Horizon:Volume 8B Chapter 51
Chapter 50: Girls Pushing Themselves to the Limit
You cannot see it
You can see it coming
You cannot grab it
It comes to grab you
Point Allocation (The Next Stage)
Toshiie sighed in the woods while watching Fuwa go call the others to dinner.
…Mori-kun is giving her some serious training.
He had gotten his lesson through to Kani.
Toshiie had started by having her fight his ghost warriors in order to teach her what victory felt like.
His ghost warriors were numerous and could strategize, but you could accurately calculate out how strong they were.
By defeating them, Kani had become aware that she was stronger than an entire group of ordinary warriors.
That had gone smoothly. She had cleared each new task he gave her and she had learned the lessons well.
But the problem was what came next.
Based on her results, she was not skilled enough to handle a Vice Chancellor class fighter or above.
That was to be expected. Someone at her level wasn’t supposed to stand a chance against them. Or stand a chance-ellor against them.
…Oops, I don’t want to turn into Musashi’s Vice President.
Vice President: “By the way…oh, keep working, everyone. Anyway, when we arrived in Kantou the other day, I realized something. I just can’t-o stand that the Azuchi is in Kantou.”
Wise Sister: “Glance, glance.”
Me: “Okay! Okay, everyone! Seijun-kun is about to make us laugh!”
Vice President: “But I already finished my joke! Horizon, I don’t need you and the black algae as an audience!”
I need to be careful since her puns are devastating, thought Toshiie. I mean, they’re wide-area attacks just as powerful as curry.
It was up to him and the other upperclassmen to be on the lookout for those things since they had actual experience with them.
As for the underclassmen…
“They have their work cut out for them.”
Kani’s skill was likely equivalent to the other nations’ special duty officers. But it was possible she would need to face Vice Chancellor class fighters in a month or two.
The Honnouji Incident was approaching fast.
She was with Hashiba, so that was an important event for her. After the Battle of Yamazaki and Battle of Shizugatake, they had the showdown with Matsudaira at Sekigahara and the Siege of Osaka.
Of course, the Hashiba forces would have split between east and west by the time Sekigahara came along. He didn’t know how they would respond to that, but they could use as much skill as they could get during that major battle.
Now that Kani had fought and lost to some Vice Chancellor and Chancellor class fighters, she needed to learn what it was she lacked.
The method was simple. First, she learned what victory felt like. She had to understand that she could normally win.
Then she would fight some Vice Chancellor and Chancellor class fighters and learn that she could still lose despite normally winning.
That process would teach her an important fact.
…You are not weak.
Escaping a battle with a Vice Chancellor and Chancellor class fighter intact was enough of a feat. And her handling and precision with her eight spears was impressive.
“But you lack strength.”
It was a simple matter.
Sasamura was not sturdy enough and was not ejected with enough speed.
Sasamura was an anti-personnel weapon and had clearly only been designed for gods of war at the most. A multi-use weapon that could both protect the Fukushima Unit and tear through the enemy front line was a good thing for Fukushima’s aide.
But reality required more power than it was designed to provide. The Chancellors and Vice Chancellors that fought on their own were like one-person armies. An anti-personnel or anti-god of war weapon could not reach them.
Kani had to learn that.
But the only Chancellor or Vice Chancellor class fighter available in the Shibata Team was Shibata himself and he was not exactly the teacher type.
That was where Mori came in.
His Boneless Man was all muscle and a god of war. If Kani was told she had to pierce him with an attack to win, then his great defensive power would make him equivalent to a Vice Chancellor or Chancellor.
That plan had worked like a charm.
The way Kani stared at the spear lying before her told Toshiie she understood.
Not even the second strike that split the butt of the first spear had been enough. It was exactly the answer she had needed to find.
Sasamura was not sturdy enough to break through Mori’s muscle armor. Nor was it fast enough.
But her precision was excellent. So was her ingenuity.
…I couldn’t have asked for a better result.
Her recent string of losses could mostly be blamed on her equipment.
After losing to the Musashi Vice Chancellor in Kantou, the on-site maintenance team had repaired Sasamura while trying to make the spears sturdier. That team must have noticed her solid combat skills and the deficiency in her weapon.
We do good work, thought Toshiie.
Even a lowly maintenance team had identified and attempted to fix a flaw in a nearly no-name fighter.
That meant they had entered summer break with an excellent sense of unity. So…
“I hope you can get everyone as strong as you need them, Hashiba-kun.”
“What’re you getting all sentimental about? You don’t even have Matsu with you this time.”
