Horizon:Volume 6C Chapter 56
Chapter 56: Clever Girl on the Chopping Block
You strike the future
Abandon it and it becomes the past
The sound of a hit fills the present
Point Allocation (Udon)
The Musashi group at the elevated festival could see the straight line of destruction in the Odawara city.
For a few hundred meters in that distant city, the rows of houses were smashed and the straw of their thatched roofs was blasted into the air.
The cloudy sky echoed with the sounds of breaking wood and the reverberation of household belongings rolling and scattering.
“Oh, the result is in.”
While standing below a pine tree on the hill, Masazumi looked at the displayed text.
She compared the report written there with the destruction in Odawara.
“Eh!? What is it!? Are you going to give me money!?”
“Face reality. …You’re one step closer to making some udon.”
“Wow!” Augesvarer smiled and clasped her hands together. “There’s a way to escape this, right!? Right!?”
“I’m glad to see you can remain positive, but you’re going to have to do what you have to do. Also, it seems Bertoni is actually still alive.”
“Eh?” Balfette pointed at the Odawara city. “He survived that?”
“Judge. He’s injured, but he apparently used most of his money on defense.”
“Wow, I just checked and we only have 130 yen left! Shiro-kun, you don’t deserve to live!”
Was his safety or the money more important to her?
…Probably the money…
In a way, she makes it seem more real than he does, thought Masazumi.
But, she thought to change her focus. She could hear the secondary damages of houses collapsing under their own weight and the household belongings scattering around.
…Augesvarer does have a point.
Just like she said, if he was broke and injured…
“Should we have him withdraw…?”
Katou Yoshiaki saw the confirmation of the duel result on her Magie Figur.
She took a breath and wiped away the sweat.
She made sure Weiss Fürstin’s parts were stored in their phase space, but…
For some reason, the previous impact was preventing the storage spell from functioning properly. The parts must have bent because there was a problem with the spell information.
Thus, she activated it with emergency settings. She set it to forced storage mode and shoved the parts into the space.
Then she looked to the destruction in the distance.
“…We can do it.”
They could stop Musashi.
Of course, the Musashi Treasurer could not use near-unlimited money at the moment. This victory was an imperfect victory, just like Fukushima’s initial victory over the Musashi Vice Chancellor. However…
“Fukushima taught us what that means.”
They could not view that as a victory. They had to look at it differently:
“We can do it.”
She could not see the Musashi Treasurer at the other end of the street.
It did not seem he had decided to withdraw yet, but he had not escaped that unharmed. So…
“We can already win when the conditions are right. And you should eventually be within reach.”
Yoshiaki looked up into the cloudy sky.
She spoke into those heavens that had yet to clear up.
“I hope that ‘eventually’ is sooner rather than later.”
She lowered her gaze to the lernen figur displaying the result, but she did not announce her withdrawal.
The rest period lasted an hour. It would be useful to use that time to monitor the actions in Odawara and she wanted some time to rest as well. Instead of rushing, she needed to make use of her time. And…
...What is Kani doing?
She had recently finished a reckless battle against Mogami Yoshiaki, but…
“A karaoke competition? She is having a crazy time for her first battle…”
Ookubo sensed danger within the bath.
…This is not good…
She kept a smile on her face, but things were bad. As for where the threat was found…
…The Satomi Student Council President can’t hold her liquor at all.
You could not even blame it on her being tired.
Ookubo had never before seen someone get drunk after two or three sips of super-weak umeshu.
It seemed pretty dangerous for a politician to have no alcohol tolerance whatsoever.
But at the same time, Kani was incredible.
Even though she had been soaking in the bath for a while, she downed the drinks like they were water. Ookubo ordered some stronger drinks to try to take her out, but…
“Oh, this is really sweet! What a weird flavor!”
…That’s a strong Russian drink…
It was meant to get demons drunk and raise their body temperature in that frigid region. But when that girl drank it…
“There’s this tight feeling in my mouth! Thank you very much! …Oh, you can really taste these vegetables after the drink!”
“You’re really familiar with the etiquette for drinking.”
“Testament! My dad, mom, grandfather, and grandmother are all drinkers! I learned the different flavors by spending time with all of them!”
So she had a quadruple gifted education?
Part of this would be inherited from her family, but hopefully it was not at four times the intensity.
And Ookubo’s protector was about as effective a shield as a piece of paper. When she glanced over at Yoshiyasu…
The swimsuit-wearing girl was resting her head on the edge of the bath. She had a towel folded up and covering her eyes to hide her expression, but…
“Um! Is the Satomi Student Council President not feeling well!?”
“Well, um, she, uh…”
Ookubo thought about it and realized she had seen something similar before.
