Horizon:Volume 4C Chapter 78
Chapter 78: Prover on the Hunting Ground
What lies between
The opening attack
And the ending attack?
Point Allocation (Confirmation)
They had the signal to leave port.
In the power section of the engine division, Naomasa and the other female team members were confirming their posts. Her eyebrows relaxed when she heard what Masazumi had said.
“You really can change overnight, can’t you?”
“Judge,” agreed the others. “A girl only needs five seconds to change.”
They all laughed as some voices arrived via divine transmission. It began with “Musashi’s” voice.
“Good evening, everyone. This is ‘Musashi’. Currently, the ship’s flight ability is at 92%, armament operability is at 87%, and residences are at 77%. …We are capable of leaving port. The residents who cannot board in time will be left at the Mito land ports and we will allow them to board once we return. Thus…”
“Musashi” voice paused for a beat.
“The time limit is 2 minutes and 12 seconds. Please board before then. Over.”
The shouting outside the ship was audible through the armor. And the engine division was shaken by a supposedly impossible earthquake.
The people waiting on the Ariake were boarding the Musashi. The overlapping footsteps and pounding feet shook the engine division at the bottom of the ship, so it sounded like rain on the ceiling.
“Listen up, all of you!”
Taizou’s voice reached them from the bridge across the center of the engine division.
“The Ariake is going to open up on the bottom. We’ll be thrown out, so make sure we aren’t caught in the countercurrent! We’re showing off the new and improved Musashi for the first time here, so work to control her nice and smoothly!”
Ookubo did not really understand where she was.
She was in the engine division. More than that, she was in the important section that controlled the foundation of their power. For some reason, she was equipped like one of the workers and she wore a hairpin that provided a head protection spell.
“Oh, young lady. You look a lot more mature with your hair done up like that.”
She checked her reflection in the white paneling of an engine and saw the members of the 6th Girls Team standing behind her and doing up her hair. Kanou was already prepared and she was asking the second-in-command about their work.
“We have our orders from the division head, but…I have determined that look suits you well, milady.”
“Oh, um… Where’s Yagyuu-kun?”
“Munenori-sama is working with an engine division boys team. The Operations Committee is in charge of assigning people to teams and they were saying something about throwing him on the Shudo Team because he is cute, but, well, he has the skill to protect himself, so he should be fine.”
“Yeah, there are a lot of former students on that team, so they’re pretty skilled.”
That last comment worried Ookubo, so she hoped he would be fine. The Yagyuu family had left him with her as a bodyguard, so it would be best if he did not pick up any strange skills due to her. But…
“Why are you here, young ladies?” someone asked. “Were you demoted?”
“No…due to the earlier attack, we asked where we could find the safest place where we could also be of some use…”
“You’re being too self-conscious! Way too self-conscious!! Young girls like you need to have plenty of confidence!”
The older female worker laughed. Ookubo was used to ignoring that sort of reaction, but…
“…You’re probably right.”
She did not ignore it. She was not sure why, but…
…I accepted it.
As a politician and as a normal citizen, she had to hide her negative aspects.
But at the moment, she did not know what she needed to do as a politician. After all…
…The special student general assembly only just ended…
If she ignored this, it would only look like she was acting tough. All of her past political performances had been the direct result of her own weaknesses. Once she started feeling that way…
She wondered what to do about herself.
But the worker who had laughed accepted those emotions. She turned back, and…
“You’re a smart girl, aren’t you?”
“When you’re strong, you don’t let your weaknesses show. And when you’re weak, you don’t let your strengths show. …You’re almost unfairly smart.”
There was no sarcasm in her voice. She placed her hands on her hips and smiled bitterly.
“You’re someone who can’t be wasted down here. Do what you’ve got to do to get back up top soon.”
The other workers laughed and agreed.
“The people who come down here and then crawl back up tend to hit the jackpot. Like winning an English princess.”
Ookubo was unsure what that meant, but Kanou spoke up while checking a sign frame.
