Horizon:Volume 4B Chapter 51
Chapter 51: Bent Girl in a Crouching Place
Even as I bend and turn
Even as I crouch and spill
Where is it
I am headed?
Point Allocation (Battlefield)
The Blue Thunder was too spacious to call cramped and too cramped to call spacious.
There were tables and a counter to move around and the pathways were too clear to hide in or escape through. As the lights went out and darkness surrounded her, Futayo realized a battle was beginning.
…What do I do!?
She had to move.
The unforeseen was common in battle and she had never fought in such confused circumstances before.
She had never before had so much to be worried about.
After all, she held the Tonbo Spare which had yet to activate for her, this was the workplace of the princess she served, she was worried about the manager, and most importantly…
She suddenly recalled her defeat during the battle in Mito that day.
She was the Vice Chancellor and she had lost.
…So if I lose again here…
But as soon as that thought came to her…
Oh, no, she thought. I’m letting those bad thoughts trap me again.
“So they’ve made their move.”
Someone dressed as a maid nodded in the shadows to agree with the girl’s voice coming from a sign frame.
It was Kanou. She stood in the newly assembled shopping district of Tama’s surface area. After pretending to take a break between shops built around some water, she made sure the ceiling and surrounding sign frames had their illumination off and expressionlessly opened her mouth.
“We somehow made it in time, milady. But…”
Kanou tilted her head and opened a sign frame.
“The Vice Chancellor’s actions are quite different from our statistical data. And they have been ever since arriving at the Ariake.”
“I can more or less guess why that is.”
“Judge,” replied Ookubo on the sign frame. “She was raised too well, and…”
There was a slight pause and then a sigh.
“Well, it doesn’t matter. We don’t have time to worry about others right now. But…”
“The Vice Chancellor might destroy herself here and have to retire.”
Futayo sensed her mind instantly cooling.
She was aware of the same failure she had felt so many times recently.
She had done it again.
She was in battle or very nearly so, yet her mind had started moving before her body. And instead of thinking about battle, she was only thinking dark thoughts about herself.
She knew why that was.
If she lost here, her failure from that day would be joined by a second failure. That pressure created these thoughts that cornered her.
She had to stop this. She had to avoid these thoughts that caused her to freeze up.
But those thoughts told her this was her last chance, and…
…That’s the truth.
If she did not allow herself to think about the truth, did that mean she was not looking at reality?
And during the battle that day, Fukushima Masanori had called her a coward.
What about now? In the face of this battle, she was hesitating and had a lot on her mind.
She saw a light. It was directly ahead when she turned her back to the counter. The figure who had been sitting by the entrance had drawn two blades which were reflecting the light. Futayo felt she needed to face them, but a short figure was also rushing in from the entrance on the left.
And in the back on the right, three figures had broken in through the window and were landing on a table while surrounded by glass shards.
She could see them and a few ideas of how to handle them came to mind, but…
For some reason, thoughts raced through her mind and she hesitated.
This is strange, thought Futayo. After the Sack of Magdeburg and the Battle of Mikatagahara, she had seen many different powers and ways of expressing one’s will and she had lost her weapon.
I was broken by that, she thought while unable to move.
She lacked the will needed to face battle.
She had seen many wills: Anne as she supported Hexagone Française, Matsunaga as he rebelled against Nobunaga and perished, Yoshitsune as she tried to protect Kantou and the whole east, Satomi Yoshiyori as he saved the Musashi, and even Fukushima and Katou more recently.
Thinking back, Muneshige, Gin, Katsuie, and Takakane had been the same.
And not just them. All of the officers and name inheritors had the wills necessary to risk their lives and achieve results.
What was she compared to them?
She may have had strength, skill, and a weapon, but…
…Did I have the will needed to risk my life and achieve results?
She had not.
She had an obvious reason for saying that: she was inexperienced.
So her intent had been to endure battle more than it had been to fight with the will to win.
She understood now why she was a coward.
It went back to the Sack of Magdeburg and the Battle of Mikatagahara.
She had been admonished through the results of those battles.
Tonbokiri had been destroyed.
She had been unable to dodge the attack from the arbalest Logismoi Oplo.
That should have been obvious. As nothing more than a simple job, she had chosen to endure Katsuie’s attacks. That would have made it easy to target her weapon.
If she had actually been moving around and fighting, she doubted she would have been hit by that kind of sniper attack.
Then, thought Futayo. Then could I have fought Katsuie back then?
