Horizon:Volume 7A Chapter 20
Chapter 20: Desiring Girl in the Usual Place
Why is it
I can never hold onto
The happy times
Even when I leap at them?
Point Allocation (Washing Each Other)
Kiyomasa hurried down the corridor.
She was on the way to the bath. The bucket she carried held a change of clothes, new soap, a towel, and perfume for use after bathing.
She would find Fukushima in the bath.
…She has been acting strange since the battle ended.
Or more accurately, since they had begun preparations to withdraw. It felt like she was avoiding Kiyomasa.
Had something painful or sad happened?
Kiyomasa felt like she was meddling, but if Fukushima needed to get whatever-it-was off her chest, she wanted to be there to listen. They had known each other for a long time and they knew each other well.
And if Fukushima wanted to be left alone, she would give her space. It would be lonely, but Fukushima was sure to return as an even greater version of herself given time. That had happened on a smaller scale from time to time in the past.
But Fukushima was a girl of few words. She rarely let her inner feelings out, so Kiyomasa needed to prepare for this in her own way.
“The soap is a Greek-style I’ve never used before and the shampoo is the good stuff I ordered from India.”
They usually used Far Eastern rice bran bags to wash themselves in the bath, so this would be a new experience.
That would give them something to talk about and provide a nice change of pace.
…I just need this.
However, it was mostly up to Fukushima’s mental state.
First and foremost, Kiyomasa wanted to figure out if Fukushima wanted to be left alone.
She stepped through the entrance to the bath reserved for the Ten Spears.
Fukushima listened to his complaints.
Personally, she wanted to be the one complaining about her situation, but she had little choice when Katagiri started tearfully speaking.
“And then I…I…!”
From what she could tell, there was someone he had been in love with, but now she might be dead and he could never see her again even if she was still alive.
Fukushima did not know how true any of this was.
“So, um, the thing about this lewd busty shrine maiden is…!”
“Yes, lewd! She said so herself…or did she? Regardless, that was how she made sure we understood each other, so she was lewd!”
“Is that so?”
That is quite the person thou fell in love with. But to sum up…
…He has a broken heart.
But nothing like this had happened with Katagiri before, so it came as a surprise.
“I wanted to speak with her again after I got manlier and could talk with people properly!”
“But now she is gone?”
“Testament. How could this happen!?”
Logically speaking, these things just happened sometimes. It did not require explanation.
People were lost both on the battlefield and in everyday life. People became injured, grew sick, died of old age, or even took their own lives.
It was not clear if this girl was dead or had just gone elsewhere, so Fukushima felt like he could always go looking for her. But…
…Whether or not thou should pursue someone who left is always a question.
She also knew why Katagiri was wallowing in heartbreak instead of immediately chasing after this girl: he wanted to fulfill the duty he felt in his position in the Ten Spears and in his relationship with the other Spears.
She felt bad about that, but she also knew where his personal feelings would be headed.
“When we lose something, we want to forget it ever existed, don’t we?”
Katagiri gave a groaning nod while more tears fell from his cheeks.
Seeing this, she wanted to do something to help him, but she knew there was nothing she could do.
That was just how these things were.
But she was still very surprised to see this side of him.
“Katagiri-dono?” she asked. “Did thou love this person?”
When she asked, he looked up at her with his tear-blurred gaze.
But then he washed his face off in the tub and wiped the corners of his eyes.
There were no more tears gathering in his eyes and Fukushima saw something in his gaze.
“Thou have a much stronger and manlier gaze now.”
At first, Katagiri did not know what Fukushima meant.
He thought about it for a few seconds and repeated the words in his mind.
“No, I don’t.”
He shook his head. He already had tears in the corners of his eyes again.
“I can’t be manly.”
“That is not true.” Fukushima placed a hand on her chest. “This is thy first time feeling the emotion of love, is it not? Thou showed to me just now that thou have accepted it as thus.”
“I believe that means thou have learned to believe in thyself instead of relying on others.”
“But…the person I wanted to show that to is gone.”
“Perhaps so, but perhaps not. …Katagiri-dono, thou do not know what has happened to that person.”
“I do.” Katagiri shook his lowered head again. “They said she had metaphorically ‘left the Musashi’. That has to mean she’s either dead or missing. And either way, I can never see her again.”
“I see. Still, I do not think thou should make assumptions.”
“Hope is something to hold onto, not to cast out,” said Fukushima. “Besides, thou have become the person thou wanted to show her, correct? That is the most important thing. If thou had not, thou would be disappointing her wherever she might be.”
Katagiri could tell she was trying to persuade him.
But something about what she was saying bothered him.
“Fukushima-san…have you ever fallen in love with someone?”
…That is a good question.
Katagiri would understand.
He had accepted that the feeling inside him was love, so she would seem weak in comparison. She still could not decide whether or not the feeling inside her was love.
