Horizon:Volume 6B Chapter 40
Chapter 40: Stalemated Top Runner
Is it so hard to head back
After taking a wrong turn
Because heading back means turning around?
Point Allocation (Looking Back)
Below the night sky, the festival lights lit the pool from below.
Katagiri asked Hachisuka a question while watching the spray rising and Fukushima rolling along the duckboard.
“What do you mean she has it really bad?”
“Did you think this was a slump?”
Hachisuka did not respond and that in itself was an answer to his question.
…If this isn’t a slump, then what is it?
Even Katagiri could tell Fukushima had lost her luster. Her combat results had been missing something since Novgorod. Today, for example, she had failed to stop Sanada’s Miyoshi Seikai and she had been driven away.
What would happen if she was still like this during the attack on Paris tomorrow?
Katagiri had thought he knew the purpose of the training Kiyomasa was leading here.
…It’s to remove that “cloud” from above Fukushima-san’s head…
“If this isn’t meant to get her out of a slump, then what are they trying to accomplish here?”
“You don’t know?” Hachisuka sighed with her arms still crossed. “It’s absurd. …Just how much does Kiyomasa trust Fukushima?”
“What do you-…?”
“I won’t tell you until we’ve seen the result. There’s no point in getting your hopes up prematurely.”
There was another splash.
Fukushima fell next to Kiyomasa and water splashed behind her.
But what happened next was somewhat different.
Fukushima hopped up from her fallen position.
On the first roll after falling, she thrust her hands against the duckboard to launch her body up.
She was in midair with her chest pointed down. She landed feet-first with Ichinotani in her right hand.
She moved forward to target Kiyomasa’s back.
Kiyomasa, however, did not look back.
And Fukushima continued forward to strike Kiyomasa on the left side of her back.
Fukushima saw the sky.
It was the night sky.
That was strange. She had attacked Kiyomasa from behind. And yet…
Just then, she realized something.
She realized an obvious fact about these repeated results.
She felt something like a dark and harsh shove.
And she produced a 20th splash.
Kiyomasa saw Fukushima rolling to her left.
The other girl was now about 7 meters in front of her.
There was a large splash, but the shallow waves were stronger. That would be because she had been collapsed on her side and bounced along the duckboard.
The girl was breathing heavily while lying collapsed on the duckboard.
The end of her long ponytail had fallen through the gaps in the duckboard.
Did she notice it? wondered Kiyomasa.
Fukushima’s movement had been different from before. Before, she had been attacking from the front as a form of “training”, but attacking from behind like this meant something else entirely. Even as a form of training, that attack had been in preparation for a real battle and not just to learn some technique.
“You still did not notice your failure when you made your attack, Fukushima-sama. So I hope you noticed it after your attack…”
“Testament …I more or less understand it now.”
Kiyomasa heard Fukushima’s voice.
She rose from the water as if crawling and then stood up.
Her wet black hair looked skinnier and Kiyomasa felt apologetic. But…
…I would be spoiling her if I didn’t let her figure it out on her own.
She lacked the strength needed to help her opponent realize how dangerous her mistake was. Especially with Fukushima who was even more skilled than her.
That was why Kiyomasa decided to handle this with speed and accuracy. At the moment, she asked a question.
“So what will you do?”
“Testament. I will be fine.”
Fukushima stood with water dripping from her and with Ichinotani in her right hand.
“Thou are saying my actions have become too patterned, aren’t thou?”
It’s a simple matter, thought Katagiri.
Doing anything required an action and actions began with a movement which continued on to completion.
Mastering an action meant to find the most accurate and optimal flow of movement.
But Fukushima had honed herself too far.
“Her flow of movement has become too fixed…”
Safety was a top priority on the battlefield. Mistakes could mean death, so to avoid pushing herself unnecessarily, she had focused on her own katas.
But what happened when someone knew what those were?
Then the optimal kata would become a pitfall to failure.
“Do you see why it was important to reproduce what happened today?”
Hachisuka asked that while viewing the feet of the two girls in the pool.
“Just watch and learn.”
Fukushima lowered her body as if to agree with Hachisuka.
She was preparing to move forward, toward Kiyomasa’s right side.
She held Ichinotani out front on her right to prevent Kiyomasa from using Caledfwlch in her right hand. Fukushima held the weapon with her left hand at the blade end of the shaft and her right hand on the shaft’s butt.