Sassa walked over from the village made of ships.
“Oh, Ma-chan is currently cooking in the dining hall. Since Oichi-sama is away. And since I have this work to attend to, she waits for me to get back,” said Toshiie. “What about you, Na-chan? Walking around in the dark with sunglasses makes me wonder if you hit your head one too many times, but are you here for Michi?”
Sassa pursed his lips.
“Trying to pick up the slack for Mr. Annoying while he isn’t around?”
“We are working as instructors, so we kind of are acting as Shibata-senpai’s replacement, Na-chan. Anyway, they’re being much too serious for my tastes out here. How are things on your end?”
Sassa turned both his palms upwards.
“Not good. It’s like that Fukushima girl’s soul has left her body. I mean, she’ll listen to me and she understands what I’m saying, but her heart isn’t in it.”
“It’s that bad?”
“She can handle the basics and adapt to the situation. To be honest, her movements are better than mine.”
“Only because you just like to charge in and attack. Run and punch are the only commands you accept.”
“Oh, shut up. When your attacks do major damage even when they just graze the enemy, what good are precise movements?”
“Fine, fine.” Toshiie held out his hands and changed the subject. “So how is she doing?”
“I expect you would diagnose her with ‘no drive to improve’ or something like that.”
“So she has decent skill, but she’s hit a roadblock?”
“How should I know!?”
“What are you yelling about now, idiot?” said Fuwa from the clearing.
They looked over to see her helping up Kani. She continued to support the weakly-smiling girl as she spoke.
“Hey, do either of you have anything to drink? She’s mildly dehydrated and what she has on hand isn’t enough.”
“Oh,” said Toshiie. “I’m a ghost, so…you know.”
“I don’t have anything either.”
“Fine then.” Fuwa gestured over the god of war. “Mori, carry her for me. …Kani? I know you can’t get up, but are you otherwise fine? Then stay like that. Now, anyway…” Fuwa stood up and glared over at Toshiie and Sassa. “There isn’t a single decent coach here, is there? I wonder how the other training camps are doing.”
Another training camp was battling a dragon.
They were inside a great subterranean hall, but they could not see the far end. Because…
“This is a dream!? Oh, dreams are so nice. I mean, I can’t imagine how much the rent on a room this big has to be! If I could create this with my dreams, I’d never wake up!”
“The dragon is coming, you fool!”
Sakon leaped over the horizontally sweeping dragon cannon in something like a Fosbury flop. But the Fosbury flop was not something she had learned in middle school. I just don’t like the straddle technique because it makes me feel like a frog.
So she made her jump, bent her back…
…and cleared it.
After landing, she found the side of the dragon’s head 30m away.
The dragon was colored white. It glowed slightly, maybe because it was made of ether and maybe because this was a dream, but either way it was beautiful and Sakon decided Olimpia had to be a good person.
But at the moment, she had found an opening in the enemy’s defenses.
She dashed toward the side of its head.
With her strength and Onitakemaru’s support, the soles of her shoes dug into the cold stone floor.
Her confusion came from the figure that burst out ahead of her.
…She’s so fast!?
No, this wasn’t just fast.
The figure moved near instantly from one point to another. She had seen Musashi’s 5th Special Duty Officer do the same thing at Nördlingen.
“Bursts of speed!?”
Kasuya was briefly surprised to realize Sakon had caught up with her.
…She can keep up at her normal sprinting speed?
Before arriving, Kasuya had been told Sakon’s physical abilities had been boosted just like the Holy Roman Emperor’s. She still had her sense of pain, but she did have the full regenerative ability. Plus…
…She’s so tall.
Each step of hers was nearly twice the length of one of Kasuya’s steps. If she had the same muscular strength as an ordinary human except scaled up to her size, then she would be able to run twice as fast as an ordinary person.
Add the emperor’s strength and that mobile shell’s power assistance and she could likely reach speeds several times greater.
In that case, thought Kasuya.
This was their first time sharing the battlefield. They had nothing even resembling teamwork since they had not been trained for it. So…
“Let’s go all out, Shima Sakon!”
They had to go all out. They might not understand how the other did things, but surely they could show results if they fought with all their might. So…
“I will go in first and knock it down!”
She made a burst of speed to the right and then made two bursts to the left. All to reach…
“The right foreleg!”
The Terrestrial Dragon’s right foreleg was digging into the floor in preparation for a dragon cannon blast.
All three claws were larger than Kasuya was tall, but…
…Why should I care!?
She accelerated and jammed in Argent Clou in drill mode.
