Horizon:Volume 6C Chapter 59

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Chapter 59: Seducer in a Place of Awakening[edit]

Horizon6-C478.jpg

Question One

What was your first impression

Of what this looked like?

Point Allocation (Heel)


Shigenaga felt her chest shaking.

Hm?

She opened her eyes and saw a dimly-lit Far Eastern room.

The cloudy afternoon light shined in through the paper window.

This was a room in a traveler’s inn within the Odawara city. She had rented it out to get some rest, but…

“I slept really well.”

The vibration between her breasts was the alarm function of a sleeping spell.

Sound could have alerted others to her presence, so she had set it to vibrate.

Her pockets were all full of weapons, so she had opened the chest of her shirt and stuck the spell charm there, but…

“I ended up sleeping for about three hours.”

She checked the charm and found the fan-shaped seal that functioned as a timer was completely used up.

The rest period was one hour.

The following two hours had allowed her body and Internal Blessings to recover, but she could have been attacked at any time throughout. However…

I had it set to wake me if an enemy approached, but things were awfully peaceful.

Several duels had been held, so progress was being made. She opened a sankt okno that listed the results of the other participants.

The duels had reached the end of the second wave.

Most fighters were in their second rest period and discussing with their nations whether they should search for another opponent or withdraw.

“It’s nice when you have enough friendly nations around that a negotiated war is possible.”

People could be injured or killed in a battle. But you could only have a battle qualify as a whole “war” with a friendly nation that was focused on making peace.

The Far East would probably be much more peaceful if all wars could be done like this.

Thinking that may have disqualified her as a military commander’s name inheritor.

But a commander’s strength was not just measured by their ability to strike the enemy. Their ability to minimize damages to their own forces also mattered. So she felt resolving things peacefully was a good thing. However…

“It doesn’t always work out like that.”

These nations could only hold hands and have a negotiated war because of a larger war awaiting them afterwards.

The Kantou Liberation.

None of the nations had the excess strength to fight a proper war before that.

To put it another way, without a war as large as the Kantou Liberation, the odds were good the Siege of Odawara would also have been held as a proper war.

In that case, Houjou’s list of castles would have been defeated one at a time before they negotiated and tried to make peace. That would have increased and better defined each nation’s share. It would have worn them down as nations, but they might have gained even more.

But the nations wanted to hurry to the Kantou Liberation, so they had shared their interests and viewpoints while hurrying through the Siege of Odawara.

That was partially because things had become centered on the major nation of Mouri and because Musashi held a lot of influence.

Trying to have things your way while ignoring those two nations’ intentions would not help you survive in the age to come.

The other nations had decided their best bet was to cooperate and coexist with those two nations.

Honestly.

Sviet Rus had a demon emperor, yet here they were accepting that a nation of vainglory and pride and a wandering vessel were crucial to the Far East.

But, thought Shigenaga. We are at least indebted to Musashi.

They had given Sviet Rus’s emperor a dream as a ruler, gotten him to look ahead to the future, and even helped bring Former Vice Chancellor Marfa back.

And while doing that, they had gotten the Shibata forces to withdraw from Sviet Rus and they would arrange a trade route to Kantou.

Even though the trade route could introduce the possibility of an invasion of the Edo region.

If that meant Musashi trusted them, she could only call them naïve. But…

“…I wish we could be as carefree as Mogami.”

Shigenaga got up.

She was not careless enough to position herself on the window side of the room. She kept her back to the closet on the wall and she took a breath.

And when she checked the results again, she saw that Mogami had been acting pretty wildly.

Yoshiaki had defeated Hashiba’s Kani and Yoshiyasu had earned a draw with Houjou’s Genan and with Kani again.

She doubted those battles meant much to Mogami, but if those fighters had been targeting the Musashi forces, then they were probably acting as guards.

Mogami had chosen to protect Musashi.

If another country tried to take advantage of Musashi’s naiveté, the fox and the dog would put a stop to it.

Both of them were from nations with Testament descriptions of decline and they would be supported by Musashi.

If they were both working for Musashi now, they would become very troublesome.

Both foxes and dogs took good care of their families. And both Mogami and Satomi likely saw Musashi as part of their family now. So they would act as their conscience led them.

“I really wish we could give it so little thought.”

She wished Sviet Rus could just ignore the consequences.

But at the moment…

I should probably continue fighting…

Shigenaga stood up. She opened one hand and gathered strength until faint ether light appeared there. She had apparently recovered a fair amount of Internal Blessings.

In that case, she thought while standing to the left of the window. Someone could be lying in wait between the room’s exit and the front entrance, so she would leave through the window. With that decided, she steadied her breathing.

Then an unexpected light appeared.

It was a sankt okno from Sviet Rus.

Asa-no-Bu: “Shigenaga-kun. Can you hear me?”

It was 1st Special Duty Officer “Zhong Kui” Saitou.


Shigenaga had a faint inkling what this was about, but she asked anyway.

“What do you need, Saitou-san?”

“Testament,” he replied. And after a breath, “Shigenaga-kun. You are being instructed to withdraw. …Can you?”

I knew it, she thought.

She had felt some regret when she saw the results, but…

“I will obey. …But might I ask why?”

The sense she got from the divine transmission changed.

Someone else was going to speak. And it was of course…

“Shigenaga-kun, it is I. …First, let me congratulate you on your victory.”

Kagekatsu.

If he was handling this himself, he had to be pretty bored…no, this had to be pretty important.

“Chancellor. Why are you asking me to withdraw?”

“Testament. The situation is not looking good for Musashi.”

“Testament. Their Treasurer has lost to both Date and Houjou and the other two have each won against Mouri. That does seem a bit different from their original goal.”

“It does indeed,” agreed Kagekatsu. And after a two beat pause, “Shigenaga-kun. …Um, may I make a suggestion?”

She already knew what their emperor wanted to say.

She was thinking more or less the same thing.

“You don’t need to worry about it, Chancellor. …We only need to give Musashi the rights won with our victory over Houjou.”

