Horizon:Volume 6A Chapter 18
Chapter 18: Eaters on the Riverside
A happy breather
Lasts the span of a breath
So it changes into something else
Point Allocation (A stake?)
Masazumi took a breath below the blue sky.
She was in a park within the Okutama nature district near the academy.
The forest surrounded a small clearing that contained a meeting room known as the Residence of the Deceased.
She sat on a wooden bench and the atmosphere was quiet with the exception of the playing children brought here by their parents.
...I sometimes come here to read.
She could relax here because it had no connection to school or to herself.
The transport ships in the sky told her she was back on the Musashi, but this park still felt like it was away from home. After all, those awful classmates of hers were nowhere to be seen or heard.
Being able to relax and enjoy the feeling of being an outsider may have been nice. But...
"I should have asked Crossunite to collect this paperwork from the academy."
The others were all in this Okutama nature district. They were setting up a tent for their luggage and finishing up the rest of the study camp.
They were probably still on their morning work.
...I thought this would just be playing in the water, but there's a surprising amount to do.
Oriotorai had instructed them to clean up the nature district.
The girls were in the artificial river doing laundry and maintenance while the boys were in the forest for pruning and cleaning.
As a school event, the study camp doubled as a way to provide a public service.
Novice: "...After putting this much effort into the work, we can insist we were doing our study camp even if Crossdressing Honda-kun can't stop talking about war."
Tachibana Husband: "Gin, should I help you with the laundry like usual?"
Tachibana Wife: "Master Muneshige, you're making me sound like a failure of a wife..."
Tachibana Husband: "Oh, sorry. I only ever help with hanging it up to dry. Because I can reach higher."
Gold Mar: "...How loving."
Mal-Ga: "Yes, it makes me want to egg them on..."
Masazumi saw that sort of thing beginning as she began her own work.
...I have to prepare for the meeting this afternoon.
She had previously held a meeting with Hexagone Française and Houjou at IZUMO and Magdeburg. Tsukinowa managed those records, but she had only given him the bare minimum to take along on their study camp.
Just in case, there was a console in the student council room that could be accessed for important manners, but...
"I probably set things up too strictly because I'm a beginner at this kind of thing."
Once she was used to it, she would probably be able to set things up to be called in remotely.
...It might be best to have Asama set these things up.
Speaking of Asama, she had been acting weird earlier.
Well, Masazumi's classmates were always acting weird, but...
...She was fixing lunch and doing Aoi and Horizon's laundry so quickly...
And yet she had seemed a bit blunt overall. When Masazumi, Horizon, or anyone else offered to help, she would only stammer "Oh, um, yes" and flee.
She clearly had something on her mind, but...
...I just hope it isn't some weird brain disease.
Masazumi felt justified in worrying about that here. But...
She heard a voice in the distance.
It was a song: the Song of Passage.
Horizon was probably the one singing. Masazumi's mother had sung it to her as a lullaby and she remembered singing along with it. So...
"Let me pass."
She breathed in when she heard it.
It was time to go.
This was no time to be taking a breather.
Everyone was working, even if just for the study camp, so she had to as well.
...It's comfortable here, but this is no time to be basking in that atmosphere.
She felt like her mother was pushing her onward as she stood up.
She looked to the Residence of the Deceased meeting room that was shaped like a hexagon from above.
"If Houjou wasn't preparing a ship, this might have been a good place for the meeting."
With that, she began walking. First to Remorse Way. That would take her close to the nature district river the others were at.
The river smells different, thought Narumi.
The Okutama nature district was in between the Asama Shrine and the academy.
Some of the girls seemed familiar with the area, so the Schwarz Hexen spoke from the open riverside.
"That rock over there would work as a washboard. ...Oh, and I'm not talking about Mito-tsan."
"I-I feel like we had this exact conversation last time we were here!"
They all still had plenty of energy.
They cheerfully did the laundry and prepared for lunch. Narumi was working with Tachibana Gin and 6th Special Duty Officer Naomasa to perform maintenance on the river's inner blocks.
It was a simple task. While the nature district's river had rocks, it was primarily made from a series of blocks. So they had to remove, clean, and reattach the purification blocks and stream management blocks on the bottom and sides. It was the same thing over and over, but...
...There's so much to learn.
"I see Musashi's stacked structure allows you to replace pieces from above or the sides. Is everything fully replaceable because you secure durability by the block?"
That showed just how flexible Musashi's design was, but it also showed it had not been designed for combat.
Tachibana Gin nodded while working alongside her.
"If the structure allows removal and attachment from the top or sides, then the armor must be weaker in those places. During the Armada battle, they avoided damage with water barriers and transport ships, but they would be in trouble if those areas were hit by the light bullets that Houjou used the other day."
It was possible they would have to fight Houjou the following day.
Narumi hoped they could avoid a fleet battle. The Musashi had stronger defenses than most ships, but that was almost entirely reliant on the automaton-controlled defense barriers.
...But our new tactics and new weapons have brought us to a point where those defense barriers and high-speed abilities just aren't enough.