“Are you familiar with the Satomi clan’s facial care treatments?”
“No, I’m not!”
Neither am I. But Kani sounded interested.
“But I did see it on our divine monitor once! They cover their face, don’t they!?”
“Eh? Yes, um, they do.”
Ookubo nodded and unfolded the towel so it covered Yoshiyasu’s whole face.
The hot and damp towel clung to her face and rose and fell over her mouth as she breathed.
…I’m not trying to assassinate the Satomi Student Council President here, am I?
Well, it doesn’t matter. This is a dangerous situation and dealing with that takes precedence.
If Kani realized that one of them was nothing but a burden, her response to them might change.
And regardless of what she herself intended, she could receive instructions from Houjou or Hashiba.
Especially if that Ootani learned of the situation. As a program, he might insist Kani take the optimal action.
I need to be careful, thought Ookubo.
Ootani was lying down in his Mouse form.
He was on top of the embankment by the ocean.
“It’s so boring on my own…”
He still needed about 10 hours before he recovered from his damage.
Until then, he had to stay put and leave everything to the ether fuel sent from the ley lines and his self-cleaning function.
He could not join the duels, there was no one else here, and he had no hobbies.
All he could do was sleep.
The commentary being sent from Odawara told him that Yoshiaki had defeated the Musashi Treasurer and Kani was engaging a Musashi fighter in a karaoke competition. Part of him wanted to protest risking national interests on karaoke, but he was in his Mouse form, Kani was fighting for Houjou right now, you could say this was a classy thing if you thought of it like the old poetry competitions, and…
“I suppose anything can be a good experience.”
That was his conclusion.
But he was still bored. He did have some snacks for ether lifeforms that the two Technohexen had left for him, but…
…Were they trying to be nice when they left ones shaped like bones and bundles of straw?
What do they think I am? he wondered just before he sensed a presence.
He looked up to find a cat.
It was the one that the Technohexen had been loving on the day before.
He gave a bitter “heh” of laughter, got up, and faced the cat.
“What? Are you all alone too?”
His full body was immediately hit by a cat slap from the right.
It happened so casually that not even Ootani managed to react.
By the time he gasped, he had fallen from the embankment and started rolling along the ground.
After three rotations, he scrambled to his feet.
“Y-you damn feline…!”
It had circled behind him. By the time he gasped again, a cat hammer had slammed down on him from above, pushed him to the ground, and started repeatedly striking him.
“Ah, wait, dammit! Don’t use me as a scratching board! Stop, wait, ahhhhh!? I’m supposed to be monitoring things in Odawara!! You damn feliiiiiiiiine!!!!”
We are being monitored after all, thought Ookubo while sensing the danger of the situation.
This duel would influence the actions of nations.
She had requested the duel, but she had yet to specify a location. But once it began, that would be made known as well.
She had to do something about Yoshiyasu before then.
Of course, she did not have any sobering spells with her. The best she had was one to accelerate the metabolism, which would cause the girl to break down the alcohol more quickly.
She wanted to come up with another idea, but Kani would notice if she tried anything. So…
…I guess I’ll go ask at the attendant’s booth.
They were sure to have something to help overheated customers.
So first she had to withdraw to the changing room and that required an excuse to leave the bath area.
“I’m going to go place another order. Kani-kun, is there anything you would like?”
“Eh? Can’t you use that menu lernen figur?”
She was unexpectedly sharp.
…If I said there’s a secret menu, she’d probably come with me.
So Ookubo smiled bitterly and shook her hand back and forth.
“I drank a lot, remember? I’m going to fix my makeup while I’m at it.”
“Ah! I see! …Good luck!!”
She stood up. She had a habit of placing her towel over her prosthetic left arm, but she was not trying to hide it. The prosthetic was just good for holding a towel. She smiled bitterly at that excuse.
…I can be so stubborn even with myself.
With that thought, she dried off a bit and moved to the changing room.
I haven’t been to a public bath in so long, thought Ookubo in the chilly changing room.
Her home was a mansion on the surface level, so it had its own bath. Her grandfather always took his bath first, but since she also had work to do, she generally did not take her bath until late at night.
It was unusual for her to take a bath at this time.
…Speaking of unusual things since arriving in Odawara, I don’t often duel people either.
This city is full of rarities, she thought while operating a sign frame to open a locker to her left. She pulled out her wallet and put on a stole so she would not get too cold.
The attendant’s booth was near the entrance on the left. It was a counter that looked like a hole opened in the wall. The changing room had rental tables for playing shogi or chess and you could even do some cooking in the back.
Ookubo asked a question of the automaton standing behind the counter.
“Excuse me. …Do you have any spells or whatever for sobering someone up?”
