Horizon:Volume 6C Chapter 60
Chapter 60: Duelers at the Hot Spring
Point Allocation (Somewhat Mad…!)
Ookubo looked up to the ceiling in the bathhouse changing room.
…I have no idea what’s going on anymore…
Exchanging divine mail addresses with Kani had been confusing enough, but it had only gotten worse from there.
She had yet to tell Kani or Yoshiyasu what had happened here with Seki. The automatons had cleaned up afterwards and she had recovered the short sword stabbed into the floor and everything else.
She had sent her bloody stole to be washed and the wound below her collarbone was sealed with a charm. She felt some slight heat there, but it was hidden by the towel she wore in place of her stole.
Yoshiyasu and Kani seemed to have gotten to know each other. Kani still seemed to keep some distance from Ookubo, but Ookubo appreciated that. It allowed her to keep doing things her own way. The upperclassmen have no trouble keeping me from doing that, which is such a pain…
But the biggest source of confusion was occurring right in front of her.
There was a ping pong table and a blackboard for writing the score. She tapped each of them once and spoke.
“And with that, the Reine de Garous and Mogami Chancellor will begin their ping pong duel.”
And with that? What am I saying? she thought.
But this was the duel those two had decided on.
“Let’s go over the rules. Are you both familiar with ping pong?”
“Testament. I am.”
As for Mogami Yoshiaki…
“Yes, my Ushuu is a hot spring town. This game is a popular form of entertainment during the winter.”
That was good to hear.
“Judge.” Ookubo nodded and opened a sign frame. “As a special rule, whoever scores 5 points first will be the winner. You can score points when you change who serves. Miss a serve and it changes immediately. …Does that sound good?”
“Testament. This entire battle is approaching the end, so a lengthy duel that slows everything down would be a bad idea.”
“True,” agreed Yoshiyasu from behind Yoshiaki. She sat in a chair with her arms crossed. “We still have the Kantou Liberation afterwards. Delaying progress in blocks of 30 minutes would be a problem. …Of course, that ignores the possible benefit to Mouri or Mogami.”
“Heh heh. Don’t worry about that,” said the Reine des Garous. “I also want to end this duel as quickly as possible and get back. The bath washed off some of his scent.”
Ookubo was not sure what that meant, but she had a feeling her upperclassmen would understand.
“Anyway,” said Ookubo while using both hands to point at the Reine des Garous and Mogami Chancellor. “Just to be clear, this is cutting it pretty close as far as the Testament is concerned.”
There was a note mentioning that this sport was later developed from tennis. And there were records from the Age of the Gods saying it was a hot spring sport. But tennis itself was still not fully historically established, so…
“This kind of sport is generally enjoyed while hidden indoors, isn’t it?”
“Well, you can’t exactly play it outside…”
The wind would affect the balls too much since they were so light.
That was another reason that ping pong was a form of indoor entertainment at the places that offered it. It still could not be officially advertised, so you had to go to the entertainment facilities and ask if you could play some “you-know-what”.
…It’s a banned service…
“Heh heh. But we must submit the duel method to the Siege of Odawara headquarters, right? So I made sure to talk around the specific method. …Anyone with good intuition should know what it is we’re doing.”
“Hey, Mitotsudaira, can you explain this description the Reine des Garous sent about her duel with Mogami Yoshiaki?”
“Huh? What does it say? Let me see.”
- Duel Method: We will face each other in a closed room, grab and vigorously move a stick with rubber on the end, and send balls bouncing back and forth until one of us wins.
“Heh heh. Balls! Bouncing back and forth! O-oh, dear. Get too into it and you’ll lose! C’mon, Mitotsudaira! Asama! We can reproduce what I’m imagining using these bamboo poles! Grab them and vigorously move them around! Now, foolish brother! Horizon! Let’s go!”
“Kimi, what are you shouting about now!? And where are you three going with those bamboo poles!?”
Male and female students could be heard screaming on the other side of the festival stands. Those three were apparently chasing the guests around with those processed bamboo poles. This will undoubtedly hurt the Student Council’s approval rating, she thought, but there was no helping that.
Mitotsudaira sighed and returned to her senses.
“What is my mother doing!?”
Her mother was vigorously moving around a stick with rubber on the end.
For those warmup exercises, she swung a penhold racket that you pinched between your fingers.
…It sure is light.
Swishing sounds came from her and the Mogami Chancellor and Musashi’s glasses-wearing Representative Council Head looked to each of them in turn.
“Which one of you will serve first?”
“The Reine des Garous can do that,” said the Mogami Chancellor.
The Reine des Garous nodded.
“Then I shall.”
She caught the ball the Musashi Representative Council Head threw to her and then she tossed it straight up.
“Here I go…!”
Kani watched the attack.
This was her first time seeing the Reine des Garous up close.
Since she was from P.A. Oda, she had of course heard of the partial destruction of IZUMO.
This woman had destroyed a portion of the floating island and then jumped down from it unharmed.
She looked like a kind lady. She really did. But…
She launched an attack in an instant. The strike looked like a bullet as it struck the falling ball. It made a high-speed bounce and popped up in front of Mogami Yoshiaki.
Yoshiaki did not move. But her hair shook and the ball hit the wall behind her.
It embedded itself there. That phenomenon was the result of an impossibly rapid spin. The rotation speed more than the solidness of the ball had created enough mass to tear into the wall.
And the Representative Council Head raised her left arm and blew a whistle.
“1 point for Mogami!”
The point had gone to Yoshiaki.
“Eh?” said the Reine des Garous, so the Representative Council Head pointed at her and shouted.
“Don’t use your Silver Cross!”
…I had a feeling something like this would happen!
“Hit the ball with your racket! What moron uses a divine weapon here!?”
But the target of her question, the Reine des Garous, hid the Silver Cross behind her back and placed her left index finger on her mouth.
