Horizon:Kimitoasamade 4B Chapter 13
Chapter 13: Hopers in Connected Rooms
Every single time
It makes me think
I should do that next time
Point Allocation (Alone)
Night had fallen.
The residual heat of the Spring School Festival remained mainly around Okutama.
The festival would end the following day and they had the Gagaku Festival after that, but this was the last night they could spend at the festival in the name of preparations or whatever else.
They spent the night in the academy, in underground clubrooms, in hallways, or just on the schoolyard. The astronomy club and constellation inspection club saw today as their time to shine. They looked up at the sky blocked by the stealth barrier and began a planetarium presentation using sign frames and spells.
A light concert was underway by the music clubs and other volunteers.
“It’s so lively…”
All that noise reached someone inside their home.
The house with a courtyard was on the surface of Murayama, the 2nd port ship, and the person inside was Masazumi.
That was Masazumi’s home on Murayama.
…It looks like my dad won’t be coming back today, so I have to look after the place.
With that thought, she sat up in her bed.
Her father owned the house and her room bordered the courtyard.
She wore an inner suit shirt and underwear. Since spring had passed, she wore the shirt with the sleeves removed. She had expected Musashi to be cold compared to Mikawa, but it was not.
…If anything, the underground heat warms you from below.
The boiler circulation was partially responsible, but it was mostly the heat produced by people living their lives. Asama and Naomasa had said management of underground ventilation and water quality was crucial for Musashi.
And right now, she heard the heated sounds that normally came from underground.
For today alone, the people were out on the surface even at night. It was still 9 and the curfew had yet to arrive, but no one showed any sign of heading home.
Masazumi listened to the festival sounds and guitar-playing reaching her from outside.
She stretched up to try and see them from her window.
Of course, the fence hiding the courtyard meant she could not see to the streets while up on her knees in bed.
But that disappointment reminded her of the past.
“Something like this happened at Mikawa too.”
She smiled bitterly while reminiscing about festival times at Mikawa. Her parents used to take her to festivals all the time, but she had eventually stopped going.
…I ignored them by claiming I was studying.
She had not liked the yukata she had to wear to the festivals.
It had felt wrong wearing one for a girl, but it had felt too soon to wear one for a boy. She had been too self-conscious about what people would say when they saw her wearing either one, so she had ultimately chosen not to go.
But she had definitely been interested in the festive atmosphere.
The stealth barrier looked like a cloudy sky.
The areas illuminating that white sky from below were where people were gathered. That was just like at Mikawa. The only difference was…
…It looks like I could go without wearing a yukata.
The area where she had lived in Mikawa had had a lot of people, but it had had a very local feel to it. Life as a local was more important than life as a student, so no one had worn school uniforms to festivals.
Musashi was different. Some wore a yukata to dress up, but around half wore their uniforms. Since there was a weight tax, it could be difficult to own extra clothing like a yukata.
That meant she could visit the festival without having to worry. But…
“I’m supposed to be looking after the house.”
The problem now was her father’s strict supervision.
“Dad probably doesn’t like these festivals even if he thinks they’re a necessary part of life.”
In the festival, some people wore a yukata or dress, but others wore a costume.
Most were modeled after spirits or gods said to reside in festivals, but there were those who role-played as characters from commerce guild products and shows.
Two cypress sandwich boards bearing life-size images of characters from Military God – Noisy Girl, which had started airing that spring, walked around the festival using the tights-wearing legs extending from the bottom.
“Koni-tan! Koni-tan! There are so many character costumes on the second day this year! It’s so exciting!”
“It really is, Nobu-tan! And I can’t get enough of walking around eating candy apples, frappes, and other things that bring me back to my childhood!”
“Nhhhh! I just spotted a group of yukata girls! Now to zoom over while imagining they are Masazumi! Zoom, my legs!”
“Nobu-tan! Nobu-tan! These cypress sandwich boards really are heavy, so how can you move so smoothly!?”
What had her father thought when he brought her to those festival so long ago?
Masazumi thought about that while opening a political theory book.
She had to study. She had to bide her time. But at the same time…
Maybe I really am the kind of person who likes going to festivals, she thought.
“No, wait a second.”
She had begun a new life here, so maybe she just wanted to try out a lifestyle to match. Especially since she was living like she was still back at Mikawa.
…This is my first year here, so there’s so much I still don’t know.
Far too often she had thought things would work just like at Mikawa only to be proven wrong. Especially when it came to interacting with other people.
She did not know Musashi’s ways, so she would act based on Mikawa’s ways, find herself out of sync with the others, and come to a stop.
This had to be a little different.
Her father was strict and a Provisional Councilor, so she could not head out into the city at night without permission.
And she was still only a hopeful politician, so she needed to study.
If she was going to head out and have fun, it had to be after she had done what she needed to do.
So even if it was lively and bright out there…
“It isn’t separated from me.”
She opened the window.
Even in Mikawa, she had opened the window when listening to the festival sounds and studying. Bugs would fly in and mosquitos would buzz around her, but that just meant she existed in the same space as the festivities.
This was the same.
She was not avoiding the festival. She was studying within the festive atmosphere.
But there was a difference from before. In Mikawa, she had been alone and her mother would occasionally receive festival foods from the neighbors and serve them as a meal or snack. But…
“Come to think of it…”
Masazumi got down from the bed and walked to the kitchen.
She had the trifles the idiot had given her.
Her pace picked up as she decided to eat one.
The kitchen was at the end of the hallway leading from the main building that contained her and her father’s bedrooms, the bath, and the guest room and to the secondary building that contained the entranceway and dining room. When her father and the others held a meeting in the dining room, she would make late night snacks for them there, but…
…It isn’t often we store handmade snacks in the icebox like this.
There were three sealed glasses on the refrigerated shelves of the icebox in the small kitchen.
She pulled out the closest one and found the ingredients had already started to mix together within the glass.
The night before, the cereal and cream had formed distinct layers, but no longer. The red jam had flowed through the cereal and the cream was trying to stop it.
Saying it was “ripening” was not quite right, but it did seem like it was closer to being “ready”.
