Horizon:Volume 1 Chapter 14

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Chapter 14: Covert Operatives Under the Night Sky[edit]

Horizon1A 339.jpg

How is the darkness of temptation

Which makes the night fun

Seducing you

Point Allocation (Night Games)

There existed light in the depths of darkness.

The light accumulated like particles, each one of them the light of a building or house.

The group of lights formed the shape of a city, which looked out to a bay.

However, the light was scarce.

Furthermore, a gigantic rectangular darkness existed in the middle of the city. The darkness that consumed over half the city extended outwards like a spiderweb, the roads and waterways filled with darkness going every direction.

Even though its center was wrapped in darkness’ embrace, several lights continued in various directions from the nighttime town. Those were the lights from the homes and villages in the outskirts that followed the main roads; in other words, the streets and mountain paths.

A voice took form at a place where all this could be seen: the northwestern surface of the mountain.

“Musashi is to the north while Tres España’s Inquisition’s ship as well as Regno Unito, the ship of the Pope-Chancellor-sama who came to await the new Logismoi Óplo, lie to our west. And to our south is Mikawa, which is making an offering to P.A. Oda.”

The owner of the voice was standing atop a ridge. It was a young man on the roof of a watchtower constructed there. He was wearing the uniform of the main Academy in Tres España, Alcalá de Henares. However, the uniform was modified for mountain use. It was covered with a fabric without pores, meant to protect against the cold.

Sitting in a folding chair, he looked over Mikawa and the mountains leading there.

His hands, sticking out of the uniform, were holding a sniper rifle. From time to time he would use his scope to look around.

There was a small noise. Something was tapping from within the collar of his uniform.

Without dropping his gaze to look at his collar, he looked at the ridge reaching from the town to the watchtower where he sat.

“—Well done, Gabriel-san.”

He spoke, and a girl opened his collar and crawled out. About three heads tall, she had two wings.

She took a seat on the young man’s shoulder.

“You have a call.”

As soon as she said those words, the girl Gabriel took a trumpet from out of her wings. The trumpet shook.

“—B2T3, this is B1T3. Report your status.”

“B1T3, this is B2T3 responding. Tes, there are no changes in the situation—I just have one complaint.”

He responded.

A voice boomed out from the trumpet.

“That Gabriel you have is really good. My mouse is a symbol type, so its speech patterns are really businesslike.”

“I’m not going to modify it for you, you’re really good.”

“Aren’t you going to strengthen its functionality? The Catholics have started discounting functionality as a measure against the Protestants.”

“It’ll become big if I strengthen its functionality, though. It’s nice when it’s small. Yeah, the fact that it’s small is really good.”

“That’s deep…”

The young man nodded. Atop his shoulder, Gabriel inclined her small head, tilting it to the side.

“Deep?”

“Yeah, it means that you’re worth a lot.”

Having heard that, Gabriel smiled after a while. B2T3 nodded.

“Man, damn this. I’ll be doing this forever. When I’m done with this job, I’ll turn on its false jamming so we can cuddle. Jealous, aren’t you?”

“There’s no way you’re ever getting married. Also, don’t raise strange death flags. If you’re going to, then at least do it with a 3D person.”

“Rest easy, we’ll be able to head back home the day after, so we just have to sit tight. Well, disregarding the fact that the majority of classes other than the extracurricular ones you chose are canceled, night duty is tough.”

Suddenly, the young man could hear a noise. A high-pitched noise. Along with the noise came a sound close to murmuring.

“Is that a disturbance in the ley lines? Did New Nagoya Castle’s ley line reactor start up for work?”

“Down here, I’ve been able to pick it up for a while. Somehow, it seems like something outside the schedule we were given. A communique came in that said that the higher-ups were going to ask New Nagoya Castle about it before reporting to headquarters.”

B1T3 spoke from the other side of the divine communication.

“Rather than that, did you see the advance ship that switched places with us coming out of the dock? It seems like the girl that’s rumored to be the next inheritor of the Honda name was riding on it.”

“—Never cut anyone before.”

“Are you talking about yourself?”

Having been asked about that, B2T3 gave an answer.

“I’ve shot someone. That was in a little skirmish we had with Hexagone Française. As for killing…only animals. Male students of Tres España always do it during bullfighting lessons.”

