Horizon:Volume 6C Chapter 69
Chapter 69: Affirmer in the Depths of Emotion
Point Allocation (Hiding Her Embarrassment)
Suzu reflexively covered her ears.
The ground was collapsing. The cacophony of dirt and stones colliding and sparking was far too loud and it sent pain to her perception more than her ears.
She panicked at the thought of being unable to grasp what was happening if she kept listening.
Her pulse immediately quickened and something like a breath rose from the depths of her chest, so she closed off her senses just once.
She covered her ears and stepped back.
“Don’t worry. Heh heh. Here is a supporting cushion from the path of wicked women.”
“Heh heh. Nope, this is Adele! But I am Adele from the world of dreams, so I actually have boobs.”
“I-I’ve never said I dream about that! Even if I do!”
Adele’s excessive honesty was sometimes a source of worry.
But the sensory data arriving through Noise Neighbor was gradually quieting down.
Suzu quickly waved her hands around to erase the nearby models because the scene had been completely transformed from a few seconds earlier.
The forest’s trees had been felled by Mary’s Master Tenzou Love Love Homerun.
…And the forest itself has…fallen 20 meters…toward the lake?
She could tell a steep slope had formed there. And that the hardness and distribution of the crust had created protrusions and depressions. However…
Bell: “Is everyone…okay!?”
Vice President: “I’m fine! We almost fell, but Futayo ran back up!”
Suzu pictured that and it seemed a little unrealistic, so she decided to reconsider that image later. But…
Silver Wolf: “Suzu! My king and Tomo are down below! Can you search for them!?”
Bell: “Eh!? B-below…!?”
If they had been caught in the collapse, the worst case was a possibility.
I need to hurry, thought Suzu, but then she sensed something odd.
She sensed something beginning to fill the forest at the bottom of the collapse.
She moved her hands to shape the model accordingly and ended up with something similar to water. It was…
…Ether? A barrier? A spell?
Something familiar and recognizable existed in the forest below the collapse.
Asama rolled to the ground from the rubble.
The collapse had left her in the forest leading to the lake. The distance from the edge of the accumulated dirt to the ground had only been about 30cm, but she had fallen on her side. Her pelvis had hit a rock, so a throbbing pain filled her hip.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow…”
She placed a hand on her hip and found she had lost one of her rear tail binders.
It had been torn off in the collapse.
And she realized what this meant.
…There was a landslide and I fell down.
She looked up the slope and saw rock and dirt still spilling down.
It had an angle of about 80 degrees and a height of about 15 meters. She saw trees and bushes buried and carried by the landslide, which made her shudder.
Had a tree hit her, she would not have escaped unscathed.
And just as relief filled her, she heard a voice.
“Oh, you can move, Asama?”
The dirt rose up nearby as someone sat up.
“W-wait, Toori-kun, are you okay!?”
Asama ran over to the dirt-covered crossdresser and then realized something.
Her broken tail binder was right there next to him.
That meant she had been “below” him. That explained the “oh, you can move?”
He had saved her. Feeling flustered from that, she was unsure what to say and forced some words out of her.
“Um, where is Horizon?”
Isn’t there anything else you could have said? At the very least, that’s not the thing to say here, she thought while feeling almost impressed with what she had said.
But he nodded and held out his opened right hand.
“Just before we fell, I went like this, right? And I pushed up on her butt to let Nate take care of her.”
“Why am I not surprised…”
But she felt somewhat relieved.
…It’s kind of incredible that he does do what he can do.
She nodded and opened a sign frame. She could hear voices calling out to them from overhead.
If Horizon and Mitotsudaira understood the situation, they would have entrusted this to her.
So the first thing she had to do was grasp their situation here.
…I lost Katsubaki somewhere too…
She had been holding it, so she hoped she had dropped it somewhere up top. Meanwhile, she tried to use her sign frame.
But her fingers swished through empty air.
The sign frame would not appear. No, it tried to, but static ran through it and it disappeared.
Someone was applying powerful local god interference.
The Shinto gods were connected, so there should be enough divine transmission signal to establish a connection no matter where you were. But…
…A barrier is blocking it in a limited area!
It was obvious why someone would do that.
Either to strengthen a spell the interferer was going to use.
Or to prevent her from resisting.
Asama made sure she was fully aware of the risk here. As Musashi’s Shinto Representative and someone knowledgeable in spells, she understood just how dangerous the situation was.