She tilted her entire body as if to say she did not know what Ookubo was talking about.
“P-playing dumb isn’t going to help!”
“But, um, that’s not allowed?”
“Wait, didn’t you say you were familiar with ping pong?”
“I am familiar with it.”
Ookubo noticed something about how she said that.
“Testament. I have seen people play it before. Yes.” She kept a straight face. “But am I really not allowed to use my Silver Cross?”
Ookubo had a feeling she should explain all the rules.
On the other side of the table, the Musashi Representative Council Head used a sign frame to explain the rules.
Yoshiaki sighed in her heart as she watched.
…I can see why she is known as the Reine des Garous…
This could be trouble, she thought.
It had been a surprise attack, but even though she had seen the Silver Cross appear, she had been unable to see the other woman swinging it.
This went beyond moving quickly. Moving way too fast was the standard for her.
Her standard speed was different from other people. So what would happen when she further increased her speed?
…I have heard the Mito Lord did manage a win against her…
Did that just mean the daughter was a monster too?
But Yoshiaki was not to be trifled with when it came to being monstrous. She was a nine-tailed fox, a great monster fox.
The Reine des Garous was currently learning the rules from the Representative Council Head.
That included how to swing the racket, how to serve, and how it all fit together. Since Kani was saying “ohh” while listening in, that Representative Council Head’s explanation must have been quite good.
But looking at the Reine des Garous listening to those words was enough to tell what tactics she would use.
“A quick attack…”
The racket she had chosen was a pen type. The grip had a rectangular cross section and it was held like a pen.
It could be manipulated with the fingers, so it was easy to control when making a forehand strike. On the other hand, it was a little difficult to catch the ball with a backhand strike.
Beginners were better off first leaning to attack and defend with forehand hits, so the pen type was a decent selection since it was easy to hold.
And based on the Silver Cross, this woman would focus on offense. She would move forward.
It was hard to put much force behind a hit with the pen style, but that was a trivial problem for the Reine des Garous’s strength. In a head-on rally, Yoshiaki had a very real possibility of being overpowered.
Yoshiaki spun the racket in her hand and grabbed it again.
Her racket’s grip was the shake style with a circular cross section. It was held from the side.
Controlling it was much like waving a fan. Precise finger movements were almost entirely unusable, but since it could be moved with the wrist, it was easy to use during backhand hits.
It allowed for more force behind hits, so it was a good choice when up against such an overpowering opponent.
I can use this to take control of the table, thought Yoshiaki. And just then…
“That’s about it,” concluded Ookubo. “What should I do about the score?”
“Let’s count that last one, so give the Mogami Chancellor one point,” said the Reine des Garous. “Even if I had failed to learn the rules, asking for a ‘redo’ in an international duel would be shameful.”
“Ho ho? So you still intend to do this?” asked Yoshiaki.
“Of course. Let me be clear: I will not hold back.”
Yoshiaki already knew that, so she spoke up after making sure the Musashi Representative Council Head had moved away from her.
“Now, can you show me what you can do when not holding back?”
It was Yoshiaki’s serve, so she retained the advantage.
Mitotsudaira listened to Masazumi who turned back toward her.
“Hey, Mitotsudaira. The Reine des Garous had the rules wrong, so they’re continuing now that she’s learned them.”
“Wh-what is my mother doing!?”
“Judge. According to Ookubo, she fixed her grip.”
“On the balls! She fixed her grip on the balls!”
While the idiot shouted that, Asama opened a sign frame, perhaps to set up an additional purification.
But Masazumi’s eyebrows rose when she checked the sign frame.
“Oh? I don’t really get it, but they’ve started in a first-to-5 match.”
“Is my mother doing something horrific!?”
“No.” Masazumi shook her head. “Mogami Yoshiaki already has 2 points.”
…She’s so strong!
Yoshiyasu watched Yoshiaki moving in front of her.
Yoshiaki’s tactic was to use cut shots.
She would catch the approaching ball from a somewhat lowered position and send it back.
Befitting of the name, a cut shot gave the racket a chopping motion directed forward and down. Yoshiaki used that motion to cut back the Reine des Garous’s balls.
She had likely decided that a direct hit to those balls would lead to mistakes given the incredible speed given to them by the Reine des Garous.
Yoshiaki dueled the Reine des Garous using those defensive cut shots.
It made noise.
It was a solid but sharp sound.
Immediately, the white ball returned to the Reine des Garous’s field and bounced.
Yoshiaki’s return shots were not simple things. When picking up her opponent’s balls, she would alter their speed and direct them left, right, up, or down before sending them back. That prevented the Reine des Garous from moving forward to hit them.
The Reine des Garous had to move forward, back, left, or right more and more often.
This was a tough situation for a beginner.
…For a beginner, it’s easier to hit back a ball that has a certain amount of speed to it.
Ping pong was a sport that limited the space between the players using the length of the table. So when the velocity reached a certain level, the speed of the ball’s back-and-forth movement and the speed of the arm hitting it back would synchronize.
Once that allowed your body to establish a set rhythm, your hesitation when hitting the ball would fade away.
A beginner only had to focus on getting their racket into that rhythm, so it was very helpful.
However, Yoshiaki would not allow that.
If the Reine des Garous used her strength to give the ball lots of speed, she would step back a bit and make a cut with some space in between.
They were using a lightweight ball, so that space caused some slight speed loss.
Yoshiaki used that to return the ball with altered timing.
Even if it was meant to force the Reine des Garous to move around, Yoshiaki was moving around a lot too.
There could not be much difference in how much they were each moving.
The fox continued moving and constantly swayed her body side to side.
But, thought Yoshiyasu. The wolf is abnormal too.
Ookubo had been watching the Reine des Garous for a while now.
Based on her close-up observations, the woman had yet to get in an effective shot.
But her movements were changing while Ookubo watched.