In the dimly-lit kitchen, she heard the distant festival sounds and the occasional fireworks.
The people outside would be buying food at the stands or shops and enjoying themselves in their own ways. Meanwhile…
She got up and pulled a long spoon from the sink.
She stepped out onto the walkway and looked outside. She saw the festival-lit night sky beyond the courtyard. The sound and the sky connected her and the spring festival. And in her hand…
She had brought back a product from the café her class was running.
She and the festival were connected.
She repeated the words and scooped the first bite into her mouth while still looking outside.
Sourness suddenly permeated her mouth.
The distinct fruity sourness was enough to wake her up.
It was strawberry.
When she bit into the white fruit flesh, the sourness arrived with the sweetness of jam.
She had guessed the cereal would be soft after the jam had soaked into it.
But while the jam would normally flow across her tongue, it now stayed in place thanks to the weight and uneven solidness of the cereal.
So the sourness was quite strong and the savoriness of the cereal soon followed.
She preferred Far Eastern food, and plain food at that. So when she ate something with a lot of cream or butter, she enjoyed it, but it also felt heavy. Things with a lot of sugar were the same.
But this fruity sourness really got to her.
She thought back to the first one she had eaten the night before. This flavor had lingered and overpowered even the cream and adzuki beans lower down. This second one was sure to do the same.
Had the idiot made these because he predicted this would happen?
These were trifles, makeshift sweets created by layering the ingredients leftover after making something else.
But this felt tailor-made for affecting her.
…I kind of hate that.
Maybe I should cook mom’s stew and bring it with me tomorrow. No, that would be pointless.
But anyway, she thought.
“This sure is a festival.”
Even if she was at home and studying, she was still on the ship named Musashi, looking up at the same sky and enjoying the same atmosphere.
Her position was different, but she was still on the aerial city ship that was throwing a festival.
It may have been the same at Mikawa. This might have only been her feeling more comfortable with the idea of festivals now that she had reached the second year of high school and experienced the difference between Mikawa and Musashi.
Either way, she really felt like she was participating in the festival now.
…It’s said festivals were used to welcome in new residents in addition to celebrating and praying.
The newcomer would greet the local god and become one of that god’s people. That was its purpose. If so…
“Maybe I should ask dad if I can go to the Gagaku Festival tomorrow.”
I should probably study enough for tomorrow too, she thought before thinking about some others preparing for tomorrow.
I wonder what Asama’s group is doing on this festival night.
“Okay, now that we’re all purified and refreshed, we need to get straight to sleep for an early morning tomorrow! Straight to sleep! C’mon, Asama and Mitotsudaira! Dive into my chest!!”
In the center of Asama’s room, the idiot sister arranged the futons in a Y-shape and beckoned them over, so Mitotsudaira quietly glared back at her. The Cerberus on her head barked and she replied.
“It is true we have to show up for registration early tomorrow morning, but it’s only 10.”
“Heh heh. Silly girl. We’ll be joining Asama for her morning purification tomorrow. You know what that means, don’t you?”
Mitotsudaira thought about Asama’s mornings.
…She goes to the spring at 4:30 in the morning, doesn’t she?
Curious, she asked about it.
“Tomo, when do you usually go to sleep?”
“Um, between 12 and 1.”
That unexpectedly inexact answer pointed to a certain fact.
“How is that enough sleep? Plus, you’ve been staying up even later with us sleeping over, haven’t you? Let’s get to sleep.”
“No, no.” Asama smiled bitterly and waved her hands side to side. “It isn’t the same as a compressed sleep spell, but the purification spring will purify away your weariness and whatnot. So I’ve been sticking to that margin lately and it works. If it gets to be a problem, I purify myself in the evening as well.”
“If you’re worried about that, then you should come get in the futons, right? Come here, you two. We can fall asleep while telling old stories.”
Mitotsudaira doubted those old stories would be pleasant, but if they did as Kimi suggested…
“We’ll be talking for quite a while before actually going to sleep, won’t we?”
“Fine, then.” Asama sighed, got up, and rolled up her yukata’s sleeves. “I’ll prepare some food and drink we can consume just before bed.”
“Oh, I’ll help too,” offered Mitotsudaira. “It will be warm milk and something made with soybean flour like usual, right?”
“Yes, I think we have some brown sugar syrup, so I was thinking of making soybean flour balls. We can also eat them tomorrow morning.”
“Heh heh. Why not a nightcap and some summer sausage?”
With that, Kimi stood up as well. Her yukata was messed up, but she incredibly made it look like it was supposed to be simply draped over her like that.
Asama opened the sliding door to the hallway, turned around, and glared at Kimi.
“The kitchen will be cramped with three people.”
“Don’t worry.” Kimi placed a hand on her cheek and smiled. “I’ll be the taste tester.”
I should have known, thought Mitotsudaira. She was half surprised and half aware that this cycle of roles had long since settled into place.
Their relationship was much like her relationship with her king. Even if they could get the job done with one of them missing, something would seem missing.
There was just one thing she could say:
“This all had a frantic beginning, but I’m glad we will make it to tomorrow with all of us here.”
“Heh heh. Not so fast. The upcoming nightcap could leave us all hungover tomorrow.”
“It will not,” insisted Asama. “I will only serve low-proof drinks.”
Is that the issue? But…
“Naito and Naruze are the same and I bet our upperclassmen are as well. …We’re all completing our final practices and spending the rest of our night in a mixture of nerves and expectation.”
Asama nodded at Mitotsudaira’s words.
They had completed their final practice before going to bed. Including Asama’s song, they were just barely reaching 20 minutes.
Each band was given 20 minutes, but their songs had to lead into the mysterious phenomenon purification. That meant they essentially did not have a time limit. They would begin the purification after completing their final song, but…
…Will we still be judged for the quality of our songs…?
Kimi had told her to make an encore song and she had done so, but still.
“Hmm,” she groaned while stepping out into the hallway and feeling a chill at her feet.
The Asama Shrine had a barrier around it, but external sounds were allowed in and that included the distant sounds of the festival. It was past lights-out for every ship, but everyone had to be enjoying themselves.
