Horizon:Volume 2 Chapter 28
Chapter 28: Defenders of the Bulwark
You may have new clothes to change into
But do you have a new heart to change into?
Point Allocation (Play)
A corridor was made from rectangular stones. The floor was made of wood boards and carpet and someone was creating quick footsteps along it. The glasses-wearing girl had an armband which read “Temporary Aide to the Vice Chancellor – Adele Balfette”. She wore a baggy Far Eastern uniform and she glanced out the window.
“Oxford’s school building really is a castle. We were told not to set foot outside the fortress to ensure our safety, but we’re completely isolated with divine communications to the first level and beyond cut off.”
She did not know why, but this situation had started about half an hour ago. For security’s sake, Futayo had given a few orders and headed for the courtyard.
…But based on what we can see out the window, she said an odd atmosphere has fallen over London.
Futayo had said some sounds were missing. Adele did not know the details, but Futayo had said something about a hostile presence.
That meant they needed to strengthen their defenses without England catching on.
…If necessary, we can escape.
They were currently in the southern wall of the outer walls surrounding Oxford Academy’s main building. Despite the name, the wall was essentially a castle with several floors inside. Currently, Adele arrived at one end of the third floor which overlooked London.
“This is Suzu-san and our room.”
She stopped in front of the large double doors, took in a breath, and knocked.
“Oh, yes. J-just a second.”
This was a code. When they detected something odd outside the room, they needed to investigate it. However, heading out into the hall and just standing there while looking around would make their objective too obvious. That was why Suzu always said she needed time to prepare when someone left or entered the room.
As Adele placed her hand on the doorknob, she looked around out of the corners of her eyes.
“Are you ready yet?”
“N-no. Not yet.”
Adele asking “can I come in yet?” was the sign that her investigation was complete. Asking other questions in the meantime was meant to put Suzu at ease, but Adele then pulled a paper bag from her uniform’s sleeve.
“They were selling some pretty hairpins at the school store. Price-wise, buying a set of three was best, but that’s all right, don’t you think?”
She held up the hairpin set clipped to a sheet of paper and used the action to check the area to the left. That direction was the most suspicious.
…Oh, they’re here already.
There was no movement or noise from the corridor or neighboring room. Just as on her way here, the area looked completely deserted.
…But I can sense their presence.
Even if people hid, made no noise, and stopped moving, they could not hide the movements of the air, the scents, the warmth, and the movement of the birds outside the windows. She was the only one in this corridor, but the birds were not landing on the windowsills further along and a flock of doves was circling in the air near the roof.
Someone was in the corridor and other areas visible through the windows. Naturally, they were also on the roof.
…They can reach us from both the roof and the corridor.
Most likely, some kind of service would arrive through the corridor. Someone would arrive with a letter or some tea and Adele would open the door.
…At which point they will attack from the corridor. But that is only meant to keep us here.
Their goal was to capture Suzu. If they had the ambassador, they would be able to defeat their opponents while retaining a pipeline for negotiations.
In that case, the double doors became an unexpected problem. If both sides were opened, Adele could not cover the entire space. And if she was stopped there, they could send more men in from the roof. While her hands were full, they would likely use ropes to enter through the window and secure Suzu.
The knights known as vassals were supposed to protect important people, so she had attended afterschool extracurricular lessons that taught countermeasures for indoor attacks like this. While she recalled those various methods, she said “judge” in her heart.
“Can I come in yet?”
While recalling the layout of the room, Adele opened the large double doors.
Adele entered a room that had stone walls and carpet. The room was about twenty square meters and faced south. The bedroom area was located on the eastern side and a table set sat in the center. A desk and their equipment were on the western side.
Suzu sat next to a wash basin on a side table by the window.
The girl wore one of England’s uniforms. The room was being bugged, so it would seem suspicious if she did nothing while buying time with their code. Part of Adele’s training as a vassal included searching for bugs. After locating them, she had left them be and used them to make England lower their guard.
For the past few days, they had ignored the bugs and lived their lives as normal, but something had happened to make England take action today.
…I hope our actions over the past few days have convinced them we haven’t noticed the bugs.
As Suzu stood up, there was nothing odd about her appearance.
…Oh, she can dress herself.
The English uniform had been special-made in order to show the friendship between nations. However, Futayo had not wanted her measurements taken because it would reveal her exact reach during battle. Also, Adele had been extremely interested in the low-cut chest area, but the old woman tailor had made an unnecessary comment while taking her measurements.
“…Hm? W-well, don’t worry. I’ll make sure it will fit you properly.”