Her left hand controlled Ichinotani’s tip, guiding it toward Caledfwlch.
If Kiyomasa attempted to swing Caledfwlch forward, she would use Ichinotani to interfere.
But that was not her attack.
A moment later, Katagiri realized what Fukushima was doing.
She used her right hand to swing the butt end toward Kiyomasa.
It only took an instant.
The left-hand tip was a feint meant to disguise the right-hand attack and it also supplied the initial movement for swinging the butt.
The motion swung the butt and shaft horizontally.
“A horizontal swing of a straight line is difficult to dodge. …You can tell she really wants to hit Kiyomasa after failing so many times already.”
But what happened next was strange.
It happened just as the horizontally-swung butt was about to reach Kiyomasa.
All of a sudden, Katagiri saw Fukushima rise up and pitch forward.
He did not know, but Hundred Crest Land Survey was still recording.
Fukushima bent her body and tried to endure.
But she was blown away.
The duckboard had soaked up the water and sunk a bit.
Fukushima landed on her right shoulder and rolled along it.
She asked a question while the water sprayed up and her body caught on the water, making her bounce.
It was not that she was underestimating Kiyomasa’s skill.
But this was strange.
That action had been a rare one for her.
Ichinotani could block and absorb an enemy’s attack, so she generally used the tip for both attack and defense. She never made a horizontal swing of the butt.
She had never even demonstrated that movement during training.
So how had Kiyomasa seen through it?
She could not finish the question in her mind.
A silver flash had reached her collapsed vision.
It was Caledfwlch.
“Looks like I can start moving now.”
With that, Kiyomasa attacked with her large spear that also looked like a sword.
Kiyomasa saw Fukushima take evasive action.
Not her reaction. Her movement.
Her ponytail hopped up as she jumped backwards while doubled over.
She had chosen not to stand up because she was fearful of a further attack and was thinking of a counterattack. By leaning forward, she reduced the area open to attack and made the first step of her next action in advance.
It was a good movement. But…
Kiyomasa pursued. She closed the gap between her and Fukushima’s movement.
That evasive jump after falling created a distance of two steps, but Kiyomasa put on airs and forcibly covered it in a single step.
She caught up. And…
“What will you do?”
As soon as she asked that, Ichinotani’s tip arrived as a counterattack.
It was perfectly timed for when Kiyomasa completed her forced step.
There was no room for criticism in the movement, power, or idea.
With that thought, Kiyomasa took action.
Katagiri saw Fukushima fly through the air.
She had been facing Kiyomasa, but she flew backwards in the opposite direction.
She was thrown into the water in something of a side flip, but Katagiri did not initially understand what had happened.
…What was that!?
Fukushima had just launched a counterattack to the front.
So why had she been sent backwards?
Something had been done to match her counterattack.
“What was she hit with?”
When Katagiri asked Yokosuka, that girl next to him watched the pool as she answered.
“…It’s nothing like that.”
Hachisuka scratched her head.
“She really does have it bad.”
“She’s gonna need to be broken down a fair bit.”
Meanwhile, Kiyomasa was moving. She slowly walked forward and toward Fukushima.
But not to pursue. She was approaching her opponent. That was all.
Some water splashed up at Kiyomasa’s feet, but the gap between her and Fukushima closed.
With a single splash, Fukushima made a jump.
Fukushima took a position that allowed her to confront Kiyomasa.
She was to Kiyomasa’s right, so Caledfwlch would block her from view.
She was about 5 meters away. Ichinotani’s reach was just under 3 meters, so she would be in attack range after only a short approach.
But she did not simply charge in.
Kiyomasa knew how to use her Caledfwlch. She would be constantly on the lookout for someone taking this position and she would have trained in how to respond.
And Fukushima had chosen to jump there.
That was a feint against Kiyomasa. Kiyomasa would have to question whether she should attack there or not.
And that spot allowed Fukushima to jump behind her.
She did so.
It was a low jump and she landed in an instant. The duckboard was below the water’s surface, so she did not slip when she landed behind Kiyomasa with her knees bent and ready to spring.
She could make an attack, so she stuck her right knee out toward Kiyomasa and balanced her body.
