Horizon:Volume 6C Chapter 70
Chapter 70: Woman Bidding Farewell Atop the Water
Will it hit?
Maybe it will hit
I hope it hits…
Point Allocation (Stay Positive)
The artificial lake surrounding the Kanie Castle was the same color as the night sky.
The divine protections and equipment provided by the Musashi’s bamboo spear launchers allowed the Musashi group to cross the lake’s surface from the bank, but they soon noticed something.
After the upstream and downstream teams regrouped, they split apart again to approach the Kanie Castle along two different routes, but…
Tonbokiri: “The Kanie Castle is no longer firing on us.”
Mar-Ga: “What did you all do this time?”
10ZO: “Wh-why do you make it sound like we did something wrong!?”
But it was true. Masazumi straightened up while being carried by Futayo and spoke.
“Is the Kanie Castle active?”
“Judge. It is definitely in standby mode.”
Silver Wolf: “We see the same thing from upstream. Tomo, how are the ether readings?”
Asama: “Eh!? Oh, y-yes, it appears to be in standby mode.”
Smoking Girl: “I see the same thing from up here. It just stopped firing all of a sudden. But I did see something odd a bit beforehand. …Suzu.”
Bell: “Right. I picked it up. It was just for an instant…though.”
An image appeared on all of their sign frames. It was a model of the Kanie Castle and its surroundings that Suzu had created. But the focus was on the main deck.
Suzu’s model even included the explosions and defense barriers above the ship.
With those in the way, it would generally be difficult to perceive what lay beyond them. But…
“I managed to…pick it…up.”
A straight line led from the deck to the southern sky. And that path led to…
Flat Vassal: “Is that a schale besen? With two people riding it?”
Mar-Ga: “Margot, that’s the one that Katou Yoshiaki used when dueling the udon, isn’t it?”
Marube-ya: “Don’t call us udon! We’re doing our best to keep on living!”
Mar-Ga: “And now the female udon is complaining. …Anyway, if she’s leaving the Kanie Castle now, would that be Takigawa behind her? Are they letting her escape?”
Bell: “No? There’s still…someone on the…deck. And…”
They saw some silhouettes before Suzu could finish speaking.
They were approaching the Musashi teams from the Kanie Castle’s side of the lake. They were…
Gunfire rang out and the enemy began to run. They were ninjas, so they could run across the water without anything solid to stand on.
Futayo described the situation while still carrying Masazumi.
Tonbokiri: “So it is a showdown!”
The battle was fought on the flat surface of the water.
The Musashi group’s strategy was to have the warrior unit work with the primary fighters.
First, the warrior unit lined up defense barriers and moved forward while the primary fighters charged from behind or above that to tear down the enemy’s front line.
Naito and Naruze’s firepower from above was especially effective, but…
“They’re coming from the left and right!”
The enemy’s ability to walk on water was a problem. The Musashi warrior unit was forced to advance along the pathway, so they tended to concentrate in that one direction. Meanwhile, Takigawa’s ninjas could run across the water, so…
“Look! Look, look! Over here! I’m over herrrrrre!”
“Hey, hey! I’m right here, buddy!”
“Can’t catch me!! C’mon, Musashi warriors, you scared!?”
They distracted the warriors with some pretty intense provocation. And when Takigawa saw it from the Kanie Castle…
“Hey! Quit playing around so much.”
“But this is our last battle!”
Takigawa heard their pleas over the divine transmission.
“No one can complain if we’re loud and silly just this one time!”
“Shaja! I mean, this is the end for us either way!”
“Indeed,” they all said. “We are the Takigawa Unit! And true to that name, we’re unbeatable on the water!”
So that’s their strategy, thought Tenzou when he saw what the Takigawa Unit was doing.
He found the enemy had surrounded them in a circle while running on the lake. Those ninjas made long-distance attacks and approached for decoy close-range attacks while maintaining that circle.
The enemy had stopped the shellfire because there were no openings in their movements as they approached and backed away from the Musashi group.
There was always an attack coming from somewhere in the circle, so the Musashi group could not move.
There was no cover on the water. They were reliant on their defense barriers, but that meant their allies had to act as their shields.
As the enemy ran atop the water, he saw hints of ether light surrounding their footwork.
Their ninja technique was strengthened with a spell. They had likely taken the standard ninja technique to walk on water and given it more speed…
…And added a sliding effect!
That explained why the enemy could slide like they were on ice. The enemy circled around them on the left and right and maintained their circle even when that meant jumping over the pathway.