There were two automatons behind the counter and the one out front ignored her. The one behind that moved. However, she also ignored Ookubo, stayed out of the other automaton’s way, and moved straight toward the very back of the counter area.
Ookubo nodded once while still being ignored.
“Please. How much does it cost?”
At the same time, she leaped to the left.
That decision proved to be a good one.
A blade stabbed straight into the spot she had just vacated.
It was an enemy.
Ookubo’s bare feet sounded on the floor as she kept her balance.
Someone was hidden behind the counter.
The blade that swung from behind cover was a wakizashi-class double-edged knife. The thick blade was meant for use against demons or small dragons.
She managed to identify the wielder’s uniform by the sleeve visible on the arm swinging the long knife.
“Hexagone Française. …You’re Seki Masasada, aren’t you!?”
Seki was surprised by the enemy’s decision.
…What incredible intuition…!
After losing sight of Yoshiaki, she had set her sights on Ookubo. The girl’s position had been readily apparent with Ujiteru and Genan in pursuit and a few other conditions had aligned to make sniping look like a good bet at first.
But then the Satomi Student Council President had arrived.
She had saved Ookubo from Seki’s sniper shot and sheltered her in the bathhouse.
Seki had known Kani was already in the bathhouse.
There was no reason to target Ookubo if Kani would defeat her.
She had considered searching for another opponent, but Mouri Terumoto wanted results from Houjou and Musashi.
Houjou had already had Genan drop out of the fight.
Ujiteru must have had some kind of idea because he had not done anything even after his rest period ended. He was working at a café and creating an unprecedented situation where “automaton Houjou Ujiteru is cooking soba in a maid uniform”, but since participants would gather there during their break periods, it was hard to make an attack.
Houjou also had Kotarou and Ujinao, but those two had gone to their base at Odawara Castle and were best left to the Reine des Garous.
As for Musashi, the curry boy had decided to withdraw and the merchant boy had been defeated by Hashiba.
That meant Seki had to go after Ookubo. The girl was a good opponent for her in a few different ways.
But if she was defeated by Kani, it would waste a lot of time and she might even withdraw.
Seki had wanted to end this with a sniper shot, but if she stayed put in a sniping position, another participant might attack her.
…So I decided to enter the bathhouse.
How had Ookubo sensed she was hiding there?
Seki felt like her timing had been poor, but it really just meant her opponent was better than her.
In that case, there was no point in hiding.
She nodded and used a signe cadre to report the beginning of the battle. She was really supposed to do that before starting, but the first attack had been meaningless anyway. She thought of it as a greeting.
“Here I go.”
Ookubo forcibly swallowed a heavy breath.
She was panicking on the inside. She forced her body to move as it tried to tense up and she started by opening a locker.
She did not have time to put on her clothes, but she could grab the two swords she normally wore at her hip.
She grabbed the stockers that doubled as large and small scabbards and she felt the weight of the weapons in her hands.
The sense of the metal did a lot to calm her heart. Then she started sweating.
…That was way too close…
She had noticed Seki due to something seeming ever-so-slightly off.
There had been two automatons behind the counter: one in front and one behind.
They had ignored her because of the rules of this battle.
But if she ordered some medicine, they would ignore her but still bring the medicine to the counter. Instead of serving her the medicine, they would effectively grab some medicine and place it on the counter for no real reason.
So the rear automaton had started to fulfill her request.
She had walked to the back of the counter area to grab the sobering spell or whatever it would have been.
However, Ookubo had sensed something odd in that movement.
The automaton had stayed out of the other automaton’s way and moved straight toward the very back of the counter area.
…That’s the kitchen entrance.
They would not keep a spell or medicine in the kitchen.
Something like that would be kept on the shelves to either side of the kitchen entrance.
And automatons always took the optimal action.
If they had a destination, they would take the shortest route there.
But this automaton had walked straight back instead of diagonally to the left or right.
If the medicine had been on the right, she would have walked diagonally to the right.
If the medicine had been on the left, she would have walked diagonally to the left.
In that case, thought Ookubo. Someone had to be behind the counter on the left.
Someone, that is, who the automaton was ignoring but had to avoid.
In other words, an enemy.
That instantaneous decision led to the present situation.
Ookubo breathed in to regather her body’s strength.
In that instant, someone moved up onto the counter as if sliding on their belly.
It was Seki. She held a pistol in each hand, both aimed at Ookubo.
Ookubo took action the moment she saw the glint of black metal. She moved forward.
Gunshots rang out.
Kani soaked in the bath while watching a recording of her battle on a lernen figur.
The footage was focused on her during the battle. It was a program she had installed on the lernen figurs she used for acceleration spells and other spells and the footage would often be fragmentary, but it followed her throughout.