Sakon saw Kasuya’s attack knock the Terrestrial Dragon’s foreleg out from under it.
There was a thundering crash and the three claws were shattered by the impact.
Blood flew in an arc and the dragon roared from the severed nerves in the claws.
But the dragon’s foreleg was torn from the floor and the white-scaled leg was knocked outwards like its stopper had been lost.
A single attack had done all that. Sakon stared at the spectacle as she ran.
…She’s so powerful!
When she had fought Musashi’s 5th Special Duty Officer, the girl’s speed had been a problem. But based on Kasuya’s attack here, Musashi’s 5th Special Duty Officer would be able to do this much as well.
Sakon realized it was only due to chance that the girl had stuck to sword strikes at Nördlingen.
She shuddered as she realized how that battle could have gone. I did ask some weird questions about a potter’s wheel, didn’t I?
Then again, even if she had used her full power and torn off my arm or something, it would have come back in 7 seconds or so. But imagining these things and experiencing that great power in person are so different psychologically.
Meanwhile, something else happened in the fight against the dragon.
The dragon’s head collapsed sideways, falling toward her.
With its right foreleg knocked outwards, the dragon was falling to the right.
And it continued the dragon cannon even as it lost its balance. The blast gouged into the wall and tore a strip through the ceiling.
Rubble flew through the air and the sound echoed through the empty hall.
The dragon was collapsing.
Sakon decided to attack when the dragon hit the floor.
Once its face had fallen, she would hit it head-on with a high-volume voice pressure attack. That might shatter its face or at least briefly confuse its vision.
But that plan was immediately canceled.
Hearing Onitakemaru’s cry, she looked over to see a small figure.
Someone was running toward her from below the collapsing dragon.
It was red-gauge Ootani. He had shrunk to only about 15cm to maintain his existence here, but that meant he was slow and was clearly not going to escape the dragon press falling toward him.
Sakon wasn’t sure if she had time to rescue him.
“Kohime! Do you not see that!?”
“Wh-what do you mean ‘that’? Y-you need to be more specific.”
“I mean Ootani Yoshitsugu!!”
Oh, man, complained Sakon.
She couldn’t pretend she hadn’t noticed now that his full name had been used.
So she sped up. She already considered Onitakemaru’s power assistance to be a part of her standard strength.
That power assistance wasn’t to boost her strength – it was to keep her from harming herself. So she didn’t have to worry as she poured all of her strength to run in.
“Wait just a second!”
It only took her a moment to reach him. Her continuous straight-line running speed had to be even higher than Kasuya’s.
The trick was to use that speed to dive below the collapsing dragon.
She leaned and stepped forward in what amounted to a somersault more than a dash while she scooped Ootani up in her right hand.
“Here he comes!”
She threw Ootani between her legs.
Onitakemaru immediately yelled at her for it.
“Your aim is trash!”
Ootani slammed into the falling dragon and bounced down into the floor.
Ootani was prepared to be annihilated.
…Th-that one hurt!
All the health he had recovered over time had been taken away. It would take him a few seconds to recover, but by then the dragon would have collapsed and crushed him.
Was this really how a name inheritor was going to go?
Still, he had lived a fulfilling, if short, life. He had been developed by Hashiba, the Mito Lord had used a table to score a home run with him during his first battle, Yoshiaki and Angie had sicced a cat on him, he had been blasted as a pervert at Nördlingen, and now his life was ending after being slammed against the ground by a horribly aimed pitch.
…W-why can’t I think of even one good thing!?
He started to think maybe it was for the best if he was annihilated here, but he decided that would only bring trouble to Mitsunari.
But if he was to survive, how was he supposed to avoid this dragon press? That question was answered by…
“Sakon! Nice pass!”
A black wind leaped toward him.
It was Kasuya.
Her foot hit him with a heel kick during one of her bursts of speed.
Now, I’m dead, he decided, feeling himself soar through the air.
That had extracted him from the dragon press. But in exchange…
…Now Sakon-sama is in the way!
He could see Mitsunari rushing over, but he also saw the wolf’s decision.
She transformed the Argent Clous on both her arms. From drill mode to pile bunker mode.
She did not escape from below the dragon.
She made a burst of speed straight toward Sakon.
Sakon twisted around in midair.
She had thrown Ootani between her legs, but by leaning to the side and leaping forward, she had managed to face the falling dragon like she was doing a Fosbury flop.
And Kasuya was approaching.
…Is she going to do it!?
The wolf was leaping below the Terrestrial Dragon to strike it from below and knock it upwards.
Sakon honestly thought it would never work.