That brought the Musashi group to a halt, but…
“Don’t fall in! You’ll sink with your armor on!”
The water was probably about 5 meters deep. It was fairly shallow since it was an artificial lake, but that was still too deep to keep your head above water if you sank. Besides, Musashi residents were not accustomed to dealing with deep water in a natural environment.
It was also night, so the fear would clutch at their hearts all the more.
And the enemy sped up their movement. They slid along the water, accelerated, and rushed toward the Musashi group’s pathway.
Then they made a spinning leap and either fired a projectile or threw a blade from midair.
Then the leaping enemy would land on the opposite side of the water facing the other way. And without losing any momentum, they would slalom back to the circle of their fellow ninjas while remaining cautious of the Musashi group.
Concentrated gunfire and sword jabs targeted them from the circle. The number of horizontal slashes in particular continued to grow.
“Ha ha ha. These are the Oda clan’s sliding tactics passed down since the Age of the Gods!”
“We are advancing to a new age by incorporating the history recreation into our actions!”
“Now, we invite you to a fleeting illusion tonight.”
“D-do you have to be so irritating!?” shouted Tenzou, but it was a pressing situation.
The horizontal slashes were growing in speed and weight.
The warriors on the receiving end were highly trained, but they were forced to fall back when blocking several in a row.
The pathway across the lake was not exactly wide. The Musashi group was gradually narrowing in and growing in density.
The idiot’s voice reached him from the upstream pathway. Tenzou looked back and saw the topless crossdresser waving toward him. It was unclear what the idiot was enjoying about this situation, but…
“Rock, paper, scissors, go!”
Tenzou played rock and the idiot played paper. Fair enough, thought Tenzou. And…
“Okay, Tenzou! That earns you a loser’s punishment!”
He did not understand, but he did notice that the enemy’s horizontal slashes had come to a stop.
And just then…
Immediately following Suzu’s shout, the Kanie Castle fired shells. And they came from the main cannons, not the secondary ones.
The shells were headed…
Bell: “Up and…straight ahead…!”
Asama hurriedly created defense barriers from his ether supply.
She created three for the shells arriving from above and straight ahead.
…With the upstream and downstream passageways, I need four, so I’m one short!
“Asama-dono! I will stop one of them with Tonbo Spare!”
“Futayo! Please do!”
“Judge!” replied Futayo as she tried to raise Tonbo Spare overhead. “Oh, whoops. I forgot I was carrying Masazumi. Now I can’t target it. My mistake.”
Gin aimed Arcabuz Cruz at Futayo’s back and repeatedly mimed pulling the trigger. It was likely a new stress relief method. However, they had a more pressing threat than stress.
“Mary! Please stop it with Excalibur!”
“Eh!? Oh, y-yes! I need to join them together and block the shell, right!?”
10ZO: “Mary-dono! Take care of that for us!”
Mary blushed and froze in place.
Asama: “Wh-what are you doing, Tenzou-kun!?”
Mar-Ga: “That ninja should just stop talking forever.”
Unturning: “That sounds a little harsh, but given the situation, I can’t blame you.”
10ZO: “Now my abuse is being analyzed!?”
Bell: “U-um? I-it’s going to…hit!?”
Takigawa’s ninjas saw the explosion of light from the lake.
The anti-ship defense barriers created by the Asama Shrine Representative were reflected off the dark lake surface, creating twice the usual light. Three barriers shattered, two downstream and one upstream. That was one too few to stop all of the shells.
“So it’ll hit them!”
The one shell fired straight on at the upstream pathway tore into the enemy formation. It definitely hit the enemy unit along a low trajectory.
And once the light scattered, the falling ether light illuminated…
The enemy formation had not been broken.
“I blocked it!”
The silver wolf’s voice came from the front of the Musashi forces on the upstream pathway. She held something in front of her wrapped in chains.
“The Logismoi Oplo, Aspida Phylargia!”
The wolf had created a platform and supporting legs out of chains to hold up the large shield.
As a result, the shell bounced off the lake in the distance and flew into the forest on the bank.
But that was not all. Someone slowly stood up behind the shield-wielding wolf.
It was Musashi’s princess. She immediately opened up a giant weapon in her hands.
And she spoke to the enemy ninjas circling in front of the Kanie Castle as they surrounded the upstream Musashi group.
“Special Attack: Muneshige Bow!”
Gin saw Muneshige clench his right hand in front of his chest.