Something about her thoughts amused her.
...I've really started to side with Musashi, haven't I?
She had not even been here a full month yet, but the fact that she lived here made her aware this was her home.
The academy in particular made it feel different from a trip or a job.
The textbooks, curriculum, and class structure were all different from her old home. It had all seemed strange at first, but once she grasped their purpose and how they worked, she had quickly grown accustomed to them. After all, to understand those things was to understand her new home.
She did wonder if this was a form of brainwashing, but she appreciated that the people around her were just the right amount of crazy.
That allowed her to believe it was all natural and just the way of things, not anything calculated.
And there was of course no reason to hold onto that doubt when she lived with someone who was undoubtedly a complete idiot.
"What is it, Date Vice Chancellor?" asked Tachibana Gin.
But Narumi was unsure what the question meant.
"What is what?"
"Hee hee. Your face is red," said the Reine des Garous from the other side. She had rearranged the large stones on the riverside as if to create a garden and she was now admiring her handiwork. "Your boyfriend complimented your swimsuit earlier, didn't he?"
"It's a real shame. This was the only thing available at the store I went to."
It was a pain how the woman said "my, my" with a bitter smile. Narumi had her own work to do.
Those various issues with the idiot half-dragon would continue as long as they lived together. She had no right to find fault here. What mattered was that they made preparations for life and then lived that life. So...
"Maintenance here helps manage the Asama Shrine's water quality, doesn't it?"
"Judge. This water passes through the purification tank below the Asama Shrine and it is used as an ether fuel catalyst and in the ether pathways. What we are doing here is limited to the water flowing on the surface, but maintaining things upstream seems meaningful to me."
"The underground portion is our duty in the engine division," said Naomasa. "The surface area is supposed to be managed by the Musashi, but the automatons have been busy lately."
"I am glad to hear all that."
This was more than just cleaning. With that in mind, Narumi reached for a seam at the bottom of the water.
Similarly, Tachibana Gin stuck her hand in a seam 5m downstream.
They looked up at each other.
"Okay, let's remove this one. ...Asama Shrine Representative! You can stop controlling the water flowing into the Asama Shrine after this block, okay?"
Asama prepared for lunch while speaking with Narumi.
She normally had Horizon and the others' help, but she was only doing it with Kimi today. Most of the preparations were complete, so it was time to divide the cold vegetables and meats into individual servings for everyone.
Even Kimi took things seriously when at a cutting board. It may have had to do with her sense of balance, but her movements were light and yet the blade moved swiftly through what it needed to cut.
Asama preferred to go slow and steady with this kind of thing, so Kimi was making faster progress.
She would sometimes find an extra fruit and then quickly peel and shape it with her knife.
"Look, look! It's Mitotsudaira's hair!"
"Who is going to eat that!?"
"Don't worry. I'll slice it up and put it in the salad."
Mitotsudaira was holding up and glaring at her own hair, but Asama pretended not to see it.
Horizon walked up from behind with sliced daikon radish.
"Asama-sama. I cut them all to the same size as requested."
"You didn't have to be that precise...but thank you."
"It was nothing," insisted Horizon while Naito and Naruze approached with a basket of sliced bread. They were both wearing swimsuits.
"Is there a stove we can use?"
"We've cooled off a fair bit after getting out of the water and doing some work."
"Yes, yes. The one on the right is open. I can give you towels if you need them."
"Judge." Naito raised her right hand and looked to Asama. "A new swimsuit?"
"Eh? Oh, yes. It's a Shirasago prototype."
It was a two-piece Shinto outfit and it was technically not a swimsuit.
"This is actually a support guard meant to be worn below your equipment. The one I wore at Sanada was a general-use one and this is a special-use one."
The swimsuit was primarily made from rectangular parts and they had the Shinto colors of white and red. But...
"Asama-chi, don't those look like Shinto charms?"
"Yes, but that's a good thing. The cloth portion acts as a pocket and you can store actual charms in them. ...That lets you swap out the charms for general defensive capabilities."
"In other words...it comes awfully close to being a bandaid swimsuit."
"I have no idea what that means and I think I would rather not know. ...Anyway, the data taken from this will provide feedback for future equipment."
Hearing that, Adele raised her right hand while doing laundry in the river.
“Won’t that mean all the products are made for giant breasts?”
“I seriously doubt it…”
Asama continued cooking during that exchange.
…Cooking outside makes for a nice breather.
Once steam and noise began rising from the pot on the stove next to her, everyone returned to the riverside after getting to a stopping point in their work.
After finishing the laundry, Adele and Suzu returned to the river to play.
Mitotsudaira’s mother, who had been moving large stones and such to prepare for the block maintenance, joined the others who left the river. Asama thought she might be sunbathing, but the woman put on a shirt made from the top of an inner suit.
“Oh, dear. Is that chicken leftover from last night? My daughter was eating it, if I recall.”
“Eh? Oh, yes. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I kind of want to use it all up here.”