She would use the recording for simulations and training later and it was much more complete once she started ejecting the spears. That was because the lernen figurs used to control the eight spears were recording her. And as she watched that…
…Wow, this is embarrassing…!
She was often shown footage of her training. That way she could check to see if she was moving like she wanted and locate any mistakes or flaws.
But an actual battle was different.
The camera’s “eye” moved based on her actions, so the image swung all over the place and her movements would not settle down. Based on her best from training, she had surpassed her normal momentum, but her accuracy had dropped to about 70%.
It was her first time on the battlefield, she had been up against a powerful enemy, and she had been pressed for time – a number of excuses came to mind, but as she watched the rough footage…
…I’m just inexperienced…!
She had wanted to do her best during the battle against Yoshiaki and this let her review how well she had done.
However, there was one thing missing from this footage: sound.
Ahead and to her left, Yoshiyasu remained motionless while performing her facial care treatment.
Kani was trying to watch the footage without Yoshiyasu noticing, so she could not turn the sound on. However…
There was a way. She could use an auditory spell to turn two lernen figurs into headphones.
She could simply stop reviewing the footage if Yoshiyasu ended her facial care treatment and began to move.
…That sounds good!
She was kind of excited because she realized she might hear Yoshiaki’s voice.
She drank some more alcohol from a bamboo mug floating on a tray and she booted up the auditory spell.
The two lernen figurs that floated in a headphone shape were rotating, growing, and shrinking based on the sound they were playing. She grabbed them and placed them over her ears.
She thought she had heard gunshots, but why would she hear that?
The recording spell may have picked up the sounds of some other battle while recording hers.
Yoshiaki appeared on the screen but immediately swung her body and vanished, so Kani focused.
That had been an incredible experience. She lowered her gaze toward the footage to remind her of that.
…What kind of experience is this…!?
Ookubo defended against Seki’s gunfire.
Her locker’s door was at the same height as the counter, so she had flung it open with a snap of her left arm.
It hit the bullets. The two bullets had definitely been aimed at her face and upper chest.
But the locker door was made of wood and the bullets easily splintered it.
…This is way too dangerous…!
Ookubo shouted in her heart, but she was already on the move.
She ducked below the splinters of the locker door and moved forward.
She kept low, but immediately twisted her body to take a legs-first sliding pose.
Seki had entered the changing room by sliding sideways over the counter, so Ookubo took a course to slip under her. Also…
She drew her short sword and swung it upwards.
While Seki slid in from above, Ookubo made an attack from below as she passed by.
But Seki had seen it coming.
With a gun in each hand, she could not control her movement. So instead, she got up on her elbows and knees without slowing her sliding momentum.
She made a sideways jump from the counter and soared into the changing room.
She dodged Ookubo’s sword.
While sliding, Ookubo’s back caught on the floor and made a loud sound. It tugged at her skin and created a burning feeling.
But she slipped below the counter and reached the packed dirt floor of the entranceway.
She heard flapping clothing in the changing room behind her. Seki had landed.
Ookubo did not hesitate. She rolled forward with her short sword in hand.
She leaped outside.
Ookubo went outside.
She could see the cloudy sky overhead. She belatedly realized she could hear cicada cries.
But she could not just stand around. Seki was coming from behind.
She had to escape quickly. She was unsure if she could successfully elude this opponent for the next half hour, but hesitating would not help.
Still barefoot, she moved to the right. She held the short sword in her right hand and going right placed the bathhouse on her right, so she could use the weapon to deter the enemy.
But just as she chose right and attempted to pass by the entrance to the adjacent men’s bath…
The next thing she knew, her body had been blown to the right, her vision went dark, and…
She realized she had been sent flipping sideways through the air.
She had been sniped and she had caught it on her prosthetic left arm.
A thought entered her mind for just a moment.
…Two of them!?
She mistakenly thought the enemy was working with someone.
But that was not the case.
She had been sniped.
When she was fleeing from Genan, Yoshiyasu had saved her and then roughly pushed her to the ground. But that had been to move her out of the path of a sniper bullet.
Seki had made that sniper shot.
…I’m so dumb…!
Seki had aimed pistols at her earlier, hadn’t she?
Why had she not connected that gun attack with the previous sniper shot?
Seki did not need to pursue her to fire on her. She only had to set up her sniper rifle at the bathhouse’s entrance and remotely control it with gravitational control or a spell.
Then she only had to get Ookubo to leave the bathhouse.
Even from the narrow entranceway, the sniper rifle could easily shoot the target.
And that was exactly what happened. Ookubo’s body was shaking from the impact and her limbs were spread out as she flipped through the air.
She was sent right back into the darkness of the changing room from which she had left.