She knew she could not have. She had used the strategy she did because she could not have fought him properly.
But, she thought.
Hadn’t she needed to risk her life and achieve results there?
If she had risked her life and aimed for victory, wouldn’t she have avoided that sniper attack?
That was the past. This was nothing more than regret. But she was trapped by that wish that she had done things differently. And as if repeatedly admonishing her, leaders of other lands had achieved results and protected them.
What had she done? Why had she been unable to do what they had?
She had her father’s divine weapon, but she had used it in an inexperienced fashion. That had to be why the Tonbo Spare’s identical thought patterns would not allow her its power.
She had strength and skill, but didn’t she lack the most important thing needed to stand on the battlefield?
What about when she had attempted the wall climbing training before? When Muneshige had noticed her losing speed and reached out his hand, had she tried to take that hand?
Had she perhaps rejected it because she was not qualified to take that hand which had an actual will behind it?
Then even here and now, was she not the least worthy of anyone to stand on the battlefield? So…
Yes, she thought.
The question was not what she should do.
It was whether she should be here at all.
It was because she did not know if she should be here or not that she had not known what to do. She had needed permission from herself on a more fundamental level before she could do anything.
…To lack resolve is to meet failure.
And as all this filled her mind, she failed to move.
It was not that she did not move.
She could not move. She felt her failed actions would sully the battlefield.
And so she prepared to simply watch it play out, but then…
A sharp voice pierced through the many sounds filling the shop.
The voice sent a tremor down Futayo’s back.
It was not a shout or a raised voice. It was simply a command meant to convey an objective.
She was supposed to confirm the order of the enemies attacking her.
Why? she wondered. I don’t belong here.
Her body reacted.
Futayo’s vision rather than eyes perceived rather than followed the enemy’s location and movements. Who would she have to oppose first?
It was not the three who had jumped in through the window. They were still landing on the table.
Then what about the small figure that had rushed in through the door and was the closest to her? They had great speed and were moving toward her.
But she decided they were not the answer either.
She was inside a building and in the dark. Someone who had just rushed in would not have accurately located her.
In that case, she thought as she looked to her enemy. She looked to the figure that had stood from a seat by the entrance and drawn two blades.
She then realized this was the same person who had attacked her on the rope passageway.
In that case, they were definitely targeting her.
As proof, there was light behind them.
There was an adjacent shop beyond the window, but the light came from behind that. Power was handled by block and that proved that the areas besides Tama had not gone dark.
From the perspective of the person with the two blades, Futayo would be dimly illuminated. And they had to have known that would be the case.
…That’s why they wore the hood to prepare their eyes for the shift to darkness!
This was a planned crime done by a group and not an individual. Once she realized that, she heard another voice.
At the same time, all of the movements shifted to the next stage.
The two blades in front of her flew forward without building up any strength first
The figure who had rushed in from the entrance on the left spun around after noticing the two blades coming from the side.
The three who had jumped through the window landed on the table.
But she had to focus on what was straight ahead.
She looked there, and…
The two blades moved faintly off course in reaction to the small figure charging in from Futayo’s left.
They slightly lifted the blade in their right hand to avoid the small figure.
They could see them, and perhaps that was why…
“Dodge while you have the chance!!!!”
Futayo’s actions and decisions were both performed weakly.
She seemed to be hesitating and double-checking, but…
She moved forward with her spear in hand. She did not even silencing her footsteps and her legs moved stiffly, but she knew what she had to do: move straight forward and dodge to the left and below the two blades.
So she did so. She took more steps to slip below her opponent’s somewhat raised right blade.
Her goal was to her left: the wall by the entrance.
She made her way there, but the enemy moved at the same time.
The two blades ahead of her were swung.
The timing was off if it was to hit her, but…
She sensed some form of danger, so she raised her hips as she moved forward. She took a stance resembling a crouch start and kicked powerfully forward. She forcibly launched herself forward. Her stance was off balance.
And she tripped. Her right shoulder hit the floor, but she used that point of contact to rotate her body and curl up for a compact roll to the side. Just as she slipped past the blade-wielding enemy on their right, the floor was sliced apart behind her where she had just been.
It looked like a dull blade had forcibly torn the floor apart and there were two such lines next to each other.
Futayo understood what had happened, but she could not understand how it had happened.
…The enemy’s blades pursued me on the inside?
Charging right up to an armed opponent was one standard method, but this opponent’s sword technique was different. She did not understand how, but this opponent did not have a defenseless spot right in front of them.
