Horizon:Volume 6C Chapter 65

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Chapter 65: Hopeful One in Illusory Space[edit]

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No battlefield

Is more unimaginable

No battlefield

Allows for greater movement

Point Allocation (To Move is to Win)


Henri sensed the auditory and tactile feedback of a swordfight.

She fought to the southeast of Paris. She was about a kilometer removed from the road where she had engaged the enemy.

She stood on what amounted to a field while crossing blades with Kiyomasa.

She had summoned her Lourd de Marionnette and she attacked with its four long swords.

Her opponent defended and attacked with two half-sickle spears.

Henri was on the attack, but her opponent had the greater defense.

Is she primarily buying time while making an attack whenever I show an opening?

And right now was not Hexagone Française’s time to defend.

“Will you not withdraw!?”

Kiyomasa did not answer her shout. She simply moved her mobile shell around as if dancing and blocked Henri’s large swords.

Henri had four blades while her opponent had two.

But Henri’s anti-Lourd de Marionnette swords were heavy. She could not move them as nimbly as Kiyomasa’s Caledfwlch.

She had hoped to make up for the lack of fine control by overwhelming her opponent with the weight of the thick blades, but…

I didn’t expect her to use thrusters…!

When their blades crossed due to Kiyomasa’s defense, she would accelerate Caledfwlch. Its force rivalled that of Henri’s swords and metal sparks flew.

This was likely what it meant to excel at defense. But it required more than just skilled defensive techniques to pull this off. She also needed the ability to predict and calculate the force of the enemy’s attack. So…

“Where did you learn this technique!?”

“The basics I learned from someone I am required to call my teacher.” Kiyomasa narrowed her eyes as she answered. “Also, my friend is kind of an attack-only person, so I have lots of practice from sparring with her.”

“Do you refer to Fukushima?”

Fukushima was quite skilled, so it made sense that Kiyomasa was as well.

She took this seriously.

If only Armand could do the same…

Having someone so unmotivated around did nothing to improve everyone’s abilities.

“You must have an excellent environment there.”

“Testament,” replied Kiyomasa while moving forward.

She sent out both spears in quick succession and rushed forward with the same speed.

There was weight behind her steps.

“…Toh.”

Henri found it dangerous how she occasionally deflected her swords. And…

“Got it.”

One of those masses of metal suddenly split apart.

One of her swords’ blades split off of the reinforcing back.

The separated metal blade and frame floated in the air. The hilt just barely fastened them together, but with the main axis gone, they spilled out and various parts produced metallic sounds.

It broke!?

The object in the air was no longer usable.

Kiyomasa had made it that way.


Was that…?

She knew what it was. When Caledfwlch had blocked the sword, it had made an attack on the area from the tip of the blade to the seam between blade and reinforcement. That was what she had “got”.

Henri had quickly pulled it back, but Caledfwlch had greater acceleration. And after the sword was blocked, there would be plenty of openings to attack.

“Honestly.” Henri lightly fell back. “Humans never cease to provide tasks for us Belle de Marionnettes.”

“Then allow me to provide another task for you.” Kiyomasa glanced down at the sword parts fallen to and rolling along the field. “I will destroy another one. Otherwise, you will be at a disadvantage.”

At first, Henri did not know what that meant.

But after a moment she understood.

“Do you think you are the strongest?” she asked as the iron-smelling wind washed over her. “Since you seem to think I would be at a disadvantage without equipment equal to yours.”

“No. Unfortunately, I am not the strongest.”

Kiyomasa turned toward her with a smile.

But that smile was unique. The ends of her eyebrows were somewhat lowered and she opened her lips to speak.

“There are people stronger than me. At least three.”

“And who are they?”

“Testament. One is Fukushima-sama. Another is the Peerless in the East who Fukushima-sama has set her sights on. And the third,” Kiyomasa nodded, “is the teacher who taught me to swordfight.”

“Testament.” Henri nodded. “I will work to expand that category.”

That will be no easy feat, she thought.

After all, her hearing devices had been picking up a certain noise for a while. The wind carried over the clashing of metal blades.

The density of that noise was abnormal. It would sound like a solid bombardment before suddenly disappearing and becoming a strike as heavy as an artillery blast.

Is that Master Danzou and Fukushima Masanori?

What level had their battle reached by this point?


This is an unusual experience, thought Fukushima.

She did not understand her enemy’s attacks.

She understood they were known as illusions, but the method and logic of them made no sense.

She was battling Katou Danzou on the road in front of Paris.

That much was fine. It made sense.

Katou Danzou’s left hand held a long kunai in an underhand grip and his right hand held one in an overhand grip. She understood he was using those to attack.

But what came next was the problem.

Blades would suddenly fall from the sky in the middle of his attacks.

Swords fell from somewhere to attack her openings, as if they were dangling down from an unseen ceiling.

And when she tried to move forward to dodge them, she felt something grab and tug on the back of her collar or hem of her skirt.

When she took a step, the ground below her feet would sometimes become water, but what would have happened if she had completed those steps? It was night, but it had still looked like some kind of enormous silhouette swam below the water.

At one point, she had seen a severed head at her feet.

That one had been bad.

For a certain reason, it had snapped her mind back into focus and she had recalled Kiyomasa being hit by a similar technique. According to Kiyomasa, she had seen a head similar to her own on the ground just before being hit by just such an attack.

Kiyomasa’s words had saved Fukushima.

She had instantly leaped back and escaped unscathed, but she had felt an odd chilly presence at her neck. Almost like two hoe-like objects had just about split her neck open vertically.

What was that?

