Horizon:Volume 2 Chapter 26

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Chapter 26: Flower Presenter on the Street[edit]

Horizon2A 781.png

In what season

Does the strictness of blooming

Become more lax?

Point Allocation (Cheering)


The sounds of the festival danced about the stone and brick city. They gathered together and spread out in the midday sky.

The city was not all that tall. Instead of apartments, the streets were lined with stone and brick houses.

But the dirt roads and roofed sidewalk arcades were all filled with people.

The road could not be seen through the people who were all heading to different destinations or the temptations before their eyes.

The people made countless different noises. Orchestras and bands played and sung the main melody, the countless speaking voices of the walking people formed the low bass, and their footsteps on the stone and dirt created the drum-like tempo. The many sounds and never-ending flow of people drifted toward the fatty, flavorful, and sweet scents of foods at the festival stands. They were further disturbed by the jester and magician shows, but no matter how much the movements slowed, they never came to a complete stop.

And on top of all that movement, spirits moved along the road and through the air.

The wind spirits carried voice messages, the kobolds carried materials to support the festival, and they all remained in constant motion.

All the never-ending action produced heat, but one factor gave them all a breather.

The girls.

There were the Far Eastern residents. A few girls – mostly Far Easterners – were dressed up as they walked down the center of the road. A tall girl with light brown hair and lots of exposed skin took the lead. She was followed by a tall black-haired girl, a silver-haired half-werewolf, and girls with black and gold wings.

The waves of people naturally parted ahead of them, but not to avoid them. Both the men and women wanted to move back so they could more easily see the entire group.

The parting waves of people began hesitantly, grew surprised, and finally filled with breaths of curiosity. The occasional person made a comment while drawing back.

“Are those the girls of Musashi?”

A lot of Far Eastern girls had entered England for the festival. However…

“Those are chancellor’s officers and students with connections to the student council. They’re the main players during combat.”

Of all the gazes turned toward the girls, not all of them were filled with curiosity. Some of the people had body types that pointed toward certain combat styles or wore stockers for spell charms. Those people parted the waves of people and poked their heads out to observe the girls who might become their opponents.

Their gazes held suspicion or doubt and they commented on the girls’ gait, posture, and shoulder movements.

“We can’t let our guard down.”

“Testament. They’re more impressive in real life than in the footage from the Battle of Mikawa.”

“Their breasts are?”

“Their heights are.”

“Testament. I just had to ask. It was a joke, okay? Don’t take it seriously? Okay?”

“If you say so.”

After a short pause, one of them lowered his head.

“Sorry…I lied. I shouldn’t do that. I shouldn’t lie about the important things.”

“No, I’m sorry. I lied too. It’s just that I’m more of an ass man, so I didn’t want to give in.”

“I see.”

Some of the guys in the crowd smiled at each other and placed a hand on each other’s shoulders, but an occasional guy would exit the crowd to invite one of the girls to join him. They were mostly high school aged and some were closer to middle-aged, but they would all start by standing in front of the girls.

“––––– ”

The dancer’s smile and comment from the girl in front would put a bitter smile on their face as they looked up into the sky.

That exchange happened a few times, but suddenly something else happened.

“–––––?”

The boy who exited from the valley of people was younger than all the previous ones. He was still middle school aged. His blushing face was filled with tension, but he still stood before the girls.

But his lips trembled as he tried to speak and he was unable to form the words.

“…!”

The boy bent his right elbow and held it out toward the dancer at the front. He was asking her to take his arm.

The entire surrounding crowd gulped at the action.

“––––”

And then they either laughed lightly or gave sympathetic sighs at what was coming.

Their reactions caused the boy to blush an even deeper shade of red and hang his head.

But with a light laugh, some hair flew through the air. The hair spread out like a cloud filled with wind and then it danced about. The sudden action caused the surrounding people to fall silent.

“–––––”

The girl in the lead removed one of the ribbons in her hair and wrapped it around the boy’s arm. She gently but surely tied the decoration to his proffered elbow.