Seki breathed a sigh of relief.
…My plan worked.
Musashi’s Representative Committee Head was collapsed on the floor in front of her.
She lay face down with her head turned toward the entrance. Her white stole almost seemed to be covering up her body.
“That looks about right for a summer nap…”
Seki raised her pistols. She stood about 5 meters away, so she could not possibly miss. However…
Seki heard an unexpected noise and took a defensive stance.
She heard something moving overhead.
…Was it a trap?
She had set up her own sniper trap, so she looked up, wondering if Ookubo had set up a trap of her own.
There was something there.
A silver color was stabbed into the entranceway ceiling at the end of the pole there.
It was the short sword Ookubo had held. When the girl was sent flying by the sniper shot, it must have slipped from her grasp. The blade was shaking unstably.
Seki estimated it would eventually fall down and roll along the packed dirt floor.
…There is no cause for concern.
But just as she thought that…
Ookubo’s body was moving.
She was crawling to bring her trembling body outside.
Her knees were too weak to stand up, so she used her thighs and arms while lifting her hips and working her way toward the sunlight shining through the entrance. And…
Ookubo suddenly raised her head.
Seki knew what she was looking at: the sword stabbed into the entranceway ceiling.
She was waiting for it to fall and moving into position so she could catch it.
…It is no use.
Seki raised her guns and took aim.
She prepared to squeeze the triggers to fire, but…
“Musashi Representative Committee Head! Are you still not done!?”
A girl’s voice reached them from the bath.
…Hashiba’s Kani Saizou?
Satomi Student Council President Satomi Yoshiyasu would be there as well. And based on Kani’s tone of voice, the three of them had been speaking together.
If they had formed some kind of pact, they might interfere here.
I need to end this quickly, decided Seki as she aimed her guns at Ookubo.
The stole was in the way.
She wanted to target the girl’s torso or head, but the white cloth blocked her view.
Since the guns would make noise, they would only invite interference if she did not finish it in a single shot.
But targeting the legs sticking out from the bottom of the stole would not be fatal.
Meanwhile, Ookubo’s sluggish movements brought her to the entranceway’s packed dirt floor. She placed her right hand on the edge of the entranceway.
And she pulled herself fully onto the packed dirt floor.
The sword was overhead and its blade was about to come free from the ceiling.
Seki could not give her opponent even the slightest possibility of victory. She knew that with the certainty of her Belle de Marionnette sensibilities.
She would crush the enemy’s optimal.
That was the certain method a Belle de Marionnette used to achieve victory.
So she moved. To ensure the girls in the bath did not hear, she attached the pistols to her waist hard points and drew the long knife from her apron.
Then she took a virtual breath and moved.
She attacked crawling Ookubo from behind.
Seki took action.
She moved to strike Ookubo who was crawling toward where the short sword would fall.
She targeted the girl’s torso.
The stole was in the way, but there was no helping that. She targeted the body pushing the stole up from below.
She made the attack.
While holding the long knife in a backhand grip, she raised it to face height and swung her entire body forward to slam it down.
Or she should have.
Just as she stabbed the blade toward the stole, something got in the way.
It was a scabbard. Ookubo had worn two scabbards on her waist hard points and the one for the short sword appeared from below the stole. It slid Seki’s long knife to the side.
It was made of lightweight metal, so it split as it protected its owner.
The long knife’s blade was deflected and it stabbed into the floor.
It made a dull sound.
Ookubo had avoided the attack and Seki decided it was no coincidence. That kind of defense and movement did not happen by random chance.
Ookubo could not move her body properly.
But she had made the optimum response under those circumstances.
Since she could not recover from her weakened state, she had not tried to hide it and instead used it to guide Seki’s actions. She had lured Seki into attempting to finish off a weakened opponent.
If you could predict your opponent’s attack, defending was easy.
And Ookubo had crawled to the entranceway.
Seki had been unable to let her go any further than that.
But, thought Seki. I am in danger if I cannot surpass her expectations.
So while pulling the long knife out of the floor…
Seki kicked her right foot into crawling Ookubo’s legs.
She rolled the girl’s body past where the sword was stabbed into the ceiling.
Her slender body rose into the air, her back slammed into the entranceway column, and she bounced off to roll along the dirt ground.
But that was not all.
“This is in the way.”
While walking forward in pursuit of Ookubo, Seki swung her long knife upwards from forward to back.
She let go of the long knife and used gravitational control to strike the short sword in the ceiling.
With a metallic clang, the short sword came loose and stabbed into the changing room’s floor.
Ookubo no longer had a weapon.
And Ookubo coughed quickly.
The kick and the impact from rolling outside had reverberated through her body. Her lungs were shaken and she must have been having difficulty breathing.