But…

“Of course, we will take something in exchange. We can view that as our goal here.”

“…Sorry, Shigenaga-kun.”

He could not hide the happiness in his voice even as he apologized, but that was just who their emperor was. However…

“You have my thanks.”

She could hardly complain when he thanked her in such an apologetic tone.

That’s not really fair, thought Shigenaga with a bitter smile. This must be what Marfa likes about him.

But it would be difficult to give her rights to Musashi as things were.

“What will we do about this?” she asked. “Will they negotiate with you back in Sviet Rus?”

“Oh, I will field this one,” said Saitou. “Shigenaga-kun? I would prefer if we avoided any negotiations with Sviet Rus itself. After all, we are supposed to be on Hashiba’s side until Sekigahara. If we are too open in our support of Musashi, Hashiba might interfere.”

“Then I just have to duel one of Musashi’s fighters and lose.”

KageV: “You cannot do that, Shigenaga-kun…! It would not be fair to shame you in that way!”

Why could she hear his exact tone of voice when it was only text?

But she smiled bitterly when she realized what it meant for him to intervene on her behalf like that.

“Then what will we do?”

“Testament. Sviet Rus has another slot for a fighter. We will use that to have someone fight on our behalf.”

“…You mean someone who will intentionally lose to Musashi?”

That was quite something. It would be humiliating for that person. Doing so seemed like it would destroy Sviet Rus’s dignity, but…

“Is anyone in Sviet Rus really willing to accept that?”

“No, that is the hard part,” said Kagekatsu. “We are honestly not sure how to deal with him.”

“Huh?”

She was not sure what he meant, but Saitou spoke up without trying to hide his exasperation.

“We clearly rejected his offer because he would be of no use to us, but he insisted on taking part because it is in the Testament. I doubt he stands a chance against Musashi – or rather, he has already been defeated once – but that is why he wants revenge.”

“Hm… They sound quite brazen…”

That meant there was someone who wanted to strike back at Musashi after a previous loss.

“So we will see how this person does and, if they lose, give our rights to Musashi?”

Saitou thought that person was almost guaranteed to lose.

Will it really work out that well? wondered Shigenaga, but this was a suggestion from the 1st Special Duty Officer.

“Have you considered what to do if this person defeats a Musashi fighter, Saitou-san?”

“Testament. In that case, we will have no choice but to engage in international negotiations.”

If they had planned it out to that extent, she would leave it with them.

Shigenaga sighed and opened a new sankt okno.

She connected to the divine network containing general information on the Siege of Odawara and saw her withdrawal instructions from Sviet Rus. She removed her hat to accept.

Her Siege of Odawara had ended.

“Now, then.”

When she closed the sankt okno, it felt like the surrounding scene and information all carried different meaning.

This was a battlefield, but it was also Odawara.

I guess I’ll grab something to eat and head back…

She jumped through the open window and out below the cloudy sky.

The Odawara city was damaged a lot more than before she went to sleep, but…

“Now…”

One thing bothered her.

“How will this other person fight against Musashi?”


Narumi felt she had made an error. She had tried returning to the battlefield for Date, but…

This is the second rest period.

The second wave of results was coming in and nothing much was happening.

She viewed a sign frame below the cloudy sky and saw that Musashi was in a slump.

“Will they really make it through this…?”

The screen also showed a few nations or personnel who had decided to withdraw.

Houjou’s multiple withdrawals would be a problem for Musashi.

Houjou Genan and Katou Yoshiaki, who counted as Houjou here, were both withdrawing from the battlefield. Yoshiaki’s withdrawal was especially bad because she had defeated Musashi’s Treasurer.

That meant Houjou could demand one right from Musashi.

And yet Musashi wanted a victory over Houjou so they could gain permission to enter Houjou’s ruins.

How is this going to turn out?

Narumi was officially with Date, but she saw herself as part of Musashi’s side.

She knew Masamune would be generous in all this. Katakura did not matter.

After all, she thought. I just have to attack Houjou myself.

Something might change if Date had one of Houjou’s rights.

Narumi checked the sign frame.

The available Houjou fighters were Houjou Ujiteru, who was serving food at the café being used as a rest spot, and Kotarou and Houjou Ujinao, who were both in Odawara Castle.

She could conclude Houjou Ujiteru would be the easiest target.

He had been repaired, but the exhaustion and damage from his previous battle would have an effect. However…

Since he hasn’t made his move yet, he must have some kind of plan.

Houjou Ujiteru would end his career here at the Siege of Odawara.

He would likely be involved during the Kantou Liberation, but his power as a name inheritor would end here.

So she wanted to let him fulfill that role.

“I sure have gotten soft.”

After all…

“Here I am responding to a surprise attack without exterminating them.”

Someone tried to charge at her from behind, so she turned around and dropped her prosthetic leg’s heel on them.

She scored a direct hit.


The last things Sanada Nobuyuki saw were the colors dark brown and white.

It was a Far Eastern uniform. Specifically, the crotch of a girl’s summer uniform.

He gasped.

Is she seducing me!?

But now was not the time. He had to make the most of this surprise attack.

He had gone to the trouble of forcing his way into the Siege of Odawara as one of Uesugi’s fighters.

That old man named Saitou had treated him like a weirdo, but what was that about?

He was only trying to live a serious life.

Yes, he had lived a serious life, been mistreated a bit within Sanada, and was now something like a janitor at Sanada Academy which had lost its main fighters… No, he was a necessary part of the academy.

But that life had left its scars.

Yes, he had no wife. What was more important for a Warring States man than a wife? Nothing, that’s what.

He had thought his wife would be Honda Tadakatsu’s daughter, but now that daughter was trying to become Honda Tadakatsu. He did not really get it himself, but that was what she had said and she had defeated one of his academy’s strongest Celestial Dragons. That had not been pleasant news for him. It completely ruined his plan to comfort her when she returned from a devastating defeat.