There was a way of getting around it. Even if the divine protections and transmissions from Musashi could not reach her…
“We have our Internal Blessings, so, um, Toori-kun, I’m going to adjust your ether fuel connection settings to-…”
She trailed off when she noticed the crossdresser had collapsed atop the dirt.
She realized blood was dripping from the side of his head. Had he hit it on a rock during the collapse? Or…
“Well, uh, how should I put this? I’m kind of relieved…”
“W-wait just a second! I need to take a look at that!”
“Also, Asama, you might want to take a look at your shrine maiden uniform.”
She did so and found it was torn. Her underboob was exposed and the internal pressure from the top of the breasts was about to tear through. Her stomach and legs were much the same, but…
“There’s no helping that now, so I don’t mind.”
She had bigger concerns right now.
Asama used her Internal Blessings to check on his condition. She checked his body and his head. Hm, I know he has a screw loose in his head, so why are the readings perfectly normal? His body looks fine too.
But there were signs of a concussion developing, so it would be best if she did not let him move.
She cast a stabilizing spell and then began manipulating his Internal Blessings.
“Sorry, but I’m going to use my administrative privileges to borrow some of your Internal Blessings.”
She found he had fallen asleep. This was an emergency and they were in danger, but the stabilizing spell must have taken effect.
…And he could also relax because he knows I can handle this….
It’s a lot like him to fully rely on someone at a time like this, she thought while taking a breath.
“Okay, I’m going to open a stealth barrier to hide us until help arrives….wait, eh?”
She realized their surroundings had suddenly grown quiet and cold.
Mary looked down while behind the others.
The detour route was exposed to shellfire, but it led to the forest below.
However, that forest was filled with ether light. Mary recognized the way it rippled while the water level calmly rose.
She was cut off by some external words. It was a divine transmission from “Musashi”.
Musashi: “I have detected a powerful ether reading! And it has been identified!”
This verified Mary’s concerns.
Musashi: “This is Sanada Ten Spears Unno Rokurou’s Yomi! It is being emitted from a depth of 5 meters below the collapse! Over.”
They got us, thought Tenzou while he looked down at the detour with the others behind him.
…This Yomi requires a special emotion to escape!
Most likely, Sanada had hoped they could destroy them with the shellfire, but even if that failed…
“The artillery and automatons would lure us into a charge down the slope. Then Yomi would stop us down there, allowing the artillery to finish us off.”
Just to be sure, Mochizuki had induced a landslide to send them all down there.
He honestly felt it was Mary’s attack that had stopped that plan, but…
10ZO: “Mary-dono, Yomi is expanding down there, but…”
He was not sure what to say, but he felt like he should thank her for before. However…
<Scarred-sama has left the chat: confirmed>
He had no idea what was happening. And Naito sighed behind him.
“Tenzou, try to give this a little thought.”
“You can’t do anything that reminds Ma-yan of the Yomi kiss solution.”
…I didn’t know girls worked like that…
But the Tachibana Couple exchanged a glance and a nod.
“Gin, we can still move while holding our breath, so how about we take care of this? …Shall we go kiss?”
“Master Muneshige, please don’t talk about such indecent things in front of people. …So let’s do it where no one can see us.”
“Judge. I will keep that in mind. …1st Special Duty Officer, we will defeat the enemy spell user or destroy the spell source!”
Tenzou responded with a nod as the two of them ran off.
Then someone else stepped forward below the falling shells.
“I see. Then I should be safe as long as I am with my sex friend Masazumi!”
“Wait! Put me down! We can discuss this once you put me down, Futayo!”
Masazumi-dono is surprisingly energetic for the battlefield, thought Tenzou.
Just then, he heard a voice from upstream. Horizon’s sharp words were directed down below.
“Asama-sama! I have determined Toori-sama must be lying around there somewhere!”
“If it looks like you’re going to suffocate and die inside Yomi, then go ahead and do it! I’ve already taken his first time, so no need to restrain yourself!”
Things were pretty awful over there too.
Asama hung her head at the voice coming from overhead.
But the sounds from above were soon drowned out by shellfire. It was still a battlefield up there. And down here, she recalled what Horizon had said.
…What is she asking me to do?
But he was not breathing while he lay in front of her.
They had been swallowed up by Yomi while he slept. And yet…
She could breath.
When she thought about why that was, she breathed a sigh.
She was fortunate that Izanami, ruler of Yomi, was open-minded.
…She’s accepted my feelings, hasn’t she?
Gods did not lie.