“Heh heh. I can help then. Oh, and I mean help eat it.”
There was no chance of any leftovers now.
Next, the boys returned from the forest.
They had all been tending to the forest.
They were removing fallen trees, chopping down unneeded branches, and looking after the road. It was common work, but it helped reduce the Musashi’s weight and revealed or prevented traps in the forest like the ones Sanada’s Isa had set up before.
This work had been neglected during the remodeling in the Ariake.
So they were doing it now.
Their underclassmen had apparently done the other regions while they were gone on the study camp. This nature district had been left to them because it was directly connected to the Asama Shrine.
The boys were surprisingly filthy.
“Hey, we’re back.”
“Heh heh. Foolish Brother? You’re all filthy, so go wash off in the river.”
“Judge, judge. Okay, everyone, let’s do that!”
Mitotsudaira’s mother smiled a little when she saw them running into the river.
“My, my. So much energy. …Is this scene visible from outside?”
“No. I’ve set up a transparent stealth and defense barrier around this area. Although the defense will only sound an alarm and capture any outsiders who try to get in.”
“That is plenty. It gives me some time to spend with Musashi’s main force, and…”
She looked down at the sign frame opened by Asama’s hands.
“You all need to prepare for tomorrow and beyond, don’t you? You can’t have anyone spying on that.”
The Reine des Garous gave a few mental nods of understanding.
She sat on a stone she had set down and she viewed the group as a whole.
The boys had held a simple strategy meeting in the forest. It had been a lot like chatting while picking up branches and raising fallen trees.
“What do we do about any gods of war that show up tomorrow?”
“That would depend on the scope and type of unit. If it’s a small number of individual gods of war…”
They then compared the information they already had prepared on sign frames. With the girls, the Technohexen had used Magie Figurs to exchange cannon control and acceleration control settings while slicing bread and the Tachibana daughter had lifted up the control blocks to test out her new prosthetic arms.
This was not an official training ground, so it was fascinating to see how that sense of combat entered the everyday atmosphere.
This should have been their time off, but their work had permeated it.
The Reine des Garous turned toward the Asama Shrine Representative. The girl was wearing a swimsuit and no special equipment, but…
…She still immediately set up a stealth barrier on this scale.
She was operating a few different sign frames, but that was presumably because this was something of a test for her.
She was testing herself too. She was seeing what she could do.
And as the Reine des Garous watched her…
“Eh? …Oh, um…”
Their eyes met, the girl looked shocked, and then she looked to the dancer next to her.
She probably thought it had been a mistake to let an enemy nation know what she could do. But the dancer lightly raised her right hand which held a knife.
“Don’t worry about it, Asama. Letting them know will just intimidate them a little.”
“Right, right,” replied their king who was pouring water over his head in the river. He stripped off his work vest as he spoked. “Nate Maman, Asama can do more than just that. She has another job that’s way more important than setting up barriers.”
“…Her gunner job, you mean?”
Hearing that, the Asama Shrine Representative spread her mouth horizontally and tried to force a smile, but there was only one thing for the Reine des Garous to say.
“I’ve seen the records and your combat results are outstanding.”
“Eh? Umm, well, yes, how should I put this?”
“I think you must be one of the Far East’s greatest archers. …Where did you learn those skills?”
“Eh? From my daily research maybe? Or maybe from the mood on the battlefield? Umm…”
Everyone began whispering.
“…Ga-chan? Is this the first time someone has judged Asama-chi so seriously?”
“…I think so. And since she’s having trouble responding, she must see herself as an oddity just like the rest of us do.”
The Far East was apparently a strict place.
But something else had her interest.
She had spoken with them about a lot of things the night before, but her daughter’s king had not been there then.
She thought back to that discussion as she asked a question.
“What is it the Asama Shrine Representative can do?”
Her question contained a hidden meaning.
There was more than one answer for this.
For example, managing that king’s ether supply spell and making Shinto spell arrangements were both possible answers.
And that may have been why the Reine des Garous saw the girl stop moving and look down at her hands.
Behind her, Musashi’s princess mimed rolling up her sleeves toward their king, so she may have been prepared to immediately respond if he answered incorrectly.
But the king showed off his teeth with a smile.
“All sorts of things in everyday life. That’s a shared secret between Asama and me.”
The Reine des Garous smiled at that answer.
She placed a hand on her cheek and asked just to be sure.
“Yeah,” he immediately replied. “She’s always done all sorts of things. Like laundry, cooking, and getting me released from the guard stations. She also complains about my behavior and other things I can’t ask other people to do.”
A solid sound rang out.
The Asama Shrine Representative had slammed the knife against the cutting board.
She had tried to cut through some vegetables and used too much strength.
She made an odd noise and gathered up the scattered vegetables.
“Asama, are you okay?” asked the dancer with a bitter smile.
The girl stopped her frantic movements and blushed.
“Oh, I just can’t believe this. I can’t believe it at all…”
She did not say what she could not believe, but she somewhat wrinkled her brow and then closed her eyes.