“Milady, it is time to work. …We must inspect various areas. I received an image of what we must inspect, so let’s go ensure the readings and shapes are correct.” Kanou raised her eyes in a smile. “Yes, let’s make this a race.”
Countless sign frames opened on the bridge in front of Musashi Ariadust Academy.
Neshinbara received a portion of them and listened to a divine transmission from “Asakusa”.
“Neshinbara-sama, we have detected movement in the sky above the Edo region to the south. According to our observations, the Jurakudai has left port. It seems to have begun traveling to the Novgorod region using pseudo-gravitational cruising. Over.”
“Judge. That means the materiel and personnel Hashiba carried to Edo includes some they wish to hurry to Novgorod. Niwa, Komahime, and Hidetsugu might go with them.”
“Judge. They seem to have fixed their armaments in place and will function as a defensive ship in a battle. The Jurakudai is a combat diplomatic ship and the flagship of Hidetsugu’s fleet, so it will have powerful defensive spells. Its equipment suggests the same. If it has the same level of power as the Shirasagi Castle…”
Neshinbara viewed the example diagram sent by “Asakusa”.
“Then I have determined their defensive range will reach 7km assuming they focus on defense. Simply put, the one ship can defend two attack fleets spread out over a wide area. Over.”
That’s a ridiculously powerful defensive ship, thought Neshinbara with a frown.
“This one ship can defend an Azuchi Castle class ship. Or…it’s meant to defend an expert’s one-ship charge like we saw during the Battle of Mikatagahara.”
“Shockingly, your opinion matches ours, Neshinbara-sama. Does that mean we are wrong? Debating…conclusion reached. Neshinbara-sama, you were lucky this time. Over.”
“D-dammit, I’m not gonna lose…!”
An iron smell wafted through the air. Which meant…
“The Ariake is preparing to open up. Honda-kun, you should have your anteater activate a footing spell. This isn’t going to be fun when the floor opens up below us.”
Masazumi turned his way and nodded.
Seeing that, Neshinbara used the divine chat while thinking, I’m not good at putting on this kind of act. He saw a spell appear at Masazumi’s feet to solidify her footing and fix her in place.
Novice: “We’re counting on you, Technohexen. We only have one shot at this.”
“This is clearly a trap. Even I can tell, Anayama.”
A boy’s voice sounded along a dark path illuminated by a series of dim lights.
Anayama, one of the Sanada Ten Braves, could be heard responding.
“But this is the best timing for us, Nezu-kun. …Making an appearance here would make for a nice advertisement.”
“I understand what you’re saying and that this is a very difficult job. So the festival is over and so are we. …I really liked the roast squid here.”
“Oh? We have similar tastes, Nezu-kun.”
“I take back what I said.”
“Testament.” Nezu started to move. “That the festival is over. Our festival is only just beginning. As part of the reason we had our first ending, I will fire the signal gun.”
Naruze lay on Ariadust Academy’s rooftop.
Burning Surroundings was opened just a bit above her head and it sent data to the Magie Figure by her hands. She used Burning Surroundings to take video of the locations indicated as dangerous sniping points and she displayed them all by her hands. But…
…I can predict when the sniper attack will happen, but I can’t predict how they’ll do it.
Naruze had been the one to inform the others that the Sanada Ten Braves would attack again.
She had done so after the meeting with Yasuhira in the cafeteria.
They had all had their suspicions that another attack was coming, so she had stepped forward to lecture them.
“Given the attack on Futayo, it’s noticeable that there was no sniper fire during the attack by the automatons. That might just mean that the sniper had already fled, but my M.H.R.R. blood makes me assume the worst.”
“I doubt they’ll stay silent now that we made a fool of their dolls’ attack. Most likely, they’ll attack again when the Musashi leaves the Ariake. And…they’ll target our VIPs who have plenty of openings.”
Naruze had then looked to Margot who had silently applauded with a smile.
