Horizon:Volume 4C Chapter 69
Chapter 69: Preparers on the Dance Stage
What is the calm leading step
That predicts what comes
Beyond the beginning?
Point Allocation (Take My Hand)
Masazumi and Asama stood atop the evening bridge.
They were at the top of the stairs leading down toward the ship’s bow. Looking down from there, they saw people and the lights of food stands gathered in the plazas and streets, just like during the special student general assembly.
The people had begun to flow into the academy’s schoolyards as well.
But the bridge was off limits.
“We need to prepare for the meeting…”
The three nations meeting would begin in another hour. Some of them would already be participating in the pre-meeting parties.
The meeting itself had begun with those parties. Just like in England, a gathering before the traditional “politics” began was not just an event to enjoy dancing and food. Each of the important players would work to include or exclude their areas of responsibility from the upcoming topic of discussion. Normally, they would hint at their priorities during conversation and “lay the groundwork” as it were, but…
…No one out there now is a specialized diplomat or committee member, so things will play out differently.
Instead of making any decisions on the groundwork laid by the other nations, everyone would send that information back to Masazumi’s father and the rest of the Provisional Council. The Provisional Council had dealt with diplomacy in the past, so they knew these other nations quite well. They could make their own decision and consult with the committees before sending an answer back to the diplomats.
Mukai was doing an especially good job. She looked like a child, so a kind person would be considerate and those who underestimated her would try to bluff. When the Provisional Council sent back a response for her, the gap between the two was apparently pretty awful, so Mukai’s reports were growing more and more valuable.
…Who would have thought how Mukai is accepted would coincide with my father and the others’ job?
He was a strict father, so he was probably making a rational decision for the greatest effect based on an understanding of Mukai and who she was speaking with.
“Whaaaat!? What the hell did you just say!? Didn’t I tell you I would be handling all of Mu-chan’s responses!? Meet with the committees!? Why would I do that!? I will be handling it all myself! And Industrial Committee Head! Only a select group may call her Suzu-san! Even calling her Mukai-san is too much! You are limited to two letters! Call her Mu-sama! …Ah! Mu-chan just sent me a thank you divine mail! And it is truly divine because it contains a comment from Masazumi as well! If you want to see it, you’d better start offering up some money and privileges!”
“Nobu-tan! Nobu-tan! What about A-chan’s responses!?”
“You do them, Koni-tan… Think of it as a reward for your tribute last night…”
“Um! Honda-san! What about the divine mail here from the ninja?”
“Who caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaares? He’s a guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuy!”
“Nobu-tan! Nobu-tan! I admire how quickly you can switch it on and off!”
My father and the others must be busy, thought Masazumi as she continued her divine mail exchange. I need to pull it together myself. But it was her job to decide what to do next based on those matters.
Vice President: “Diplomats, do you have any questions about the upcoming three nations meeting?”
Righteousness: “What kind of discussion do you think it will end up being?”
It was a vague question, but she could already see its intention. So…
Vice President: “What is our goal? Keep that in mind and look at this again.”
Me: “Was it war?”
Hori-ko: “Yes. It was a great war of aggression so we can conquer the world and retrieve my emotions.”
Vice President: “Hold it, you two.”
Wise Sister: “Heh heh heh. But that special student general assembly ultimately had a war ending, didn’t it? You fanned the flames! You just fanned them and fanned them! And our odds of victory are up again! All the other nations should tremble in fear of our Vice President!”
Marube-ya: “Judge. She even said we’re leaving port.”
Bell: “D-don’t worry. I-I-I’m ready for…that…”
Vice President: “Wait, wait, wait, all of you. That isn’t what I was trying to say! I’m trying to take this seriously!”
Azuma: “So you’re saying it’s time to take going to war seriously?”
Gold Mar: “It’s pretty impressive we made it this far if we were only treating war like a game.”
Scarred: “Um, everyone, it was Lady Masazumi’s predilection for war that solved our incident, so what happens to Master Tenzou and me if you reject that…?”
Mal-Ga: “I would love it if the end of this line↑was said with her hands on her blushing cheeks.”
10ZO: “You’re watching! You’re watching us, aren’t you!? But from where!?”
Flat Vassal: “Our couples have been really open about things lately. Is it the impatience brought by war?”
Silver Wolf: “What are all of you talking about!? The meeting is going to start soon!”
Mitotsudaira paused long enough to take a breath.
