Horizon:Volume 6A Chapter 1
Chapter 1: Challenger of a Homesick Peak
When the night sky appears so distant
Beyond the dark mountain passes and ridges
Is that appearance a misunderstanding?
Point Allocation (The Future)
Takigawa was in the winds of the night sky.
Just a few hours earlier, she had been picked up by Houjou and invited to join them while wearing only the clothes on her back, but...
...Should I call this a pain? Or...
"No, I guess I should say there's still something I can do."
She called out from a new wooden deck.
She stood atop the Ootaki Castle, a warship belonging to Houjou.
A girl wearing a white Indian-style summer uniform stood 12 meters away on her right.
That was Houjou Ujinao. She had a ninja Mouse at her feet and she was not looking in Takigawa's direction.
But Takigawa called out to her regardless.
"Hey, Houjou, what is the meaning of this?"
"It has many meanings. Including an intent to make use of you," she said. "But for us, it is simply a desire to end a number of troublesome things all at once."
Takigawa nodded. She had been monitoring Houjou, so they probably had some choice words for her.
"You said you were unifying the Houjou, Mouri, and Hashiba battlefields, didn't you? Does that mean-...?"
"We have no intention of simply forming an alliance. Each of our nations has a different standpoint. Although Mouri will equalize the battlefields, so I would like to join forces with them wherever possible." Houjou was facing forward, as if viewing the deep forest spread out below. "Houjou will be destroyed here. And, Takigawa-sama, the Testament also describes a loss for you as part of Hashiba's forces. Mouri too will lose. This is a losing battle for all of us."
"Mouri alone will continue on with Matsudaira afterwards."
"So we should join Mouri?"
"No." Houjou shook her head. "We should each do what we think will give us an advantage. I will give you a decent fighting force, but not because I wish to join forces with you or Hashiba. ...I am giving you the fighting force needed to establish you as part of Hashiba's forces."
Takigawa knew what Ujinao was trying to say.
"Are you telling me to lose the Battle of Kanie Castle to fulfill my history recreation?"
"We would be in trouble if you did not. After all..."
Takigawa completed Ujinao's sentence for her.
"After all," she repeated. "You need the Battle of Komaki Nagakute to hinder Musashi."
"I see," said Takigawa.
Her defeat was a part of the Battle of Komaki Nagakute, which was a battle between Hashiba and Matsudaira. Strategically, it would be Matsudaira's victory, but it was also necessary for Hashiba's retirement.
Hashiba would drag out and delay that battle in order to extend her life.
"And that's why pro-Matsudaira Houjou wants to start a portion of Komaki Nagakute, huh? You're gonna make me cry." Takigawa smiled bitterly. "So while your nation is collapsing, you want to help out the nation that will later take control of it? Not bad. You're a surprisingly dedicated person."
"Hee hee. ...You can come out and call it clumsy if you like. And you too are clumsy as you take part from the opposite position."
"Could you maybe call it faithful instead?"
I'm not getting any support here, am I? thought Takigawa as she sat down. She also glanced over at Ujinao.
"So are you trying to keep a safe distance from me, or what?"
"Ujinao-sama! This woman is dangerous!"
Her Mouse spread out her limbs in a cautious pose.
...Oh, how brave.
Of course, from a military standpoint, Houjou had plenty of strength as a nation. This was the Mouse assigned to their leader. And since she had a combat job, she would be more than just your average Mouse.
But Ujinao spoke up with a bitter smile.
"It's fine, Kotarou. There is no need to reveal everything we can do. More importantly, get something to drink for Takigawa-sama there."
"Eh!? You're giving her some Sujahta nectar!?"
"I was expecting some kind of alcohol, not whatever that is."
At any rate, the ninja Mouse named Kotarou took off running across the deck. She's pretty fast, thought Takigawa before facing forward again.
It initially seemed like you could not see anything in that dark forest, but there were some waves of darkness formed by the moonlight.
There were also occasional lights of people's homes. Those were either small villages or forest workers who lived in the mountains.
"Harmonic Territories like that are rare in this area. Do those people make a living from what they can produce there?"
"Qing and we benefit from that as much as Sanada does. Although it is not enough to support a definite industry."
Takigawa realized Ujinao was facing a distant light.
...That would be Sanada, where Musashi is.
The giant ship's silhouette in the sky acted as a landmark. It was so large it could be mistaken for a cloud at first.
That was what she had fought. And...
She had been given another chance to fight it.
This battle would benefit Musashi, just as Houjou hoped, but it would also benefit Hashiba.
Her loss would allow Musashi to apply pressure to Hashiba, but it also allowed Hashiba to dispose of a loss during an important battle.