Seki approached the girl who doubled over and tried to breathe while lying on her side.
Seki lightly but sharply shoved her toes below the girl’s head.
This blow did not have the force to send her flying, but that was one of the human body’s weak points. Sending a vibration through the throat and sternum would knock the breath out of her and drain her body of strength.
That knowledge was used for assassinations.
Before killing the target, you struck a weak point like that so they would be too limp to scream, struggle, or tense up.
That made it easier to remove the blade from their body and prevented anyone nearby from noticing.
As Musashi’s Representative Committee Head, this girl would not be aware of that.
Thus, she would have no countermeasure for it.
After an instant of tension, Ookubo’s body went limp.
Seki used her toes to roll her onto her back and then prepared her long knife. She was prepared to lean forward and drive the blade into Ookubo.
Then she noticed something.
When the stole fell away, swimsuited Ookubo was missing something: her left arm.
The stole had been hiding that fact all this time. And just as she saw it, Seki saw something stabbing out from the left side of her chest.
It was a blade.
While she leaned forward, this attack had come from above and pierced through her back. It was…
She looked up to the left side of her back and saw a white arm holding a sword.
It was Ookubo’s prosthetic.
Ookubo caught her breath.
…It made it.
She had never been relying on the short sword stabbed into the ceiling.
Her hopes had been riding on the prosthetic arm and sword caught on the eaves at the entrance.
When she was sniped and blown away, she had made a few predictions about the future.
The most important was that the impact would keep her from moving for a while.
If she could not move, carrying a weapon was meaningless. In fact, there was a chance the enemy could steal the weapon and it could lead the enemy to be extra cautious or extra quick to finish her off.
So she had immediately drawn the sword and used the flailing of her limbs to remove her prosthetic arm.
Then she had left them elsewhere so she could reclaim them once she recovered.
She had been fortunate the enemy kicked her.
She had not known exactly when the arm and sword stabbed into the eaves would fall down.
But when she rolled outside after being kicked, the blade in the eaves had been visible and hitting the column had shaken it. So…
“It made it.”
She could move her body. She had been surprised when Seki kicked her in a weak point, but her mental preparedness had helped her recover more quickly.
She took in a lungful of air and moved her body.
Seki stood more above her than in front of her.
The automaton looked unsure what to do about the sword stabbing into her back.
That created an opening.
Ookubo took action. Her body was still trembling, but there was one part that would not be shaken and that she could still move.
“My prosthetic arm…!”
Something spilled from Seki’s back and into view.
It was a white prosthetic left arm. The upper arm had split from the earlier sniper shot, but Ookubo hopped up toward its connector.
She only had to move for an instant.
The arm connection could be established in an instant. She had paid a lot of money to have it special made that way.
Seki understood what was happening and stabbed down with the long knife in her right hand.
But it was too late.
Ookubo connected the arm to herself as if slamming her body into Seki’s left side.
As for the long knife…
She pulled back with the prosthetic arm to push the blade deep into Seki’s back.
The long knife was deflected when it hit the sword stabbing out of her chest.
Then Ookubo moved forward.
As if passing by Seki, she threw her weak body forward but gave accurate instructions to her prosthetic arm.
“Cut her down…!”
The blade had entered Seki’s body diagonally.
When she forcibly swung the sword around, it sliced through Seki’s body from the left side to the right of her chest.
A tremor ran through Seki’s body. Her senses had been instantaneously cut off in response to the slice from the foreign object.
This opponent felt no pain.
But regardless, Ookubo made a few more motions while continuing to hack through Seki.
The swinging blade sliced through the automaton’s torso and smashed the internal components.
Just as the drawn sword broke, Ookubo’s body left the entranceway and rolled into the changing room.
Ookubo finally relaxed her body.
She wobbled on the changing room floor and rolled from her right shoulder.
Her slender body bumped back-first into the bottom of the counter, but she stopped there.
The exhaustion was intense, but words escaped her mouth:
“I did it…”
She had won.
This was a Mouri opponent. It was another Mouri victory following Hassan Furubushi’s.
With two victories, they were as good as guaranteed to get the two Logismoi Oplo.
She had achieved success.
That put a smile on her face and she did not fight it when her body collapsed to the left.
A moment later, a long knife was slammed below her left collarbone.
Ookubo’s eyes widened at being pinned to the wall by a blade and she looked forward.
Seki was there.
She had a blade sticking out from the right side of her chest and she touched the left-to-right slice in the chest of her clothing.
“My apologies. …I failed to correct for your falling motion and stabbed you in suboptimal spot.”
She then pushed on the long knife.
It was a casual but forceful movement.
The thick blade below Ookubo’s left collarbone moved with slippery speed as it left her shoulder and entered the wall.