Gabriel’s eyebrows crinkled and she stared into his face.

“…Sad?”

“Thanks for asking.”

“Eh!? Are you talking to me!? Oh damn, how far back is the savepoint I’m going to have to load for this!?”

“Shut up, asshole. Don’t disturb Gabriel and I. If you peek out from the watchtower and smirk, It’d probably be my first time killing someone…”

“Hey now, don’t stand up. I can see you from here.”

Hearing those words, B2T3’s body shook.

Eh?

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

I’m sitting down, though?

The instant that thought ran through his mind, Gabriel lightly tapped his cheek. Directly after, the trumpet shook.

“B2T3, this is B1T1.”

A girl’s voice rang out. B1T1 was, in short, the internal supervisor of the base of operations at the foot of the mountain B2T3 was on. Because this was an extra-curricular by choice, they weren’t from the same class; but he recalled the face.

It shouldn’t have been a girl.

“B2T3, this is B1T1.”

Yet, the calls continued.

“—Is all well?”

B2T3 moved in response to the voice he had heard. He threw his sniper rifle to the floor and drew his knife out of the sheath he kept under his uniform.

The sheath was facing downwards, so when he released the clasp, the knife slid into his hand.

Gripping the knife, he ducked low and stepped to the left. He turned to face his back.

Who was there?

B1T3 had said “Don’t stand up.” That meant that there was someone standing behind him.

Was something there?

That’s strange. The thought rose to his head. After all, I was watching the road coming from the base of the mountain. The base of operations at the foot of the mountain is detecting spell-type stealth, so they should be checking for even the slightest reactions.

How did they bypass the surveillance and come all the way here?

If it’s the type of stealth that blocks all sensory output like the one Musashi uses, they would be able to get up here; but I heard that it requires large scale machinery, so it’s only possible because it’s a ship. It shouldn’t be something that can be adapted to personal use.

To find out why, I need information. And to let my comrades know what’s happening…

“Gabriel, open up a different divine communication, emergency…”

“Error.”

Gabriel shook her head. She was close to tears.

“We cannot establish a connection.”

She was saying that she was unable to connect to other Mouses, the method used for short distance communication; or establish divine communication, used for long distance communication.

This loss of connectivity pointed to two facts.

The first was the suppression of the main base of operations’ watchtower. This was demonstrated by the sealing of the established divine communication, which relied on the base of operations for functionality.

The second concerned the users of the Mouses’ divine communication. In short, his comrades were all unable to use divine communication.

Which means…

Just a moment ago, B1T3 saw a figure standing on this roof. If that was true, the chances are that the watchtower whose roof I’m standing on has been suppressed as well.

I’m in danger.

Thinking this, B2T3 brought the hand gripping the knife out of his uniform, readying himself.

It was nighttime. His vision had not been given a night vision blessing. The night vision spell he did have was used for the scope.

Because of this, B2T3 did not use the center of his vision but his peripheral vision to confirm his surroundings. The edge of the retina is more able to different things in the dark than the middle.

However…

No one’s here?

No one was on the roof.

What does this mean?

There was a problem. However, he could see no one. Was this all a misunderstanding?

No.

Even now, Gabriel was shaking atop his shoulder. That meant that her ability to carry out divine communication was being interrupted, leaving her unable to do anything.

B2T3 looked at Gabriel.

Then…!

He thought, and his next movements showed no hesitation.

Carrying Gabriel, he dropped to the floor.

Lying there, he searched his chest.

Gripped in his hand was a signal flare concealed in his chest. If thrown into the sky, it would flash into light, taking a few seconds to shower down. The light intensity was high, and his comrades at the continental port should notice it as well. Therefore, B2T3 reared up, still clutching Gabriel. Standing on the edge of the roof, he tried to throw the flare above him.

“—!?”

B2T3 saw a figure under him. Not on the floor or the air, but on the wall of the watchtower.

On the surface of the wall, close to the edge of the roof, a figure stood horizontally.

A woman!?

The instant he thought this…

Her body not moving, the woman rose up to him with movements like a mannequin’s.

“—Fuck.”

B2T3 toppled back, trying to throw the flare while keeping Gabriel behind his head.

However, the opposition’s movements were faster and stronger.

The woman, clad in the black and white of a serving maid, stretched out her arms, wrapping them around his neck.