Due to that, Adele had not worn her uniform. Even so, she was considering taking it back to Musashi and having a one-man fashion show in her room.
But for the moment, she walked west to the right side of the room.
“Um, Suzu-san? Your uniform is a bit twisted. Uh, could you come over to the mirror? Oh, the light from the window is making a reflection.”
As Suzu cautiously walked over, Adele closed the curtain halfway. Now half of the room could not be seen from outside and Suzu entered that half.
She pulled out and held up one of the rod-shaped sensors of Noise Neighbor at her waist. The sensor had a charm wrapped around it and a sign frame opened. As Adele made various preparations, the sign frame displayed a text version of the outside noises detected with extremely high sensitivity. Specifically, it displayed the conversation of the English attack unit waiting in the neighboring room. It appeared they were indeed being bugged.
“Testament. The vassal has entered the room.”
“Testament. Prepare to attack. After approaching the door using stealth entry, use some kind of service to have her open the door. Or go with a dynamic entry once you draw her over.”
“Who will secure the target?”
“As commander, that falls to me.”
“Commander, I am impressed with your honesty, but you’re past middle age. That would be a crime!”
“But my daughter has started resisting when I try to pick her up…”
“Testament. We have so much training every day that we rarely get to go home.”
Adele found the conversation fascinating, but she decided to bring it to an end before she started feeling sorry for them. She noisily moved her baggy sleeve while grabbing Suzu’s hand.
“Um, over here. I’ll help you change.”
“Testament!” said the English students. “Th-his will be the last time, so give us a running commentary! We need commentary!!”
Maybe we should record all of this and use it in a later negotiation, thought Adele as she pulled away a giant cloth cover at one end of the room. It covered…
…My vassal mobile shell.
The mobile shell was kneeling with its head lowered. She had been allowed to bring it with her as long as its spear and ether fuel tank were removed. Even so, there had been harsh opposition, so Masazumi had said the following during negotiations:
“Due to Adele’s bodyguard training, she has difficulty sleeping outside of the mobile shell. It was also given to her by her late father, so it would be cruel to ask her not to bring it with her. I have heard England is a land of chivalry and mercy, so could you perhaps view it as nothing but ‘thick pajamas’?”
That politician girl had forced through that nonsense with a straight face.
And since they were being bugged, Adele would have been forced to play the part, but Suzu had made a thoughtful suggestion.
“I-I’m afraid…to…to sleep on my own…s-so will you…sleep with me?”
That had saved Adele from that political inconvenience. Futayo had said she was not used to sleeping in a bed, so she had brought her own futon and slept under the bed. However, she tossed and turned quite aggressively in her sleep. She had even shouted “Bind! Tonbokiri!!” in her sleep and kicked the bed up into the air, but she had not used Tonbokiri itself.
At any rate, Adele now stood within the mobile shell’s feet. She placed her own feet on what corresponded to a shoe’s insole. This was the starting point of putting on the mobile shell.
The shell was quite heavy, so it would take a long time to put on with human strength and the person inside would be injured if anything slid out of place. For that reason, the back of the shell was connected by a frame and would open up on its own. The shell would automatically stand up, envelop the person from the front, and then close behind them.
Adele used the auxiliary foot pedal on the inside of the right foot.
…I’ll set it to a long-term seal. Using the underwater settings might prevent interference from the air outside.
After setting it up, she tugged on Suzu’s hand. She brought Suzu’s legs to her lap while sensing how high up they were.
“Okay, I’ll be removing this now.”
She was afraid to them being caught in the closing process, so she removed Suzu’s skirt and jacket.
“She’s undressing! She’s undressing!!” shouted the English unit.
But her own uniform was too big for her because of the large hard points she wore for the mobile shell, so she removed her own sleeves and skirt.
…That should free up some room.
As she thought, Adele connected the hard points on Suzu’s sides and back to the hard points to the sides of her own chest. That fixed their positions together.
“…!? I thought they were undressing, but that sounded more like weaponry!”
Adele moved her right leg.
After pushing the mobile shell’s left foot pedal once, Adele rose up. She then used her foot to operate the safety lock to show it had not been mistakenly activated.
Suzu shrunk down as it came. The mobile shell’s thick and wide humanoid back and limbs used wire cylinders to rise up in front of them. The back expanded up, down, left and right and the darkness within approached them. But a close inspection showed several cross-style sign frames already open within.
“Mobile Shell ‘Raging Beast’ : Connecting : Today’s Motto ‘What’s wrong with being hopeless? That’s just how it is.’ ”
It gave a strange motto every time she started it up, but she guessed that was due to her father who had created it. She felt a calendar would have been better, but then leap years would have caused problems.
