Horizon:Volume 5A Chapter 24
Chapter 24: White Heron in the Changing Night
The wings that shine in the night
The strength to pass through the darkness
The heart to conquer the shadows
Point Allocation (Showdown)
“The shellfire sounds like it’s getting closer…”
Masazumi sighed on the lift as it neared the Ariake’s ceiling.
…We got through Sanada, so now it’s the Shirasagi Castle again.
How should I look at this? she wondered. The Shirasagi Castle has both of its units back, so should I say that we “got through” Sanada or that we let them buy the time they needed?
That interpretation would become a topic of discussion when using the Musashi’s war power as a bargaining chip with other nations.
Sanada had done their job against Vice Chancellor level opponents. And they had exposed the status of Musashi’s war power.
Of course, they had sacrificed themselves to do so.
…That’s a method Aoi really doesn’t like.
Musashi had done well in that sense because they had not let Sanada sacrifice themselves.
“But the problem with a public position is that we can’t just say all’s well that ends well because everyone’s safe.”
“You have my sympathies.”
Masazumi nodded when she heard Munenori’s voice from somewhere.
“Are Kanou and the others doing well?”
“Judge. The management processing for Musashi residents is back to full capacity now that the remodeling is complete, so they are searching again for any spies. …Of course, some people might be spying even if it is not their specialty, so they will be transferred down for maintenance to the land port on the surface.”
“Yeah,” said Masazumi. “The land port’s transport ship temporary city is a real waste.”
“Judge. Ookubo-sama thinks we can turn it into the Shirakawa Headquarters for the Oushuu trade route you proposed. She has been holding meetings with the Industrial Committee, Lifestyle Committee, and Construction Division every evening lately.”
“So she isn’t paying any attention to you?”
“Th-that is not what I meant.”
“Now, now,” she said while waving her hand in what she hoped was an upperclassman-y way.
On her sign frame, she could see Takigawa had finished moving the Shirasagi Castle into place.
“Neshinbara, how are things?”
“That’s so cool…! Seeing the Shirasagi Castle outside of stealth is rare, so I need to get a bunch of recordings while I can. After all…”
She could hear the smile in his voice through the divine transmission.
“We’ll need to at least do some serious damage to it if we’re going to relieve the stress we’ve built up from all these shell hits.”
“I’m glad to see you’re doing well. So take care of this. Of course, I’m monitoring the situation on my sign frame and I’ll have to make some adjustments to the more dangerous statements all of you make.”
“Judge. …At any rate, it’s begun.”
She knew the answer, but she asked anyway.
“A direct fight between Hashiba and us. A new age has finally arrived. We’re acting as Houjou’s mercenaries here, but we won’t receive any support from Houjou. This battle is P.A. Oda’s Takigawa and her Shirasagi Castle against Musashi.”
“This isn’t about historical romance. Restraining Hashiba here will benefit Oushuu and Kantou and it will guide Musashi to an advantageous position at the Peace of Westphalia. Our gathering of the Logismoi Oplo is competing against P.A. Oda’s Genesis Project, so this confrontation is crucial. And…”
“We can’t accept Hashiba’s methods that prioritize speed even if that requires sacrifice.”
That’s Aoi’s policy, but it’s ours too now, thought Masazumi. So…
“Neshinbara, drive the Shirasagi Castle out of Kantou. That will force P.A. Oda to focus on us and demonstrate to the other nations that P.A. Oda’s exclusive dominance is over.”
“You should be telling that to more than just me.”
“That’s not true.” She smiled bitterly. “We already know what needs to be said here. It’s the same thing Aoi said before: Let’s see who’s the strongest.”
With this battle, they were finally doing that. But…
“Do your best up there.”
She heard a great noise. It was the Shirasagi Castle’s shellfire pounding on the Ariake’s upper surface. She occasionally heard a creaking sound like it caught on something, but that likely meant a shell had hit where the armor had been stripped away.
Masazumi corrected her expression and asked a question.
“What’s the situation?”
“The Shirasagi Castle is now keeping their distance and firing on us from their outer range. The god of war snipers can reach, but their aim is unreliable. That would change with some specialized guided shells, but god of war sniper rifles are rare and we apparently don’t have any spells that match them. So we’re doing everything we can at the moment,” said the Secretary. “Yes, no matter what happens here, we’ll manage. You can count on us.”