He was being embraced from the front.

Clung to in that manner, his body was being pulled off the edge of the roof.

“…!”

Once again, the woman stood on the wall. She had let her body fall backwards, into the empty air.

Since his neck was being gripped, he was being pulled forward and downward. As such, he lost his balance.

“…!!”

He let the knife in his hand swing wide. It was a forced reversal, meant to sever the hold.

However, his hand felt nothing but the clank of metal. Both the sound and touch was hard. The knife had bounced back.

What!?

Though she didn’t seem to be wearing any protection, the knife had, for some reason, not worked.

Why?

The instant he thought this…

B2T3’s body had been drawn all the way forward, and he realized that he was floating in the air.

From a neck hold, he was drawn into a front suplex throw.

Because he had reflexively tried to resist, his body spun in a half-circle. As a result, his head was now facing downwards.

As he fell through the sky, having been thrown out, B2T3 heard a sound. This sound was a voice.

It said this:

“This is the operative in charge of B2T3. I judge that I have reached a satisfying conclusion.”

He looked at the owner of the voice he could hear. The figure in the corner of his vision, who was standing on a wall. It was…

“A Mikawa automaton…!?”

For security use, it was one of those he had seen so many times in the village.

But his shout screamed a question at the fact he had just confirmed.

Why!?

Two questions filled his mind.

The first question was why the automatons were suppressing the surveillance on Mikawa.

The second question was why the automatons, who expended ether to move, had come here without being detected by the base of operations below.

Yet, the prior “why” was meaningless. After all, automatons exist to listen to their master’s orders. Therefore, the fact that the automatons had come to suppress surveillance meant that…

Mikawa’s lord had started to rebel against the Testament Union.

The remaining puzzle, how they had slipped through the surveillance, was unknown. However…

“Gabriel! Bring them the information!”

In response to this shout, the angel at the back of his neck readied a camera.

B2T3 heard the click of a picture being taken. However, he heard another noise as well.

It was a voice. The voice of an automaton.

“My apologies. If you fall on your head, you will be injured.”

Speaking to the falling B2T3, the automaton calmly leaped off the wall. The hem of her clothing fluttering, the automaton came to a position to the right of him.

“—I will now turn your body so it is horizontal. Your safety is assured.”

The automaton kicked the wall. Its velocity increased as a result of the recoil from that action.

She let loose a kick.

“Pardon me for this discourtesy.”

The next thing he heard was the sound of a kick jarring his bones.

“—So.”

A young voice rang out on the bridge looking up towards the two moons.

The voice came from the bridge that led up to the entrance of the Academy. The bridge that displayed the sign of the Musashi Ariadust Academy.

Because it was night, the light stemmed from the lanterns on the bridge and in the courtyard. And within it Shirojiro, the only one standing, addressed everyone sitting around him.

“Toori hasn’t come yet, but without a doubt he’s wasting our money to prepare. Therefore, let’s consider his feelings and tell some ghost stories before we go on our ‘ghost hunt’ …For free, of course.”

“Shiro-kun, I’m not really sure if you’re trying to get everyone fired up or speaking from a business point of view…”

Heidi said, frowning. Beside her, Asama raised her hand. Nodding to her, Shirojiro invited her to continue.

Asama nodded.

“Um… I’d like to talk about something, something I can only talk about here. It isn’t a ghost story, but it’s about the recent phenomena that have been happening so often…”

Behind her, the Aoi sister thrust her hands into the air.

“Alright, it’s time for Asama’s super erotic storytiiiiime!”

“Ehhh!? Wha—, Kimi, what are you saying all by your…rather than that, don’t suddenly sit up straight, you guys! Um, Kimi does this kind of thing all the time…”

“Well, I worship the God of Eroticism after all. Specifically the Goddess of Performance, Uzume of Sada.”

Asama was at a loss for words. On the other hand, the Aoi sister thumped Asama on the shoulder with a smile.

“Could it be there’s a priestess here who refuses to do things their God orders?”

“Eh? No, nothing like that… I mean, that’s one of the Goddesses of our shrine.”

“Hehehe, that’s stupid of you. I made my substitution contract at your place, after all. Back then, only women could be involved in rituals, so you came to help me out. We stripped together in the waterfall in the back and—”

“Oohhhwaaahh—!!”

