Horizon:Volume 7B Chapter 29
Chapter 29: Dragon Pilot on the Hunting Ground
Y’know, a reason to do this
Even if I don’t really want to say it more clearly
Point Allocation (Burden)
Nabeshima ran along the Miura Peninsula’s slope, destroying it as she went.
She raced toward and targeted the enemy gods of war.
Her mechanical dragon was much faster than the gods of war. And its greater mass meant even a glancing blow would tear away body parts. However…
…’'I can’t seem to hit them!
While she kept moving, the white gods of war were all moving quite quickly.
Their movements were abnormally precise. This was supposed to be unfamiliar land to them and it was night, yet there was no fear at all in their movements and attack preparations.
All of the gods of war were supplementing each other’s view of their surroundings and the ground below them. When Nabeshima fired, one of them would sense it and they would all react. Now, for example…
She ran forward and spun around, but the enemy made multiple attacks meant to drive her away.
She sidestepped out of the way while opening up her weaponry.
The mechanical dragon’s great size was not its only means of attack. It had cannons and other weapons installed all across its body.
But accurate firing was difficult while moving so quickly.
“My lady! Can’t you keep us steadier than this!?”
“How about you old geezers turn into automatons for me!?”
She said that, but she left the firing control with the Four Heavenly Kings of Ryuuzouji.
“I’m releasing an explosive!”
She dropped an explosion spell behind her to slow the pursuit of the gods of war. Meanwhile, she made a dash to pull away from them.
Next, she made a turning slide.
Inside the mechanical dragon’s cockpit, she spun the giant metal body around while checking on the state of the battlefield.
The red of shellfire and explosions filled the southern sky where she was. And in the north…
…That’s where Asano and Kani are!
It was not that she did not trust those name inheritors her same age, but she knew that was not enough when the Musashi forces were to the north.
“Damn, that should really be my job.”
Her dragon was 80m long. It was well suited for taking on enemy fleets and she had repeatedly trained for that.
But right now, she had to take back the Miura Peninsula.
She had allies over there, but she was the only one here.
Their main fighters were the four fighting at close range and the support fighters were the six fighting at a distance.
The closer four used ether swords. They had abandoned their shields and they came at her while wielding their swords with pure martial arts. This was especially troublesome because the length of the swords was variable. They could extend to about 20m long, so they could make attacks well beyond their apparent range.
But the shape of the swords was bizarre. A closer look revealed…
…Those are pseudo-anti-ship cannons at the end there!
Pseudo-anti-ship cannons were spell cannons that used ether, so they must have swapped out the barrel of the cannon for an ether blade emitter to use them as variable-length swords.
The magazines had to be swapped out. She had been counting the cocking sounds for a while now, but the enemy never swapped them out early or late.
The blades could be swapped out when they broke, so they seemed like good weapons to her.
More than that, they could be made compact for transportation and they had multiple uses despite being so large.
Just as aerial ships could transport and defend in addition to fight and just like a mechanical dragon had to perform aerial combat and bombardments, gods of war had to use both swords and cannons.
The enemy clearly had the same idea her side did.
They would do whatever they could on the battlefield. So…
“Come at me, dolls!”
The enemy did as she asked.
The gods of war charged toward her while avoiding a head-on course and swapping out their sword magazines.
Those were the ether magazines also used for cannons.
“My lady, as far as I can tell, those are used for ether cannons as well and their design is very similar to those designed by Europa’s god of war brand, Couronne é Marionnette!”
“They’re four-round magazines! How about that, my lady!? We’re pretty knowledgeable, aren’t we!?”
“If only you had some wisdom to go with that knowledge!”
Based on her count of the blade swaps, there were indeed four rounds in the magazines.
“Old geezers!” she shouted. “Count the enemy’s shots for me! That alone will help me a lot!”
What a pain, thought Nabeshima.
She was a mechanical dragon pilot.
That machine was a giant weapon in and of itself. It could sink the average light warship just by running into it.
But, she thought while pursuing and being pursued by the gods of war.
…That isn’t enough for some opponents.
These gods of war were crisscrossing their paths while repeatedly charging at and withdrawing from her.
They were under the command of Mouri-01, the name inheritor of Hoida Motokiyo.
She was an Hexagone Française officer. That was a worthy opponent for a name inheritor like Nabeshima.
But she sensed a difference in skill here.
They were numerous and she was much larger, yet she had yet to damage even one of them.