The festive atmosphere must have been influencing the ether because the ether pathway status sign frame said it was circulating well. If that continued through the Gagaku Festival, she expected good results.
…Well, whatever the case, it’s tomorrow.
Her life was headed in a pretty bold direction here.
And she wondered something while sensing the presences and body heats of Mitotsudaira and Kimi following behind her.
When and how am I supposed to thank them? And…
“Yes, Mito, I wonder what the others are doing.”
It began with a light sound.
It was a scraping of metal.
It came from one corner of an atrium park on Tama.
Scattered trees lined the grass below the night sky. The park’s lights just barely reached that area.
Unlike the surface area, the underground park closed its gates at 10 PM. They could not close anyone inside, so the park was devoid of people trying to enjoy the festival.
But two figures moved there.
One was a girl with a metal spear in one hand.
The other was a girl with rifles hanging from her right shoulder.
They were Watanabe Moritsuna and Suzuki Magoichi.
Magoichi used one of her rifles like a sword to strike Moritsuna’s lightly raised spear.
The spear and gun slowly changed positions as if they were exchanging a greeting. The scraping of metal moved toward the tips of the weapons.
Watanabe opened her mouth.
“I was relieved you showed up.”
“I do understand what it is you are thinking.” Magoichi remained expressionless as she slowly raised her rifle. “But if you’re going to stop someone, shouldn’t it be Mototada instead of me?”
“We have the Gagaku Festival to do.”
“I see,” replied Magoichi.
The contact point of spear and gun reached the tip. The strain of scraping metal somewhat left the tips.
At the same time, a firework went off in the sky above the surface area.
It was not a large one. It was a general-use firework sold in stores. But the ball of light illuminated those two and the trees from high in the sky and the bursting sound reverberated through the atrium.
“In that case.”
They both moved.
Magoichi kept her distance.
Her rifles, Yatagarasu, were divine weapons, but their power was not easily used in this setting.
The sky was restricted on the left and right.
Even if she sent Yatagarasu into the sky, they would be obstructed by the atrium walls and they could not get the angle of fire needed.
This was purely a ground battle.
But there was a reason she had come here after being summoned.
The people of the desert prided themselves in never allowing a target of vengeance to escape and spending an entire lifetime hunting them down. Some even forbade themselves from returning to their clan until they had accomplished it.
To this inheritor of the name Watanabe Moritsuna, Magoichi was an enemy.
Of course, she was not her current enemy She was tomorrow’s enemy and the enemy after that.
Magoichi would harm something precious to her in the future, but Watanabe was attempting to stop her now.
So Magoichi would not run away from this confrontation in the present.
If one was made a target of vengeance, it was shameful to make excuses or run away.
She needed her weapons to resist. The Yatagarasu rifles were divine weapons.
She could instruct them to fire homing bullets, acceleration bullets, and scatter bullets. And all three could be fired at once.
“I cannot have them fly in such a narrow space…so it must be a ground battle. Let’s go, Yatagarasu.”
She spun around one in each hand and moved her body to spin the other around her shoulder. The guns in her arms swapped places in something like a dance.
“You might be spending the night in your nest, but glare into the darkness all the same, Yatagarasu.”
Magoichi fell back. She fired as she fell back.
Keeping your distance was the proper choice for a gunner. She was trained in techniques for fighting at close range, but it was safest to finish off the enemy from outside their range.
This was the enemy’s home field. It was an away battlefield for her. However…
…There are no traps set up.
She had been summoned here, but she had not simply obeyed that. Before the curfew, she had hidden on a higher passageway and watched for any movement down below.
But there had been nothing.
With the festival and so many people, it would have been impossible to set something up before the curfew.
There had been no sign of someone’s pawns trying anything during or after the festival. The park had remained tranquil.
And once the promised time arrived, Watanabe Moritsuna had jumped down from an even higher level.
That had shown that there were no traps, but also…
…Avoiding the intermediary passageways and gates prevented anyone from seeing her.
This was a personal duel.
So Magoichi had sought battle.
She was the enemy, but she honestly liked the way Watanabe pursued this battle.
She fell back while sending out bullets.
They had been on the park’s port side before. A small stream flowed down the center of the park and there were clusters of trees to port and starboard. Magoichi wanted to reach the center where she would have a clearer line of fire. However…
She looked up with just her eyes to see the sky past the three stories of the atrium.
The pale light of the night was reflected off the stealth barrier to reach the bottom of the atrium.
That light was enough to predict Yatagarasu’s shots.
So she wanted to hurry into the shadows to starboard.
From there, she would be the one with a good view of Watanabe Moritsuna. But…
“I will not hold back until that happens.”
Magoichi fired on Watanabe Moritsuna who was crouching low and accelerating.
Watanabe moved forward while Magoichi fired and fell back.
Even in the darkness, she could see the movement of the enemy’s rifles.
She was the 1st Special Duty Officer. She had good night vision and she had developed techniques for use against opponents armed with guns. She clearly saw the enemy bullets flying toward her. However…
The Yatagarasu rifles were large even for rifles. Since they were divine weapons, she had expected them to fire spell bullets.
Was that because spell bullets and ether bullets could not be hidden in the darkness?
But they used spell launch systems. That introduced the possibility of trajectory changes at the moment of firing.
…So it isn’t that different from an ether bullet.
A shot flew toward her face as she thought that. It was a straight shot. It gave off no killer intent, like its path just so happened to pass through where her head was.
Watanabe could tell it was meant to move her.
This attack could hit.
But if it did not, the next bullet would be fired into the end point of her evasion.
And even if she dodged that, a third one would be there to hit her. This was announcing a series of shots that left no option but to be hit. And it began with the initial shot toward her face.
The enemy was serious, but Watanabe did not mind.
She moved in the span of a breath.
She heard a sound from dead ahead as she dodged.
It was the two shots Magoichi had already fired after predicting Watanabe’s evasion. And…
The sixth and ninth shots followed as the triple gunshots continued.
I need to finish her off, thought Magoichi while continuing to fire.