But she could find no answer to that question. She remained confused by the battle as Danzou continued making attacks.

He was fast.

He used his small body to make a barrage of attacks and sometimes used his entire body for a single tackling attack.

That said, he only came up to the bottom of her chest. However, his stamina seemed to let him keep up his speed and agility forever. That was troublesome and creepy.

He kept up the attacks without ever running out of breath, so she was forced to fight a defensive battle even while holding her spear short.

Her blade did sometimes reach him. But…

“Oh?”

Danzou readily let her lop off his arm or hand.

And as soon as she saw the body part spinning through the air…

Huh?

For some reason, she found his blade moving toward her hand or arm.

He turned it around.

The following cold sweat and test of her reaction speed left her chilled.

She did not understand.

Also, his movement was ridiculous.

When attacking, he would gain speed in midair and sometimes come to a complete stop off the ground.

She thought he might be using acceleration spells and fall control spells, but that was not it.

If she had to describe it, the term “illusion” seemed to fit best.

“Testament.”

Fukushima thought, I can see why he is known as the Sanada Ten Spears’ Great Teacher.

So he is the one that trained them.

“There is one thing I wish to ask thee.”

Fukushima sent a question into Danzou’s barrage.

“Has any member of the Sanada Ten Braves been a match for thee?”


“Good question…”

Fukushima heard Danzou speak from beyond the overlapping sparks created by his right and left blades.

When she blocked the long kunai, he jumped weightlessly back.

“If I had to pick one, I would say Anayama did pretty well. His ninja technique is simple, but his focus has some decent idiosyncrasies.”

“Anayama…”

Uh, oh, thought Fukushima.

Umm, which one is that?

She remembered facing those ten in the past, but their names had been different back then. And Danzou would not know what she meant if she asked how many from the left he was.

She decided to ask some leading questions while they sent out their blades and sent sparks flying.

“Oh, yes. That short one.”

“He’s tall!”

“…Um, the one with large eyes.”

“His eyes are narrow, you fool!”

“Then, um, the one with the impressive hair.”

“His hair is short, you buffoon…”

“Then that one that doesn’t stand out much.”

“That’s the one.”

“Testament. …All’s well that ends well, right?”

“Not at all, you dullarrrrrrd!”

He made a harsh attack. She just barely caught it on Ichinotani’s shaft, but…

Huh!?

It had a lot of force behind it. The impact was enough to knock Ichinotani upwards.

She was sent airborne, so she flipped around and went in for a landing. But when she looked below her…

Water!

That had not been there before.

It was an illusion.


Danzou saw Fukushima avoid the ground.

She used Ichinotani to avoid the water below her. She slammed the butt of the spear against the edge of the puddle to launch herself outside its range.

Well done for a split-second decision, thought Danzou.

She is quite good.

Not many people had ever endured this many illusion attacks.

The only people this had failed to work on were Shingen, aka Yoshitsune, and Kagetora, aka Marfa. But…

Being with those two was a lot of fun.

They had inspired a sense of inferiority since his spell would not work and a sense of peace because he need not use it. Being able to serve someone without reservation was a wonderful thing.

It meant he need not win.

But he knew this opponent was different. Because…

“Let me ask you one thing.”

“What is it?”

It had to do with what happened earlier.

“You saw your doll’s head before, didn’t you? …How did you ‘realize’ what that was?”

“Doll?”

Fukushima tilted her head forward for a moment.

But after a while she nodded.

“Testament. So that was a doll? I thought it was my own severed head. After all, it had the same blank expression I always have. That felt so awkward it brought me back to my senses.”

Danzou was briefly left speechless by that answer. He gasped.

“Ha.”

And a quiet voice was pushed from the bottom of his lungs.

This girl…

I can’t let my guard down around her, he thought. After all, based on his calculations…

“It didn’t look like a doll?”

It should have. But Fukushima responded without tilting her head.

“It was too well made to.”

“Is that so?” Danzou nodded and took a fighting stance. “Then I shall have you kill me.”


Fukushima felt like Danzou had moved slightly closer.

She then realized power had filled him as internal pressure, but…

“Is that where I am?”

She suddenly heard his words from directly in front of her.

“…!”

It was not Danzou’s blade she deflected with the shaft. It was her own experience.

The memory within her, the training she had repeated with Kiyomasa and the others, and the awareness she had gained through strength all reacted to Danzou’s attack. And…

“Headfirst Fall!”

She activated herself. She used the power she had been holding in reserve because this battlefield was so incomprehensible. And…

There!

Danzou had circled to the left.

She “passed” the blade he sent out.

She used the ideal movement.

She could not explain what she had done, but her body did it.

She controlled her body to dive in between the attack and defense. Rather than “seeing” her enemy’s attack or defense, it was more like she was “calculating” the timing.

Before she could even see it, she struck at her opponent’s opening and circled around.

“…!”

She made a horizontal slash of Ichinotani’s tip to slice open Danzou’s side.

A moment later, Danzou’s body burst open. The body popped like a balloon and the head tilted back.

The face had no eyes, nose, mouth, or anything else. And…

Behind me!

Before she could turn around, she felt something on the butt of her spear.

She reacted instantaneously.

She spun her body forward and grabbed the spear near the tip. And she turned around.

A white arm growing out of thin air had struck the butt.

There was nothing actually on it. It was an illusion.

The arm disappeared. It became ether light fog and vanished into the darkness.

Fukushima did not even wait for that as she sank down. And from overhead…

“Whoops.”

Danzou descended from above in an attempt to pierce her head.

What had he been standing on? Or had he jumped?