So to use Katagiri’s phrasing, she was being unmanly right now.
…How very strange.
She saw him like a younger brother, but he had surpassed her here.
“I am hopeless, aren’t I?” she said.
She was not sure what to say in response.
…Oh, this is not good.
She was impressed that Katagiri had been able to complain so much while crying.
She had yet to reach the point of tears and she could not come up with any words to say.
Katagiri must have been thinking about this for quite a while. She had only been mentally flailing over this for a few hours, so he completely put her to shame.
But he had told her what he was feeling, so she felt obligated to do the same.
“I am not really sure.”
“About how I feel about that person.” She could not look him in the eye as she spoke. “And because I am not sure how I feel, I cannot bring myself to carelessly contact or speak with them.”
Katagiri was surprised.
…So even Fukushima-san feels that way sometimes.
The way she was looking away and talking about her own self-doubt was very different from her usual dignified self. He thought she seemed more feminine, but that was just his male perspective talking.
She was simply unsure what to do, so he felt rude finding it surprising and feminine.
But even though he had asked the question, he really did find it surprising once she admitted it. Come to think of it, I’d probably be surprised to hear any of our girls say that. And it would feel dangerous if Hachisuka-san said it. Oh, I guess it would only be the status quo for Yoshiaki-san and Wakisaka-san.
But he knew what Fukushima was saying.
What was this feeling you had for the other person?
Did you love them, were you just thinking about them too much, or was it all a misunderstanding?
You were not certain of anything you were feeling, but if you did become certain, it would immediately and permanently change your relationship with them.
…In my case…
“I was afraid of changing the status quo, I guess.”
Fukushima turned toward him and he spoke to her look of surprise.
“I mean, I’m here with all of you. I didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing to feel that way about someone on the outside. For that matter, I didn’t even know if what I was feeling was real or not and I wasn’t sure if I should even try to figure out the answer.”
“Those troubling feelings are of course troubling, but they’re also fun.”
“F-for me, it is clearly nothing but trouble.”
It had been the same for him. So…
“That’s true. …It’s fun, but also painful. Because there is no answer to find.”
He realized something even as he said it.
…I feel so much more at peace now.
He could definitively say that he had loved her. Maybe it was due to the current feeling of loss and maybe he was only imagining it, but he could only describe what he had felt as love.
But he had not managed to reach that answer on his own.
It had troubled him and he had enjoyed it, but then it had been brought to a forcible end by outside circumstances.
So what would have happened if it had continued without that?
“I loved her, but it scares me to think about what might have happened if I hadn’t reached an answer like this but still couldn’t ever see her again.”
“I wouldn’t have known when I could stop troubling myself with the question.”
You felt true doubt once you became aware of that feeling of love.
“I wouldn’t have known whether or not I could really destroy the existing relationship and status quo. And…”
“I wouldn’t have known whether or not I could keep lying to myself once I realized how I felt.”
“I had the ending pushed onto me before I reached that point.”
Fukushima could not agree with what Katagiri said.
She had yet to reach that point herself.
What was this feeling inside her? No, she knew the answer deep down, but she did not know if she could accept that feeling. And if she did accept it…
…Would I arrive at the uncertainty Katagiri-dono was describing?
The uncertainty about destroying the existing relationship and lying to yourself.
Even if she accepted that she loved Kiyomasa, if she was not sure she could destroy their existing relationship, she would be unable to let those feelings out.
She would hide her feelings and continue being Kiyomasa’s friend as before. But…
“Would that mean thou were defiling the other person?”
“You would be if you mistook their kindness for romantic affection and indulged in that.”
“I pray you do not do that, Fukushima-san.”
When he said that, Fukushima realized what his words meant. From his perspective…
“Are thou saying thou defiled that girl, Katagiri-dono?”
Fukushima glared at Katagiri.
He started panicking one tempo later. He quickly waved his hands side to side and splashed the bathwater.
“N-no! Ah, what is that look for! I-I haven’t done that, I swear! I-I mean, there might have been a little of what you could call virtual lewdness, I guess, but…”
“Come to think of it, what was that image you were making with bathwater earlier?’
“A memento! Just a memento! Besides, this is when you should sum it up with ‘So thou did not manage to get that far, Katagiri-dono’!”
“We can leave it at that if thou insist.”
“Yes, I insist!” he said while nodding vigorously, but she did see an answer there.
…He has changed.
Katagiri was their liaison officer and he was also tasked with gathering outside information and keeping them informed. He often used Hundred Crest Land Survey to display outside information such as battlefield diagrams or visualized training instructions.
But right now he was talking about himself and using Hundred Crest Land Survey for a personal matter.
No, that was not so surprising. Feelings of love were not isolated to yourself; they were born from thinking carefully about the other person.