She had likely been telling Naruze how cool she was and to take it easy, so Naruze had continued while aware that everyone already knew this and that it was public knowledge.
“I come from an anti-Techno Magie unit in M.H.R.R. Countermeasures for Schwarz Techno sniper fire and cannon fire were passed down from father to child.”
“Yeah.” Margot had spoken up without warning. “My family was also part of a unit like that. They had a different specialty, but I can confirm what Ga-chan is saying.”
“Then do you consider another attack – and a sniper attack in particular – to be possible, Naito-sama?”
“It would be perfect if Seijun could act as bait.”
Margot sometimes had a way of being really blunt, but that was what made her so wonderful. However…
“Me!?” Masazumi had stood up and placed a hand on her chest. “W-wait! Would I really be safe acting as bait for an attack? I would have a defense spell, right?”
“Put up one of those and they’d notice. Calm down, Seijun.”
“Th-then I’ll have a bodyguard, right!?”
“If someone would get in their way, they would give up on you. You have to show more motivation, Seijun.”
“Then what am I supposed to do!?”
“If you forgot everything you heard here and acted like normal, I don’t think you would be afraid at all.”
Margot is really amazing sometimes, Naruze had thought, but Masazumi’s response had been equally amazing.
“Don’t ask for the impossible!”
“Now, now.” Naruze had waved toward Masazumi. “Calm down, Masazumi. Bait doesn’t get any rights.”
“I think you mean no one has the right to use people as bait!”
“Just leave this up to an expert and you’ll be fine. Do we know anything about who we’re up against?”
“Judge.” Gin nodded. “There might be multiple snipers. They cannot be captured. It is unknown what kinds of bullets are being used. There were bullet holes at the site of the attack, but no actual bullets were found.”
“Well, this is hopeless…”
“You just said it would be fine! Like ten seconds ago!”
At least their bait was lively. But Naruze had had a number of thoughts on the issue, so…
“If we put the bait out there as bait and if what Gin says is accurate, then we can pull this off somehow or other.”
“Wait, are you sure about this, Naruze…?”
“Judge. It’s just like flying. …Victory goes to the side that’s better in the moment.”
Masazumi had looked incredibly displeased, but that was just how it was going to be.
Practice and planning meetings could not compare to the atmosphere of the real deal. People were often told to do things just like they had practiced, but once you reached a certain level…
“You can do even better than in practice.”
On the roof, Naruze focused on the present once more. She looked at her Magie Figur and thought.
…Now, I just hope our bait actually works.
Nezu walked through the festival crowd.
He felt he had adequately prepared, but…
…I need to aim even closer to perfection.
I cannot afford to fail, he thought. I need to corner myself.
He had to corner himself and continue cornering himself, but it would never be enough. After all…
“It’s my fault that we became Unneeded.”
They had once taken part in a series of duels that could be seen as a game. A mistake of his has led to their defeat and then they had left their rightful position. There had been other options for them there, but their pride had not allowed it and they had sought a new place for themselves.
“That was when Sanada let us in…”
The Ten Braves of Sanada Academy had grown old as the Warring States period had continued on and on without ending. The old Ten Braves had rejoiced at their arrival, become their “teachers”, and allowed them to inherit the position.
He could hear festival music. A large sign frame overhead displayed the countdown until the ship left port.
It dropped below a minute to go.
On the main street, he heard a song he had heard a few times before. He recalled it was the song of the silver wolf in a trio led by the shrine maiden of the Asama Shrine. A dancer sang the song in a carrying soprano.
“My heart is at home in the world’s grasp. It trembles in the reverberation of the present.
“There is not much future in the lacking present. The light of the past only casts a shadow.”
Nezu could understand that. Had she lost something?
No, he knew he should not be taking a festival song so seriously. But…
“I hear something in the anger spreading before my eyes. Everything seems unnecessary, but it simply dries up.
“I sense heat in the worries lying at my feet. Everything seems in my way, but I simply step over it.
