Clash of Hexennacht:Volume2 Chapter 3
Chapter 3: When the Current of the World…
Gathers in the world, the world begins
The second term began.
Quite a bit of summer heat remained and the clouds were still sparse in the sky yet had not taken their scattered form for autumn. Those white clouds formed a barrier as they welled up from below and cut into the wind, but the faint shape of the white moon could be seen in the blue sky beyond them.
One could look up at that moon from two kinds of places.
The first was a wide-open place.
The second was a tall place.
One spot had both: Tokyo Bay.
A facility covered a wide area on an artificial island built in the center of that bay.
It was a school. A high school. The buildings in the four cardinal directions were school buildings for the different division and their dorms. The name on the sign was Shihouin Academy.
A two-story dining hall was located to the northwest of the campus.
It was a glass-sided building, but someone was looking up into the midday moon from the terrace on the roof.
Tables and chairs were prepared across the terrace and three people sat at one of the central tables. The students at the other tables a short distance away were giving them curious looks.
“What did you do this time, Horinouchi?”
“I-it wasn’t me. I’m betting this is about Hunter returning on a fighter jet last night.”
“Everyone knows I always do that, so it wouldn’t gather any attention. Maybe Kagami is still standing out a little.”
“No, I am a perfectly normal person who cannot even use much magic. …So what did you do this time, Horinouchi?”
“I already said I didn’t do anything. Stop pushing on that topic.”
Hunter was the one to hold out her palms and tell them to calm down. Then she looked around.
“I bet I know what it is. The Rank 4 and some strange girl clashed just before summer break. Then they formed a buddy group, challenged the #3 and took her place. And after summer break, all three of them are eating lunch together. How could that not gather attention?” Hunter looked to the other two. “How is the General Division viewing this?”
That’s a good question, thought Horinouchi.
The sunshine was a little bright, so she placed a large sunblock spell overhead and lightly spun it around to shade the three of them like a parasol.
“Kagami has been telling the story and exaggerating to make things more exciting, so everyone’s kind of accepted it in a weird way.”
“Remember how she pursued you after you vanished off of the American coast?”
“Oh, yeah. So they’ve all been exposed to the insane story of a crazy person shooting another crazy person who used the power of that shot to accelerate?”
“Yes, but in the version of the story spreading through the General Division, a pod of dolphins told Kagami which way you had gone.”
Horinouchi could only nod, but Kagami turned toward them, looking taken aback.
“You have that all wrong, Horinouchi. …There was a pure white dolphin in the middle of the pod!!”
“Are you sure you weren’t hallucinating!?”
“Ha ha ha. I do not know if they are all very trusting or if they just like getting worked up over that kind of thing, but I appreciate it.”
But that was not all.
“I’ll omit most of it, but in the version of the story going around, your karate uniform tore when you were defeated. And after we reconciled our differences, you shouted ‘Ahh, you can see my skin! How shameful!’, so Kagami lent you her coat.”
“Don’t drag me into it! I’m not that kind of character!”
“Come to think of it, how does the Special Equipment Division view that Ranker battle?”
“Eh?” said Hunter as she looked up into the sky and seemed to stare at something.
“You don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to.”
“It’s not that. You know how there’s always room for improvements with machines, right? Well, no one wants to deal with complaints, but if there’s an improvement you can make, you want to do it, right?”
“So you’ve all gathered together to improve your equipment?”
“Everyone kept showing up asking about when I lost, so it was kind of discouraging. But I gradually managed to calm down some and figured out what I’d done wrong.”
Yes, I suppose Hunter was the victim this time, thought Horinouchi as she took a sip of the iced tea on the table.
And there was something else she needed to ask now.
“The second term has begun and Hexennacht is coming up at the end of October, so I’d like to move on to the next Ranker battle soon.”
“Indeed,” said Kagami. “Even if the battle with the Black Witch is not until the end of October, we still have to work with and cooperate with the other organizations preparing for that battle. Each nation needs to be preparing for both the possibility of winning Hexennacht and the possibility of losing it. We only have our battles with the Rank 2 and Rank 1 left, but if we do not settle that this month or early next month, we might be stopped by interference from elsewhere.”