Silver Wolf: “Listen, everyone. We have no time. Things are already on the move! We need to focus. Okay, Masazumi. I agree we need to take this seriously, so how are you going to bring this to war?”
Almost Everyone: You’re the worst one of us all!!”
Vice President: “Dammit… You all must see me as a politician that uses jokes to lure people into a false sense of security before declaring war.”
Asama: “There’s…there’s something off about that view of us! Are you okay, Masazumi!?”
They were all cruel, but a sudden thought came to mind.
…Are we gradually returning to the normal state of things?
She felt like the special student general assembly acted as a dividing line.
She had no intention of tooting her own horn, but…
Vice President: “I haven’t felt this mood in a while.”
They could see what they had to do and they had some leeway in doing it, so things were back to normal. She did not like being the butt of the jokes, but their aim would eventually drift to Crossunite or Asama. Yes, that’s right. It has to. I’ll make sure it does. But…
Hori-ko: “Yes. It has been a while…since we had a good war.”
Vice President: “Not what I meant!!”
After saying that and looking at the quizzical tilt of Tsukinowa’s head, Masazumi said more.
Vice President: This is diplomacy. …If we can suggest what I’m currently thinking about, I think we can get the three nations on our side. And it should influence the other nations afterwards. That is the way I’m looking at it now.”
Righteousness: “In other words, leave it to you?”
Vice President: “No, not really. …You’re the ones who will handle the local negotiations. I will provide you with a goal, a policy, and an approach to use, but it’s you who will clinch it.”
Vice President: “Do whatever it takes, diplomats. Just make sure to fulfill your goals in a way that does not harm Musashi or Matsudaira. Diplomacy here will determine the future of not just Musashi but the Far East as a whole. We’re going to win here and then go defeat Hashiba.”
Mal-Ga: “You mean…diplomacy here is a form of war?”
Masazumi just about said “judge” before realizing that agreeing meant that this would lead to war.
…I just about fell for it!
She hurriedly tried to find something else to say, but could not come up with anything. So…
Vice President: “No, u-um, that’s not it. That’s definitely not it. Yes. Ha ha ha. That sure isn’t it.”
Almost Everyone: “Don’t force yourself!!”
She wondered what that meant, but she guessed it meant they had understood her.
Vice President: “I’ll have a plan put together by the time the meeting starts. I’ll probably discuss our policies with you in the meantime, but have a good time on the scene.”
She expected them to ask “A plan for war?”, but…
Me: “Judge. We left that with you, so leave this with us.”
Her words caught in her throat when he accepted it so readily, so she finally managed a single word.
She simply agreed for the time being.
Then the Tachibana Couple approached from the road below. They both held their weapons.
“Tachibana Muneshige and Gin reporting for tonight’s bodyguard duty after the special student general assembly.”
The Tachibana Wife stopped at the bottom of the stairs and bowed to see her husband off.
“The party should be starting soon.”
She did not know much about dancing, so she had asked Kimi about it:
Wise Sister: “It depends on the music, but when dancing with someone, you should be fine following your partner’s lead. If you mess up, it just means your partner did a bad job. Asama is pretty incredible as far as that is concerned. …She finds so many chances to step on your feet or crush you. I can’t carelessly sing a duet with her in our band, so I have her sing with Mitotsudaira.”
Asama: “This idiot is talking on a more intuitive level, so I’ll send you a beginner’s step assistance spell from an entertainer god, okay?”
The Noise Neighbor she wore like headphones would tell her in advance what step was coming. It used a recorded adult’s voice.
“Okay♪ Move your left foot forward and then spin to the lef-…no, the righ-…oh, wait, it’s the left. Le-le-le-lef-lef-left? No, it was right! Okay! Okay! And next is the ri-…left! Just a bit further now.”
She had figured out she generally needed to do the opposite of what it said.
She had her left arm forward and her right arm around her partner’s left arm. It was a gentle dance that took into account the two swords on her partner’s left hip.
“What is it, Mukai-dono?”
It was a feeble voice with just enough of a waver to know she had to work to maintain it. Of course, that was something only those close to her or those with hearing on Suzu’s level would notice. To others…
…She should…sound the same as always.
The night before when Narumi and Yoshihime had told her about Masamune, they had said she would be near Masamune before the meeting began and that they wanted her to support Masamune.
The various clans in Date territory were far from fully settled in and this meeting would likely determine the future of Oushuu, so they did not want to show any weakness. It was weird for them to ask Suzu for help, but she did want to speak with Masamune before the meeting.
