Horizon:Volume 7C Chapter 65

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Chapter 65: Commander on the Battlefield

Horizon7C 0351.jpg

The more critical the time

The more distracted you are

By other things

Point Allocation (Heavy Objects)


“Uncle,” said a girl seated in a small, open-air space without looking back toward the Azuchi flipping in the eastern sky.

She was in a hilltop estate that gave a view of the Odawara city and she wore orange Far Eastern clothing. She raised a hand to her head which had nothing growing from it but hair.

“–––––”

She brushed her hand through that hair’s great length.

She used her other hand to deal with the many sign frames open in front of her.

“Now, then.”

She looked to the side where a large lidded container sat.

“I was wondering what his ‘refreshmeeeeeents!’ were, but I did not expect tempura made with locally-grown vegetables and seafood. Was this your way of supporting the locals, uncle?”

Her words were followed by a light in the eastern sky.

It had exploded to the stern of the flipping Azuchi’s rear central ship.

But the girl picked up the container instead of looking back. And she slowly spoke.

“Thank you very much, uncle and granduncle.”


Fukushima saw the rear central ship shaking violently.

It was enough to be visually detectable from her position on the stern of the 2nd starboard ship.

Was the primary thruster damaged!?

At the same time, she felt like the deck below her feet was being swept away.

The 2nd starboard ship was being supported by towing cables and the ones from the rear central ship had gone slack.

An alarm sounded.

The other ships sent out towing cables and attached them to the rear central ship to support it.

But they were at their limit. The lack of warning from “Azuchi” showed how pressing a situation it was.

However, Fukushima felt strength below her feet. The 2nd starboard ship had stabilized during its rotational movement.

“ ‘Azuchi’-dono!”

There was no response, but she could tell the Azuchi as a whole had not given up.

They would do what they could to the best of their ability.

Their path was beginning its descent.

They were headed east of Bousou.

With the primary thruster lost, when would the Azuchi manage to “arrive on the battlefield”?

She did not know, but some words did reach her.

A divine transmission!?

It was from Kuki. He was relaying a divine transmission pointing to the situation down below.

Nagaya-Stable: “So what are you going to do? You understand the situation, don’t you?”

This was the Musashi negotiator for the Kantou Liberation – Ookubo Nagayasu.

Her negotiation with Kuki was being revealed to the rest of them.

Nagaya-Stable: “You should withdraw. You get that, don’t you?”


“What does she mean withdraw!?”

Kani raised her voice while looking up at the Azuchi beginning its descent after completing its side flip in the sky above.

She also pointed toward the fleet battle still underway in the southern sky.

“But everyone’s doing their best! Hashiba-sama is here, so why should we withdraw!?”

“That’s right,” said Kasuya while crossing her arms.

Something occurred to Kani upon seeing Kasuya’s breasts resting on her arms.

Oh, I didn’t realize her boobs were so big!

She was surprised to find this such a surprise.

Their size was hard to miss, so how had she managed to miss it before?

Because of the Reine des Garous!

That woman had given her an impression that Loup-Garous had extraordinary specs, so she must have lost sight of what the average really was. That was bad. That was the same as becoming so accustomed to expert techniques that she let ordinary techniques catch her off guard. Probably.

“Anyway, to get back on topic, why should we withdraw!?”

“Well.” Kasuya nodded with a perfectly serious look on her face. “I will ask Takenaka real quick.”

Kuro-Take: “Ero ero ero ero ero ero.”

“That was a bad idea.”

“K-Kasuya-senpai, don’t give up so quickly!”

“Sticking with that idea would only lead to confusion.”

“Fair enough!” said Kani while noticing the Azuchi had tilted a good bit.

“K-Kasuya-senpai! Who else can we ask!?”

Black Wolf: “Um, Yoshiaki?”

Kimee: “Sorry, I’m in the middle of some serious shooting right now. Angie, you handle it.”

“If you insist,” said Wakisaka.

AnG: “I imagine it’s about cost-effectiveness and a deadline. Check out the southwestern sky!”


Kasuya looked to the southwest as told.

And she noticed something.

“The Pension Versailles is ascending? And the Yamagata Castle is moving forward again!?”