The enemy had not gotten a clean hit on her yet either, but…
…They’ve torn off some armor and a few of those shots were way too close!
She could say it did not matter because they had missed, but that was only an excuse.
Unlike the automatons, she would grow weary. Her odds of being hit would rise as time passed.
Being a mechanical dragon pilot was no help at all right now.
“It’s meaningless if I’m not a victorious mechanical dragon pilot!”
“My lady! We’re working to make sure you are!”
“Testament,” she said before deciding to check on something. “Old geezers, how long until the support ships are in safe firing distance?”
“They could fire now if we gave the word, so should we!?”
“Single shots aren’t going to hit these gods of war. How long until they can maintain a barrage of the entire area!?”
In the worst case, she could still “win” by drawing out the battle until then.
She would not have defeated her opponent, but she would achieve a circumstantial victory.
So she wanted to know how long until then.
“Around seven minutes, I’d say! But I’ll ask them!”
“Please let it be less than seven minutes!”
“We’ll see!” they replied while Nabeshima pushed the pressure-sensitive control grips forward along with the pressure-sensitive dampers at her shoulders.
She had the mechanical dragon race toward the enemy.
Here she comes, thought Mouri-01.
She instructed the others to guide the enemy while she commanded the vanguard group of four.
The woods scattered across the slope were not enough to stop the enemy. Nabeshima knocked them all out of the way to fight as she saw fit.
“Lady Mouri-01! I have determined there is no cover to hide behind!”
“Testament. Approaching the woods would be dangerous. The felled trees could hit us or block our way.”
When fighting on a slope, simple positioning and the transportation of weaponry made all the difference.
…She knows what she is doing.
Mouri-01 had assumed the enemy would be piloting the mechanical dragon from a human perspective.
But she was not.
She did not seek shelter from the enemy like a human would.
She was a mechanical dragon. That giant thing could not hide behind or inside cover.
Plus, the Lourd de Marionnettes had a full grasp of the battlefield and were trained in forest movement. The woods were no obstacle for them.
So the only thing Nabeshima would gain by moving behind the trees was a meaningless sense of relief.
And that would create an unnecessary opening.
…So she’s tearing down the trees to level the battlefield.
That was how a mechanical dragon fought.
With that high-speed mobility and heavy armor, she had decided she did not need cover.
Human senses were not enough to use that giant presence to its fullest in battle.
“I have determined Nabeshima Naoshige knows how to fight from the viewpoint of a mechanical dragon.”
Mouri-01 moved as she spoke.
Just like the enemy was a mechanical dragon at the moment, she was a god of war at the moment.
“I will take you on as a maid Belle de Marionnette of Hexagone Française and Mouri.”
…Here they come!
Nabeshima saw a change in the enemy’s movements.
Before, the enemy gods of war had alternated between making attacks while passing by and taking curving evasive action.
It was a stereotypical example of the hit-and-away tactics used against dragons.
But that had changed. The two support automatons on the shoulders of each god of war moved to the backs for shelter and four gods of war stepped forward.
And they had supporting gunners up on the hill.
It was not quite a barrage, but they provided unending fire while the vanguard gods of war made attacks in groups of two.
The attacks were simple charges.
They held their swords to their sides in both hands and thrust them forward while extending them.
And when Nabeshima fell back to safety, they would make another thrusting attack.
They never intended those attacks to hit, so when she dodged, they would circle around on either side. That was quite troublesome. While the rear guard charged straight ahead, the vanguard would charge in from the left and right.
If she tried to move forward, the covering fire from atop the hill would aim at her face and…
Another charge came her way from the front.
The thrusting swords of light extended to 20 meters.
It was like an ultra-shortrange cannon blast. Just when she thought it could not reach her, they would extend further.
So she dodged again.
When she fell back, they pursued. When she moved forward, the four on the vanguard circled around and attacked her simultaneously.
So she had to dodge by using a tail drift to perform a sliding turn to the left or right. That did not move her head much while sliding her rear end around toward the two circling to that side of her.
When the four enemies turned toward her, she would swing her entire body in a fan shape to aim toward them. And while those four swung themselves around…
They fired on her as a deterrent. That showed they had their guard up. The shots would never actually hit, but she still had to move to dodge them.
They understood her instincts quite well.
Even if it would not hit, she would dodge just in case when she sensed danger. That was her instinct.
She did the same now.
She swung her hips around to circle to the side of the enemy and made a short dash toward them.