There was barely any pain. The edge of the blade only felt like having something sharp pressed against her.
She only felt an unpleasant sensation like something was leaving her body. Almost like her body had become a mass of flesh and bones meant to let a blade pass through it.
“Please do not exhale. It will relax your muscles and allow the bleeding to begin.”
Seki spoke calmly, but her body strained. And all of a sudden…
She expressionlessly released a breath, so she must have taken considerable damage.
However, she literally “extended” her left arm backwards.
She released the joints to send her hand back toward something.
“I will borrow this short sword.”
She held it in her left hand.
Her right hand pushed on the long knife and her left hand raised the short sword.
And she leaned over Ookubo.
Ookubo grabbed the hilt of the long knife with her left hand.
But that hand merely held Seki’s hand.
Seki had the stronger grip and Ookubo could not press her weight down on it like Seki could.
“Shall I break your fingers? I have determined I can end this while I do so.”
Seki moved to strike with the short sword.
In that instant, Ookubo pulled her right leg back to her chest. She pressed her right knee against her chest.
“If you’re taking the short sword, then I’ll borrow this.”
Her toes had grabbed a black metal pistol which she passed to her right hand. It was one of the ones at Seki’s hip.
“Sorry about having sticky toes, but don’t worry. I won’t let anyone hear the gunshot.”
Ookubo pressed the muzzle against Seki’s stomach and pulled the trigger.
Seki was shot at point-blank range.
The impact hit her stomach. But…
…I can endure this!
She was wearing an armor apron and the maid uniform was also armored.
Plus, her current Belle de Marionnette body was an anti-machine model. Her body was covered by flexible armor and could absorb the impact of a bullet.
She concluded that she could endure two shots.
Besides, her opponent was exhausted. Ookubo’s movements when making the previous sword attack proved that she had yet to recover from the damage of the initial sniper attack.
Her arm could not bear the gun’s recoil.
Two shots was likely her limit. She could fire two shots, but her hand would fail to hold onto the gun for the third. And then…
…It is my turn!
But just as Seki thought that, a third shot hit her stomach.
A fourth and fifth shot arrived. And…
Her apron was torn apart and something was destroyed below: her body.
Her stomach structure split open, and…
“So it took six shots.”
As the force of the impacts accumulated and reverberated in the core of her body, Seki felt herself floating.
Her unsteady vision looked down to see Ookubo looking up at her.
She saw something at the girl’s throat: light.
It was the ether light of a spell charm.
“This was for the Satomi Student Council President, but of course I’ll use it if it’s there on the counter. …It’s a sobering spell. In other words, it activates the mind,” said Ookubo. “Simply put, it wakes you up and lets you move your body. …And now to end this.”
She fired the seventh shot. And on the eighth shot…
She must have missed Seki’s floating body because the bullet flew past the counter.
The automatons behind the counter looked up at the newly-formed hole in the ceiling but ignored the fighters.
At the same time, the gunshots had caused Seki’s right hand to go limp, so Ookubo’s prosthetic arm deflected the fingers holding the long knife.
As Seki watched, Ookubo forcefully pulled out the long knife along a perfectly straight path.
Seki sensed danger.
The enemy was following her optimum, but Seki could not move.
The repeated gunshots had lifted her body into the air with her upper body collapsed nearly 90 degrees forward.
She only had the short sword in her left hand.
As she forcefully swung that around, Ookubo had already pulled out the long knife and stood up.
A moment later, her white left hand grabbed ahold of Seki’s face.
And she used the full strength of that prosthetic.
“I sometimes work part-time in the engine division. …I’ve had it reinforced.”
She forcefully slammed Seki’s head onto the counter while it was turned to the left.
A powerful blow struck the right side of Seki’s head and her vision shook.
Of course, her face was turned to the side. And it was turned so the back of her head was facing Ookubo.
She got me, thought Seki.
Her opponent had done damage to her chest, her stomach, and now her head.
Every one of her Belle de Marionnette cores had been damaged beyond the point of on-the-fly adjustments.
Her princess had wanted a victory over Houjou or Musashi. At this rate, she would be unable to provide that.
For a Belle de Marionnette, it was humiliating to fail to grant her master’s wishes.
Besides, combat was her only strong point. She was a defective doll. Her princess had still given her a position of importance, so if she could not repay her for providing that raison d'être…
“Why did I even inherit this name…!?”
But she did have one stroke of luck. When she hit the counter, the sword stabbed into her chest exited through her back.
Without that impediment in her chest, her body no longer strained when she moved her arms.
…This is my chance.
Ookubo stood to her right. She had to stand there because she had to hold Seki in place with her prosthetic left arm. However, that meant she could only attack using her right hand.