…How good are her senses?
The Reine des Garous was definitely learning how to return Yoshiaki’s balls.
At first, she had always tried to move forward to finish things quickly with a smash.
But Yoshiaki rejected that idea with her actions.
She focused on cut shots that forced the Reine des Garous into a rally.
The Reine des Garous was still unfamiliar with how to use the racket, so she was moved around by the returned balls.
Ookubo held the scoring blackboard. Yoshiaki’s second point had come from the Reine des Garous messing up a return. From what Ookubo had seen, the ball had gone up, she had tried to return it with an overhand swing, and she had given it some unwanted spin.
The reverse-spinning ball had lost all its speed and fallen onto her own side of the table.
The Reine des Garous had stuck out her tongue a bit, and…
“Oh, dear. That didn’t work at all. In that case…”
After that, she had started what she was doing now.
…What is happening?
The Reine des Garous would catch the ball and return it, but the way she returned it was odd.
From what Ookubo could see, she was being moved all over the place by Yoshiaki’s control of the ball.
But she was returning the ball. And the ball was always light and floating when she did so.
She was not making cut shots.
Cut shots used a diagonal hit to apply a reverse spin to eliminate speed. The Reine des Garous was instead sending the surface of her racket straight into the ball’s trajectory.
Her shots used the center of the forehand side to push the ball more than hit it.
But that still returned it.
Ookubo realized there was a pattern to the Reine des Garous’s return method.
Kani noticed something odd while watching from diagonally behind the Reine des Garous.
…2-2-3? No, that was 2-3-3!
There was a pattern to the way the wolf swayed her body.
When receiving Yoshiaki’s shots, she would do 2 forehand shots on the right, 3 backhand shots on the left, and then 3 forehand shots on the right.
And for the next iteration, she would do 2 backhand shots on the left, 3 forehand shots on the right, and then 3 backhand shots on the left.
No matter what kind of balls came her way, she would forcibly return them with those motions.
…I know what this is!
Kani was a Strike Forcer, so she understood. This was training.
When learning a martial art, you would learn the fundamentals and then begin applying them.
One example of that was attack stance training. You trained to ensure you could attack from unfamiliar footing or in a disadvantageous stance.
That was what the Reine des Garous was doing now.
She had lost her second point because of a missed shot made with a large movement.
At that point, she had realized moving based on what “felt right” would not cut it in this battle.
So she had changed her movements. Instead of using a forehand or backhand shot depending on the situation, she had forced herself to keep up a rotation between left and right.
And she always hit the ball with the center of the racket to learn how it felt.
That queen had accepted her inexperience and she was now training herself in mid-battle.
But during the interminable rally, her movements were clearly growing more certain.
And the sound of the cut shots grew louder as if in response.
Yoshiaki had raised the speed of her return shots.
Just then, the Reine des Garous altered her stance. She stretched her back and turned her left side forward.
She hit a high-speed shot.
Yoshiaki realized her mistake.
The children around them probably had not noticed, but the Reine des Garous was clearly applying pressure on her.
…Are you taking a step?
Yoshiaki had noticed the forehand and backhand rotation. She understood it was a way of learning the relationship between the racket and the shots and to familiarize her body with the motions.
This was the kind of opponent who would take it that far.
But she started to detect a light reverberation when the other woman returned the ball.
It was the reverberation of a foot hitting the floor.
When they moved with only the table between them, they could just barely feel the impact of their opponent’s feet on the floor.
The Reine des Garous was gradually starting to take a step when she returned the ball.
It made no noise. They were barefoot after taking a bath. But the tremor definitely reached Yoshiaki.
And you would take a strong step when hitting the ball if you wanted power.
…Her motions are something like a cut right now, but she’s returning to the stance for a quick attack!
The Reine des Garous’s center of gravity was gradually shifting forward. She had to have reached the point that she could move freely if she ended the forehand-backhand rotation.
“I would expect no less…!”
Was this tremor of a step a form of training?
Or was it a warning that she was about to go in for the kill?
Yoshiaki decided to hit a tempting ball to find out.
So she took action. She made a cut shot that sent the ball straight down the center of the Reine des Garou’s side.
The other woman used the opposite motion of a cut: she swung the racket forward and up from the bottom right.
The force of the strike was a topspin drive. The shot was an attempt to move forward and it had far more speed than the previous cuts.
…How about this!?
Just as she thought that, Yoshiaki realized the white line had already passed her by on the left.
By the time she wondered what had happened, sucked in a breath, and tensed her body, it was too late.
She only knew that the Reine des Garous was taking a deep breath in front of her. And…
“Testament. I more or less get it now.”
The woman puffed her chest out and smiled while toying with her racket by spinning it in her fingers.
She had returned it. And at a speed too fast to see.
Yoshiyasu did not understand what had happened until the ball bounced off the counter and rolled back toward her feet.
…She returned it?
All she had seen was the shot Yoshiaki made after a short-step duck.
She had also seen the Reine des Garous start to counterattack with something like a right hook.
It was true she had failed to see the swing of the Reine des Garous’s arm. But…
“1 point for the Reine des Garous.”
Ookubo’s words revealed the truth.
Yoshiyasu saw some smoke rising from the table diagonally left from Yoshiaki.
White smoke was also rising from the ball rolling at her feet.
It was unclear if that was from Yoshiaki’s topspin or the Reine des Garous’s return.
But, thought Yoshiyasu. That monster has rapidly improved in a very short period of time.
And the Reine des Garous caught the spare ball Ookubo tossed to her and spoke.
“That’s 1 point for me. …If you continue to simply observe or feel this out, I will catch up.”
Yoshiyasu heard the Reine des Garous casually say “now, then”.
And she tossed the ball up.
She made a normal serve. It was a cute serve with a gentle hit that made it clear she was a beginner.
…That makes sense.