But a tremor had run through her body when Masamune had greeted her.
“Nice to meet you, Musashi Ambassador,” Masamune had said. “My brother Kojirou seems to be somewhere else at the moment, but I’ll introduce you once he shows up.”
This was their third time meeting, but it was their first official meeting in a public space. And the death of Masamune’s brother Kojirou was being kept hidden.
In that sense, nothing she said was a lie. But…
…She sounds like she really thinks that.
Yoshihime had said that Masamune’s memories were consumed each time the Seiryu appeared.
Suzu did not know if meeting her and the death of Kojirou had been erased from Masamune or sealed away inside her.
But Urquiaga spoke quietly.
“A barrier to the elder sister character? …I am left with no choice. I have already laid the groundwork, so it is time I got serious.”
Suzu did not know what he meant, but she felt provoking him would be a bad idea and simply acknowledged it.
However, her words and will seemed to get through to Masamune, so she spoke. She simply talked.
She was not a good speaker.
She felt like people who could see must be able to see the meaning and form of her words between the time they left her mouth and the time they reached the listener. Asama and Neshinbara had smiled and said she was mistaken, but she felt like their words had a way of encouraging her or bringing a visual scene to mind even when they were simply reading a textbook.
…Neshinbara-kun can be confusing sometimes. He always ends up saying “heh” or screaming or making weird gestures or staring off into space…
But in general, her point was valid. So…
“Yes, I have heard it began with Mikawa.”
“Right,” agreed Suzu.
She talked about Mikawa: How he had decided he would confess, how everyone had been hopeful or worried, how they had gone through a test of courage at the academy, how Asama had fired an arrow…
“Oh, how brave of her.”
Masamune seemed to enjoy that part a lot. Suzu felt bad for Asama, though. But as she talked about it and remembered it all, she realized she may have been the first to notice something was wrong in Mikawa when she had noticed the guard station explosion.
That was almost three months ago at this point.
And occasionally she would get so lost in the story that Masamune would stop walking to follow the conversation.
She knew the girl was resting and that she did not want Suzu to notice. She also noticed Katakura, Narumi, and the others breathing sighs of relief behind them. So she decided to keep talking.
She felt something like anxiety. It was about Masamune but also about the guess at Date’s policy that Masazumi had sent over just before the dance.
…The Date clan most likely wants to advance diplomatic relations without Masamune.
Suzu had a thought.
…Will that mean deceiving Masamune-san?”
Masamune was more or less under the Seiryu’s control. If she did hold diplomatic relations like that, it could easily lead to issues with her political decisions and they would have to be more mindful of the other clans in their territory. If that increased the odds of a good deal for Musashi, Date would likely find it safer to leave Masamune out of the diplomatic relations. That was Masazumi’s conclusion.
Suzu did not know what, but Masazumi could apparently see a great many things.
Which left only one thing for Suzu to do.
…Right. I need to do my best in every way I can.
After giving herself some silent encouragement, something occurred to her.
Did the current Masamune have any enjoyable experiences or memories to share?
Suzu felt it would be a shame if there had been things like that in the memories she no longer had.
…What does Urquiaga-kun think?
He had mentioned an elder sister character, so was he worried about Masamune?
But Urquiaga was speaking with Narumi.
“You fool! That is not what I meant! Why do you want to touch my leg so badly!?”
“What are you talking about? You’re the one that stepped right into my path.”
They were spinning and weaving through the hall in what was clearly “high speed movement”.
The two of them seemed to get along quite well.
Narumi was definitely engaged in a battle.
She was glad she had chosen a red dress that gave her the leeway to move if need be. She would not have been able to move like this in the tight skirts the others were wearing.
She was engaged in a fight in which they tried to take each other’s hand and place their feet in each other’s spot.
To win, she was using quick footwork and striking with both arms while summoning new false arms each time.
Her opponent was striking with the edge of his forearms and his knees.
She generally deflected his blows outwards from within and he generally struck inwards from without. She had the superior movements, but he had the superior speed.
She attempted to take his hand.
This was a dance, after all. By taking his hand and pulling him in, she could seize the initiative.
As the representative of Date’s warriors, she could not afford to lose to Musashi’s 2nd Special Duty Officer. But…
…What a pain…
When she thought about it, she realized that victory in this dance meant to embrace the half-dragon in front of her. How was she even supposed to embrace something so large?
It was physically impossible.