…Master Muneshige, you are allowed to celebrate more than that. Why are you being so reserved?
He must have finished his FAQ site, she thought with a smile.
Then she saw the upstream enemy circle collapse. Almost half of them were hit right in the heart.
“Gwaaaaaaaah! R-right in my weak heart!? My weak heart that makes me sneak food in the middle of the night!”
“Nwaaaaaaah! I-I’m sorry! I knew that stairway in the academy lets you see up the summer uniform skirts!”
“Why didn’t you tell meeeeeeee!? Gwaaaaah! I know it’s a bad habit, but I just can’t help but make more and more porn image folders!”
Their cries of agony could not have been more obvious. And thanks to their spells, they writhed around on top of the lake’s surface.
But the enemy was well trained. The upstream group quickly reformed their circle and created an opening with which to rescue their collapsed comrades. And the downstream group…
“This isn’t over yet! Let’s keep at it!”
True to their word, Gin heard a certain sound.
But that sound was the Kanie Castle moving the cannons on its upper deck.
…The rear main cannons!
Combine those two cannons with the front main cannons and it could fire a total of six shells.
Gin began to summon Cuatro Cruz.
She knew she had to shoot down the enemy shells from a lower angle.
…Will I make it in time!?
But before she could summon Cuatro Cruz, something appeared in front of her.
A single sign frame had arrived before her eyes. It was written in the Chancellor’s handwriting and it said…
…“Loser’s Punishment Notification”…!?
Just then, she heard the enemy’s main cannons firing.
It was all six at once.
Takigawa saw it from the edge of the Kanie Castle’s deck.
Six metal main cannon shells were launched. Three upstream and three downstream. However…
The enemy’s arrangement of defense barriers was odd. She had expected three upstream and three downstream, but…
“They only opened them upstream!?”
Are they abandoning the downstream group? she wondered.
Then the shells arrived and something occurred just as their destructive power was unleashed.
The enemy’s downstream gravitational control pathway suddenly sank into the water.
The Takigawa Unit saw the six splashes of the shell hits.
Upstream, they saw the three splashes of shattering light from the defense barriers.
Downstream, the enemy had sunk below the lake’s surface, so…
The surface of the lake bent downwards and the shell tore a hole in the center of that curved plane.
Then that hole burst back up as the water was blasted up into the air.
But the Takigawa Unit saw something else as those splashes dropped back down as rain.
It happened to several of their allies surrounding the downstream enemies.
They screamed as they began sliding sideways across the lake.
And when the others turned to see what happened, it happened to even more of them.
Twenty or so ninjas slid across the water and kicked up some waves while still standing perfectly upright.
Someone inside the water was dragging them across and into the lake. And…
As soon as they vanished below the surface, something hopped up from within the water.
The Takigawa Unit could guess what this was dragging tons of water up from the bottom of the lake.
“Musashi’s downstream unit!”
“ ‘Musashi’-san, you have awfully fine control over such long distances.”
“Judge. This was a barrier-style spell, so it was already locked to a specific coordinate. Instead of controlling it, I only altered the coordinate setting. Over,” explained “Musashi” while setting up a table on Musashino’s bow deck and serving Sakai’s dinner there. “The artificial lake’s minimal wildlife also made it easier to control. Over.”
“Yeah, too much of that would make for a lot of noise, wouldn’t it?”
“Judge.” “Musashi” nodded while lining up the plates. “I also sent some buffering spells because underwater explosive blasts are actually just as dangerous as direct hits. Over.”
“I see. Couldn’t you have just sent them some defense barriers?”
“Testament Union regulations restrict the distance at which I can send personal ones. The gravity pathways are meant to provide a path back to the Musashi, so the same regulations do not apply. Over.”
“Oh, so those pathways are actually meant to let them leave the Kanie Castle, huh?”
“Judge,” confirmed “Musashi”. “Are you curious how I run the Musashi? If so, there is much more I could tell you. Over.”
The Takigawa Unit saw the enemy move.
They had changed position, pathway and all. Also, the downstream pathway had moved to match the upstream one’s position, creating a single continuous pathway.
One half of the enemy was soaked and the other half was windswept, but they managed to regroup.
The Takigawa Unit’s downstream group noticed a gap between them and the enemy’s pathway.
They also noticed someone facing them from the edge of the downstream pathway.
“The Musashi Vice Chancellor!”
She carried the soaking wet and unmoving Vice President over her shoulder and she held her spear horizontally instead of vertically.
“Bind, Tonbo Spare!”