Her enemy was a ninja. That meant mobility. She instinctually sensed she would be at a disadvantage in a lengthy battle.
So she had to finish that enemy off quickly.
Magoichi attempted to target her enemy in units of three shots.
The first shot would attempt to hold the enemy in place. And if that did not hit her…
…I fire two shots to cut off their evasion…
When firing an anticipatory attack like that, an opponent would generally take one of two actions: defend or evade.
Defense might seem like the smarter move, but the force of the hit would hold your body in place. Unless you could create a wall, that would only work against you in a duel.
But evasion was difficult too.
People could only move along the horizontal or vertical axis.
And vertical evasion was generally unthinkable. Jump up and you would be defenseless while airborne. Crouch down and your center of gravity would drop too low to make your next move.
So people would generally evade to the left or right.
They would lower their hips when they did so, so if the initial shot was targeted at their face, the next two shots should be fired to the left and right of their waist.
Then, if they dodged to the left or right, they would be shot in the chest and blown away.
That was what Magoichi had done here.
Except it did not work out.
According to the Testament, Watanabe Moritsuna was one of the greatest spear-users in Matsudaira’s employ. Her skill came from her light armor and metal spear, but…
She had chosen to evade downwards.
The second and third shots had been fired on the assumption she would dodge to the left or right, so they flew by above her crouched body.
But evading downwards would lower her center of gravity, which would weigh down her movements. If Magoichi targeted her right away, she could hit that lowered body.
Except she could not.
A moment later, Watanabe had moved elsewhere.
Her center of gravity was not lowered. And she had moved with a burst of speed.
This was one of a ninja’s seemingly-impossible movements. And Magoichi knew what those were called in the Far East.
“A ninja technique!?”
Watanabe silently agreed with that assessment.
Some ninja techniques used divine spells, but hers had their foundation in pure martial arts.
She was quite particular about that. Otherwise, she would be in trouble if she ran out of divine spell charms while on a ninja infiltration mission.
So she used martial arts.
This was the same.
She knew exactly what her enemy was doing as a gunner. The series of three guiding shots was a surefire method for a skilled gunner.
It used the path of the bullets as feints and deterrents, just like you would with a spear or sword.
This opponent was a natural enemy for a close-range spear-user like Watanabe.
But she could stand up to her using ninja techniques. As the one bullet flew straight toward her face…
She sank down.
She angled her face down and leaned her upper body forward.
But that was all. She kept her lower body standing and unlowered.
That left her waist bent forward and her body leaning forward, but her hips and below were unchanged. Her center of gravity had not lowered. In fact, bending forward had raised her hips in the starting position for forward acceleration.
She had prepared for the perfect dash while looking like she had sunk down.
From the enemy’s perspective, it would look like she had bent over and crouched down.
When targeting her face, the enemy would have to look at her face. So when her face lowered like this, it would undoubtedly be seen as her choosing to evade downwards.
But she had not.
Her hips and below were standing. She had only leaned her upper body toward the enemy.
Her only option was to make an immediate dash forward.
So she did so.
“Here I go…!”
To hide the trick of her stance control, she lowered her hips on the second step of acceleration, transforming it into a crouching charge. And after that, she launched herself to the left and right.
…To jump into the edge of her vision…!
That was not all.
Watanabe tilted her body to the side.
She rotated her forward-leaning stance so her left shoulder pointed skyward and her right shoulder pointed to the ground.
She raced across the ground as if running up a staircase and while swapping out the heavens and earth on her left and right.
Magoichi saw more than one Watanabe.
…What is this…!?
She had immediately seen through the trick of that forward-leaning evasion.
So after the first shot toward the face, she had decided to send her next attack low instead of to the sides. However…
“She’s turning side to side at extremely low altitude…!?”
Watanabe was not running on the ground. She was tilting her body on its side and running up the ground.
It was a lot like angling your body to run up a flight of stairs. That said, her movement would begin to shift about 45 degrees off of Magoichi, but each time…
Watanabe would lightly swing her hips and shift to the left or right.
In that moment alone, Magoichi could clearly see her.
The side to side movement was so fast it looked like there were several of her.
And that was not all. When Magoichi predicted that left and right movement and fired a bullet…
“I’m over here.”
Watanabe would twist her waist and dash straight forward while leaning forward.
That brought her much closer, and…
…What will it be!?
It was the spear.
Something seemed off about the metal spear Watanabe had been holding in her right hand the whole time.
There was no trick to it. It was simply a metal spear. But it was always a part of her tactics and she kept it with her throughout all the many turns.
Why was she working so hard to keep that close-range weapon with her?
Just then, Magoichi’s location worked to her advantage.
She had finally found something at her feet that would help her recover.
…I can use this.
With that thought, she fired.
Watanabe heard Magoichi fire twice.
The first was aimed at her face. The second fired diagonally down at her lowered face.
She could not allow them to hit.
So she tilted her body to the left and jumped.
It was not intuition that led her to choose left. There were three Yatagarasu rifles, but the two that had just fired were (from Watanabe’s perspective) the center and left ones in that order.
Those rifles either had a set attack range or turf because the one on the right had not once fired to her left.
So Watanabe went left.
That was exactly the center of the atrium park.
A small stream flowed from bow to stern in the center of the park and Magoichi had just jumped across it.
However, she was a little off balance and leaning. Was that because she had jumped backwards across the stream? She fired on Watanabe’s left and right, but it was not an effective deterrent.
In her pursuit, Watanabe ran left along the bank of the river and prepared to cross.
But an attack arrived from the right.
The shot from the right was like a surprise attack.
…The Yatagarasu on the right fired outside its attack range…!?
No. It was not a bullet.
Something was sent her way just as she tried to jump over the stream on the left.
It was the stream’s water.
Such a strong splash was not normal. It blasted up higher than she was tall.
…It was that second shot, wasn’t it!?
The first shot had targeted her face.
But the second one had looked like it was targeting her leaning body while actually targeting the stream.
The streams flowing through Musashi’s atrium parks were not natural. The ones in the surface nature districts were one thing, but in an underground area, the inner edges were made from inner walls for maintenance purposes.