“La la la…
“That’s fine. I only have to continue struggling with my impatient and wavering heart.
“That’s fine. No one can stop this impatient and trembling heart.”
The countdown reached 5. As he listened to the song on the road, he was just one person at the festival.
The worries in his heart could not be seen from outside.
Just like a true ninja.
He could not be stopped.
Naruze read the moment.
…If my prediction was right…!
It would happen as soon as the countdown reached 0.
It would happen as the bottom of the Ariake opened up and the Musashi was ejected.
Naruze spoke the countdown aloud.
A moment later, she heard a sniper shot hit.
Just as the Musashi began to shake, Nezu uttered a voiceless voice on the main road.
His timing and aim had been perfect. And…
“The Musashi Vice President…!”
He looked up with just his eyes and saw someone on Musashi Ariadust Academy’s bridge.
Musashi’s Vice President almost tripped and then sat down.
When she had ridden a god of war in her rush to reach the scene of the earlier attack, he had learned that she was not used to balancing herself on the Musashi. That was why he had decided not to target her.
He had targeted someone with more solid footing.
…Someone who had been in a position to know it was us after we fled.
And someone waiting in a position where they would be oblivious to his approach.
“Musashi’s 4th Special Duty Officer…!”
He had seen a glimpse of color on the rooftop. It had been white. But it had not been the color of the 4th Special Duty Officer’s Technohexen outfit. What he saw scattering and swaying was…
Naruze realized her prediction had been right.
She was surrounded by Burning Surroundings which she had converted into a defense spell, so…
…I blocked the bullets!
There had been eight bullets in all. And…
“Our own components? I’m impressed!”
The enemy had not used actual bullets. Instead, they had used screws, nails, stones, and glass shards, all of which could be found anywhere on the Musashi at the moment.
After the previous attack, she had had “Musashino” and the other automatons analyze the images from Burning Surroundings, but there had been no sign of the enemy. That was when she had figured it out. The enemy was remote controlling the bullets for their “sniper” shots. When Futayo had been sniped at the Blue Thunder, they had not found any bullets because the enemy had likely used glass shards.
And this time, the enemy had targeted Naruze.
After all, the flying bullets had come from different parts of the rooftop. And from those positions, there was a way for a sniper to ensure a hit with remote-controlled bullets: a stationary target.
That meant targeting her.
That was why she had used Masazumi as bait.
She knew that the enemy had targeted Masazumi and the others in order to set up their attack on her. From that, they had learned that she would not get up and pursue them, so…
…They decided I wouldn’t move for no reason.
So she had used Masazumi as bait to make it look like she had not caught on. She ensured the enemy would target her by acting like she assumed they were after Masazumi.
And the enemy had responded just as she had hoped. And not just with a sniper attack.
“How about that?”
Naruze looked back toward someone behind her.
It was a hooded girl armed with two swords. She had a sharp look in her eyes.
Her right side was stained with a dark red. Margot’s sniper spell had been too much for the bulletproofing of a Qing-Takeda girl’s uniform to fully block.
The powerful attack had smashed the enemy’s body.
This was a real human and not an automaton. She trembled from the shock and started to take a step back.
But she resisted and raised the sword in her right hand.
She came in for the attack.
Yuri Kamanosuke, one of the Ten Braves, bet everything on that one sword.
She made an unavoidable attack.
She started by rushing up to the enemy and making a jab. The enemy would of course dodge the jabbing sword, so after the enemy’s body had slipped to the side of the blade, she rotated her wrist.
While using her palm to give the hilt a dancing rotation, she aimed the blade toward the enemy’s back.
Then she pulled back and cut them.
The white Technohexen spun her body to evade.
Well done, thought Yuri. The Technohexen was the long-range and spell type, but she still dodged the close-range attack. But Yuri’s ninja technique had only just begun.
When she pulled the blade back, the speed and motion were unified along a straight line, so they created a vacuum.