This was about more than himself. He had at least two people’s worth of feelings fueling his imagination.
The person he loved had changed him a lot.
“And that was something we could never manage to do…”
“Testament. Making a mature person out of thee, Katagiri-dono.”
“What did you see me as before…?”
“Do not worry about it,” she said while holding out a hand to stop him.
But she had a sudden thought. She breathed in and looked up at the ceiling obscured by the steam.
…I probably do love Kiyo-dono…
The feeling of love brought doubt and fear of potential changes to her future. It also scared her to consider the possibility of Kiyomasa rejecting or ignoring her feelings once she learned of them.
But this chat with Katagiri had taught her that these feelings definitely existed inside her and that they were not a wholly bad thing.
…But what am I supposed to do about it?
She had only just started down this path and all she had was this newfound knowledge.
She loved Kiyomasa, but how was she supposed to let the other girl know?
No, how could she tell Kiyomasa without having her feelings rejected?
She knew how to fight, but she was hopeless when it came to this sort of thing.
“I really am hopeless.”
“If you ask me, you’re headed in about as perfect a direction as you could hope for, Fukushima-san.”
“What do thou mean by that?”
She looked down to find Katagiri washing his face in the tub again.
He was smiling. She could tell he was forcing it, but…
“I was getting excited over nothing. I was mostly selfishly assuming she would accept me. But…”
“You’re thinking you won’t be accepted.”
“I’m betting you won’t lose this. I’m not really sure how to say it, but it’s a lot like you. If you start from there and work toward your goal, I think you’ll be fine.”
“Thou hint at such a difficult path ahead and then say I will be fine?”
“Fair.” Katagiri smiled bitterly and took a breath. “I didn’t think I would be able to discuss this with you.”
“Nor I with thee. …And I now realize I had not had much opportunity to speak with thee recently.”
“Testament. That’s true. I refused to share the bath with all of you, so…”
His expression froze on his face and then grew serious.
“I-I’m manlier now, aren’t I!? Experiencing heartbreak made me manlier, right!?”
“Yes, what of it?”
“Th-then it’s weird for us to be able to chat in the bath like this!”
She looked up at the ceiling when he said that.
…That is logical.
But she felt like the conversation would fall apart if she agreed, so she lowered her gaze and tried to convince him otherwise.
“Katagiri-dono, thy growth is an unseen and spiritual thing, so it has no bearing on what occurs in the bath.”
“You’re just saying my personality doesn’t mean anything in reality!”
He sighed and then stood up.
“Hmm, it doesn’t sit right with me, but the manliness inside me is saying I can’t stay in the bath with you.”
Then he looked back at her with his eyebrows lowered in a smile.
“Could you not tell the others I was crying?”
“Testament. I am aware boys do not like people to know they cry.”
“Thanks,” he said while starting to leave the tub.
However, doing so while still looking back her way was a mistake.
His raised knee hit the edge of the tub.
His hips and legs stayed put while his upper body toppled forward.
Fukushima panicked because Katagiri was falling head-first into the washing area.
She quickly stood up, bent over, and supported his falling body.
He was slippery with water, so she grasped his hipbones below his waist.
She grabbed his hips with both hands and lifted him up and back instead of just pulling back. His body shook and his hands fell to the washing area floor.
He quickly held out and spread his arms to support his upper body.
After confirming he had stopped, Fukushima relaxed her shoulders.
“That was a close one, Katagiri-dono.”
“T-testament. It really was.”
Just as he responded, the door to the bath opened to reveal a familiar face.
It was Kiyomasa and she had yet to remove her clothing.
“Fukushima-sama? Do you mind if I join you in the ba-…”
Her expression and movements froze when she saw them.
Kiyomasa saw it.
With a towel over her shoulders, Fukushima was holding up Katagiri’s hips while he was on all fours and she was pulling his butt back toward her.
The two of them must have been overheating because they were dripping with what may have been sweat or bathwater and their skin was flushed.
Kiyomasa adjusted her position when the bucket nearly fell from her hands.
Katagiri looked up at her, and…
“Y-you misunderstand, Kiyomasa-san! This isn’t what you, or pretty much anyone else who saw this scene, would think it was!”
“And what is it?”
Even Kiyomasa was shocked by how cold her tone was.
Fukushima took a breath before answering.
“Katagiri-dono has become a man.”
Kiyomasa slammed the bath door shut.
“Now,” said Fukushima. “D-did I say something wrong?”
“You didn’t need to be that honest! A-and please let go of my hips!”
The bath door opened and revealed Hachisuka this time.
She gasped, stopped, viewed the scene, and nodded.
“The impure one is Katagiri.”
“Wh-what kind of emphatic sentence is that!?”
Hachisuka shut the door and Fukushima let go of Katagiri’s hips as it clicked shut. And…
“This is thy fault, Katagiri-dono.”