She did not understand any of it. But she gripped Ichinotani’s shaft with the tip still directed behind her.

“——————”

She used a snap of her wrist to send the tip backwards.

She heard the metallic clang of a hit behind her.

At the same time, the Danzou falling from overhead went limp and separated into individual parts.

That one had been a doll. So what had produced the metallic clang behind her?

That one is…

It was her.

When she looked back, she saw Ichinotani’s blade stabbed deep into her own gut.

And in that instant…

“Headfirst Fall…!”


Fukushima felt a presence trying to slice open her gut.

It was the same as when she saw the severed head before.

But there was one difference from before.

I made the ideal movement!

She had moved to search out the illusion’s identity.

She circled behind the presence trying to slice her open.

“Here…!”

She grabbed and spun Ichinotani with her fingers. She made a slash with enough force to spin it vertically and slammed it into empty air.

A moment later, she found a certain result.

“…Here?”

An attack from behind was launched on her left side.

It was a slash from a long kunai.


Danzou saw his enemy jump out of the way.

He had felt it land. The attack from his right kunai had definitely sliced Fukushima’s side. However…

Was it too shallow!?

There was a single reason for that.

His left hand held a long kunai with an underhand grip. That was to protect his left side.

When Fukushima had spun Ichinotani vertically, the butt end had rapidly spun toward him.

Of course, Ichinotani’s shaft was long. While it could have reached him behind her, her body got in the way when it rotated vertically and it could not spin further in than her side.

Or so it should have been.

Fukushima had done something different. While Ichinotani spun vertically, she had swung the tip outwards and made a sweeping blow behind her with the butt.

She had combined attack and defense into a single action.

For a spear-user, doing that with the tip, shaft, and butt was the ideal.

That tended to make them quick to attack and slow to defend in battle, but…

This girl…!

This was not how she had fought the other day.

When had she corrected herself? And…

“Now you’ve done it…!”

Her attack with the spear butt had reached him.

It split the left side of Danzou’s head and blood burst out.


Fukushima knew she had misjudged the depth of the ideal movement, but it had still reached him.

And she understood something else too.

She had not predicted Danzou’s attack from behind.

She had only managed to counterattack due to her training. It came down to her defensive senses that Kiyomasa had clued her into the night before. That had allowed her to take defensive action without checking where the enemy was.

Meanwhile, she concluded that the illusions she had seen all fell into one of two patterns.

“The first is an illusion of how I will move or attack.”

That was what transformed her attacks into her opponent’s, sending them back at her.

As for the other…

“An illusion suddenly attacks me when I move.”

That was the water puddle, the sword falling from above, and the severed head.

But, she questioned herself. The latter appears to be a surprise attack, so how was I able to avoid them at the last second?

A surprise attack should be unavoidable.

And why had the final attack to her left side been the only one from Danzou himself?

The answer to those questions was simple.

They appear to be catching me off guard, but I am actually sensing some kind of danger or unease in advance.

Below her feet as she landed, overhead when she attacked, in front of her during a gap, and every other enemy movement that brought a sense of danger. She knew what the enemy’s illusion was.

“Thy power allows thee to manifest the fears and hopes within my thoughts, doesn’t it?”

And…

“Thou made that last attack thyself because I had begun to face my own fears, correct?”


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Fukushima heard a voice.

“Ha.”

Danzou’s laughter continued from there.

The small old man bent his head back a bit.

“What if it is? …Identifying my illusions gives you no means of fighting them. As soon as you hope to land an attack on me, I manifest that hope as my own. And as soon as you sense a disadvantage, that fear is physically manifested. You will ultimately be killed by your own hopes and fears.”

“Testament. Then we are the same,” said Fukushima. “I only need evade every attack I hope for and strike down every fear I expect.”

“Can you do that?”

Fukushima inhaled when she heard that question.

She felt pain in her left side, but the divine protection was taking effect. So…

“I shall prove it with my own body.”

“You do know who I am, don’t you?”

Fukushima nodded and faced him. Half his face was wet with blood and his features were not those of a human.

That inhumanness was no more than an illusion on her part, but…

“Thou are a dragon, are thou not?”

“Yes, I am indeed a dragon.”

“Thy name?”

“Katou Danzou. …My current form is my form. I am that sort of Celestial Dragon.”

I see, thought Fukushima.

As long as he had his illusions, he had no “true form”. Even if he was a Celestial Dragon, he likely had no definite form.

“So should I think of this as facing a dragon incarnation?”

“No. A Celestial Dragon incarnation.”

Danzou smiled and prepared to fight. He spread his legs and pointed his right hand at her.

“Come! Human!”


The Terrestrial Dragon protecting the east gate of Paris’s wall heard the clashing of swords a few kilometers away.

“Wow…”

The Terrestrial Dragon reflexively shrank down.

While he did so, he saw sparks scattering at blinding speed. The flying sparks and ether light moved at a much denser and more crazed pace than before. And on occasion…

“Oh.”

An intense roar would arrive as a deep noise and shaking.

It was clearly the tremor of a colossal presence stepping on the ground.

“Incredible… He can emit the power of a dragon while in human form?”

“Do you know him?” asked a student on the wall.

The Terrestrial Dragon shook his head. It was a frantic motion.

“No, I don’t. I only heard a bit from Lord Bernard before the battle. Apparently, he led a dragon army in a part of the invasion 800 years ago. …So he’s here, huh?”

After that, he spoke up to the students on the wall.

“Y’know, if that’s who that old man was, you should’ve told us beforehand. The dragons who were already defeated didn’t get a chance to greet him. That’s a shameful thing for our clan.”