“Well, how should I put this? Those things are important to me too.”
“Really? It’s a huge relief to hear you say that.”
Hearing that, the Asama Shrine Representative nodded a few times while oblivious to the double thumbs up from the princess behind her.
Then she took another breath and resumed chopping vegetables, but her movements were much more mechanical now.
That must have taken a lot of courage for her. And she seemed to be belatedly wondering if she had said the right thing or not.
Heat gradually filled her face and her head gradually lowered.
In response, Musashi’s Princess expressionlessly nodded.
“To be honest, there is a lot that would not function or that would go too far without Asama-sama. Similarly, there are things which would not be protected without Mitotsudaira-sama and things we could not get away with without Masazumi-sama or Futayo-sama. And without Tenzou-sama…no, that is a different matter.”
“Wh-what is that supposed to mean!?” protested the ninja.
“Hee hee. Master Tenzou, she is saying the things you do for everyone are too many to list.”
“That is quite the positive interpretation…” said everyone as Musashi’s Princess nodded.
“We can discuss this again tonight. But at the moment, I will say that I see the value in rooting for anyone who would join Toori-sama’s battle formation.”
“I am aware of my own weight.”
Their king turned around at that and he nodded.
“I’ve been thinking, Horizon. Don’t you have a fair amount of body weight?”
“I am a proper automaton, so my frame and everything else weighs about 80kg. Of course, each of those parts counts as an automaton component and gains a Tsukumogami ether divine protection, so that is reduced to about 50kg.”
After all that, Musashi’s Princess threw a stone at the king.
A direct hit sent him skipping thrice across the river.
“Why are you asking a girl her weight?”
“I-I didn’t ask! I just said you were pretty heavy!”
The Schwarz Hexen threw a coin-sized rock with a smile on her face.
“You are the worst.”
It hit the king in the forehead and he flipped around in midair.
“W-wait! Black Mal and Gold Mar! Does your weight even matter? I mean, you’ve got those wings, so-…”
The Weiss Hexen threw a coin-sized rock with a smile on her face.
“You are the worst.”
It hit the king in the forehead and he flipped around in midair. He stood back up with a splash.
“A-are you trying to send me to the other bank!?”
The Reine des Garous wanted to join in, but he did not send anything her way.
She realized that her daughter and the others had all finished their work. And the king’s sister…
“Over here, foolish brother! We’ve made lunch, so come and get it!”
By the time Masazumi regrouped with the others, they were already finishing up lunch.
On the way, she passed by Mary, Crossunite, Naito, and Naruze who were headed to the river to wash the dishes and pots.
Back on the riverside, she found the others taking a break.
“Oh? Masazumi. …There’s plenty of the pot-au-feu over there left. The gyozas were wiped out though.”
“Judge. I’ll gather some stuff for a Western-style meal.”
She piled up the excess bread and poured some pot-au-feu broth in a bowl in place of sauce. The other contents had sunk to the bottom of the pot, but…
…There’s an awful lot of onion…
It had probably sweetened up while cooking, but she felt like that much would leave an aftertaste in her throat.
She decided to limit what she took of that and then started getting some jam for the bread.
“Huh? This jam is homemade, but who made it?”
Mary often brought some to the academy, but hers was always berry.
This was citrus. Which meant…
“Yes, I brought that,” said the Reine des Garous. “My husband made it.”
Mitotsudaira was eating some bread with the citrus jam on it, so she shrunk down when she heard that. She must have felt like her mother had realized what kind of flavor she liked.
Horizon was evenly cooking a whole chicken on one stove, but that was likely for Mitotsudaira.
The group that had finished eating was taking a break.
It looked like the first one to finish was Narumi who was drinking a cup of sake and snacking on some chicken skewers at the table in front of Mitotsudaira. It might seem like she was still eating what with the chicken, but that was clearly different.
She was drinking.
She and Urquiaga next to her were putting away the chicken at a rapid pace.
“I feel like my chilled body has finally heated back up. And I really shouldn’t get drunk right now, so I should probably stop here.”
“Narumi…have you ever been drunk?”
“Are you trying to lower my defenses?”
“And make things boring? Not a chance.”
“Judge then,” said Narumi while she downed the rest of her cup.
Then she took a certain action.
To get at the gizzard at the bottom of the skewer, she stuck the entire skewer straight down her throat.
“Oh,” said everyone when they realized what she had done. Even Masazumi sat down at a nearby table.
…Is this what you call a hidden talent?
Narumi swallowed lightly as everyone watched her. And…
She somewhat pursed her lips and pulled out the skewer which now had nothing on it. When she saw that, Adele responded while stirring up the bottom of the pot-au-feu to scoop up the contents.
“Amazing! Was that to keep your lipstick off of it!? Oh! Can I take all the onion!?”
“It was because of my lipstick and because I’m only wearing a swimsuit and a shirt. …And I’ve had enough pot-au-feu.”
Narumi smiled at Adele. And next to her…
“Narumi. I was hoping you would just eat the skewer along with it.”
