Horizon:Volume 2B Chapter 41
Chapter 41: Hermit on the Stage
What naturally leaks out
Even if it is hidden?
Point Allocation (Trouble)
White plaster buildings filled a town on a slope. Tres Españan flags could be seen below the blue sky. They were raised on the occasional simple signal at the narrow intersections, but none of the people, oxcarts, and carriages using the streets obeyed them. They all noisily travelled back and forth and up or down the rough stone paving.
Chairs were placed in front of the filthy houses lining the streets, but people were also sitting on the road as they passed the time. None of them had jobs, so they sat around talking, betting on dice throws, or playing card games.
Occasionally, a man holding a hunting horn by the ocean at the bottom of the slope would motion toward them. Whenever that happened, a street corner’s worth of men would walk to him.
They would descend toward the ocean and a while later carts would begin travelling along the road.
All of the slopes switched between the two states of standstill and motion.
Meanwhile, some figures ascended from the harbor.
There were three of them and they all wore filthy cloaks and hoods that had originally been white. The one in the lead was a dark-haired and short young man and he was followed by a brother and sister with blond hair.
The people who saw them would raise their eyebrows at first, but they would soon bend their eyes in a smile and call out to the short one up front. One raised a hand in greeting and noticed how the short young man’s feet disappeared before reaching the ground.
“Hey, what’s all this, Señor Bat? Did you take on some apprentices?”
“More or less. How have things been with you?”
“All the shipments from the New World have been a lifesaver. I thought about taking some of it for myself, but I was caught. I guess I got a little too greedy.”
“That’s for sure,” said those around him.
“Señor Bat” laughed and then asked a question.
“Is the King here?”
“Testament. Did you hear about it down below? He’s in the market. Sandro already lost and came back here. He went to all that trouble claiming he was undefeated in Hexagone Française.”
The man speaking with “Señor Bat” pulled a coin from his pocket and flicked it into the air.
“But talk isn’t enough when it comes to gambling.”
“Testament. But it can win you enough to cover the Millones, can’t it?”
“That it can.”
“Señor Bat” raised a hand toward the smiling men and continued down the road with the two siblings. A white domed building bearing Alcalá de Henares’s crest was visible on the western hill on the left side of the town.
That was the primary school building.
The three of them climbed the slight slope of the street while looking toward it.
As they did, the sister asked “Señor Bat” a question.
“Captain Takakane, why did they call you ‘Señor Bat’?”
“Oh, that,” replied Takakane. He continued facing forward while passing by a woman carrying some market goods home. “I haven’t actually revealed my identity. I’ve hidden it while playing here for a long time. More recently, I’ve been coaching a kid’s baseball team with Fusae. I seriously trained them to show I wasn’t doing it out of pity and they made it to the semi-finals in the previous tournament. Velá also comes down here to paint frescos when he wants a change of pace from doing nothing but history recreation paintings. …Juana doesn’t know about any of it, though.”
“It’s the first we’ve heard about it too. You told us to rely on Velázquez and we did so, but I didn’t know it went so far.”
“Well, now’s the time to learn. But don’t tell Juana or Gin. Juana’s too straight-laced and Gin should probably hear about it from Muneshige.”
“Testament,” agreed the sister as she occasionally looked around at the people of the city. “I’ve heard this area described as the slums for people who can’t even attend the academy.”
“Have you noticed anything about it?”
“Testament,” replied the Valdés sister as she looked around. “It’s nothing but humans and long-lived…no, humans and the half-lived who are a mix between human and long-lived.”
“Sister, I can’t tell the difference between long-lived and half-lived.”
“Hmm. I can kind of tell from their mannerisms.”
“Testament. That’s right,” said Takakane. “The half-lived are visually identical to the long-lived. Even I can only tell once they start to move. The half-lived tend to have shorter ears, but there is a fair difference between individuals and between different types of long-lived. For example, the forest types have short ears naturally. But anyway, the half-lived have the same lifespan as humans, so…”
“The long-lived age over many long years and their actions adapt as their athletic abilities lower with age. In other words, their appearances and actions both age at a natural rate and they can be said to mature properly. However, the half-lived age just like a human, but their mind does not adapt in sync with the aging of their body. Compared to a pure-blooded long-lived, their actions are a lot like an aging person trying to act too young. That’s why the pure-blooded long-lived treat them as if there is something wrong with them and why they are only just barely allowed to exist under Tres España’s policies concerning purity. Simply put, they are persecuted.”