Shellfire poured down on the Ariake.
The general flow of events was the same as before: The Shirasagi Castle had split into 2 units which were constantly firing while covering for each other’s blind spots. But…
“Damn! Those Shirasagi Castle ships are further away than before!”
The enemy was distant.
“Can the god of war sniper unit hit them!?”
“No! When they’re this far away, they can cautiously move their ships out of the way!”
“So we can only hit with a fluke, but they can hit us anywhere they want and wear us down!?”
The Ariake was just too large a target.
That size meant it was not easily destroyed, but that only went so far.
The armor on the upper surface had already been greatly destroyed and the tertiary armor, their final hope, was halfway destroyed in a lot of places.
Taking any more hits would be dangerous. And because they knew that, everyone from the Ariake and the Musashi was in a hurry.
“ ‘Ariake’ here. ‘Musashi’ and I have worked together to put together a new defense barrier pattern. I will send you all the locations of the safe zones, so please move there ASAP. Over.”
More and more barriers appeared in the sky. They turned to light as the shells shattered them. And as that light shined on everyone…
“Hurry to your posts!”
The general units had to move the most. Individual-use spells and weaponry could not attack the Shirasagi Castle. But they were crucial for observing and tracking the Shirasagi Castle and it was possible the Shirasagi Castle would send down more individual enemies. Personnel needed to be deployed as a deterrent for that.
And everyone noticed something.
The defense barriers were appearing in certain locations more than others.
“Aren’t those the spots where those light bombs hit!? Did the Shirasagi Castle use the time Sanada bought them to determine where those were!?”
Solid sounds came from the floor atop the Ariake. Everyone looked to the west side of the Ariake and found the floor tilting shallowly.
The armor itself had not been destroyed, but a 20-meter square panel was clearly floating up.
An atmosphere of “eh?” hung over them all, but a few of them caught on and quickly began moving.
“Did the welding come apart there!?”
On the Shirasagi Castle’s bridge, Takigawa lowered her shoulders in relief.
The insha kotob by her hands displayed a diagram of the Ariake with the effective attack locations indicated with red, but…
“The light got in between the primary and secondary armor when the Descending Light Bombs hit. From there, we only have to make some calculations based on what we know about the division of Ariake’s armor to find where the Descending Light Bombs were fired near the armor anchoring points. By firing further shells there and simply bending the armor, we can tear up a wide region of the primary armor to expose what lies below.”
According to the calculation results on her insha kotob…
“There are 85 such locations. And we can fire on them all we want.”
The sky out the window glowed red.
The main cannons had taken aim and fired based on the data sent to them.
They all fired at once.
A slight movement ran through the Ariake.
But this was not the same as the vibrations from the shells hitting it.
“The armor is being torn away! The frame is going to bend!”
Just like solidifying mud would split, black lines ran through the armor panels connected to the ones torn away by the shellfire.
The removal of the armor altered the tension in the frame it was attached to. Especially in the center of the Ariake, the surrounding influence pulled hard on the frame and caused connecting bolts and welds to burst apart below the floor.
And then even more shells fell from the sky.
“Is the ground cracking apart…!?”
That was exactly what happened in the center of the Ariake.
Intermittent cracks ran along the white upper surface and the armor panels were lifted up by a texture much like a thin layer of cracked ice. Below that, the secondary and tertiary armor had also split and the ether fuel pipes passing between them had burst.
Glowing fog and smoke erupted above the Ariake.
“This will prevent the top from opening! We need to hurry the repairs!”
As everyone shouted and moved, the rising billows of smoke grew in number and even more shells fell from the sky.
Roaring noises dropped from above.
Unno had chosen to withdraw by jumping down from the Ariake. As she fell, she saw the battle resume overhead.
Then Mochizuki spoke after moving from Unno’s shoulder and into the air.
“I have determined the Shirasagi Castle’s shellfire is much more accurate than before.”
“Well, they wouldn’t have wasted that time. This is the battlefield. Musashi was observing the Shirasagi Castle and this means Takigawa was doing the same to them.”
The Ariake, Musashi, and Shirasagi Castle all required largescale national power to operate.