After all, the Reine des Garous had not had a chance to practice serving.
She had been given plenty of opportunities to train her returns and attacks against Yoshiaki earlier.
On the other hand, this was only her second time serving. But Yoshiyasu still found it impressive since she was able to have it bounce on her side and the enemy’s side of the table.
Meanwhile, Yoshiaki moved one foot back in preparation for a cut shot.
But it was not a cut shot. She made a full-strength strike against the serve. She hit the ball up from below for a topspin attack.
…That’s the same as the previous attack!
She had to be searching out how the Reine des Garous had returned it last time.
But the Reine des Garous made a definite move.
It was different from the previous one. She tilted her body toward the white line flying toward her.
…Can she move freely now!?
She twisted her hips as she stepped forward.
It was a no-spin knuckle shot hit with the center of the racket.
Yoshiaki’s spin must have been effective. It hung there for a moment, but…
The shot arrived before Yoshiaki could move her arm back.
It was fast.
But Yoshiyasu saw Yoshiaki put up a definite resistance.
She bent just her upper body back to buy time for moving her wrist.
But it was not quite enough for a cut shot, so she added a further motion.
By lowering her knees, she simulated lowering her arm.
It was the same as angling your body to increase and control your reach and trajectory when stepping in for an attack.
And a solid sound ultimately did ring out.
The heavily spinning ball took a low, spilling trajectory toward the Reine des Garous’s left side.
The low trajectory made it hard to intercept. Instead of moving forward and getting it above your field, it was best to step back and use the greater space to deal with it.
But the Reine des Garous returned it. With a backhand penhold shot.
Since she was still not used to this, the ball was fairly light. And Yoshiaki responded.
She returned her stance to normal and hit the trajectory with a quick cut.
That too sent it toward the Reine des Garous’s left side.
Forcing the wolf to make backhand shots had to be Yoshiaki’s strategy.
…Because she’s using the penhold grip.
When pinching that pen-like grip between your fingers, it was a little difficult to make backhand hits. That was why Yoshiaki concentrated her fire there.
The Reine des Garous was forced into a defensive battle since her left side was being targeted, so all she could do was fall back to the left to make it easier to deal with. So once she moved to the far right side from Yoshiaki’s perspective…
Yoshiaki sent her entire body forward.
She made an attack on the opposite side of the enemy’s field: the far left side.
Kani saw Yoshiaki move the Reine des Garous.
A moment later, Kani saw something unbelievable.
The Reine des Garous vanished in an instant and reappeared just as instantly.
And from Kani’s perspective, she had moved from the left to the right side of the field.
…What was that!?
She could guess it was an explosion of instantaneous strength, but the Reine des Garous was so tall and…
…Umm, her boobs! She has huge boobs!
For someone like that, instantaneous acceleration was completely ridiculous.
But she had done it. She had launched herself to her usual spot, swung her body forward, and…
She hit the ball with an almost cheerful voice.
A solid sound rang out.
Now it’s really started, thought Yoshiyasu.
What happened next would determine whether she could follow what was happening.
But Yoshiaki had moved forward and the Reine des Garous had launched a counterattack from the left.
She hit it to the right of Yoshiaki. That was within the fox’s reach.
But she could not move back her forward-swinging body so quickly.
Or so Yoshiyasu thought.
But Yoshiaki’s stance was different.
When making the right forehand shot, she had stepped forward with her left leg.
She had used that left leg to swing her right leg up and to the left.
That left roundhouse kick took a path that avoided kicking the table and rapidly spun her entire body.
She had not stopped her body’s forward momentum and then pulled it back.
She had instead used that forward momentum to spin to the left. And after making a full rotation…
…She’s ready to swing her right arm again!
She hit the ball.
It was a forceful attack, but it sent the ball upwards.
As the curve bent back down, it flew toward the right side of the field, where the Reine des Garous no longer was.
And just after it flew there, Yoshiyasu saw something: the Reine des Garous’s instantaneous acceleration.
Her hair shook, but there were no footsteps. The wolf moved back to her previous position as if pressing her bouncing breasts back against her body.
But this position required a backhand shot.
A hit from there would have less force behind it.
Meanwhile, Yoshiaki had moved forward. She swept her body a bit to the left and readied her racket for a forehand shot.
She was prepared to use all her strength to send the coming bullet back to the Reine des Garous’s left side.
A moment later, Yoshiyasu saw something.
The color white had arrived in front of her eyes.
It was the Reine des Garous’s attack. And it had rapidly moved right past Yoshiaki.
It reached Yoshiyasu before Yoshiaki could move forward.
Yoshiyasu did not understand what had happened.
The Reine des Garous should have needed a backhand shot.
And yet this attack had the speed of a forehand one.
Yoshiyasu looked forward and saw the Reine des Garous breathing a sigh.
“Phew… That was a close one.”
It looked like her arms were crossed below her chest.
No, that was not it.
The Reine des Garous had placed her left arm alongside the right arm launching the backhand shot.
The right-handed return would have had a poor initial velocity because it was backhanded, so she had pushed it forward with her left hand for more initial acceleration.
That made it an indirect reverse-arm forehand shot. The slightest distortion from pushing on the arm would have altered the ball’s trajectory, but that had not happened.
“Is that because she always hits with the very center?”
That familiar sense would not allow any distortions. But if she could pull this off in such a short time…
…What in the world is she!?
Just as Yoshiyasu wondered that, Ookubo made an announcement.
“2 points for the Reine des Garous.”
Ookubo rewrote the Reine des Garous’s score.
Meanwhile, the ball rolled along the floor after bouncing off the counter-side wall.
And Ookubo heard a deep breath.
Yoshiaki’s shoulders rose and fell as she replaced the contents of her lungs.
Ookubo understood why the woman had failed to hit the ball back.
…She had moved forward, so not even spinning around could move her back again.