But this was a separate matter. Before, he had gone to confess his feelings, but they had nearly crippled him with a group attack. He wanted to make up for that.

By fighting one of the Musashi girls who had participated in that attack, he could prove that was only a careless accident. Thus…

“Musashi giiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrllllllllll!”

He charged.

It had been a serious act. Yes, a truly serious act.

So when she spread her legs vertically and revealed the crotch of her panties right in front of him, surely that was his reward for living such a serious life, right?

Yes, this had to be a reward from god, Buddha, or a bodhisattva, so he was free to look.

He entered staring mode. Oh, but he had a feeling this girl was the wife of someone else from Musashi.

“So she couldn’t date me!”

As soon as he shouted that, he was hit by an attack from overhead.


Narumi buried the enemy in the ground.

It only took one hit.

She had forgotten that the Odawara city was on the ground.

She had carelessly performed an axe kick just like she would on the Musashi with its sturdy surface area.

“I probably shouldn’t have done that.”

She removed her leg and saw Sanada Nobuyuki buried there.

His upper body had entirely sunk into the dirt with his arms raised on either side of him.

She felt like she had gone too far, but he had to have been prepared if he was willing to make a surprise attack.

Ah.

The results came in.

The sign frame showed her victory over Nobuyuki who counted as Uesugi.

Both of them were instructed to enter a rest period, but she also saw an instruction for Nobuyuki to withdraw.

And she tilted her head while looking at Nobuyuki’s unmoving form.

Why did he even bother showing up?

And another question occurred to her.

She recalled what he had said while charging at her.

“…Musashi girl?”

That was not entirely inaccurate, but at the moment…

“I count as Date, so did he have the wrong target?”


Shigeko: “…”

Shigeko: “Um, wait…I just saw the sankt okno.”

Shigeko: “…”

Shigeko: “Can anyone explain this to me!?”

KageV: “…Um, Shigenaga-kun?”

Shigeko: “What is it? Hm?”

KageV: “Will you promise you won’t be mad!?”

Shigeko: “…”

Asa-no-Bu: “Sh-Shigenaga-kun! Is that any way to respond to your emperor!?”

Shigeko: “Then you can answer me, Saitou-san.”

Asa-no-Bu: “Well, uh…we certainly did not expect him to mistakenly attack Date…”

Shigeko: “And?”

Asa-no-Bu: “To sum up, well, it turns out he did not know what we just assumed he knew.”

Shigeko: “In other words, you did not fulfill your duty to explain it to him?”

Asa-no-Bu: “No, um, I believe, well, someone must have, uh, explained it to him…”

Shigeko: “…Next. Your turn.”

Mayoress: “Hey! Shigenaga! Are you the one bullying Kagekatsu!? Do we need to do another privet!? Well!? Hm!?”

Shigeko: “I wasn’t asking you!!”


Things are starting to get really chaotic, thought Yoshiyasu while soaking in the bath and drinking some honey water.

She had worked her throat hard. She had a feeling her abs would be troubling her come nighttime.

The same had to be true for Kani who was drinking sake next to her.

They were discussing the situation in Odawara while considering and hiding their respective nations’ issues. Kani tended to do more listening and questioning, so…

I feel like a teacher…

In a way, Yoshiyasu was the more abnormal of the two since she was Student Council President in the 2nd year, but that also reminded her that Satomi was a small enough nation to require that.

In large nations like P.A. Oda and M.H.R.R., even name inheritors were mostly fighters and specialists like Kani.

And as specialists, they were very skilled in that area of expertise.

Large nations gathered more personnel like that to grow bigger and stronger.

Small nations had to build up well-rounded personnel, which took time, and they had fewer people to start with. So…

“My upperclassman told me to observe the flow of battle!” said Kani. “You have a really good grasp of the battlefield, don’t you!?”

Was that meant as a compliment? But all Yoshiyasu had done was explain the different nations’ circumstances and how that related to the combat status of their representatives.

These duels were more than just clashes. They were an extension of international politics.

“In that sense, Hashiba did a good job of intervening.”

“Do you mean me!?”

“You’re part of it. But before even that, they placed Musashi on the Houjou side, making them an enemy of the participating nations. That did not affect Mouri since they had intended to clash with Musashi in the first place, but it made it more difficult for the other nations to openly cooperate with Musashi. Because Hashiba is watching. …As a result, Musashi’s forces had to be used against Mouri because the other nations could not oppose them.”

Meaning…

“Musashi lost their chance to attack Houjou while acting as a different nation.”

“Why did we want to stop Musashi from attacking Houjou!?”

Yoshiyasu had not expected someone to ask that about their own nation.

But that was something she was having trouble working out herself.

“I can only guess, but I would say there are two reasons. When you get back, try asking someone who won’t get mad at you for asking.” Yoshiyasu raised two fingers toward Kani who was seated politely in the bath. “The first is Takigawa Ichimasu. She is at Kanie Castle which is positioned at the entrance of the Houjou ruins Musashi wants access to. If Musashi receives permission to enter the ruins, they will begin an attack on Kanie Castle, so stopping Musashi’s attack on Houjou means stopping their attack on Takigawa.”

“…Testament! So it’s an indirect thing!”

“Judge. That’s the way I see it. As for the other reason…”

She provided it while somewhat tilting her head at it.

“I wonder if Hashiba might have some reason to keep Musashi away from those ruins.”


Yoshiyasu honestly did not understand this.

But the Ten Spears had intervened at the Novgorod ruins.

And Hashiba had intervened to prevent them from entering the Sanada ruins.

Based on that…

Houjou’s ruins are probably the same.

They were currently held in place by the attack on Mouri, but once Hashiba was free to act, Yoshiyasu suspected they would immediately come here to intervene.

In fact, one of the Ten Spears was already here and had defeated Musashi’s Treasurer.

What is inside those ruins?

She did not know. It annoyed her that she could not go too far with this since it could all be a misunderstanding.