This battle was in its final stage and Mogami was starting to move once more.

AnG: “This is the enemy’s plan here: Use Mogami and Hexagone Française’s flagships to destroy our fleet before Hashiba can join the battle.”

Kanitama: “But is that really enough to wipe out the fleet!?”

Kimee: “It is. Or rather…they probably set things up this way for precisely this reason.”

“You see,” continued Yoshiaki as she joined the conversation anyway.

The sigh in her voice was obvious. She was not a fan of giving up.

Kimee: “They did not sink very many of our ships in the fleet battle so far. In other words, they were dragging things out while keeping us from resupplying or making repairs.”

Black Wolf: “You mean they built up the damage little by little?”

Kimee: “Yes, like a body blow. So our fleet is extremely worn down. That was nothing to worry about against the small ships of the Mouri fleet, but the main cannons of a flagship are a real threat. The pummeling we’ve taken will prevent the defense barriers from opening as quickly as we want, so I doubt we can last more than a hit or two.”

Also…

Kimee: “The Yamagata Castle creates a political problem.”

Ookubo’s voice seemed to take over for Yoshiaki.

Nagaya-Stable: “Well? Won’t you consider withdrawing?”


Kuki had his thoughts about Ookubo’s question.

We cannot withdraw.

Doing so would leave Musashi unsupervised and free to do what they wanted against Hashiba.

Also, their foothold in Kantou did more than hold Musashi in check.

It also let them keep an eye on the Kantou nations to make sure they did not form a powerful pro-Musashi force.

So they could not withdraw here. Not even if their fleet was obliterated.

Nagaya-Stable: “So what will it be?”

Nine Horns: “Not happening. We will wait for Hashiba-kun to join us.”

Nagaya-Stable: “Then I’m sorry to say the Mogami and Hexagone Française flagships will crush your fleet. You can resist, but this is over once your fleet is gone.”

Nine Horns: “My fleet will remain.”

He wrote up instructions and sent them to each ship making up his fleet.

Nine Horns: “I have just instructed the ships of my fleet to spread out. Mogami and Hexagone Française’s flagships can fire their main cannons if they like, but they will have a hard time targeting a scattered fleet. If we can escape those attacks, we win.”

Nagaya-Stable: “And what if that ‘escape’ is counted as withdrawing?”

Nine Horns: “Then I will have Hashiba-kun provide an alternate ‘interpretation’.”

I’m such an awful commander, thought Kuki with a bitter smile.

He was leaving victory and defeat up to the interpretations of his superior.

But that superior had not sent him any instructions.

And as far as he could imagine…

“I am prioritizing Hashiba-kun’s benefit in my decisions.”

He would leave a foothold in Kantou. Because…

“That allows us to make an immediate counterattack if Musashi tries anything.”

If Musashi made some big move during or after summer break, they could simply reopen the Keichou Campaign.

That alone would let them stop Musashi.

That ability to intervene meant a lot for P.A. Oda with the Honnouji Incident waiting in the near future.

So.

So they could not afford to lose this Kantou foothold.

Then Ookubo slightly changed the subject.

Nagaya-Stable: “Kuki, can you say the same thing if Mogami truly joins the battle?”


Kasuya saw Kani tilt her head at what Ookubo said.

Kanitama: “Eh!? I thought Mogami Yoshiaki-sama had already joined the battle!”

Kimee: “Technically speaking, yes, but there is a more troublesome political side to this. Did you not notice that Mogami has yet to fire a single shell?”

Kanitama: “You mean she hasn’t really joined the battle yet!?”

Kimee: “Mogami has sent out a ground unit, but they have not supported the fleet battle. That can be interpreted as ‘sending reinforcements’. Which is the interpretation we in Hashiba would prefer.”

There was annoyance in Katou Yoshiaki’s voice. Because…

Black Wolf: “If Mogami Yoshiaki’s Yamagata Castle fires its cannons, that will establish that Mogami fully participated in the Kantou Liberation as a nation. Is that what you are saying?”

Kimee: “Testament. If that happens, Hashiba must perform post-battle negotiations with Mogami as well. But…”

Katou Yoshiaki explained.