Plus, she was would be fine. If she was crushed below a dragon, she would turn to bloody smoke and start regenerating soon thereafter.
But Kasuya still intended to do this. And Sakon’s presence had to be a part of that.
In fact, Sakon’s presence was the entire reason Kasuya was doing this.
That meant Kasuya could only send the dragon back up because Sakon was here.
Onitakemaru shouted at her.
Onitakemaru: “You have nothing to protect here!”
There was not a single thing for her to protect here. She felt a little bad for her botched rescue of Ootani, but he was already out of harm’s way.
And now Kasuya was coming.
She knew what Sakon was, but she was doing this anyway.
…Why is that?
Oh, realized Sakon. Is she protecting me here?
She wouldn’t die no matter how much she was hurt or how much someone tried to kill her, but there was still someone willing to rush to her aid, hoping she would be safe.
“Why?” she asked out loud.
Her question did not reach Kasuya. Not over the rubble smashed by a dragon cannon or the roaring wind.
But someone did respond.
Onitakemaru: “Don’t ask why! It’s the same as when you do it!”
Onitakemaru shouted at her.
Onitakemaru: “Don’t ask why other people do something when you do it too!”
Kasuya transformed her arms’ Argent Clous into drill launcher mode. Instead of just hitting with the drills, they would be launched into the dragon like a pile bunker. You could even call it a drill bunker.
…Can I do this!?
She needed to keep herself on the floor to send the full force into her target.
But that also meant she would be exposed to the dragon’s full weight for a brief moment.
If she did this wrong, her skeleton would be overburdened and shatter or slip permanently out of place.
But she had one way of making this work.
Her bursts of speed.
In the very instant the attack hit the dragon, she would accelerate her entire body like it was a single spike.
She had to target a precise point.
Instead of taking the dragon’s full weight, she had to send the full impact of her strike into a single point. That would send the force of the impact to the rest of the dragon’s body, just like with a well-placed stomp sending a tremor through the ground.
She could see the timing she needed. So…
…I just have to do it!
She prioritized her determination above all else, so she went for it. She took such solid steps her feet seemed to bounce from the floor and she let that force pass through her to help raise her twin weapons.
In that instant, she heard a voice. It came from Sakon who was falling over nearby.
Mitsunari saw the double attack launch the dragon upwards.
It happened just as she caught Ootani while trying to keep tabs on the progress of the overall battle.
First, Sakon’s shout was converted into a solid blow that shook the falling beast.
Then Kasuya launched her drills like a pile bunker.
…She hit it.
That was teamwork, thought Mitsunari.
If you thought of the dragon as equivalent to a large unit of warriors, then this was a cooperative defense against a large group.
Sakon had used her voice pressure attack as a counterattack against the enemy front line and then Kasuya had opened a hole in their defenses with Argent Clou.
Mitsunari could imagine exactly this kind of teamwork occurring on some future battlefield none of them had yet seen.
The dragon was thrown through the air, flipping onto its back.
Kasuya crouched low and Sakon controlled her stance as they emerged from behind it.
One used a burst of speed and the other great speed born of tremendous strength. They were both a black wind leaping across the stone floor, whipping up the wind, and continuing their attack on the dragon.
To those who primarily fought in close quarters, attack was prioritized above all else.
Even when they were focused on defense, it was only to wait until an opening for attack showed itself. Every move they made was meant to worship the concept of attack.
Kasuya demonstrated that faith here.
The previous attack had fully knocked the Terrestrial Dragon off balance. Now she only had to pursue it at high speed and use her momentum to strike at…
…The left foreleg that’s facing me now that the dragon is on its back!
She started by smashing the unharmed left foreleg.
The blow deflected the three claws and sent a tremor through the wrist.
Now the dragon would be unable to get up again. Severing the nerves in all its foreleg claws was sure to cause intense pain. Now she could work with Sakon as she caught up.
She made her attack before the dragon’s momentum from the previous attack had even faded, sending it back into the air.
The blow pierced through the dragon’s armor as pure speed and she felt it “push” on the dragon’s bones.
It was a solid blow.
Forced to fall back, the dragon roared. The roar was now more like pure noise than a voice. It only conveyed a vague sense of rage. Rolled on its side, it turned its stomach toward them and curled up defensively as it backed away.
Kasuya and Sakon only had to pursue.
Kasuya’s shoes dug into the stone floor and she attacked alongside Sakon. They slammed the dragon into the back wall. And…
“Let’s finish this!”
A sudden shape dropped down in front of them.
The dragon had managed to twist its body back around and slammed its clawless right foreleg down as an attack.