In a way, the advantage for one side canceled out the advantage for the other.
But that was fine.
At the very least, it would cause no damage or rush things for the future.
The forces she would lose in this battle would be given to her by Houjou. She really should have retired immediately, but Takigawa decided to trust that this was the better option. So...
"Will you have things ready for me tomorrow?"
"That is my intent. As for the Sanada group..."
They had withdrawn inside the ship to treat their wounds and damage.
...They probably have their own thoughts on the matter.
She had a general idea what those were.
"What matters for Sanada is the Osaka Campaign. You'll need to understand the various obstacles to that, the interference of the other clans, and the Second Siege of Ueda that occurs during Sekigahara."
They had plenty of military might, so...
"To get them to listen, you need a connection to the Testament Union. I'm connected to Hashiba, but what will you do about that?"
"We are closer to Mouri, so I will grant you the Sanada forces."
Ujinao sat on the deck as she said that.
She seemed to be taking a casual position, but she ended up cross-legged. However, she must have had excellent balance because her back remained straight. It almost looked like she was using her own hips as a chair.
And Takigawa spoke to that girl who continued facing Sanada land.
"I more or less know what you're after here. Including that you're using us as an excuse."
"Then you understand the rest too, don't you?"
"Yes," confirmed Takigawa. "The battle coming the day after tomorrow won't be fought by a combined force of Houjou, Mouri, and Hashiba. You aren't just using us as bait; you're also using yourselves as bait to prepare an even greater enemy and reward for Musashi."
"So you really do understand."
But just as Ujinao said that...
Starting from her seated position, Takigawa leaped 7 meters to the left and away from Ujinao.
Takigawa made an evasive leap.
She had not just imagined that. Some cold air had passed behind her.
It was probably a blade.
The thick weapon had appeared out of thin air and tried to take off her head.
Or so she thought. However...
"Oh, yes. I have her drink!"
Ujinao's Mouse was in the spot Takigawa had just vacated.
The tiny girl carried a bisque container on the tray she held overhead.
And she gave Takigawa a sidelong glance.
"I will leave this here."
"...Kotarou," said Ujinao. "She is a guest. She was invited here so that we could build a better future. Please do not harass her. If you do..."
"I will stop you."
Takigawa gave a mental reaction to those words.
The danger she had briefly sensed had been real, not just her imagination. But it had not been targeting her. In fact, it had been Ujinao's warning to the Mouse in order to protect her.
In that case, thought Takigawa. She had estimated their distance at 12 meters before.
...I can't jump that far!
While seated, she could jump 7 meters. While standing, 10.
Ujinao had seen through that. And since she made no attempt to move even now...
"Is this 20 meter distance within your attack range too?"
Ujinao laughed quietly.
She lowered her head so the shadows of the night hid her expression.
But her white clothing swayed in the moonlight and she spoke.
"...I really am conceited, aren't I?"
That voice was as well-tuned as a musical instrument and Takigawa sucked in a breath when she heard it. And...
Takigawa understood both hers and Houjou's situations.
Houjou would support her, but they would do no more and no less. If she became a hindrance, they would even cut her down. However...
...They are also telling me to be the same.
She could only view it as a threat that her athletic ability had been so thoroughly assessed. She did not know how it had been done, but it must have been measured in some way since she had boarded this ship.
But since Ujinao used that result to keep her distance...
"Are you saying I am free to make an attack at any time?"
"This is the age of the warring states," quietly said Ujinao. She placed a hand on her neck and raised her head to expose her shut eyes and slender face to the moonlight. "Even my clan has been experiencing some quiet infighting against my uncle Ujiteru."
"So that you're prepared whenever another clan decides to attack?"
That's quite something, thought Takigawa.
...Is she a monster?
The Chancellors and Vice Chancellors of every nation tended to push the limits. She knew people like that and had interacted with them. The ones like Shiba were hardly complex, but most of them were.
Houjou was a smaller nation than Hashiba, but a Chancellor was still a Chancellor.
That girl was a monster.
With that in mind, Takigawa stood up.
"I'll take that drink."
There was no fear in her legs as she approached the tray.
She was aware just how bold she was being.
"The loser shall play her part by losing. For the sake of the war."
She took the bowl from the tray and raised it toward the moons.
She sipped at the contents and found a sour flavor and the sticky sweetness of peaches.
"That's hard to get down. Way too sweet."
"Did you know?"
"If sweetness crosses a certain line, it apparently becomes bitter." Ujinao smiled bitterly. "We are still sweet. ...So we need to reach that troublesome threshold."