With the movement of the wind, the mobile shell enveloped Adele and Suzu. Once the back reinforcement and forward-collapsed head closed, it would be complete. She had set it to fully seal, so the helmet’s face shield would remain airtight and no images from outside would be displayed. A light came on within the head, the head closed above them, and the waist lowered into a reclining position.
But just before it fully closed, a group of men kicked down the door and charged in. They wore English uniforms with combat gear reinforcements.
“Shit!” shouted one man the instant he saw them. “They weren’t changing at all! They toyed with our pure hearts!!”
As Adele raised her right thumb with a half-lidded glare, the mobile shell fully closed.
In the next instant, a seat was formed behind her, an inner space was created by the shell expanding and sealing everything off, and a light illuminated the space.
“Um, Suzu-san? You can move now.”
“Nn …That was…kind of surprising. But…there’s a lot of…space in here.”
“It’s made so someone can live inside while it’s sealed. Basically, the inner and outer shells expand to form a small room. When a castle falls or a ship sinks, I can enter this mode and wait for rescue. I even have snacks and drinks in here.”
She disconnected their hard points from each other and then disconnected the hard points on her back from the mobile shell’s frame. Those connections synced her with the frame and aided her movements, but she wanted to avoid moving in this sealed space so long as they received no divine protection to regulate their body temperature.
She lifted up Suzu’s waist and placed her on the right side of the seat. She took the left side for herself. While in this mode, the sign frames that would normally appear on the outside instead appeared on the inside. After checking a few of them, she adjusted the temperature setting.
“Okay, we’ll be waiting here until things are over outside. That should be about an hour. I have music, music games, and snacks.”
She shook the paper bag from the school store to tell Suzu what was inside and then she placed it above their heads. Suzu heard it and smelled it.
“Judge. That’s right. We can eat them later as lunch.”
“Judge. Oh, b-but is Futayo…-san okay?”
Despite her reply, Adele was worried. Futayo had been the one to suggest being on the lookout.
…And she said someone wanted a duel with her.
She had gone outside with Tonbokiri in hand and she had told Adele to ensure Suzu’s safety until she returned or until they could contact the Musashi.
…But who is this that Futayo-san considers a worthy opponent for a duel?
As Adele wondered who among the Trumps it could be, she smiled.
“Well, Futayo-san should be fine. She might be quite dangerous when it comes to her human side, but she’s quite dangerous in the literal sense as well.”
“I’m glad she’s on our side.”
“You are Far Eastern, aren’t you? Are you not an ally of the Far East?”
A female voice reverberated within an open area surrounded by stone walls on all sides.
The voice was directed toward a man standing on the grass in front of a girl in a Far Eastern uniform whose hair was worn up in a high ponytail. The man’s hair was also worn up in a high ponytail, but he casually wore an English uniform.
The girl held up a long spear in her right hand.
The man, on the other hand, rested a giant sword hilt over his right shoulder. It had a guard at the top of the hilt, but the actual blade was missing. Smaller versions that were more the size of a normal sword hilt and guard were equipped across his clothing.
They were seven meters apart.
They were the only two in the courtyard. Whether on the nearby western wall, the three more distant walls, the towers at the corners, the Oxford school buildings to the north, or in the nearby trees or pond, not a single other person was visible.
Those two figures were the only ones there and they reacted to each other’s presence.
They slowly lowered their waists. And the girl spoke.
“Far East, Musashi Ariadust Academy, Strike Forcer, Honda Futayo. I hold the position of vice chancellor.”
The man, however, silently held up the armband on his left arm. The girl narrowed her eyes when she saw it.
“England, Oxford Academy, Trumps 1, Walter Raleigh. That is you, correct? You explore the New World and supervise the land army,” she said. “But most of the Far Eastern residents of England are refugees from the Amako clan after its destruction by Mouri and Hexagone Française. …The Amako clan was located on the northern shore of Hexagone Française which is England’s territory on the Far Eastern mainland. They were also the protectors of IZUMO. In order to hold Hexagone Française and Mouri in check, England and the Hashiba clan of M.H.R.R. aided the revival of Amako, but it failed.” She took a breath. “There was supposedly a group known as the Amako Ten Braves. Are you a survivor of that group?”
The man did not respond. He did not even nod or shake his head.
But that was exactly why Futayo nodded and pulled Tonbokiri back just a bit. Without reversing her right wrist, she placed her left hand along the grip from below and lightly stepped forward to use her right leg as a pivot. And then she dropped her heel down.
