer ranges.
But even so…
…She can act alone as a gunner with no backup.
Hunter understood what that meant.
This fighting style was meant for the Black Witch.
When the Black Witch descended toward Earth, Horinouchi would fire on and defeat her from the surface.
…Yes, I understand quite well.
Firing on an enemy from a safe location was not the only advantage of long-range attacks.
When one had something to protect behind them, a long-range gunner could defend it all.
Most witches had realized that fact.
But who took part in Hexennacht was determined by the ranker battles, so they had all obtained armor and mobility to achieve victory against other witches. Even the gunners were skilled in close-range attack methods.
If all they had to do was fire on the Black Witch from afar, that would not have been necessary.
But what was this before Hunter’s eyes?
Even if Horinouchi could fly, she had little armor and her only close-range support weapon was an ether sword.
That girl had ranked at #4 with something solely designed to face the Black Witch.
Each and every shot hurt.
But that was exactly why Hunter would push her aside here.
She would defeat Horinouchi to tell her this method was not enough. She would completely crush her and make sure she never looked up again. After all…
“I also have something behind me to protect!”
Hunter had a plan.
She had been using her stability spell whenever she defended or was hit, but she would deactivate it for just one hit.
And she did so.
She received the blow on the Hedgehog, but she did not let the damage escape. She angled the armor linked to her left arm toward the sky and took the blow there.
…Down and to the right!
She was blasted through the air.
It happened suddenly and Horinouchi would be unable to keep up after sensing the resistance of Hunter’s armor each time. Thinking that Horinouchi would have lost sight of her, Hunter looked to the figure up above.
…Here I go!
She rapidly swung her body left and right as she raced upwards through the sky.
The Hedgehog was in its pile bunker form. The attack was nothing compared to the Magino Frame canon, but at close-range, it would break through the enemy’s defense barrier and then destroy the Frame with a solid blow during the reverse permeation that followed. The concept was similar to Horinouchi’s arrows, but…
As she ascended, she saw something there: Horinouchi.
But the girl overhead was not looking down at her.
She was looking up at the heavens.
She was looking up at the yellowish sky of early morning that had not quite grown blue yet.
The moon floated in the center of it.
Horinouchi aimed Akerindou straight up while looking to the moon.
She was positioned to fire on the moon and her power arm’s fingers were on Akerindou’s bowstring.
“Akerindou – Activate Firing Barrier.”
The bowstring rang several times in the sky as if being plucked.
At the same time, a great celestial sphere appeared below the shrine maiden’s feet.
It had taken form by pointing the bow downwards and rotating it several times. It all looked something like an umbrella’s framework and it covered the 180 degrees around the shrine maiden’s feet, but Hunter noticed a certain fact.
An arrow was not being fired from Akerindou’s acceleration pathway with each plucking sound.
And after one more shot, a great sound rang out.
As soon as she spoke those words, all of her actions came to fruition.
Arrows were fired in all 180 degrees from the hemisphere opened below her.
She did not need to find her opponent.
She simply fired a massive number of arrows.
Horinouchi had trouble with surprise attacks.
Part of it had to do with her personality, but even if she had difficulties there, she could not stop her enemies from using them. So she wanted a countermeasure, but her defenses were not quite enough for that.
She had her three-arrow shield and some variations, but the most effective method was offense.
A wall was not enough to convince her enemy they could not get close.
A wall could be taken away.
That left offense.
A barrage was the only option.
She had to fire everywhere at once. She had a few difference variations for that and multiplying her rapid-fire shots was one of those. She had used that type against Kagami the other day because it was effective in a fluid battlefield with an enemy that moved a lot at long-range.
But this was different. This was for when the enemy was making a surprise attack from an unknown location.
As long as she knew the general direction…
…I just have to fire everything in that direction.
If she had the time, she could set it up for all 360 degrees, but it was hard to know how long it would take the enemy to approach and she had seen Hunter jump downwards. Her time limit for constructing the barrier had been until Hunter entered her warning range.