“Wait, why are you glaring at me like that!? If anything, this was an accident! This feels like a personal attack on my rights!”
Fukushima started to leave the bath while Katagiri protested.
…I cannot believe this.
She wanted to chase after Kiyomasa immediately, but what would she do then? Besides…
“It would look weird if I left without washing my hair or body.”
Would Kiyomasa return while she took care of that? She wondered that while stepping out of the tub and into the washing area.
“Wh-what were those two doing?”
In a dimly-lit space, a bucket fell to the floor and the soap within bounced out.
The bucket belonged to Kiyomasa, who was staring down at it.
She was in her room. She had run back, locked the door both spell-wise and physically, pressed her back against the door, and only then caught her breath.
Her long hair was caught between her back and the door. It had been damaged in the battle and she had hoped to treat it while bathing, but…
…I can’t do that now.
She closed herself up before her thoughts went further than her desire to treat her hair in the bath.
“What is going on…?”
She was confused, but she felt like she had screwed up.
“And after I was worried about her and thinking about so many things…”
Oh, I’m looking down on her, she chided herself. But she could not deny the bad feeling deep in her chest.
…What is this?
It was easy enough to describe.
“Fukushima-sama didn’t come to me.”
What was she even saying?
It was nothing more than Fukushima choosing someone else to work through her troubles.
But that made her sad. No…
“I don’t like it.”
She did not know why, but she did not like it.
Katagiri had been in the position she had wanted to-…
“N-no, that was a ceremony to make Katagiri-kun into a man! Yes, a ceremony!”
That was not quite the position she wanted to be in. In fact, it was completely different. Probably.
…B-but on the other hand…
She started to imagine that happening to her instead.
She grabbed the empty air in front of her and threw it aside.
Kiyomasa realized she was blushing.
Oh, no. This is not good. Katou Kiyomasa, you need to calm down.
…I-I shouldn’t be having weird fantasies about someone as diligent as Fukushima-sama.
But she realized that thought did not solve anything.
She covered her face with her hands and looked down at the bucket on the floor.
She started to pick it up, but…
She instead slid down the door and onto her butt.
Her hands reached for the fallen bucket several times, but they always immediately returned to her cheeks.
She did not like this.
Fukushima had to be worrying over something important and Kiyomasa did not like that Fukushima had not come to her to talk about it. She also did not like how Fukushima had bluntly avoided her at Paris.
And she did not like how clearly irritated she was.
She recalled the other night.
During the festival, she and Fukushima had run together for training and she had kissed Fukushima at the end.
She brought her fingers to her lips.
“It was on the cheek…but outside of my family, Fukushima-sama is the only person I ever did that for.”
Saying that made her realize just how important a person Fukushima was to her.
She realized it, but…
There was nothing she could do about it, so she just curled up on the floor there.
She decided to use a spell for her damaged hair, she held her arms around her knees, and she shut her eyes.
“We are never going to accomplish anything like this. When are all of you planning to get some sleep?”
Asama stacked some compressed sleep spell charms and a few other charms on top of her futon.
It was already 11:30 and the Kantou Liberation began that morning at 2, so the ones fighting in that now had less than 3 hours to sleep.
Gin, who had already removed her prosthetic arms, responded.
“Asama Shrine Representative, getting some but not enough sleep would be more dangerous than none at all, so could you provide a 3x compression charm once we have 2 hours left? I think I will use that for an hour and a half to get a total of four and a half hours of sleep.”
“You sleep in periods of an hour and a half, don’t you? I think I’ll start doing that too.”
That comment came from Narumi who had loosened the connections and joints for her prosthetic limbs.
The connections and joints had the inner joints pulled out and they moved with a bit less power than usual. It may have been similar to a relaxed state for biological limbs. Narumi smiled when she noticed Asama’s gaze.
“I can move them, but it’s like lying in a hammock. It’s weird, but even though the prosthetics are machines, it’s easier on my body later if I give the joints some time to relax.”
“Yes, Date Vice Chancellor, it does feel that way, doesn’t it?” Gin agreed and looked to the prosthetic arms lying on either side of her. “Strangely, when I sleep with them removed, it wakes me up if Master Muneshige touches one of them due to his bad habit of moving in his sleep.”
Asama started to imagine those two sleeping side by side, but mentioning it would only make herself a target, so she stopped. Naruze was showing off a pretty realistic rough illustration and asking “like this?”, but it looked like a debate had broken out between “Yes, Gin-san’s face would be right alongside Muneo-san’s” and “her face would be by his chest”. Even though Gin was right there.
However, Gin was part of the Kantou Liberation group.
Asama held a charm out toward her.
“Those of us in the Nördlingen group don’t have to be ready until around 6 in the morning, so we still have time. But the Kantou group should want to get to sleep right away, so I’ll be passing these out, okay?”