Magoichi had fired one those.
Of course, these were solid crust blocks. A diagonal shot would not break through, but the force of the hit had blasted the water up.
And that blocked Watanabe’s vision.
Watanabe leaped to the left to circle around the clear barrier. She crossed to the opposite bank.
And she rolled her body to land right foot first. Then she spun her body around.
…Where is the enemy?
She saw the answer while spinning around.
Magoichi stood in the starboard shadows with her chest and below masked by darkness.
She must have used this instant to put that much distance between them. And instead of falling back even further…
She fired a shot aimed at Watanabe’s clear form in the instant of landing.
The attack came from dead ahead.
Watanabe did not stop herself as she spun to face the enemy. She could take a defensive stance or dodge, but she chose neither. After all…
…I have to end this here!
After landing on her right foot, she made a quick half-rotation on that leg and planted her left foot on the ground.
And she saw the attack the enemy had fired to defeat her. A bullet was flying along the straight line connecting her and Magoichi.
There was a way to strike back.
There were about 8 meters between her and her enemy. Right now, she had an attack method which would cross that gap. But…
Watanabe sensed something. She obediently accepted the warning from her intuition as 1st Special Duty Officer.
…Something isn’t right.
Magoichi had used the wall of water to recover her position and she was now firing a direct attack as Watanabe landed.
That was the proper tactic for her.
But, thought Watanabe. If the first shot is toward me, where will the other two shots go?
Magoichi was currently in the shadows. So…
“The other two shots are also…”
Watanabe sensed two presences in that instant.
The first was in the shadows of the starboard trees and the other was beyond the wall of water.
All three targeted her from different directions.
Magoichi sensed a chance at victory, but she did not reach for it.
She must not rush things.
She had to remain calm and control the paths of the Yatagarasu she had sent out.
Those three rifles could fly through the air using the recoil of firing.
She could fire at whatever timing she liked right now, but the immediate sky was too narrow. She could send them straight up, but that was meaningless as it would only vertically change the angle of fire.
So she had copied the enemy.
When jumping across the stream, she had faked losing her balance to tilt her body.
If sending them vertically was meaningless, she had to tilt herself to the side and send them horizontally.
She sent two Yatagarasu to the left or right to circle around the enemy.
She sent them beyond the shadows of the starboard trees and the wall of water.
Of course, sending the Yatagarasu horizontally was dangerous. With little initial speed, they would fall to the ground if she did not have them return quickly and sending them around the enemy left her defenseless. That was why Magoichi immediately fired on Watanabe Moritsuna and…
The bullets were guaranteed to pierce her opponent.
The three rifles fired more than one bullet each.
A total of 9 shots used varying heights to create a cage. She would be hit no matter where she tried to run.
But Magoichi saw something while she controlled the return of the Yatagarasu.
Watanabe Moritsuna was moving ahead of the bullets. She moved the spear in her hand.
She slammed the metal spear straight down into the center of the atrium park at her feet.
…What is that?
That spear had been bothering Magoichi for a while. And it was driven into the ground at almost the exact same time as the bullets were reaching Watanabe Moritsuna.
Just as Magoichi thought she had hit, the atrium park exploded.
Magoichi saw the instant it happened.
It was the spear.
Watanabe Moritsuna’s metal spear was the source of the explosion.
Of course, a metal spear did not have a warhead or anything of the sort. But if there was a technique or spell there…
…It’s a twisting.
Watanabe Moritsuna’s rapid side to side movement had not been done with simple turns. She had swung her body and repeatedly built up a spin.
And when spinning, she had always performed a certain action.
Instead of rotating her spear with her, she had continually built up that rotating motion.
It was most likely a spell.
As a ninja, Watanabe primarily used martial arts, so this would be her sole spell attack. A ninja’s focus was on covert action and escape, but this spell would be used as a surprise attack against an enemy.
She built up her mobility in the metal spear and then released it as…
“A wide-range corkscrew-style pile bunker system!”
Watanabe smashed the air.
The blast was surrounded by a spiraling air current. But before her spear tip pierced the ground, the extended air current struck the air and the crust block itself.
The force reflected by the artificial ground spread a powerful pressure around which swept away the Yatagarasu bullets.
The blast expanded from a radius of 3 meters to around a dozen meters.
Some of the recoil hit Watanabe. The spell was meant to be used horizontally to smash something 30 meters away, but she had fired it at her feet. Even with a buffering spell…
…It hits you pretty hard!
If she had launched this attack forward, she might have been able to defeat Magoichi, but then she would have been hit by the bullets coming from the other two directions.
She could not afford to be shot and mutual defeat was not an option. Because…
“The Gagaku Festival is tomorrow.”
She was participating as part of Torii’s band.
Mutual defeat would not allow for that, so she made up her mind.
The explosion and twisting pressure were compressed at the bottom of the atrium before blasting skyward. In that instant, the crust block collapsed and the atrium’s inner walls shattered from the blast. Meanwhile…
“Here I go.”
Watanabe accelerated toward Magoichi.
Magoichi fell back.
She did so while pushed by the blast and kicking off of the collapsing footing.
The shattered inner walls fell from above and the ground fell away in a mosaic pattern of hills and depressions, but…
…Here she comes…!
Watanabe Moritsuna ran up all the destruction to reach Magoichi.
She was coming.
Her blonde hair bounced, bent at a horizontal right angle, and vanished.
A moment later, she could be seen in a different position while twisting.
She disappeared and appeared again.
Unlike her previous charge, she did not move side to side very often.
Nor was she launching an attack to smash the air.
This was pure acceleration meant to finish Magoichi off with the spear.
But Magoichi only had use of the Yatagarasu on her back.
She had the other two fire as if crowing so they rose into the air and pursued her. But the explosive blast and falling rubble were in the way. At this rate, Watanabe Moritsuna’s spear would reach her before she was in range of the two rifles.
Magoichi could hear rubble.
The ground rose up below her feet, adding to her backwards momentum. But…
She was being pursued as a target of vengeance.