“Yeah, but we only just learned he was a dragon, too. The Roi-Soleil and the other officers might have known, though.”

“Oh…”

The Terrestrial Dragon looked up into the night sky and sighed.

“I was wondering why Lord Bernard was keeping his distance, but this explains it…”

“Why would that be?”

The Terrestrial Dragon answered while listening to the sound of artillery fire.

“I don’t really get it myself, but Lord Bernard seems to avoid keeping any Far Eastern acquaintances.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. It’s simply customary for Terrestrial Dragons to offer up their lives to the Celestial Dragons. Just having him eat with us yesterday was an honor to our clan. But…that Celestial Dragon over there is being pretty stubborn too.”

That was obvious at a glance.

Ether light scattered through the battle. They were likely using some kind of spell, but it was scattering at a level close to a fog.

The “mold” composing the Celestial Dragon’s body was breaking down and leaking ether.

That was like a Celestial Dragon’s lifespan.

Without fighting, he would likely last a few more years. But dragons were a combat species. They lived in battle and they died in battle.

“It is a matter of honor,” said the Terrestrial Dragon.

He felt that Celestial Dragon intended to use the outcome of this battle to decide whether or not this would be the end for him.

If he won with few injuries, he could join the ranks of another battle. But…

“But I wonder. Even if he lives a long life after this, he might not ever fight a battle as good as this.”

“Is this battle looking good?”

“I don’t know,” said the Terrestrial Dragon. “But what counts as a ‘good battle’ to you humans? Is it this?”


Danzou’s body trembled from his own actions.

Splendid.

He was an Illusory Dragon. His base strength was that of a Celestial Dragon, but he could also place his opponent’s “imagination” on top of that.

In other words, he could manifest his enemy’s imagination and fear as his own power.

And since he was born with this ability, he saw the combination of his power and his opponent’s “imagination” as who he was in that moment.

The power he was given by this enemy was great.

Just how powerful a foe did he appear to be to her? And just how powerful was the fear she felt about herself?

It was splendid.

And he moved.

“Now…!”

He sent his blades toward her and moved forward. He did not keep any strength in reserve. He moved forward while filling each and every movement with a dragon’s full power. So the enemy’s defenses were meaningless. Trying to block his attacks would only send her flying. His feet shook the earth and the tremor restricted his enemy’s movements.

And the enemy used…

“The bare minimum of ideal movement, hm?”

She controlled her body to slip within his actions and then escape back outside of them.

Her movements were predicting his attacks and defenses. In something that was not quite a counterattack, her blade would slip into the gaps between his rapid-fire attacks.

It was troublesome. The more he did, the more his injuries grew.

But his attacks were not meaningless.

He did not land any direct hits, but he was straining and harming her body. Also…

“There.”

He manifested her fear.

The grass grabbed her leg and a blade appeared to try to lop off her head from behind.

Just how much worry did this enemy carry inside? And just how much of it had she shaken off?

She fascinated him.

What was hidden in this enemy’s past? What was the source of the worry and strength in this enemy who constantly carried such a great weight?

Danzou wanted to know. Because knowing would make him stronger. And…

“Danzou-dono…!”

He heard a voice. The enemy spoke through the swordplay.

“I have realized something!”

“What is it!? Tell me!”

She spun her spear around, dodged his blade, and let her black hair fly behind her as she answered.

“Did thou always have that form!?”


That question just about made Danzou lighten his attack.

He briefly recalled his life in Sanada.

400 years ago, when they had moved from Europe to Sanada, the people there had feared them but warmly welcomed them.

And later, those 10 arrived.

Had this enemy realized what had happened there?

But he could not say that here.

As a Celestial Dragon, this was something he could not say. So…

“I am not at liberty to say!”

“Testament…!”

How had she interpreted that? But she had said this was something she had “realized”.

“Humanity is so very soft!”

Danzou raised his voice and approached the enemy.

This enemy was interesting. How much did she hope for and what was she reaching for?

Show me!

So to pursue his curiosity, Danzou made the battle even denser and deeper.

If the enemy circled inward, he would bend his elbow and pursue her. If she circled outward, he would spin his body and pursue her.

He would rapidly pull on or knock back the jabbing spear to knock her off balance.

And he realized he was gradually outdoing her speed.

The enemy was beginning to increase her judgment of his strength.

Because they continued to fight yet she could not defeat him, she thought of him as a powerful enemy. And that strengthened him.

That was convenient.

He did not consider it unfair to use his enemy’s misjudgments. Illusions were the truth to his enemy.

He accelerated. He accelerated to live up to his opponent’s expectations.

“Ohh…!”

He rushed toward her.

He placed himself in the gap between her attack and defense.


Danzou directly faced his enemy as their powers crossed paths.

From his perspective, the enemy’s spear circled in from the outer right while he sent his left kunai in on the left.

In an instant, the enemy’s spear spun to the side. She spun the front end of the shaft around her waist to sweep it toward him from the outside.

If he made an attack, her attack would hit him.

Of course, he had the strength of a dragon. A blade might be a problem, but the shaft was not going to do anything to him. However…

“…!?”

Fukushima reached back with her right hand and grabbed the butt end of the spinning shaft.

Her right hand definitely pulled back on the butt end of the shaft as it circled from her waist to her back.

The front end of the sweeping shaft slid back. That meant the blade at the tip would hit him rather than the shaft.

This deterrence attack combined attack and defense.

Danzou had tried to make a backhand blow with the long kunai in his left hand, but now the spear tip was going to hit him on the back of his left side.

He continued the swing of his left arm regardless.

He stabbed at the left side of Fukushima’s back.