“I think the headmaster will announce the end of the Ranker battles around the end of September. If we knew the exact date now, some people would probably begin fighting more fiercely as it approached, but the headmaster wants to see our skill during normal conditions.”
“Have any lower ranked challengers come to you, Hunter?”
“Oh, one from the Special Equipment Division did, but we settled that inside our building the night before last.”
“That was fast.”
“Well, yeah.” Hunter smiled bitterly. “It was really more of a test for my Hedgehog now that it’s been fixed. I couldn’t summon the Magino Frame since we did it indoors, but I smashed up the hallway and classroom pretty bad. But now that they know I’m still a force to be reckoned with, I doubt any others will try to push their way up any time soon. More importantly…”
Hunter looked at both Horinouchi and Kagami before looking to the witches surrounding them at a distance.
“If you two move up to Rank 2, I’ll have an easier time dealing with the lower ranked witches. I’ll be able to work with the former Rank 2 to act as a shield.”
Horinouchi was briefly confused by Hunter’s words.
“Why are you willing to go that far?”
“To be blunt, we do not mind at all if you want a rematch.”
Hunter kept her eyes on their surroundings and reached for her glass on the table.
“With a Frame on the Hedgehog’s scale, the damage from a single battle can take a lot of time to repair.”
“I didn’t expect to have it completely destroyed in the battle against you two. If I fought you again now, I wouldn’t have enough time left to take on the Rank 2 and 1 afterwards.”
“Do you regret fighting us?” asked Kagami.
“You’re the ones that challenged me, aren’t you? I tried to crush Kagami first in a preemptive strike, and I still think that was the right decision. If the two of you had taken the fight to me, it would have been like starting from the situation off of Brazil in our second battle. My odds of victory would’ve been even lower then.”
Now that the girl mentioned it, Horinouchi had a feeling that was indeed how it would have turned out.
“So,” said Hunter with an exasperated glare. “My advantage had completely evaporated once you two met up off of Brazil.”
“You sound like you have something to say.”
“Normally, people don’t just recover from damage and injuries like that.”
“Well, that is just how excellent my Dikaio is.”
Kagami produced the dragon child from a spell circle. It had no idea what was going on and simply looked around worriedly. Meanwhile, Suzaku appeared on Horinouchi’s shoulder and began performing shadow Muay Thai as if to threaten the other servant, so was it really a divine beast?
Hunter leaned back in her seat as if to say “anyway”.
“So you’re going to challenge the #2, right?”
“We have no other choice.”
“I see,” said Hunter, so Horinouchi asked her something.
“Do you know something about the #2?”
“Well,” said Hunter as she looked up into the sky. “Can I order something?”
“We still have fifth period, so try to avoid anything that will get your hands dirty.”
“A rib sandwich it is, then.”
“You really do like meat, don’t you?”
Hunter ignored Horinouchi while linking a spell circle to the dining hall application and placing an order.
…Oh, they have their seasonal menu out. Chestnuts, hm? No, thanks. I’m trying to fill my stomach here.
“Umm, does anyone want a dessert?”
“I’ll take whatever you’re having.”
“That’ll be a fried pork tenderloin sandwich.”
“How is that a dessert!?”
“It’s a secondary meat.”
She confirmed the order. The bill was transmitted to her spell circle, so she passed it over to Kagami while getting back on topic.
“The #2 is a foreigner from some other country.”
“You’re a foreigner too, aren’t you?”
“Oh, well, yes.”
…If she’s not from the US either, then she’s a foreigner to me too!
It was a mystery whether Shinto people just viewed everything from a Japanese perspective or if Horinouchi was viewing her as one of her own.
However, Hunter did not understand everything about this either.
“The thing about the #2 witch is…she’s an absolute single.”
“I’ve heard that too,” agreed Horinouchi.