She was a name inheritor who had supported Honganji and made a name for herself in battles there, but she was being cornered by a Musashi name inheritor.
Who was it that had said the Far East had no fighting force – that they were toothless and incompetent?
At the very least, their officers and name inheritors were not. And…
Is what you wanted from me found beyond this hidden power? If so…
“People are guided by a bird that flies even higher in the sky.”
But that was not here and now.
It was further ahead. It would come later.
In order to grasp what was there, Magoichi reached a hand back while watching Watanabe Moritsuna’s approach.
She grabbed a single rifle: Yatagarasu.
She pulled it out, raised it, and directly faced her enemy.
“Whatever form it might take…give us a crow of guidance toward the future, Yatagarasu!”
Watanabe made an attack. She used a spear, but it was a stabbing motion that pulled inward.
She moved her entire body as if launching her shoulder and arm.
She crouched down near Magoichi and used the sharp turning motion to launch her spear on the right.
She could no longer use the pressurized attack from a spell, but the spear bent and gathered force like a spring.
Instead of using a straight line, it pursued Magoichi who was falling back to the right from Watanabe’s perspective.
She did not think it would hit.
She hoped it would hit. Perhaps that was just the kind of person she was.
Magoichi was attempting to draw a Yatagarasu from over her right shoulder, but it was too slow. Watanabe’s spear would reach her first.
So Watanabe extended her entire body. She launched the spear so it would arrive even a moment sooner.
A moment later, she heard a sound.
It was a gunshot.
Magoichi had allowed the Yatagarasu to fire while she drew it from over her shoulder.
Of course, it was not going to hit Watanabe when fired from such an uncertain stance and with no time to aim.
But Watanabe saw the bullet had indeed hit its mark.
The physical bullet had hit…
The left horn, which extended down on the right from Watanabe’s perspective, had been hit from the outside edge.
The bullet would have had adjustments made, but her small body was still thrown to the right by her head and the horn was broken halfway down.
She had moved away.
And Watanabe realized her own attack had not arrived.
Next, she heard three sounds.
Two of them were gunshots from the Yatagarasu pursuing from the air behind her.
And the last was of the atrium park’s floor collapsing, the walls crumbling, and the debris burying the both of them.
Tenzou received word of Tama’s atrium park’s collapse at the same time as the alarm sounded on the ship.
His home was on Tama’s second underground floor. The 10 square meter space had a tall loft and about 3 square meters were his personal space. It was a small area, but there was plenty of storage thanks to the space above the ceiling and hanging shelves.
His plans for this night had been to install the various amateur-made games he had bought at the festival, but…
The divine transmission to the 1st Special Duty Unit had come as a divine mail from Vice President Tadayo.
Tenzou stopped to think instead of inserting the charm bundle of installation data into the reader.
…Watanabe-sama was checking on a suspicious fire near the fireworks prepared in the starboard atrium park?
Apparently, the Student Council had been secretly preparing hundreds of fireworks to be launched from Tama’s atrium park at the end of the festival the following day.
But there were still people in the city tonight and Tenzou could hear fireworks being launched in the surface area.
If the embers of those fireworks had lit a suspicious fire and that fire dropped into the fireworks prepared below…
“Did Watanabe-sama notice and rush there, but didn’t arrive in time?”
The divine mail only said not to worry about Watanabe. Tadayo was an old friend of hers, so she could be trusted on that. However…
…I never heard anything about those fireworks.
“Father, did you know there were fireworks prepared in the starboard atrium park?”
He pulled up the curtain for the loft and looked down to see his father sprawled out on the ground.
He must have been experimenting with something trippy because a green liquid dripped from the corner of his smiling mouth.
Mom is really going to let him have it when she gets back, thought Tenzou.
He decided to hurry out of the house and pretend he had not seen it. Just to be safe, he hid the installation charms and package below his futon and stuck the manual in his pocket.
Then he left the front entrance while only stepping on the lower tatami mats once.
“I wonder what this is about.”
When he opened the door, he found a lot of people moving through the underground wide block.
They were all either on their way up to look on from the surface or exchanging information to see if there had been any secondary damages.
Tenzou realized something once he accessed the 1st Special Duty Unit’s divine transmission network.
Watanabe had sent him a divine mail.
“What is this?”
He looked around to make sure no one was focused on him. Only then did he read through the message sent to him.
“Tsuna, why do you do things like this? It turned out okay since I dove into the destruction and saved you, but you would’ve been in trouble if I’d failed. You should discuss these things with me.”
“But you’d have stopped me if I told you about it. And I don’t want that.”
Watanabe’s voice came from an elevated location: the roof of an apartment in the residential district of Tama’s surface area.
Its height and the nearby chimneys prevented anyone from seeing her from below.
She sat across from Tadayo, who sat cross-legged on the flat roof.
“Besides, Suzuki might be free right now, but she’s not from here. The 1st Special Duty Officer fighting an unauthorized duel will lead to diplomatic issues. Why don’t you think about these things? …If you want to stop what Torii is trying to do, then attack Torii or me. Or…”
Tadayo moved her face toward Watanabe and pointed at the other girl’s face.
“Just don’t participate in the Gagaku Festival tomorrow.”
“You can find someone to play the keyboard instead of me. And we’ve already recorded our performance, so you could use the recording as the offering.”
“Do you have to get so selfish when I’m going soft on you because you’re injured? It’s such a pain.”
“So you know how soft you’re being, huh?”
A smile joined the dried blood on Watanabe’s face. But…
Her left arm tensed and shook.
Tadayo’s gaze turned toward the large tear in the outer edge of the upper arm.
The blood had been stopped with a charm pasted on top, but Watanabe’s movement had altered the charm’s position and tugged at the wound within.
Tadayo pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped away the tears in Watanabe’s eyes. She also used that dampness to wipe the blood off of her face.
“This is the last year I can clean up your messes like this, so you need to pull yourself together. Do you want to cause trouble for Oosuga?”
“Suga-kun says he doesn’t mind.”
“Does he, does he?”
Tadayo smiled bitterly and looked to the right.
There was a collapsed valley there.
The atrium park had been there.