She then lightly tapped his elbow. It was a rejection and a sign for him to return to everyone else. He looked at the cloth wrapped around his arm, looked at her, and then nodded.

“––––!”

He swung his elbow up to show everyone.

“…!!”

And the crowd welcomed the boy back with cheers and applause.

As she watched the boy be swallowed up by the crowd, the dancer spread her arms slightly and bowed lightly toward them all. A few people cheered and she calmly began walking once more. Once she did, the crowd parted before her.

As they walked, the black-haired girl second from the lead glared at the dancer and asked her a question.

“What was that strange ritual just now, Kimi?”

Kimi did not turn around as she walked in the lead. She merely left behind the words to answer the question.

“It’s simple, Asama. England’s self-proclaimed gentry are challenging the summit’s flower which was discovered in the Battle of Mikawa.”


Asama listened to Kimi while watching out for the kobolds that occasionally cut across the road.

“But they are taking me too lightly. After all, they are all inviting me by saying ‘how about you come with me’ or something similar. I don’t like it. They make such a casual invitation for protection in case I refuse. If I do and people laugh at them, they can laugh it off as if it were a joke from the beginning. Why would I accept an invitation like that? That is why I tell them other guys would be joining us as well.”

“Then what about that boy just now?”

“Ha ha,” she laughed quietly. “He silently held out his arm as if to say ‘come with me’. It was forceful, but it did a nice job of making me pass judgment. He was not the same as the others. He was seriously asking me if he was good enough. I could not respond so lightly to him. He had the right attitude.”

“Then why did you give him the ribbon?”

Kimi responded immediately.

“That’s simple. I can’t let him mistakenly think that dressing up nicely and being forceful is enough to win acceptance from a girl. He had the right attitude, but he still lacked quite a bit. There is also looks, strength, other obligations, his finances, his job, etc. There were still a lot of unknowns. I have no intention of being satisfied by a boy like that. I am sure he will pick another flower one day, but he still has a long way to go before that day comes. But that outstretched arm was not a mistake, so I rewarded him with one of my ribbons to tell him that.”

“Does my brain still have a long way to go? Because that sounds like the reasoning of a drunk to me.”

“If a woman cannot grow drunk on herself how can she intoxicate others with her presence?”

“Um.” Asama lightly waved her hands back and forth. “I’ve never actually been drunk.”

This produced whispers from Naito and Mitotsudaira behind her.

“Doesn’t Asamachi train with sacred sake every day?”

“I thought the shrine banned her from drinking when she started using it as a substitution. Wasn’t that during middle school?”

First my chest and now my liver. I feel like it is always body-related jokes with me.

She felt her height was the same, but then Kimi’s hair waved back and forth in front of her.

“I have also been deflecting the ones after you, so you should be thankful.”

“Eh? …Ehh?”

She had not expected that. For some reason, the word “indecent” entered her mind and heat filled her cheeks. She frantically spoke up now that she knew her safety was in the hands of the deviant walking before her.

“U-um, m-make sure you reject all of them, okay?”

“Judge, judge. I am not foolish enough to let any impurities approach Musashi’s main cannon shrine maiden. That would cause trouble for my foolish brother and the others. Just leave it to me. I can speak English.”

“You can?”

“Judge,” answered Kimi. “Knowing the words ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘eros’, and ‘dance’ is enough to hold a conversation.”

“Wh-who let this idiot take the lead!? Oh, I’m so glad I realized this now!”

“It doesn’t matter. Just like on the Far Eastern mainland, a translation spell is in effect on England, so there won’t be any problems. More importantly…”

Kimi turned toward them. She looked at Mitotsudaira, Naruze, and Naito.

“Has anything changed in our search for my foolish brother and Horizon?”

“By the way, where are Seijun and Masa-yan?” asked Naito.