“It seems this half-dragon is an omnivore.”
But Narumi’s eyes were on Mitotsudaira who had just been given some food by Horizon.
“Here is a chicken skewer larger than Narumi-sama’s. Now, Mitostudaira-sama, you can win this.”
“W-wait just a second! The skewer is 30cm long!”
“Yes,” agreed Narumi. “Sticking that in your throat would be like driving a stake down it.”
Mitotsudaira froze in place.
…The word “stake” is something of a taboo around Mitotsudaira, isn’t it?
Kimi looked to Mitotsudaira while using a spatula to slice up the cheese gratin she was making on a grill.
That Rank 1 Musashi Knight eventually looked wordlessly down at the chicken skewer she held while smiling.
Kimi and Horizon both observed the girl.
“Horizon, I feel like I am waiting for a rare animal to make a move.”
“Shh. It’s all over if she notices us, Kimi-sama.”
But Mitotsudaira stopped staring at the chicken skewer and made her move.
She first held it up in front of her eyes. And…
…Oh!? Is she doing it!? Is she really going to do it!?
She kept her mouth closed, but she moved the chicken skewer as if to stick it between her lips.
A few seconds passed.
The result was obvious to Kimi.
…That isn’t normally going to fit in someone’s throat…
As Kimi nodded to herself, Mitotsudaira’s shoulders trembled.
She seemed to have noticed the silence around her.
So she looked back in shock and began explaining the movement of the skewer.
“Um, uh, seeing how far it would fit isn’t a vulgar thing to do, is it?”
Everyone just about gave her a sympathetic nod, but Azuma stopped tying up the unused firewood and asked a question.
“…Would it fit?”
Wise Sister: “Heh heh heh. You sex crown prince! You want to step into the lion’s den again, don’t you!?”
Asama: “I was going to say this is more of a wolf’s den, but I guess it’s the same thing.”
Flat Vassal: “You two are enjoying this on an entirely different level, aren’t you!?”
But Azuma’s question seemed to clue Mitotsudaira into her word choice.
She frantically waved her head and empty hand from side to side.
“Oh, n-no, umm.”
She corrected herself.
“I didn’t mean how far it would fit. Um,” she said. “I meant how much I could swallow.”
“…Eh? Ehh? S-swallow?”
That question came from Suzu. She spread her mouth horizontally and when Mitotsudaira heard her…
“Eh?” she began. “Ah!” she added with trembling shoulders.
Just then, Asama, who had put on a shirt and set up a stove spell, clapped her hands.
That pleasant sound gathered everyone’s attention.
“Don’t you remember, everyone? …For Mito, beef is a side dish, pork is the main dish, and chicken is a drink. Right!? Isn’t that right!? Mito, you just gulp it down, don’t you!?”
“Eh!? Y-yes, that’s right! Swallowing chicken is easy! The collagen in the skin makes it slide right on down!”
“Is she okay…?” everyone muttered before a large form stepped up.
It was Mitotsudaira’s mother, the Reine des Garous.
…She sure is big.
Kimi thought that when she had to look up at all that volume. Kimi thought she had decent size herself, but if she was that large, she felt like she could create a brand new genre of dancing.
…But does the Reine des Garous dance?
As that question rolled around in her head, the Reine des Garous walked over while humming. Then she took a large chicken skewer from the plate Horizon held respectfully up.
“Hm, hm, hm, hmm~”
She swallowed it.
She held the bottom of the stake-like skewer in her hand and stuck the rest inside her mouth.
Asama watched that casual skewer-swallowing.
The skewer had to be more than 30cm long. The pieces of chicken were also large, so they would be at least 5cm across.
But the Reine des Garous easily swallowed it all.
No way! was Asama’s honest impression.
If you stuck that 30cm skewer in your throat, wouldn’t it pierce out the back of your neck?
Asama: “Oh, but Mito’s mom is a spirit-type species, so she would be fine even with a skewer sticking out the back of her neck, wouldn’t she?”
Silver Wolf: “You make that sound reasonable, but that’s not how it works at all!”
Hori-ko: “Then I will provide the correct answer: I believe Mitotsudaira-sama’s mother has teeth in the back of her throat and they are chewing up the skewer back there.”
Me: “Stop! Don’t say that kind of thing when I’m imagining something lewder!”
Everyone was their usual self here.
At any rate, they all gulped. And Suzu…
…fainted and wobbled. Asama tried to prop her up while adjusting the stove.
“Ah…watch out, Suzu-san! Look, look. It’s an everyday human-skin cushion~”
But someone else moved at the exact same moment.
It was Adele.
Just as Asama grabbed Suzu, Adele leaped in from the side, trapping herself between Suzu’s back and the bottom of Asama’s breasts.
Adele’s head was buried in Asama’s chest and hidden behind Suzu.
It was some kind of ninja camouflage.
Everyone – including the Reine des Garous – froze as Adele held Suzu from behind.
“H-huh? I can feel it all even through the swimsuit. And there’s so much pressure from behind and above. What is this attack from both the front and back!?”