But Musashi would be considering these problems too. The Vice President and the others would be following the issue. Yoshiyasu was a part of that, but she felt more like she was just helping. So…

“Well, that’s how I see it. And in that sense, Hashiba has done a good job.” Yoshiyasu pointed at Kani’s sign frame. “You’ve been instructed to withdraw.”

“Ah! You’re right! I wonder why!”

“Probably because you fought Mogami twice.”

“But I lost the first time and tied the second time!”

“You can think of us as part of Musashi. You’re a rookie and you lost the first time, but you managed to get a draw the second time. …That’s plenty to say you have a promising future. And the Siege of Odawara ends with reconciliation after the castle is flooded. Hashiba probably sees a draw as a nice compromise.”

Meaning…

“Kani Saizou. When you get back, tell them the song was localized but you actually won. Your superiors should be happy with that.”

“The same goes for you, Satomi Student Council President! You gave yourself a handicap!”

Kani refused to be convinced otherwise on that point.

And just as Yoshiyasu tried to figure out what to do about it, the bath’s sliding door opened.

“Ookubo?”

Yoshiyasu looked back and that was indeed who she saw. The girl had already changed into her summer uniform and she had a towel draped over her prosthetic left arm instead of her stole.

“Hey, you should probably get out soon. I’ve prepared something to eat,” she said. “Also, some other guests need that space.”

Guests? she wondered, but that question was soon answered. A large volume appeared next to Ookubo. No, two volumes. The first was…

“Ohh, Yoshiyasu. You’re taking a bath too?”

“Yoshiaki…!?”

When Kani heard Yoshiyasu’s exclamation, she scrambled to her feet and bowed.

The second entered the bath behind Yoshiaki in a leisurely yet sudden way.

“The Reine des Garous…!”

“Oh? It’s Satomi’s Student Council President.” The woman smiled with a hand on her cheek. “The two of us were just having a lovely chat outside. …And we thought we would clean up before our duel.”

Duel!?

Yoshiyasu gasped and checked her sign frame.

A duel request had appeared there:

<Request: Mogami Yoshiaki vs. Masuda Motonaga>

These two women planned to duel in some way.

This is going to be a giant kaiju battle, isn’t it? thought Yoshiyasu with a sigh. After all…

There’s no way they would do karaoke…


The sky was beginning to change color.

The cloudy sky grew dimmer and the wind blew strongly in from the ocean.

That gust of wind blew the row of Houjou flags positioned alongside a water-filled moat.

This was the entrance of Odawara Castle. A single figure stood in the castle gate plaza.

It was Seki Masasada who wore torn clothing.

She carried a few items in front of the barricades in the plaza.

Large barrels sat on an oddly small cart which she moved with her gravitational control.

She spoke to the barricades in front of her.

“Excuse me. …Will you let me pass? My master wishes for results.”

“That will not happen!” shouted a voice atop the gate.

It was a Mouse. That Houjou representative in a female ninja outfit was Kotarou.

She frowned at Seki’s clothing.

“What do you think you are doing here dressed like that!?”

“Testament. …Like I said, I would like to defeat someone from Houjou and take their rights.”

“…What about Ujiteru-sama?”

“I looked for him but could not find him.”

“You couldn’t find him?”

“I thought he was in the café, but…”

Seki rolled one of the large barrels forward with gravitational control.

Her damaged parts groaned, but she managed to turn the barrel on its side and open the lid.

Its contents were dumped out onto the plaza’s gravel.

“This is Lord Ujiteru’s automaton cowling and damaged parts.

“…!” Kotarou frowned. “He fled without protecting the clan leader!?”

“I have determined he has some kind of plan. …What will you do, Lady Kotarou?”

“…You leave me no choice!”

Kotarou swung both her arms. Several sign frames opened in response. They spiraled around and rose up around the Mouse.

“Fuuma Formation, stand up.”

With those words, all of the barricades in the plaza moved.

What had been disguised as stone walls moved their jackets and materials from within as they revealed their true form. Canopies flew into the air and below them…

“Gods of war…and…”

There were 8 heavy gods of war and 32 automatons. But they all had one notable trait: the lack of a face.

They only had structures with holes opened for sight and hearing devices.

They were remote controlled models and they were being controlled by…

“Fuuma Kotarou. Prepare yourself.”

As soon as she said that, the roar of a cannon shook the air.

The blast had come from one of Seki’s barrels and it tore through a god of war.


Seki drew a long knife from her apron and fired a cannon blast.

She had brought in 5 barrels. One of those had contained Ujiteru’s parts and three of the others contained weapons.

She was up against gods of war and automatons. Remote-controlled ones. It was only a Mouse controlling them.

For that I am grateful.

She would have been hesitant with a human opponent. As an automaton, she would have felt the need to pay them respect.

Of course, she would have been hesitant with an automaton opponent as well. She would have worried that she was too flawed to be their opponent.

When facing them, it was best to let them defeat themselves or distance herself from the act by sniping them.

When sniping, she could close her eyes in the instant she fired.

She could look through the scope afterwards and, if they lay collapsed on the ground, she could simply assume someone else had done it.

She could assume her Princess or the others had assisted her yet again.

Even among the Mouri Belle de Marionnettes, she was a weakling who could not even strangle livestock.

While on the battlefield, she was constantly questioning whether she was fit to be there.

But with an automaton enemy, there was no hesitation.

They were an enemy, so they were not one of her own kind.

She would not question whether she was fit to be there. She would think it had to be her.

After all, they were an enemy and they were not a person. They were not a life everyone had raised.

Her fellow Belle de Marionnettes and her Princess would not need to dirty their hands.

She could defeat them without worrying. And she could fulfill her duty. So…

“—————”

Seki saw her right arm (the one holding the long knife) flying through the air.

It had been severed.


Seki had seen an enemy automaton jump to her right.

The faceless opponent carried a scythe-like outward-curving blade in her right hand. That kind of scythe sword was used to get the tip of the blade to the enemy faster than a normal sword, capture them with it, and cut them. The center of gravity was on the tip and the blade would be diverted depending on how the air resistance hit it, so it was difficult for humans to use.