"Mouri is here, are they? This is looking like trouble, 'Musashi'-san."
From the forest clearing in front of a bungalow, a voice looked up to the ship silhouettes in the night sky.
Wooden tables were lined up at one end of the clearing and someone there had set up a self-serve sake set.
"Sakai-sama, how is this trouble? You are taking part in our Musashi Ariadust Academy's official study camp, so there is no need to hide or to attack, is there? Over."
"Well, that is true."
"More importantly, Sakai-sama, how is the food delivered via bamboo spear bomber? Over."
"Oh, right," said Sakai as he used chopsticks to tear off some cooked flounder meat.
He moved just his eyes to look at "Musashi" displayed in the sign frame next to his face.
"I thought the contents would have been destroyed by the impact, but they weren't shaken at all."
"Judge. I apologize for not living up to your expectations. That device is a prototype meant for the emergency drop off of important items or people, so the inside is fixed in place via gravitational control. Did the fish-...?"
"Yes, the mirin added the perfect touch and it goes well with the sake."
"I was asking if it had fallen apart after cooking. Over."
"Oh, sorry. ...It broke a bit when transferring it over to the plate. I was trying to make sure the ginger didn't fall off, you see. I just can't do it the way you can, 'Musashi'-san."
"The next time we use this method, I will make sure to transfer it over to a plate before sending it. Over."
"Musashi" lowered her head slightly and then looked to the right on the sign frame.
Several silhouettes were visible in the western sky, the same direction all of the Musashi's bows were facing.
Those ships were gently traveling south with their lights on.
"So that's the combined force of Mouri, Hexagone Française, Sanada, and Oda headed to Houjou land."
"The central ship is the Mouri flagship: the Pension Versailles. It is 120 meters longer than it was when we saw it at IZUMO. Over."
"They flew here from Mouri in just a day or two. That's probably to both increase their speed and allow the wind to flow more silently around them. Mouri is close to IZUMO, but they caused enough trouble in the battle against Amago to distance IZUMO from them, so their aerial ship tech is at the same level as other nations."
"Judge." "Musashi" gave a bow of understanding. "Have you concluded what Mouri's intentions are here? Over."
"That's a good question."
Sakai lightly shook the sake bottle in his right hand.
It was empty.
He spun it around in his fingers just once, set it down on the table, and turned around.
Something was stabbed into the ground behind him: a giant bamboo spear with a panel opened on the side. That bamboo spear launcher was pierced deep into the ground, but it still towered about 7 meters up.
"Won't it be a nuisance if we keep firing these things?"
"The hardening agent used as the bamboo spear launcher's natural material transforms into a separating agent when it decays. In two weeks, that will be no more than a bundle of straw, so please carry back the containers you find inside. Over."
"Then I'll have to take it all out, won't I?"
Sakai reached into the launcher and pulled out a sunken metal sake bottle along with the insulated container it sat inside.
In the western sky overhead, another new aerial ship was headed south.
"...This sure is complicated."
"Mouri's situation, you mean? Over."
"Judge," he said while placing the container and his elbow on the table.
He opened his mouth as he viewed the Musashi in the eastern sky and the Mouri and Houjou ships in front of it. He raised his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth.
"Does this mean Mouri...no, Hexagone Française is being manipulated by Masazumi-kun's decisions?"
" Hexagone Française is...by Masazumi-sama's decisions? Over."
"Yes." Sakai tasted the flame-cooked vegetables on his square plate. "The green pepper is good."
"As an ingredient or how well cooked it is? Over."
"How well cooked it is. I like how the stem is slightly burned."
"Thank you very much. ...Now, about Masazumi-sama. Over."
"Do you know why Mouri and the others are taking so long to pass by in front of the Musashi?"
"Well," said "Musashi" as she looked right on the sign frame to view the western sky again.
But she soon faced forward to look northwest.
The Mouri ships were removing their stealth and appearing in the northwestern night sky one at a time. The impressive forms and rumblings that appeared were primarily transport ships instead of warships, but...
"They are displaying a lot of warning lights and signals from their ships. And both the leading Houjou ships and the following Hexagone Française ships are traveling along the provisional border. Over."
"Musashi" sent a sign frame to Sakai.
It was a map of the Mouri fleet on the provisional border.
"This is the shortest route from the northwest to Houjou. The southwest is controlled by P.A. Oda's Takigawa. The northeast is Sanada land, where we are. The Mouri fleet is currently traveling northwest to southeast along the provisional border that passes between those. ...However, Takigawa's territory was provisionally removed after the Battle of Kanagawa and the right to compete for it has been given to Houjou and Matsudaira as part of the history recreation. Over."