Kimee: “What about Musashi? Is Mogami’s participation the best bargaining chip they have? Do they have no better political bargaining chip to use against us?”


Hm.

This is worth considering, sensed Kuki.

Mogami’s participation would be established by the Yamagata Castle firing on them.

If that happened, the post-battle negotiations would be more trouble and there would be losses.

Before, they would only have had to deal with Musashi, Satomi, and Mouri, but this would add Mogami to the list.

That would mean severe losses as a nation. A simple calculation said the national burden would be increased by more than 1.3 times. And more than that…

Nagaya-Stable: “The Keichou Campaign requires a withdrawal. So would you prefer to return to P.A. Oda with your ships sunk or return with most of them remaining?”

That was the thing.

Accepting withdrawal here would preserve the ships currently fighting the enemy.

Choosing to resist here would mean the destruction of the ships currently fighting the enemy.

From a financial perspective, they could not allow Mogami to join the battle.

But, thought Kuki to change the course of his thoughts.

Mogami’s participation must have been set up in advance.

It was not just Mogami Yoshiaki’s playful personality that led the Yamagata Castle to avoid firing for so long. It had all been in preparation for this negotiation and he was supposed to realize now what it all meant.

Realize it he did.

This meant the Kantou Liberation was important enough to the enemy to set up something like this.

Neither side could afford to back down here.

“Now, then.”

He sighed.

He turned his head to view the scene all around him.

Battle raged in the sky and on the surface as far as the eye could see. Fires blazed and nowhere was silent.

A great roar and silhouette were crossing the sky.

That was the Azuchi.

The six ships had already flipped around and were now descending toward the ocean east of Bousou with an extraordinary air current accompanying them.

Its descent would bring this to an end.

If anyone was going to change things, it would have to happen before the Azuchi “arrived” in Kantou. With that in mind, Kuki started by speaking to Ookubo.

Nine Horns: “Ookubo-kun. Allow me to point something out to you in this late stage.”

Namely…

Nine Horns: “Isn’t Mogami’s participation something you too should want to avoid? Well, what do you have to say?”


Konishi heard Kuki’s words while she ran through the dark forest.

She was headed south, toward the Satomi base.

The base’s walls had been breached and everyone was withdrawing.

She still had money, so she could use that to assist them.

She saw these words while she ran between the trees.

Nine Horns: “If Mogami joins the battle, Musashi must take a smaller share during the post-battle negotiations. And you will also be indebted to Mogami. Am I wrong?”

Well played, Kuki-kun.

There was malice embedded in Kuki’s words.

He was luring them in. It was a trick to learn Musashi’s true intentions here.

“If he is wrong, it means Musashi has no ulterior motive here. It means they have nothing more than this.”

In that case, Kuki could carefully observe the situation and respond as he saw fit.

“But if he is right, it means Musashi still has a plan they wish to complete without Mogami. In that case, he has to be on the lookout for whatever that is. Now, which will it be?”

Just as she asked that, the response arrived.

Nagaya-Stable: “You moron. We only kept Mogami from attacking as a kindness to Hashiba. Wasn’t that obvious?”

Ookubo readily admitted they had no ulterior motive, so once Konishi grasped her meaning…

“Hold on.”

That settles it right there, doesn’t it?

Konishi started to slow her pace and quickly gathered strength in her legs again.

According to Ookubo, Musashi wanted to include Mogami’s attack, but they had held back thus far as a kindness to win Hashiba over.

Of course, that was an exaggeration.

After all, Mogami had not provided any covering fire while Murakami Motoyoshi was moving his fleet around. If they had, it might have increased their attack power in the moment, but it would have greatly changed Murakami’s overall strategy.

Mogami had needed to act as a diversion using the possibility of an attack.

Ookubo was trying to attach greater value to that “what if”.

This is a negotiation over hypothetical tactics.

But it did point to a certain fact: Musashi did not have a greater bargaining chip than Mogami’s participation. They did not have a card to play that would change the current state of the battlefield.

That settled it. Kuki could do as he liked.

Kuki would have calculated out what it would mean if Mogami participated.