They gently spun around, made a strike, swept each other’s blows away, and kept up their footwork. When one placed their hand on the other’s wrist, the other would make a snap reversal to grab at them instead. They would grab up to the elbow and use their other hand to keep their opponent’s movements in check.
They would sometimes sway their bodies, their hands would cross paths, they would attempt to grab their opponent’s fingers while blocking their vision, and they would be forcibly deflected.
That’s right, thought Narumi within the wind created by their actions. Doesn’t this half-dragon hope to be an inquisitor? In that case, he should be skilled in this sort of technique to take people’s hands and secure them.
One was a Vice Chancellor skilled in combat and the other was a 2nd Special Duty Officer skilled in capture. In situations that called for their specialized skills, how much of a difference would arise between them? While Narumi thought about that, they exchanged blows and traded positions in a slow push and pull.
Narumi had a sudden thought. As the two of them attempted to take each other’s hand, she suddenly realized the two of them might be able to stop the Seiryu if they worked together.
She lowered her gaze to his feet which slowly pursued hers and then pulled back. As she watched that, a clear thought came to her: If only I had a fighter like this on my side.
He was about the same size as her in Unturning Centipede and he had the same level of mobility. There was no room for complaint in his strength and toughness. He had a definite eye for strategy and he could understand and fulfill his role while working with her.
He was the ideal partner. But…
…I would blatantly be using him, wouldn’t I?
Their relationship would exist solely to defeat the Seiryu. And Date did not want to be indebted to Musashi. They were indebted enough already after the night before. That had been fine because it had left no records, but if they made definite plans to seal the Seiryu, she would have to separate his presence from Musashi’s authorization.
She had considered hiring him as a mercenary, but at the 2nd Special Duty Officer level, he could not make an individual contract. The two nations would need to approve it.
That left only one option.
…Have him join Date…
No, the method was simple. He only had to transfer schools and change his nationality.
But what would draw him to Date?
Narumi suddenly thought of Masamune.
Masamune was an elder sister character.
But she was off limits. Truly off limits. Masamune had to lead Date in the future. She had to stay focused on that. After all, Narumi had to leave Date.
Another option occurred to Narumi: What about me?
Suzu sensed a sudden movement.
Masamune also seemed to notice while dancing with Suzu. The two of them looked to the center of the hall. A high-speed battle was still underway there, but…
The movements of the two combatants’ legs and bodies had changed.
Instead of using all their strength and speed to move front and back or left and right, some slower and more hesitant movements had appeared between Urquiaga and Narumi. And they seemed to be coming more from Narumi than Urquiaga.
…Is she conflicted?
But the way she was moving was reminiscent of something.
“She seems to be dancing.”
Masamune sounded relieved as she said that.
Narumi thought while intercepting and attacking.
Could she sacrifice herself to save Date?
This half-dragon was hopeless, but he was an excellent fighter and would make the perfect partner in a battle against the Seiryu. Her judgment as Vice Chancellor told her that.
But she could only describe his personality as “unfortunate”.
The first time they had met was on top of the Ariake. He had immediately asked if she was an elder sister and started to leave when she said no.
The second time they had met was aboard Aerial Ship Kawai Castle. He had simply watched as the wind blew her skirt around and then he had groped her breast.
The third time they had met was the night before. It had been an emergency, but he had handed her panties.
Narumi realized he had never actually done anything that harmed Date.
That was right.
On their first meeting, he had expressed his understanding of Date’s difficult position before leaving. On their second meeting, he had only groped her breast on accident and he had saved her life when the Seiryu attacked.
On their third meeting, he had arrived with the intention to help her defeat the Seiryu.
He had been helping them all along.
From the very beginning to now, he had at least tried to understand them and to not harm them. And he had even helped them.
And so far, Musashi had not demanded anything in exchange for what he had done. His help had been on an individual level and had not been on orders from anyone.
In that case, wondered Narumi. Why?
Why had she seen her relationship with the half-dragon in such a hostile light?
…Because I am the Vice Chancellor.
She had to protect Masamune and she had to maintain her pride as the representative of Date’s warriors.
So she had misread someone like him.
If she had made a direct attack on the Seiryu the day before, she would not have survived.
The night before had been little different. Even if they had resolved the problem, Sendai Castle would have been badly damaged.
But if she bowed down to him now and asked for assistance, would he help?
He likely would.
So why was she doing this? Why was she being so hostile to someone who would help them?