“I say we did pretty well against such a large nation,” said another voice.
It was Kakei. He was falling a bit further down and to the right.
“To be honest, I don’t feel like I was alive.”
He pulled something from his pocket, tore them up, and threw them away.
They were charms. One for ninja-specific physical enhancements and one to block pain.
“So you were right at the limit with those? …And it took that to only just barely reach the Musashi Vice Chancellor’s level?”
“I’ll do better next time, so one’ll probably do. And if I did that well against the Vice Chancellor, I’ll do even better against the others.”
“You really like looking down, don’t you?”
Only after saying that did Unno take a breath of laughter. And Mochizuki also spoke while falling down from overhead.
“I would also like to return to my original duty.”
“Yeah, you never were meant for combat. We only pushed you into it.”
“Don’t act like you’re the boss just because you’re almost entirely untouched…” complained Kakei.
“Oh, shut up,” said Unno as she glared at him before looking back up into the sky.
She could hear the shellfire there. And…
“I suppose Takigawa is going to withdraw from Kantou here, lose the Battles of Shizugatake and Komaki Nagakute, and reach the end of her career.”
“That won’t be the whole story. She’s a P.A. Oda leader.” Kakei sighed as he fell. “Honestly. …What were we even doing here? Were we fighting for Takigawa who’s under real pressure to preserve P.A. Oda’s reputation…or were we fighting for our own reputation even as we’re forced to withdraw?”
Kakei did not say any more. But Mochizuki…
“There is movement in the sky. The pattern is somewhat different from before. The Shirasagi Castle is keeping their distance as they fire so that they can avoid any simple return fire. They must intend to wear down the Ariake.”
“That’s certainly a passive choice.”
“But an effective one. They can accomplish a unilateral bombardment,” said the automaton. “So this will tell us just how many steps ahead Musashi predicted this battle.”
The Ariake’s upper surface was torn away and worn down.
The shellfire from the enemy’s main cannons was not continuous, but the secondary cannons filled the gaps and their shells raced across the Ariake, primarily where the ground had split.
Thy had yet to find an effective countermeasure against the long-range shellfire
They of course had defense barriers in the sky and those protected against most of it, but those could do nothing when the angle of fire suddenly changed. As for why…
“The automatons are controlling them from inside.”
The Musashi and Ariake’s gravity defense barriers were meant for accidents such as fires or a crashing transport ship or for stray shells when passing by near a battlefield. The automatons had removed their limitations so they could use the Ariake and Musashi’s power for combat defense instead.
These were originally meant to avoid battle while using the stealth defense barrier. But…
“The automatons can only see out with the Ariake and Musashi’s sight devices and those aren’t built for combat!”
“That’s why we’re helping out by tracking the enemy and taking readings!”
Everyone exchanged a glance and nodded. Then…
“I’ll send the data to ‘Musashino’-san!!”
“How naïve! Her aide, ‘Nishi Kokubunji’-san is getting a lot more attention recently!”
“It’s gotta be ‘Okutama’-san for me! The other day, she waved at me through the window while holding a rag!”
“She was only washing the window. She’d never wave at you.”
“She would! She so would! I know what I saw!”
A shell hit nearby, so they all screamed and evacuated. Meanwhile…
“Hey! Over here! We need to replace the armor panels!”
“The damage has reached the tertiary armor in places! We need to place some primary on top of that as a stopgap measure!”
“Light god of war unit! Throw on some back armor and get up here!”
They worked on repairs in the middle of battle.
But the shellfire continued as if to stop them. Their materials were blown away and the fragments injured people. All the while, they glared up into the night sky.
“It’s about time for a main cannon volley!”
“Damn! Just you watch, Shirasagi Castle! Our freaks will put you through hell!”
“That’s right! And after they put you through hell, it’s negotiations and then war! But the true hell awaits you when they force you to listen to some really lame jokes!”
“Oh! The officers are doing something!”
Something was happening at the god of war sniper unit to the southwest which was quickly becoming the headquarters for the officers.
Someone stepped forward to face the shellfire falling from the sky.
It was the crossdresser in a Y-pose. He maintained that Y and smiled as he spun around for a full 360 degrees and clapped his hands over his head.