“Oh?” Horizon took one of the compressed sleep charms. “So this is one of the rumored compressed sleep charms.”
“Eh? Are they that well known?”
“Of course they are, Asama,” said Naruze. “They’re a super useful item in the doujinshi business. You can use them yourself and you can use them in your doujinshi. We even have a saying: ‘Out of ideas? Time for a compressed sleep charm!’ ”
“If someone actually tries to do something to you when you’re using one, the criminal will have three thumbs’ worth of purifying yuzukosho shoved up their butt and then a super-loud alarm will sound.”
“Why not just do the last part?”
“Tradition, I imagine,” she said while Horizon held up the charm.
“So how do you use this sex charm?”
“It has nothing to do with sex. Anyway, um, you press this meter with your finger to set the time, press this compression-factor number, press this activation mark, and then attach it to your body. It will automatically start up.”
She looked over to see Horizon collapse to the side with it attached to her forehead.
Her eyes were wide open while she lay in a shallow manji pose. Everyone was a little disturbed by the sight.
“Well, that was…impressive.”
“Heh heh. Seeing her sleeping like that makes me want to draw a chalk outline around her.”
“I guess this means Asama-san’s explanation was accurate.”
“But if we try to wake her, it means yuzukosho up the butt, doesn’t it?”
Just as Naito asked that, Horizon’s arms detached on their own. They moved their wrists as if looking around and then yanked the charm from Horizon’s forehead.
She was awake in two seconds.
“That was a close one, Asama-sama. I very nearly went to sleep due to your eloquent explanation.”
“Well, I didn’t expect you to actually do it while I explained.” Asama grabbed two other varieties of charm. “Anyway, there is actually a trick to this. A ‘hack’ if you will.”
“What’s that, Asama!? You want me to spread this knowledge around at the next event!? Who should I make the culprit! Just this once, I’ll let you choose!”
“Okay, I choose you, Naruze.”
“Really?” groaned Naruze while turning her bitter smile away and tapping her forehead with the bottom of her pen.
Then she sighed while still looking away.
“Well, I should have expected that from you.”
“Wh-what’s that supposed to mean!?”
Anyway, she had to explain this.
“This here is a compressed sleep spell. Now, what is its biggest flaw?”
“Ooh, I know!” Naito raised her hand. “It puts a pretty big burden on your body when you wake up.”
Kimi held up a sign frame that asked “and what are the benefits?”, so Asama started to worry she was slipping into her infomercial material.
But what mattered here were the other charms.
“This is a cooling spell and this is a stable awakening spell.”
“What is a stable awakening spell?”
“You can think of it as an alarm clock spell,” said Naruze. “It manages your physical condition so you will naturally wake up at a specified time. Although if you set it to a range of times, you can use it to keep you awake.”
“I see you know all about that one, Naruze.”
“You need some way to work through the night when drawing a doujinshi. But I think I get what you’re planning, Asama. By activating the cooling spell and the stable awakening spell on top of the compressed sleep spell, you hope to eliminate the exhaustion and burden on your body.”
“Makes sense. So she’s striking a balance between the positive spells and the negative spell like Ga-chan and I do with our Weiss and Schwarz Technomagie. I knew Shinto had healing spells too, but I hadn’t thought about this possibility.”
“What does that mean?”
“Umm,” began Asama. “When you use a compressed sleep spell to sleep, there is some backlash on your body when the spell ends and you wake up. The burden is especially great because you rapidly wake up from very deep sleep. So by activating a weaker stable awakening spell on top of it, there is less of a shock when the compressed sleep spell ends and you can wake up properly. …Now, I’m including a cooling spell too, but by syncing its strength with the changes caused by the stable awakening spell, you can eliminate a lot of the exhaustion you would normally feel. In theory anyway.”
After explaining all that, Asama realized the Technohexen pair and Naomasa appeared to understand, but the only other one that came close was Mary who was counting on her fingers to think through it a step at a time.
…Oops. My Shinto obsessions slipped out.
“Um, just do what I say and you’ll wake up feeling nice and rested.”
Horizon collapsed again. This time, the left hand removed the charm.
“S-sorry, Asama-sama. I got ahead of myself again.”
“Well, um, does that mean you want to get to sleep ASAP, Horizon?”
“Judge.” Horizon held out a hand. “What compression factor do I need to get a week’s worth of sleep in five hours?”
Futayo knew what Horizon meant.
“Horizon-sama! Do you wish to sleep soundly!?”
Everyone else responded with an “eh?”, but Horizon raised her right thumb.
“Judge. Quality sleep will complete the adjustments I need for the Logismoi Oplo. But a week’s worth in five hours will be difficult even for a 10th Level napper such as me.”
“Asama-sama, is that possible?”
By the time Futayo asked, Asama was already spreading out and counting a bundle of charms.