“Masazumi went to a used book sale in Westminster. Masa said something about working with the engine division to repair the Musashi and collect parts for Jizuri Suzaku,” explained Asama. “We will meet up with Masazumi in the park on Oxford Street which runs between Soho and the City. Toori-kun and Horizon will meet us there as well.”

Kimi nodded.

“Heh heh heh. Not much further and we can spy on my foolish brother and Horizon’s date. We are only a slight mistake away from being stalkers, but that kind of twisted concern is so lovely! If Suzu could join us, we could use her sensors to listen in! Let’s eavesdrop! …This would be a lot easier with a ninja. Did that ninja say he is checking on the experimental wheat field with that hooded gentleman?”

“Judge,” said Naito. “Once the festival is over, Tenzou will be leaving England with Musashi, so he probably wants to do as much as possible while he can.”

“Probably,” agreed Asama, but then she turned toward Naruze. “Naruze, you don’t have to sell your printed books like Neshinbara-kun is?”

“You don’t have to avoid calling them doujinshi, you know? Anyway, this event is being held every day this week and our section isn’t until the fifth day. I’ll be taking part again with a different section on the seventh day, though. Neshinbara wrote a novel, so he’s today. Speaking of which, he’ll probably have some trouble. With Shakespeare…” Naruze held up her right arm. “And the whole Macbeth issue, I doubt anyone will want to approach him.”

“What was the name of that Tres Españan academy for young children? The 13th Mutsugoirei Academy?”

“Heh heh heh. If you are going to look into people’s pasts, keep it to the ones you have fallen for, gossiping shrine maiden,” said Kimi. “Whether one’s past has a major impact or not, even incidents in one’s past that leave no memory are part of the environment that shapes them. In that case, learning someone’s past is the same as wishing to live in the same way as them. Understand?”

“Understand what?”

“Shakespeare said she and Neshinbara have the same past. …As a girl, don’t you hope for an adorable future there?”

“You make it sound like you hope for love even from stalkers.”

“What’s wrong with that? If we were not all protected by the law, everything we did would be a crime. So let us enjoy ourselves like criminals in this land with different laws. …Mitotsudaira, what are you looking at?”


In response to Kimi’s question, Mitotsudaira looked to the right.

“There is a park over there.”

The others only had to look. The park beyond the crowd was a square patch of land thirty meters long. It was likely a local gathering spot. A simple bazaar had naturally been set up there, but there was another gathering as well.

“The Landsknechte are recruiting warriors.”

The Landsknechte were a combat club in M.H.R.R. which had been created for the history recreation. They were modelled off of the Kriegs Georgern and its members belonged to academies in M.H.R.R.

But in exchange for money, they will fight for any nation as transfer students.

They essentially ignored the national borders.

The world was based around students and the academies disliked the idea of “soldiers”, but the Landsknechte acted outside of the academies. That allowed them to use the history recreation as an excuse to refer to themselves as mercenaries.

Usually, the Landsknechte leader and his close aides would travel to different places while maintaining a supply unit for food and a canteen run by prostitutes. In lands at war, they would recruit soldiers, join the fight, and continue fighting if necessary.

“You sometimes see them in the reservations. For the Far Eastern people to fight in a war to defend the nation with provisional rule over them, they must become transfer students using the mercenary system.”

The unit in the park already had a supply unit which was running festival stands.

They were aided by women whose clothes bore the chicken and squirrel emblems indicating a prostitute. Those women also lined up small items to sell.

This is a wonderfully lively atmosphere, thought Mitotsudaira.

“But they are dying out now that every nation has their own army for the Thirty Years’ War.”

“That is still in its early stages, so they are still quite busy,” said Naruze from behind her.

Mitotsudaira regretted saying they were dying out in front of Naruze and Naito who were from M.H.R.R., but Naruze was looking in the same direction.

“M.H.R.R. does not have a combined national army due to the increasing decentralization of the principalities, so a mercenary organization that is not bound by the principality borders is very useful. Even if the principalities fight, the mercenaries can be united via money if a crisis falls over M.H.R.R.