In that case, it did not matter that she had placed a lid over her feelings. Placing that lid there was an emotional act as well. So…
Nothing could be done about the fact that he was crossdressing and that was just who he was.
“I will be, um, helping awaken your feelings by transferring a divine protection ‘mouth-to-mouth’, okay?”
It was not a kiss. After all, it was not a mutual act. It was entirely one-way from her.
What would he think about this if they survived? And what if…
…What if this doesn’t revive him?
It would mean he did not feel the same way about her.
It would probably make her want to die.
But she had to do it.
She thought about a number of things. It was true Horizon had already done this with him and both Mito and Mito’s mom had probably licked and sniffed him, so she felt this would be something similar to that.
In that case, she thought.
She tensed up. No. I can’t let myself tense up.
She had to work at doing this naturally, quickly, and politely. Yes, just like calligraphy. Calm yourself, Asama Tomo. Breathe in. Good. Now tense up…
…No, don’t tense up!!
I’ve lived entirely the wrong life for this, she thought. I’m too used to Shinto decorum. But…
Suddenly, he bent his head back.
He could not breathe. He wanted air.
She felt like he was asking her to save him. So…
She reflexively placed her lips on his.
She was not tense at all. She simply thought she had to do this.
Asama thought, I won’t let you suffer.
And she remembered that he had once kept those words hidden inside him.
He had lost something important to him, he had not known what to do, and so he had wished he could just disappear.
At the time, she had been powerless to help him. No, she had simply not tried to help him.
She had been too worried her strength was insufficient or that she would choose the wrong technique.
But now was different.
She felt remorse about parts of her past as well.
But now was not then.
Besides, he was always coming to her for help, wasn’t he? When the guards were chasing him or their classmates were chasing him, he would run to her for a place to hide.
She would breathe an exasperated sigh and comply, but what was that really?
…It’s the usual way of things for us.
…Toori-kun asking me for help and me giving it is the usual way of things.
She was transferring a divine protection “mouth-to-mouth”. If there were any feelings inside him, this would awaken them.
And she told herself she could not criticize her own feelings here.
No one else was here, so she chose not to hide anything.
…I care about him so much.
It was different from a romantic love. It was a stranger relationship than that. There might be some other word for the feeling, but she could not find a clear word for it despite her familiarity with Shinto prayers and such.
Don’t worry. No one can criticize you here.
Not even her god could see her due to the interference.
No sign frames appeared. There were no warnings from the god within her. So…
She removed her lips and pressed her forehead against him instead.
Breathe. Just breathe. And…
She saw his mouth open.
Asama felt immense relief.
Sweat poured from her and she fell onto her butt next to him. She belatedly realized how heavy she was of breathing and how hot her face felt. But…
Tears spilled from her eyes.
She had criticized herself for so very long.
She had told herself she should not feel that way, so she had placed a lid on her feelings. She did not care what anyone else thought, but…
The person she most wanted to accept those feelings felt the same way.
He had accepted her feelings and given her the same feelings in return.
She wiped away the tears and stood up. She heard footsteps behind her.
“Is that where you were? Based on the commotion up top, I take it the Musashi Chancellor fell down here. …Then I’d like for you to join me on stage. Especially when I went to the trouble of strengthening the spell for a stationary version.”
It was Unno Rokurou of the Sanada Ten Braves. Her voice was drawing closer, so Asama made up her mind. She gathered strength in her legs, slowly stood up, and hid him with a stealth spell.
And she spoke to his sleeping face as she watched it vanish.
“I will take you back to the others soon, so wait just a little longer.”
Unno knew more or less where the enemy was.
There was no need to rush. They would be unable to move down here in the depths of Yomi. And even if they could move freely, their weapons and such would still be affected.
Their power to resist would be far weaker than while “above”. So…
There was a shadow beyond some fallen trees, suggesting they were using a spell to hide.
But Yomi was a motionless place. Any motion would reach her as ripples. The level of auditory and optical stealth spell that an individual would have on hand would be meaningless.
“So I will find them soon enough.”
Just as she thought that, a figure rushed out from behind a tree.
Unno recognized her. It was the Asama Shrine Representative. But there was no sign of the Musashi Chancellor. So…
…That means he’s over there, doesn’t it?
The Asama Shrine Representative was likely acting as bait, but her timing had been atrocious.
Of course, the Asama Shrine Representative was still an excellent target. Defeating her would be more than enough of a result.