After checking through them two or three times from front to back, she bound them together with a paper skewer bearing the Asama Shrine’s emblem.
“Here, Horizon. This should be enough and I have already set them up for you.”
…That was fast.
Futayo trembled more at Asama’s nonchalant expression than the thickness of the charm bundle.
As the Asama Shrine’s #2, that girl was essentially Musashi’s #2 Shinto Representative. As a Shinto spell expert, she rivalled Futayo whose position as Vice Chancellor made her Musashi’s #2 combat officer.
Asama had mostly limited herself to divine transmission relay work, but she had stepped to the forefront during the battle against Sanada.
“Horizon, we can’t have you sleeping the whole time you are at Toori-kun’s place and you don’t want to spend all your time sleeping either, right? So tell me whenever you need something like this.”
“Judge. I will gladly accept that offer.”
When Futayo saw her leader respectfully receiving the charm bundle in both hands, she realized what Horizon had meant by a battle formation.
Their roles and relationships were clearly defined and they all needed each other.
And Futayo was Musashi’s #2 in combat. Her leader recognized that fact.
…Are there other areas where I can surprise them like Asama-sama is doing now?
She did not know, but she was pretty sure she had not reached that point yet. And…
Masazumi, who was #2 in politics, raised her lowered head.
“Eh? O-oh, I’m just feeling a little sleepy. Yes, but falling asleep would only make me the butt of everyone’s jokes.”
“So when you’re feeling sleepy, you can come out and tell it like it is, huh?”
Masazumi did not react to Naruze’s comment. She instead collapsed down onto her futon.
“Hmm, this has been a rough day all the way to the bitter end. And tomorrow is going to be rough from the get-go.”
“Are you mentally worn out from all the meetings?” asked Naomasa.
“Hmm, I think going with everyone to Kanie Castle hit me hard too.”
“Should I not have made those vertical jumps while carrying you?” asked Futayo.
“I would be even more exhausted if you hadn’t carried me. Doing the whole thing on foot is enough to kill us liberal arts types.”
Everyone exchanged a glance and Naruze raised a hand.
“I’m a liberal arts type.”
So did Naito and…
…Asama-sama, Kimi-dono, Mukai-dono, Mary-sama, and Horizon-sama.
“Our liberal arts types are pretty tough,” said Naruze. “Have you tried training, Masazumi?”
“I’ll think about it if I have an opening in my reading schedule.”
Masazumi rolled onto her back and stared intently up at the ceiling.
“Anyway, the hardest part is yet to come.”
“That is true,” said Futayo.
Several issues were in progress or developing.
The entire pre-summer break period was like a mesh of issues to deal with. So…
“Masazumi, what do you think is at the center of it all?”
“Judge. After the Kantou Liberation gets going, we take control of the Battle of Nördlingen and rescue Lady Nagaoka. And once Europe understands what it means to have Musashi around, we ask something of Lady Nagaoka.”
“I want an audience with Akechi Mitsuhide in Kyoto.”
Asama was reminded of Novgorod.
She recalled the fragmentary but crucial information they had received there.
“The Princess left behind a message saying ‘What’s keeping Mitsuhide-kun’, right?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Masazumi spoke while looking up at the ceiling.
“Akechi Mitsuhide was probably a student at Lord Motonobu’s academy just like the Prince of Orange was.”
And she said more.
“Do you remember what we saw below Sanada?”
“Masazumi? That wasn’t very long ago.”
“Judge. I just wanted to say that.”
…Now she’s acting like Neshinbara-kun.
I hope she isn’t changing herself to match the weirder parts of this world. No, maybe she’s just tired and saying whatever comes to mind.
But Masazumi clenched her raised right hand and spoke.
“Lord Motonobu performed some unknown research in Sanada land, he left that site to his younger brother and continued his research elsewhere, and he tried to become ‘the Princess’s friend’ there. That was their academy which apparently only existed for a two year period.”
Asama continued for Masazumi with a “but”.
She thought back to what the Prince of Orange had told them below Novgorod.
“In a turn of events that would probably delight Neshinbara-kun, whatever they were doing there for two years ended in a miserable failure, didn’t it? Which leads us to…”
During the earlier meeting, Mitotsudaira’s mother had given Masazumi a memo.
“Let’s take a look.”
Masazumi pulled it from her pocket and unfolded it on her futon.
Everyone gathered around to view the hand-written message.
<Taikyou-sama ni kotoba asohi no shitsumon
- Uiriamu ni tanomu ka>
<A wordplay question for Taikyou-sama.
- Can you take care of this, William?>
…We saw this already, but…
“Who is Taikyou-sama?”
“The wordplay question is a mystery too,” said Mitotsudaira. “So, um, mother?”
“I honestly do not know what it means either.”