Narumi trembled at the sudden voice.
Lowering her head had been a mistake. Instead of stepping forward, the half-dragon reached his forearm around her body from the side.
Suzu sensed Urquiaga making a major move.
She thought that his arm had grabbed, forcibly lifted, and embraced Narumi’s conflicted body and soul. But…
Her lifted body was lowered once more.
After capturing Narumi, Urquiaga set her back down so she stood upright and then he bowed down on one knee.
“I failed to match the serene tempo of your dance, Date Vice Chancellor. I apologize for interfering with your movements.”
Restraining her racing pulse was the most Narumi could do.
The sudden embrace reminded her of the day before. He had grabbed her from the side and saved her life then.
And he had done it again now.
She realized her movements had to have grown disturbed and indecisive.
That was due to her confliction, but anyone watching would think she had simply fallen behind in their exchange of attacks. It had become something of a dance, but the half-dragon would have won.
That was why he had brought a premature end to the contest himself.
As he stood up and breathed a sigh in front of her, she asked a question.
She felt it was unfair of her to ask so quietly, but her heart pounded in her chest as she waited for the answer.
Not even she knew what she wanted him to say, but there was one thing she did know.
This half-dragon was an idiot, but…
…He always tries to understand and help those in distress.
She did not know if that was due to his religion or if it was just a part of his personality. But because of that…
“Why did you save me?”
“To complete the elder sister character route…or so I would like to say.”
She was slightly out of breath as his gaze moved from her neck to her feet.
“It seems you chose something you wanted to wear this time. In that case, it would be wrong to not let you dance and show it off to Masamune and everyone else here.”
She tried and failed to ask where that had come from so suddenly, but he turned his back and walked to the break area by the wall as he said one last thing.
“It suits you much better than what you wore yesterday. I like it, Date Narumi.”
“So Itachi is having a party and Saijou is having a festival, huh?”
When the crossdresser made his comment, the automaton princess lowered her shoulders while walking down the hall next to him.
“Th-this girl has learned how to sigh while looking down on me!”
“Calm down,” said Tenzou as he walked without leaving footprints on the red carpet. “We are about to have a meeting with Sviet Rus Chancellor and Student Council President Uesugi ‘the Terrible’ Kagekatsu-dono, so listen up. …Toori-dono, this is Sviet Rus’s Student Council site. It says Kagekatsu-dono looks after the botanical garden and animals, but I believe that is to soften his image as ‘the Terrible’.”
Everyone looked at the screen where a tall demon silhouette was backlit by lightning. There were rabbits at his feet, but…
“Doesn’t this just make it look like a reign of terror?” asked Mitotsudaira.
“The shadow over his face does give that impression…” agreed Tenzou.
Shigenaga spoke to them from a half step away.
“You people have quite a gap between your serious and casual moments. …And I thought you did a decent job greeting our committee heads earlier. Well, all of you but the crossdresser.”
“Hey, Hanchou, my crossdressing is the real deal! I tricked your negotiators, didn’t I!?”
“And that’s why our people are feeling so depressed, which I feel like gave you an advantage!!”
Shigenaga bared her teeth and glared at him, so Tenzou held out a hand to calm her. He then raised his right index finger and spoke.
“Well, we will have him change before we move from the negotiation site, so he will be dressed as a boy. Don’t worry. In a way, I doubt anything weirder could happen.”
“I hope you’re right…” She looked back at them over her shoulder. “Anyway, don’t get careless. Sviet Rus Chancellor Uesugi Kagekatsu is a high-level demon. To use someone you know, he is comparable to the Reine des Garous.”
“Wouldn’t he be far more powerful as far as spells are concerned?” asked Mitotsudaira.
Shigenaga smiled bitterly.
“I am talking about another nation. If she is stronger in pure strength, let me put it another way. They are both nonhumans, but one is one of the werewolves who have strengthened and established their existence using mankind’s fear and the other is one of the demons who have reached their current form after branching off from the gods. Their strong points are different.”
Shigenaga then turned her back on them.
She reached her hand out toward the large door with red decorations that stood in their way and she spoke to the heavily-equipped guard protecting the door.
“I have brought the visitors from Musashi. …Open the way.”
The door opened and Shigenaga stepped into the dim light beyond. The Musashi representatives followed.
They walked straight in.
- Itachi and Saijou are incorrect readings of the kanji for Date and Mogami.
- Hanchou is an incorrect reading of the kanji for Shigenaga.
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