But Unno decided to focus on the Musashi Chancellor. Defeat him and it would all be over.
…So that’s what I’ll do.
She walked toward the area past the trees.
But she frowned when she saw the Asama Shrine Representative continuing away. The girl’s left leg limped in fake-looking way.
“Dammit! She knows how my spell works, doesn’t she!?”
Asama heard Unno’s footsteps approaching her.
She knew she made for poor bait, so she had chosen a certain method.
She was limping with her left leg. Of course, she was not actually injured. It was an act.
But there was a reason for that act.
“Her spell is a stage!”
She probably used it to provide dances as offerings. Unno Rokurou was a kabuki expert. For her, the spell was the same as a theatre stage, so…
…She can’t ignore someone putting on an “act” within the barrier!
If she did ignore it and her god decided she had neglected the “stage”, then her spell would be destroyed.
So Asama put on an act. She interfered by letting the spell’s god see her act.
She had analyzed the substitution method of Unno’s spell and taken advantage of it.
And Unno had pursued her.
…This will be fine.
Asama could not fight back without Katatsubaki, but she did have defense spells. She had more than 30 Internal Blessings, so she should be able to endure a few attacks. For now, she hurried away to keep Unno from catching up.
But then something hit her.
A horizontal blow hit her from the left.
Surprised, Asama wondered if there had been another enemy here.
But she saw something beyond the scattering light of the defense barrier which had automatically activated.
…A fan sword!
It had flown in an arc to circle in front of her and crash into her. The defense barrier was the only reason its thick blade had not sliced her body apart.
She might have even died. And…
A second one hit her in the side, knocking her from her feet.
She crashed back down onto the dirt piled up to her right.
Asama forced out the breath caught in her throat after the impact. And…
The convulsing of her body let the contents of her stomach escape from her throat.
Was she right to feel lucky it was only stomach acid? But…
Her burning throat heaved and a scratchy breath escaped her curled-up body.
Her entire body was so tense she no longer felt like herself. And…
“That sure was easy. …You really should have stayed on the rear guard.” Unno stood close by. “Honestly, you neglect yourself when you worry about someone else.”
Unno almost seemed to be reminding herself of that fact, but she raised her fan sword as she spat out the words.
“No regrets, okay? I’ll start with you.”
She swung down the blade.
Unno heard a solid sound.
It was the sound of several defense barriers shattering before her eyes.
The Asama Shrine Representative was curled up as if trying to bury herself in the pile of dirt. The fan sword shattered the thick layers of defense barriers that opened beyond the girl’s outstretched hand, but…
…She sure has a lot of Internal Blessings!
She was Musashi’s Shinto Representative. And she must have restricted her spells to only defensive ones.
But the impacts were reaching the girl. Unno’s sword strikes struck her as blunt blows.
With each hit, Unno heard a cry of pain.
But she did not go easy on the girl. This was a stage. If she did not complete this, Yomi would disappear. So she used her fan sword to pummel rather than cut.
“C’mon, say it! Tell me to stop!”
Unno spoke to get the girl to give up on her act.
“It’s all an act, isn’t it!? Then quit it! You’re about to get yourself killed to protect someone else! So tell me to stop! Put your own safety first! Admit that your self-sacrifice was an act and step down from the stage!”
Oh, hell, thought Unno. I’m talking to myself here, aren’t I?
…Yeah, I am.
She honestly thought the Ten Braves should retire in Sanada land.
No one insisted they had to die during the Osaka Campaign. Some admitted there was enough room for interpretation for them to stay alive. But Unno saw it somewhat differently.
…Can’t we just give up on our inherited names without worrying about any of that?
The way Unno saw it, they had become the Sanada Ten Braves.
They were name inheritors.
So couldn’t they decide they were no longer Unneeded?
Couldn’t they compromise and accept what they had instead of trying to rival their past as the Seven Spears and Hashiba’s aides?
…I doubt our teachers wanted us to die.
So why did the others keep going?
When she had earned the shrine maiden qualifications at Sanada’s Yamaga Shrine and activated one of that shrine’s spells for the first time, she had honestly wanted to just live there for the rest of her life.
When she trained there every single morning, it had been about more than just preparing for battle.
She was allowed to be there.
She had found a new home.
But the others apparently saw things differently. They were trying to fulfill their inherited names for their own pride and for the people who had created that new home for them.
She understood that she used her own pride in a convenient and cheap way. She understood she was being wishy-washy.
…But is that not how it works?