Kasuya launched herself diagonally right with a burst of speed. Sakon accelerated diagonally left.
The great log of a leg crashed down between them, smashing the floor and sending out a spray of stone shards.
But none of it hit them. Now Kasuya only had to crouch down and launch herself forward.
Kasuya made a flurry of attacks. Instead of slamming her entire body against her foe, she pictured herself growing up out of the floor, using the ground’s support to leap upwards.
Every landed blow produced a sound.
These are solid hits, thought Kasuya. I can feel the dragon’s body bending and the force reaching its bones.
Then the dragon swung a foreleg her way.
She dodged that attack and moved forward. She struck as if trying to peel the entire foreleg from the floor.
But the dragon twisted its body. Since it could not use either foreleg, it moved as if crawling to get up and face her.
It launched a dragon cannon.
This one was swung across the floor instead of sweeping horizontally.
But the dragon was basically bending its head to the side to shoot her. The bend to its throat reduced the power of the cannon and limited the vertical angle of fire. Also…
“The recoil is lifting it from the ground!”
She rushed in.
She slipped below the white horizontal beam of the cannon, closing in on the dragon in no time at all.
She bent her knees and planted a foot firmly on the ground. She stomped hard, twisted her hips, and stretched her body upwards while launching her right drill.
The dragon’s armor shattered and she sent in the left one for a second blow.
The dragon floated up and Sakon gave a yell after catching up on the left.
The vocal cannon may have been similar to a dragon’s explosive pressure roar. It was a powerful attack that bent the dragon’s body and clearly tore it fully from the floor.
The two of them stood at opposite sides of the dragon’s forelegs. They could not even make eye contact at the moment.
But they were working as a team. Their timing was a little off at times and it was far from perfect, but they each knew what the other was doing and did their own job accordingly.
This reminded Kasuya of two things.
The first was that night in Kantou.
She had been outmatched when fighting the Reine des Garous on her own, but once she was working with Kani, they achieved some limited results.
Kani was short and fought with high-speed multi-ejection spears.
Sakon here was tall and fought with her hands and voice.
Those two were entirely different types of fighters, but she was once again showing results.
How were they working together so well?
For close-range fighters like them, their primary goal was always the same: defeat your opponent. And…
…These opponents are powerful.
They were big in size, strength, and everything else.
You didn’t have many options against an enemy like that.
Hiding was rendered meaningless, so you had to force your way through.
This was the same.
They would strike, evade, and continue forward. It was the stuff they had practiced constantly in training. Kasuya was reminded of something as she carried out actions she had done countless times before.
She remembered Mikawa three months ago.
At the time, the Ten Spears had been visiting different places under Hashiba’s command to build up their fundamentals. Kasuya had been fighting demons from Sviet Rus and the Ikko-shu with the Shibata Team.
But one night a divine transmission had arrived.
“Aren’t crises fun?” Matsudaira Motonobu had said during the destruction of Mikawa.
She had been furious at the time, thinking it was a foolish thing to say. She had thought he was causing all that chaos for no more than his own amusement.
But she had come to understand something since then.
When faced with a powerful enemy, extraordinary fear, and an overwhelming crisis, she and everyone else with power could come together.
She struck the dragon and continued onward.
Beyond the dragon’s destroyed forelegs, she knew Sakon would also be attacking even though they had only just met earlier. So…
…We can work together.
Maybe they couldn’t prevail, but they could at least do that.
The group they had to stop – the people who were their raison d'être – had become a powerful enemy.
…But this power should still work against Musashi!
With that thought, she delivered one more blow.
The dragon’s back crashed into the wall. The force of the impact caused it to slide along and bounce up into the wall.
Now was the time to finish it off.
Their enemy was pinned against the wall, so the force of their attacks would remain contained within that white body with nowhere to escape.
In that case, she thought, readying her right hand and giving her legs a burst of speed.
Just then, Mitsunari’s voice rang through the hall.
“The dragon’s tail!”
Sakon noticed it since she was to Kasuya’s left.
The dragon had been slammed against the wall with its belly toward them, but it could still swing its tail toward them by curling up.
That was exactly what it did.
The mass was more than a third of the dragon’s full length. It was like an armored whip that flew toward them with a water vapor explosion and a bursting noise trailing behind it.
Kasuya wouldn’t have seen it with the dragon’s destroyed foreleg in the way.
That cover would delay Kasuya’s evasion.
Sakon had noticed, but what was she supposed to do about it?
Onitakemaru: “Your voice pressure attack isn’t enough to block this!”