You could call it an automaton weapon.

It had just severed Seki’s right arm. And in front of her…

“Ah…”

Her cannon blast had been wasted.

The 8 gods of war were no longer in front of her.

Those 8 giant forms had scattered to either side and ducked low.

They were not just crouched down. They were preparing to rush toward her. She could tell they would attack in waves, with 4 out front and 4 waiting in the rear.

Seki concluded the evasive action had been oddly fast for heavy gods of war.

They had likely been given a power system that far surpassed human-scaled muscular strength. These gods of war were meant to dodge cannon blasts and fight with their physical strength.

With no one onboard, they could use forceful actions and coordination.

With Kotarou in control, the gods of war were given ninja movements.

A simple cannon blast did not work even as a surprise attack.

And the 32 automatons worked to fill the gap.

Meanwhile, Seki had been slow to react because she had been watching the one who leaped in first.

Severing her right arm must have been a feint that caused actual harm.

She had just one of them jump in as an immediate counter that would draw my attention.

Having them all rush in would have been noticed and putting together a formation that quickly was not easy.

Kotarou must have sent the one in as a diversion and used that short time to build a formation for the others to rush in.

Seki noticed the enemy automatons did not all wield the same weapons or take the same stances.

There were two units of them. A group of 8 took the lead in both units. 4 of them fired guns at Seki, 2 in the lead held her in place, and the 2 following them held spears.

She would be shot, held in place, and then finished off.

“And then…”

The one that had leaped in to her right had drawn a weapon.

She was too far away to use the scythe sword and she would not have been able to eliminate the momentum of jumping in, so she would be using a pistol.

The bullet flew toward Seki. Rapid-fire gunfire also arrived from in front of her.

So she moved. She lightly lowered the long knife in her left hand.

“Now, then.”

And she moved forward.


The damaged automaton took her first step forward.

Nine things happened as if the sound of her foot in the gravel had been a cue.

They happened to the 8 automatons targeting her and the one trying to shoot her from the side.

“——————”

Their bodies suddenly burst and broke.

The sound was their multi-hinge joints breaking and their outer shells shattering. It sounded a lot like an eggshell cracking and as the metal fibers tore…

“————!”

Their 9 bodies burst apart like blossoming flowers.


Kotarou saw what had happened but did not understand it.

The one thing she understood was that she did not understand it. That was all. After all…

Why!?

The fight had been very strange from the beginning.

Even the initial automaton leaping in at Seki had been. That attack had targeted Seki’s head.

So why had it severed her right arm instead?

The automaton’s aim had been accurate since the jump had been along a straight line.

The time difference measurements of the sight devices told Kotarou that Seki herself had not moved.

But Kotarou realized something only now.

“The long knife…”

Seki had been holding it in her right hand. That was why that arm had been severed.

So why was she now holding the thick blade in her left hand?

“It would seem you do not know when I switched hands.”

The next rush arrived just as Seki spoke.

There were 8 automatons and they made a coordinated attack with guns, blades, and martial arts. However…

“I shall advance 3 steps.”

With those words, the rush passed Seki by.

But nothing happened to Seki

Some of those in the rush were meant to hold Seki in place. And Kotarou was controlling them. She used the data from the sight devices and other sensory devices to crush Seki with surefire movements.

“But…”

The 8 automatons passed her by without anything happening and then they “blossomed” below the cloudy afternoon sky.

Three gods of war rushed in soon thereafter. One straight ahead of her and one from either side.

But Seki…

“Step 2.”

…said that as the gods of war reached her.

The first one swung an anti-god of war short sword from a meter above the ground. It reached Seki’s left arm.

“…Oh?”

The arm was severed at the upper arm. The slash skimmed just past her torso.

The god of war on the right threw a punch.

It smashed the left shoulder that had acted as the base of her severed arm and her body tilted to the side. But…

“Ah…”

Kotarou saw something happen to the two gods of war that had attacked Seki. Their weapon and arm flew toward their own body.

The giant arm and sword sank into their own chest or gut and scattered their body’s contents.

“…!”

Two giant metal flowers blossomed in the castle gate plaza.


Huh!?

Kotarou saw the destruction of the gods of war. She had never seen anything destroyed like that before.

The gods of war had committed suicide.

It was an abnormal action.

A god of war’s actions were controlled by its spell OS. That control would ensure it did not destroy itself by rejecting or preventing the selection of actions that would do so.

But these gods of war had behaved differently.

They should have been under her control, but they had instead destroyed themselves.

It was almost like…

“A virus…!?”


“Looks like Seki has finally gotten her engine revving.”

Terumoto spoke with the Pension Versailles behind her on the makeshift plaza built southeast of Odawara.

Mouri-01 placed a glass of barley tea on the side table next to her. She glanced at the book that Terumoto was reading while seated on a bench.

“Is that the history of the Roi-Soleil’s mistresses, Princess?”

“I don’t have much of a choice since I promised to inherit every last one of their names. …So I guess I have no one to blame but myself.”

Terumoto then turned toward Odawara Castle.

She was on a small hill, but Odawara Castle was even higher than the Odawara city.

She could not see the gate, but…

Belle de Marionnettes are mass-produced, but due to discrepancies in component quality, some of them have faulty OSs, power systems, or outer shells.”

“Those slight defects can generally be compensated for with our other functions, but she is a rare case where everything was off, all the way down to the soul at her core.”

With that, Mouri-01 raised her right hand.

Her hand carried something white on a plate.

“Would you like a daifuku, Princess?”

“Oh, I would, I would. We’re going full Far Eastern today, aren’t we?”

“Because you seemed dissatisfied with the meal last night.”

“That I was.” Terumoto did not hide her thoughts, but she did look up when she heard a metallic noise from the north. “Odawara Castle must be a sight to behold right now.”

“To her, her components are entirely disposable. …Her face, arms, legs, torso, and even OS are ‘off’, so they have been replaced countless times already. But whenever her core enters them, something always ends up ‘off’ yet again. …So being destroyed on the battlefield is a form of hope for her. Because next time, there might be nothing ‘off’ about her.”