Tenzou pointed at their leader while water cascaded from his ninja outfit.
“Wh-what was that for, Toori-dono!?”
“Huh!? Blame yourself for losing the rock-paper-scissors game! You were really supposed to get a boiling hot bath like in a Shinto trial!”
“S-stop doubling down on your crap!”
Tachibana Wife: “What would have happened if our feet weren’t fixed in place with gravitational control?”
Asama: “It’s a good thing Toori-kun is so good at rock-paper-scissors.”
Flat Vassal: “The Chancellor is weirdly lucky at that game, isn’t he?”
Mar-Ga: “This would’ve been more interesting if it wasn’t just our fighters who got soaking wet.”
10ZO: “Don’t draw that! Don’t you dare draw that!”
Meanwhile, they were running down the double-width pathway and began responding to the Takigawa Unit.
Futayo and Mitotsudaira moved to the front and charged toward the enemy.
The rest picked up speed and followed those two toward the Kanie Castle’s side of the lake, but…
Something was placed over Tenzou’s head from behind. It was a spare red scarf.
He looked back and found Mary running alongside him on the left. She must have prepared the scarf.
He considered thanking her, but…
She had not done this to be thanked. So…
“This is perfect. Exhaustion builds up faster if your neck is chilly.”
He immediately swapped out scarves and handed the wet one to Mary.
“Could you wash this one?”
Her shoulders trembled at his question, but she took the scarf and nodded.
It felt like so long since they had spoken, so the short response made him very happy and he realized just how easy-to-please he could be. However…
“We made it!”
The warrior unit up ahead had arrived on the opposite bank.
They set up their defense barriers on either side to secure a path for the others. A path to Kanie Castle.
Tenzou ran toward that. He reached out his hand and grabbed Mary’s hand and the wet scarf in it.
He heard an “ah” from her, but that was fine. Now was the time to hurry. And just as Mary held his hand back, he saw the two girls in the lead running up the Kanie Castle’s hull.
That was Futayo and Mitotsudaira.
Masazumi was shaky on her feet after arriving on the Kanie Castle’s deck.
…Ohh, I haven’t had my feet below me in a while.
She had been on Futayo’s shoulder this whole time, which had certainly made things easier, but it had shaken her an awful lot.
But she had noticed something odd while Futayo ran up the side of the ship and when they had regrouped with Mitotsudaira and the others on top.
“Why hasn’t the Kanie Castle reacted at all? And…”
Masazumi looked down at her feet.
The wooden deck was illuminated by the ship’s auxiliary lights.
There was a large dark splotch in the center of the wood flooring which was washed out after long exposure to the sun.
“This is…blood, isn’t it?”
Mitotsudaira identified it as she lowered her silver chains to pull the others up. Futayo agreed.
“Perhaps someone went ‘splat!’ here after being hit by one of Naomasa-dono’s shots.”
“How can you say things like that after eating tomato in your udon for lunch? But anyway, we can ask the people here what happened.”
Masazumi noted when Naito and Naruze flew up onto the edge of the deck. She made sure they were ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice and then called out to the rear of the deck.
“Takigawa Ichimasu, what is the meaning of this? Are you surrendering the Kanie Castle to us?”
“I’ve seen and accomplished most everything I had hoped to. After spending a bit more time with you, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”
Her usage of “spend time with you” led Futayo and the others to lower their hips.
They were prepared to move. Everyone knew which angles they were in charge of. That was just how much battlefield experience they had. So while they might not be safe, Masazumi felt confident they were not in danger either.
“One question, Takigawa Ichimasu. How exactly do you wish to ‘spend time’ with us?”
“Shaja. It doesn’t have to be long. I just want a quick fight so I can check on something. Once I’ve seen what I want, I will withdraw from here.”
Then Takigawa approached them. She crossed the many puddles of blood on the deck.
…Is she not hurt?
“What happened here?”
“Judge. We know you were speaking with Hashiba’s Ten Spears not long ago.”
“You noticed that, did you? Fine, then. We were completing my portion of the Battle of Shizugatake. The request should come through before long.”
Masazumi thought about what that meant.
…The Battle of Shizugatake is effectively the debut battle of Hashiba’s Seven Spears, isn’t it?
It could also be seen as an internal conflict for the Oda clan. It was fought between Hashiba’s forces and Shibata’s forces and Takigawa would take Shibata’s side. So…
“Did you fight the Ten Spears here?”