What was wrong with wanting to live? What was wrong with being sick of fighting?
Weren’t those good things? Weren’t they far better than wanting to die and loving to fight? But…
She smashed another defense barrier with her fan sword.
“I mean, you’re not even a name inheritor, are you!? So why!?”
When she said that, Unno saw the sharp look the Asama Shrine Representative was giving her.
There was strength and willpower there. That girl was not even close to giving up.
Even though losing her defense barriers would only mean death.
“I believe,” replied the girl while trying to catch her breath. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy for a number of reasons, but I believe he’ll figure something out, that we can continue on together, and that the others won’t be able to ignore us.”
Is she talking about some childhood promise? wondered Unno.
That was ridiculous. Lovely stories like that did not exist in reality. Because if they did…
“Why didn’t it work out that way for us!?”
Unno knew they too had experienced defeat and lost much.
So how could this girl still believe in something like that? Why didn’t she see their deaths in the future like the Ten Braves did?
Was it because she lived in Musashi which had the future of Matsudaira ahead of them? No. Even then, they would still have to confront large and powerful nations. One wrong step and theirs would be a future of servitude.
Dammit, thought Unno.
…I know the answer.
It was not that they had some reason that allowed them to believe in that childish promise.
It was because they could believe in that childish promise that they had a reason.
It was reversed.
The Ten Braves had become people who could not even make such silly promises. They had been defeated, made excuses, and feared another loss.
These kids were different. They believed they could make a comeback no matter how many times they lost. That was why.
Unno had to have believed the same once.
Until she had experienced defeat and learned to fear losing.
…Oh, so that’s it.
These Far Eastern people had been ruled for a very long time.
So they had begun from a position of defeat. They had come this far carrying the defeated Far East on their shoulders.
Of course they did not fear losing. They had started with defeat, so they had nowhere to go but up. The future must look so very bright when viewed from that position. Everything they did would lead to something better than defeat.
“So that’s why you can believe in it.”
As silly as it might be, it was worth believing in. And that gave them freedom.
When Unno compared herself to that…
“Okay, let’s test this.”
“Let’s see if anyone will give you the answer you believe in!”
Unno swung down her fan sword.
With a solid sound, the Asama Shrine Representative’s defense barrier shattered and did not recover.
She had run out of Blessings.
It was over. So Unno raised her fan sword once more. And…
“Well, where’s your answer!?”
Just as she asked that, Unno felt someone grab her waist hard points from behind.
“It’s right here!!”
And they pulled her skirt and tights down past her knees.
Mitotsudaira heard a familiar type of scream in an unfamiliar voice coming from the forest below.
She frowned at the voice that reached her despite the din of artillery.
She exchanged a look with the others below the shellfire, but Horizon glared down at the forest.
“That was Toori-sama, wasn’t it?”
Everyone had to agree.
Unno saw the Asama Shrine Representative turn around and run behind her.
Unno was too busy keeping her underwear from falling to intervene.
“Wh-wh-what do you think you’re doing!?”
When she turned around, she saw an unfamiliar girl there. The girl stood in front of the Asama Shrine Representative wiggled her hips to the side, flipped her black hair back, pointed at Unno, and asked a question.
“Who the hell are you!?”
“That’s my line!”
The Asama Shrine Representative’s mouth spread horizontally at this exchange. After a moment, she grabbed the other girl’s head, removed her hair, and lifted it up.
Then she put it back in place.
She urged Unno to continue, so…
“You’re the Musashi Chancellor!?”
“You should’ve known I was!”
Unno was fairly certain anything she said would result in an irritating answer, so for the time being, she pulled her tights back up and reattached the inner suit to her waist hard points.
“You two are such a pain.”
She sent her fan sword out in a straight line.
Asama heard a metallic clang in front of her.
She realized the crossdresser had struck a Ψ-pose and there was something like a giant shield in front of him.
The crossdresser nodded at it and whistled.
“The Tachibana Wife, huh!? That scream was enough to clue you in?”
“Judge,” said Gin with a nod. She then knocked back the fan sword she had blocked with her arms and pointed at the enemy with her giant right hand. “The way this Yomi solidifies and chills the body is indeed troublesome. But it was not enough for the Amore Charge that Master Muneshige and I made while holding our breath.”
Gin-san has such incredible lung capacity… thought Asama.
She realized Muneshige was also running toward her to protect her.
And there was someone else behind Unno.
“Judge.” Tenzou nodded. “It would seem we arrived in time, Toori-dono and Asama-dono.”