She had her right arm pulled outwards. If anything, the recoil of her right arm was moving her body toward him on her left. So he could stab her.

And he made a leap.

He began jumping over Ichinotani’s tip like he was performing a Fosbury Flop.

He leaped.

He arched his navel toward the heavens and continued swinging his left arm toward Fukushima’s back.

And that left blade tip pierced something: empty air.

He saw Fukushima’s body moving away.

The right hand moving Ichinotani outwards had let go of the shaft.

Ichinotani continued spinning around her waist. But she was no longer bound by Ichinotani’s weight and she raised her left arm.

“Toh.”

His blade passed below her left arm.

His attack had missed.

He continued rotating his body from the jump. He made a reverse flip in the midair.

Below him, Ichinotani was spinning around Fukushima’s waist. The tip was passing by her back and the butt was pointed his way. And she used her right hand to strike Ichinotani from below.

The spear butt rose up diagonally and entered the grasp of her raised left hand.

She launched the butt toward him in midair.

It was a sharp strike. However…

“——————”

A hand grew from empty air and grabbed her right elbow. And another her collar.

She frowned at the sudden seizure, but…

“…!”

Danzou sensed her skill in the fact that she altered the spear butt attack into a downward swing instead of a jab.

After all, he had used an illusion to correct his midair course and descend straight down.

If she had attacked diagonally up to where he had been, he had planned to attack her as he landed, but…

This girl…!

The clinging hands had vanished from the spear butt attack and the swinging of her body.

How? asked Danzou.

She was filled with such worry and fear, so how could she continue forward and sweep it all away?

Then it hit him.

Just how powerful an enemy has she set her sights on?

The Peerless in the East.

That was easy enough to say, but this girl had to know a fraction of what it meant.

This was more than just words. She had come into contact with that level which was nearly impossible to achieve.

And that meant she must know she did not even come close at her current level. So…

“You do not reject your fears and worries, but you possess the determination to shake free of them. Is that it?”

Danzou just barely dodged the spear butt sent his way. And he did so by ducking low so the jabbing shaft effectively rested on his right shoulder.

The shaft was on his right shoulder.

He did not have time to grab it. It would escape before he could.

So he used his great strength as a dragon. As he stood up, he sent force straight down from his hips and knees and the opposite force from the earth escaped through his shoulders.

He converted a dragon stomp into a super short span shoulder attack.

If the force hit the shaft on his shoulder and knocked it upwards, Fukushima would lose her balance.

And the tremor created from a dragon’s full strength did indeed send Ichinotani’s shaft upwards.

This was a hit from a dragon’s physical strength, so…

“It will launch you along with the spear, girl…!”

As soon as he said that, Danzou saw something in front of him: the bottom of a foot.

“…!?”


Fukushima made up her mind in an instant.

As soon as she knew Danzou’s strength was going to knock the spear butt upwards, she moved forward.

“Headfirst Fall!!”

She only needed two steps…no, one step. She took the step, and…

Don’t expect it to hit!

This enemy would consume that expectation. So she had to simply focus on her movement.

“…Oh!”

Fukushima held Ichinotani below her right arm and kicked at Danzou’s face.

A moment later, her body bent backwards. She spun to the point that she saw the ground behind her and for a second time…

“Headfirst Fall!!”

She used her kicking leg as a pivot as she took more air into her lungs, accelerated, and spun.

She held Ichinotani close and felt her entire body straining as she rotated.

She was not launched away. She threw even more acceleration into a second, ricochet-like acceleration.

“Ichinotani…!”


Danzou saw it even though the kick had dulled his vision.

A black line drew a circle in front of his eyes.

That was Fukushima’s hair.

However, she had not been launched away. She had used a series of acceleration spells to redirect the dragon force and she spun in midair.

The result was obvious.

He saw Ichinotani’s tip springing up toward him from below after it made a half-rotation.

The way it tore through the ground like a claw was proof enough it carried the strength of a Celestial Dragon.

He had to dodge this, but he had only just forcibly stomped the ground.

He could not move. At best, he could weakly swing his arms.

“Kh…!”

He took Ichinotani’s direct attack on the right side of his chest. And it immediately reached his back.

“———————”

His entire body shook from the slicing.


Fukushima lost control immediately after feeling the tactile feedback.

She had placed two acceleration spells on top of a dragon’s momentum. She was also spinning, so she quickly lost control of her speed. Also…

My left leg…!

A hot line ran from her left thigh to her left knee. Danzou’s right blade had hit her during that attack. It had to be a shallow strike, but the force of her spin would have helped it. However…

I am impressed he could attack during that!

He should have gone limp and completely collapsed. Even if he had done it with his arm muscles alone, he would have had to defy the rest of his body’s movements to do it. It would have been a strain on his muscles and may have even torn some.

But she did not have time to linger on her admiration.

When she hit the ground starting with the spear tip, she and Ichinotani bounced along the ground like a wheel.

She made three rotations with two long bounces in between. Chunks of dirt filled her mouth and the grass slashed her cheeks until she came to a stop collapsed on her side.

“…!”

She was still conscious. Although she may have passed out for a few seconds.

But she was aware of herself breathing there.

She was alive.

She could tell the first-aid spells were activating across her trembling body. Blood oozed from her left leg and it tickled as it dripped down.

She was alive, she had her senses, and she could breathe. Also…

“——————”

She saw it. She could see the sky illuminated by Paris’s lights and filled with an ocean to the east, west, and south.

So she twisted her body, placed her hands on the ground, and got up.

Miraculously, Ichinotani remained in her hand, so she used it like a cane to rise to her feet.