"It's only provisionally contested land, but they've still chosen to diligently travel along the provisional border. That acts as an example and carries a certain meaning. ...'Musashi'-san, as a sailor, do you know what that is?"
"Judge." "Musashi" nodded. "Mouri's forces are in a hurry. Over."
"Musashi" stood at an elevated place.
She was atop the bridge-shaped ship's bridge of Musashino, the 1st center ship. She spoke with Sakai's sign frame next to her face.
"I have determined the Mouri fleet used an inland route over the mountains while in stealth mode. As long as they restricted their altitude, the many obstacles would make it difficult to search them out even if they were detected. And on the provisional border, I estimate that most nations would overlook it in order to avoid conflict with the neighboring nation. ...Also, the inland route allows them to safely enter Kantou without running across the Azuchi on its sea route. Over."
"Musashi" watched another transport ship appear and raised her right hand.
That hand reached toward a sign frame displaying Mouri's predicted route. It showed Mouri passing from northern M.H.R.R., through southern P.A. Oda, and across Mikawa.
But there was one thing of note about the route she drew.
"I believe their route would have been very similar to the one we used during the Battle of Mikatagahara. Over."
"Yes, since M.H.R.R.'s Hashiba forces have invaded Mouri, Mouri's fleet probably passed through behind them with help from the northern Protestants. As for southern P.A. Oda, the Kii Peninsula has been nearly abandoned with Lord Matsunaga gone, so it would be perfect to pass through," said Sakai. "But when you get down to it, the Mouri fleet is in a hurry, just like you said. After all, while they might be using the provisional borderline and while they are slowly moving their ships one at a time, that's just proof that they haven't negotiated things out with the nations bordering their route. They're hoping to not be noticed, to not provoke anyone if they are, and to follow all the proper passage rules in case anything happens. ...That means a nation as large as Mouri came all the way to Kantou without doing any real negotiations first."
"Why? Over." asked "Musashi". "Why would a powerful nation like Hexagone Française split their forces in two and hold the history recreation of Bitchu Takamatsu Castle and the Invasion of Mouri while they are being attacked?"
"That is what Masazumi-kun is having a meeting about right now."
On his sign frame, Sakai shifted his gaze. His eyes had been moving between the sky, the table, and the bamboo spear launcher behind him, but now they turned toward the clearing.
...Who all is there?
"Musashi" looked in that direction too, but she could not see.
However, she did have the 3D model information of Sanada territory sent back by Suzu.
Sakai was in a forest clearing. It was normally used for orientation.
The edge of the forest on the back end of the clearing was set up to hold an open-air meeting.
Simple chairs cut from logs were lined up and there was an elevated speaker's platform surrounded by stones.
According to her measurements, Sakai's gaze was on that meeting platform.
So who was it gesturing and giving an explanation from that platform?
"Now, Masazumi-kun. Today's Sanada battle, the 1st Siege of Ueda, has set the world in motion, but what will you do to set a path for our group?"
"Okay, let's discuss this in stages."
Masazumi clapped her hands once before speaking.
...I need to pull myself together.
She was in a forest clearing near their camp.
The bungalow for the teachers and some of the students was to the west of the clearing. Normal guests would use that bungalow or pitch tents in the clearing.
They had pitched their tents by the mountain stream because the study camp included some camping-related training. The other classes had also set up camps in the mountain and forest.
Since the shared water source and firewood pile were here, students from the other classes could occasionally be seen arriving or leaving.
Even now, Class Pine's member of the Representative Committee was greeting Sakai at his table across the clearing. They were carrying a water bucket with used fireworks soaking in it, so their class's orientation must have been complete.
Masazumi had something else to do while that was going on. She faced the group gathered at the campfire and tables.
"First, let's review the current situation."
She had to solidify their mental footing. So...
"Look to the sky. As you should quickly notice, Mouri's fleet is periodically leaving stealth mode and heading to Houjou. And Mouri has sent us an emissary: the Reine des Garous acting as Masuda Motonaga."
The Reine des Garous sat on a log chair beyond the campfire.
This was Masazumi's first time seeing her up close. Masazumi had not seen her at all since IZUMO, but when she sat there in a yukata, she seemed much more like an incarnation of volume than she had at a distance.
Masazumi continued speaking while she thought that.
"Listen. We need to keep the current situation in mind as we think about Houjou's Siege of Odawara and the Invasion of Mouri that will be held simultaneously starting two days from now."
And to do that...
"For the first half of this meeting, we need to review the current situation. That will also help us reach a consensus with Mouri via the Reine des Garous."
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