Yoshiaki had chosen the wrong tactic.
She made her opponent use backhand shots to push her to one side of the field.
Then she had hit to the opposite side.
Their mobility was restricted by the size of the standard field. Within those restrictions, hitting to the opposite side was the most effective method.
After all, you were hitting the ball outside of their reach.
Even if your opponent did return the ball, it would normally be a rushed action. In that case, you only had to powerfully return that hastily-fired bullet to the opposite side yet again.
Yoshiaki had done that twice. And the second one had forced her opponent into a backhand shot.
But it had not worked.
Yoshiaki had the upper hand in technique and experience.
But the Reine des Garous had the upper hand in reaction speed and power. Since she existed outside the category of human, she was not bound by the standard assumptions of sports.
Now, what will she do? wondered Ookubo.
Just then, she noticed the Reine des Garous raise her right hand.
“What is it?”
“Can I swap out my racket real quick?”
Ookubo thought about it for a moment, but she nodded.
The Reine des Garous had chosen her racket before she knew the rules.
…This means she’s about to get serious.
So Ookubo allowed it. She gestured toward the racket holder an automaton had prepared.
“Just this once. Keep that in mind when you choose.”
“Testament. …Then I will go with this one.”
The Reine des Garous pulled a racket from the holder.
It had a pen-style grip.
But there was one difference from the previous one. It was something not allowed in official matches.
“Both sides have the same rubber material?”
Both sides were covered with black rubber. But they were uniformly thin.
There had to be just the one layer of material attached. The Reine des Garous spun it around in her hand and smiled.
“The previous one had bumps on the rubber, which allows for a variety of changes, right? But with my finger control, I can probably manage those changes all on my own.”
Wait just a second, thought Ookubo.
“Have you ever given a ball spin?”
“I’ve seen it several times. I just have to do the opposite of what I do when I return them, right?”
Technically speaking, that was correct. But could she really just do that right away? No…
“This racket has the same material on both sides, so it should be much easier.”
“Normally…you have thicker rubber on the back.”
If she was fine with the thinner material, just how aggressive a play style was she planning?
But she simply took the ball Ookubo tossed to her.
“Now, let’s try it out.”
She began her serve.
It was a casual thing. A serve was an important thing in a first-to-5 match, but her actions carried none of that weight.
She lifted the ball high and when it arrived just below her chest…
She launched a high-speed slice of a cut shot.
Kani thought it was a strange image. She watched the Reine des Garous serve from diagonally behind her. The solid sound of the serve created an image in midair.
The white ball floated there without moving.
She understood the concept. She understood very well what was happening. The phenomenon was as follows:
“The spin from her serve was so strong the ball isn’t flying or falling!?”
The ball hit by the Reine des Garous’s slicing motion floated motionlessly in the air. It was actually spinning rapidly, but it was so intense that its position did not change.
“Is this the gyro effect?” asked the Representative Committee Head.
“Is that what you call it…!?”
While the Reine des Garous watched with a frown, the white bullet slowly descended.
It was going to land on the Reine des Garous’s field.
“Um, if this bounces to the other side, it counts as a serve, right?” she asked.
“Well, I guess it’ll have to…”
The Representative Committee Head sounded oddly negligent in her response, so was this really okay?
Meanwhile, the white bullet continued its descent and fell into onto the Reine des Garous’s field.
The ball tore into the wooden table.
A loud sound rang out for an instant and small splinters of the table flew into the air. And everyone watched as the white ball embedded itself halfway into the table.
“Wow! It stopped!”
Kani shouted without thinking and the Representative Committee Head raised her voice.
“3 points for the Mogami Chancellor! And can we get a new table in here!?”
For some reason, the automatons hung their heads as they left the counter and set up the new table.
“Mitotsudaira. Your mother has sent a divine transmission via Ookubo.”
“Huh? What did she say now?”
“Well.” Masazumi showed her the sign frame and read it in a deadpan voice. “ ‘Nate, I initially had rubber covered in bumps on the end of the stick.’ ”
Mar-Ga: “Like this?”
The Weiss Hexen made a sketch, but Mitotsudaira ignored her.
Masazumi took a breath and continued.
“ ‘But, Nate, I swapped it out for a thinner one that glistens black.’ ”
Mar-Ga: “That would be like this.”
The Weiss Hexen made a sketch, but Mitotsudaira ignored her.
“ ‘Nate? I’m going to do my best using both the front and back, okay?’ ”
“Seriously, though! What is my mother doing!?”
Yoshiyasu saw the battle moving back and forth.
The Reine des Garous had fully shifted to using quick attacks while Yoshiaki focused on using cut shots.
The wolf attacked and the fox defended.
But the Reine des Garous made a mistake.
When making a counterattack on one of Yoshiaki’s hits, the trajectory collapsed.
Yoshiaki had disguised a knuckle shot as a cut shot.
She had used the trajectory of a cut shot, but she had moved her arm and entire body forward in the instant she hit the ball.
It was only an instant.
The speed at which she pushed the racket forward had to surpass its downward-swinging speed only when the hit made contact.
The technique was only possible with the speed and flexibility of a fox.
The Reine des Garous had been too slow to notice, so the ball she hit fell down without hitting her opponent’s field.
“4 points for the Mogami Chancellor.”
“My, my… I fell for your feint, didn’t I?”
“…I assume you’re saying you won’t fall for it again.”
Yoshiaki laughed in her throat and that was exactly what happened.
The Reine des Garous began primarily using drive shots.
If Yoshiaki’s shot type was hard to read, she only had to use her great strength to apply a drive spin to reset it.
The forceful push and high-speed drive created a bouncing ball.
The shot hit on the front edge of Yoshiaki’s field and bounced up toward her chest.
Yoshiaki responded with a backhand swing, but…
She failed to respond in time when the next shot targeted her left side.