“Ah…!”

She exhaled, spat out the dirt that had gotten into her solidified saliva, and inhaled.

It was cold.

Had the air really cooled this much? And…

Where is Danzou-dono?

When she turned toward the road…

“Fukushima-sama!”

She heard Kiyomasa’s voice from the left, which was to the south.

She turned that way and saw the girl running to her side with Caledfwlch in hand.

“Are you okay, Fukushima-sama!?”

Fukushima listened to Kiyomasa’s voice.

“Watch out!”


Kiyomasa told her to “watch out”.

When she heard that, Fukushima wondered if she was caught in some kind of illusion.

Once, when they had faced Danzou on the ironclad ship to Paris, she and Kiyomasa had seen different things.

Then could Kiyomasa be seeing something different from her?

If so…

“Eh?”

Fukushima realized she was collapsed on the ground.

Even though she had gotten back up after striking Danzou and rolling with Ichinotani.

An illusion!?


Fukushima realized the substance in her mouth was not dirt. It was blood.

And the air she was breathing…

Smells of iron and fire.

This was the battlefield. Then she needed to get up as soon as possible. But just as she thought that…

“Fukushima-sama! Are you okay!?”

Kiyomasa ran over to her from the south.

But Fukushima was trembling and she must have somewhat lost consciousness. She could not speak.

Kiyomasa must have known what state Fukushima was in because she got down on her knees after running over. Kiyomasa reached a hand below her arm and lifted her to her feet with the assistance of her mobile shell.

“You need healing.”

“No, I must continue fighting.”

“You take everything so seriously, Fukushima-sama…”

Kiyomasa had a bitter smile in her voice as she lifted Fukushima to her feet.

Fukushima made sure she kept Ichinotani in her right hand as she nodded to Kiyomasa. And she spoke to the girl brushing the grass and dirt off of her from behind.

“Thank thee, Kiyo-dono.”

“You’re welcome. But what happened? Your right leg is so badly injured.”

Fukushima had a reflexive response to those words.

At the same time, she realized there was a white blade growing from the top of her left chest.

It was Caledfwlch. One of its blades was piercing her from back to chest.

And while standing behind her, Kiyomasa kept her face hidden and spoke with a smile.

“You can rest now, Fukushima-sama.”


Kiyomasa’s words told Fukushima something: Oh, so this is an illusion.

And she slowly turned back toward Kiyomasa.

That girl had suggested exactly what Fukushima had been thinking for a while now.

Can’t I just give up on it all?

She had thought the same thing the night before. However…

“I am in thy debt.” Fukushima spoke to the smiling Kiyomasa. “Kiyo-dono would never say that even if she thought it.”

That left only one explanation for what she had said.

“The weakness within me was drawn out using Kiyo-dono as a shield.”

Sorry. I have tarnished thy name, Kiyo-dono, thought Fukushima.

But she had something else to say to her own fears and worries that had to exist beyond that smile.

“Thou may stay there.”

“I can?”

“No matter how much thou grab at my back or sweetly tempt me, I shall only shake free of thee and continue onward.”

“And if you can’t escape me?”

“Then Kiyo-dono and the others shall scold me and accompany me.”

After a moment, Kiyomasa smiled bitterly. However…

“You are no longer alone, are you?”

“I never was. But…”

But…

“I only now recalled that fact.”

With those words, Fukushima reached out to the version of herself in front of her and pulled her close.

She pulled in those worries, fears, and everything else.

“So I will no longer fear that.”

As soon as she embraced her, her surroundings shattered.

Fukushima was removed from the effects of the illusion.


“Ah…!”

Fukushima gasped for breath and realized she was down on her knees.

She was on the battlefield. She had collapsed to the side of the road leading to Paris and there was dirt in her mouth.

My left leg!

There was indeed a wound on that leg and blood was dripping from it.

It was the wound that had helped her realize something was “off” about Kiyomasa in the illusion.

She was right-handed. She used her left leg as a pivot, so she tried to avoid injuring it. But in the illusion, Kiyomasa had said it was her right leg that was injured.

That would have been quite convenient for her, so she had decided that was an illusion.

If she had not turned around then, Caledfwlch would have stabbed through the center of her back.

Of course, she still had that wound. When she tried to move her left shoulder, her left shoulder blade strained and a sticky wetness fell from the chest of her inner suit.

What an incredible technique!

This was different from the previous illusion techniques. It had not happened in reality. It had entered her senses themselves.

“Does that mean Danzou-dono and I are closer than we were?”

“I suppose it does,” said a voice.

Danzou was there, about 15m ahead of her.

He held a long kunai toward her and was down on his knees just like her.

He directed his sharp eyes her way, but…

“Kh.”

Glowing fog suddenly burst from his entire body.

That Celestial Dragon’s final moments had arrived.

Then his short body slowly fell forward.

The Celestial Dragon ninja collapsed onto the wheel-worn road with his long kunai still aimed her way.

“…Damn.”

He lay flat on the ground.


Danzou realized his end had arrived.

So it ends here!

He could still sense worries and fears in his enemy. Her awed fear of him as a Celestial Dragon was definitely reaching him.

His mind was linked to the realization of just how great a being a Celestial Dragon is.

Indeed, he thought. I am only connected to you via your mistaken impression of me, but humanities’ feelings about dragons are the proof of our existence.

Also, he had been something of an outcast even among the dragons.

During their battle, Fukushima had asked him if he had always had that form.

The answer was “yes”.

Celestial Dragons were born when the ley lines or another ether source filled a dragon “mold”.

