Clash of Hexennacht:Volume3 Prologue
Fortune is not on the side of the faint-hearted
—Sophocles of Athens
Prologue: Place of Waiting
No matter how distant they are
Their coordinates will coincide
Like the long hand and short hand
At Shihouin Academy, the second term midterms were beginning.
When Hunter stepped into the dining hall at lunchtime, it was relatively uncrowded.
Everyone was holding exam strategy meetings in the classrooms. The dining hall was located away from all of the divisions, so there was no reason to hold their meetings there. The only people there had already resigned themselves to their fate or had confidence in their success.
Hunter fell into the latter category. After all…
“The upper Rankers are exempt from the exams.”
Being an upper Ranker sure is great, thought Hunter.
Even after dropping a Rank, she was still in the single digits. She could generally choose not to take the exams, which meant her other records came into focus. All that really meant was she had to have a meeting with her teacher if her attendance was too poor.
Shihouin Academy tended to accommodate the students like that.
A witch’s schedule was mostly determined by the organization she belonged to, so some could not do anything during the day and others were restricted to lucky days. Some had magic eyes that prevented them from looking at or even in the general direction of a member of an opposing organization in their class, so it was hard gathering everyone in one place.
During the exam period, all of them stayed in the classroom, but Hunter confidently showed up in the dining hall.
“I’d starve if I didn’t.”
Some were strong enough to survive off of the dorm’s shop or off of water and mist alone, but this was the only place that cooked food to avoid different witches’ taboos and had a store selling a wide variety of specialized catalysts and school supplies.
At the meal ticket vending machine guarded by partitions and elsewhere, there were posters saying “No Ranker Battles in the Dining Hall”.
This was a den of witches.
The ones making the food “in order to help out the younger witches” were powerful individuals with longer histories than the teachers. Some had fought not in the Hexennacht ten years before but the ones twenty or thirty years before.
However, the ban on Ranker battles only applied inside. The outside was a different matter.
…Kagami and Horinouchi must have really wanted a fight since they know that and are still eating up on the terrace.
That said that they were willing to take on whoever wanted to fight, but that they also wanted to eat. The latter half seemed to hold the greater conviction. And according to one of Horinouchi’s maids…
“Lady Mitsuru likes to lure in her targets!”
Hunter was not entirely sure what that was in reference to, but she got the idea it meant the girl was a real sniper.
Today was the same. Kagami and Horinouchi were eating on the terrace above. Hunter had been delayed cleaning up her equipment, so she was showing up late. She really should have been buying some sweet bread at the Special Equipment Division building’s store and heading back to review the current lesson or exchange information on the exams with her friends.
…But, well, I’m exempt from the exams.
Let’s take this easy, she thought while ordering the “Conqueror of Land and Sea Meal” which was a pork cutlet burger and a fish burger.
“If that’s all you eat, you won’t get the necessary nutrients,” said the old cook lady beyond the counter. “You need to eat more meat!”
That seemed ridiculous, but she was served the tray regardless.
…Come to think of it, she might be telling me to order the “Conqueror of Land, Sea, and Air Meal” that comes with a chicken burger too.
But chickens don’t fly, so how is that “air”?
She spotted a familiar face wearing glasses and reading the textbook opened on the table.
It was Mary.
…Eh? What’s she doing?
Hunter initially found this strange.
After all, the upper Rankers were exempt from the exams.
But Mary was very clearly studying and reviewing the material in a textbook.
Odd. Why would she need to do that?
Something else also seemed off, but she focused on the one mystery for now.
Then Mary suddenly spoke.
At first, Hunter had no idea what she had said.
But eventually, it hit her.
…Oh, that’s me!
She referred to people by their rank, but that may have been due to being in the military in her original world.
She even referred to Kagami as “Brigadier General”. So Hunter decided to do the same.
“What is it, Rank 3?”
Mary pushed up her glasses and sighed. She did not even bother looking at Hunter.
“You are keeping me from my studies. Please leave.”
…Is she picking a fight with me!?
As soon as she thought that, she saw the cooks beyond the counter each pulling out a knife or plate they had no real need for.
Oh, no. I just about turned this into a danger zone. But she still had a question.
“…What are you doing?”
“You can’t tell?” asked Mary without stopping. “I am writing in order to study. …I would have thought even you were familiar with the concept and meaning of writing.”
Hunter was pretty sure anyone who heard that would have tackled the girl to the ground.
But she decided to grow stubborn.
“Y’know… This school is pretty lax when it comes to exams and classes.”
She said it.
“Are you so stupid you can’t keep up without studying?”
…Is she picking a fight with me!?