She would send her knee out and then her spear. And Fukushima realized something after taking that stance and moving.
At some point, she had ended up in front of Kiyomasa.
This was strange.
Why was she in front of her after circling behind her?
She had not jumped or circled around to that spot.
So Kiyomasa must have turned to face her.
She had done so in an instant.
…She predicted this?
That had to be the case and Fukushima understood how she had predicted it.
That flow of movement was one Kiyomasa had often experienced in training.
But, thought Fukushima. How did she also predict that I would move behind her?
That was strange.
She had moved behind Caledfwlch countless times in training. At Kiyomasa’s request, she had thought up ways to attack her and discussed possible countermeasures.
But moving behind her afterwards was just one of many options.
How had she predicted that choice?
Kiyomasa moved toward her.
This is not good, thought Fukushima.
She found herself in an inexplicable situation. She could not explain how her actions had been so perfectly predicted.
However, she also did not understand why it was inexplicable, so she could not come up with any kind of countermeasure.
At this rate, Kiyomasa would attack her and she would lose.
No, she had already lost several times. The number of losses had just passed 20.
There was only one possibility:
…My actions are being seen and predicted.
Fukushima had a sudden thought: Is that the trick?
For now, I will assume that my actions are being seen, thought Fukushima.
…In that case, my actions are being predicted because they are being seen.
And with that…
She realized something.
She realized how her actions were being seen.
Katagiri realized that Fukushima’s movement had changed.
When she stood up and moved away from Kiyomasa’s approach, the way she walked had changed.
Before, she had been in a hurry to approach and attack her opponent, so she had leaned forward like she was running. She had leaned forward and raised her hips in a stance that allowed her to kick her legs backwards.
But that had changed.
She was more upright and her legs were arranged side to side instead of front to back. She also kept her hips low.
Katagiri thought it made her look like a crab.
But this crab moved quickly.
She did not run along the water like before.
She did not jump toward her destination.
She first sent one or the other of her legs forward.
She sent out a knee and then placed her toes on the duckboard at her destination. Then her body caught up with her leg.
Instead of kicking herself forward, she pulled herself forward.
It was a lot like crawling or climbing with just one’s arms.
“One of our predecessors, who have since joined Sanada, moved a lot like that,” said Hachisuka. “You can use your leg and knee as a deterrent and you can also immediately pull it back. It makes quick direction changes difficult, but Fukushima can overcome that with her mobility.”
I see, thought Katagiri before opening his mouth.
He had realized something about the way Fukushima placed her toes on the water’s surface.
“She didn’t make a splash.”
“Kiyomasa-san will have a hard time seeing Fukushima-san’s back leg. That means she can’t read Fukushima-san’s movements.”
“Why is that?”
“There are no more splashes to reveal her footsteps and the movement of her leg is hidden.”
“Yes.” Hachisuka sounded unimpressed. “She’s reached the point that she needs to follow a silly plan when moving around.”
Fukushima moved forward.
But she did not simply advance. She circled around to Kiyomasa’s left side.
She was turned so her right side faced forward. She stuck out her right leg and pulled her body in with her right knee.
She turned using the left leg behind her.
He left leg was up on its toes and it turned her body as a rear rudder.
She predicted the best time to move forward and back as she continued on.
…This is it…!
Her left leg was hidden by her right knee and her body.
She held Ichinotani in front of her body as if showing it off to Kiyomasa.
It was difficult to use a spear in that position.
When holding a spear in both arms, her own body and the shaft would be in the way.
When holding a spear in front of you, you generally held it so it extended to the side
But then she could not thrust the spear to the front.
That was a poor position for circling to Kiyomasa’s left side.
Kiyomasa stood directly across from her as she prepared her spear.
She had to think about her own body’s interference when swinging the spear.
And she needed to push it forward, not to pull it back to gather strength.
This was not an easy situation for controlling the spear. But…
That is fine, concluded Fukushima. She had never before done anything so reckless while training with Kiyomasa.
…Now she won’t be able to “predict” my action.
With that, she charged forward and launched an attack while passing by Kiyomasa.
She was filled with instantaneous confusion. Kiyomasa had raised her left hand while Fukushima charged in with Ichinotani.
She had reacted.
Fukushima had a thought in that moment.
The angle and movement of Kiyomasa’s raised left hand told Fukushima what she was trying to do.