Since it was a part of Musashi, even the atrium space had the same blocked structure as the wide blocks. So during an internal collapse, it would be purged from the adjacent blocks, but…
“That just makes the collapse all the more impressive. I can kind of see why Oosuga is no match for you.”
“Suga-kun’s techniques are stronger than my one-shot spell.”
“The problem with you is you let your emotions dictate when you use your techniques. But…”
Tadayo looked at Watanabe again.
She was stained with dust and blood and she was injured. The worst parts were her left shoulder and…
“Your right thigh.”
“I hesitated a bit when I had to choose between an arm or a leg.” Watanabe smiled with the ends of her eyebrows lowered. “I figured I couldn’t play the keyboard if it was my arm…but I guess the leg is a problem too. And I couldn’t fully get my left shoulder out of the way either.”
“Don’t cry, Tsuna.”
“I’m not crying. Because I was prepared for whatever might happen.”
Tears spilled from her eyes as if to prove her protest wrong.
She tried to wipe off her face, but Tadayo reached out instead.
She handed Watanabe her handkerchief and Watanabe wiped off her face with it. Tadayo glared at her afterwards.
“You have blood on your lips.”
“I’d wipe the lipstick off with it.”
“You didn’t bring any with you?”
“Only a mirror.”
“Oh well then,” sighed Tadayo because she was the same.
But when she looked down, she found the alarm was gradually fading into the distance. Jurisdiction had been transferred from the guards to the Public Morals Committee’s firefighting officer and the Lifestyle Committee’s construction officer was checking on the damage.
“As the Student Council Vice President, I need to get down there before long.”
“I’ll stay here. …Oh, and what happened to Suzuki-san?”
“I sent her flying with my spear, so she should be entirely unharmed beyond what you did to her, Tsuna.”
“No, this was our fault too. Really, I’d like to blame the world as a whole.”
“Torii has an idea and once she and Suzuki start something, it counts as a history recreation and we aren’t allowed to stop it. If we do try, the Testament Union won’t be happy with us. So I was thinking of making it as good of a show as Torii wanted. But…”
“You refused to give up.”
“What good is that when I’m too injured to join the actual performance?” asked Watanabe. “So I will keep trying things on my own.”
“If I’d heard that this morning, I would have tried to stop you, but now I think I’ll let you.” Tadayo stood up. “I don’t know if this will fit together well enough for us all to have an easy time of it, but let’s have a parting of ways here, Tsuna. I honestly haven’t fully accepted it myself, but I have my own position to think of. …Although there is an idiot who gives no thought to such things.”
“Yes?” asked Tadayo.
“Thanks for saving me. I’m relieved to see you haven’t changed.”
“It’s who I am.”
With that, Tadayo smiled a little and jumped down from the roof. Toward the site of the collapse.
“You there! The firefighting officer and construction officer arguing over the priority of removing rubble and surveying. I know the festival is noisy, but we’ve had enough fighting already. …I’m from the Student Council, so I will take command here!”
Kimi viewed a divine transmission from her brother while lying on her side and holding a body pillow in the left arm below her.
The other two were asleep, but she was still awake. And the faintly-glowing sign frame displayed a report of the collapse on Tama.
The Asama Shrine had immediately been informed of the fireworks accident at a Tama atrium park. Asama had made some adjustments to Tama’s ether pathways and divine protections and her father had gone to the Provisional Council Building to learn about the situation and report on their response, but…
…The damage didn’t trigger a chain reaction, so it should be settled quickly.
As long as the surrounding areas were sealed off and infrastructure was rerouted, the site of the collapse would be no more than a pile of rubble. Gods of war and transport ships with a pallet attached to the bottom would be used to remove all that, so the divine chat showed a short complaint from Naomasa and the usual acknowledgement from Noriki.
Kimi’s brother was watching the transport ships in the sky above and the flow of people who had grown sick of the commotion.
Wise Sister: “Foolish brother? Where are you now?”
Me: “Eh? On top of Musashino’s bridge. The viewing platform has been fully opened up, so all the guys were going to gather here. But Tenzou, Noriki, and Persona-kun went to deal with all this. I called Seijun too, but I got a refusal saying that was all ‘my father this’ and ‘my curfew that’.”
Does my brother think Masazumi is a boy?
…Well, he’ll figure it out eventually.
At the very least, they had to make sure it was Masazumi herself who told him. That wasn’t something you should learn from someone else.
…Some people don’t like it when people discuss their secrets behind their back or when other people suddenly start treating them differently.
Kimi loved that kind of thing, but she could guess Masazumi was different. So…
Me: “What about you, sis?”
Wise Sister: “What? Do you want to sleep next to me?”
Me: “When your room is empty, I really end up spinning my wheels a lot.”
Her lips loosened, but it soon grew into a bitter smile.
Wise Sister: “What do you mean ‘spinning your wheels’? Is your engine running? What gear are you in?”
Me: “Well, I keep expecting a reaction from you when I’m playing a porn game, posing on my side of the partition, or getting up early. And then I realize ‘Oh, yeah. She’s not here.’ ”
Wise Sister: “Oh, honestly. …Then come here.”
Me: “I can’t do that.”
Me: “You’re preparing some great songs for the Gagaku Festival, right? …I can’t let myself hear those in advance. Even if I want to hear them so bad.”
Wise Sister: “Heh heh. What if I said I’d let you hear them as a shared secret?”
Me: “It’s not much of a secret if you’re singing them at the Gagaku Festival, right?”
That was a good response. So…
Wise Sister: “Would you come if we weren’t going to sing them at the Gagaku Festival or we just weren’t preparing anything?”
Me: “Yeah, then I’d cook some snacks and bring them over. You’re going to ignore lights-out until you all fall asleep, aren’t you?”
Wise Sister: “Heh heh. You would have to make most of the snacks for me.”
Kimi smiled a little while thinking about the celebratory party after the Gagaku Festival.
…We’ll probably spend the night here just like that.
Including the preparatory period, she had spent the entire School Festival and Gagaku Festival away from her brother.