“So…”

Her thought was cut off by Ookubo’s next words.

Nagaya-Stable: “Kuki Yoshitaka.”

What is it now?

Nagaya-Stable: “Did you think this ended with Mogami’s participation?”


Huh?

Konishi did slow her pace this time. She wanted to hurry back to the base, but she sensed danger in Ookubo’s words.

This opponent was well-versed in negotiation techniques. She would narrow down the cards in her hand to simplify matters, but she would also hide the final card up her sleeve.

She would hide it up her sleeve until she had worked her way close enough to her opponent to jab that razor-sharp card against their throat. It was the simplicity that allowed her to pull off negotiations with such dramatic turnarounds.

But what else could Ookubo have introduced to this battle?

There are no other fighting forces here, are there?

None of the units spread out around the battlefield had reported of another nation’s approach.

Nagaya-Stable: “Listen. Do you mind if I guess what it is you most want to protect right now?”

A breath.

Nagaya-Stable: “Give me three guesses, since I’m not confident I can get it in one. You can think of me as some moron wasting time, but humor me, okay?”

What is she doing now? wondered Konishi, but the Azuchi was descending from the eastern sky. The more time this took, the better.

So we can win this by humoring her.

But then Ookubo made her three guesses of what they wanted to protect.

First up…

Nagaya-Stable: “Is it Kantou?”


Kuki made no response to Ookubo’s question.

He simply held his breath and waited for her to continue.

The sounds of the battlefield were fading and the air was beginning to move due to the great mass descending from the sky.

Ookubo’s words reached him within that great pressure.

Nagaya-Stable: “Oh, was that not quite it? Yes, that probably was too obvious to be it. Sorry.”

She spoke in an overly performative way.

Then she gave her next answer.

Nagaya-Stable: “Is it Hashiba?”


Kani did not know what Ookubo was trying to accomplish here, so while viewing the words on her lernen figur

“Um! Kasuya-senpai!”

Kasuya’s hand immediately reached out in front of her chest.

That was a sign to stay quiet.

Why!?

Ookubo was exactly right about what they wanted to protect.

Kantou and Hashiba were both very important to them.

So why were Kasuya and Kuki waiting so silently for her to continue?

Was there really something more important than those two things?

Nagaya-Stable: “Hmm. Yeah, I guess not. Maybe my intuition has dulled lately. I’ll get the next one over with so we can end this.”

Kani saw the third option Ookubo gave.

Nagaya-Stable: “The Honnouji Incident.”


Ookubo saw her opponent’s silence.

She stood in the open land outside the forest and in front of the Satomi base. She was waiting for the base to be cleared.

No response, huh?

The corners of her lips rose.

She knew she was making a lot of assumptions about this, but the lack of reaction here meant a lot.

The previous two options had been directly related to the Kantou Liberation. They were obvious things Hashiba would want to protect.

But the last one seemed related, but was a fairly large leap.

But it was obvious enough if you thought about it.

They wanted Kantou as a foothold. That would act as a deterrent against Musashi and it gave them more freedom in the history recreation for P.A. Oda.

“They also have the Battle of Komaki Nagakute and Battle of Shizugatake to deal with, but the Honnouji Incident comes first.”

Plus, that history recreation would mean the end of the Oda era and the beginning of the Hashiba era.

It was a fairly large leap, but there was a connection when viewing the future leading out from here.

And Hashiba was hellbent on keeping Kantou for something in the future.

It was not Kantou or Hashiba they truly cared about. By holding Kantou, they could protect something important to Hashiba.

In that case…

Ookubo spoke to silent Kuki.

Nagaya-Stable: “Kuki-kun. Are you listening?”

No response.

Nagaya-Stable: “The thing is, we indebted ourselves to a certain nation before the Kantou Liberation.”


Konishi told herself to keep walking.

Ookubo’s words had made her weak in the legs.

She was also curious about what Ookubo was saying now.

Her allies were trying to withdraw.

The Azuchi was descending from the eastern sky.

And yet…

This is bad.

She was completely distracted.

Nagaya-Stable: “Listen. I think I will use my onsite authority to give all of our battle results to that nation. That should be enough to repay our debt.”