“Okay! Hey, everyone! We can’t have them targeting you, so I’ll draw their fire for you!”
Whether working or evacuating, everyone pointe their right thumb downwards in unison.
“No one asked for you!”
“Huhh!?” The crossdresser pointed at the group. “What was that for!? I work great as bait! I mean, I’m the Chancellor and Student Council President! It’s cause they were chasing me before that we managed to make that Shiratori Castle go boom!”
“Yes, yes.” Horizon expressionlessly nodded behind him. “That is an eternal embarrassment for them.”
“Huh!? Was that a compliment, Horizon!? Don’t make me blush!”
Mores shellfire flew in. And as one row of shells arrived out front…
“Watch out, Toori-sama.”
Horizon kicked the idiot forward.
Everyone cried out as the crossdresser nearly plunged right into the row of shells, twisted around, and dodged them.
Then the shells hit and shattered the defense barriers in the sky before passing by overhead.
“I said to watch out, Toori-sama.”
“For you!? That’s what you meant, isn’t it!? Isn’t it, Horizon!?”
“Judge. I have a dangerous aura about me.”
Just as she said that, vermilion light raced through the sky.
The volley from the Shirasagi Castle’s main cannons was directed toward the torn up portion of the Ariake’s armor.
When the idiot saw that, he quickly took an X-pose.
“The Ariake’s done forrrrr!”
The idiot bent backwards and someone else spoke from nearby.
It was Asama. She glanced over at the idiot, and…
“Yes, yes. I’ll handle it.”
She pushed the “submit” seal on her sign frame. And before the enemy shells arrived…
She took a light step with her right foot.
A moment later, something appeared around her, the Suzaku, and…
“Ariake targeting divine protection spell ‘Branch and Leaf Connection’: activated!”
A circular direction marker spread out to surround the Ariake.
Torii appeared to indicate the 4 cardinal directions and more appeared for the 4 ordinal directions. There were also gradations between those and detailed rotation lines for observing the enemies above or below. The giant bluish-white tracking and targeting system formed a hemisphere that surrounded the Ariake’s upper surface.
Torii slid along the detailed rotation lines to observe the sky and specialized sign frames pursued and predicted the enemy’s location along the gradations and torii arranged in every direction around them.
All of that observation data was sent to the linked defense barriers. The linked systems worked to automatically correct the defense positions for the rapidly-moving enemy.
Branch and Leaf Connection locked onto one attack first of all.
“We have a lock on all of the shells from the enemy main cannons!”
The rotation observation torii had locked onto all of those flying shells. And they also predicted where the shells would hit.
The Ariake and Musashi used Branch and Leaf Connection as a bridge to share that data.
The light from the shattering defense barriers grew noticeably brighter. And…
“How about that!?”
As if in response to Asama’s question, the barrier hits exploded with light overhead.
The sounds of attacks chained together and a flare of ether light appeared in the sky above the Ariake. But even if fragments scattered down…
“The enemy’s main cannons were blocked!! Over!”
Tracking lines and torii raced through the sky and defense barriers continually appeared to protect the Ariake.
The sounds of shell hits were now mostly shattering sounds in the sky instead of solid impacts on the Ariake’s upper surface.
The direction marker in the night sky had no power. But everyone in the general units understood what was happening, so they threw their hands in the air and cheered. The massive general defense system at work overhead was…
“All thanks to our endurance and technology!”
This was the result of the accumulated recordings taken while the enemy shellfire had hammered them this whole time.
By pouring that gathered data into a direction marker system with no actual power but massive processing power, it could assist the management and reactions of the defense barriers.
The defense had been entirely left up to the automatons’ decisions until now, but they had more than that now.
“Now we’re supporting the automatons!”
“Yes,” they all agreed. “I’ve always wanted to do that!!”
On Musashino’s bridge, “Musashino” supported Suzu’s shoulders from behind and nodded at what everyone said.
“I truly regret that the people must work to assist us automatons. But…”
The sign frame next to her displayed Sakai who had received a teacup from “Musashi”. He took a sip and…
“Just think of it as being given a new tool to help with your work.”
“Judge. Sakai-sama, if ‘Musashi’-sama ever asks for similar arrangements, please comply. Over.”
