Horizon:Volume 7A Chapter 21
Chapter 21: Instigator in the Dark
If thou must know
The victim was collapsed
On the floor
When I entered the room.
Point Allocation (Closed Room Case)
Fukushima faced Kiyomasa.
They were in the corridor next to the Azuchi Castle’s dining hall. She stood in front of Kiyomasa in a spot one corner beyond the entrance’s main corridor.
Kiyomasa was wearing her off-duty track suit and looking at Fukushima with her back to the wall.
She tilted her head with her blue eyes looking up at Fukushima.
“Is something wrong? You aren’t saying anything. …And I can’t know what you mean when you don’t say anything.”
Kiyomasa gave a troubled smile and moved.
She opened the top of her track suit. She revealed the M.H.R.R. girl’s inner suit she wore below. Hers was colored white and blue.
She lightly held the sides below her arms so the top would not close back up.
“I would be willing to do it with you.”
“Well.” Kiyomasa nodded. “Eat curry udon together in the dining hall. If the sauce splashes on me, I can hide it below my track suit.”
Fukushima’s eyes opened wide and saw a dark blue surface.
She could tell her pulse was racing. She could also feel a lot of heated sweat between her back and the blanket below her.
She was breathing heavily and she found herself in a pose similar to a dance.
“…This is my room?”
Yes. The Azuchi Castle was cruising toward Kantou at the moment. She had wanted to sleep until they arrived, so she had shut off the lights in her room and collapsed into bed.
Her pulse refused to calm down and she only wore the top of her inner suit with the sleeves removed and a supporter in place of underwear.
That was her usual comfort-focused outfit when in her room.
The dark blue scene she saw was the light produced by the backup glow panel. The brightness had been adjusted from its usual orange color to help her sleep.
That blue color made me think of her, she thought.
Who is that? she wondered with a tilt of the head.
She was the only person here. No one else could have gotten in.
In that case, this “her” had to be…
She got up, sat cross-legged on the bed, and thought.
…Who is this “her”?
The sweat on her back felt gross, but she tilted her head while undoing the connectors for the back cloth. She tossed the sweat-damp cloth toward the laundry basket by the entrance.
…No, now is not the time to be focused on laundry.
“Am I trying to run away from some kind of personal problem?”
Then what was that personal problem she had to face?
She saw the dark blue wall in front of her. There was that blue color again.
As her eyes gradually adjusted to the dark, the flat surface in front of her reminded her of something. When she tried to work out what, she realized it was the dimly-lit wall of a ship corridor.
…Huh? Why would I be remembering that?
Just as she asked herself that, she recalled a scene from her dream.
After her bath, Koroku holed up in her room to play a game on a lernen figur.
Since the Genbu was badly damaged, she would have a hard time fighting in the Kantou Liberation. Even if she did join the fight, Takenaka had decided it was best for her to stick to a data processing role.
“Hachisuka-san, I don’t think you and the other god of war pilots should be broken down into data too many times in a single day. It’s too big a burden on your bodies.”
So now was her time to rest, but she honestly could not get to sleep.
Since she would be on the rear guard during the coming battle, she had decided she might as well just stay up.
That said, the Azuchi was en route. The ship shook a lot during its high-speed cruising. When she tried to read, it did not reach the level of motion sickness, but she could feel herself growing shifted from the outside world. That was why she had started playing this game, but…
…It’s a suspense adventure game with horror elements…
She liked scary things, but she had trouble with them. Her curiosity led her to purchase these games and manga, but she had trouble actually playing or reading them while alone.
But she was on the Azuchi right now. Most everyone was getting some rest for the coming battle, but there would be some who were still awake. This was not like in the surface bases where only the night-duty guards were awake.
Fukushima was in the room to the left and Katagiri to the right. If anything happened, she could call to the left for help, so she could relax and enjoy the suspense and horror. Just to be safe, she had left the door to her room unlocked.