“The result is none of your concern. All I will say is that it was the result I hoped to see.” Takigawa raised a hand and pointed at someone. “Mito Lord. I choose you as my opponent.”
Mitotsudaira was pulling up her king and Horizon with the silver chains when her eyes widened at Takigawa’s statement.
“Y-you choose me?”
It was too sudden. There was no connection between her and Takigawa.
But Takigawa was pointing straight at her.
Vice President: “Why would she choose you?”
Silver Wolf: “If you don’t know, how am I supposed to know?”
Hori-ko: “Perhaps Takigawa-sama is a furry.”
Mar-Ga: “Genre-wise, furries tend to be more interested in male-male couplings.”
Flat Vassal: “Why does the most pointless trivia have the biggest impact?”
10ZO: “Well, if you want a simpler explanation, Mitotsudaira-dono is the most exhausted and injured of our officer-level fighters.”
That’s true, thought Mitotsudaira. She had even broken one of her silver chains.
…I need to repair that during the next full moon.
While making a mental note of that, Mitotsudaira finished pulling up her king and Horizon and took a breath. She then turned toward Takigawa and stepped forward.
“Lady Mitotsudaira, take this,” said Mary to her right.
Mary tossed her one half of Excalibur. She gladly caught it and squeezed the grip in her right hand.
She looked back to see her king nod her way. He was entrusting this to her.
So she raised Excalibur in front of her.
“As my king’s knight, I, Nate Mitotsudaira, accept your challenge.”
“I appreciate it. That lets me test what I need to test.”
Test? wondered Mitotsudaira.
Takigawa immediately began to move. She leaned forward, and…
She took her first step. In that instant, Mitotsudaira saw something in front of her.
Takigawa’s body split into five copies of itself.
A classic ninja move, thought Mitotsudaira.
It was such a classic that the textbooks included standard countermeasures for body copying techniques.
If she saw no ether light around her opponent’s body or below their feet, then this was either martial arts or a ninja technique.
And in that case, the copies were generally the afterimages of high-speed motion. It might look like multiple copies, but the enemy was moving along a fixed loop and she was only seeing the afterimages. So even if the number of attacks appeared equal to the number of copies, they were each the midpoint of a single flow of motion, so stopping one would stop them all.
That led to the standard countermeasure:
…Launch an attack along the loop!
Mitotsudaira moved forward. Five Takigawas were rushing toward her, but she stabbed Excalibur between the one in front of her and the next one to the right. She placed the blade in an intermediary point of the loop.
“How about that!?”
Just as she asked that, the five Takigawas all turned around. And they did so while circling behind her.
Strange, thought Mitotsudaira. If they had all turned around at once, it meant she had made a full loop of the copies, yet Mitotsudaira felt nothing hit her blade.
And Takigawa made a sword strike as she turned around.
Tenzou heard quintuple clashing swords.
That was not a sound that a looping afterimage copy technique could create.
“Are those solid copies made using martial arts!?”
Tenzou cried out in surprise.
Takigawa was launching sword attacks on Mitotsudaira in quick succession. The five copies of her moved at once to attack from every direction.
Each of the blades had real weight behind it and sparks flew around Mitotsudaira when she blocked them.
This was not a copying technique that used illusions or great speed to create the appearance of multiple copies.
Takigawa was using pure martial arts to create solid copies.
…But I had heard no one alive could use that technique.
Gold Mar: “I’m not picking up an ether reading, so how does that work?”
10ZO: “Judge. You use physical movements to split apart your body’s moving parts. So when you step forward, you vibrate everything from your toes to your head to split them apart between each of the desired directions.”
Yes, the trick was vibration. That movement was far faster and reversible than simple high-speed movement.
“Try vibrating your arm as you swing your fist forward. Your fist separates into multiple copies in the direction of vibration while still moving forward, right? A stronger version of that is known as a solid copy. The main flaw is that it slows you down since you have to add the vibration on top of your original movement.”
But Takigawa had sped it up and she could even use different actions between copies.
That was like vibrating your fist to create multiple copies and then changing the way you clenched your fist at each point along the vibration.
How much had she strengthened and trained her body to pull this off?
Me: “Tenzou, can you do that?”
10ZO: “When I am in top form, I can split into two or three copies while simply running…but only for about five seconds.”
That was not enough to be practical.
But Takigawa was a different matter. She had five copies, they were perfectly coordinated, and they targeted Mitotsudaira’s blind spots and weak points.
And they sped up even further.
Takigawa split herself apart and ran.