She then looked to Suzu’s hands. The girl had created a model of the Ariake and its surroundings.
It was the Shirasagi Castle. She pushed its model forward with a tossing motion and it moved around the Ariake’s model like a fish. The model had split in two and both pieces drew ether lines behind them.
“Is that their trajectories!? Thank you very much, Suzu-sama. I will submit this data to the others. Over.”
Everyone atop the Ariake noticed something below the defense barriers protecting them from the sky.
“We’re receiving feedback to our targeting!”
The firing squad and other gunners could not hide the excitement in their voices.
Shinto prayer texts were scrolling rapidly through their targeting spells. And those contained…
“We’re receiving targeting corrections from Branch and Leaf Connection! Both for extreme long-range and defense management!”
Everyone looked toward the group that was constructing and using this.
On the Ariake’s southwest corner, they saw the god of war sniper unit and…
“That’s the Asama Shrine’s sniper shrine maiden for you!”
“Who are you calling a sniper shrine maiden!?”
While Asama protested, the god of war sniper unit was stationed on the Ariake’s southwest corner.
When firing on the Shirasagi Castle as it flew in a circular path through the sky, a corner of the Ariake’s rectangular shape put them as close as possible. So…
“Oh, hell. I wish we could’ve changed positions and gone to an ocean-side corner. On the mountain side, updrafts blow in at unpredictable times.”
Naomasa complained while having Jizuri Suzaku fire its rifle from a kneeling position.
She was answered by Mitotsudaira who held up four 5m square armor panels with her silver chains and used them to protect everyone from the fragments and falling objects more than the shells themselves. She sighed.
“The Ariake is large. …The climate is actually different on different parts and that can change our tactics. But there are some things we can do specifically by staying put in the same place. For example, using our accumulated data on the enemy’s movements to assist our sniper fire.”
“Judge. It’s a pain, but we’ll just have to put something together.”
With that, Naomasa had Jizuri Suzaku stand up.
“Yes,” responded Asama before clapping twice. Three targeting spells appeared in front of Jizuri Suzaku’s face, in front of Naomasa’s face, and above the muzzle of the rifle.
These were sniper targeting spells meant for long range and a moving target.
Asama managed the spells on a sign frame while she spoke to Naomasa.
“I’ve added in a predictive adjustment based on the accumulated data. But the Suzaku has been temporarily authorized as an Asama Shrine defender, so the central coordinate is based on the Musashi, not here. Keep that in mind.”
These spells were meant for god of war sniping, but the estimated distance exceeded 20km at the maximum.
…My shot will have the line of fire purified and that will stabilize it even with such a long range. But…
When sniping using only a targeting spell, a human-sized rifle gained a max range of around 2km. The effective range was around 500m. Including a firing divine protection would double that range, but this was different.
A god of war was about 6 times taller than a human. Scaling up accordingly, the targeting spell provided a range of 12km, but even for a god of war, the effective range was only around 1500m due to the limitations of human vision.
To use multiple targeting spells and hit a moving target 20km away would require…
“I’ll just have to do it.”
There was no waver or tension in Naomasa’s voice.
It was her usual plain and disinterested tone.
So Asama nodded. She looked forward and saw Toori look back and give her a thumbs up. She just about smiled back, but…
…Th-that was meant for Masa, wasn’t it? Yes, it must have been.
Asama suppressed a mix of emotions in her mouth and released the safeties on the spells.
She was aware her eyebrows were raised as she spoke.
The Suzaku immediately fired.
Its target was flying counterclockwise from the western sky and into the southwest.
“The Shirasagi Castle’s 1st unit. …I should go for the central ship.”
The bullet Naomasa used was so large that only one fit in the magazine. It was special ordered.
“The engine division’s special-made high-speed divine protection physical shell. This should punch through something like the Shirasagi.”
She fired it.
Blaring alarms filled the seemingly empty bridge of the Shirasagi Castle. The navigator’s voice turned back toward Takigawa.
“Enemy shell incoming! It’s a high-speed one! And its course will take advantage of our relative speed!”
“Can they hit us with a sniper shot at this range!?”
An insha kotob appeared on the floor in lieu of answering Takigawa’s question. It displayed the predicted course of the enemy shell. The shell flew in a shallow arc, and…
“It’s headed for the base of the bridge on the front port side! We can evade it with a somewhat shallow turn to starboard!”