The enemy split to either side and rushed after her.
She forcibly spun herself around to face them, but…
What an awkward time, she thought while sensing the inertia.
Her great mass made it hard to bear being on the surface like this.
…I should have used a vertical weight permeation spell!
But she never would have thought to do that. After all, she had been deployed here to attack the enemy ships.
Vertical weight permeation would plant her feet more firmly on the ground, so it made it harder to escape a sinking ship and she might get caught in their destruction.
Also, mechanical dragons had four legs. Even on the inconvenient surface, she could make up for a lot more of the inconvenience using her skill than a god of war pilot could. So…
She could not complain.
When she complained, it was easy to believe what she was saying and that would make her lose.
The enemy was pursuing her.
They still had the four main fighters and six support fighters. When the support fighters fired at her face from up the slope, the main fighters targeted the mechanical dragon’s sliding feet.
They worked well together.
Nabeshima briefly shifted the mechanical dragon’s balance backwards while it rotated out of the way.
Mechanical dragons had two centers of gravity.
The first was the front center of gravity located in the large head and around the neck that supported the head.
The second was the tandem center of gravity located in the rear legs and the hips that supported the entire machine’s movements.
Nabeshima release the anchoring force from the front joints while swinging them back.
She released the front weights while rotating and pushed the weight of the neck and shoulders toward the rear.
She only did it for a moment, but that was why it put her into a power slide. Her rear end drifted quite a bit.
As a result, the mechanical dragon turned to face the pursuing enemy while also falling quickly back. However…
“My lady, the enemy is targeting the front legs!”
“I’m aware of that!”
She sent the entire center of gravity to the withdrawing rear legs. And this time she did it for more than just an instant.
The rear legs immediately gained a solid grip, as if they had stabbed into the ground. And…
Her backwards-sliding inertia lifted the mechanical dragon’s upper body.
That dodged the enemy attacks meant for the front legs.
That still left the supporting fire toward her face, but…
“I can jump!”
The excess weight on the rear legs planted them solidly in place, so she used her claws to lightly hop up.
For a human, this would have been a simple vertical jump, but a mechanical dragon had a tail. The long metal tail was already swinging.
It flipped sideways in the air to move right.
And it landed.
By the time its four legs shattered the ground, the enemy gods of war were already charging toward her.
When she saw their movement, she voiced the fact she had realized over the past few exchanges.
“The enemy’s positioning has grown a lot cleverer!”
They’re good at this, said Nabeshima in her heart. And…
“What do you mean by ‘cleverer’, my lady!? Is that an excuse for when you lose!?”
“It’s a sign of respect! You wanna deal with this!?”
She looked forward to see the enemy with their back to the ocean.
The gods of war always chose the lower part of the slope.
That was what Nabeshima called clever.
Height was a crucial factor on the battlefield.
In most cases, the higher ground was preferable. Firing from below shortened your range and any cover prevented you from seeing what was above.
But things were different in close-range battles.
Those with the high ground had a height difference they had to cover before their attacks could hit their opponent.
But those with the low ground only had to aim for their opponent’s feet.
Also, those with the high ground would see their opponent’s attacks thrusting up at them.
All of that added up to a lot of trouble for Nabeshima.
Especially with this enemy who was trying to stab her with their swords.
They generally aimed for her feet, but they would aim for her throat when she prepared to counterattack.
Dodging those stabbing attacks from below was not easy.
Leaning back for a sway-back evasion was difficult with a dragon body.
Besides, a sudden attack to the face triggered an instinctual reflex. And these difficult-to-dodge attacks were all the more painful because her experience as a mechanical dragon pilot told her when they were coming.
She would predict them and dodge almost subconsciously.
She knew what the enemy was trying to do by making those attacks over and over.
They were creating a state of constant tension with their relentless attacks.
They were automatons and she was human.
The mechanical dragon was powerful and its armor was thick, but she would eventually grow weary.
“It’s too soon for that!!”
She kicked and shattered the divine transmission lernen figur and swung her hands side to side just once. After her palms had relaxed, she grabbed the pressure-sensitive grips once more.
She decided to settle this before the enemy wore her out.
She hunkered down in the cockpit for no real reason and moved the mechanical dragon.
But unlike before, she did not move forward and swing herself around.
She simply behaved like a dragon.
Mouri-01 saw the mechanical dragon’s movements change again.
…What is this?