Unno considered sending everything she had against her immediate opponent and then retreating.
The Yomi spell had already been broken. Because she had broken character when she screamed before.
She had nothing at the moment. And…
“It is about time for you to leave, Sanada Representative.”
She heard Musashi’s 1st Special Duty Officer speaking behind her on the right.
After overcoming Yomi last time, that boy must have learned how to move within it.
5-against-1 was simply too much for her.
Kakei and Mochizuki must have been defeated up above, so she felt surrendering was a valid option. But…
She was sick of it all and she was bad at focusing on herself.
…I’ll go with you.
She had her thoughts on the matter, but she had known them a long time. So when it came down to it…
She raised her fan sword.
It did not matter if it was hopeless. Two of the Sanada Ten Braves had already been lost here.
Perhaps she no longer wanted to continue on with them. So perhaps she wanted to lose here and be abandoned by the others. But…
…Who even knows.
Honestly, this is so different from how timid I was being before.
“Asama Shrine Representative,” said Unno. “You are probably right.”
This was the first time she had seen that surprised look on the girl’s face. If this was all it took to change that defiant look from before, then this had been a lot of wasted effort. So…
Unno raised her fan sword and moved forward.
Tachibana Gin stepped toward her.
It was an immediate shift from defense and she did not hold a weapon. But…
…She has her prosthetic arms.
It would be a physical blow. And the enemy twisted her body to dodge Unno’s blade.
“This is an excellent place for confirming one’s emotions.”
With those words, a metal fist flew toward Unno’s right side.
The single blow took out a few of her ribs.
And she crashed back-first into a pile of dirt at the bottom of the cliff.
Asama took a breath now that the battle was over.
She was worried about Unno, but she wanted to thank the Tachibana Couple and Tenzou first. However…
“Whew, that’s a relief. I’m glad nothing serious happened.”
With those words, he rested his forehead on her shoulder. And Muneshige turned toward them.
“Chancellor, it would be safest to regroup with the others as soon as possible.”
“No, Toori-kun is injured. …Oh, but I’ve used up all my Internal Blessings.”
“In that case,” Gin smiled a little, “You should borrow his Blessings to heal him somewhere calm.”
“I think I’ll have you check on a number of things then, Asama.”
He stood up.
Tenzou must have already decided on a rendezvous point with the others because he pointed, said “over there”, and began walking.
But Asama was still worried about Unno. She doubted Unno would notice since she was unconscious, but Asama bowed toward her.
“Hanami, cast a first aid spell on her. I can secure the Blessing with a meal, can’t I?”
“You can. …Clap!”
After watching Hanami fly off, Asama relaxed her shoulders.
In the dark forest, Tenzou led the way, Gin and Muneshige followed, and Asama walked alongside him a short distance behind. He had removed the shirt of his crossdressing summer uniform. He had stowed the pads in the skirt, so he was currently topless. But…
“Here, take my shirt.”
When he handed it to her, Asama remembered how badly damaged her shrine maiden equipment was.
“Yes, thank you.”
She put it on, but…
…I knew it. The chest is too tight to close…
There was no helping that, so she hung her head and kept walking. But that silence felt too awkward, so she asked a question.
“Um, Toori-kun? Why did you come to save me back there?”
“Oh, that? Well, I promised, right? That I would handle all of the difficult stuff.”
I knew it, she thought.
…He said he would figure something out even if I lost my power. And that the others wouldn’t be able to ignore it even if he couldn’t do anything on his own.
That was exactly what had happened. So…
…I’m glad I believed in him.
She had not tried to believe. She simply had. And…
“Besides, I only survived after passing out in Yomi because you kissed me, right?”
“Eh? W-well, um…”
She tried to find some kind of excuse, but then he turned toward her.
“Hmm.” He crossed his arms, frowned, and blushed. “You know what? Since the cat’s out of the bag about me feeling the same way, I’ve got something to say.”
“I was planning to tell you eventually.”
“A-and what is it?”
“I feel so lame right now,” he muttered while scratching his head. “I mean, I make this way harder than it has to be, just like you do.”
Toori saw the confusion on Asama’s face.
…Was that not straightforward enough?
When he said “well”, she said “yes?” The way she leaned forward a bit made it clear she wanted him to tell her. So he gathered his resolve.
At first, Asama obviously did not know what he meant by that, but a few seconds later, she frowned.
She quickly blushed and he nodded a few times with his face just as red.