She knew what else she could do. She left the dragon to Kasuya while she spread out her limbs in front of the incoming tail and opened her mouth.
Onitakemaru: “God, why don’t you question these decisions?”
Onitakemaru: “I will activate my defense divine protections and shift to anti-shock power assist settings to support you as much as possible, so I hope you’re thankful!”
I am thankful. I really can feel myself smiling.
But don’t worry. I’ll make sure you aren’t hurt, Onitakemaru-san. So…
Kohime: “Here it comes!”
Sakon could see it.
She didn’t just see it. She could see it.
The dragon’s tail was swinging in at such great speed she shouldn’t have been able to see the series of armor scales.
But she could see it.
She could see the shape of the armor, the seams between it, the trajectory of the tail, and the sharpness of the point.
What does this mean? she wondered. Is this what they call focus? But…
She could no longer see it.
Like waking from a dream, everything sped back up and she could see the air of the dimly-lit hall more than the incoming tail.
…It’s going to hit me!
She had been prepared for that, but the moment when she could see it had distracted her.
She was in position, but she could not avoid a direct hit.
She gasped just as it collided with something right in front of her.
The entire tail burst.
All the armor was instantly blasted from the dragon’s long tail.
A piercing power was to blame.
Something had broken right through the tough armor scales, destroying them.
It had flown in at high speed and pierced the dragon’s power.
Then it flew off into the distance inside this great hall of manifested dreams.
Even after colliding with so much power, its speed remained and it sliced through the air to vanish into the distance.
Sakon identified the object that glowed with ether light.
“Close, but no. That was a sword.”
A voice reached her from the hall’s entrance. A white and vermilion figure stood in front of the metal door.
She wore a shrine maiden inner suit and a straight sword at her hip.
“Ten Spears #6, Hirano Nagayasu, here to join the Mitsunari Team.” She shook her long hair. “Looks like I arrived just in time to defeat our first opponent.”
As if answering Hirano, Kasuya’s strike slammed the Terrestrial Dragon into the wall.
The dragon roared and burst into light.
Kasuya looked to Hirano through the scattering ether light.
After exchanging a few words and lernen figurs with Mitsunari, she shook her black hair that looked nearly purple to turn toward Kasuya.
“Kasuya, was I intruding?”
“No, but what brings you here all of a sudden?”
“Well, I finished the Tsurugi Shrine’s initial setup, so I came here to help set up Aki as well. I’ll be moving back and forth between Aki and the Tsurugi Shrine for a while.”
“Does that mean…?”
“Yes.” Hirano smiled and nodded. “We have a date set for Honnouji.”
“Really, it’s been nonstop Genesis Project work for me lately. So much for getting an actual break over summer break, I guess.”
After seeing Kasuya gasp, Hirano looked elsewhere.
The ether light shards were spreading toward her like a cloud of cherry blossoms, but at the center of it…
…That’s the one who tried to protect Kasuya.
Hirano knew who she was and what she could do.
She was talented, but it mattered even more that she had tried to protect Kasuya just now. That was why Hirano had launched her sword to save her.
There was a new face among them, but…
“It feels like forever since I’ve spoken with any friends outside of work.”
She had last seen the others just before Novgorod, when she had given Fukushima and Kiyomasa their combat divine protections before they left for Kantou, but she worried she wasn’t conversing probably. She feared she stood out and now lived in a different world from the others. Also…
She had seen and spoken with Mitsunari a few times via divine transmission, but this was her first time actually meeting her.
Hirano had played a large role in her ether adjustments, and those for Ootani there in her arms.
It looked like Mitsunari was doing fine on her own and had even found people to work for her.
“I’m both happy and disappointed that you don’t need me anymore.”
“You do love looking after hopeless people, don’t you?”
“Personally, I would say it’s adorable people I like. But,” continued Hirano. “I would like to ask one thing. May I?”
“Testament. Go ahead.”
“Well, I heard Fukushima made a man out of Katagiri-kun by doing him from behind. What is that about?”
Mitsunari froze. After a moment, she looked up toward Hirano.
“Testament. If I had to explain it, I would say that Fukushima-sama gave Katagiri-sama a penetrative rite of passage from behind.”
“She wasn’t asking about the specific act! She was wondering what led to that situation!” said Kasuya.
That is true, but I’ll find figure it out eventually.
Hirano breathed a sigh of relief at receiving that reaction from her old friend.
“Hm, I’m not sure whether to be happy or disappointed.”
“You seem to be in a complicated situation here,” said Mitsunari. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” said Hirano with a dismissive wave.