“If we do that, what happens to the ships behind us!?”
On Takigawa’s command, the predicted ballistic path was drawn further.
“The 2nd accompanying ship will be hit! It will be knocked off course and collide with the others behind it!”
“Then we have only one option!” Takigawa raised her right hand and her voice. “Full speed ahead! Focus the defense barriers on the front port side!!”
The high-speed shell slammed into the Shirasagi Castle’s central ship on the front port side.
The Shirasagi had opened several layers of defense barriers, so…
The sound of collapse rang through the sky. The barriers were stacked up thick and wide, but the shell’s impact caused them to bow. Hundreds of them bent at once like a single panel.
And they broke.
But more than just one layer was destroyed.
A crater-like hole opened in the center of the overlapping barriers and the hole quickly spread through the rest.
The impact produced an explosion of white water vapor and accelerated the speed of the collapse.
Countless sounds much like shattering glass shook the air and formed a single destructive noise. The shell tried to pass through it all.
“Will it make it!?”
But then more defense barriers appeared.
They should not have been there. The Shirasagi Castle’s central ship had already used all of its barriers against the high-speed shell. So what had produced these new ones that appeared and were shattered?
“The accompanying ships!”
The 1st and 2nd accompanying ships lined up alongside the Shirasagi Castle and supported its barrier.
This new power added thickness to the shattering shield, but that was quickly shattered too.
The piercing momentum carried light and noise with it. But…
“…It was diverted!!”
Once the navigator determined that, most of the defense barriers exploded. In their place, the Shirasagi and its accompanying ships flew forward.
They were unharmed.
After facing what they could call the Ariake’s main cannon, Takigawa’s unit gave a roar.
“We endured it…!!”
A moment later, light appeared. It was on the port side of the Shirasagi Castle’s central ship. Something had flown in from the side and hit the secondary cannons at the base of the bridge.
The Shirasagi castle shook from the impact.
A tremor ran through the ship and alarms warned of damage.
From the bridge of the Shirasagi Castel’s central ship, explosive flames were clearly visible down below to port.
The navigator could be heard running across the floor to check.
“We were hit!?”
It was not just one shell. The impacts continued as the navigator viewed the trajectory of the enemy shells. The source of the shells was displayed on an insha kotob.
“They are not coming from the Ariake’s southwest corner! They are coming from the center of the Ariake’s west edge!”
The center of the long edge was the most distant point from the Shirasagi Castle’s path. Some light-enhanced footage showed someone standing there. The enemy was aiming a long cannon their way.
“It’s Tachibana Gin!”
Gin held a single long cannon with her giant prosthetic arm.
The large Arcabuz Cruz was one of the pair known as Cuatro Cruz.
“It is only the right one, but I never thought its first firing after having it repaired would be an anti-ship shot.”
Cuatro Cruz was meant for attacking a castle.
“So it should work just fine against a warship.”
Gin expressionlessly fired the large cannon again and again. The ether shards of the spell gunpowder scattered from the sides of the cross shape’s short axis along with the ejected paper wrapping for the shell. And each time that light scattered, she saw the light of a hit in the distant sky.
…It’s actually hitting.
It helped that the target warship was long front to back and she was aiming from the side, but the biggest factor was Branch and Leaf Connection opened in the sky and the firing spell using that information.
When Cuatro Cruz had been repaired, she had had a Far Eastern management system placed atop the existing Catholic one. That allowed it to receive backup from Musashi and the Asama Shrine, so it now had the data processing support of Branch and Leaf Connection.
“What do you think of this shellfire that immediately received the 6th Special Duty Officer’s firing data?”
The 6th Special Duty Officer’s sniper shot had actually been the final measurement.
That had given them the accurate distance to the enemy, the weather conditions, and information on the enemy’s defense equipment. And to draw all that data out of a single shot had required…
…Excellent sniping ability.
Jizuri Suzaku was incredibly precise. That was partially due to being a heavy god of war and due to working in the engine division, but its joints and frame must have been well taken care of.
Using the word “dangerous” to judge enemy and ally alike was just a part of Gin’s personality, so there was no helping it.
“Oh…I’m going to burn out the barrel.”