She was currently playing Siren Hill, a game based on the legends of the Rhine River’s siren. A closed room murder occurred in a mansion on a hill, everyone on the hill grew suspicious of each other, you pursued the murderer on the hill while only knowing they were catastrophically tone deaf, and the murderer tried to strike back at you on the hill.
Right now, her companions in the game had gone to visit a hill hot spring and buy some hill coffee beans, so her character was alone in the hill mansion and she was pursuing some footsteps presumably belonging to the murderer.
She was fairly certain she would find the murderer waiting to ambush her if she opened the door up ahead, but the game character kept finding excuses to keep going and refused to turn around. For example:
“Yes, now is the time for positive thinking! Nothing better for your mental hill-th!”
Stop making awful hill puns. And find a better reason to head to your death.
But the character refused to listen and reached for the door.
The screen went dark.
Once she hit the key on the lernen figur, the next line of text would appear.
It would appear all at once.
She just had to hit the key.
Do it. Reveal the truth. Or is this leading to a game over?
As soon as Koroku placed her finger on the key, the door burst open behind her.
Fukushima saw Hachisuka sitting cross-legged in the center of the room with her back to the door.
But the girl suddenly fell limply to the side.
Koroku collapsed to the side and stopped moving.
Fukushima was worried she had said something strange in her sleep and she was worried that Hachisuka had heard her from the adjacent room, so she was here to ask. But…
She walked closer and noticed Hachisuka had a lernen figur open.
…Did she fall asleep from overwork?
She was not sure, but the lernen figur displayed the text “Press any key.”
Is she working on something? wondered Fukushima while pressing a key. Then the screen displayed an image of a person. A few lines of text scrolled by, but she was not sure what it meant.
She kept pressing the key until the screen showed a blue sky with the text “Perfect Ending – Reward Unlocked”.
…Is this a game?
She still did not understand because she did not play these much herself.
<Good job. You have my praise.>
<You revealed the true murderer’s identity! You have fully cleared the game. Would you like to clear your data, save, and replay from the beginning? Y/N>
She did not understand, so she searched for the Y key and pressed it.
“Hm, that should have saved Hachisuka-dono some trouble.”
Still, Hachisuka remained collapsed on the floor.
She must have been exhausted, concluded Fukushima. I doubt she would have heard any noise I was making in my room.
She left Koroku’s room while making sure to leave no trace of her visit.
Fukushima sighed once back out in the corridor. And she realized something.
…I might as well be in my underwear!
With a battle coming, people would be moving through this corridor. There was luckily no one at the moment, but she decided to be more careful in the future as she rushed back into her own room.
But I can’t believe this, she thought while locking her door and sitting back on her bed.
…How could this have happened?
She knew what to blame: that dream. That could never happen in reality. She recalled the words Kiyomasa had said to her in that dream.
She slammed her head against the wall to erase the image from her brain.
Koroku woke up on the floor. She had fallen onto her side there.
She had no idea what had happened. The last thing she remembered was cornering the murderer in the game, hearing the door behind her open, and hearing someone call her name.
She looked back, but the door was closed. She looked forward.
“The title screen…”
Hadn’t she cornered the murderer?
She could practically hear herself grow pale as she scrambled back to the wall.
With her back against the wall, she took a breath.
She was fine. No matter what had happened, no one could attack her from behind when her back was against the wall.
“I’m fine. If anything happens, I can call to Fukushima for-…”
Just as she said that, there was a loud bang on the wall behind her.
The impact, vibration, and noise passed through her from behind.
She collapsed onto her side.
I hit my head a little too hard that time, thought Fukushima.
But a hit to the head was not going to do anything about the memories inside it.
…Why did I have that dream?
She did not remember the dream’s conclusion in the slightest. She just remembered Kiyomasa suddenly removing her top and…
Fukushima slammed her head against the wall.
Why that dream?
No, she knew why. She just refused to accept it and she was taken aback by the sudden approach the dream had taken. Besides…
…That was only a dream, so it has nothing to do with the real Kiyo-dono!