Studying like this was necessary for Mary. She viewed it as her duty and task as a student. Thus…
“Just so you know, I was third in my year during last term’s finals.”
“Oh? That’s pretty high.”
“Heh. …And where did you fall?”
“I was #1 on the practical exam.”
Mary belatedly realized she had been led right into that one.
“Hmm,” said the #4. “So what are you doing, Miss Third-in-Her-Class?”
Now you’ve done it, she thought with a stir in her heart. But then she heard the cooks in the kitchen switching off their fryers and stoves. They were preparing for battle.
Oops. This is the facility that provides most of my food. The Spell Division store seems permanently covered in the smell of herbs, so I might really be stuck with three canned drinks a day if I cause any trouble here.
Calm down, Mary Sue. You are living here to protect this world. Not to destroy the dining hall with an indigenous monkey.
…Besides, I can prove my point with my results.
So instead of responding to the girl’s provocation, she answered her question.
“I am studying for the midterms and reviewing the material from class.”
“The upper Rankers are exempt from the exams, you know?”
“Just because we are exempt does not mean we can grow reliant on that. We are students.”
The dining hall fell silent.
After a while, the #4, those in kitchen, and the other students began to applaud.
Faced with this sudden focus, she blushed, stood up, and bowed in all four directions.
Once they started to stop, she sat down and the expressionless #4 spoke to her.
“But the upper Rankers are given that exemption because we’ve diverted our efforts elsewhere and shown real results in doing so. You have a point about being students, but are you sure you’re acknowledging what you’ve accomplished?”
“I want to do this. I dropped a Rank. …That means my skill was insufficient and I must make up for that deficiency. That is what this is.”
“Then,” said the #4. “Kagami and Horinouchi are up above, but do they not need to study?”
Mary could only nod.
“They are stronger than me, so they likely operate under a different logic. And after losing to them, I have no right to criticize them.”
Hunter was honestly creeped out.
…She has issues… She defines her world through Kagami and Horinouchi…
But Mary was here rather than with the source of that definition. Hunter decided to ask why that was.
“Why not go up and eat with them?”
“Sit at the same table as those two? I wouldn’t dare!”
…Hey… Can we maybe talk like normal human beings?
However, Hunter decided this was probably a type of religion. And Horinouchi was a shrine maiden.
But she kept some hope in her heart and continued speaking.
“C’mon, they’re just normal people. …If you ignore their attack power and insanity.”
“You would mock those who defeated you…? That says a lot about you.”
“Yeah, this is saying a lot about you too and it’s honestly weirding me out…”
Mary sighed and relaxed her shoulders. She may have mistaken what Hunter had said. If she had taken that as a compliment, she may have had a handy ability to mentally explain away any insults people threw her way.
But Hunter still had a slight question.
“Hey, about the table you chose…”
Normally, people chose a seat toward the center of the dining hall. By the windows, they could be “traced” or “seen” by a remote-style witch. By the counter, they could end up in trouble with the witches waiting for their food.
So the center was the safest place, and yet…
“Why are you by the window?”
“Heh. You don’t understand? Because my mission has already begun.”
Hunter had kind of expected this, so she opened a communication spell circle. She tapped a recorded number and the call was answered almost immediately.
“It is I, but who is this? Oh, let me guess… Yes, this must be the manager of the ramen shop Ice Cold in Sakuragichou’s third block. I must apologize for scooping out all of the garlic, but you used so very much of it!”
“No, you idiot. Um, Kagami? Where are you sitting right now?”
“On the south edge by the stairs. Is something the matter?”
Hunter looked up to the ceiling and saw the bottom of the external staircase.
Finally, she stared expressionlessly up at the ceiling and spoke.
“You have a stalker down here, so could you try moving to another spot?”
Fifteen seconds later, Hunter saw Mary silently move her chair two tables over.
…How can she see that!?
Oh, now that I think about it, she stays in her Magino state at all times. I guess sensing a target’s ether would be pretty easy.
As Mary resumed studying as if nothing had happened, Hunter asked a question while thinking, I’m being a pretty good sport about this, aren’t I?
“Why are you sitting below them?”
“If a lower Ranker picks a fight with them, I will cut in from below. …You couldn’t tell?”
“Yeah, sorry, but no, I couldn’t.”
That would mean jumping past Hunter to pick a fight, so she did actually sort of understand why Mary wanted to be a breakwater. She had been planning to do the same thing herself. However…
“You’ve really accepted Horinouchi, haven’t you?”
Mary felt a faint heat in her heart at the mention of Horinouchi.
That was the girl that Kagami, her brigadier general and teacher, had accepted as a partner.