Immediately after landing on the slope, it moved like a powered tank shaped like a dragon.
Before, the enemy had acted like a person moving with a mechanical dragon’s viewpoint.
But that had changed.
“Lady Mouri-01!” shouted one of her fellow vanguard fighters. “The enemy has stopped worrying about what damage they take!”
That was exactly it.
A mechanical dragon had just two ways of negating stabbing, surrounding, and projectile attacks.
The first was to use the top speed of its giant body to shake free.
The other was to ignore it all using that heavy armor.
That was what the enemy had done during her first shift in behavior, but that was different from moving like an actual dragon. The pilot had only been moving like a human who had become one with a mechanical dragon.
This was different.
A mechanical dragon was a weapon.
A dragon was a combat species.
The mechanical dragon was now fighting like a dragon instead of like a mechanical dragon.
In other words, it did not fear its enemy’s attacks.
A dragon did not fear damage while fighting. Fighting with everything they had was their way of showing courtesy.
They were beasts.
They were strongest when injured.
So to do that, this enemy no longer ran or spun herself around.
She exploded as a beast instead of a weapon.
She dug into the ground with her four legs and worked to crush her opponents.
Mouri-01 had to make full use of her high-speed thoughts as a Belle de Marionnette to keep up with this great acceleration. The enemy’s charging speed broke the sound barrier, so thinking at several thousand times normal speed did not seem sufficient to grasp the scattering rubble and shards of the ground.
Did this mean the enemy had finally reached a point where she could pursue them in their real time?
She was an impressive person. The mechanical dragon charged toward them and forcibly bent its body around for a sliding turn. The pilot did not have high-speed thoughts like the Belle de Marionnettes.
But that human had used the mechanical dragon’s attack system to turn the Belle de Marionnette’s high-speed thoughts into the normal battlefield speed.
In that case, there was one thing Mouri-01 had to praise the girl for.
…Such splendid mastery of a mechanical dragon!
From a Belle de Marionnette viewpoint, there are a few pointless aspects to humans, thought Mouri-01.
One was how they would “get serious” about something.
If they had started out that way, they would generally solve everything faster, fail less, and have fewer regrets.
Why did humans limit their skill with both reason and emotions?
Probably because they were not animals.
Wild animals did not limit themselves in that way. That was why they could use several times – or several dozen times – the strength of humans.
They looked so much more powerful than humans, but they were not really.
Humans could demonstrate that kind of strength too, but they lacked the recovery ability and endurance of animals, so they needed to ensure they did not destroy themselves with their own strength.
If they punched a wall with all their might, their fist would break. Humans knew that on an instinctual level.
But they could release those limits they placed on themselves.
Emotions and reason.
When their emotions told them they needed strength, their reason would accept the self-harm and grant permission.
Mouri-01 understood that the will born from those two things was what humans called “getting serious”.
Belle de Marionnettes lacked that process.
That was what made humans so wonderful. She had seen so many examples of the unnecessary fuel of emotions and reason surpassing the optimal decisions of Belle de Marionnettes.
They were worth serving.
But, thought Mouri-01.
…They are a pain in the butt as an enemy!
“Here she comes!”
The dragon twisted its body to make a sweeping turn across the ground, but it converted that into a charge instead of braking. The drift was so powerful it nearly rolled over, but…
…Its front leg!
The dragon bent its forward-thrust right leg to pull its body out of the drift after turning.
Pulling in its front right leg like that allowed it to immediately start forward with its full speed.
That was only possible thanks to the dragon’s great strength.
Its rear legs were still swinging around and dragging, but its crawling upper body tore up the ground.
“Fall back!” shouted Mouri-01.
Dragons were different from other beasts in one crucial way: they could fly with their wings.
After kicking off the ground with its upper body, the dragon spread itself out in the night sky. Or it seemed to.
The main wings on its front arms had rapidly expanded.
The mechanical dragon made an instantaneous short jump of several hundred meters, but instead of toward Mouri-01’s group, it was headed toward…
“Supporting team, fall back!!”
The mechanical dragon rushed in from the left to clash with the six Lourd de Marionnettes providing supporting fire up the slope.
Mouri-01 and the others had never expected their enemy to target their supporters. They were slow to react to the mechanical dragon’s action because they had assumed they had drawn its attention.
They heard their fellow Belle de Marionnettes’ screams in their shared memory.
But those screams accomplished nothing. Mouri-01 adjusted for their carelessness and raised her voice.