Then it was worth asking the boys. They were probably still up, so Asama connected to their divine chat.
Me: “You moron! Tenzou, why are you setting up a ceiling trap there!? Imagawa Alternate sleeps through the night after drinking, so you need to set up the Large Sake Bottle G at dawn!”
10ZO: “Toori-dono, why is your Gekoku Rank so high!?”
Me: “Hm? Because Sis and I have been burning up a bunch of Nagamasa Specials lately. They don’t drop a Nice Skull very often.”
Novice: “If you want the reward, you should do it in a 40% tax rate village. …Wait, why would you let them hit you with a full charge, Crossunite-kun? Fine, I will use my brush to write you a recovery letter.”
10ZO: “Th-thanks for the help, Persona-kun-dono!”
Novice: “Okay, Crossunite-kun, you stay out front. Our party’s weapons are nudist, brush, rare nail bat, and shuriken, so we’re really unbalanced.”
It took her a second, but Asama finally realized what they were talking about.
“This must be that Gekoku Jaeger Dos game they’ve been advertising on the divine network.”
“I’ve actually been playing it too, but how far have you gotten, Kimi?” asked Mitotsudaira.
“Heh heh. My foolish brother and I are working on the Execution quest. But are they pulling an all-nighter on it?”
“Hm,” groaned Asama while getting authorization to forcibly set their sleep spell divine protections. “Well, I can make sure they get at least three compressed hours.”
Asama: “Toori-kun? We’re talking about the previous meeting, so could you join the conversation?”
Me: “Eh!? …Oh, sure! Ahhh, wait just a second. I’m gonna snag the loot from the Imagawa Alternate real quick. Tenzou! Don’t do a high-speed kaishaku when you didn’t do squat until now!”
Asama: “Are you going to have time to sleep? And play the game with Mito some time later, okay?”
Silver Wolf: “N-no, I’m still not very good at using the kusarigama.”
Me: “Hm? That’s fine. I’ll give you the full support the Nudist class can provide. Just leave it to me. …Anyway, um, what about the earlier meeting? Did he find out we colored his dick black?”
Asama: “Enough time has passed that I imagine he has. …But this is about the memo we received from Mito’s mom.”
<A wordplay question for Taikyou-sama.
- Can you take care of this, William?>
Asama: “Does anyone know what this means?”
Novice: “Hmm, could this itself be the full memo? But the mention of a Taikyou-sama is curious.”
Four Eyes: “Can I see it?”
Asama looked over at Masazumi who had rolled back onto her stomach at some point. The girl opened her eyes when she noticed.
“Oh, sorry. …Um, what do you need? Oh, Shakespeare. This could give us a hint for the memo, so that’s fine. Besides, Shakespeare is supposed to be good with codes.”
Four Eyes: “The origin of my name put several hidden signs and codes in his plays. …That said, this message does not show any indication of that. Still, there are a few strange aspects to it.”
Four Eyes: “When all of you saw the text, you converted it into meaningful words in your heads. As Far Easterners, you automatically parsed it as Far Eastern. But a question occurs to a foreigner like me: Are the dakuten really in the right place?”
Novice: “It looks to me like the only dakuten are on the ‘ba’ of ‘kotoba’.”
Four Eyes: “I think that is correct. A memo isn’t going to say anything too complicated. Especially when it was originally encoded like this one was. That makes it hard to say things with grammatical changes applied. With a substitution cipher, you only have to make sure the meaning is not obvious at a glance.”
Four Eyes: “So are there any Far Eastern words that would apply to Taikyou-sama?”
Asama realized everyone was looking at her.
She wondered why as she viewed them with both a wrinkled brow and a smile.
“What is the meaning of this?”
“Heh heh. We think you will give us what we’re expecting, Asama.”
Then that was what she had to do. She sighed toward the floor and…
Asama: “It could refer to prenatal care, or it could refer to a large banquet.”
Four Eyes: “Would you refer to either of those with the honorific ‘sama’?”
Asama: “No, you wouldn’t. …Kimi stop turning it into a song!”
Four Eyes: “What a strange singer you have. But…if that reading is not normal, then you must be reading it wrong.”
“Eh?” said Asama as more words arrived.
Four Eyes: “By adding dakuten, it could also be Daikyou, Taigyou, or Daigyou. Do those refer to anything?”
Asama: “Daikyou means ‘very bad luck’ in Shinto fortunes. Which are, um…”
Four Eyes: “I am familiar with them, so don’t worry. The Asama Shrine is in charge of love, marriage, and childbirth, so when I visited Musashi before, I made sure to keep drawing fortunes until I got the very best one. That’s ‘very good luck’, right?”
Kimi slapped Asama’s shoulder from behind.
“There is actually a ‘mega good luck’ above that, isn’t there? Your dad added it in when my foolish brother drew ‘very good luck’ three times in a row.”