She pulled her racket back and the white line hit it and produced a solid sound. The bullet bounced straight up.
“3 points for the Reine des Garous.”
The wolf had taken another step closer.
The Reine des Garous’s serve began another high-speed rally.
Ookubo had a thought as she watched from close up.
…Am I seeing something incredibly valuable here?
Or am I just seeing a ridiculous game of nonhuman ping pong?
The two were difficult to tell apart.
And just as she wondered how to report on this, the result suddenly arrived. The Reine des Garous entirely missed the ball.
Ookubo saw the Reine des Garous stop moving.
The white line passed her by on the right and flew behind her. And…
The woman said that and Ookubo started to raise her left hand.
This meant the Mogami Chancellor had 5 points.
It was a first-to-5 match, so it was over.
…The end happened awfully quickly.
Ookubo sensed some disappointment in that thought while she opened her mouth.
“The Mogami Chancellor-…”
She started to say the woman had won the match.
But someone stopped her.
“Sorry. But that counts as the Reine des Garous’s point.”
Yoshiaki was the one speaking. And she was breathing heavily.
“Yoshiyasu. Can you come here a moment?”
Yoshiyasu nodded at Yoshiaki’s words.
“Judge. I more or less understand.”
“Understand what?” asked Ookubo.
Yoshiyasu raised her right hand with the palm out.
The gesture meant “wait”. And when she arrived next to Yoshiaki…
…She sure is exhausted…
This was the first time she had seen Yoshiaki so out of breath her shoulders were rising and falling. It was also her first time seeing the fox’s hair so disheveled. It had been hard to tell while looking at her from behind.
“…She’s really done a number on you, Yoshiaki.”
“I cannot deny it.”
Yoshiaki could still laugh in her throat. That “ko ko” felt calming to Yoshiyasu, so she held out her hand.
“I will look after them.”
“Testament. Then let’s start with this.”
With that line, Yoshiaki pulled something from her sides.
They were fans. The two fans doubled as guns and they were also used to control the Yamagata Castle.
That was not all.
“This too, Yoshiyasu.”
She then pulled a long object from her side. It was…
“The proof of my control of Mogami: Onikiri.”
Yoshiaki took a breath and passed Onikiri to Yoshiyasu.
Then she turned toward the Reine des Garous and nodded.
“Sorry about that. …I was carrying so much stuff that, when I moved, a trickery phase space rose to the surface. Since I scored that point using it, I must give you a point back for the initial Silver Cross point.”
“Heh heh. Then my initial mistake was useful after all. But…I was curious to see the extent of my relationships based on what happened if you cut me with Onikiri.”
The Reine des Garous smiled bitterly, looked to Yoshiaki’s tails, and said more.
“You are a very honest person, aren’t you?”
“Everyone who falls for a fox’s tricks thinks the same thing.”
“But it’s the truth. …It’s 4-4. An even score between two honest people.”
“Is that so?” asked Yoshiaki with a bitter smile.
…This wolf must be honest with anyone she takes a liking to.
Yoshiaki nodded at her own thought and placed a hand on her chest.
“Listen. …Tricks are the natural response to anyone who would harm Mogami. But this is not the time for that, is it?”
She turned to face Yoshiyasu and gestured her chin toward the fans and Onikiri the girl held.
“You understand what it means for me to leave those with you, even if just for a moment?”
“Judge. I am to watch to the end with these. And you…” Yoshiyasu raised her eyebrows. “You’ve lightened your load.”
Yoshiaki spent a few seconds thinking about what that meant, and…
“Acting like an adult now, are we?”
Laugh was all she could do.
…Children are so quick to act like adults.
And at some point the act would be indistinguishable from the real thing.
A parent watched their child’s growth one stage at a time. But they would eventually reach a much higher position.
She only had to look up at the shape and peak of the mountain this child and the other children were climbing.
She rubbed Yoshiyasu’s head and the girl’s eyebrows bent. But Yoshiaki realized she was putting on a strong front to show that she was a parent.
It was true she had lightened her load. So she took a light step forward and assumed her playing stance again.
Both sides had 4 points.
“It is your serve,” she said.
“Testament. You seem to have regained your spirit.”
“Testament. I confirmed I will have no regrets. And foxes are known for our nimbleness.” Yoshiaki narrowed her eyes. “It’s time you learned not even a wolf stands a chance if they underestimate the threat.”
It was the Reine des Garous’s serve.
This was the final stage of the first-to-5 match. They faced each other with a solid foundation of 4 points each.
The Reine des Garous tossed the white line upwards while still facing straight ahead.
And as it fell…
“Let’s get going!”
The racket hopped up from below and launched the white force.
The match had begun.
A solid sound summoned the wind.
White lines similar to gunfire passed back and forth between the two attackers.
The Reine des Garous moved forward every single time and Yoshiaki stayed back while occasionally moving forward.
The wolf was powerful. More and more of her white slashes flew in to crush the fox’s resistance.
Each time, the fox twisted her body, pulled it back, and…
She spun around to adjust her position. And when there was even the slightest opening…
With a short roar, she would snap at the wolf’s side.
The solid sounds arrived afterwards as both worked to establish their tactics. But…
“Like this, right?”
The wolf moved against the white attack attempting to stab at her side.
She whipped up the wind and spun just like the fox had.
This was not a careless action. Her footsteps rang out for the first time.
But with the loud sounds of her feet, her attack’s rotation speed grew.
The wolf was gaining more definite methods of attack and she was starting to overwhelm the fox.
The wolf combined her instantaneous acceleration with her rotation. The fox’s scattered attacks tried to lure her in, but she began to return them all with her own counterattacks.
More and more wind raced forth and the fox was driven to the center of her field.
She was forced to fall back, as if being hunted by a pack, but…
The wolf suddenly smiled and all strength vanished from the bullet she launched.
It was a sudden deceleration.