For ones like him, they were created from the emotions of fear and worry.

They were similar to the Loup-Garous who were formed from people’s fear of wild animals, barbarians, and the dark.

Then what about his case?

He had been born as a dragon who had a human form.

In other words, he was born from the dragons’ fear of humans.

He existed as a Celestial Dragon, but he had a human form. However, he could not live with humans since he manifested the fears and worries of others.

So he had constantly fought on the front lines to prove his worth.

But the more success he had in battles against humanity, the more the dragons feared his power and kept their distance.

In the end, he had joined a group of what could only be called thugs and went to Sanada with them.

That was a strange time.

Unlike in Europe, they had feared him, but they had not opposed him.

His human form had been strengthened by the people’s awed fear of him, he had learned to clear the mountains and summon water, and Sasuke’s group had laughed at him. When they thanked him, he would tell them his power was a direct result of how they worshiped him.

Then the Unneeded ten had arrived.

Every one of them had essentially been a big ball of worry and fear and they had been well worth training.

But no matter how much he beat them down, they had only ended up calling him their teacher. When he asked why, the second Sasuke had given a troublesome answer:

“I guess because you understand us.”

But it was true he had seen their worries and fears. That was why.

That was why he had made an enemy for them.

That enemy was himself, who had once consumed fears and worries to crush the humans.

But now he did it to cleanse the humans of the fears and worries that had led them astray.

And…

He could not move.

Even though his enemy was feeling fear and awe.

This enemy had once defeated a certain group and filled them with fear and worry. As their teacher, he had successfully sent that fear and worry back to the enemy. But could he do no more than that?

Move.

He was a Celestial Dragon. As the highest level of dragon, he could not die while shamefully lowering his head before a human.

He could not die in a way that inspired pity.

But he could not move.

His dragon strength was running out. There was fear in the enemy, but it was not enough.

Of course, he had always been an outcast. Surely it would be too convenient to ask for assistance here. In that case…

Sorry.

He thought of Isa, Miyoshi, and the other children. He thought of everyone back in Sanada. He had made it here and returned those fears and worries, and yet…

“…?”

Danzou suddenly realized something while collapsed on the ground. The hands holding his long kunai still had strength left.

His strength was returning.

Why?

His wondering mind heard something. It began as the blowing of the wind and then…

“———————”

He heard voices. They were coming from Paris in the distance.

But what was happening? Simple voices should not have been able to help him recover.

Could it be?

He definitely heard it. The many voices were created by the crowds there and they were definitely directed at him.

“Keep fighting!”

There was no fear or worry there.

“Keep fighting…!”

Those voices were full of hope.


“We heard!”

People climbed to the top of the city walls.

There were so many of them and they had been called there by the Terrestrial Dragon guarding the walls. The dragon had asked the students on guard duty to spread word of Danzou among the people in the city. So…

“What, that old guy was some bigshot dragon!?”

They had come. It was only those who had caught on, but the people definitely exchanged glances and…

“Hey!”

“Let’s go!!”

“Testament,” they all replied. None of these people had ever met before, but…

“I saw that old man patrolling the streets around here even at night!”

“He helped me when I couldn’t get my stand up the plaza stairs!”

“He always listened to our band play in the plaza during lunchtime!”

“Yeah, but he always left without saying a word. He probably thought you sucked.”

“Don’t be dumb! He always stayed to the very end of the performance!”

“Is that so?” said the Terrestrial Dragon guarding the wall. “Please,” he added. “These are the final moments of a Celestial Dragon who has lived for centuries. …Let him hear your voices.”

“A Celestial Dragon…?”

They all exchanged a glance. They were all aware of the historical damage caused by dragons. But…

“So he’s the same as Bernard, right? And he’s on our side now! In that case…”

“Testament. We’ve gotta be on his side too.”

“Yeah,” they all said before turning to the Terrestrial Dragon. “What are we supposed to do?”

“I’m not really sure either. I guess send him your awe or whatever? In other words, let him know how badass you think he is.”

“And how do we do that!?”

Their shouted question was answered by a woman holding a rolling pin.

“We just have to tell him to keep fighting, right!?”

“That’s it!” they all said while turning and shouting it.

“Keep fighting…!!”

“Hey, you, student! We need a name! Not yours! His!”

“T-Testament! His name is, um, Katou Danzou.”

Everyone on the wall exchanged a glance and nodded at that name.

And they all raised their voices as one.


“Keep fighting!”

Danzou heard the voices.

“Keep fighting, keep fighting!”

He had never heard voices like this.

“Keep fighting, Danzou!”

He had never even dreamed of hearing people calling to him like this in Europe after having been driven out of the region so long ago.

“Keep fighting!”

Yes. The people were confused. They thought he was still standing.

“Keep fighting! Keep fighting!”

He understood. He had said the same thing to the people and children so many times.

“Keep fighting, Danzou!”

Only now did he realize that these words were equivalent to awe, fear, and worry.

“Keep fighting!”

He found his illusion was fueling him with the people’s hopes for the first time.

“Keep fighting, Danzou!”

He had never seen someone fail to stand back up after hearing those words.


Fukushima saw Danzou stand up with his back to the cheers from Paris.

She could also tell he could barely move in his state. However…

“Thou must stand up.”

“I have chosen a troublesome life.”

“Testament,” she replied while Danzou stabbed his left kunai into himself. It pierced him from the left side to the left chest as if to pin his detaching left shoulder in place.

“That should do it.”

The dragon prepared to fight even as he hemorrhaged ether light.

And he slowly leaned forward.

“Here I go.”

He came.


Fukushima was on the move.