It was a vacuum blade.
If an enemy dodged her previous attack, their movement would create an air current. That would suck in the vacuum she had created, effectively releasing it.
…And it cuts them!
That was the unavoidable attack. With the enemies she had faced before, it had hit them from behind after they were already defeated, but…
The vacuum vanished.
Yuri thought about what that meant and then she heard a voice.
“It’s too bad. …The Peerless in the West saw through that trick. And that just leaves…”
The black wings on her enemy’s back were closed up. By detonating the air built up inside them, she crushed the vacuum Yuri had created.
The explosion of air sent the white Technohexen flying through the air. And it hit Yuri with an impact as well.
Her sword shattered and the hilt was knocked from her grasp. Her right thumb caught on the hilt and she saw it bend at an odd angle. But…
Her left sword also broke at the middle.
The sniper shots continued.
Naito lay face down on top of Musashi’s bridge as she fired sniper shots.
Schwarz Fräulein was in sniper form and attached to her right shoulder’s hard point. Several Magie Figurs that combined acceleration spells with targeting spells were opened across Schwarz Fräulein’s long ship’s bow and she fired coin bullets from there.
As the bullets were repeatedly accelerated by the aligned Magie Figurs…
She fired them through the spell sight.
The sword shattered and flew away. Even the hilt was destroyed in midair.
The enemy’s body fared little better. A bullet pierced her shoulder and one grazed her knee. A lower-speed non-penetrative bullet struck her shin.
She fell down on one knee.
“Not like that.”
She fell down on both knees. And…
A bullet to the shoulder knocked her upper body back. Then Naito raised her eyebrows and spoke.
“If you care about your comrades, what should you do at times like this?”
Nezu stopped moving.
If they had screwed something up, that was fine. If they had planned poorly, that was even better. If there was something they had done wrong, they could fix it and win next time.
But this was different. The enemy had predicted their strategy and their thoughts and then outdone them.
No matter what they fixed or did better, they could not win here.
Their enemy was simply “better” than them. But if he accepted that…
…I would be saying we can’t escape our position as the Unneeded!
Nezu tried to think up a way to rescue Yuri right this instant.
There was a way.
He could indiscriminately fire the “bullets” he had set up all over the Musashi. They would tear through the people out enjoying the festive atmosphere and the crew running around to prepare for leaving port.
The commotion that caused would likely create enough of an opening for him to rescue Yuri.
So he raised his right hand in order to activate all of those “bullets”. But…
“You can’t do that, Nezu-kun.”
Someone gave his raised right hand a high-five as they walked by.
“We each need to make up for our own mistakes. That is our rule. …Leave Yuri-kun to fend for herself.”
It was Anayama. He passed by and gestured for him to follow.
“Isa-kun is already at the escape point. We need to get going too.”
“We have not failed,” bluntly said Anayama. “We gained some internal information. And the Musashi will be damaged in an explosion when it leaves port. Let’s go watch that from outside.”
Nezu understood what Anayama was saying. Isa’s sabotage would take effect when the Musashi left port. That explosion would give Yuri a chance to escape.
Yuri could escape, so there was no need to rescue her here.
So Nezu lowered his right hand.
“You should be apologizing for what a silly thing you were about to do, Nezu-kun. Going in to rescue Yuri-kun is what an awkward boy in love would do. Yes, I remember my teenage days.”
“That’s enough.” Anayama approached and patted him on the back. “And Yuri-kun isn’t about to get herself killed. So…”
Just as Anayama said that, a vibration ran through the Musashi’s deck.
It had been shaking vertically before, but this one was horizontal.
“It’s begun. …I’ve seen it a few times from outside, but this is my first time while on the Musashi.”
Nezu listened to Anayama while hurrying toward the bow and worriedly looking back in Yuri’s direction.
“The Ariake is opening up from below. Once the Musashi is ejected, it will be newly revealed for the first time.”