Futayo had dodged, but not because she had realized this. She had simply sensed a cold movement of air behind her and had tried to escape that presence.
If she had not done so, she would have been cut.
Then she saw her opponent.
She saw a sharp gaze staring at her from within the hood.
The opponent moved. They easily leaped atop a table without taking their eyes off of her.
She understood why. The small figure who had charged in from the entrance had rushed in and swung up their weapon.
It was a striking weapon. It was a hammer.
Futayo then recalled that it had been these people who had attacked her on the rope passageway the night before. The one with the two high-speed blades had attacked first. And the one who had come afterwards had been…
She chose action over thoughts of the past.
She moved below the table, and…
…The extension device!
The bottom of the spear jabbed into the wall next to the entrance and Futayo flew horizontally just off the floor in a face up position.
First, she slipped between the chairs and below the table by the entrance.
In that instant, two lines were torn in the table above her.
The owner of the two blades was on top.
Plus, there was movement at her destination. Three figures jumped down between the entrance table she was passing below and the table further back.
It was the three who had jumped in through the window. They wore black and held swords as they dropped down and moved to cut off her path.
Before she could think “do I do?”, a dignified voice pierced through her entire being.
All of the movements received definite results.
The three who had rushed between the tables felt their blades hit and the hooded figure on the table definitely sliced their target in two.
But none of those attacks had hit a person.
The three who had jumped down between the tables had pierced a chair with their swords.
The chair had been knocked out from under the table so it would match the timing of their fall. The three of them had dropped down to strike their target with their full bodies, so they had been unable to dodge or deflect it. Even if they had been able to confirm it was a chair, they had been too cautious to carelessly dodge or alter their stance and their swords had stabbed halfway into the chair.
At the same time, the hooded figure on the table had swung their two blades.
They had sliced the table itself.
The two lines of damage had not reached Futayo below. This was because the table had risen up enough to make the hooded figure’s legs bend.
That was proof that Futayo had kicked the table up from the floor.
Musashi’s Vice Chancellor pressed her back to the floor and kicked straight up to launch the table upwards. That had stopped her horizontal movement and allowed the chair she hit with her arm to act as bait.
Futayo reacted to the voice she heard.
Tonbo Spare had stopped extending and she launched its extension toward the entrance once more.
She quickly slipped below the next table and launched herself into the passageway by the back wall.
But she heard a certain sound ahead of her.
Tonbo Spare’s blade had stabbed into the back wall. The impact caused her to spin around by the wall.
She took a breath as she placed her curled-up body in a crouching pose and landed facing the entrance. She was below the counter seats by the back wall. To her right, Tonbo Spare was stabbed into the wall near the floor.
At the same time, the hooded figure moved to the closer table. It was a light almost floating step, but their waist was tilted deeply forward as they swung their two swords.
The two rapid strikes sliced into the wall above Futayo’s head and quickly descended.
Futayo felt herself breathing heavily and felt warm tears in the corners of her eyes.
She did not know.
She had nearly died several times since this battle began.
That threat remained. It had continued the entire time.
And she suspected that she was not qualified to stand on this battlefield.
…Why am I still alive?
She did not know. It seemed only natural for her to have died, and that thought had slowed and weighed down her body.
As if tearing her body free of that sinking sensation, she took a breath and moved her body.
She retracted the Tonbo Spare which was stabbed into the wall.
Then she lifted it up at an angle with the stabbed blade as the support.
She chose a trajectory that targeted the hooded figure who swung two swords toward her, the rightmost of the three figures who were turning toward her from between the tables, and the small figure who wielded a hammer by the wall near the entrance.
She launched the bottom of the spear on a low trajectory.
The hooded figure dodged. As they swung down their two swords, they acted like they were placing their hands in the air and made a front flip high in the air.
Past the dual blade wielder was the hammer wielder.
They made a weightless back dash toward the entrance, but…
The spear shaft landed a solid blow on the rightmost of the other three who stood between those two.
It smashed them.
The spear literally did break that rightmost figure. It sounded like metal and wood breaking and noticeably inhuman fragments scattered from it.
No. If it had been an automaton, it would have been made of nearly human parts to autonomously function in a human-like life. This was no more than a puppet with clothing wrapped around the motors and frame.
Someone was controlling it.
But Futayo was too preoccupied for that fact to trigger an emotional response. The hooded figure with two swords had taken action directly ahead of her.