…Then I guess Kagami is the only one who doesn’t know anything.
She decided to think of this exchange of information as being for Kagami’s sake. For Horinouchi, this would only be supplementing her information. In that case, thought Hunter, but then Kagami asked a question.
“What do you mean by an absolute single?”
“She isn’t supported by a nation like I am, but she fights using a vast pool of spell power. I guess you could call it the ultra-orthodox route.”
“What do we know about her abilities?” asked Kagami.
Hunter looked to Horinouchi. However…
The shrine maiden shook her head.
There was a reason that response made sense to Hunter.
“I don’t know that much either. Barely anything is known about the #2.”
“What do you mean?”
“For example, how much information did you have on my Hedgehog, Horinouchi?”
Horinouchi trailed off, but finally continued.
“That it was supported by the US military, that it had extremely thick armor, and that it had a sharpshooting ability rivaling my own. I also knew you used American karate. …I think that covers it.”
“High Rankers didn’t end up in their position because they lost to someone. The position is usually decided by their grades up to that point. That’s why high Rankers generally don’t know much about each other’s abilities. And the witches that lose to them don’t reveal much information about them.”
“So they can be the ones to defeat them in a rematch?”
“That’s right.” Hunter simply nodded. “If they leak the information, the witch that’s risen above them will receive a concentrated attack from the other witches and be defeated. However, that won’t increase their own rank. They lost to that higher Ranker, so they’re stuck below them. And since the witch who does defeat them will move up, their rank will even drop.”
“That is why witches like to fight where no one can see them and why they don’t like revealing what happened in those battles.”
“That made the barrage of questioning to improve my Hedgehog all the more painful,” said Hunter. “Oh, and revealing my information acts as a show of force for America, so mine is actually pretty well known. Horinouchi, you don’t hide much of yours either, do you?”
“To rise within the General Division and for my duties as student council president, I have to remain more diplomatic. Also, I personally find it to be unfair, so I dislike hiding things.”
“Actually, would there be any point in hiding your information?”
“What do you mean?”
When she was asked that, Hunter could only turn to Kagami who turned to face her as well.
“Hunter, as someone who has experienced it firsthand, it is your duty to tell her.”
She decided she might as well.
“When all you do is attack, attack, attack, there’s no point in hiding anything.”
“Yes, Manko has a lot of brute strength.”
“I-I have decent speed too, you know!?”
“Isn’t that more thanks to that strange creature on your shoulder?”
“Since the Suzaku guarantees her speed, she probably focuses entirely on attack,” added Kagami.
“W-what does it matter? And it’s fine if everyone knows by this point.”
Horinouchi then asked a question.
“Um, in that case, what about the #1? Do you know anything, Hunter?”
She was skipping past the #2 to the #1.
Hunter thought the girl was getting ahead of herself, but she could answer this one. After all…
“I don’t know a thing.”
Yes. She did not know anything and that was why she could answer.
“All of the previous #2 witches dropped in the ranks after losing to her and she’s been in that top spot for ten years now. Everyone who loses to her won’t say a word about her identity. From what I’ve heard, the current #2 got the spot due to her grades after the previous one dropped down.”
“So this one is a secret too?”
“Well, according to the rumors I’ve heard, she hides her face behind a mask and is completely overwhelming.”
Those three and all the witches around them exchanged a glance at that one.
They seemed to be searching among themselves and their gazes finally stopped on a witch from Polynesia who was wearing a giant witch doctor mask.
She quickly began waving her hands back and forth.
“No, I’m from the General Division.”
“Oh, yeah. That’s right!”
“And the witch doctor shaman style is slow to get started, so there aren’t any in the top Rankers, right?”
“Is it true you don’t wear any clothes back home!?”
Their excitement showed the amazing depth and breadth of the world of witches.
At any rate, the #1 did not seem to be here.
…She’s the top of the Honors Division and the Honors Division itself is pretty much a giant secret itself.
It was for the specialized people who could call themselves witches based on their individual power without being tied down to an existing style of witch.