“Judge. I see you are a man of few words. In that case…”
Walter instantly shrank down. He held his body down like drawing a bowstring.
Futayo stepped forward with some slight initial speed and Walter unleashed an attack to intercept her. Their attacks crossed paths at their ideal distances.
“It seems Suzu-san and Adele, Futayo, Heidi and Shirojiro, and Toori-kun and Horizon are all outside. The five who are trapped inside the theatre barrier are Mito, Masazumi, Naito, Naruze, and Urquiaga. However, it seems Suzu-san’s group is cut off from our divine transmissions.”
On an abandoned street, Asama used a sign frame to track the movements outside the purification barrier she had set up. She could only pick up faint readings, but it was enough for some basic information.
“Mito’s presence is moving toward the border between the city and the nature district. She is likely headed toward Toori-kun and Horizon. We should go too, Kimi. I wish we could send divine mail, but this barrier is too complex.”
She crouched down next to the tamagushi stabbed into the ground at her feet and placed a hand on the torii-style sign frame floating above it. She used her fingertips to check on the concise settings displayed in the sign frame and then she pinched the torii and spun it. The barrier at her feet floated up from the ground and slowly began to spin.
Once Asama pulled out the tamagushi and stood up, she pulled a new tamagushi from her hair and brought it next to the active one in her hand. At the same time, Hanami clapped her hands from Asama’s shoulder.
“Prayer setting – Duplication – Clap.”
A small humanoid Mouse appeared above both of the tamagushi for just an instant. They exchanged a high five and vanished, but this produced a barrier from the new one.
After muttering the comment under her breath this time, Asama spun the torii above one of the tamagushi again and then pressed it down. This caused the barrier to shrink.
“I have set it for individual use, so take it, Kimi.”
She turned around to find Kimi crouching down in the abandoned street with her hands covering her ears.
“Ahhhh! This is the occult! This has to be either a mass disappearance or the summoning of a hero to another world! At this rate, I will have no choice but to survive in this empty world with only a lewd, huge-breasted shrine maiden for company!”
Does she have to yell that so loudly? wondered Asama, but that was indeed the situation.
She sighed and held the tamagushi out toward Kimi.
“What’s this?” Kimi looked up. “Are you giving it to me?”
She wasn’t listening to a word I said? mentally complained Asama.
She sighed again as Kimi stood up and took the tamagushi.
Asama set her own tamagushi for individual use and spoke.
“If you carry that, you should be fine, so please calm down. Also, I think we were merely dragged in along with their intended targets.”
“Heh heh. How troublesome. I suppose it is true that trouble has a way of following a beautiful woman around. But do I have to actually carry it? I can’t just stick it into my body?”
“Eh? Um….stick it into your body? Um…uh…”
Kimi made a show of sticking the tamagushi between her breasts. She then turned a scornful eye toward Asama.
“Where were you going to stick it?”
Asama silently swung up her right fist, so Kimi quickly moved back a few steps. Asama could only sigh for the third time. She personally thought it would be dangerous if Kimi tripped with it held between her breasts.
“This has become a real problem.”
“Really? Isn’t this actually convenient for sightseeing?”
“Yes, but there are no store clerks or products. We are in some kind of alternate space.”
Kimi looked around at the empty streets of London.
“You mean this place isn’t the real city?”
“Not really,” said Asama. “I believe the real city is everywhere and yet also nowhere. Most likely, a massive space has been created that uses the city’s people and environment to create a number of different stages with an audience. Mito and the others have been trapped within those stages. I suppose you could call it a theatre space. Basically, everything from the people to the environment has been turned into something like a theatre. Everything is deserted as far as the eye can see, so a massive space must have been transformed. And that raises the question of what qualifies as ‘real’.”
“In other words, it’s like arguing what is ‘real’ on a face entirely covered in makeup? If you transform everything, you can only say the result is what’s real. …Anyway, where are we exactly?”
“Somewhere with no audience and no stage. I believe this space corresponds to the entrance. Everything was brought to the theatre, and this is what is left over. If you look closely, you will see that the buildings and ground are slightly transparent. The ether making up this space has been taken away to form the alternate space for the theatre.”
“I don’t really understand, but I don’t really need to. Could I simply say that the people, the festival, Mitotsudaira, and the others were taken away to some other space and this is the leftover dregs?”
Asama answered Kimi’s interpretation with a nod. She then reached a hand out toward where Mitotsudaira had been.
“Mito was definitely here and she should have been inside my barrier.”