Asama felt more like this was protecting the girl, but it must have seemed different to Adele.
“Adele.” Asama’s tone was scolding. “You have a persecution complex.”
“E-even though I’m getting scolded when I did nothing wrong!?”
Regardless, they could not stay like this, so Asama removed Adele.
She also saw Suzu take a breath and return to her senses.
Suzu then turned her pale face toward the Reine des Garous.
The Reine des Garous let go of the skewer. And she lightly spun around the skewer sticking out of her lips.
That noise was likely meant to be a “yes” to Suzu’s question.
Asama glanced over to see Mitotsudaira just as dumbfounded as her.
But as everyone watched on, the Reine des Garous grabbed the skewer again.
She winked at Asama and bent her head back a bit.
With a nasal laugh, she pulled the skewer from her lips.
She bit down on something in her cheek and pulled out the 30cm skewer.
It was fully intact and glistening wetly.
Horizon and then everyone else applauded.
But the size of the skewer and her head simply did not match up. It clearly should have pierced out the back of her head.
“Um, mother, how did you do that?”
“Oh, dear. Do you think you’re going to need that oral technique of mine, Nate? …Yes, it is necessary when you want to swallow a stake.”
“…No. I was just curious.”
“My, my.” The Loup-Garou mother placed her empty hand on her cheek and held up the skewer that had been in her throat.
She turned her head to the side. She then moved the skewer so it passed by the side of her mouth and alongside her cheek.
It was not quite an X-ray view, but the skewer passed by next to her face.
“Listen. At this point, it would hit the back of your throat, right?”
“Judge,” they all agreed.
The Reine des Garous then stopped the hand holding the skewer.
She used her empty hand to brush back her hair and show off her neck.
After that, she extended her head forward a bit. It was a simple action similar to raising her chin, but…
“If you angle the stake a bit, it can pass from your mouth to your throat in a straight line. Yes, just like that.”
Like that? wondered Asama as she looked in the direction Mitotsudaira’s mother pointed.
While sitting next to Horizon and Toori, Kimi was swallowing a skewer to the base.
Kimi turned toward Asama’s voice.
With that odd noise, she did the same thing the Reine des Garous had.
She tilted her head back and pulled out just the skewer.
She then took a breath with the flavor of chicken in her throat. She noted how fragrant a flavor it was while she smiled at the others.
“That’s a basic technique.”
“It really is,” agreed the Reine des Garous.
They were both aware that this was not a competition. This performance of theirs was something else.
…A game. Using everyone else.
Silver Wolf: “Kimi…what is that, um, sense of camaraderie you have with my mother?”
There was only one answer for Mitotsudaira’s question.
Kimi exchanged a glance with Mitostudaira’s mother and they both turned toward her at once.
They both held the tip of their skewers between their lips, held them gently between their fingers, moved them in and out a few times, and then used their tongues to push them out. Lastly, they spoke at the exact same time.
“Heh heh. …You’re such a child.”
“She really is,” added the parent, which made Mitotsudaira’s shoulders shake.
“Wh-what is that supposed to mean!?”
But the mother paid her no heed.
“Listen,” she said while looking to each of the girls in turn. “There is an angle to your throat. But you have a lot of room in your mouth, so if you wrap your tongue around the stake from below and push up on it to angle it, it will go in easier. …But you don’t want to cause too much stimulation with your teeth, so keep that to a minimum, okay? One other trick is to think of it like swallowing air. That way you won’t gag.”
One part of that sounded rather ominous, but no one but Asama came to a stop, so it was probably fine.
Asama had gasped, but when she noticed no one else reacting…
“What is it, Asama-san?”
“O-oh, it’s nothing. Nothing at allll. Ah ha ha ha. Also, um…” The shrine maiden forced a smile and clapped her hands. “There. I’ve changed the mood!”
As everyone glared at her, she tried to dodge the issue by speaking to the Reine des Garous.
“That was incredible! How did you learn to do something like that?”
“Well, I do it every meal back home.”
“You eat meat like that every meal!? I guess that’s Mito’s mom for you!”
“Yes, my husband is just so full of energy.”
Wise Sister: “Asama, do you feel like you stepped on a landmine, were blown away, and landed on another landmine?”
Asama: “N-no, she might have meant that she eats yakiniku with her energetic husband! I’ll admit it isn’t likely, though!”
Silver Wolf: “Can you stop implicitly turning my family home into a sex kingdom!?”
Mitotsudaira’s mother once more held the skewer between her lips.
She smiled and stuck out her tongue to push the skewer back out into the air.
“Once you can swallow this, the next lesson is how to apply pressure with your lips, suck on it, and move it in and out at varying speeds.”
“Mother! You’re taking this in a very inappropriate direction, aren’t you!? I knew I couldn’t trust you!”
“Eh? What are you talking about, Nate? You’re the one that started this. I was only helping out because you couldn’t do it yourself.”
“I did nothing of the sort!”