Asama interrupted the Aoi sister with a loud scream. Afterward, she turned towards everyone, and hurriedly said this.

“W-we didn’t do anything weird, alright? Alright!? B-basically, rituals are kept a secret so talking about them is like divulging a God’s personal information, or rather…”

“There were a lot of things we didn’t know, so we used the tools in one hand with the manual in the other. We had to do it three times, I think.”

“D-don’t call tamagushi tools! We didn’t even swing it up and down with one hand, the reason we failed twice was because you wrote weird fake names in the book! Wait, don’t record this, guys!”

“Hurry up and notice that you’re just being toyed with,” everyone muttered.

Shirojiro spoke.

“Aoi’s sister, please don’t play with Asama just because you don’t like scary stories.”

“Th-that’s right, he’s right, don’t! Kimi’s so cowardly that she fainted the moment she got into her chair when we went to see a Noh horror play, and she’s trying to hide it with those erotic stories!”

“Yeah. That’s why I’m saying that you should sell me those stories. I’ll pay five times the market price.”

“Y-you’re the worst!”

“Now, now…” Heidi interjected. Furthermore, she said this.

“Yes, yes, Asama-chi. Won’t you continue your story? What do you mean by something that can only be said here?”

“Y-yes, about that…”

Heidi glared at Aoi’s sister who was about to say something again, shutting her up.

Checking that everyone around had fallen silent, Asama slowly said this.

“The truth is…there’s quite a lot of it.”

Hearing those words, Aoi’s sister started to push up her chest from below, a smile on her face. Once again, Heidi stilled her with a smiling glare.

“Ah, don’t mind us. Think of us like we’re just the background. Just like people watching a fighting game, you shouldn’t care about us even if we’re doing really outrageous stuff.”

“Y-yes. Well, actually… I want everyone to be careful.”

“Of what?”

Asama nodded.

“Recently, amongst the phenomena, the higher-ups in the shrine have started to regard the ‘Princess Disappearances’ as a danger.”

Everyone fell silent at the words Asama had said, the “Princess Disappearances”.

However, after a while there was someone who spoke out.

It was Neshinbara.

“—Well, it’s basically an urban legend from long ago, right? It seems like it’s revived recently though. When we were small, the rumors of it happening in Musashi and Mikawa were going around as an urban legend. I did a little personal research on it for use as an idea, since I wanted to be an author.”

Neshinbara was tapping on the keyboard of the armrest attached to his waist. He opened up several signframes in the air.

“When I looked it up, it really was something huge back then. In the library, there were books for children about it. A few books about ‘The Lady Princess’ were published around thirty years ago, though there were none about the ‘Princess Disappearances.’ ”

“Neshinbara, can you explain this for free?”

Neshinbara nodded in response to Shirojiro’s urging.

He reversed the view of a number of signframes, showing them to everyone.

“This should be easy to understand. The figure called The Lady Princess kidnaps children and leaves scrawls around town. Sources like the daily newspaper cite this as an actual example.”

Neshinbara looked over them all before he turned a signframe to face them.

“Recently in the Far East… One year ago in fact, an incident occurred… Everyone knows about this, right? Honda-kun spoke about this. The reason Honda-kun came to Musashi was because her mother was involved in a ‘Princess Disappearance’.”

In the midst of the silent group, Kimi covered her ears with her hands and was saying: “Aahhhhhh, ahhhhhhh.” In spite of this, Asama, who was sitting beside her, looked directly at Neshinbara and nodded deeply.

She summoned Hanami and displayed a signframe in the air.

“The ‘Princess Disappearances’ are different from the ordinary phenomena of being spirited away. A normal spiriting away causes a disturbance in the ether that makes up space. Because the people are just going behind the distortion, the people who disappeared haven’t actually disappeared. If a spell is used, you can track them down using the existence of that which used to belong to them, either the spirit or body.”

“However, the victims of the ‘Princess Disappearances’…have all disappeared, never to return. Their soul and body, their possessions…they all disappeared. It’s like they came into contact with a destruction-type spell that belong to Testament Signs or Technomagie.”

“Yes,” Asama said.