She was trying to grab the tip of Ichinotani.
The rectangular tip meant it could be grabbed as long as you did not grab the blade.
So Kiyomasa was trying to do just that. She was going to calmly grab Fukushima’s weapon, and…
…Knock me to the ground!?
It was the same as before.
Throughout all of this, Kiyomasa had not made a single attack.
She would predict Fukushima’s actions and send her flying in some way or another: sweep her legs out from under her, pull down on the arm swinging the weapon, or place a hand on her waist and spin her.
That counterattack should not have happened.
When Fukushima had charged forward, Kiyomasa had swept her feet out from under her and rotated her sideways through the air.
It had only taken an instant.
Fukushima had been placed on top of her swinging leg and forced into a flip. There had been no hesitation in the action and it had not eliminated any of Fukushima’s momentum.
This was the same.
Just like before, she would be sent flying.
The spear tip would be grabbed and pulled back and that was sure to send her forward.
That was devastating with her legs separated to the front and back. She could not endure a pull to the side and down.
Imagining her imminent loss, Fukushima tried to pull back.
But it was too late. She had already passed the point of no return for that future. So…
Even after more than 20 losses, she could not figure out why she was losing.
She had thought it was because Kiyomasa knew her movements from training, but that was not it.
She had thought it was because the splashes were allowing Kiyomasa to predict her actions, but that was not it.
Then what was it?
Why was she losing here?
…I need to think…!
She had no time.
There were only two things she could do: think and move as a reflexive response to that.
So she did so.
Well done, thought Kiyomasa.
She saw a certain action in front of her.
As she tried to grab Ichinotani’s tip, it suddenly opened up.
The rectangular spear tip split to either side from the base to take a dragonfly shape.
Fukushima had opened the blade so it could not be grabbed.
The blade moved back and opened so Kiyomasa could not grab it, but it also seemed to be threatening her.
This is a bluff, thought Kiyomasa.
But her eyes felt her opponent’s actions.
She did not see them. There was not enough time to see and understand.
So she felt the movements entering her vision and predicted them.
Fukushima was not there.
More accurately, only her fluttering hair was there.
The wet ponytail was circling behind her.
Fukushima moved quickly.
The speed came from letting go of Ichinotani, but this was not movement of her legs. There was only one way she could cover that distance in an instant with her legs spread front to back like that.
Fukushima whipped up the wind.
The wind circled behind Kiyomasa.
Fukushima swiftly shifted between one action and another in the middle of battle.
She likely had not noticed it herself, but how many people in the current Far East could think up and pull off that kind of thing?
In battle, this girl could produce and respond to any movement she could think of.
And due to a certain factor, she no longer recognized that ability of hers.
Kiyomasa had to correct that.
She had to do so in every way she could.
After reminding herself of that, Kiyomasa breathed in.
She had to make sure Fukushima realized why she could predict and respond to Fukushima’s actions.
…Are you coming?
Fukushima’s wind danced behind her.
She was coming.
When she landed from the leap behind Kiyomasa, she kicked strongly at the water.
That would tell the other girl exactly where she was.
She made the duckboard creak to draw attention to her location.
And then she took another leap.
But not to the front: up above.
She had to launch herself above Kiyomasa’s head. That was the only option. Any horizontal movement could be “predicted”.
And a simple leap above the other girl would also be “predicted”.
So she had created a foothold by splashing the water upon landing.
Headfirst Fall could provide acceleration based on any foothold.
She only had to step on the scattered drops of water.
She could use “ideal movements” for that. For that technique, she controlled her body and moved it exactly as she wanted. She could do that to step on the water and use it as footholds.
Of course, she had lost at Novgorod despite possessing this technique.
She had lost a competition of ideal movements with her enemy. They had been on a similar level then, but…
No, realized Fukushima.
Her enemy’s ideal movements had been superior.
That was all there was to it. And…
I have no weapon, she realized.
Her weapon was there.
When leaping with Headfirst Fall earlier, her wet ponytail had lightly caught on Ichinotani’s shaft.
Her hair would pull on the airborne spear and carry it to her hand as she flew over Kiyomasa’s head.
So Fukushima did it. She kicked the water and used her falling acceleration to arrive above Kiyomasa’s head.