Due to their specialization, they were incredibly powerful against anyone who had never seen them before. But information on those techniques would leak out after a few battles.
Once that happened, a group countermeasure would be more powerful. Due to their specialization, their system was theirs alone. Since they would have to take on that group countermeasure on their own, they statistically tended to lose any rematches.
However, one of them had held onto the top position for a very long time. And…
“I’ve heard no one has ever challenged the #1 to a rematch.”
“So they’re all that utterly defeated?”
“I don’t know, but those are the facts. …And the US has decided that’s one thing that has guided the previous generation of witches to retire over the past ten years. In other words…”
Kagami took over from there.
“For the past ten years, some witches who have graduated as students continue on as Rankers, but one thing that leads them to retire as Rankers is to challenge the #1? Is that what you are saying? So the #1 tells them through defeat that they should retire, even though they have reached the peak of their skills?” asked Kagami. “Then we should sense danger in facing this #1.”
Just as Hunter began to respond, she swallowed the words.
Before she could think “dangerous”, her left forearm shot up.
Kagami saw a shield.
It was a five meter Normal Device and it was a shape she had seen a lot recently.
However, Hunter was looking to the terrace’s entrance while blocking Kagami’s view with the Hedgehog.
She was likely protecting her from something there, but…
“Hunter, what is-…?”
“Don’t try to peek!”
Hunter scolded her. Wondering what was going on, she looked to Horinouchi.
“Kagami, can you sense things using ether?”
“Just to make sure, you have not forgotten where I am from, have you? It is a peaceful world where talking about ether will only get you blank stares in return. No one suddenly shouts ‘Killer intent…!?’ in the middle of the city before moving back three meters.”
“W-well sorry for being weird, but that’s what’s happening here!”
“Oh, that is wonderful, Hunter. Now, whose killer intent is it? And I probably should not ask something like this out of curiosity, but what does killer intent feel like? Is it a tickling on the back of your neck? Does your vision grow distorted? Do you hear a strange musical note? Oops, I asked out of curiosity anyway. …So what exactly are you doing?”
“Kagami… Hunter isn’t doing this because she’s sick in the head. She’s trying to be nice.”
“Th-that kind of help hurts most of all!” shouted Hunter.
Hunter looked past the shield.
The other witches were also looking beyond the Hedgehog.
That seemed to be why she lifted up the shield.
She had not summoned her Form and the movement of her left arm raised the shield pile so its muzzle pointed straight forward.
Kagami looked forward with the Hedgehog raised overhead like an umbrella.
She heard the other witches speaking behind her.
“It’s really her…”
In that case, the person facing them was probably quite well known.
“I am a third year in the Spell Division as well as the Rank 2.”
The voice from directly ahead was more dignified than calm.
“I am Mary Sue.”
Horinouchi recognized the girl.
…Black and white.
Her clothing was almost entirely black. She wore a black summer sweater over her uniform instead of the standard coat and her skirt was black too. The socks that rose to the top of her thighs were black with defensive emblems woven in. She wore gloves even though it was summer and they too were black.
…That makes the white of her hair stand out even more.
She was tall and the black outfit made her look all the sharper for it.
“You know who she is, Horinouchi!?” asked Kagami.
At that moment, someone else stepped up to the side of the table. They had come from the dining hall with a rib sandwich and two fried pork tenderloin sandwiches and they served the plates from a tray.
“She is Lady Mary Sue, the Spell Division’s ace who is also known as ‘The Hitman’.”
“Koutarou!? When did you show up!?”
Koutarou bowed and began providing them with fresh iced teas.
“I am holding negotiations with this dining hall.”
Do you mean you’re working part-time? she wondered, but she left it unsaid.
“I would expect no less from you, Koutarou,” said Kagami while accepting her new glass. “Now, about that girl…”
Kagami indicated the girl named Mary who was standing with her heels together. She was clearly facing Horinouchi, but she bowed without looking her in the eye.