“Y-yes, but Toori-kun easily drew that three times in a row, so there’s a ‘tera good look’ this year. But I’m afraid telling her that will get Neshinbara-kun killed.”
Naruze was typing up a personal divine mail, so Asama had a feeling it was already too late.
At any rate, Shakespeare’s suggestion had given them an outside perspective that helped remove their blinders.
“If we assume it is Very Bad Luck-sama, they start to sound like quite a character, don’t they?”
“Heh heh. But who is it referring to. Someone with just the worst luck imaginable?”
Good question, thought Asama with a tilt of her head.
…Someone with bad luck.
Tenzou came to mind, but he had actually been inundated with good luck since Mary’s arrival.
She also thought of Adele, but it was really misfortune that plagued that girl, not bad luck.
“Wh-why is everyone looking at me!?”
Apparently everyone else was thinking the same thing. But…
“It’s a somewhat compelling idea, but I still feel like that isn’t it.”
Four Eyes: “I’m not going to say that is correct either. But you need to be careful here. …Words can change meaning in the blink of an eye, so you need to assume that can happen with this memo. And you need to make sure you don’t miss the moment when the meaning changes.”
“We won’t,” said Asama and Shakespeare ended the connection from her end. But…
Hori-ko: “She has an edge to her that Neshinbara-sama lacks, doesn’t she?”
Novice: “Wait, what was that about Shinto fortunes!? That’s news to me!”
Mar-Ga:' “Why do you want to know when the answer would only terrify you? …Also, how long are you planning to stay up? You do know the rumor about the Imagawa Alternate dropping Endurance Balls was bogus, right?”
Me: “What!? You mean you can’t take his balls!? So the folding screen image of him as a girl isn’t real either!? …Okay, I’m going to bed. We can get Tenzou’s equipment after Nördlingen. I’ll play with Nate then too.”
Silver Wolf: “Eh!? Oh, judge! Please do.”
Hori-ko: “Then until dawn, Toori-sama.”
Me: “Sure thing. I’ll make breakfast. Night, Nee-chan. You too, Asama.”
Asama: “Oh, y-yes. Good night.”
Hearing that led Asama to realize just how much had happened today. So without thinking…
She called out his name. And…
He answered her.
Me: “A lot happened today.”
“Yes,” she replied.
That was enough. It was enough to confirm with each other that all of that had indeed happened.
…I need to figure out how to use this lid of mine.
With that thought, she faced forward. Kimi was smiling bitterly, Mitotsudaira was smiling normally, and Naruze was…
“Sounds like there’s a story we need to get out of you.”
“No, no, no, no. Not at all, not at all.”
Asama smiled, held out her hands, and pulled back her hips.
“I’m going to sleep!”
She pulled the covers up over her head to hide like a turtle.
“Oh, these are everyone’s charms. I will send the boys’ ones via divine transmission.”
“No fair, Asama. Why won’t you let us tease you?”
“Why would I?”
It was worth learning how to dodge these things. But she did recall one thing she had seen while crawling underneath the covers.
…Horizon was smiling.
Like she found this amusing or enjoyable.
Asama may have been imagining it, but that was how it had looked to her.
Horizon had said before she would lead them while also getting help from them as she lived her life.
In a way, that was like being a servant, but Asama found happiness there and it seemed to be sending happiness back to Horizon as well.
Oh, thought Asama.
She called out from her futon. And…
“What is it, Asama-sama? I am about to enter super sleep mode.”
“Oh, sorry. But it’s just, um…”
She thought about what to say. She could sense the others focusing on her, but…
“Do you see our happiness as the reward for our efforts in giving you the world?”
“No. I am in no position to say that.”
Horizon replied without hesitation and she had more to say.
“Listen. Your work and efforts are only all directed toward giving me the world, so that can be the only reward. But if the result or process provide all of you with happiness, then it means all of that work and effort was worth more than just world domination. And that would delight me. In other words…”
In other words…
“If you find happiness in your relationship with me and Toori-sama, then that is extra value added on top of our world domination.”
But just as Asama started to reply…
“Cut it out. We don’t need a girl at the height of her happiness asking if she’s really allowed to be happy.”
Kimi suddenly pulled up on Asama’s covers.
Asama grabbed the top of the covers with her hands, but…
Kimi pulled up the bottom of the covers as if flipping them over.
Asama could not hold it down with her feet, so there was nothing to stop Kimi.
“Asama-sama, everyone can see your butt.”
“O-only because I climbed in feet first and it pushed up my yukata! I wasn’t stripping below the covers!!”
Everyone looked over to Mary who had her covers draped over her like a long cloak. She looked at the group before speaking.
“You don’t…take off your clothes below the covers?”
That’s a new one, thought Asama.
Naruze was posting something on the divine network, but no one bothered asking what.
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