That had given her 180 degrees and she fired that barrage.
“How about that!?”
The arrows of light flew toward the sky and ocean below.
She saw her opponent beyond that light.
Would Hunter evade or defend? Horinouchi would make the finishing blow once she saw which action Hunter took.
She aimed Akerindou downwards and drew the bowstring. The Suzaku was in top form on her shoulder, so she muted it.
She saw Hunter make her move, but it was neither defense nor evasion.
She stood still in midair and she did so horizontally as if to face Horinouchi.
Horinouchi realized what she was doing. The Hedgehog on her left arm was in pile bunker mode and she was preparing to swing it.
She dashed up toward Horinouchi in midair and thrust the Hedgehog out toward her.
Horinouchi could predict what would happen, so she fired without waiting to see.
Hunter was impressed by Horinouchi’s decision.
…She fired again? She really is crazy about offense!
Hunter was currently dealing with the barrage.
She had to hurry. The barrage had yet to spread out much and the arrows had yet to draw out all of their power.
The firing barrier was scattering and some ether light remained.
She slammed the pile bunker in.
The ejected stake was an ether spear. It was fired from the acceleration pathway at the extreme close range of five meters, but its tip could pierce through anything and then strike it with a solid blow.
And since it was made of ether…
…It can permeate the ether barrier and arrows!
The barrier had yet to fully scatter and the arrows had yet to fully expand, so what would happen if she struck now?
“I can detonate them!”
Normally, she would have pulled the spear back, but she did not.
She purged the spear.
A moment later, she supplied a certain technique to the ether spear tip: her stability spell.
The barrier was made to synchronize with a “surface” located elsewhere. Normally that surface was the ground or the swing-by satellite, but here she used…
…This airspace itself!
She created a “surface” by capturing the empty space up ahead in a barrier.
The spear pierced through it and tore into the barrage.
In that instant, the tactile feedback in her left arm felt the fleshy sensation of penetrating that surface.
The spear struck the arrows and the ether light of the barrier binding them together. The arrows and barrier were treated as one and the same.
As a result, her blow permeated every last one of Horinouchi’s arrows.
After a brief moment, everything exploded.
The arrows had yet to spread out, so their power turned to light and scattered in 180 degrees around.
Hunter formed a new ether stake inside the Hedgehog and leaped straight up.
The explosion, the intense noise, and the roar of scattering wind were all left behind as she continued upwards with a single task in mind.
Targeting the enemy came first, but…
…She’s already firing at me!
As soon as she passed through the space taken up by the barrage, she found something right in front of her: Horinouchi’s arrow.
The attack had been drawn to the limit and fired with perfect accuracy.
Horinouchi nocked the next arrow.
She did so on reflex, but it ended up saving her.
She had fired her best shot down toward Hunter.
It had been a perfectly aimed shot from close range and it was the best possible shot using her Normal Frame.
But she knew one thing for sure.
…Someone on my level will find a way to deal with it!
And that was exactly what happened.
Hunter reacted to the arrow that flew straight toward the very center of her chest.
It scored a direct hit, the solid sound of impact rang out, and Hunter’s Normal Frame was destroyed.
Hunter used the Karate-style, so even though her jacket and suit appeared to be made of cloth, they were actually ether. So they all shattered like glass and scattered as fragments of light.
But that was not all.
Ether light burst from the Hedgehog Device’s dividing lines and it exploded.
It broke apart.
But Horinouchi knew that Hunter had previously taken her attacks intentionally to heat up her Phlogiston Heart.
Hunter most likely had a defense spell to allow the damage to escape.
…In that case…
Horinouchi’s arrow was meant to pierce Hunter’s armor and permeate its damage through her.
But what if Hunter had destroyed her own armor just beforehand?
She could see the answer before her.
Hunter’s left hand grabbed something amid the fragments of light.
It was the stake of light that had been loaded inside the Hedgehog.
Its presence meant her Normal Frame had not been fully destroyed. And…
“She’s repairing it!?”