He took a breath.
“But it’s strange. No one here knows much about the academy or politics, but I can relax and discuss my favorite teams here. Around Henares, commenting on teams would get too much attention from the broadcast committee’s Sol Periódico.”
As he spoke, he left the street and found himself atop the low hill. This had once been a section of the city, but now the shops of an afternoon market were set up along benches built on the old building foundations.
More people were gathered here than on the streets and it was louder too. Most of the people moving here and there were women, but some men were gambling and talking at the ends of paths and the benches with no shop set up.
“Wow. So this is the afternoon market you can see from the academy. I always wanted to go see it.”
“Sister, did you want to visit it with your brother? You need more variety in your methods of expressing love. For example, you could make me food every so often. Lately, I have been quite fond of orange mousse. That is a good piece of brother trivia.”
“Before you start filling me with strange trivia as well, try to remember why we’re here,” said Takakane as he entered the market. “You wanted to know where the chancellor disappears to because you often have to run errands for him, didn’t you?”
He cut through the moving crowd of people and the other two followed with unsteady footing. They spotted some normal people here and there, but young students were by far the most common.
“Brother, people do know what our chancellor looks like, don’t they?”
“Sister, have you forgotten how much trouble Lady Juana goes through every time he makes a public appearance?”
“But…” The Valdés sister pointed through a gap in the people surrounding a bench up ahead. “That’s the chancellor, isn’t it? He’s completely blending in with the people here.”
The middle aged man named Segundo wore a worn-out shirt and sat on the edge of a bench with one knee raised. His hair was loosely parted to the side and three chess boards were placed beyond his bare feet.
Even under the afternoon sun, he did not reach for the glass of water next to him as he faced the three men on the other side of the boards.
Occasionally, he would push his old glasses up his nose and make a move.
As he moved pieces on the left, right, and then middle boards, the people began to whisper.
“He’s won the right and middle ones.”
“How can he do so well without knights or a queen?”
Amid the commotion of voices, the three opponents’ lowered heads grew even lower. The bearded man on the left who had yet to be defeated brought a hand to his forehead.
“Oh, damn. I’ve lost my escape route.”
He raised both hands overhead to conceded defeat, a cheer filled the surrounding people, and money changed hands.
But just as the bearded man was about to clean up the left chess board, Segundo stopped him.
“Can someone tell him how he can turn this game around? I would bet on him.”
“Eh?” said the bearded man.
A smile filled Segundo’s eyes beyond his glasses.
“You still have a chance. You know how to take on a challenge, but you also need to know how not to give up.”
“I’m not sure if I can say testament to that,” he said. “But if our King says so, I’ll give it a shot.”
“Good, good. Avoid thinking about unpleasant things. Remember: ‘If we have money, we’ll use it. We’ll give in to our passions, have a party, and forget everything unpleasant.’ So let’s have some fun.”
“All right then,” said the bearded man as he rolled up his sleeves.
Meanwhile, a young man who appeared to be a student sat down to be the next challenger. The surrounding crowd of people split apart and Segundo spotted someone beyond them.
Takakane stood there in filthy white clothing.
Takakane took a breath and turned toward the Valdés siblings.
“Well, I’ve shown you where he goes, so come find him yourselves in the future. I’ll give you some money this time, so buy something you like and head back. Just make sure you use the same path as on the way here.”
The siblings seemed confused by that, so he smiled bitterly.
“There are some thieves around these parts. Once they see how you buy things, they’ll know you aren’t from here or anywhere like here and they’ll target you. They won’t as long as I’m with you, though.”
“Testament. So that’s why we came up from the harbor without even trying to hide. We’ll be careful. …Anyway, Captain Takakane, should the chancellor really be doing this? Do none of them realize it’s him?”
“A lot of them probably do. They probably recognize me as well. But he speaks to them as if they don’t, so they play along. More importantly, the commander is pretty well-known around these parts.”
“Has it been that way for a long time?”
“You know about the Lepanto, right?”
“Testament,” replied the Valdés brother.
He glanced over at the old weapon displayed alongside the market’s sign.
“That was a battle from twenty five years ago, before we were even born. It was meant to double as the Battle of Itsukushima and…” He hesitated. “Captain Takakane, in accordance with the history recreation, you fought under Sue, head of Tres Portugal, and died in the battle. For the recreation, you killed Captain Fusae when Mouri falsely accused her of treason and then you died in the Battle of Itsukushima itself.”