“Anyone can join, but a chivalrous desire to protect something lies at the base of it all. Their opponent is decided by money, but that means they always have a path that can never be destroyed. Before a battle, the Landsknechte kneel on the ground and kiss the earth. That may be a sign of their desire for a united empire that is impossible with the current divided principalities.”

Before their eyes, men lined up in the park and the leaders accepted them.

A spear with their recruitment charter or “Bat Brief” attached was set up at the park entrance. Next to it, the recruitment commander tried to convince people to join while a hired band played as loudly as they could manage.

In the park, the people were divided between the candidates awaiting inspection and those whose inspection was complete.

And something existed between the two groups.

“That is the Landsknechte’s famous gate of inspection known as the Spear Gate.”

Two spears stood a meter apart with the butt end down. The upwards-pointing tips had a pike lying between them. The makeshift inspection gate used the spell cast on the spears and pike to determine the characteristics of whoever passed through it. Mitotsudaira was fairly certain the spears where from M.H.R.R.’s Eisenritter brand which ensured durability and sharpness with the thickness of the spears. The pike on the other hand was a straight and long weapon from the Holy Knights’ Steel Association brand.

That means the mercenaries do not distinguish between Catholic and Protestant.

Supply officers stood to either side of the gate. A secretary stood beyond the gate to record the surname, baptismal name, and birthplace of those who passed through. Occasionally, the inspection gate would emit a chime and the person passing through would begin a discussion with the supply officers.

“You’re an idol worshipper, aren’t you? What? Your closet is filled with holy figurines? Most of your unit is Protestant, so be careful. …Fine then. Our warrior’s compassion will allow you to carry one with you, but just this once.”

It was unclear whether that was actually kind or not, but it seemed warriors handled this sort of thing in a roundabout fashion.

“Why are the Landsknechte recruiting here in England?” asked Asama with a tilt of her head.

“Well, Asama,” said Naruze. “This recruitment is for those in England who aren’t students. The academy rules say only a student can oppose other students. And anyone who joins the Landsknechte temporarily joins the M.H.R.R. academy of AHRRS. That means they are a student, so they can join England as a transfer student and freely protect England from Tres España. It’s a convenient method for those who quit being students for some reason or another.”

“Hashiba is not opposing England, so you can also view it as a way to earn some points here.”

As they spoke, the recruitment commander began performing an oath with those who had passed through the Spear gate.

“Listen up! As Landsknechte, you will abide by the AHRRS academy rules and the 74 Landsknechte regulations of duty! First, when marching, ‘Give your all, Always stay the pace, and Yearn to continue on’. Remember those rules of G-A-Y, and you’ll do fine! Next, to ensure a balanced diet with your provisions…”

As they all nodded at the basic stipulations, they held their right hand and two fingers up toward the commander and gave their oath.

“I swear it on the Testament.”

The girls of Musashi sweated nervously as they listened to the stipulations and oath.

“No running in the halls, keeping a balanced diet, and flattening their milk cartons? Th-that is quite a strict oath.”

“You eat nothing but meat, so you need to add water and bread to balance out your diet.”

“Kimi, I think you would be kicked out the instant they performed a uniform or hairstyle inspection.”

As they all watched the mercenaries, Naruze spoke up.

“Of course, I think Tres España is doing the same thing with the Kriegs Georgern who are the Landsknechte’s rival and the organization they are modelled off of. The Kriegs Georgern are pro-Catholic, so they are on good terms with K.P.A. Italia. Due to his position, the pope cannot own a private fighting force, so he has the Kriegs Georgern protect him. The Landsknechte are more numerous while the Kriegs Georgern are more disciplined, so it’s hard to say how this will turn out.”

“…You know a lot about this.”