Mary had honestly not paid any attention to Horinouchi before it had come to their Ranker battle. No, she had known the girl was a possible opponent, but she had underestimated Shinto shooting spells because her brain had been so inundated with thoughts about her brigadier general.
But the reality had been different.
According to the battle records, her brigadier general had stuck to being a tank and an attacker who kept Mary from attacking. Each of the battle’s turning points had begun and ended with Horinouchi.
The most frightening of those was her overall ability that could be summed up with the word “shooting”.
“I have no choice but to accept her.”
“Is it normal for shots fired from the South Pole to hit me in Tokyo?”
The #4 silently hung her head in what could only be a sign of wholehearted agreement.
“Yeah…” said the #4.
It was unusual for her to agree with Mary. This of course brought Mary no joy, but she did say more just to confirm this with herself.
“There is more.”
“Very well.” Mary voiced her recollection of that past battle. “The three shots she fired from the South Pole were effectively simultaneous. But high power shells will normally interfere with and deflect each other when they are that close.”
“She probably expected that and added in some spell processing. …Even my Hedgehog is restricted from firing two shells at once because of the interference seen during experiments.”
“Come to think of it, one of Horinouchi’s shots negated your cannon, didn’t it?”
“Yeah. Yeah, it did,” confirmed the #4. “I thought the one I fired to the ocean off of Brazil had missed, but if it had, there wouldn’t have been a pillar of water like that. …No one could have imagined it, but that was a counter hit.”
But thinking back, that was completely insane.
“Just because you have data on the level of a surveillance satellite doesn’t mean you should counter an ultra-high speed shell.”
“She is a frightening person,” said Mary. “After all, a complete focus on attack power with only the bare minimum of defense applies to my Ira as well.”
“Come to think of it, that’s true. …Although Horinouchi has superb mobility on a fundamental level thanks to having the Suzaku for a servant.”
“That’s true,” agreed Mary.
She then stopped writing and clasped her hands as if in prayer.
“But…can I ask you something?”
“Sure. What is it?”
Mary paused for a breath before speaking.
“I can abandon defense power and focus on attack power because of my annihilation spell. It normally requires some kind of powerful spell like that. Either that or strengthening your spells with a backup organization like you do. …So why does she use her own primitive physical shells?”
When she heard that, the #4 covered her face with her hands and bent her entire body backwards.
Horinouchi saw a communication spell open next to her face.
She checked it to find it was from Hunter. She had no reason not to answer, so she approved the connection.
“What is it, Hunter? Are you short on money?”
“Oh, sorry. I haven’t paid you back for that yakiniku, have I?”
“Oh, I used student council money for that, so don’t worry about it. That said, I will not take responsibility for you getting drunk and using your pile bunker to turn the skirt on the headmaster’s statue into a miniskirt.”
“Wait! That was me!? And here I was thinking someone had done a pretty shoddy job of it.”
“Ha ha ha,” laughed Kagami. “Horinouchi, I think Hunter might be ready to go finish the job.”
A communication spell circle arrived from the headmaster, but Horinouchi chopped it to pieces.
“Anyway, Hunter, what do you need? We haven’t made any plans for a post-midterms party yet.”
“No, it isn’t that. Um…”
“What is it?”
“Why do you use physical shells for your main cannon?”
“Don’t you do that too?”
“Oh?” Kagami crossed her arms and nodded from across the table. “Has Hunter begun to question her attack spell? Very well. You tell her, Horinouchi. Tell her that physical shells just feel so very good when you fire them! Do it!”
Horinouchi ignored the idiot and asked a question of her own.
“Do you need a new viewpoint for fine-tuning the Hedgehog?”
“Uh, no. Y’see, I have the US military working with me and supporting me, right?”
Oh, realized Horinouchi.
While she did have the support of the Horinouchi family, the cannon itself was her own personal ability.
As for why she did it that way…
“I want to do things for myself, so I chose a cannon structure that wasn’t too complicated and allowed me to supply ‘my own share’. And…”
She focused a little on Kagami’s reaction as she continued.
“My mother also used physical shells.”
Hunter realized she had fallen silent.
Mary was trying and failing to look down at her pen and notebook, but she eventually pushed up her glasses and looked Hunter’s way.
“What is it, #4?”
“Well, um, about Horinouchi…”
“Yes, why is it that she uses physical shells?”
Hunter answered without delay.
“She wanted to supply her own share, and that’s why she ended up like that.”
In other words…
“It’s her Japanese spirit. Her humility made her like that.”
She continued with an “also”.
“She says her mother was like that too.”
After saying that, she looked back toward Mary and held her head in her hands.
…Yeah. I know just what you’re thinking.
“In every world out there, the crazy people don’t realize how crazy they are.”
And thus the midterm exams began without issue.
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