Someone in the night sky viewed a different night sky.
A combat diplomatic ship traveled northwest. The name Jurakudai was printed on the side and someone glowed palely on the deck.
It was a girl with fox ears, Komahime. She looked back as Niwa stepped out from the observation deck behind her.
“Niwa-sama, the Ariake…!”
“Yes, it seems to be ejecting the Musashi. It’s started to turn. …What do you think as the Acting Captain taking Lord Hidetsugu’s place?”
“Testament. When something that massive moves, it must move the air quite a bit. I expect it has a buffering spell on the bottom, but when it moves horizontally…”
As Komahime watched, an explosion of white fog appeared at the various ends of the turning Ariake. The fog waved and extended all the way to the Jurakudai.
“Here it comes! We will be sucked toward it after the impact, so have each ship continue with inertial cruising while turned away from the Ariake! Using powered cruising will only get us stalled as it sucks us in! Also…”
The shaking passed by the Jurakudai.
Each of the ship’s armor panels seemed to vibrate as the impact swept across it. And then…
“Here comes the receding wave!”
The Jurakudai was a large ship, but it slid backwards through the air. It was carried toward the Ariake as if by a giant hand.
The other ships in the fleet also slid, but then they tilted.
“Activate buffering spells! …Open defense barriers inside those!”
As Komahime gave her orders, ship defense barriers opened on the Jurakudai. Hundreds of them appeared all at once, and…
“Support the rest of the ships!!”
There were eight other ships, some ahead of and some behind the Jurakudai. All of those were supported by groups of defense barriers.
They extended five kilometers around the Jurakudai and they supported the other ships as if holding them between the two sides of an opened book. The entire fleet’s approach toward the Ariake came to a stop.
And the people on the ships’ decks waved and shouted toward her through the night.
Flashing lights of thanks arrived from the bridges, so Komahime smiled in relief.
But the Ariake’s turn was not even a third of the way complete. More and more shockwaves arrived and the creaking of the air reverberated through the heavens.
Komahime stared at the Ariake below that shaking and noise.
“Niwa-sama, um, how is Hidetsugu-sama?”
“Shaja. …The Seiryu has vanished and he is sleeping peacefully. I thought he might vanish when the Seiryu was released, but that didn’t happen. I wonder what his regret was…”
“I think he was sad about Date’s future.”
“That worry will never vanish and he will continue to exist.”
“That would be convenient for you.”
Niwa smiled at Komahime’s confusion.
“There is nothing one wants to continue longer than a love they can never have.”
“Niwa-sama, you always make it sound like you understand, but-…”
Komahime trailed off as she glared at Niwa.
She heard a sound through the wind. The Ariake was moving again, which would send a new wave to sweep across the Jurakudai’s deck.
“The bottom…is opening!”
On the bridge of Musahino, Musashi’s first central ship, “Musashino” and the other automaton commanders were exchanging commands with the ship crews and the Ariake controllers.
But “Musashino” was not giving many instructions at the center of it all. She was watching the ether flower gardens that informed her of the progress in various parts of the ships. Eight flower gardens surrounded her. They had sign frames, the stems of ether flowers grew from them, and the flower petals slowly spread.
“First port and starboard ships, move out ahead and release power restrictions. Ariake, please handle the ether pools in the first port and starboard docks. Over.”
As she watched them grow, she quietly spoke into a sign frame.
“ ‘Musashi’-sama, please temporarily alter the Musashi’s name in our shared memory. There is a possibility of a discrepancy occurring with the previous ships, which would create noise during comparisons. Over.”
“Judge. Since this is a new version, how about Young Musashi or Zero Musashi?”
“Why are you so obsessed with your age, ‘Musashi’-san? Do you have some weird sort of pride about that?”
“Musashi” glared at Sakai on the sign frame, but “Musashino” continued like normal.
“The Ariake’s turn is 40% complete. …We will be ejected in 3 minutes and 12 seconds. Over.”
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