Asama: “Actually, it did look an awful lot like that was what you were doing, Mito.”
Silver Wolf: “Eh!? N-no, I didn’t go anywhere near this far!”
Unturning: “Hm… To be honest, I think I started this…”
They were all being very much themselves.
…They really never change.
Kimi looked to her brother who was holding up and staring at a skewer.
“Foolish brother, are you going to do it!? You are, aren’t you!? Which will it be!? The butt!? The urethra?”
“Sis! Sis! Wouldn’t the front one be a bit of a challenge!? It’d probably clear up any kind of blockage, though!”
Masazumi gave them a displeased look because she was trying to eat, but they ignored her. However…
“Kimi! What are you trying to get my king to do!?”
The overprotective knight shouted at her.
And just as Mitotsudaira tried to approach with a meat skewer in one hand, the sound of metal on stone sounded from behind them.
That was where the group washing things in the river had been.
Kimi looked back to see what this was about and saw Naruze there.
Her eyes and mouth were opened wide and she had dropped a freshly-cleaned pot on the riverside rocks.
Finally, she looked at the skewer in Mitotsudaira’s hand and the one the Reine des Garous had.
“W-wait, what are you all of you doing!? Why are you having this kind of fun while I’m not around!?”
“We are not having fun!!” insisted Mitotsudaira.
Oh, I certainly am, thought Kimi with a tilt of the head.
Asama heard the Weiss Hexen’s crazed voice and saw her point at Mitotsudaira.
“Call me before doing this kind of thing! It’s great reference material!”
“She just called me reference material!”
But the black-winged girl was not listening. She instead embraced her partner’s shoulders.
“And just when Margot and I were in the water working up some bubbles and saying ‘Hee hee, it’s always so fun being able to cross your arms while washing dishes’ and ‘Ga-chan, you have bubbles on your nose’!”
“…Why isn’t that enough to satisfy you?”
“They’re two entirely different things! And what is with this!? Are you having a meat rod swallowing contest to celebrate our victory over Takigawa since her Urban Name is Demon Guardian? And why wouldn’t you want me to see? Do you not want to be in a doujinshi!?”
“I don’t think people normally do.”
Hearing that, Naruze leaped into Naito’s chest.
“Margot, Asama is making a sensible argument against me!”
“Yes, yes. It’s okay, Ga-chan. Asama-chi sometimes makes sensible arguments, doesn’t she?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been criticized for that before!”
Tenzou and Mary walked up behind them carrying a pot and a mess kit.
Mary looked at Naruze who was pretending to cry and clinging to Naito, at the Loup-Garou mother and daughter and Kimi who were holding skewers, and at Asama.
“Um, what is going on here?”
That’s what I would like to know, thought Asama, but she held her tongue.
Just then, Masazumi nodded after having moved far enough away to not be caught up in it all.
“How should I put this? …Mary, it has nothing to do with you and Crossunite.”
Asama agreed. Everyone exchanged a quick glance and nodded.
Silver Wolf: “W-we can’t bring up this ‘oral technique’ business with Mary!”
Hori-ko: “Very true. Mary-sama is an English Princess. We cannot get her involved.”
Unturning: “But it’s okay for the Mito Lord and Musashi’s Vicereine?”
Asama: “All right! Being the Asama Shrine Representative wasn’t enough to get counted!”
Almost Everyone: “Is that really a good thing!?”
Now that she thought about it, no. But there was something she had to say.
Asama put on a full-face smile and said to Mary the same thing Masazumi had.
“Y-yes, don’t worry, Mary. This is not anything you and Tenzou-kun need to think about.”
Mary felt a moment of relief at what Masazumi and Asama said.
Something was worrying the others, but they had been considerate enough to make sure she was not involved.
She appreciated that.
…It shows how much the class cares about Master Tenzou and me.
But, she added.
More than 2 months had passed since she arrived on the Far East’s Musashi. That was not a full year, but with each passing month, she had grown more accustomed to life here and come to understand the customs on the Musashi.
So she had a thought.
…I can’t rely on their kindness forever.
She wanted to be a resident of Musashi on the same level as the others.
She did have her status as an English Princess, but she was prepared to fight on the front line or perform hard labor if necessary.
So she spoke up while grabbing a freshly-washed metal skewer used for cooking things over a fire.
“It’s all right, everyone. You don’t have to be so kind. …Do not say this has nothing to do with me or is something I don’t need to think about. I will work at it too!”
Everyone – including the Reine des Garous – voiced their surprise.
Everyone’s reaction told Mary she had been right.
They were surprised by her suggestion.
And that could only mean one thing.
…They were discussing something quite difficult.
Their concern was clear when Mitotsudaira turned toward her with a chicken skewer in hand.
“U-um, Mary? Do you…know what we were talking about?”
Mary was decisive. She had not actually heard the discussion, but she could make a good guess what they would be discussing with the Houjou battle so soon.
After all, they were facing something even greater than the battle the other night.