She achieved an unbelievable height and distance in the span of a breath, but her path was more important than her position.
Instead of simply leaping, she took a complex path using the water drop footholds. If anything, she attempted to fall over Kiyomasa’s head from the sky in front of her.
Ichinotani reached her outstretched right hand.
It was there.
She grabbed it and pulled it in.
It was Caledfwlch.
Katagiri saw a strange sight.
Fukushima was hit by an attack in midair and slammed into the water.
But that was only the result. It was the process leading up to that which was strange.
Kiyomasa had sent Caledfwlch flying through the air to match Fukushima’s leap.
At the same time, she had grabbed Fukushima’s Ichinotani and dropped it down. She had not let Ichinotani escape after its tip had opened to escape her grasp and then was abandoned.
She eliminated the enemy’s weapon. Next, she had tossed Caledfwlch’s right blade to Fukushima in the air and circled around above her.
She had used Caledfwlch’s thruster to leap above Fukushima in an instant.
From there, she had only needed to make her attack.
But, thought Katagiri.
…What was that?
Kiyomasa had jumped from directly below Fukushima, so Fukushima should have seen it.
But from Katagiri’s perspective Fukushima had looked like a clown that could not see what was right in front of her.
“Kiyomasa sure is thorough.”
Hachisuka spoke quietly.
“Was it familiarity from training? ————No.
“Was it her footsteps splashing in the water? ————No.
“Then was it simply that she’s cleverer than Fukushima? ————No.
“Those are all wrong. But they are all things that amateurs and somewhat skilled people will notice and take advantage of. Against an expert or a monster, they’re more than just openings. They lead directly to death.”
“Then that wasn’t why Kiyomasa-san set this up?”
“No, this wasn’t some fancy stage meant to point out the splashing or the training. …It was to point out that it isn’t any of those.”
“It was to show Fukushima that her failure is something more fundamental.”
Fukushima questioned everything while kneeling on the duckboard.
Why was she losing?
It was not just Kiyomasa’s familiarity with her training and it was not just that her movements were being predicted. Even her clever ideas were being cut off.
What was she supposed to do?
Kiyomasa picked up Caledfwlch’s fallen right blade. Water dripped from it as she used just her right hand to connect it to the one she already held.
Then she used her left hand to lightly spin around what she had already collected: Ichinotani.
The blade sliced through the water and reflected the vermillion festival lights, but she did not so much as glance at it.
She simply aimed Caledfwlch’s tip at Fukushima.
“Fukushima-sama. …What do you have to say about this situation?”
Fukushima thought about how to answer that question.
But she already knew the answer.
Ever since Novgorod, she had completely lost her luster. It felt like the thread she used to grasp victory had snapped.
Until then, she had been able to pull off the ideal movements of an expert.
But now she was not even confident she could do that.
No, she felt like her “ideal movements” were different from those of the experts.
They would spin and dance as if they were swimming through the flow of battle, but she was simply moving and finding footholds for acceleration.
She could not trust her own techniques.
She felt pathetic for letting a single defeat do this to her.
But at Novgorod, she suffered…
“Complete and utter defeat.”
This was the same. No, this was far worse.
“I cannot win.”
“Testament. Is that so? Then…”
Kiyomasa swung her right hand.
She purposefully drove Caledfwlch through Fukushima’s face.
She’s really smashed her now, thought Hachisuka when she saw the attack.
…Kiyomasa isn’t holding back.
Was that how much she cared for Fukushima, her partner at the top?
But that attack had contained no mercy whatsoever. The snap of her wrist had looked light, but that was what gave it such great speed. And a blade like Caledfwlch would cause injury if it simply hit you.
A direct blow to the face could easily smash the skull.
This was Hashiba’s front line. It was a facility for the up-and-coming elites. The medical technology available on the ship could provide all the necessary emergency care.
It would take time for a full recovery, but her smashed face would heal.
Of course, the wars would be over by then.
That was the meaning held behind the attack Kiyomasa so casually sent Fukushima’s way.
It would do greater harm to her future than her physical body.
Shut up, Katagiri. Why are your hands on your cheeks like a girl? Although using me as a baseline, the girly reaction is to keep your arms crossed.
But what happened to Fukushima? wondered Hachisuka.
She looked up and saw something other than fatigue or a lack of motivation. Their leader was captured by something else.