She had come here because there were some things she wanted to ask about. She could indirectly discuss those things with Kasuya and Mitsunari. And if the truth was bad enough, they could accept it more easily if she was the one who asked about it.
…Plus, there’s no point in visiting the Shibata Team without Shibata-senpai there and there’s no point in me going to Sanada after I went there to silence that Celestial Dragon!
She felt the sword arrow she had fired into Sanada had been one of her better shots.
Those dragons weren’t supposed to talk about those ruins or the Ten Spears, but they had decided to do so anyway.
The Sanada Celestial Dragons must have “approved of” Musashi’s princess and her companions. A dragon’s decision superseded any promise they had made with humans. They had not underestimated or feared the humans. They had simply stayed true to their pride as dragons.
That was why their ether had been so beautiful as it ascended into the sky afterwards.
Even Hirano had bowed and wished that they would be reborn as another good dragon.
She had been holed up at the Tsurugi Shrine ever since, but…
“Did Katagiri-kun undergo some psychological change that helped him grow up?”
“Um, Hirano? You should really wait until you can talk with him yourself.”
“Yes, I suppose so, but that’s the impression I got from the glimpses I’ve seen on the divine chat and such. Oh, and I know jumping to conclusions about things is a bad habit of mine.”
“If he has grown up, that’s one less unreliable member of the Ten Spears. If only Koroku-chan wasn’t so levelheaded.”
“What’s so great about unreliable people?” asked Mitsunari. “They sound more like a liability to me.”
“Ho ho?” Hirano glared and pointed at Mitsunari. “How about this, Mitsunari? You are very functional and can do a great many things, can’t you?”
“Testament. I am designed to supervise many tasks both great and small, including combat command, flight control, and weapon management.”
“Then,” said Hirano. “Would you choose a partner who could do the exact same things?”
Mitsunari briefly looked up at the ceiling. She was probably thinking. And…
“A statistical outlook tells me human romance ignores all of that and focuses instead on relationship and psychological compatibility.”
“Then let’s say you have filtered your possibilities based on relationship and psychological compatibility and that leaves you with just two equal possibilities. And let’s say one of them has the same abilities as you and the other does not. Which one would you choose?”
She heard some comments of “Which would you choose?” and “Don’t ask me!” from Sakon and Onitakemaru behind her, but she kept her eyes on Mitsunari who was staring up at the ceiling. And eventually…
“Testament. I more or less understand what you are saying.” She looked Hirano in the eye. “Everyone would make a different selection there and the selection criteria you have prepared are based on your own unique standards. But I also know what I would choose as a program. Why should I even exist as a program if I need not use my functions?”
“If I had to choose between another me and Ootani-kun, I have determined I would choose Ootani-kun.”
“Based on those criteria, I would also ask that you select me since I could make up for any deficiencies you have in defense or offense.”
The data entity duo made an excellent decision.
They had no emotions and Hirano had no way of knowing if they would ever understand the meaning of what they were saying here, but it still made her smile.
“I would do the same. Whatever my feelings for that person might be, I have the homemaking and Shinto skills my mother taught me and plenty more as well. I think I would enjoy my life more with a partner who let me use those skills than one who did not. And that person is sure to have plenty of skills I do not.”
“Hirano…I feel like you’re asking for too much there,” said Kasuya.
“L-look, marriage is difficult enough when you work for a shrine, so let me dream, okay?”
That about summed it up.
Regardless, they had defeated that dragon, so…
“How about we wake up the Pope Chancellor and clear this mission?”
Then they could take a break. She liked the sound of taking it easy here on Aki, but then she noticed something.
The dragon she had shot had disappeared.
But something else remained: the floor below their feet, the walls around them, the air they breathed, and everything else.
“Why isn’t it all disappearing?”
Sakon heard a roar.
She also saw a few lights in the darkness down the hall.
But they were not meant for illumination.
Something was approaching from the unseen far end of the hall.
They were coming this way. And based on the number of ether lights, there were three of them.
Their movements sped up with each roar and the tremor in the floor gradually grew stronger.
“O-oh, no. Wait, wait, Mitsunari!” Hirano placed her hands on Mitsunari’s shoulders. “Um, no one told me there would be a second course! What is happening!?”
“Testament. It would take too long to explain all the details, but Lady Olimpia fell asleep shortly before Nördlingen. She has been sleeping for more than 10 days now. Which means…”
“If there’s a dragon for each day, are you saying there are ten of them!?”