She moved dead ahead.

Illusory hands grasped at her shoulders, arms, and hips from behind.

But she ignored them as she continued forward.

She copied Seikai’s method of using the wheel tracks to run up the flat surface.

And the chance to attack came to her first.

The length of her spear meant she could reach him first.

Meanwhile, Danzou only had the long kunai in his right hand.

She did not hesitate. She aimed for the bottom of his throat. That was a dragon’s weak point.

She aimed there out of respect for the dragon.

Her attack reached him.

Immediately, she saw something.

At some point, Danzou’s kunai had arrived below her throat.

An illusion!

Her hope had been consumed and manifested for her opponent.


Danzou thought, This battle is already over.

This was his final illusion. After returning to his feet using the people’s hopes, he had consumed his opponent’s hope and overcome her.

He could do the rest without using worries or fears, so he raised his voice and shouted at the opponent before his eyes.

“Surpass me…!”

And he saw Fukushima staring straight at him within the illusion.

She could see everything from his gaze to the arm and blade tip extended toward her own throat.

Danzou realized what it was she had aimed for in that instant.

“Will you consume my illusion!?”


A moment later, Danzou realized his hope had been consumed.

Fukushima had accepted his attack.

Danzou’s illusion system consumed his opponent’s hopes and manifested them on his side instead.

So Danzou had consumed Fukushima’s hope for her attack and used it as his own attack.

But Fukushima had just accepted that attack.

She hoped to be taken out by my attack!

As a result, their attacks had been swapped out once more.

Danzou realized Ichinotani’s blade had stabbed into and through his throat.

“——————”

Splendid, he thought.

He had thought this would happen.

After all, he remembered what she had said at the beginning of the battle.

She said the doll’s severed head looked like her own.

How you saw the severed head in the illusion was dependent on how you viewed yourself.

If it looked like a doll, it meant you were trapped by something or you sold yourself short.

But she had seen it as no different from her usual self.

That means you have no illusions about yourself.

That was someone who could hold their fears and worries inside.

That ability already existed inside her; she simply had not realized it. But over the course of the battle, she had become aware of the worries and fears within her.

And she learned how to transform those things into hope.

“You fool…!”

She was worthy of aiming for the Peerless in the East.

And Danzou received a direct hit.

Ichinotani pierced him through what would be the weak point of a dragon.


The people saw the conclusion.

Ether light exploded in the field and a dragon stood in the center of it.

“What is that…?”

The dragon was more than 100 meters long and was colored blue.

Wings and tail feathers were visible in the scattering ether fog and wind.

He was an avian dragon. He had dragon horns crowning his head, six wings, and long, decorative tail feathers. The wings and tail feathers loudly pounded on the air.

“It’s a bluebird,” someone said. “A bluebird of happiness. …But this is the bluebird that exists in everyone’s hearts yet can’t be found in the real world.”

“Testament,” said a boy while immediately crossing himself. “See, what’d I tell you?”

He folded his hands and looked up at the scattering blue dragon.

“That dragon is on our side.”


Fukushima realized the blue dragon was looking at her.

She could somehow tell that he was leaving.

“Why?”

“Because,” he replied in a deep voice. “How do you like this form?”

“I wish thou could have shown it to me earlier.”

“Don’t say that.”

The dragon smiled a little. Or so it seemed.

“Thank you for giving me this form,” said the dragon. “I am an Illusory Dragon. But my human form and this form are both very real.”

His gaze scanned across the road.

Seikai was collapsed there. Fukushima turned toward that unmoving form.

“…?”

Just then, she heard a great windy presence as the blue dragon flew up into the sky.

He was scattering. And on his back…

Ah.

She briefly thought she glimpsed something like Seikai and something like an ether fragment.

But then she realized something had fallen from above.

It was a small one of the dragon’s feathers.

She thought it would scatter as ether, but it was solid. The blue feather was about 15cm long and it gave off a faint shine.

“Danzou-dono.”

The six blue wings were already high in the sky and his form was unclear as he scattered.

But Fukushima slowly kneeled, held the feather in her hand, and lowered her head.

“Thou have my utmost thanks…!”


Danzou smiled as he scattered.

Honestly.

Seikai had come with him, but he found his presence had vanished at some point.

He must have passed on already. He would be meeting with Isa wherever it was their souls gathered.

Danzou did not know where that was or what form it would take.

But he hoped it was somewhere on Sanada land.

Would he be going there as well? Or…

Yes.

His lingering feelings about Europe were gone. He had gained something other than awe and fear there. Sanada had not been unique in that regard.

Sasuke, Saizou, and the others would not know about that either.

If he could meet them again where his soul ended up, he would tell them.

Humans and dragons had not changed at all since 400 years ago or 800 years ago, but things had still gone surprisingly well.

He was thankful for the companions who had first taught him that was possible.

He was thankful for the enemy who had taught him that in the very end.

He spread his wings and scattered as that thankfulness filled him.

And he disappeared.

While hoping people had seen that blue form of hope.


Katagiri looked up at the blue form and scattering ether light ascending into the sky.

It was so breathtaking that the ocean obscuring the sky felt like a nuisance.

But he also saw something else.

Something flew from Paris as if following the ether fog remaining in a vertical line behind the scattering.

It did not even come close to reaching that bluebird’s heights, but it drew a powerful arc into the eastern sky.

Is that…?

Before he could make a decision, it split apart in midair. It transformed into what looked like autumn leaves scattering in the night.

“That’s Mercenary Commander Bernard!”

That was the #2 dragon fighting on Hexagone Française’s side. He was known as a Swarm Dragon.