“Also, the ‘Princess Disappearances’ started to occur around thirty years ago. And it seems like several incidents have happened this year. Because of this, this is being said in one part of the shrine: ‘Couldn’t the ‘Princess Disappearances’ be an organized chain of murders imitating incidents of spiriting away?’ ”

She paused for a breath.

Asama looked down, touching the tip of her thumb to her lips.

“Couldn’t it be true that the ‘Princess Disappearances’ aren’t phenomena but a method of killing an organization uses because they fear being found out? And that this method of killing doesn’t even leave behind a body, let alone the life of those they suspect?”

Now, Asama drew a diagram on the bridge with her finger. A circle with a line piercing it horizontally.

“This is the symbol that is always left behind at the scene of a ‘Princess Disappearance’. I myself have seen it several times at the scene of what appears to be a spiriting away. It’s always sealed off, and the search always cut off by the higher ups.”

Hearing Asama’s words, everyone grew silent.

However, within that silence, Kimi, who had been covering her ears, spoke with forced bravery as she tried to hide her trembling.

“…Tee…heehee, i-it’s not like that’s definitely the sign of a crime or anything. It could be that they were trying to make some erotic symbol when people came running, so they messed up, right? That must be it, right!? Everyone loves erotic symbols! They love them!”

“There’s no crime organization that’d try to draw that kind of mark after finishing their business!”

Hearing everyone berate her, Kimi covered her ears again. Asama spoke, her manner indicating her approval of the good timing.

“And so, well, that’s starting to happen often. There’s other things happening too, and the higher-ups at the shrine recently issued the order that we weren’t to speak about the phenomena to anyone. That order was mostly directed towards the type of phenomena that would fan the unrest in the world; and the ‘Princess Disappearances’ that we talked about earlier, with the symbol of the Princesses…those are definitely included in that statement.”

Everyone nodded.

Despite this, from within the group one hand rose up. It was Naomasa, who was sitting right next to Asama. She was propping up her left cheek with the prosthetic right arm that she had rested on her knee.

Her body was curled up like that of a cat’s.

“I’m from China originally. When ya say ‘Princess’, yer talking about the girls born into the Chinese royal family, aren’t ya?”

“Then, have you heard anything about these ‘Princess Disappearances’?”

“In Kantou, the rumor comes up from time to time. Somethin’ like…when Qing took control of China, the princess of Ming, who’d managed to run away, used a spell to kill those she had grudges against. Well, I thought that it was jus’ a rumor, but…”

“People really were killed,” Naomasa said.

“What doesn’t make sense to me is this. If you’re talking about princesses, then these disappearances are happening even outside of Qing, right? Asama-chi?”

“It’s happening most often in Mikawa and at the edge of Kyou, isn’t it?”

“…Wow, we’re all the way inside the area of effect, huh. Even if we take care, there’s not really anything we can do… I mean, if there’s a line of crimes that the organization or whatever it is is drawing, then I think that the magistrates and night watch will be following it. If it’s a phenomena, then it doesn’t really discriminate between its victims…”

“Hehehe, that’s right, it’s useless! There’s nothing we can do! You hit the nail on the head, Adele!”

Kimi suddenly stood up. She laughed delightedly.

“It’s useless! Just like how no matter what an unpopular guy does, it’s useless, no matter how much you think about how to deal with an urban legend, it’s useless, it’s all useless! Hehehe, you unpopular bastards! You! And you!”

“H-hey, Kimi! Stop pointing at Tenzou and Urquiaga! Pointing is a bad omen, so just say their names! Also, it’s not like they like being unpopular! These are qualities they worked hard to earn, so there’s nothing they can do! Stop digging it in!”

Ignoring the fact that Tenzou and Urquiaga had fallen to the ground starting to weep, Asama and Kimi continued to talk, their argument heating up.

Completely different from them, Ohiroshiki raised his hand.

“I humbly think that we should slowly think on this urban legend…in any case, I think that it has worked well as a ghost story; so, um, where is everyone else tonight? Like the little kids from the kindergarten here!”

“Cast away all desire that won’t lead you to money. Anyway, as for the other people, Masazumi is going to see Mikawa’s fireworks from Tama’s stern, where she lives. Azuma’s late because he’s moving, Miriam Poqou can’t come, and it’s forbidden for Mitotsudaira to leave her house at night. Therefore…all that’s left is Toori, who’s setting up, but…”

The instant he said this…

“Okay! I’m late! Sorry, sorry!”