Anxiety also described it.
She was afraid of losing.
If she lost some important battle, her companions would experience something more fearsome than death.
And more importantly…
…We will fail in our objective.
But if she let that fear consume her, it was all over.
“Figure it out,” said Hachisuka.
Her eyes were on Kiyomasa, who had a grim look on her face as she finished swinging Caledfwlch.
She had guts if she could do something like that without an even worse look on her face.
Or she should have.
“Heh.” Hachisuka laughed quietly. “Why can’t you lose, Fukushima?”
Fukushima felt something cold on her right cheek.
What was touching her there? She slowly moved her gaze to the right and saw it.
Her face…her eyes could see it there: Caledfwlch’s blade.
If the thick blade was next to her face and touching her right cheek, then she had not been smashed.
Kiyomasa had missed. Then…
…Was that just a threat?
Had she come within millimeters of hitting her in order to open her eyes?
But her view of herself suddenly distorted.
Caledfwlch was pulled back toward Kiyomasa.
And Kiyomasa spoke.
“Please do not dodge.”
Fukushima questioned what Kiyomasa had said.
She had not tried to dodge. She had seen the sudden attack and prepared herself for what was to come: I really am a lost cause if I have made Kiyo-dono go this far.
So she had resigned herself to taking this attack as a rebuke.
She had not dodged.
…I swear it…
She tried to promise she had not dodged.
But then the blade arrived again. She saw its glint in front of her.
Yes, she said in her heart.
She had lost and had no hope of recovering, but she had a companion who would end it for her.
So she leaned forward to accept that ending. Still seated, she moved to let the blade hit her as a way of taking responsibility for her friend and companion’s effort.
Katagiri realized something had ended.
Kiyomasa’s second attack sliced through the air.
She sent Caledfwlch forth with her wrist, yet it heavily pierced the air.
And along the blade’s path…
He could see Caledfwlch’s blade.
It was next to Fukushima’s face. It had seemed to graze her left cheek and passed behind her shoulder.
It had not hit her.
Katagiri commented on the divine weapon’s failure.
“Why…is she dodging?”
“Training,” said Hachisuka with a quick laugh. “I recognize that movement.”
“It’s a survival instinct that functions at a subconscious level. That’s what’s dodging all of these.”
“But.” Katagiri frowned. “Isn’t that what guided her to failure before?”
“Figure it out.”
Hachisuka said that to him, but then…
She must have decided he was the type who could not figure it out.
With a look that could only be disgust in her eyebrows and mouth, she opened her mouth.
He felt extremely apologetic as she explained.
That was all.
Then he saw movement in front of them. Kiyomasa had made her third attack.
It was a deep jab with her elbow behind it.
I dodged it, realized Fukushima.
The first time, she had not even noticed.
The second time, she had been unable to believe it.
The third time, she had understood what she had done.
And the next jab was coming.
Kiyomasa stepped forward for the fourth one.
Will I move? thought Fukushima about her own body. She had reacted subconsciously to dodge the previous three, but what about when she was conscious of it?
She dodged it.
It carved across her right cheek and it felt like having a bug crawling along her skin. Her blood vessels were sliced one after another. Blood spilled from where she felt the bug’s legs.
But she had dodged it. She had dodged with her own conscious will and her own actions.
But she still had questions.
What good was dodging?
It was not like she would lose her life if she did not dodge.
Was she afraid of the pain?
That was not it. An attack powerful enough to smash her face would also knock her unconscious. In fact, a scrape like this would leave her with more pain than that.
Then had her pride not allowed her to give up here?
That was not it either. She was more afraid of being unable to continue fighting. If she was concerned about the trouble she would cause her companions…
…Giving up here would be easier for everyone.
So why had she dodged it?
She did not know. But…
A fifth and sixth attack arrived.
Fukushima dodged the spear tip atop the water.
Her stance had crumbled.
She quickly crawled, rolled, kicked water up at Kiyomasa, and attempted to stand up.
She could not manage it.
Fukushima kicked at the duckboard and her footing collapsed.
She simply produced a splash, fell to her knees, and tried desperately to move away.
If she was hit, it was all over.
And that would make everything so much easier.
She fought on the front line, her position pitted her against the strongest of their enemies, she had inherited the name of Fukushima Masanori, and most importantly…
…I have my destiny and duty as one of the Ten Spears!