“I had a lid too. Although I’d decided to get rid of it when you decided to come live with us.”
“O-ohh… Yes, s-sorry. Come to think of it, that does make sense…”
He was the same. They had known each other forever and they shared the same everyday life, so he had a lid in place as well.
…It’s always been the same with us.
So relying on each other, saving each other, resting a head in the each other’s lap, or cooking food for each other was not enough to dislodge that emotional lid.
But with recent events, he had somewhat removed his lid and she had responded in kind. So…
“Umm, it’ll be really exciting at my place, but you know what? I’m going to try to be more open with my feelings.”
“O-oh. …F-feel free. Yes, and feel free with Horizon and Mito too.”
“Yeah, but Horizon and Nate are a whole different thing. I’m talking about you right now. I feel lame saying this, but I can’t deny I don’t want to lose you or let go of you, so remember that, okay?”
He wanted to say more to her as she blushed and shrank down, but he had hit his limit. Except…
“Huh? Asama, it looks like Yomi is still affecting you a little.”
“Eh? It’s thinned out quite a bit, but is there something wrong with me?”
“Yeah.” He nodded. “So stay still, close your eyes, and look up.”
She did as he said even though she had to know where this was headed.
Toori placed his lips on Asama’s.
Asama kept herself from thinking about what was happening.
She knew he would tell her what it meant later, so for now, she just let it happen.
And for a few seconds, pressure rose and fell between them as if to lightly confirm each other’s presence.
When she took a breath and faced forward, her vision was blurry. The tension had brought tears to her eyes.
But she saw him smiling past that.
“I purified it ‘mouth-to-mouth’, so you’ll be fine now.”
When he said that, Asama belatedly felt a blush on her face.
He had just returned the favor. Just as she had, he had used the “mouth-to-mouth method” to show how he felt.
No one else was watching them, so it was their shared secret.
And a thought occurred to her.
…If we’re the same, does that mean I don’t have to confess to him for a while yet?
“An official one will have to wait until after you ‘tell me’ properly, okay?”
…I’m probably going to get teased for this…
She had already accepted it enough for that to only feel like a small problem.
She found a sign frame had opened by her hand. They had left Yomi. And…
Everyone was there. And beyond them was the lake.
“Listen up, everyone. …Once we pass that warship, we will be at the Houjou ruins.”
Masazumi took the leading role as usual, but why was she being carried by Futayo?
“So what’s this? Did you come to pick me up?”
Takigawa spoke to two people standing on the Kanie Castle’s deck as the ship continued its artillery bombardment.
One of the two was Yoshiaki with Weiss Fürstin positioned upright next to her.
The other was a girl with long black hair fanned out around her. She was the same age as Yoshiaki and her most notable feature was…
“I thought the younger generation of Loup-Garous had flat chests, but is it actually more normal to have large ones?”
“No, no. I really don’t think that’s true.”
The bitterly smiling person wore an M.H.R.R. summer uniform as black as her hair.
She placed a hand on an open-collared chest and lightly bowed.
“I am #7 of Hashiba’s Ten Spears. My name is Kasuya Takenori. I was riding a ship to Edo, but when I heard the situation from Yoshiaki, I insisted on paying you a visit.”
“I see. I hear Ishida Mitsunari has joined you as #3, so you’re finally all together, huh?”
“All together…is not how I would put it,” said Yoshiaki with drooping shoulders. And, “Hashiba asked that we return you to P.A. Oda.”
“That’s not happening.”
Takigawa’s response was immediate, but Yoshiaki was not done yet.
“If your goal is to show your pride as a retainer to the people of the Edo region, haven’t you already done enough?”
“It isn’t that easy. And you two coming here is perfect for me. …You know what I mean, don’t you?”
The two girls had different reactions to Takigawa’s question.
First, Yoshiaki nodded and took a step back with eyebrows raised.
Next, Kasuya stepped forward without nodding. She positioned herself as a shield for Yoshiaki.
“Takigawa, a crucial history recreation still awaits you once you return to P.A. Oda.”
“Shaja. The Battle of Shizugatake with Shiba and the others, right? After our master’s death, the Oda forces split between the Hashiba faction and the Shibata faction. That conflict is settled at the Battle of Shizugatake fought at Shiba’s home.”
The result of that internal conflict was obvious.
“Shiba and Lady Oichi commit suicide in their castle. I participate in that battle and lose. But the good news is that a group of younger warriors make a name for themselves during the Battle of Shizugatake. …A group that becomes known as the Seven Spears of Shizugatake.”