Gin checked Cuatro Cruz’s control screen on its sign frame and stopped firing.
Muneshige then ran over from the southwest corner. He carried 3 spare magazines on each shoulder.
“Huh? Are you done already, Gin?”
“…If you wish to see more, Master Muneshige, then I shall continue.”
Gin took one of the magazines and swapped it out for the old one. She slammed the first shell into the chamber and immediately fired. After a moment, fire burned on the Shirasagi Castle as it circled through the distant southern sky.
Muneshige sat next to her, raised one knee, and watched hits to the Shirasagi Castle.
“Ohh. …Shooting a white heron is exactly the elegant way of breaking in a new gun I would expect from you.”
“Well, I am the daughter of a military family.”
“True enough. I suppose hunting a white heron suits you better than just shooting one.”
Just as he said that, flames erupted in the southwestern sky.
A few of the Shirasagi Castle’s port-side secondary cannons had exploded.
After watching that, Gin breathed a small sigh toward the floor. And then she looked awkwardly away from him.
“Master Muneshige, you made me overheat the barrel.”
The Shirasagi Castle’s central ship had received minor damage. Once that was known, Musashi’s main group was given new instructions.
Novice: “God of war sniper unit, use Naomasa-kun and Tachibana-kun’s data to begin sniper fire on the Shirasagi Castle’s 1st and 2nd units!”
“Judge,” replied the heavy gods of war of the sniper unit as they stood up.
Shells flew back and forth, but the Ariake and Musashi’s defense barriers moved through the air to keep the number of hits to a minimum.
Wise Sister: “Oh, dear. The Shirasagi Castle isn’t falling back, is it? Are they being stubborn?”
That was not it. A divine transmission arrived from Suzu in the Musashi below.
Bell: “They’re…coming closer…!!”
Silver Wolf: “Judge! If they fall back here, it’ll just give us more time to block their shells. …So they’re moving closer to increase the density and accuracy of their shellfire.”
Sticky King: “An exchange of blows, is it!? How exciting!”
But everyone saw the Shirasagi Castle rotate on its axis as it approached.
It was tilting toward the inner corner. By rolling on its side, it lowered the area for shell hits, and…
Musashi: “Everyone! Evacuate immediately! Over.”
All of the Shirasagi Castle’s cannons were pointed straight up from the ship. And thus toward the Ariake.
Musashi: “The enemy is going to fire all of its cannons! Over.”
The Ariake was pummeled.
All of the enemy’s cannons were fired at close range. While flying in a large circle, the enemy had only been able to use the cannons on its port side, but that had changed.
The armor panels on the upper surface were blown away like a summer rainstorm and the white fragments flew high to decorate the night. The shellfire swept across the Ariake like a gust of wind blowing away those fragments, but it did not stop there.
The primary armor burst and the shells reached the secondary and tertiary armor.
The cannon fire destroyed the Ariake as if to celebrate everything the enemy had accomplished thus far.
Branch and Leaf Connection opened to its full range around the Ariake and the Ariake and Musashi’s defense barriers worked to block the shells.
But it was not enough.
The shellfire had increased twofold and was more powerful due to the closer range. Also, the Shirasagi Castle split up further to distribute its aim.
The 1st and 2nd units had been circling through the sky, but now each of those units split into 2 as well.
There were now 4 units. And they did not simply fly in 4 circles. Half of them lowered their speed at a distance, briefly stopped, and then moved backwards for a reverse circle.
Double reverse rotations of concentrated cannon fire shook the night sky with the Ariake’s destruction.
“The Shirasagi Castle has no especially powerful cannons.”
Takigawa spoke quietly as alarms blared and the smell of smoke seeped into the Shirasagi Castle’s bridge.
“But it has high speed and mobility, so proper control of its thrusters lets you pull off movements that would be impossible for other ships. And that’s what lets us fire every last one of our cannons at once, which shouldn’t be possible for a warship. We can’t do this for long, but how long can the Ariake last?”
Takigawa looked overhead.
The ceiling displayed footage of the Ariake viewed from a shallow elevated angle.
The colossal white surface was covered in sparks and scattering fragments. But the enemy was still focusing their defense barriers in a few places and sniper shells were being launched from there. The navigator locked onto those and sent Takigawa the information.