…The battles with the Sanada ninjas were entirely outside the ordinary. So…
“I am not sure how to put it, but this is a difficult thing that your average person could never do.”
Everyone turned to look at Kimi and the Reine des Garous.
“W-wait just a minute! Mary, do you really know what we were talking about!?”
Mary tilted her head.
They had to have been talking about Houjou.
Today was the travel day and she knew they would spend that day negotiating with Houjou. But negotiations could take a number of forms, so they would have been planning what exactly they would do. Mary chose the best words she could to describe those speaking methods.
“You were discussing oral techniques, weren’t you?”
This time, it was Mitotsudaira who tilted her head. And her face grew red.
Asama: “No comment! No comment!”
Novice: “Must you people always make a scene?”
But Mitotsudaira had definitely heard it.
And she could not exactly deny it.
“W-we were certainly talking about such…techniques. Y-yes, we were!”
She felt like she should not have asked this.
But Mary was her friend, so she worked up her courage.
“M-Mary? Um, just to be absolutely sure…could you repeat that?”
“Eh?” Mary placed a hand on her cheek. “Well, um,” she said. “Yes, I said oral techniques.”
Mary saw everyone react the same way to what she said.
Everyone in front of her and Naito and Naruze next to her all fell silent.
They said nothing.
And they did not move.
The only sounds reaching her ears were from the flowing river and the waterfall that fell down into the Asama Shrine’s atrium.
“Um, oral techniques are important, aren’t they?”
“Well, yes, I suppose they are!”
She was not sure what to make of that response. She began to wonder if she had said something wrong.
So she decided to check.
“Master Tenzou, oral techniques is the correct term, isn’t it?”
“J-judge! That gets the point across, I think.”
“You are the worst,” spat out Naruze, but Mary was unsure why.
Had she said anything to make the others suspicious? So…
“Um, is there anything weird about what I am referring to?”
“Hey, hey, Tenzou,” said the Chancellor. “Is yours weird?”
“I-is my what weird!?”
“Oh,” said Mary. “Master Tenzou is not weird at all.”
Hearing that, everyone formed a scrum and began whispering to each other.
“How are we supposed to respond to that…?”
“What kind of order is Tenzou using for these things?”
“I’m afraid we’re going to get more detail than we want, so could we stop this?”
After a few seconds, Musashi’s Princess stepped out and raised her right hand.
“Tenzou-sama, we are willing to give you this one, so rest easy. We will accept that yours is not weird.”
“What is with this weird nuance in everything you’re saying!?” shouted Tenzou.
Just then, a sign frame appeared over their heads. It displayed “Musashi”.
Mary always thought that automaton looked so dignified. When “Musashi” silently bowed, Mary bowed in return.
And then the automaton’s voice reached them.
“A ship is approaching from the southwest.”
“It has identified itself as a Mouri diplomatic ship belonging to Hexagone Française. Its representative is Mouri Terumoto-sama. She and the Houjou Representative have sent a divine transmission requesting a meeting. What shall we do? Over.”
Terumoto slowly spoke in the afternoon sky.
“Looks like we won’t be able to board the Musashi itself. I’ve always wanted to board it just once, to see what an aerial city ship is like.”
She was on the deck of the Mouri diplomatic ship.
Their ship was flying toward the front of the Musashi while sliding in toward its left side.
The ship’s shape made it difficult to lower their speed when flying straight ahead. The standard methods were to reverse the acceleration system or tilt the virtual ocean in the opposite direction to brake, but Terumoto did things differently.
She had the ship slide to the side so air resistance did the braking for them.
That was why her ship had its sails fully open, which was rare for aerial ships.
“Hey! Tilt the ship a little more! If the virtual ocean flows to the side, it won’t provide any resistance!”
“Testament, Terumoto-sama! We will show you what we can do!”
With those words from the bridge, the ship tilted.
The deck tilted enough that she had to brace herself to avoid falling over.
The virtual ocean, which covered from the bottom of the ship to the waterline, bent in the wind and tossed spray into the air.
The wind became a salty mist, climbed up the side of the ship, and struck the sails.
The water resistance and wind resistance from the bottom and the top easily caused the ship to groan.
The joints of the hardened wood cried out and the mast bent with a deep sound.
But Terumoto showed off her teeth when she heard it.
“Okay, just like that! Make sure the ship isn’t tossed around by the recoil!”
The sideways-sliding scenery showed the Musashi right in front of them now.
Their ship came just above the front deck of Musashino.
“Okay! Good job, everyone!!”
The ship slid through a braking turn and came to a stop.
Once it stopped, the ship rose up, but they controlled that as well.
The ship shook back the other way and plates could be heard shattering inside the ship.
But that was all.
Terumoto’s ship was 20m above Musashino’s front deck.
That was pretty high up, but it was still extremely close. As the sun shined down on that layout, Terumoto opened her mouth.
She crossed her arms and spoke.
“Musashi Representative! Get on up here! Let’s discuss our plans for tomorrow!!”
- Demon Guardian and meat rod are pronounced similarly in Japanese.
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