“Testament. That would be us.”
“In that case,” said Takigawa. “Couldn’t you just make a name for yourselves here?”
Yoshiaki realized what Takigawa was aiming for.
“Takigawa, your goal here isn’t reducing the burden on Hashiba, is it?”
“What do you think it is?”
“You’re trying to limit the conflict within P.A. Oda as much as possible.”
“It’s all in how you phrase it.” Takigawa smiled and shrugged. “But isn’t that how it works? Maybe I’m just getting old, but while defeating an enemy is all well and good, I just don’t want to see our own people fighting each other.”
“Neither do we.”
“You don’t really understand,” said Takigawa. “Your generation has a future in the Testament. …But it’s over for us. That makes it hard to course correct yourself as you grow older.”
“So if there’s going to be any fighting, I want to make sure our underclassmen can defeat that.”
She pointed into the eastern sky.
The Musashi’s great size was visible even at night. Kasuya found herself following Takigawa’s gaze up toward it. They looked up at that dark shape blotting out a portion of the sky.
“The Siege of Odawara is complete…and the Sanada group has been driven off. Even though Houjou and Sanada were destined to meet their ‘end’ here,” said Takigawa. “Hey, am I really allowed to hold hope in the future?”
“…If there is a way of stopping the Apocalypse.”
“Shaja. That’s the great thing about P.A. Oda. We have the Genesis Project.” The corners of her mouth rose. “But Matsunaga Hisahide said Musashi was a ‘creator’ while we are ‘destroyers’.”
“Are you tired of destroying?”
That was a leading question, thought Yoshiaki even as she asked it. But Takigawa shook her head.
“I realized there’s something only we can create.”
Yoshiaki thought about what that meant. Takigawa had seen her “end” and accepted the enemy’s methods, so what was it she could “create”?
But before Yoshiaki could find the answer, Kasuya moved. She took a step forward.
“I will take this opportunity to train, Takigawa.”
Yoshiaki understood what Kasuya meant. And she asked her own question past Kasuya’s shoulder.
“Are you telling us to create the next generation?”
“Yes, but I’m not sure if it will actually happen or not. Still, I know Musashi and I know the people who lost to them. …And now I’m learning what it’s like to be one of the defeated. …Listen. We all took everything seriously, we knew we only had one chance at this, and we had plenty of skill…but we lost and will lose to a group of idiots with idealistic dreams about the future and uncertain skills,” said Takigawa. “So do you know what it is you need to not give up on yourself?”
“Willpower alone isn’t enough,” said Takigawa. “Nor is skill alone.”
“Nor is it companions, money, or family. For one thing, a lot of them started without any of that,” she explained. “So how about it? Could you keep going without giving up on yourself?”
Takigawa stepped back. It was only a few steps, but it was a light and significant movement.
“I will have Musashi show me as well, but can you show me first?”
Kasuya started to ask something, but then she shook her head.
No questions were necessary. She had just asked for training, so…
“I will gladly take the opportunity. But…”
“You will be testing whether or not I will give up, correct? Then I hope you are prepared to go that far.”
“I am the vanguard of the Ten Spears. Also…”
“Do you intend to count this training as the Battle of Shizugatake?”
Takigawa nodded her head.
“I don’t like making things too fancy. And battling you here instead of later is the upperclassmanly thing to do since it will help you grow as much as possible. So once we finish this and I test Musashi, we will step down.”
Takigawa spoke from her heart.
“Once I have tested what needs to be tested, I will leave the rest to all of you and step down from the Warring States period.”
Kasuya prepared to fight.
She was more cautious of Takigawa’s willpower than her words.
No more words were necessary and Takigawa’s willpower had become clear.
A name inheritor had said she was setting aside her name.
She must have already found an answer within herself. She must have found something about creation and destruction between Musashi and them.
And she had come to realize her own limits.
She had found an ideology that kept someone from giving up on themselves.
And Takigawa Ichimasu had realized she could not do that or accept it.
So, thought Kasuya. What did the future look like to her?
She wanted to ask, but words would only get in the way.
Kasuya and the others simply had to create the era that woman had predicted. And she was testing them to see if they could create it. So there was just one thing she should say here.
“Let’s do this.”
Kasuya dropped the two cases she had been carrying between her hair and back.
As soon as she opened them and placed her hands on them, Takigawa moved.
The woman’s very first step carried her maximum speed.
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