“A Belle de Marionnette that does not fear destruction, hm?”

“In the past, it seemed like she was harming herself because she actually wanted destruction…but that changed once you scolded her.”

“Well, I had to.” Terumoto spread her mouth horizontally. “Those components are expensive. And when she’s always swapping out parts, it’s hard to recognize her. I’m bad enough as it is at remembering what people look like, so remembering a Belle de Marionnette’s hand or foot is essentially impossible. I just told her I would cover all the costs for the Belle de Marionnettes that serve me, but she had to quit getting destroyed so much.”

“…But I’m impressed you noticed her special abilities, Princess.”

“That was just a coincidence.” Terumoto took a sip of the barley tea. “Remember the cat the other Belle de Marionnettes couldn’t catch? The one that climbed up on the roof and couldn’t get down. When it fell, the rest of you all failed to catch it and ended up in a pile, but Seki jumped in and caught it. I had a thought when I saw that.”

That being…

“She can’t move like normal Belle de Marionnettes can, but maybe she could move in ways normal Belle de Marionnettes can’t. …So I had her fight and the results were immediate.”

Terumoto held her right hand forward a bit. And…

“No matter how much you all attacked, you couldn’t hit her. …Your movements were optimized and accurate, while hers responded with something just off of optimized and accurate. You tried to predict her movements as those of a Belle de Marionnette and she was trying to move in exactly that way, but there was something ‘off’ about those movements and you couldn’t hit. …But it was the opposite for her.”

Terumoto grabbed the empty air with her right hand. And she pulled that empty air back toward her.

“She wanted an accuracy that was not ‘off’, so she was always looking to that. And to do so, she simulated it not just thousands but trillions and quadrillions of times. Because she couldn’t live her everyday life if she truly remained ‘off’. …Do you get it? She wanted to live an everyday life despite being ‘off’. So felt that way every single day even as she wore clothes that did not quite fit and went to sleep in the mornings. And do you remember why she did not attack all of you even once?”

“She was worried it would be wrong for someone like her to harm us, wasn’t she?”

“Testament.” Terumoto nodded. “She’s only recently learned to fight properly. But her true value is seen when she fights Belle de Marionnettes or Lourd de Marionnettes. Because she has a way of defeating them without actually attacking them. That is…”

That is…

“She interferes with their movements and power systems so they destroy themselves.”


Seki moved forward.

She opened the final barrel behind her. It contained…

“Spare arms.”

She purged the broken left shoulder and arm and did the same for the right.

She pulled the new arms toward her with gravitational control and attached them with her torn maid uniform caught in the joints.

“—————”

The next automaton rush arrived.

There were 8 of them, but the bullets fired by their gunners arrived first.

She did not care.

They will not hit.

She was “off”.

Normally, machines would use their optimization and accuracy when confronting each other.

And when an automaton fought another automaton, they assumed their enemy would have that same optimization and accuracy.

So when attacking, they would assume the enemy’s evasion and defense would be done with optimization and accuracy.

But Seki’s optimization and accuracy were “off”.

She was defective.

She was trying to be optimal and accurate, but it did not quite work.

And that was very bad news for the enemy. Both sides would normally have the same optimization and accuracy, so she would be “off” where the enemy expected perfection.

This was the same.

The enemy’s bullets grazed her face and tore through her side.

But it was not fatal. The more precisely they aimed, the more her “offness” would protect her.

And she had been trained in how to respond to this.

There had been a time when she had wanted to move just like her fellow Belle de Marionnettes, found she could not even walk right, and tried to at least not be in the way.

How did those accurate and optimal Belle de Marionnettes operate their systems to move?

What operations of their systems would lead to what movements?

She knew the answer because she could not do it herself.

So…

The rest was easy. She only had to help the automatons approaching her.

The blades coming to touch her were linked back to their artificial muscles and power system. By reflecting those just a bit, she could throw “off” their optimal and accuracy and create different movements.

The force meant to destroy her was turned back against them.

That was for the best.

Someone like her could never think of attacking them herself.

A defective model must never defy a proper model.

So she had them destroy themselves.

They were proper models, so they had the right to destroy a proper model like themselves.

She was fine with being defective. Because her master had said it was fine. So…

“I will advance 5 steps.”


Seki advanced.

Gods of war approached. She knew how they would move. They used the same optimal as an automaton.

“So…I will give my right arm and side to your thrusting blade.”

In exchange, she used gravitational control to swing her long knife up toward the god of war’s visible finger joint.

In that case…

“I can predict that immediately pulling your arm back to dodge is the optimal action.”

That is exactly what happened.

So she fired a cannon from behind her.

“Do not worry.”

A defective unit’s cannon blast cannot blow through a proper model. It will only graze the inside of your elbow joint and shake your arm.

But when that happens, your accurate movements will cause you to quickly pull your arm back.

As a result, the short sword you hold will stab you in your chest. But the distortion to your elbow will remain, so your accurate movements will lead you to release the blade vertically. And then…

“—————!”

The god of war blossomed.

As a proper model, it destroyed itself with the kind of accuracy one could be proud of.

Oh, what a waste.

If only she had come here earlier.

She felt it had been a mistake to make Musashi’s fighters her top target.

She had thought it would work since one of their fighters had a prosthetic arm. She had planned to try sniping and, if that failed, attempt close-quarters combat where she could affect the girl’s prosthetic arm.

She would of course have messed with the arm as a means of attack, not defense or evasion.

She would have had her opponent defeat herself with her own arm.

But that opponent had been incredible. She had not viewed her prosthetic arm as a prosthetic.

She had treated it like a weapon or a detachable part of her own body. There had been no accuracy or optimizing there, so she was not sure why it even had to be fake.

It had been a strange feeling. It was neither a proper model nor a defective model. In a way, that may have been a good description of humans like her Princess.

It was a tricky thing.