My companion will free me from that pressure.
That will be the end of it.
Yes, Kiyo-dono is more suited for the top position than me.
After all, she has managed to overpower me when I am supposed to be at the top.
So I can pass that position to Kiyo-dono and use my defeat as the proof.
That is for the best.
She had to have dodged more than 20 attacks already.
Why did she continue to dodge when none of her attacks could get through and she had given up?
The answer was obvious.
Because if she was defeated here, she would never know why she had dodged earlier.
If she gave up, she would never solve the mystery of that moment.
Why had she chosen not to sink?
And just as she isolated that question inside herself…
“You leave me no choice.”
Kiyomasa raised Caledfwlch.
Fukushima looked back atop the duckboard and saw a different stance from before.
Kiyomasa held the combined double spear to her side and she spoke.
Fukushima reflexively took action.
She grabbed the duckboard section floating to the right of the one she was kneeling on.
She swung her entire body around and used the momentum to throw it at Kiyomasa.
The collection of boards flew up from low in the air. The duckboard section was the size of a tatami mat and it strained under its water-laden weight, but…
Instead of throwing it at Kiyomasa, it was more like releasing it as a horizontal, axe-like swing.
Kiyomasa predicted that action.
But the look Fukushima gave her was far more painful than seeing the right arm reaching for the neighboring duckboard section.
She saw Fukushima desperately trying to think up something to do and she felt a sense of self-loathing.
But there was a good reason to push Fukushima this far.
However, her action had been poorly timed.
Caledfwlch was already prepared to fire and dodging the duckboard had shifted its aim.
She had intended to hit Fukushima with a somewhat horizontal blow.
But now the tip was aimed somewhat downwards.
The impact tore into the pool.
It crushed and shook the water while smashing the dozen or so duckboard sections in an instant.
The pool exploded.
The ruptured water was dumped on Katagiri.
Caledfwlch’s attack had not hit Fukushima.
For one thing, it had not released its normal form of attack. The sparring settings had fired an impact instead.
And then Caledfwlch’s impact had hit the water at Fukushima’s feet.
It had not dug through it.
It had compressed it with an impact.
But after it was pushed down, it had to return to its original shape.
The compression heated the pool water until steam rose from it.
But that was as far as the water lasted.
The compressed water exploded from the center of the attack.
The impact would have diffused in the air, but in the water it functioned properly and reflected back.
The water sent itself scattering through the air and carried the duckboard sections with it. And then…
The impact that had struck the pool was launched upwards.
It was an explosion.
The waves burst and Katagiri saw Kiyomasa leap back as if pushed by the mountain of water.
A moment later, the airborne water fell back down as rain.
The splinters of the duckboard also fell while Katagiri realized Fukushima was nowhere to be seen.
The falling water threatened to drown out his voice.
Next to him, Hachisuka spoke while equally soaked.
She gestured toward the sky to port.
“Let’s see how this turns out.”
Fukushima thought, I have seen the sky a lot today.
In the morning, she had looked up into the sky as Yoshiaki and Wakisaka tied up Kani and flew away.
At midday, she had looked up into the sky from Kiyomasa’s lap after her battle with Seikai Nyuudou.
At night, she had looked up into the sky after being blown away by Kiyomasa’s Caledfwlch.
It mostly had to do with Kiyo-dono, she thought, but now was not the time.
After all, she had fallen from the ironclad ship.
They were on the 8th ship. Up to the 4th ship were lined up in front of that one.
They were all holding a festival on their decks and building up people’s spirits before the attack on Paris tomorrow.
She had fallen from there.
That was a drop of about 50 meters. She would not survive a fall of that height.
But she had no way of saving herself either.
She would normally have spells to counteract a fall, but she was wearing a swimsuit. And she had only installed her training divine protections inside the swimsuit’s hard point parts.
She had thought anything extra would cause her to overlook what she was doing wrong.
…Such an incompetent mistake.
She could blame no one but herself if she met her end here.
And a thought occurred to her only now.
…Am I going to meet an early end here?
She must have been a lost cause from the moment she had failed to understand what she was doing wrong.
She thought she had been fairly strong for this age of warring states, but it had not been enough. Worse, she had lacked the power to even understand what she lacked.