“Miss Horinouchi,” she said in her dignified voice. “Congratulations on your promotion to Rank 3. As you now have the right to challenge me, I will go ahead and designate you in advance.”
Horinouchi moved her heels a little forward and placed them on the floor so she could move at any time.
Hunter also lowered her hips down in her chair.
Kagami calmly drank her tea, but that was just the kind of person she was.
“You want to…fight us?”
“It would seem so,” said Kagami. “Such a strange person, picking a fight with someone ranked lower than her.”
“Kagami, sometimes people just feel like doing something crazy like that.”
“Hold it, you two.”
“I see, Horinouchi. I suppose people cannot always make rational decisions with Hexennacht so close.”
“If you’ve got something to say to me, at least face me.”
“How about I order you a teriyaki burger, Hunter?”
“All is forgiven.”
That seemed to be how that worked.
Horinouchi had said “us” as a test, but she could not see Mary’s expression since the girl’s head was still bowed. In fact, Horinouchi started feeling bad for chatting like that while the girl kept her head lowered.
But then she heard a voice.
It was Mary’s.
“There is something I would like to do before fighting the #1.”
There was no change in her tone of voice as she spoke toward the floor.
Before Horinouchi could ask her question, Mary raised her head.
She had a slight smile on her lips.
Her short hair was briefly lifted toward the sky and ether light scattered around her.
She most likely had a defensive or bodily reinforcement divine protection active at all times.
However, Mary lowered her head for another bow.
She did not intend to answer Horinouchi’s question.
She turned around and the surrounding witches opened a path.
…That was well done.
Horinouchi thought on Mary’s behavior and the movements of the surrounding witches.
…She understands her position.
She was Rank 2. If anyone challenged her and won, they would gain that position.
Even if it was forceful, would anyone really overlook that opportunity with Hexennacht so close? But…
“To be a witch truly is to be a technician and witches themselves are the result of that work.”
The leaving girl was already a fair distance away. Kagami spoke while observing Mary’s steady but not swift pace.
“When seeing a glass and its quality, no one can help but imagine how it was made. And no one will think of pouring an unbefitting drink into it. Such excellent pride.”
“Well said,” said Hunter as she let the Hedgehog disperse.
The amount of ether light left behind was far more than one would have imagined from its original size, so the surrounding witches responded in surprise.
“So? What’re you going to do?”
A Ranker battle was exactly what they wanted, but…
“Can you look into her abilities and history, Koutarou?”
“Yes, I can do as much as I can, milady.”
“Did you look into me like that, Horinouchi?”
“You attacked us before we could.”
“Do not forget that I was the one that defended against that.”
Why did Kagami feel the need to assert herself there? But…
“So what would you have done if you had looked into me?”
As Horinouchi thought, she saw Hunter and Kagami whispering to each other.
“What are you saying, Hunter? She would end up shooting like crazy either way.”
“Yeah, is there any point in her looking into anything?”
“H-hold it! Don’t treat me like I’m a human cannon!”
Then again, that is what happened off the coast of Brazil.
Koutarou was in a bit of a hurry after that.
When a higher Ranker challenged a lower Ranker to a Ranker battle, the lower ranked one could not refuse. If Mary Sue challenged them, they would have to respond no matter when or where it was.
So if possible, he wanted to have some amount of information by the end of school that day. After all, it was possible Mary Sue would attack them on the way back from school.
But Mary was from the Spell Division.
Since ancient times, most witches were made to take classes in that division.
They were “made to” because those who did not already have the techniques would still have to learn the ancient witch techniques there. Students from other division would go there for special lessons and many people learned in the library and classrooms there.
…The Spell Division would have been the standard route for Lady Mitsuru when joining the school.
After all, she was the representative of Japanese Shinto. That made her a representative of an entire faction of witches.
However, he knew why Horinouchi had chosen the General Division.
Her mother Mitsuyo had gone to Shihouin Academy and had been in the General Division. Of course, Japan had not had a school that specialized in facing Hexennacht back then.