“Provide a damage report!”
They were fortunate that someone had noticed the mechanical dragon’s leaping charge. The Lourd de Marionnettes had received a direct hit, but none of them had been crushed.
After performing an immediate reinitialization and adjustment, they moved away while the mechanical dragon got back up. But they had to cover for and drag along their damaged allies as they did so.
The damage report arrived.
“Serious damage to three! Minor damage to three! I suggest we withdraw!”
A single attack had done this.
They still had Lourd de Marionnettes waiting on the western slope that could be swapped in, but another attack like this one would mean the majority of their unit was damaged.
That would harm Hexagone Française’s position here.
They were here to win. And to win as an elite Lourd de Marionnette unit.
They were essentially here to advertise Hexagone Française’s national and military strength, but more importantly, they were here to advertise Mouri Terumoto’s presence.
They were not allowed to lose.
“The life of a maid always presents some worthwhile challenges.”
Mouri-01 watched the mechanical dragon’s movements.
It must not have wanted to pursue the six withdrawing supporters.
Given its great strength and size, it could have caught up to them almost instantly.
Had the pilot decided that damaging them to slow them down was better than wiping them out to the point that reinforcements were called in?
…No, that is not it.
The dragon got up and watched the Lourd de Marionnettes withdrawing toward the ridge. And as soon as it withdrew and lowered its head rather than its entire body, Mouri-01 gave a shout.
“Get down!! Incoming attack!”
Immediately afterwards, the mechanical dragon fired a ferocious roar.
It was a dragon cannon.
…Now that’s incredible!
Kuki’s position in the Bousou Peninsula side of the sky gave him a view of the light rising diagonally into the sky on the opposite bank.
The attack was targeting the enemy gods of war that were fleeing to the ridge at the top of the Miura Peninsula’s slope. It tore into the terrain and clearly damaged the ground.
Dust flew into the air and cast a slight shadow over the western sky.
Three Legs: “I feel like that first year is going a little overboard.”
Nine Horns: “No, she needed to show the world that Hashiba is superior to Mouri. …Nabeshima-kun learned all about those political dealings in Ryuuzouji, so she would not make a meaningless show of force. Still…”
“Testament,” replied Magoichi. She was closer to the scene, so she sent him staticky footage of the Miura Peninsula’s eastern slope zoomed in a few levels.
The image processing had been rushed, so it was mostly too dark to make anything out, but an arrow had been added to point at one thing.
…Is that where the enemy gods of war were blown away?
Those enemies had collapsed all at once while trying to withdraw. However…
Three Legs: “She got the timing wrong. They avoided a direct hit. The leader of Mouri’s god of war unit is a good decisionmaker.”
“True enough,” agreed Kuki while giving a firing order.
There was no sign of the enemy gods of war beyond the massive blast and shockwave.
They had likely gotten down on the ground instead of trying to move out of the way.
They were on a slope, so trying to escape upwards would not help. But if they got down on the ground…
“The blast itself will hit them and roll them across the slope, but that will put some distance between them and their enemy. And if they’re buried in the dirt, they can use that to hide.”
From an instinctual perspective, it was really hard to stay in place and “get down” when a dragon cannon was fired on you from behind.
That would be one of those optimal choices that automatons excelled at. However…
“That is quite an energetic dragon we’ve got there.”
His comment was proven by the beam of light rotating around in the sky.
Instead of firing the entire cannon blast into the sky, the dragon swung it around toward the four main gods of war diagonally down the slope. The dragon attack took a large curve and tore into the peninsula slope to target them.
Nabeshima slammed a forcible action into the mechanical dragon.
The dragon cannon took all the machine’s internal power and sent it from the torso to the maw as a cannon. It was a mechanical dragon’s greatest attack, but the dragon could barely move while performing it.
However, Nabeshima had spun that dragon cannon around.
She swung the balancing tail, tilted the body and head as much as allowed while firing, and took the resultant drop in power into consideration. And then…
She did not target the withdrawing gods of war she had blown away already.
She had not managed a direct hit on them, but she was pretty sure they had all taken serious damage and therefore could not withdraw.
So she instead targeted the main four gods of war.
She had to win this.
She knew the enemy had a similar reason, but that was all the more reason.
The Four Heavenly Kings of Ryuuzouji called out to her.
“We will support you!”
She had a home in Ryuuzouji.
While her birthplace was in M.H.R.R., that place was just as important to her now.
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