The roars echoed through the hall and Sakon realized what this meant. Even if they did defeat all the dragons here now…
“We can’t wake the pope without also defeating an additional dragon for each day it takes us?”
“Someone should think of a countermeasure before you get started. What are you people doing?”
“Exactly! Exactly right, Onitakemaru-san! For once I’m in complete agreement!”
But Kasuya raised her right hand.
“I can maybe manage one more, but I’m getting hungry.”
“And I didn’t think to bring multiple sword arrows.”
That settled it. Sakon agreed they should prepare weapons before continuing.
“Mitsunari-sama? What should we do?”
“Testament. “Mitsunari raised her right hand. “We should withdraw. But the training camp continues. I never imagined that would mean having the Holy Roman Emperor command us to slay dragons in order to save the pope.”
Sakon hurried to take up a protective position behind the others.
A long-distance dragon cannon struck the wall next to the metal door.
They passed right by that tremor as she spoke down to the others.
“I know it’s meant to prepare us for fighting Musashi, but this is a really wild training camp.”
Unno let the night breeze wash over her.
She had climbed onto the roof of Sanada Academy. It was the highest place around, giving it the best view.
…I can even see the Azuchi and the Ariake from here.
Now that it was night, the massive structures reflected the moonlight and shined with their own lights, making them more visible than during the day.
She decided to watch the Azuchi leave from here.
But she was not alone on the rooftop.
“Are you worried too, Katou Kiyomasa?”
She spoke to Kiyomasa who wore a white track suit.
The girl was sitting on the east side of the rooftop and she looked back over her shoulder to answer.
“I wouldn’t say I’m worried. This is more like a duty. I need to tell my underclassmen what happened with the Azuchi.”
“Testament. You’re an excellent upperclassman. From what Mochizuki and the Terrestrial Dragons have told me, those sound like some unexpectedly passionate underclassmen. Training the underclassmen is one of my own tasks, but Sanada’s warriors are generally required to have some kind of productive side job. We don’t like the idea of someone whose livelihood is reliant on fighting, you see. …I always end up spoiling them.”
Nabeshima’s mechanical dragon was impressive enough that the Terrestrial Dragons were holding early morning meetings where they crossed their forelegs and wondered what to have her do with it next. The five Four Heavenly Kings of Ryuuzouji were also fascinating since they kept busy making prosthetics, support parts, and beds for the elderly Terrestrial Dragons. However…
“But keep in mind that Sanada is a little too idiosyncratic to be a good teacher. If you find anything they’ve learned in a weird way, make sure to correct it.”
“Testament. I will. But I must thank you for looking after us in so many ways.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Unno realized Kiyomasa was looking at her. “Shouldn’t you be watching the Azuchi?”
“Eh?” She didn’t seem to know what Unno meant, so she looked back to the Azuchi. “It hasn’t left yet. And I do think they will send me a message once they are leaving.”
“You think? I expected P.A. Oda to be more organized. I could have sworn they were when we were still there.”
“I used to think so too, but maybe they were always like this.”
Maybe they were.
…She has a point.
When Unno had been with P.A. Oda, she had mostly thought of herself as one of the people who supported a powerful nation. In other words, she had held very strong pro-P.A. Oda views. She had felt like all of its strong points had applied to her as well.
…I guess you call that love.
“To be oved is to be recognized,” was a common enough saying, but she felt like it was true. The problem was how a nation was a system and that system had cast her out in accordance with their rules instead of just betraying her.
What did you call a love that only went one way? A delusion, an illusion, a one-person performance. Oh, so it’s an artform.
But, thought Unno. If Kiyomasa was aware how unorganized P.A. Oda could be…
“You have a fairly detached view of P.A. Oda, don’t you?”
“Do I?” Kiyomasa tilted her head. “I feel like those in a position of authority experience firsthand how personnel arrangements and tasks don’t always work the way you want them to, so they must end up taking a more realistic view of things.”
“I would say you’re already in a position of authority yourself. I mean, that’s why we wanted to be the Seven Spears.”
“Do you have another reason to take a realistic view?”
“Well, that has to do with our origins…”
“What are your origins?”
I’m asking a lot of questions here, realized Unno, but…
“I cannot tell you that because it would cause certain problems.”
Kiyomasa declined to answer, so Unno nodded.
“Sorry, shouldn’t have pried.”
“Don’t let it bother you,” said Kiyomasa, but Unno thought she saw a small light behind the girl.
She thought it had to be coming from the Azuchi in the distance, but…
A circle and a horizontal line glowed red behind Kiyomasa.
Unno had heard the rumors about that.
“The Double Border Crest!?”
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