This was more than just a brief slowdown. The shot nearly stopped.
The impact sounded like a normal ping pong hit and the white line took the form of a ball traveling at a leisurely pace.
It was like tossing bait to the fox who had moved so far back from the field.
“Yoshiaki! Don’t fall for it!”
The dog shouted a warning, but the fox still moved forward.
If the fox did not take the bait tossed in front of the wolf pack, she would lose.
So she stepped forward and gathered all her strength.
She made a slicing attack.
This is dangerous, thought Yoshiyasu.
It was the wolf’s trap. While pursuing as a pack, the wolf had thrown out some bait to keep the fox from getting too close.
She intended to attack once the fox took the bait.
Of course, the fox was not helpless. She was sure to launch an attack on the wolf just as she took the bait.
But this was the wolf’s trap. Everything that happened there would be part of the wolf’s plan.
Yoshiyasu could tell the wolf had everything ready.
She took a low stance in preparation to finish off the fox here.
A moment later, the fox took the bait.
A solid sound rang out and the wolf made her initial movement.
But Yoshiyasu saw something there.
No, she did not see something there. Something that should have been between the fox and wolf.
The white line had vanished from the battlefield.
It was the fox’s trickery.
Ookubo had no idea what had happened.
She saw nothing there.
The white color was no longer where it had been before.
At first she thought Yoshiaki had taken the bait more literally than expected. But…
…No, that isn’t it!
It was the fox’s trickery. She had responded to the wolf’s trap with a trick.
That was how a fox did things. So…
…Where did it go!?
She knew where it had to be headed. And even if she did not see it, someone else had: the Reine des Garous.
And that woman had disappeared.
Her volume had vanished from its position overlooking the battlefield.
She was gone.
No, thought Ookubo. That isn’t it either.
The fox had used a trick and the wolf had responded. So she had to be…
“Up above, right!?”
Kani saw the Reine des Garous’s decision and movement.
Up at the ceiling, the woman had made a half rotation that put her feet up and her head down.
She was pursuing the white line that had flown high into the air.
That was the attack Yoshiaki had launched.
When she hit the white line up, it had accelerated from the bounce and instantly arrived far above the battlefield.
This vertical movement had come without warning when everyone was focused on the horizontal movement from before.
Anyone following along with their eyes would not have been able to keep up.
That was true for Kani.
But someone had kept up with this trick: the Reine des Garous.
She had seen through the trick before her eyes. And that was not thanks to smell or sound.
…It was the second point she lost, right!?
Back then, Yoshiaki had hit the ball high and the Reine des Garous had failed to return it.
If Yoshiaki was going to earn a point here, she would use the same trajectory. And the Reine des Garous had realized the fox would hit it even higher.
Her movement had been close to a gamble, but it had paid off.
She fixed the bottom of her yukata in midair and raised her racket. She used the ceiling as a floor and…
She launched an attack toward the fox on the battlefield below.
A high-speed attack was hit with a powerful drive.
Now that it was hit, the ball did not float up and only flew forward.
But the bullet did not fly toward Yoshiaki.
It flew to her left. It was an accurate shot to force her into a backhand return.
She turned in that direction, but she was not going to make it.
“…Yoshiaki!” Yoshiyasu’s voice rang out. “Win this!”
That is easier said than done, thought Yoshiaki with a bitter smile in her heart.
She was heavily exhausted. Her opponent most likely had the upper hand in speed and power.
She could not win in this state.
She had experience and technique, but her opponent had the power and reflexes to respond to that.
Also, her opponent was a beginner and had been learning the ropes, but…
…With that just now, she must have reached my level.
That meant the gap between them would only continue to shrink.
Yoshiaki could not win with strength.
But she was a nine-tailed fox, a great monster fox. There was one thing she definitely had over the wolf.
It happened in an instant.
In the blink of an eye, Ookubo saw Yoshiaki multiply in number.
This was not a martial arts technique. They were real copies using ether.
There were 9 of them and nothing to distinguish them from the original. They were all very real.
When the white line flew in, one of the slashing motions held the racket.
And a solid sound rang out.
Yoshiaki had returned the Reine des Garous’s attack.
And she had launched it straight toward the wolf as she fell from the ceiling.
Yoshiaki put away her copies and took another breath.
She took a defensive stance and watched for the Reine des Garous’s response with a certain thought in her heart.
…It all comes down to this!
The Reine des Garous had not allowed her to reproduce the previous lost point. She had grown during this short battle.
So it was coming.
She would use the attack she had used to earn her first point.
This would undoubtedly be that slash that not even Yoshiaki had been able to see.
The Reine des Garous adjusted her position with her ankles and made a forehand attack.
And Yoshiaki saw the initial leaning back of the upper body that would lead to that invisible shot.
It would be a high-speed slash.
…She hits it with her racket on its side!?
The Reine des Garous launched her sword strike.
The object she held was honestly difficult to wield as an offensive weapon.
Because the “surface” was so large, it created air resistance and thus wind pressure when she swung it.
And the rubber on the surface was useful when defending, but it absorbed the force when attacking.
So she held it on its side.
The pen-style racket was shaped more rectangularly than the shake-style ones.
So the panel sticking out from the handle was almost a rectangle.
Its side was a lot like a straight sword.
So she could perform a slash with that.
But she was a beginner and it was difficult to control the wind pressure that hit the blade.
So she held it pen-style and controlled it with her fingers.
With a shake-style grip, your wrist would hold it firmly in place, but the pen-style did not.
A light wrist was necessary for instantaneous acceleration.
She met all the conditions now. So…
The burst of acceleration traveled from her hips to her chest, shoulder, elbow, and wrist in turn.
The Reine des Garous launched a diagonal slash of an attack.
Ookubo had not seen the Reine des Garous’s attack.
No, this battle had long since surpassed what a literal arts type could keep up with.