“I suppose I do,” she said, but she said nothing more about herself. She instead steered the conversation back toward the mercenaries. “The prostitutes running the canteen are succubi, right? They can give men any dream they want. Any painful memories or farewells in their past can be redone with that power. It’s said that any guy will find themselves crying when they wake up. And the skilled ones can apparently make anyone call her ‘mother’.”

“I see,” said Mitotsudaira. She then had a thought concerning that dream-giving ability. “What would you think if the chancellor wanted to resolve his regrets in that way?”

Her casual comment caused Asama to turn around. She had a surprised look on her face.

“Um…”

Hearing the shrine maiden hesitate, Mitotsudaira belatedly realized her question had been inappropriate.

I seem to be lacking in prudence today.

She decided to change the subject, but Kimi asked her a question before she could.

“Mitotsudaira, do you still have my foolish brother’s trail?”


“Eh?”

Mitotsudaira immediately restated her response.

Oops.

“Judge. He is up ahead on this road. His hair smells the same as yours.”

“You’re pretty amazing, Mito-tsan.”

“The chancellor and Horizon wash their hair with the same shampoo and Kimi has been taking care of Horizon’s hair every night recently.”

“True.” Kimi had her back to them, but Mitotsudaira heard her laugh. “Just my foolish brother was fun enough, but now I have a little sister who is as cute as a doll and I can touch her with my own hands. My life is trending upwards so much that every day sets a new high score. Just think about it: there is an idiot who is trying to conquer the world and a cement-like girl who actually has the authority to do so…and I am their older sister. So who will hold the highest position in the future? That would be me, wouldn’t it?”

How is anyone supposed to mentally defeat this girl? wondered Mitotsudaira, but Kimi brushed up her hair with a laugh and continued speaking.

“So if I do not keep a level head, the entire world will go crazy.”

“Are you saying you are a balancer for the world?”

Even Kimi had to have been surprised when Horizon suddenly appeared. Probably. Maybe. If there is even the tiniest bit of normalness in her.

Mitotsudaira had also not known what to do about that reunion of old friends after ten years, learning that old friend had lost her memories, and learning that she was a Logismoi Oplo automaton. Mitotsudaira had not known how to react to that girl or if she should simply leave things be and see what happened.

Either way, I would be leaving it to the chancellor.

Mitotsudaira was grateful that Horizon had approached her during the yakiniku the night before. After all, it had taught her that Horizon was not wary of her. Now she just had to figure out what to do about it.

At any rate, she thought before speaking to the others.

“If we continue to gather this much attention, the chancellor and Horizon will notice us once we get closer.”

“Heh heh. You want to split up? I thought wolves hunted in packs?”

“Would you rather I gave instructions as the pack leader? Split up and track them.”

Just as Mitotsudaira followed up her instructions with a small snort, a shadow suddenly filled the sky.

She frowned and looked up.

A vermilion aerial ship passed by overhead. The logos of a nation and academy that it bore on the sides indicated that it was a diplomatic ship.

“That ship is from Tres España’s Alcalá de Something!” exclaimed Asama. “Why is it in England!?”

“That would be Alcalá de Henares. …And the armada battle may be approaching, but Tres España and England are not complete enemies. Tres España has likely sent an ambassador. As soon as this festival ends, Tres España will probably declare war and send out their invincible fleet.” Mitotsudaira took a breath and continued as she heard a bell ringing to the north. “Either during this festival or at its end, Mary Stuart’s execution will be determined.”


Two people stood on the front deck of the vermilion diplomatic ship floating in the sky. Being a diplomatic ship, the terrace was made so one could view the ground below. Standing there were a girl with two false arms and a lean long-lived man with a mustache.

The long-lived man, Velázquez, spoke to the girl, Gin.

“It looks like we are being confined here, but we should be able to return to the third level. I guess we can’t fly right up to the embassy. …But look, Gin. Isn’t that Mary Stuart in the Tower of London?”

He pointed toward a building on the first level several kilometers away, but Gin only narrowed her eyes.

“I apologize, but you are a mountain-type long-lived race, correct?”