So this was much simpler and easier.

The enemy was more powerful and numerous, but they were proper models. And they were attacking with brute force.

They were accurate and optimal.

“That is good.”

Seki looked to the automatons and gods of war surrounding her while keeping their distance.

But it was too late.

She had weapons behind her: spare arms, legs, and…

“A face.”

Seki’s face devices had been damaged and bent by what attacks had reached her, so she used her right hand to replace them. She removed the sensory devices located in front of her artificial brain block and tossed aside the old and defective face.

She used her left hand to attach a new face.

It too was defective. But it was new.

Her Princess worked with the PR Committee to broadcast the shows “Angry Weather Forecast” and “Moto’s Kitchen” and she used some of her pay for these things.

It was such a waste. All the canola oil her Princess used on Moto’s Kitchen also seemed like a waste, but they were likely thinking within the show’s budget. She hoped it was similar for her parts.

“Now.”

Seki advanced. She moved forward.

Here I go.

Just then…

“Send in reinforcements…!”

Several silhouettes jumped to the top of the castle gate. They were gods of war and automatons. They lined up along the gate’s tile roof as if they weighed nothing.

How orderly.

Seki could not help but marvel at how orderly these proper models were.

So she nodded and spoke before the seemingly-endless waves of enemy attacks.

“It would be a waste for you to spend your time on a defective model like me.”


Kotarou sensed maximum danger when she saw the enemy approaching.

I will stop her!

Houjou was a nation that used automatons and gods of war to fight.

They produced automatons and exported localized versions to other nations.

Their value was in their accuracy and their optimization.

Thus, defective models were always discarded upon discovery. That was how they managed product quality.

But this person overturned that value.

Kotarou was aware of this automaton’s origin. Hexagone Française exported automatons as well.

One of those most likely had a distortion in her core. The distortion was too minor for a boot-up check to detect, but it must have manifested itself thanks to the influence of Hexagone Française as a nation.

It would have begun as a small distortion. But how had she viewed that discrepancy while living among so many proper models? Many attempts to correct the distortion had only exacerbated it.

This could not have happened by coincidence alone. Nor could it have happened by training alone. It was a combination of both. And…

“Your master accepted it, didn’t they!?”

For an automaton, their master’s approval trumped their raison d'être.

Seki had accepted her distortion and those around her had helped.

Even though she could have just been discarded at the earliest stages.

Hexagone Française had not done so, but that was likely because they had needed as many automatons as possible – even defective ones – for their conflicts with M.H.R.R., nonhumans within their own borders, and the Hundred Years’ War.

How much had the distortions accumulated and grown to create such a monster?

But there was just one thing Kotarou had to do now.

“I will stop you…!”

This was Mouri’s anti-Houjou trump card.

Kotarou had thought the Reine des Garous was the only real threat, but she had been wrong.

This enemy could not be allowed near Ujinao. Ujinao was human on the inside, but she had an automaton body.

There was a chance something could happen. So…

“More reinforcements…!”

Flowers blossomed in the castle gate plaza.

Those metal flowers were created as Seki walked.

That floral path could not be allowed to reach Ujinao. And on Kotarou’s pride as a proper model…

“I will not let you pass…!”


Seki crossed a field. It was a windy and deserted field of blossoming flowers.

“Now, then.”

Bullets were approaching. As were enemies and blades. But she spoke into the blowing wind.

“I may be defective, but even I have a Belle de Marionnette spirit.”

These words contained that spirit.

“The doubts of a single component.”

She continued her words.

With incoming attacks punctuating her steps and her torn clothing fluttering in the wind, she brushed back her hair and spoke.

“A defective unit cannot stand against and walk through the warring states’ current of abandonment.”

She recited the words.

“A defective unit is accustomed to having her body and OS damaged, abandoned, and replaced.”

The bullets did not hit her. The enemy sliced and crushed to take her body from her, but…

“A defective unit is already prepared and knows her body’s limits.”

All who came at her self-destructed and blossomed. She too was torn into within the din of explosions and tearing. However…

“A defective unit can use her body and hands for her master.”

Everything blossomed behind her. Even her own components broke and scattered, but she replaced them whenever they did.

She simply moved forward. And…

“A defective unit is already prepared and will use all of herself to strike back.”

Shadows flew like scattering leaves behind her.

The weapons she had brought took flight thanks to her gravitational control.

“Now.”

Once more, she brushed back her hair, but she now held a long knife in each hand.

“A defective unit…”

She faced forward.

“…does not fear…”

Her hair danced in the wind.

“…becoming trash…”

She resumed walking.

“…and faces forward as she goes.”

She advanced.


“Looks like it’s over,” said someone looking up at the bath’s ceiling while soaking in the tub.

It was the Reine des Garous. She and her hair took up about a third of the large tub.

But she was not the only one soaking there.

She slowly lowered her gaze toward the person at the opposite end.

The person across from her was Yoshiaki. She did not hide her nine tails and let them soak in the water. A tray containing a sake bottle and cup floated in front of her.

“With that, my role is more or less complete.”

“Heh heh. Yes, I suppose so.”

“So…what will you do?”

“Testament.” The Reine des Garous nodded. “If I wanted to duel Houjou Ujinao, you would stop me, wouldn’t you?”

“And if I went to stop Seki, you would have stopped me.”

“Seki has gone to defeat someone from Houjou.”

“And what will you do?”

“Defeating someone from Musashi might be nice.”

“You already lost to them once, didn’t you?”

“Testament.” The Reine des Garous smiled a little. “I could always make up for that, you know? I could sniff out their merchant or duel that girl taking a break in the changing room.”

“You can make do with me. I am technically on Musashi’s side.”

“That you are,” agreed the Reine des Garous with a smile. She pulled over her tray floating on the water. “Would you like some of this?”

“Then you can have some of this. …Is that Far Eastern wine?”

“Testament. Some from my daughter’s land was on the menu.”

“Mito, hm?”

Yoshiaki raised a hand of thanks and accepted the wine from the Reine des Garous.