Did that mean she had lost out? Or was it a win that she could see something like that in a dream?
“What is wrong with me!?”
She did not really remember the conclusion, but Kiyomasa had suddenly removed her top and shown off her chest in her inner suit. What was that if not a dirty dream?
The question was why her dirty dream had featured Kiyomasa.
And when she considered that question…
She fell back in bed with her limbs sprawled out around her.
She did not know what had happened in the dream, but when she tried to remember…
She wrapped her pillow in her summer blanket and hugged it.
That was obviously not Kiyomasa. She had picked up and hugged the real Kiyomasa when returning to the Paris battlefield and at the end of that training festival, so she knew it did not feel much like the girl.
The real one was warm and soft. Her body heat and flesh felt like they were sucking you in.
“No, I need to calm down, not fantasize about that!”
She simply wanted that sensation in her arms to help her remember the dream.
If only she could feel things in the dream, she could have avoided creating a virtual Kiyomasa like this.
“This is the dream’s fault…”
She decided she was making up for what the dream had lacked, but then she sighed.
…I cannot get to sleep…
She tried to force herself to shut her eyes, but then…
The Azuchi shook. And not because it was making a turn or had hit a wall of turbulence. This was the shaking caused by a rapid drop in speed.
She thought they might have arrived in Kantou, but a glance at the clock showed that could not be. Only about an hour had passed since they left Paris. Which meant…
“Are we stopping somewhere?”
“Huh? What are you doing here at this hour, Hachisuka-san?”
Koroku heard Takenaka’s voice while she sat at a seat near the dining hall counter.
She did not remember everything clearly, but she had experienced a few different paranormal phenomena in a row, so she had arranged for an emergency exorcism of her room. The Azuchi belonged in part to P.A. Oda, M.H.R.R., and the Far East, so she had to go to the trouble of getting it exorcised thrice: in the Mlasi style, the Tsirhc style, and the Shinto style.
It was a real pain because, when she had tried to have all three done at once, the Mlasi exorcist, who had repeatedly prostrated on the floor, and the Catholic exorcist, who had shouted and swung a sword around, got into an argument and nearly started a holy war against each other. The Shinto exorcist had been clapping, but she was convinced they were actually applauding because they thought the fight was funny.
She had not wanted to stay in her room with that going on, so she had come here instead. However…
“If I shouldn’t be in the dining hall, I’ll go elsewhere.”
“No, it’s fine,” said Takenaka while asking for some tea and snacks at the counter.
Koroku made a demand while watching Takenaka approaching as the kitchen prepared her order.
“Oh? Should I not be in the dining hall either?”
Everyone else in the dining hall gave Takenaka a serious look and nodded.
“Ah.” She put up her guard. “There are some strategies I can only think up when I vomit! You didn’t know that!?”
“No and I refuse to remember it. So is the Azuchi going to Kyoto? What about Lake Biwa Azuchi?”
“Wow, you catch on quickly, Hachisuka-san. I like it. We’ll be going to Lake Biwa Azuchi to resupply, but stopping at Kyoto comes first.”
This wasn’t part of the plan, thought Koroku. Their plan had been to stop at Lake Biwa Azuchi, resupply there, and continue on to Kantou. If they were suddenly deciding to stop at Kyoto…
“Is it Akechi?”
When Koroku asked that, Takenaka sat in the seat next to her. While lowering her hips, she nodded with a smile.
“That’s right. Yes. It’s about Akechi-san. …Because Tamako-san’s history recreation is coming up. He says he wants to hold a meeting about that. It is a pretty tricky issue after all.”
“It’s possible she might blow herself up, so it’s definitely unpleasant. …So will Hashiba disembark while the rest of us continue on?”
“It would be a real pain if this messed with our plans.” Takenaka smiled at Koroku with her eyebrows lowered a little. “She’s surprisingly inflexible about these things. Besides, I feel like your group knows Hashiba-kun better than me.”