Even if she used the long knife, it would be a right-handed attack past her left arm, and how much power could she really place behind that?
Ookubo must not have known what to do next because she gathered strength in her left arm.
The inner shell of Seki’s head strained as it was pushed down onto the counter.
But despite the static entering her vision, she passed the short sword from her left hand to her right below the counter. She spun the hilt around in her hand and grasped it tightly.
…I will take this victory…!
She swung the short sword outwards.
Her target was Ookubo’s left side. The slash would be fatal to a human.
But that was fine. Nothing mattered more than victory right now. So she released her elbow joint mid-slash to make a high-speed snap toward Ookubo.
A moment later, Seki noticed two oddities.
First, her sword strike had sliced through empty air. And second…
The prosthetic arm pressing on her head had gone limp.
Those two oddities could only mean one thing.
Ookubo had removed the prosthetic arm from her shoulder and dodged.
Seki understood that Ookubo’s movement was a form of evasive action.
She had likely done everything she could to dodge Seki’s attack.
As a result, she had given up on holding Seki in place. That meant Seki had her freedom back, but it also invited a certain danger.
Ookubo’s left arm no longer got in her way.
Seki knew she had to move quickly.
At the same moment, the limp prosthetic arm fell away from the side of her face.
That opened up the left side of her vision.
She could see the ceiling.
And she saw something there.
A shutter was lowering toward the counter.
It was a security shutter that would close to protect what was inside.
The Belle de Marionnettes had ignored her throughout the battle.
But they would react to the surrounding situation.
Earlier, Ookubo had fired on her, but she had missed the final shot which had flown past the counter. That had not been the result of carelessness.
It had been to make the automatons close the shutter.
And sure enough, the security shutter was lowering. Its metal material was made to resist both physical and spell attacks.
Seki moved. She moved her head to pull it out before the shutter fell.
“You can have this back.”
The long knife pierced her through the back and into the counter below her.
She was pinned in place and her head groaned as the shutter tried to crush it. However…
She pulled her body out.
She let the long knife slice through her chest and forcibly distorted the shape of her head to pull herself free.
With control of her full body restored, she stood up.
Ookubo saw something unbelievable.
An automaton covered in broken parts stood before her.
The shutter had left a mark on the left side of her head, there was a horizontal slash through her chest, there was a vertical slash up through her right collar bone, and the stomach of her inner suit shook past the torn apron.
The only thing supporting her at this point was a portion of the external armor and her gravitational control.
But she turned to face Ookubo.
Seki opened a signe cadre and spoke into it.
“I will fulfill your request.”
What could she do in that state?
But Ookubo heard a voice coming from that signe cadre.
It was Mouri Terumoto.
Her voice was staticky over the divine transmission.
“Well done. I’m following the situation. …You did well to stand back up on your own at the end there, Seki Masasada. My Belle de Marionnette had better not lose.”
“Don’t lose. …Simply accept defeat.”
Those words stopped Seki’s movement. And she finally nodded.
“Testament. Move on to the next one, Seki. And before that, show her the conqueror’s courtesy.”
“Testament,” repeated Seki before moving again.
Ookubo saw the damaged automaton placed a hand on her chest and kneel.
“In the name of Lady Terumoto’s generosity…I will accept defeat here, Lady Ookubo Nagayasu.”
In front of Ookubo, the automaton bowed once and then stood up.
Ookubo felt like the automaton was smiling a little.
But Seki’s eyes were barely focused beyond her cracked glasses.
Even so, she spoke.
“I am so glad the princess has not given up on me.”
“…Where will you go now?”
“I will make what readjustments I can…and move on to Houjou.”
With that, Seki bowed again.
If the previous one had been for her master, this one would be from her personally.
In an instant, Seki vanished.
Seki Masasada was a Mouri ninja. No matter how badly damaged she was, she would not do an inadequate job as long as she knew her master had not given up on her.
“Honestly…that really is crazy.”
Ookubo muttered to herself as she slumped down to the floor.
She intentionally opened her mouth wide as she spoke.
“I can’t keep going like this.”
The warm bleeding below her left collarbone had started on her back as well.
A few sign frames appeared and began healing with divine protections. It had been a sharp blade, so the wound would close up before long. She knew further treatment would be necessary to ensure the disturbance to the blood flow did not leave a mark as it healed. However, that was not her present concern.
“Hey, excuse me.”
She turned toward the shuttered counter and placed an order.
“Could I get something to wipe myself off with, some food with a lot of iron, and something to drink?”
“I’m curious about the karaoke in the bath, but I want to sleep so bad.”
I really am exhausted, she thought deep in her heart.
The shutter slowly opened behind her.
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