“What? Oh, sorry. My sight is a lot better than yours. It’s a racial difference.”

Velázquez sent his brush dancing through the air and painted a picture in midair.

The picture showed the source of the ringing bell. He painted the Tower of London to provide a magnified image.

In only a few seconds, he completed the image of a fortress with a tower in all four directions.

“The Tower of London,” said Gin with a nod. “It is technically both a fortress and a palace. It exists in front of Oxford Academy, the queen lives there, and political prisoners are kept there.”

“Can you see it?”

“Testament.”

Gin could see a woman looking down from the viewing platform below the tower’s roof. She wore England’s girls uniform. Her hat and the blind covering her face made her age impossible to judge. However…

“She is likely the same age as us, but I cannot say for sure with her face hidden.”

“You say ‘us’, but that’s a wide range if you include me.”

“I was using Muneshige as the standard.”

“Testament, testament. I see. But she is a spirit and human mix. The spirit was a dryad, I believe. She was born between a Celtic spirit and Henry VIII. I don’t like not being able to hear anything, but people are probably shouting insults.”

“No, I do not think so.”

“Why not?” asked Velázquez.

Gin pointed at Mary in the painting.

“Someone who bears herself like this would have a detached attitude if she were being insulted. She would likely look up into the sky. I cannot be sure with the blind in the way, but I think she is looking down into the city.”

“You mean she is exchanging glances with the people?”

“Testament. It is as if she is asking them if they have anything to say to her.”

“Women are scary,” muttered Velázquez before scratching at his head. “What should we do? She’s Catholic like us, so should we go save her?”

“Why would we ruin the history recreation more than necessary? Our visit here is acceptable as long as it leaves no records, but that would be unavoidable if we rescued her.”

“You’re becoming more and more like Juana.”

“No, I have a long way to go,” stated Gin. “It takes one of the Eight Great Dragon Kings to spread your legs and use your breasts like that for the man you are interested in. I have realized how much I still have to learn.”

“…I think you’ve made some kind of major misunderstanding.”

“Let us set that aside.” Gin used a hand to stop him and then pointed toward the ship they stood on. “The armada battle we must fight will begin shortly after Mary Stuart is executed. Once that is over, Tres España’s decline is guaranteed and the nation’s policy will turn toward controlling and stopping that decline.”

“That would be nice, but nations cannot always follow the ideal path. It requires money, after all. Tres España poured more money into the armada battle than any other event in its history, so it could easily lead to our decline no matter what result it has. Everyone is trying to bring the battle to a nice end, but it will be difficult to achieve a result that lets us stand up to the other nations. Whether we can do this or not is…”

Velázquez stopped there and placed a hand on his head as if holding his hat in place.

“Sorry, I know I should keep a more positive outlook as the older one.”

“Testament. You are quite pessimistic. I did not realize you were that kind of person.”

“Really?” Velázquez smiled a bit. “Then maybe I should tell you this: you’re just as ignorant of the world as I thought.”

“That is not a problem as long as I have Muneshige,” declared Gin. She raised her false arms a bit, nodded, and spoke as if to herself. “I am a boring girl, after all.”

“Is that so?” asked Velázquez in a tone that said he did not agree. “So is the meeting over?”

“Why are you using a word from the enemy’s language like ‘meeting’? Our secretary is a very free person, isn’t he?”

“You probably shouldn’t use the English word ‘free’ when saying things like that. …Anyway, don’t forget your job. All the others are kids who have their hands full with themselves and someone else, so I have to keep things running smoothly as your elder. And I’ll do anything to ensure it.”

“Allow me to make a correction. Our secretary is a very kind person.”

“Hah. I already knew that.”

Suddenly, Gin froze in place and Velázquez frowned.

The bell had stopped ringing.

The sound lingered for a bit, but Gin merely stared toward the second level.

“The atmosphere has changed.”

“…? Yes, Mary is gone. She must have gone back inside.”

“Testament. But that is not all. What is this?”