After spinning around, swords and all, for a single flip through the air, they spread out their body for the second flip. This swung the two swords down toward Futayo again and also grabbed Tonbo Spare under their left arm.
Tonbo Spare was restrained and retracting its extension device would only bring the two swords closer.
She had lost her weapon and that fact brought doubt to her heart. But…
This doubt was different from before.
She wondered if she should be here, but despite how much her failures weighed on her mind…
Why was her body struggling to survive here? Even now…
A voice and an object arrived from the left. The latter was a weapon.
The weapon gave her a more definite means of breaking free of this situation than any instructions could have. The grip was a little large, but…
When she felt the object in her hand, Futayo looked down.
It was a long loaf of baguette-style bread. It was nearly a meter long, but it was clearly bread rather than a spear or a sword. Then Futayo realized who had been making that dignified voice that had kept her moving.
At the edge of Futayo’s vision, the woman stood away from the tables in the space between the counter and kitchen. She was smiling in her apron with a baguette in each hand.
Then Futayo saw the manager look at her while smiling with the ends of her eyebrows lowered.
Futayo felt the woman’s sharp voice returning her mind to the battlefield. She doubted she could use a baguette as a weapon, but…
Just before the two swords swung down at her, she pulled a chair from the table and stood the baguette up on the seat of the chair. And the tip was pointed so it would catch the wielder of the two swords at the bottom of the chest.
Her opponent chose a safe method.
They pulled their hips back and let the baguette’s tip pass above their right shoulder.
She had altered their movement, but she had not stopped them. They had pulled back, but the two swords were still within striking range.
But Futayo was also on the move. She swung her body left, toward the manager.
The two swords changed their course in response. The sword in the opponent’s right hand was closer, so they reversed that wrist in midair and…
…They let go!?
No, they then grabbed the hilt in the opposite direction.
Rather than swing the blade down, it was now being pulled in a diagonal slash. And the tip of the reverse-hand strike would catch her on the back.
This attack was coming from her blind spot.
She swung her body to the left with all her might and she felt something cold pass through her right shoulder from back to front.
Just as she thought she was being cut, she moved on reflex.
She spun around and let the sword strike from behind pass along the roundness of her shoulder.
She let it cut her, but she kept the damage to a minimum.
Her movements were awkward. It was a far cry from her ideal and she did not have it in her to add in her acceleration spell Soaring Wings.
But she did leap to the left. Her feet slid and she landed in a crouching stance to the left of the manager. The position and stance placed her right in front of the space between the entrance table and back table.
The two people…no, the two puppets still functioning of the three that had jumped in through the window turned her way and drew short swords from behind their waists.
One moved in front of the other and they charged forward while keeping low to the ground, but…
“Yes, Futayo-chan. Coming here was a good decision.”
The manager held her two baguettes at waist height.
“There are two between the tables in front of us, but the one in the back is meaningless with the other blocking the way in the front. And that twin sword girl also can’t launch her best attack with that one in the front.”
But, thought Futayo. What do we do about weapons? It was true baguettes were hard, but striking or jabbing with them would only produce a light blow.
“Watch,” said that dignified voice.
Then the manager began to move. She lightly tossed one of the baguettes toward the puppet as it charged in low to the ground.
…It’s floating up?
A light sound followed.
The manager had made a rapid snap of her right wrist which caught the back end of the baguette. The whip-like motion of her right arm and hand gave great speed to the baguette.
With a breaking sound, the baguette launched toward the puppet’s face with the force of an artillery shell.
It was only a bread attack, but the puppet was thrown off balance.
A baguette was a hard bread, but it should not have had this much power. So how had this happened?
…Was it the initial speed!?
She had not swung it in her hand. She had tossed it up into the air, caught it with her accelerated hand, and launched it.
The high-speed snap of an empty hand had been directly applied to the baguette.
“I need to make that smashed bread into croutons.”
As long as her aim and the bread’s trajectory were true, the damage would reach her target.
Half of the baguette had been crushed and smashed, but her opponent had been knocked off balance.
And it did not end there.
She launched the second one on the left. The sound of a slap came from the manager’s left hand.
Her opponent had already been knocked off balance and now a blow hit the outside of their right wrist inwards.
They let go of their short sword. A moment later, the manager had taken a step forward.
When had that happened? Futayo had definitely seen her leg moving forward, but it had seemed more like a “change of position” than a “movement”.
…Did she shift her body’s axis with high-level footwork!?
Rather than walk, she had moved a step forward on the same level that people leaned their body.