“The enemy sniper unit is using a direct line from the center of the Ariake! Should we target them there!?”
“Don’t bother! We’ve already torn up their secondary armor! And we have to be through the tertiary in places! Calculate out where and concentrate our fire there! Assume we’ll be hit some! This is a battle!”
Takigawa swung her right arm as she barked her orders and she only later noticed the movement of her arm.
She smiled a little, grabbed the Garuda standing on her hand, and tossed it away.
“I’m getting fired up.”
She crossed her arms and looked out the window with a smile on her lips. There she saw the Shirasagi Castle erupting with red flames and black smoke.
“How much longer will we last?”
“Shaja! …I would say 10 minutes.”
“Then use up all our ammo within 5 minutes. …Let’s dig down into the Ariake and settle this in those 5 minutes!”
Just as everyone nodded at her command, the navigator spoke up while viewing the situation outside.
No one asked why he sounded so confused.
They could see the answer overhead.
White fog was enveloping the Ariake.
“The stealth defense barrier!? …Are they giving up on their gravity barrier so they can flee!?”
The interior of the Ariake was filled with the sound of rain.
The ceiling armor had been shot through down to the tertiary armor in places, so the outside air and metal shells could get inside.
Of course, those things were not just let inside. The armor was 3 meters thick and there were buffering spaces in between layers. But the shells would bounce off the inner wall of the hole, shatter, and send fragments ricocheting down into the open hole.
To stop those, defense barriers were opened on the ceiling, but sometimes a hit was powerful enough to shake the walls.
Also, water or the glowing smoke of ether fuel would burst from the ceiling and fall down as rain.
Someone stood within the blaring alarms and indoor rain.
Masazumi rode the ascending lift while ignoring the bit of rain hitting her.
She waited for the others to reach her.
They were Musashi’s main force. The officers.
Of course, there were other people there as well. The other lifts carried the sniper gods of war and the general students who had been making repairs up above.
Masazumi spoke to them all.
“Well done fighting up there. We damaged the Shirasagi Castle and pulled it toward the Ariake, bringing it within range.”
Masazumi raised her right forearm as rain drops hit the hand.
And she said more while looking across the group before her.
“Starting now, Musashi Ariadust Academy will settle this with the Shirasagi Castle within 5 minutes.”
The command to continue firing was given on the Shirasagi Castle’s bridge.
The Ariake had hidden behind its stealth defense barrier, but that did not defend it from the shells. So even if the space looked empty, they could continue to fire and perceive the Ariake’s location based on where the shells disappeared and where the falling fragments appeared.
Takigawa had them continue their concentrated fire on the predicted vital points on the surface of the Ariake’s upper surface.
“The top should break apart soon!”
The Musashi was docked at the land port within. If the Ariake’s upper armor shattered, the Musashi would be a sitting duck.
In fact, that might have already happened.
But there was no point in celebrating a prediction. They would continue firing every last one of their shells to be absolutely certain.
“Accompanying ships! Keep your distance and have your crew evacuate! Prepare to ram the Ariake!”
Even if the Ariake canceled its stealth and switched to the gravity defense barriers, the damaged upper armor would never survive having 4 ships ram it.
With any luck, the shellfire or the accompanying ships would reach the Musashi within. Or they could at least supply the damage needed to destroy the Ariake’s upper surface. The former would be best, but the latter was not a problem. If the upper surface collapsed, the Ariake could no longer protect the Musashi.
The insha kotob by Takigawa’s hands showed her the estimated damage to the Ariake.
…In about another 2 minutes, a 30 meter section of the tertiary armor will have been torn away.
That was thanks to firing on several points instead of concentrating everything on just the one point. The bent frame was tearing away the armor panels from within.
That meant their attacks would be able to reach the Musashi in another 2 minutes.
But just as she thought that, light suddenly appeared in the space below them.
It was a giant rectangular mass measuring several kilometers. And that light fell into the sky.
“It’s the ether pool used to launch the Musashi from the bottom of the Ariake!”
With a length and width just a little shorter than the Ariake’s, the cascade of light was dumped into the air.
The second-in-command shouted what was going to happen next.
“The Musashi is leaving the Ariake from below!”
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