It had been a long time since either of them had been apart for so long. They would speak late at night like this, not because she was homesick, but because they were both siblingsick.
…But it’s not like we can’t function without each other.
It was not about distance.
Their connection was clear even while just exchanging words.
It was fun sending these quick messages back and forth to confirm their sibling relationship.
It was not an addiction where it was painful not to do it. It was something they enjoyed doing that added a nice spice to their lives.
The “spinning wheels” her brother had mentioned would be the same.
They were the perfect partners for preserving, confirming, and establishing their way of doing things. And they had spent enough time together to feel like the other was another form of themselves.
It really was not about distance.
For the past few days, they had felt the relief of looking up at the same sky even though they were separated.
She felt like the two sleeping next to her had become aware of that relief before she had.
Over the past few days, she had managed to put her sibling relationship to words and she could think of various future paths and interpretations of it, but those two described it with different words.
For Asama, it was a “hopeless person”.
For Mitotsudaira, it was “my king”.
They had used those phrases countless times, but if they were to lose Kimi’s brother, they would likely realize they were “spinning their wheels” over that “hopeless person” and “my king”.
Kimi and her brother had deepened their sibling relationship to the point that they had subconsciously realized they would spin their wheels without the other, but those two had already consciously realized it.
Wise Sister: “I’m so very thankful.”
Me: “Can I ask about what?”
Wise Sister: “For Asama and Mitotsudaira.”
“Yeah,” agreed her brother, but he did not say anything more.
…You understand too, don’t you?
Since she understood, he had to as well. It was not even worth asking.
But from here on, it was the girls’ territory. They had spent so much time together over the past few days, so they had created a space with no room for her brother. So…
Wise Sister: “Foolish Brother? Will you hold my hand when I go to sleep the day after tomorrow?”
Me: “Ohh…can we do that in your bed? Mine is littered with boxes from the games I split with Tenzou.”
Wise Sister: “Fine, then. But if no one’s using it, won’t my bed get hard?”
Me: “Then I’ll air it out tomorrow and the day after that. On both sides.”
Wise Sister: “Heh heh. You could always sleep in it yourself.”
Me: “Oh, like warming the sandals inside your clothes. Then tomorrow and the day after that, I’ll sleep in it and air it out. On both sides.”
Do you like both sides that much?
While continuing this silly conversation with her brother, Kimi looked to the two girls sleeping to her left.
First, Kimi looked at Mitotsudaira who was immediately to her left.
Asama had suggested they sleep in Kimitoasamade-order for good luck, but that caused some trouble since Mitotsudaira’s hair had nowhere to go.
She had placed the 5 rolls of hair on top of each other the best she could, reducing it to 2.5 rolls, and she lay on top of those. There was some concern of them tangling together, but her grooming divine protection would make them easy to separate.
…But that knight must be taking this seriously if she’s willing to go this far.
Mitotsudaira knew this was the final day of preparations for the Gagaku Festival.
That may have been why she was holding the Cerberus to her chest.
She had let it sleep on her head or hair at first, but she had started holding it as she slept for the last few days.
She would not say it, but she had to be worried about the Cerberus disappearing during the mysterious phenomenon purification.
She must have grown quite attached to it.
…I wonder if she’ll cry…
But you’re doing a good job as her “parent”.
“There will be good things too. …I prefer for things to be fun, so that’s what I believe.”
After smiling toward Mitotsudaira, Kimi slowly looked past her.
On the far right of the sleeping area, Asama slept on her back.
Her arms were spread out and her chest defenseless in a way that showed she had fallen asleep without meaning to.
Hanami had floated over her head earlier. Asama had asked her to continue monitoring the Tama ether pathways, but she must have finished that because she was gone now.
Asama herself had apparently wanted to stay awake even after leaving that job with Hanami. Over and over, she had said they needed to prepare for tomorrow, but she had not lasted. The past few days must have worn her out. The nightcap she had brought with her was still sitting next to her pillow.
…She didn’t actually drink it, but it’s the perfect image of a drunk.
Kimi laughed bitterly and got up.
She leaned over Mitotsudaira and reached toward Asama.
She fixed the slightly-disturbed chest of Asama’s clothing and pulled the blanket back up.
“Her boobs really retain their shape even when she lies on her back.”
She felt an urge to grope them, but that could trigger an aggressive defense spell, which would never end well. She had to resist. She could wake up early and do it tomorrow morning. And she wanted to do a test later to see how much her own chest kept its shape while lying on her back.
“But I should measure them real quick.”
Kimi snatched a ruler from the desk and placed it between Asama’s breasts to measure them. She also stuck it between Mitotsudaira’s to measure her chest while she lay on her side. This really made Kimi want to write a report on their stratified society.
At any rate, she had taken the measurements. After making sure the blanket had not shifted out of place again, she returned to her spot.
She had a feeling she knew why Asama had tried so hard not to fall asleep.
Once Kimi had fallen asleep, Asama had planned to thank her.
This was the final day of preparation for the Gagaku Festival. Directly thanking each other felt too formal and distant, but she still wanted to do it.
So she must have wanted to do it after the other two had fallen asleep.
That would explain the unsure look she had occasionally had during the day.
They had known each other a long time, so when they were hesitant to say something, it was either incredibly important or incredibly unimportant.
Which was it for Asama this time?
“Heh heh. Too bad, but I won’t let you say it.”
If she was going to say it, it had to be after they were successful.
Kimi was willing to listen after Asama had sung the encore song she had prepared for the Gagaku Festival. Because…
“This involves me. It’s meaningless if you thank me before it’s over.”
They needed to enjoy this. No matter what happened during the Gagaku Festival and the mysterious phenomenon purification and no matter the result…
“We need to see it through to the end…and enjoy it.”
With that, Kimi returned to her futon.
And she wondered if Mitotsudaira wanted to thank her the way Asama did.
Was she thankful for being given this opportunity? And…
“What about me?”
Me: “Eh? What’s that, sis?”
Wise Sister: “Nothing. Except…”
Kimi spoke to her brother.
Wise Sister: “Hidden feelings are best sought after and realized. …Don’t you think?”
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