“I’ll admit a lot has shifted out of place, but the rest of us don’t have the ability to make a plan and adjust.”
“Yes, because that’s my job.”
Takenaka opened several lernen figurs. She stacked them together, lowered the opacity level, and read through all the text at once.
She must have grasped the contents of around a dozen lernen figurs in the time it normally took to read one.
“I only just now thought up this method, but it really hurts my eyes.”
“What happens once you get eyestrain?”
“Ero ero ero ero.”
“Don’t vomit in the dining hall!”
Everyone screamed and fled, but Takenaka smiled at the center of it all.
“Oh, don’t worry, don’t worry. I brought an expedition barf bag, so I’ll have it cleaned up faster than with cat litter.”
Takenaka lifted up a paper bag. There was already some weight in the movement of her hand.
“Do you want one?”
“Is that so?” said Takenaka before someone called out to her from the counter.
Her tea and snacks were ready.
“Okay, Hachisuka-san, go get that for me.”
“Get it yourself.”
“But I need to think up a strategy. …You said it yourself remember? Hashiba-kun disembarking while we continue on.”
“Can we do that?”
Koroku prepared herself to go to the counter depending on the answer. And…
“Kyoto and Lake Biwa Azuchi are pretty close together. We can send Hashiba-kun to Kyoto on as fast a ship as we can manage and have her return while we are resupplying at Lake Biwa Azuchi. That sounds good to me, but what do you think?”
“Eh?” said the other people in the dining hall.
“Um!” said one warrior girl. “I was hoping to buy a hand mirror if we were stopping at Kyoto!”
“My supply of pickled foods is running low, so I wanted to restock!”
“Can’t we get a 10-minute tour of Kyoto!?”
“Hm, I could send you on Hashiba-kun’s ship as bodyguards and have them send out a hub ship for diplomatic purposes.”
The girls cheered, but Koroku did not entirely understand.
“Are they hoarding unnecessary things as a response to the battlefield stress?”
“Oh, Hachisuka-san, so you understand the process behind my vomiting!?”
“No, that’s your hobby.”
“I-if that was a hobby, I would have failed my interview.”
“Never mind,” said Koroku to stop Takenaka. “So how much will this delay us?”
“Testament. We need to quickly slow down so Hashiba-kun can disembark. Then we can coast on inertia to reach Lake Biwa Azuchi. Or maybe we should accelerate again for that short distance. I need to discuss that one with ‘Azuchi’-san. But even in the worst case, I think the delay will only be about 20 minutes.”
“I’ll go get your order.”
Hachisuka stood up and approached the counter, but Takenaka called out after her.
“The green tea and strawberry marzipan are for you. And things should be getting started in Kantou soon. I was planning to listen in on that, so would you care to join me?”
The night sky was changing.
Dark clouds had covered the sky throughout the day, but they were starting to clear up.
The sea breeze would normally create clouds, blow them inland, and raise their density.
But two things were changing that wind.
One was the time.
It was past midnight, so the sky had begun to cool, which changed the density and quality of the clouds. The sea lost its daytime temperature and stole heat from the atmosphere above it.
The wind grew dry and cooled the inland wind. The clouds broke apart and then hit the second change.
The second thing changing the sky were the several rows of aerial ships and the giant eight ships of the Musashi floating in the air.
When the wind collided with those ships, it altered the localized air currents.
Those ships had been there during the day and the atmosphere had started to stabilize, but the winds were broken apart by the movement of the ships heading to the Kantou Liberation and the turning of the Musashi.
The Musashi was turning to the west.
That giant movement was viewed from the Mouri fleet above the coast in southern Kantou and the Hashiba fleet in the southeast.
They watched carefully as the Musashi’s rotation destroyed the sky.
“It’s like moving a giant city.”
“When it turns, they must have to control the center and the ends in different ways.”
“They can really move all eight ships around at once like that?”