And that put her right in front of her opponent.
After holding the puppet’s arm at the elbow, she grabbed the short sword from the air, and…
She tossed it behind her.
The pommel flew straight toward Futayo’s face, so she swept her hand across to catch it and held it in both hands.
Futayo moved forward to do just that. She took a low step with her right leg and lifted her body to the front and right with her left knee and butt while making a diagonal slash.
She moved forward.
As the manager evaded to the left, the puppet slipped past her on the right and Futayo made a slice from its left belly to right shoulder.
Metal could be heard breaking and wood could be heard splitting. Vibrations of cutting and breaking told her she had hit.
A monotone sound told her she had sliced through the backbone.
And just as she realized she had destroyed it…
Futayo understood. The blade continued diagonally up and to the right and she kept it on that path.
…To the right!!
The hooded figure’s right sword flew in toward her head. The attack was made from atop a table and it was almost slippery in how it gently cut through the air with no resistance. But the strike had definite power and it collided with the short sword she had sent out to her right with both hands.
Sparks were accompanied by the sound of clashing metal.
The instant of light gave her a glimpse inside the hood.
It was a girl and one even younger than her.
But she did not have time to deal with that fact. She used the recoil of the strike from the right to swing her blade down in a leftward arc.
Directly ahead, the one surviving puppet was charging toward her. Using both arms to intercept would not arrive in time, so she held the blade in just her left hand and struck from diagonally above.
There was a solid sound and then a sound of destruction as the sword-wielding puppet’s arm flew off. Its footsteps grew disordered.
Futayo’s blade broke from this hit so soon after the previous blocked sword.
But the puppet’s movements grew disordered and it leaped past her on the left to reach the counter. Futayo thought it was a well-executed move. If it had continued running instead of jumping, she would have tripped it.
But Futayo did not pursue the puppet that had lost its weapon arm. She had something else to do now.
She moved past the manager who had turned sideways to get out of the way and her outstretched arm grabbed Tonbo Spare’s shaft as it lay on a table. It was still extended when she grabbed it and she checked on the double sword girl who had moved further back into the shop. She was already leaping to the counter seats in the back and turning to face Futayo.
Futayo shrank Tonbo Spare down to its shortest length and used momentum alone to pull its blade from the wall.
Then she noticed the hammer user who had run in through the door was now missing.
“Not surprising. Now that I’m at work, I doubt that kid would be able to look you in the eye.”
She did not know what the manager meant by that, but something did happen. Two somethings, in fact.
First, the puppet that had leapt toward the counter now leapt toward the door.
Second, the double sword girl who had kicked off the back wall jumped out the window.
They were fleeing. Futayo prepared to pursue, but…
She called out and kicked something up from the floor.
They were two chairs with swords stabbed in them. They rose up between her and the window.
But all of a sudden, the two chairs burst to pieces in midair.
They had been shot.
…I knew it!
It had been the same the night before. She had been sniped when attacked by these opponents.
So once she realized the same had not happened this time, she had wondered when it would happen.
A series of shots arrived. Twenty-one in all. The piercing shots moved left and right as they entered the shop through the window and they destroyed the bread, the opposite window, and the divine monitor.
Of course, Futayo and the manager both crouched down on reflex.
This was not sniper fire. It was covering fire to help the enemy escape.
But those back-and-forth shots ended after the first wave, glass shards fell to the floor, and only one thing remained.
“Is it over?” asked the manager with a sigh.
Futayo nodded as she sat down on the floor. She had not wanted to do so. She had simply been unable to gather any strength in her knees or back as sweat suddenly poured from her body. But…
A question escaped through her heavy breathing.
“Who are you?”
Through her sweat-soaked bangs, Futayo saw someone stand up.
It was the Blue Thunder’s manager. She removed her oven mitt and held the hand out toward Futayo.
“I, well, used to have an inherited name. And for a time, I worked as a bodyguard for Horizon’s mother.”
As for the name…
“Ono Tadaaki becomes a first generation sword instructor after Matsudaira’s rule begins. That’s my husband. I inherited the name of Zenki who dies in the conflict over who would succeed our master Ittousai. I lost to my husband just as the Testament descriptions said, so I thought it was about time to give up the Zenki name. Since I was working as a bodyguard for Horizon’s mother, I took on the family name of Aoi.”
“But instead of Aoi Zenki, I pronounce it Aoi Yoshiki. …And it looks like I’ve still got my old moves.”
- A sword technique of the Itto-ryu school.
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