However, her mother had competed with the other witches there who had been formidable foes indeed and she had gained trustworthy comrades there. In that way, joining the General Division was something of a “jinx” for Horinouchi.
Cerisier, the headmaster and one of the Three Sages, had allowed it.
And now she had comrades in Kagami and Hunter, so she was doing quite well. However…
Koutarou knew a way of acquiring the necessary information on short notice.
Information had a way of gathering where witches gathered. So…
“Horinouchi Maid Squad, please give me the information I need to help Lady Mitsuru!!”
…This prostration is quite cool, everyone.
In the Head Maid’s opinion, the Horinouchi Maid Squad could rival an army.
After all, about five percent of the witches that graduated Shihouin Academy and retired as Rankers ended up there. Most of them joined because “going home would be a pain”, but they most likely had a different real reason.
The Horinouchi Family contained one of the Three Sages, it was the Shinto representative, the daughter of the family was quite skilled, and…
“Probably the biggest reason is that we do not ask about their past as far as battles are concerned.”
The Horinouchi mansion was a three-story building on a hill in the center of a nature park in Shinagawa. Tokyo Bay and Shihouin Academy could be seen from there and it was the Horinouchi family’s base.
Currently, someone was prostrating in front of the maids cleaning the central entrance hall.
It was the Head Butler.
His combat abilities were honestly quite low, but more importantly…
“I will commend your dedication to serving Lady Mitsuru. As well as your recognition that, as a whole, we are the best for this job.”
“Can’t you go one step further!?”
“But this concerns our past battles.”
“Yes,” said a voice from the hall’s staircase. A maid there held a long feather duster. She sat on the railing and looked down at the others.
“I believe she is the one I had a Ranker battle with last year. I think that was when she moved up into the top fifty. I retired afterwards, though.”
“Be quiet. We need a little more before we can give him our information.”
A single glance and the maid moved back.
The prostrating head was sinking into the carpet in front of the Head Maid. It was an excellent prostration.
And she did understand why he was in such a hurry.
“Listen. We complete our daily work and have many feelings for Lady Mitsuru, but we simply wish to be involved in Hexennacht, Head Butler. If we are to step up onto the stage, it will be on Hexennacht. We will fill the gaps in the battlefield that U.A.H. cannot fill and we will make sure this land Lady Mitsuyo protected will be passed onto the next generation. Our pasts are only to be used to support Lady Mitsuru. Besides,” she said. “What would you do if we told you about the #2 now?”
“I would be able to provide commentary for Lady Mitsuru!”
“That is not enough.” The Head Maid kneeled down and spoke down toward the Head Butler. “You must pass the information onto her so she understands it herself. We do not want to hear you providing commentary. It is when Lady Mitsuru provides commentary that we can exclaim, ‘Well done, milady!’ If it is to that end, then we will provide you with the information.”
…I sure ate a lot at lunch.
Hunter heard the afterschool bell as she left the Special Equipment Division building and made her way to another building: the General Division dorm.
After what had happened at lunch, they had arranged to hold a strategy meeting.
The Special Equipment Division building was on Shihouin Academy’s west side and the General Division dorm was on the southeast side.
“It’d be faster to cut through the courtyard.”
With that decided, she rushed along.
She saw the General Division dorm a lot. It was located near the school’s main gate on the south and she often saw it as a “pretty building” when returning by air as she was wont to do.
The Special Equipment Division dorm was simple and sturdy for a dorm and its exterior looked a lot like a factory, so the Special Equipment Division students often commented on the design of the overhanging upper floors of the General Division dorm.
Then again, they were usually dangerous comments along the lines of, “I bet the whole thing would come crumbling down if I destroyed that part”. Still, it was fun getting to actually go inside it. It’s all about having connections, she thought as she cut through the forested courtyard and to the central pathway.
She decided to follow that to the southern loop, but…
She spotted a familiar face to the north which was on her left.
It was someone she felt like she had only just met.
A tall figure in black stood on the courtyard’s central pathway.
“Mary Sue, do you need me for something?”
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