“But as a defense, both of you had double inherited names, right? You had España’s General Pérez de Guzmán and Captain Fusae had Admiral Álvaro de Bazán of the Lepanto.”
“Sister, people do not remain as ghosts because they have a double inherited name.”
The sister turned toward her brother in surprise.
“Brother, why are you being so serious? Are you trying to suck up to him!?”
“Sister, your recent insanity has me worried. Anyway, Captain Takakane, the two of you fought under Sue Harukata, the famous commander who controlled Tres Portugal, but Sue was also killed in the battle and Portugal fell to Tres España as history dictated.”
“Testament. That’s right. A lot happened between the two of us in that battle. It’s how we ended up in our current relationship.”
“I get that the Battle of Lepanto brought about your relationship, but what exactly happened? Can you tell us more about it?”
“What is this? Are you from the broadcast committee or something?” asked Takakane.
“Well…” The Valdés sister smiled without a hint of shyness. “You and Fusae always refuse to tell us.”
“There’s no point in telling you. Both sides of that double battle were a tough fight. At the time, Tres España, England, and M.H.R.R. got along well and Tres España was closely-connected to K.P.A. Italia, so Hexagone Française was surrounded on all sides. They used the Battle of Itsukushima to open a hole there and that made it a much harder fight, but there was one other reason for it.”
“The Ottomans hadn’t been fully taken over by Oda at that point, and Suleiman ordered them to take the invasion even further than the history recreation required. Their plan was to win the battle but admit defeat to obtain a political victory. The fiercest fighting against the Ottomans happened where Velá, the commander, and a lot of poorly trained troops were. The Lepanto was said to be a huge success, but that’s because only the good things were recorded in the history books.”
The siblings were dumbfounded and a bitter smile entered Takakane’s voice.
“From what I’ve heard, the Lepanto was really bad. Velá only left behind a sketch, but it was a complete massacre. After all, the enemy defended with iron-reinforced ships that completely outdid our charging galleys and then began their big invasion. In both Itsukushima and the Lepanto, the front lines were used as shields and the rowers in the bellies of the Lepanto galleys died without being able to do anything.”
His bitter smile grew into a real smile.
“And those people were the half-lived you see here and their relatives.”
“Th-then the chancellor is here because of that?”
“Do you believe me?” asked Takakane. “During the Lepanto, there was an unknown commander who led many half-lived to safety but lost something truly precious of his own. If you believe me, then hurry on back. It’s too soon for the two of you to play here.”
In a dimly-lit ship corridor, everyone was gathered while holding their breath.
They were just outside the medical room of the Musashi transport ship that had crashed in England.
Three people stood directly in front of the door while the rest of the group was gathered halfway down the corridor.
Kimi held a basket of bloody bandages and Toori and Horizon faced her.
Kimi lowered her head a bit, but she faced her brother as she spoke.
“Listen, foolish brother. I am going to open this door, so are you sure you’re prepared for whatever you might find?”
“Sis, is Nate doing that bad?”
“Judge.” Kimi’s eyebrows lay flat and she nodded. “She definitely isn’t doing well. But she has resolved herself in a way, so don’t give any weird reactions, okay? When you see how bad she’s doing, make sure you don’t say ‘unh!’ or ‘owah!’! Don’t do it, okay!? You have to resist!”
“Sis! Sis! Is it just me or does that sound exactly like something I’d say!?”
“Heh heh heh. Foolish brother, do you really think a sister would betray her brother’s expectations!? I have to go dobaaan! Dovaaan!”
“Ohhh! I don’t have the slightest idea what that means, but it did a perfect job of getting across how hopeless you are! Anyway, sis, is Nate really not doing good?”
“Heh heh. Worried? Then go find out for yourself.”
Kimi placed a hand on the door and took in a breath.
She flung the door open to reveal Mitotsudaira sitting naked on the bed as she changed clothes.
For a moment, Mitotsudaira was unable to react to the motion and noise from the door to the side of the bed.
The opened space revealed a dark corridor, Toori who was giving her a thumbs up, Horizon who was doing the same, and Kimi who was peeking in.
“See! Do you see, foolish brother!? Poor Mitotsudaira had her breasts worn down so much in her duel that she’s left with that flat chest!”