The biggest advantage of having five copies was not the increased number of attacks; it was the widened field of vision. Since she could observe her opponent from multiple angles, it was child’s play to tell where their blind spots were.
The Mito Lord currently held Excalibur in her right hand and was focused on defense. That concentrated her defense to the right and it left her left side open, but…
…Sticking to a one-handed grip was a wise decision.
If she held the sword with both hands, she could keep the sword at the center of her body. That was ideal for blocking weighty attacks and allowed her to protect the center of her body, but that was meaningless at the moment. She was being attacked from all angles, so a two-handed grip would weaken her ability to swing the sword to the left or right and it would prevent any bursts of speed. Plus, there would always be a blind spot below her arms.
So instead, the Mito Lord turned her right side forward and swung the sword with her right hand. She made light movements of her right wrist to deflect Takigawa’s attacks with quick sweeping and stabbing motions.
She also used her left arm to deter Takigawa. When Takigawa circled to the back or front of her sideways body and attempted an attack, she would raise her hand or swing it behind her to give the illusion of a coming Excalibur attack in that direction.
She was good at this.
Her movements were solid and she also had the technique to handle multiple opponents like this. Plus…
…Is she using my scent!?
Mitotsudaira reacted to the attacks.
She used steady sword fighting technique, but she was assisted by her Loup-Garou nose.
Takigawa’s copies were created from the vibration of her body, so there was a time lag between her actual movement and the propagation of her scent. But the range of the scent allowed Mitotsudaira to generally measure the enemy’s distance, speed, and range of movement.
Knowing the range of movement was most useful. That let her avoid moving more than necessary when striking back.
…From there, I just have to figure out her rhythm!
There was always a rhythm to people’s movements. When someone swung a sword, they had to pull it back before they could attack again. Even with multiple copies, they were not all constantly attacking.
So Mitotsudaira only had to assign a single sound to each of the attacks and pull-backs. And for each of the five Takigawas movements…
Two attacks arrived.
One arrived and two returned.
“Nn, ah, ah.”
Each of the five Takigawas had two sounds. So the rhythm was decimal in nature.
“Nn, nn, nn, ah, ah, nn, ah, nn, nn, ah, ah.”
The Loup-Garou hummed. She read her opponent’s attacks and defenses, she sang, and…
She inserted her own attack into the mix.
…She’s a monster!
The wolf counterattacked at a rate of once every five times.
Takigawa had of course expected interference with her copies, but she had expected something less steady and more forceful.
But this was different. The enemy had worked out her attack tempo, yet she was not conforming to it.
If anything, this enemy was moving to deflect Takigawa’s attacks.
Takigawa realized how dangerous this was. The Mito Lord was most likely using ideal movements without even meaning to.
She was reading the gap between attack and defense and then using that for her own offensive ideal movements. She had come up with the idea in this battle and had begun to actually implement it.
Takigawa realized what a threat this girl was to the next generation within Hashiba.
And she remembered something else: what Matsunaga Hisahide had said in his final moments.
…What will happen when the greatest creator clashes with the greatest destroyer?
That was the question. Takigawa was currently assisting the creation of the greatest creator. She was not the greatest destroyer and she could not become it, but she was helping create the next generation’s greatest enemy.
And she heard something.
The wolf’s “nn” transformed into a “lu”.
And each time she heard it, she saw more sparks and her blade was deflected.
She realized her enemy was surpassing her. So…
“How about this!?”
Mitotsudaira was suddenly hit by an enemy’s attack.
A Takigawa circled to her right and attacked with a blade.
That alone was the same as the previous attacks, so Mitotsudaira sent Excalibur toward it with a light snap of the wrist.
But as soon as the light slash hit, Takigawa twisted her arm. She shifted to an attack that struck with the forearm more than the elbow.
But Mitotsudaira had already swung her blade. As a result, Excalibur dug into Takigawa’s arm and sliced 1cm deep into her forearm.
That was a real result. She had successfully injured Takigawa. However…
Mitotsudaira realized what Takigawa was trying to do. It was her sense of smell that told her.
A red liquid sprayed from Takigawa’s arm and that filled the surrounding space thanks to the high-speed vibration copy technique.
Takigawa intentionally let a few more drops of blood fall to the deck as part of her bloody mist.
More than the blood, she was interested in letting her scent gather there as a decoy for the Mito Lord.
…Now, how about that?
How far could this enemy go?
And she wondered if these people were capable of not giving up.
To not give up was to be indomitable. And that required something.