“Are you holding your hand out flat because you are thinking about the shape of the person you are searching for?”
“P-please do not make unnecessary comments.’
However, she could not help but wonder if she would have bent her fingers if it was Kimi or Naomasa she was searching for. At any rate, she checked and confirmed that Mitotsudaira was not there.
“This is probably an environmental spell and I noticed it because it was attempting to make me part of the audience. But my purification spell left you here and failed to keep Mito here. Does that mean…?”
“Your spell only works with girls who have something to grab onto!?”
Asama swung up her right fist again and Kimi fled once more.
“Listen,” she said. “The difference between us and Mito – oh, and Naruze and Naito as well – is that we do not hold officer positions. This spell created audiences and stages, so they must have been targeted as the ones to stand on those stages.”
“In that case…”
“Yes,” said Asama.
She did not want to say this. After all…
…It will make Kimi worry.
But Kimi would grow angry if Asama did not tell the truth.
“Toori-kun is in danger. They are almost certainly hoping for a duel with our top-ranking officer.”
Asama saw Kimi frown, but she continued speaking.
“Toori-kun is the chancellor and student council president. And Horizon may not be a part of the student council or chancellor’s officers, but she is heir to the Matsudaira clan and Vicereine of Musashi, so she ranks highly as well.”
She took a breath.
“Neither of them is experienced with combat, so they would both be excellent targets. I had heard Musashi’s representatives were being invited to a party and meeting at Oxford Academy this evening, but they must be using these battles between representatives to earn an advantage in the negotiations and to test our strength.”
Asama averted her gaze from Kimi.
…I want to avoid any odd requests.
While turning her eyes from the silence and stillness before her, she spoke as if setting fire to kindling.
“Most of our officers have been brought to the stages and all the others were likely added to the audiences because they couldn’t defend against the spell with a barrier like this.”
“All of the officers will have been split up between the stages, so they will be separated from each other and forced into odd combinations. So…”
While leaving the question of “what should we do?” implied, Asama stuck a hand in her pocket. She had a collection of charms, tamagushi, and other catalysts on the handheld level. She needed an excuse to violently interfere with this spell, and the shrine would likely accept ‘to save Kimi’s brother’ since Kimi was with her.
“What do you think, Asama?”
She had assumed she would be coerced into saving Toori, but Kimi said something else. After an instant of confusion, she looked up and saw Kimi looking down at the ground with a hand on her chin.
“I understand that my foolish brother and Horizon are in danger. But…”
Asama almost asked “do you not want to go save them?” She wondered if Horizon’s appearance had made her want to change her position as the overprotective older sister. But as if to respond to those doubts, Kimi spoke plainly while staring at the ground with a serious expression.
“If someone as amazingly wonderful as me went to save them, it would be over in no time, but won’t it cause him problems if students without an officer position ignore the rules of the duel and defeat someone who does not want a duel with us? England is getting in the way of my fun, so I want to get in their way now, but perhaps there is a way to do so without causing any problems for my foolish brother. If there is, I want to use that method. After all…”
“This is his first date with Horizon. If Horizon had not been lost ten years ago, they would have gone to the festival then. And when it happened, I was out enjoying the event. I had no idea what had happened to the two of them. I did not learn about it until…”
Asama remembered. She added her own words as she recalled the past as well.
“Until I came to tell you.”
“Judge,” replied Kimi before looking Asama’s way. Her usual smile was missing from the corner of her mouth. She merely stared forward. “From that moment until my foolish brother’s treatment ended and he returned home, I constantly worried about what I should do. And I continued to worry about that even after he returned home. But now I think about it differently.” Kimi explained what she now thought. “Rather than worrying, I think carefully about what I can do for him. So what can I do that will allow that foolish brother’s first date to end without incident and will not cause him any problems later?”
“He said he wanted to use this date to see if Horizon has any interest in her emotions. And based on that, he will make his decision about what Musashi will do from now on and how we will face the rest of the world. In his own way, he has been thinking about tonight’s meeting.”
“In that case, Kimi, let’s start by trusting the others. Toori-kun said he would use this date to decide on his stance, so I think everyone understands how important it is. Like always, Toori-kun and Horizon will act like idiots, worry, and ultimately find their answer, but I believe the others will surely protect them. They will provide a solid defense against England’s right to duel our chancellor.” Asama looked Kimi straight in the eye as she continued. “So let’s support the others. They should be beginning their duels soon and I doubt they will all escape unharmed, so let’s make some preparations to allay Toori-kun and everyone else’s fears.”
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