An instant later, a scream was accompanied by Musashi’s chancellor crashing through three walls and arriving in a corridor on one side of the transport ship. After he rolled along, struck the opposite wall, and bounced off, the people in the corridor stopped only for a moment and quickly stepped over him as if nothing had happened.
“Wh-what is this!?”
While Mitotsudaira held up a side table in her right hand for the second shot and hid her body with the sheets, the battered uniform-wearing boy returned through the smashed wall while laughing.
“It’s been a while since I took a hit like that! I let my guard down, so I didn’t get enough boke in there. Damn, that hurt. Ah ha ha ha!”
It was unclear whether he was in pain or happy, so Mitotsudaira gave into her emotions and glared at the idiot.
“Wh-why are you barging in while I’m changing!?”
“Judge,” replied Horizon.
She looked back and forth between Mitotsudaira and the idiot, slowly removed the door with her gravitational control, held the door, and glared out from behind it.
“Y-you thief of a wolf!”
“Um…the door? Really, the door! I’m changing! Why are you even here!?”
“We came to see you before you could hide your injuries, Nate.”
His casual comment caused the side table to slip from her hand. She had been using her powerful grip to hold it in her palm, so it flew from her hand like a grape from its skin.
In her rush to grab the falling side table, the sheets fell from her body and the idiot let out a shout.
An instant later…
The idiot returned while laughing again, but he did not stop at the entrance and actually entered the room. Horizon followed and the scent of their hair filled Mitotsudaira with confusion and another realization.
…They are safe.
That was likely the others’ doing. She called herself a knight, but she had barely managed to hold off a single enemy.
In that theatre space, she had lost consciousness from lack of oxygen after holding Walsingham in the water, but Naito had been healing her in a carriage when she had woken up.
From what Naito had said, she had been sleeping atop the fountain’s stone structure along with the broken silver chains. It seemed Walsingham had withdrawn by releasing the theatre space.
…But based on the damage we took, that was essentially my loss.
According to Kimi, Naruze’s chicken meat had been badly injured, a wife had rescued her, and Tenzou had fallen for a girl and had a foreign object inserted into him. However, Mitotsudaira did not understand what that crazy person was talking about. Tenzou may have been unable to resist and committed a minor crime, but Naruze had been fighting without her Weiss Fräulein. It seemed the Technohexen had lost, but she must have done enough seeing as their king was unharmed.
…And here I am pretending to be a knight.
She could not bear to face them and it showed in her actions. While pretending to hide her body, she pulled up the sheet and buried half her face in the white cloth’s scent.
As she hung her head, a hand suddenly touched her hair. She gasped and trembled as she felt a grasping and stroking sensation reach her scalp through the hair.
“There, there, there. You put up a good fight.”
She took in a breath and tensed her shoulders at the idiot’s voice.
“N-no, I did not.”
“Judge. But it was thanks to your efforts that Toori-sama and I were able to speak with each other and that Toori-sama was able to decide on his policy for Musashi.”
“To be more precise, if any one person had been missing, Toori-sama would likely have become my shield.”
“Ehhh? Couldn’t you get them with your Logismoi Óplo?”
“We cannot rely on that.”
Mitotsudaira relaxed her shoulders and looked up. The idiot was sitting on the side table and stroking her head while Horizon was sitting on the bed.
Horizon’s calm eyes were looking directly towards her and the automaton’s lips parted.
“By the way, Mitotsudaira-sama, I must apologize. We all had a discussion a moment ago and we determined that your excessive excitement that led to this dreadful fate was due to the yakiniku power from four days ago that had yet to fully fade. I think I may have cooked too much meat for you.”
“Listen, all of you out there in the corridor! I’m going to remember this for later!!”
Shouts and fleeing footsteps filled the corridor.
“Honestly,” she sighed as the noises faded into the distance.
She held the sheet in her left arm, raised her head, and removed his hand from her hair with a twinge of regret. She then fixed her hair behind her.
“I insist on attending the party. I cannot let England underestimate us.”
“Are you that excited about being able to eat as much you want? Just make sure to rest afterwards, Nate.”
She did not feel like responding. As a knight, there were times when she should listen to her king’s ideas and times when she should not. That was especially true in an area that could become enemy territory at a moment’s notice.
…The kingdom of non-humans. It certainly lives up to the name in its way of completely transforming without warning.
She felt her awareness had grown soft to be thinking that now.
“Hey, hey, hey. No getting bloodthirsty, Nate. You were growling deep in your throat.”