Suddenly, the front gate of the school building opened and Toori stuck his face out from inside.

“Were you inside there!?”

Faced with those expressions, he gestured towards the darkness inside the school building, a smile on his face.

“Hurry up and get in! It’s dark in here, and super fun!!”

Beneath the night sky, sitting on a bench under a building’s eave was a single figure. Light shone out from the building behind him.

It was Sakai.

He was sitting in front of a small eatery, on a bamboo bench meant for a short respite.

Placing the teacup whose contents he had drained next to him, he puffed smoke out from the pipe he held in his mouth.

“The second moon also looks beautiful today. The Lord Teacher said that he’d prepared fireworks during his afternoon broadcast, but I don’t even feel like adding any color to the sake… All I’ve got going is a bad feeling.”

Trying to check the time, Sakai peered inside the shop.

No one was inside the tatami room or behind the counter of the fairly narrow shop.

Two automatons wearing aprons were standing in the kitchen; but apart from the sound of boiling water and the periodic washing of chopping boards, no sounds of cooking could be heard.

Sakai glanced at the mini Shinto shrine on the inner wall, which doubled as a clock. In front of the shrine affixed to the wall, a chicken Mouse, the spirit of the God of Time, was wandering around with its chicks.

There were four chicks, so…

“…It’s 8:00.”

Sakakibara said that he would have the documents delivered at 8:30. The checkpoint above will close at 10:00, so I want to head to the entrance of the mountain path by 9:00. If I have the documents, I can bring them home and read them.

Sakai looked at the menu hanging on the wall.

“…You serve a lot of curry here. A kid back at our place, Hassan, really likes it, but you seem to enjoy it as well.”

He said. The automatons in the kitchen looked his way and dipped their heads.

“Judge, we were made by the Houjou.”

“So you were made for the Indian Alliance. Well, do you have any recommendations for something to go with sake?”

“If that is your wish, then this minced curry is suitable. It is made from fresh ingredients just taken from Suruga.”

“Um, it’s fine if it isn’t curry…”

Sakai said. As he spoke, someone tapped him from the back.

“Hm?”

Sakai turned around, and standing in the dark, nighttime street was an automaton dressed like a maid.

The automaton was carrying a bundle of paper in her arms. She offered them to Sakai without expression.

“Sakai-sama, this is for you.”

“Ah, thanks. This is from Sakakibara?”

Sakai took it while rising from his chair. The automaton in the maid uniform nodded.

“Judge, before he went to work, I received an instruction to take what was lying on his table and bring it to you afterward, so I fulfilled it.”

“In other words, he started up a new one. That’s just like him…”

“Is that so?”

Sakai nodded. He recalled something from times long past.

“We called him the ‘Manifesto’. He worshiped a God of Compositions, after all, and he could write with some serious fervor. He could also organize information well. What happened this time was probably all stored neatly in his head, and he wrote it up specifically for my use…”

If Tadakatsu had forbidden him to speak of Ii, all he could do was stay in his house without bringing the materials concerning the ‘Princess’ outside.

If so.

Sakakibara had spit out a summary onto paper and given it to Sakai.

Sakai flipped through the pages held in his arms. He had thought to look at it after returning to Musashi, but curiosity moved him. His heart saying ‘just a little,’ he flipped through the fairly thick Japanese paper with his finger.

“Has he already established that he has nothing to do with it? Or…”

has he resolved to drag me into it?

Sakai’s words stopped there, as he flipped through the pages. This was because…

“…Blank pages!?”

Sakai stopped, unmoving at the sight of the stack of papers on which nothing was written.

“…Sakai-sama?”

In response to the maid’s question, Sakai flipped through a few pages, confirming that they were completely blank.

“—It couldn’t be.”

Throwing those words to the floor, he started to move. Clutching the documents given to him under his right arm…

“What’s going on!? No, could it be…”

He broke into a run.

His destination was where the maid-type automaton had come from, Sakakibara’s home.

The automaton that he left behind him raised her voice, but he didn’t care.

Sakai sped from the the front of the shop into the darkness.

“Sakakibara…!”

Sucking in a breath, he thrust his body forwards, hurtling through the empty nighttime streets.

“What did you find out!?”