The most important thing was the willpower to never wish to give up.
But that alone was not enough. Willpower was meaningless if you were defeated or lost.
So you also needed the skill to keep that from happening.
When she had visited the Musashi in the Shirasagi Castle before, she had been defeated by their preparation. The final combined attack from the Ariake and transport ships had required a certain level of organization.
They had put together a tactic that kept them from having to give up.
But giving up was not something you could always see coming and deal with it or crush it in advance.
The spontaneous desire to give up was the most dangerous kind.
That kind arrived when you least expected it – when everything fell apart despite all your preparation and organization.
These enemies had strength. They had the strength to surpass their opponents. But…
“Show me whether or not you have the skill to constantly tear down the desire to give up!”
Takigawa targeted her enemy’s back. She sent two attacks from the front while also making three stabbing attacks from behind.
The enemy spun around and tried to dodge, but it was too late. Takigawa could see her wide-open back. So…
Takigawa threw her entire body forward to hunt down this wolf.
Just as Takigawa used every one of her actions to strike down her enemy, she saw the Mito Lord’s decision.
The wolf spun around to forcibly turn herself sideways in relation to the middle one of the three copies attacking her from behind. But that was not a problem. The two on the left and right could still stab her. However…
The Mito Lord threw her body toward the middle copy behind her.
She used a light burst of speed and she did not even turn around as she did so.
…She’s jumping right toward my blade! Is she trying to get herself killed!?
This did not seem like an acceptable “answer” to Takigawa.
The desire to give up had to be crushed with strength, but this answer was entirely reliant on luck. However…
Takigawa saw a stream of blood scattering from her right arm as it thrust the blade forward.
And the two Takigawas attacking from the front saw the Mito Lord’s face.
Her eyes were closed.
She had concentrated on the scent of blood to track the movements of the five solid copies. And she had shut her eyes to sharpen her sense of smell enough to distinguish the movement of the mist from the blood scattering from Takigawa’s own movement.
The propagation of the scent was of course slower than their movements, but attacks began with a preparatory stance.
Even if the scent propagated slowly, she only had to detect that stance to know the attack was coming. And…
…She read my copies’ stances to accurately charge right toward me!
She was not relying on luck. She had used her own abilities to adlib.
While turned to the side, the Mito Lord slipped between the three stabbing blades of the three copies.
None of them hit her. You could call it a Flat Chest Evasion.
…I can’t believe she came up with this solution!
Instead of giving up on any of Takigawa’s attacks, this enemy had used the blood trap to arrive at the correct answer. Meanwhile…
Takigawa knew she had moved too close. It had been necessary to defeat this opponent.
But when that opponent rushed toward her, the distance between them seemed to vanish.
Takigawa let her five copies’ slashes and jabs hit her while she seemed to embrace the Mito Lord.
It almost looked like she was holding the enemy close while protecting her.
Mitotsudaira felt the strength draining from Takigawa’s body.
She took a step back and saw just one Takigawa standing in the clearing blood mist.
She had several stab and slash wounds, but…
“Takigawa Ichimasu. What all did you do in your previous fight?”
Takigawa looked over at her.
And she smiled.
Then she waved a hand back and forth as if to say “go”.
“Don’t worry about it and get going. I know now that my era has passed.”
“Are you sure, Takigawa?”
That question came from Masazumi. And Horizon followed suit.
“What will you do now, Takigawa, um…”
Horizon held out her right palm as everyone watched her.
“I know a number is next.”
“Yeah,” said the idiot while leaning his entire body in front of her. “It is a tricky name to read correctly.”
“Heh. Do you really think that is enough of a hint to clue me in?”
Is that something to brag about? the others wondered before hearing bitter laughter from Takigawa.
“I’m going to head home and get some rest. If I stayed involved any longer, I would hate how much of a nuisance I was being. Also…”
She looked to Mitotsudaira and then to the southern sky.
“I was of some small use. That’s good enough for a final job,” she said. “So get going. I will keep using this ship until I’m back in P.A. Oda. And if I don’t leave right away, Hashiba and the others will be worried. Plus, I want to avoid seeing Hashiba before I head home.”
Mitotsudaira felt like she could trust the bitter smile in the woman’s voice.
…And I can also see just how much she cares for Hashiba.
In a way, Hashiba’s forces would be inheriting P.A. Oda.
Not that that was too surprising.
But Mitotsudaira’s king spoke to Takigawa.
“You’re clearing the way for us?”
“I am not clearing it. …I simply tested you and approved of what I found.”