Everyone voiced their thoughts, but on the Musashi…
“That makes a total of one full rotation. I have determined it was a wasted rotation. Over.”
“C’mon, ‘Musashi’-san, can’t you just think of it like tossing and turning in your sleep? How about it?”
“I do not sleep, so I cannot toss and turn in it. Over.”
Meanwhile, the sky grew temporarily crowded as cargo was transported from the Musashi to Mouri. Transport ships and the Mouri and Mogami fleets were gathered around the Musashi’s south side, so the Musashi moved a bit inland to give them space.
Hashiba responded by establishing a formation at the entrance of Edo Bay.
They had to protect the Uraga Channel. That was the long, narrow strip of water between the Miura Peninsula west of Edo Bay’s entrance and the Bousou Peninsula east of the entrance. Control of the sea and air in that space (which measured 10km across east to west and 40km north to south) was the key to victory.
Hashiba had the advantage there because they already held Edo Bay.
“Now, we must establish a solid foothold here.”
On that instruction from Kuki, they lined up transport ships in the Bousou side of the water and linked them together to create a foothold for anti-air attacks.
They established three similar footholds toward Edo to prevent the enemy from circling around to the north.
In the sky above the Uraga Channel, they placed nine ironclad ships they had flown in on short notice.
To the west, they kept six Kraken-class warships on the ground in the Miura Peninsula. Eight more hovered in the sky above. They also had warships in Edo, but the sea was their main focus. That was due to their expectation that…
“Even in the worst case, we can settle this in the Uraga Channel.”
Instead of waiting for Hashiba’s arrival, they intended to end this before the Azuchi Castle arrived.
Meanwhile, the Satomi forces were headed straight from Odawara to the Uraga Channel. They followed the coast with their fleet stretched out from east to west. They were prepared to break through the enemy fleet to take control of the air and sea at the Uraga Channel.
They were aiming for the west side of the channel. They would head straight in and…
“I expect they’ll form a wall stretching across Uraga from west to east to force their way across the Bousou Peninsula.”
Terumoto watched as the Kantou Liberation forces, minus the Musashi, headed east.
The Kantou Liberation was beginning.
A single girl raised her hand with the clear dark sky behind her.
It was Yoshiyasu.
However, she was displayed on a screen.
It was a sign frame. The Mouri, Mogami, and Musashi forces participating in the Kantou Liberation all viewed the same scene on their screens.
She wore a new style of equipment for a god of war pilot.
It was colored white and included long gloves and long leg guards that would adjust her data transmission level while joined with the god of war. She spoke while keeping her body perfectly steady.
“It is 0200 hours.”
She swung down her raised hand.
“Let the Kantou Liberation begin.”
Study: Kantou Liberation Layout
Toori: Sis! Sis! Sounds like the Kantou Liberation’s started, but what’s the layout like this time!?
Kimi: Heh heh heh. Layout brother, this is what things look like now. Let’s watch and see how it changes, shall we?”
Left of 9: Great Edo Ruins
Above 8: Edo Bay
Above 4: Miura Peninsula
Right of 7: Bousou Peninsula
1. Mouri Fleet – Pension Versailles
2. Yamagata Castle
3. Mouri Fleet’s Route: 3 rows following the coast. North row made of transport ships for defense. Middle and south rows made of warships.
4. Hashiba Fleet stationed on the Miura Peninsula. Some landed.
5. Kuki’s Ironclad Ships. 9 ships arranged in 3 rows of 3.
6. Cannon Foothold on the Uraga Channel
7. Cannon Foothold in Edo Bay. Nabeshima’s Mechanical Dragon.
8. Great Bridge Ruins of Edo Bay. Nagaoka is here.
9. Fleet above Edo to monitor things from the north.
10. Transport ships supplied by Mouri.
Toori: The Mouri fleet is just charging right on in there, aren’t they? Will they be okay?
Kimi: When you charge straight in, it either means you’re incompetent or you have a plan. So let’s watch and see which it is.
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