She felt an odd trust in the two battle participants. She was confident that they would both return the bullet.
So she had not been looking at the Reine des Garous. She had been watching Yoshiaki’s response.
Yoshiaki was trying to perform a counterattack on the high-speed shot.
But her stance was different. This was not a cut shot like before.
The fox held her racket horizontally.
…She’s going to hit it with the side, isn’t she!?
I see, thought Ookubo as she finally figured out the Reine des Garous’s invisible slash.
And she knew Yoshiaki intended to make an even greater attack.
After all, the fox made another movement.
She brought her left hand to the right one already holding the racket.
“She’s using both hands!!”
Yoshiaki performed a slice from the middle right.
When swinging the racket so quickly, the blade tended to catch the wind and veer off course.
The wolf could probably suppress that with her strength, but Yoshiaki was a fox. So she placed both hands on it, and…
With a laugh-like cry, she swung her blade.
But she included one trick. Instead of just hitting it back, she used a drive.
The shake-style racket had a nearly circular blade.
She used that arc for a long drive.
The method was simple. Any warrior from the Far East could do it.
She only had to do it like it was a sword.
Far Eastern swords were not used to cut the enemy as you hit them. You hit the enemy with the blade and then pulled back to slice them.
That was the purpose of their curved shape and the item she now held was similarly shaped.
The rest was the same.
The curve may have been short, but she used it to its fullest for her slash. She slowly reversed both her wrists. It was not an instantaneous thing, but the solid cutting edge reached the white line.
And it was released.
Yoshiaki bet on this move while keeping her arms in the follow-through motion.
This was the first time in the match she had launched the bullet with a drive like that.
It was a side drive from the side of the racket.
It was not a topspin from above or reverse spin from below like before.
The bullet she launched onto the battlefield was a drive that raced to the right.
It was targeted at the Reine des Garous’s left side at the very back.
That was exactly where it went.
The sound of a real impact shook the battlefield.
Immediately, the bouncing bullet flew with nearly vertical cornering.
But the wolf took action. Not with a side step and not with a spin.
She had turned herself in the opposite direction after her previous forehand hit.
And she hit from behind her back on her right.
It was a complete backhand attack, but her wrist was in place.
She twisted her hips slightly and unleashed her monstrous acceleration.
It traveled through her back, shoulder, elbow, wrist, and…
…Is she using her fingers too!?
That movement was only possible with the penhold grip. And once it was all complete…
The sleeve of Reine des Garous’s yukata tore from the force of the instantaneous acceleration.
The whipped-up wind scattered the cloth and increased the speed of her arm. Yoshiaki prepared herself to respond, but…
…Will I make it in time!?
Just then, she heard a bursting sound.
The Reine des Garous had swung her blade with a burst of acceleration behind her back and it had torn into the white line.
Ookubo saw the end of the match.
It exploded before her eyes.
When the Reine des Garous’s strike tore into the white line…
It failed to endure the repeated high-speed slashes and scattered like a flower.
“Oh, dear.” The Reine des Garous smiled while the shredded pieces of her clothing scattered around her. “I’m still not used to this. …I forgot to hold back and lost myself in the moment, just like old times.”
Ookubo breathed in as she heard those words and saw the scattered white.
“According to the rules, if the round cannot continue, then whoever caused that loses a point.”
“5 points for the Mogami Chancellor. …And those 5 points mean the Mogami Chancellor is the winner!!”
Yoshiaki could not move as she listened to Ookubo.
She maintained her stance and focused on the emptiness before her eyes.
She knew why this had happened.
But her body and mind were still in combat mode and trying to follow the white line she could no longer see.
Her body was also threatening to move on reflex. So…
A voice from the side brought her back to her senses.
Three things entered her field of vision: two large fans and Onikiri.
When Yoshiyasu held them out to her, she was finally able to turn her gaze in that direction.
“Hand over what you’re holding there. I’ll play a normal match against Ookubo as a palate cleanser. You take these things. Because…yeah,” said Yoshiyasu. “That’s what a fox should be holding.”
“…Acting like an adult now, are we?”
Yoshiaki straightened up while feeling her sweat pour out.
Her feet supported her body which was unsteady more from sudden relaxation than exhaustion.
And she looked to the Reine des Garous.
That woman had sweat on her brow and she stuck her tongue out a little when their eyes met.
The Loup-Garou queen slowly approached a few steps and pinched the bottom of her yukata.
“I’m so sweaty it’s growing see-through. I really wish I could show my husband.” She held out her right hand. “Until we meet again. …I will remember the proper etiquette next time.”
“Yes, I am one of the few who can take you on.”
Yoshiaki smiled bitterly and shook that hand. And when she did…
Something warm yet cool flowed from that palm.
The Reine des Garous may have been using the unique Loup-Garou synchronization ability to transfer stamina. In that case…
…I can’t believe this.
Now there is a fellowship between us, thought Yoshiaki with a bitter smile.
So she said, “You should visit Ushuu next time. …The fox will show the wolf around.”
“Hey, Mitotsudaira. Did you see the duel is over?”
Mitotsudaira nodded at Masazumi’s question. She took a sip of tea to hydrate herself while taking a break.
“Judge. It seems my mother lost. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but that’s the Mogami Chancellor for you.”
“Yes, and the Reine des Garous sent another message.” Masazumi looked at the sign frame the anteater opened and read it in a deadpan voice. “ ‘Nate? I learned a lot here. When you put thick rubber on the end of the stick, the stimulation is a little weak, but the balls last much longer. Use thin rubber and they don’t last very long at all. Use the hard part and you’ll have an explosion on your hands… Well, I did my best, but we couldn’t get past three times. Remember all this, okay?’ ”
“What in the world was my mother doing!?”
Horizon brought over a bamboo pole with a straight face, but Mitotsudaira gestured her toward Asama and made a quick retreat.
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