“I was not.”
She was brought back to reality in an instant, but then she detected a scent she recognized from her clan’s company.
“Why do you have nail polish?”
The idiot lined up a few different colors on the edge of the side table.
“Nate, Cool White will work, won’t it?”
“Judge. That would be the one I would use.”
He grabbed her hand and she grew flustered despite knowing what he was going to do
“Eh? Wait. What are you doing?”
“Don’t get so down, Nate.”
The nails of the hand he held were split.
“Sis told me that werewolf races have nerves and blood vessels in their nails, just like dogs and wolves do in their claws. With your nails split, you couldn’t use the silver chains or fight very well, could you? So don’t get so down. I’ll heal them by hardening them with nail polish just like sis said to.”
“Eh? Wait… Kimi!”
She turned toward the corridor and saw Kimi making some form of gesture with both hands. Mitotsudaira initially thought she was saying to give up, but then she formed two large arcs in the space in front of her chest.
…I-I don’t understand at all!!
Her astonishment created enough of an opening for the idiot to start with the nail polish.
“~ ~ ~!”
She trembled as the small brush traced across the nerves in her split and sensitive nails. It felt like having her wound licked, but she also felt heat and an itching pain she could not ignore.
A ticklish feeling spread from her fingertip to the core of her body.
…I-I have to resist.
If she opened her mouth, she would never live down the noise she produced. And if she acted reflexively to this sensation, the idiot would be seriously injured. The most she could do was pull in the sheet with her left hand and bite down on it to endure.
He then did the next finger.
“Oh, it’s going on there good. Okay, I’m gonna do the other fingers and the other hand. …Does it hurt?”
She did not have the leeway to answer, but he gave a small smile.
“Yeah. Stay, stay. Bear with it, okay?”
He chose for her, but she could not decide whether she should speak up in protest or not.
As she continued to bite the sheet, Horizon pulled an apple and knife from somewhere and began peeling the apple. A plate had already been prepared, but Horizon’s action seemed odd to Mitotsudaira.
Horizon was peeling the apple with the blade pointed outwards and the idiot soon noticed as well.
“Horizon, that’s my moms’ special skill, so you probably shouldn’t copy it.”
“Really? But she can peel the entire apple in a single, long slice like this.”
“She’s a legit samurai, so she has some weird policy about never pointing a blade toward herself. Most people point it inwards cause it’s easier.”
Mitotsudaira nodded in agreement and spoke up despite thinking it was unnecessary.
“The best method is to twist the hand holding the knife and press the apple against it while twist- hyan!”
“Twisthyan? Mitotsudaira-sama, I do not understand your instruction.”
The idiot was working on her ring finger, so she could not reply. She could only bite on the sheet as she felt a ticklish sensation scratching through her body from below her fingernail and down her arm.
“Foolish brother,” called Kimi from the corridor. “Do her toenails as well. Inconsistency is the sign of a terrible woman.”
…Eh? My feet too!?
She looked up hesitantly and found him frowning.
“Hmm. I don’t think I’d do very good with the feet.”
“What? Why not?”
“When sis gets out of the bath, she has me do it because she’s too stiff, but it must tickle because she always starts laughing, falls out of her chair, and kicks me.”
…Wh-what have you been doing!?
While she thought that for a variety of reasons, he tilted his head.
“Should I do it?”
She thought on that question for a moment, covered her head in the white sheet, and silently stuck her feet out from under the cloth.
The sun set and 5:00 PM approached.
Lights were already lit in the hall leading from Oxford Academy’s entrance.
The light seemed to warm the chill of evening and the center of the hall was left empty while the four sides were filled with tables, platters of food, and plates.
The hall continued far beyond the queen’s seat of honor. The ceiling was tall and darkness filled the farthest areas which reached over 100 meters back. At the border between the darkness and the queen’s seat, the emblem of England and Oxford hung as a flag and provided color to the entire hall.
Musicians wearing English uniforms were lined up on either side of the hall and were currently tuning their instruments.
A group appeared from the left corridor. Those representatives of England wore formal uniforms and included the old, young, male, female, and non-human. They shrugged, slapped each other on the back, and gradually filled the hall with noise and motion.
However, they all looked toward the corridor on the right as they passed the time.
That corridor led to a waiting room where Musashi’s representatives would be preparing.
The party preparations were complete, so there was nothing to do but wait for it to start.
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