So she had lost to someone who had made a comeback: Honda Futayo.
That girl had been off her game when they first fought, so Fukushima’s initial “win” had been a mistake. After seeking a clear result and impatiently demanding a rematch, the true difference in strength had become all too clear.
Fukushima sighed and spoke to herself as she fell through empty air.
“I wish I could redo those two battles…”
She wanted another direct clash in which her opponent was on her game and she was not impatient.
…If only I could do that…
That was when Fukushima realized something.
…I still have something I have left undone.
Of course she did.
She was stepping down from the stage early, so nothing was complete.
But now a voice escaped her lips.
How many times had her vision been blurred by tears now?
Even as she realized how weak she had become, she converted her groan into a voice.
“I hate this.”
Fukushima was aware she lacked strength.
But the result of that mistaken battle had twisted something inside her.
She had become unable to accept it.
She had not properly learned how much strength she did have. She had experienced an incomplete victory and defeat, but then powerful enemies had appeared before her.
She was not strong enough.
But it was her own naiveté that had grown distorted
So she would end it here.
She would fall and end it.
Why? thought Fukushima.
Why had she not closed her eyes?
Why had she not stopped breathing?
Why had she not given up on herself?
Why was she reaching her hand out into the empty air?
The answer was obvious.
A single straightforward shape was falling toward her.
Kiyomasa said nothing.
She simply hurried to the edge of the deck and tossed a spear down.
The spear could not stop the fall.
Ichinotani lacked a fall reduction divine protection.
But, thought Kiyomasa. Fukushima cannot wake up without Ichinotani.
That divine weapon had always been her attack power and her method.
If seeing that was not enough to wake her…
“She will be as good as dead even if she survives.”
“You sure are nice, Kiyomasa.”
Hachisuka’s voice reached her from behind.
“You can judge this based on life.”
“Testament.” Kiyomasa felt a smile inside herself as she answered. “That must be because I judge myself based on death.”
Fukushima grabbed Ichinotani in her right hand.
The word “why” was ringing in her heart.
No, the power in her hand had been thrown to her by Kiyomasa.
Kiyomasa was telling her to come back.
Throwing down Ichinotani instead of a divine protection or spell was proof of that.
She was telling her to come back up herself. But…
Fukushima wondered if she was really allowed to not give up.
Even though she was weak.
Her companion was telling her to use the power in her hand.
She was aware of her weakness. There was no point in looking away from it now.
And her companion was attempting to clear away the distortion within her.
So the rest was up to her.
With that word of understanding and of a contract, Fukushima began to think.
Why was she desperately searching for a reason to continue on when she had been working so hard to let herself end just a moment ago?
The answer to that question was the question itself.
Because she did not want to end. That was all there was to it.
She truly did not want to end, but she had thought it might be better to end and had tried to obey that thought.
She had simply been trying to look good.
But that had all been turned around by nothing more than Kiyomasa’s message of “don’t die”.
So had she just wanted that girl’s concern?
Would the others forgive her for trying to end it all until now? And…
Fukushima wished for it with no hesitation now.
She wished to not end.
She shook the tears from her eyes, pulled Ichinotani toward herself, and raised her voice.
Kiyomasa saw an arcing form fly up into the night sky.
It was Fukushima.
She had pulled herself up from the fall and used that momentum to jump even higher than the others.
It was all a series of forcible actions.
When looking down earlier, Kiyomasa had seen no footholds for Fukushima to use Headfirst Fall on.
Activating Headfirst Fall in the empty air would only lead to falling.
Even if she could supply the proper direction and shift her position, she could not escape the falling motion.
But that was only without a foothold.
Fukushima had created a foothold for Headfirst Fall.
She had kicked off the countless drops of water falling with her.
And she fell.
She directed her fall toward the hull of the ironclad ship and slammed into it.
The rest was simple.
She repeatedly “fell toward” the ship’s hull and used that momentum to jump.
“So she made it back.”
Her black ponytail formed an arc as she fell from the night sky.
She fell toward the edge of the pool that had lost most of its water.
Their training was not yet over. So…
“…Here I go.”
Kiyomasa held Caledfwlch in both hands and moved forward.
She had to clear away and straighten out her companion’s distortion.
“Here I go…!”
She made a high-speed charge.
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