What is this nonsense? wondered Konishi. It did not matter to Hashiba if Musashi gave their victory to that other nation. Besides…

“Do you really think you can still win this!?”

Nagaya-Stable: “Five seconds after I tell you which nation it is, Mogami will fire. According to my Kanou-kun and others, that will be the critical moment.”

Listen.

Nagaya-Stable: “You think Azuchi is going to stick the landing here, don’t you? But you know what? We have another trick up our sleeves. Want to know what it is?”

It was…

Nagaya-Stable: “When the Azuchi lands, its primary thruster will explode again. That will prevent it from joining the battle in time. And in the meantime, Mogami can take their time and destroy you with their artillery fire. How does that sound?”

Just as Ookubo finished, the Azuchi fell from the eastern sky and landed in the ocean.

Konishi looked east while she walked.

What will happen?

Would it turn out the way Ookubo said?


Kuki saw it happen from high in the sky.

As it landed, the Azuchi compressed and crushed down a wide area of the ocean.

Instead of sinking, it pushed the ocean out and eastward as if sliding down a slope.

Its gravitational control and buffering spells secured that backwards-sliding space.

It skidded backwards. The air pushed in toward Kuki and his fleet, but…

“Oh.”

That great mass was falling back toward the east. It moved several kilometers all at once. The ocean sprayed up into the gap that created and the air rushed in to form a mist.

The mist was a lot like a storm.

But that skidding mass accelerated forward to stop its momentum.

Light appeared in the eastern ocean and sky. It was the acceleration light produced during gravitational acceleration.

The white light shined on the ocean and gave the sky a white coloration.

Then it happened.

Kuki saw an even brighter light.

It exploded from the primary thruster on the back of the Azuchi’s rear central ship.

“–––––”

He was left speechless, so someone else spoke instead.

Nagaya-Stable: “Listen. I will now tell you what nation we are indebted to.”

Brush it aside, he thought. I have to brush aside her words.

But the wind blew in from behind him. It was a stormy wind that smelled of steel.

The Yamagata Castle!

That ship had approached quite close and it was not done yet.

And Ookubo was not done either.

Nagaya-Stable: “It was…”


Konishi felt a hand on her wrist and found herself dangling in the air.

She had been so distracted by her lernen figur that she had failed to watch where she was going.

She had not noticed the dry riverbed up ahead and nearly fell in.

Someone had saved her by grabbing her by the wrist.

W-whoa!

She felt more surprised than saved, so her heart leaped into her throat.

“Oh, ah!”

“That was a close one. Are you okay, miss?”

Wondering who this was, she looked back to find a skinny middle-aged man in Far Eastern clothing.

It was travel clothing. He wore a long cloak despite it being summer.

“Here you go.”

He pulled her back up with a decent amount of strength.

He had a long sword on his back, so was he a martial artist?

She did not know, but he and a few others had suddenly appeared this deep in the forest.

“Hey! You all help the other side withdraw! I’ve got someone I need to find so I can watch them from a distance, so we’ll meet up in Akiba!”

“Sensei, isn’t that a little too vague? And you sound like a stalker.”

“Hey, what’s wrong with being a vague stalker!? We need to buy some souvenirs for our next stop!”

He let go of her wrist and pointed east.

“Head that way, miss. You were on your way to the base, weren’t you? But we’ve already helped out most everyone there, so you’d only get yourself caught by Musashi.”

“Who are you?”

“Just some locals. We’re not taking a side in this fight, though.”

He spoke casually, gave her a toothy grin, shrugged, and held out a white handkerchief.

“We’re pretty strong.”

“I imagine so,” she said while accepting the handkerchief.

Then she looked back toward him.

“Ah.”

He had vanished at some point.

“What in the world was that?” She wiped off her face with the white cloth in her hands. “I need to pull myself together before I face the others. Because…”

She had realized something.

The roaring of shellfire, the cacophony of gunfire, and everything else had vanished.

In the deserted forest, Konishi covered her face with the white cloth while the chirping of insects filled the darkness.

“Kuki-kun.” There was a tremor in her voice. “You accepted the withdrawal, didn’t you?”