Gin closed her eyes and focused on her ears. She could hear the distant people enjoying the festival.

“A powerful presence has entered the city. No, several of them. The people have sensed these presences which has produced a subtle change in the festival noises. Some are heading toward them and others are avoiding them. I can only say two things for sure.” She took a breath. “They are not attempting to hide their presence and their objective is unknown. Secretary, please land this ship somewhere as soon as possible.”

“What are you going to do, 3rd special duty officer?”

“It is simple. I will join the festival to sound out the objective of these presences. Have you forgotten the mission Lady Juana gave us?”

She went on to remind him what that was.

“We are to declare war and, if possible, find an excuse beyond Mary’s execution so England has no way of escaping.”


As the ringing of the bell lingered in the air above the wheat field, Scarred looked toward the second level.

What is this?

The movements of the wind and earth spirits told her something was happening. The spirits that human eyes could not see were worried about the city.

Those spirits were a lot like ether, so ley line disturbances bothered them the most.

People using spells or bearing weapons have entered the city without sealing anything off.

And…

I know what that means.

She turned toward him and narrowed her eyes.

“We have spent an extravagant amount of time here.”

“Hm?” Tenzou turned around and tilted his head. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” she responded with a bitter smile. “Are you interested in the festival on the second level?”

That question caused Tenzou to look toward the second level just as she was.

“How odd,” he said.

“What is?”

“Testament. The noises of the city are not merely those of joy or excitement. I am detecting shades of confusion and surprise. They both sound the same at first, but…”

The wind blew in as he spoke.

That wind seemed to wash across the land.

It contained a heat that indicated the change from morning to midday. It was produced in the warm ocean and city and it met in the middle at the wheat field.

“Ah.”

“Are you all right, Scarred-dono?”

Tenzou moved in front of her to block the wind, but she did not put her cloak’s hood back up. She stood amidst the short and still-growing wheat and used her fingers to brush her hair back into place. The wind weakened, but it did not die down altogether.

The wind spirits were confused. Some were trying to flee the city and some were on their way to see what was happening in the city. Those two groups were running into each other, shaking free of each other, and restraining each other.

But as the wind blew, Scarred narrowed her eyes and looked up at him.

Everything has decided to take the first step.

So…

“Shall we head to the upper levels, Master Tenzou?”

“What?”

His tone made it clear he had not expected this question, so she smiled.

“I can go all the way to the first level.”

“Eh? Oh, um…b-but why?”

If she had asked him if he did not want to, he would likely have gone with her.

And so…

“Because I want to go there with you.”

“What?”

Scarred found his confusion a bit frightening. She did not know if he was simply surprised or if he did not feel that way about her in the least, but it did not sit well with her heart.

And so she continued speaking.

“I will guide you to the location of the Princess Disappearance I know about.”

“That would be…”

Scarred watched as a look of realization appeared on Tenzou’s face and then his hesitation vanished. He had realized this was a job as a ninja of Musashi.

“Please do,” he said with a nod.

“Judge,” she replied with a nod of her own. She then looked up at his diligent expression. “But do you mind? There is one thing I must take care of.”

“Judge. What is it?”

“Judge. If we are to go there, we must pass through the city and the festival occurring there. I must first buy things at some of the festival stands and offer some of it to the earth spirits. After that, I must walk around a bit to aid digestion and then take a short rest.”

“I see. So it is the same as a battle.”

“Judge. It is indeed a type of battle. I will be changing into my casual clothes, so please wait a moment. We can meet at the carriage stop up above. A carriage will come by every ten minutes today.”

“Judge,” replied Tenzou with a bow.

As he turned around, Scarred walked toward the village she lived in.

She heard him muttering to himself behind her.

“Huh? …Something about that seems odd. But I suppose it could be true.”

She smiled bitterly and sensed the atmosphere of the city from the noises carried by the wind.

“…”

She closed her eyes, decided to force a smile, and quickened her pace.