In exchange, she poured some of her bottle’s contents into the other woman’s glass.

“Is this Houjou sake?”

“It is from Musashi,” said Yoshiaki. “Rice grown inside Musashi is used as a base and the brewing is done at the Asama Shrine. It must have a purifying effect because it affects a nonhuman like me pretty strongly. I quite like it.”

“I see. In that case…” The Reine des Garous wet her lips with the sake in her glass. “If my daughter becomes a concubine along with the Asama shrine maiden, purifying effects like that could put her at a disadvantage… The time may have come for me to teach her a good plan for that.”

“Such as?”

“Testament. If she is going to practice with chicken skewers, it is actually better to use chicken meatball skewers.”

“Would kiritanpo not work?”

“M-my! Just a slight misspelling away from disaster!”[1]

“No one is misspelling anything.”

“Testament. And you really mustn’t sever them. You need to treat them with care.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but it sounds like a complex situation.”

Just as Yoshiaki sighed, a new result was added to the sign frame.

“It seems we have a result for Kotarou and your Seki Masasada.”

“Testament. I can see it. Winner: Seki Masasada,” said the Reine des Garous. “But Seki has been instructed to withdraw. She must have been pretty badly damaged.”


Kotarou was held in someone’s arms.

Her own tiny arms held a short sword the automaton had dropped.

It even got through to her…!

The blade she held was stabbed up to the guard inside her seated opponent’s stomach.

But that opponent held Kotarou in arms that barely kept their original shape.

She could not move.

But she heard a straining sound as the automaton stood up.

And during that unsteady standing motion, she heard several components and lots of lubricant oil spilling from the automaton’s body. She also heard breaking metal and felt herself wobble.

But the automaton had stood up.

Next, that automaton placed Kotarou on the ground.

As she did, Kotarou saw the flower garden of destruction around her.

She had sent in a total of 18 gods of war and 72 automatons, but they had all destroyed themselves.

Of course, to do all this, that defective model would have to have taken an equal level of damage. But…

“It takes a proper model to destroy a proper model. …That is something I cannot do.”

“That’s not-…!”

Wait, thought Kotarou. This opponent was stating the truth, not being ironic.

She was a defective model who would hesitate if told to “defeat” a proper model.

That was what had led to the result before them.

That flower garden of fragments had all come from self-destruction.

Among the broken components and frames, the colors of external armor and torn armored clothing were scattered like flowers.

There was wind. A powerful gust blew in from the ocean.

That air current blew through the automaton’s hair as she turned her back.

“Until we meet again.”

“You’re leaving!? Shouldn’t you call for assistance!?”

“A defective model must not call for her master.”

But…

“My Princess says our pride and vainglory leave room for defective models.”

“What…?” asked Kotarou.

The automaton creaked and swayed as she walked, but she looked back over her shoulder to answer.

“Hexagone Française and Mouri are not shelves to display well-made dolls. They are a toy box in which even defective models are thrown. A toy box belonging to the Roi-Soleil and my Princess.”

She turned her back in the wind once more.

Kotarou exhaled as she watched the automaton leave.

“I will not accept it! …I may have lost the duel, but I did stop you!”

The Mouse shouted at that creaking and swaying back.

“All that matters is that I kept you from reaching Ujinao-sama…!”


“Hey, Mouri-01.”

Terumoto looked up into the cloudy sky that was gaining the colors of evening.

A dull scarlet was mixing in with the clouds.

She moved her eyes to follow the flowing clouds and the colors of the sky visible through them.

“How about we move to the camp entrance?”

“We mustn’t, Princess. …She will return, so let’s trust in her.”

“Ahh, vainglory sure ain’t easy. “

“Testament. But a lot of people follow you because of that. Besides…”

“Besides?”

“Testament,” continued Mouri-01. “If you went out to meet her, she would get embarrassed and not have anyone to hide behind. Right now, you need to fix your windswept hair and stack up your books.”


“At any rate, this means one of Houjou’s rights goes to Mouri.”

Yoshiaki thought about this while she got up from the bath.

Does this mean Mouri has preserved their reputation?

It meant a lot that the western nation of Mouri had gained a hook to involve themselves with the eastern nations.

If anyone tried to take Houjou’s right from Mouri, they would almost certainly put a stop to it.

So it was best to assume that right was a sure thing for Mouri.

Given that, the only remaining problem was the two women here.

“Hm,” said Yoshiaki as she shook the water off her tails and turned around.

She spoke to the Reine des Garous who was drying off with two towels.

“What rules shall we use for our duel?”

“I’m fine with a physical battle, but in that case…” She pointed toward the entrance. “How about we go to Odawara Castle. We should see some battles on the way. When we do, we can adopt their combat methods for our duel. If we take multiple duel methods into account, we can find something that makes for a fair fight. I mean, I would have far too much of an advantage in a normal battle.”

“Is that so? …I was thinking the same thing about myself. A devious fox would never lose to brute force.”

“Heh heh. What a scary person you are.”

“I could say the same about you,” said Yoshiaki with a bitter smile.

She slid open the door while planning to get dressed and see what kinds of duels were underway between here and Odawara Castle.

“Yoshiyasu? The Reine des Garous and I are about to leave here, so-…”

She was going to ask the girl what she would do, but she trailed off when she saw Yoshiyasu, Kani, and Ookubo having a duel of sorts.

The three of them had dragged a ping pong table to the center of the changing room and they were engaged in a high-speed rally.

When Yoshiaki appeared, they all looked over and Yoshiyasu missed the ball.

The hard paper ball flew to the floor and Ookubo turned the blackboard containing the score toward Kani. And…

“We’re in our rest period, so we decided to have some fun,” said Ookubo. “What’s that look for?”

“I see,” said Yoshiaki with a nod, but the Reine des Garous spoke up behind her.

“…This is it. This will be our duel.”


Notes[edit]

  1. Changing one kana turns kiritanpo into kirichinpo, which means “severed dick”.