A series of instants followed. Her left arm came first, next was the power arm that connected to the Hedgehog, and then came her left shoulder. The jacket, inner suit, the other arm, and the Hedgehog’s base all appeared at the same time.
Finally, the sensor headwear took its position and reset itself with a spray of light.
“You used your accumulated heat to repair it!?”
“Yeah, that’s right. It’ll delay summoning my Magino Frame, but it was worth it!”
After all, she had reconstructed her Normal Frame from extreme close range.
“I’m close enough to reach you!”
Hunter attacked with a shield bash using the Hedgehog.
The stake inside had yet to fully form, but the attack still reached.
Horinouchi defended, but it was still a solid blow. The clash of metal on metal sounded loudly.
Horinouchi groaned and fell back.
She was fast and it seemed unfair to move that fast when retreating, but complaining would not help. She most likely had that speed because she was using the Suzaku as her servant. This time, it was Hunter’s turn to pursue.
She ran through the air after her enemy.
Arrows flew her way, but they were clearly not meant to hit. They were meant to hold her back long enough for Horinouchi to regain her position. In other words, Horinouchi was not ready for a proper attack.
But Hunter was.
And so she said the same thing she had before.
“You’re distracted, Horinouchi!”
Calm down, Horinouchi told herself.
The battle had turned in Hunter’s favor and Horinouchi had been forced into the kind of defensive battle she had trouble with. Panicking would not help and she could not simply put up with this.
…I need to calm down, stop her, and fight back!
After speaking those words in her heart, she was reminded of where her weaknesses were: close-range battles, defense, and assaults.
If she had the power to handle those things, she could likely win.
But of course, that was impossible. After all, she was not perfect. …But if I had an attacker to work with me…
She knew who that would be, but…
I’m asking for the impossible, she told herself while attempting to maintain her rhythm of evasion and retreat. By moving at her own pace, she could draw her opponent’s movements into that pace and draw the battlefield toward herself.
She had to win here. After all…
“I’ve already received some help.”
The spell circle next to her face contained a certain report.
Koutarou had sent it and it came from Kagami.
Koutarou had given it to her the night before after picking Kagami up. At first glance, it was the same as the battle opponent report put together by Koutarou and the maids, but the contents were different.
It did not simply inform her of the opponent’s combat ability. It contained the reality of fighting against that opponent. In other words, the opponent’s movements, reaction speed, ether consumption rate, and idiosyncrasies.
“What is this?”
She had been surprised by the detailed information the night before and Koutarou had bowed and said the following:
“I am embarrassed to admit we were not the ones to produce this report.”
“Then who did?”
Without raising his head, he had placed a hand on his chest.
“Before the battle, Lady Kagami asked me to record this information.”
“She said it would come in handy when you fought Lady Hunter.”
Koutarou’s immediate answer had likely been Kagami’s immediate answer.
In the battle so far and in the current defensive battle, Kagami’s information had come in handy.
Horinouchi managed to catch her breath and swung her legs in midair to stabilize her movements. Hunter’s attack was coming, but…
…This is my chance!
Hunter used the heat of her Phlogiston Heart to remake her Normal Frame, thought Horinouchi.
The girl had been building up the heat needed to construct her Magino Frame, so the amount consumed to redo her Normal Frame would not buy Horinouchi much time.
But, she thought. She can’t summon her Magino Frame just yet.
So if Horinouchi shifted to offense here…
…I didn’t waste any ether, so I will be able to summon my Magino Frame first!
Their positions were reversed.
Hunter’s only option was to attack.
But Horinouchi did not have the defenses needed to fight a defensive battle when that girl was on the attack.
So it all came down to how she fought. Could she endure Hunter’s attacks long enough to summon her Magino Frame?
If she made the wrong move, Hunter could build up her heat again and summon her Magino Frame first.
“It all comes down to this!”
Just as Horinouchi made up her mind, Hunter charged right in front of her. Light was already building up inside the Hedgehog.
That light created an ether stake.
The other girl was also ready to end this here.
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