Takigawa snapped her fingers and the Kanie Castle’s main lights began switching on. The ship also rumbled.
“Farewell, Musashi. It is time I became no more than a part of history. See me off and you will be dragged there with me.”
The ship was starting up.
Katou Yoshiaki saw it from the sky south of Odawara.
A single aerial warship was ascending from the northern water source.
It was the Kanie Castle. It was likely headed west, to P.A. Oda.
She slowed Weiss Fürstin and looked back at it. She raised a hand and reverse-crossed herself.
“Nema. May your soul rest in peace.”
Her tilted head saw Kasuya in the rear seat.
The girl sat sideways with her head lowered and her clothing contained countless cuts. Her arms, legs, chest, and back had been cut and sliced, creating dark stripes of dried blood.
But even if her body was weak, her voice was not.
“Did I do a good job?”
“Of course you did.”
Yoshiaki slowly spun Weiss Fürstin around in midair so they could watch the ship disappearing into the distance.
“Look,” she said while Kasuya’s hair swayed in the wind. And the girl bowed her already lowered head toward the Kanie Castle as it traversed the night. She audibly sucked in some air and spoke.
“Testament. Thank you very much.”
“That’s all you have to say, Kasuya. I mean you defeated Takigawa Ichimasu, who the Testament lists as one of Oda’s top four.”
“Have you met Ootani or Kani before? You need to be able to hold your chest out with pride before you do. …I mean, you do have a bigger chest than me.”
“Is that supposed to be a joke?”
“Testament,” said Yoshiaki. “Angie always holds her chest out and laughs when I say that.”
Takigawa saw a line of ether light in the distant southern sky. She thought she saw it spin around for her to see, but perhaps she was imagining things.
Still, she waved toward it and sighed.
And then the color red sprayed from her entire body.
Her comrades had come up onto the deck by now, so they cried out in alarm. But even as she endured the blood squirting out in time with her pulse, she raised a hand telling them not to worry about it.
“Two battles in a row was a bit much.”
Not all of the blood staining the deck belonged to Kasuya.
Takigawa had been hit too. Also…
Blood gushed from the three slashes on the left side of her neck.
No part of her body was untouched by the red. Several insha kotobs opened and worked to stop the bleeding, but how long would she last even with that?
She sighed again and then inhaled quite forcefully.
She had trained her body to the point of pulling off vibration-style solid copies, so she could stop the bleeding by tensing her muscles. But more than that…
…It’s not going to last.
She peeled off a charm applied below her uniform. It was an anesthetic spell charm that allowed a ninja to take action without any pain.
Without that, she never would have made it through that second battle. But for that second one, she had at least shown her pride as an Oda retainer. The Mito Lord may have noticed after touching her body, but that may have been why she had gotten through to the girl.
She held great pride in serving such a powerful nation.
Kasuya had fought her without that and the Mito Lord had fought her using that, but which one had been stronger?
“Send a divine transmission to P.A. Oda. Tell them Takigawa Ichimasu is leaving the battle line. Request the conclusion of my inherited name since I have completed all the major history recreations. Once that goes through, I will graduate from P.A.O.M. through voluntary withdrawal.”
“Ha ha. Don’t come with me, okay? That would just be sad at your age.”
She laughed, leaned her back against the edge of the deck, and looked up at the night sky.
“I will be taking an escape boat later. I’m heading home.”
She thought back.
“I was born in Koga land. Did you know that area is known for its pottery? It’s in the mountains, but there’s lots of water there. The tea is good too. You should visit sometime.”
“How can you say that after telling us not to go with you!?”
She answered their reply with laughter. And she lowered her gaze. She looked down at Odawara and the artificial lake visible over the edge of the deck and she saw a few lights were the Kanie Castle had been.
The Musashi group was entering the ruins.
The ship began to rise as she watched those lights move. The visible area of land vanished as her vantage point rose.
No, wait, she thought. My vision is actually lowering a bit as the ship rises.
She was slowly slipping off the deck.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “You’re coming to visit me, aren’t you?”
As the others ran over, she pressed her back against the edge of the deck and sat back up. She somehow even managed to cross her legs.
“But that won’t be for a while. We still don’t know what will happen with the Apocalypse, so we might all forget about each other.”
Yes, she thought. If I became a part of history, then they’ll all come to visit.
And she thought of herself as a turning point for Musashi as they made their next move.
“Go learn about history, okay?”
- Takigawa means “waterfall river”.
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