Volume 1, Chapter 21: Multiple Presences at the Fork in the Road
It is there
It is not there
It has a form
It is formless
Point Allocation (Yes-No)
Mitotsudaira sensed danger as she ran.
The battle – or the situation – was splitting into two different locations.
The fox was up ahead and the wolf was behind them.
“The Far Eastern proverb is ‘a tiger at the front gate, a wolf at the rear gate’, but it seems we have swapped the tiger for a fox.”
Vice President: “Our wolf is more associated with the Yellow Gate.”
Art-Ga: “I could release some doujinshis that associated her with the ‘rear gate’, if you know what I mean.”
Mitotsudaira wanted to put a stop to that conversation, but the situation was too dangerous for that. Because at this rate...
“Sensei is getting away!”
Uqui: “This is not good. How about we earn what points we can just by reaching the finishing line?”
10ZO: “That would mean a failing grade for Neshinbara-dono and anyone else knocked out of the fight!”
In that case, thought Mitotsudaira before she heard her king’s voice from behind.
“Nate, move out ahead,” he said. “It looks like Samurai Girl is dealing with Yoshi-foxy and I’m sure someone will deal with everything behind us. That leaves only you to go after Sensei right now.”
“B-but what about you and Horizon?”
“Asama-sama is with the middle group, so she can keep us safe.” Horizon nodded to her while grabbing her king by the collar. “Do not worry about us and go ahead.”
“Why do your assurances only make me more worried?”
She decided to check just in case.
Silver Wolf: “Are things going okay back there? Hassan can’t use his curry right now, so I’m the only one who can deal with my mother.”
Sticky King: “That duel showed just how crucial curry is to Musashi’s defense!”
Laborer: “Someone other than me will have to deal with it. But I guess that goes without saying.”
They were telling her to go. So...
“My king, Horizon. Try to get along, okay?”
Horizon nodded while still holding him by the collar.
“Not to worry, Mitotsudaira-sama.”
That worried her plenty, but it also seemed wrong to treat this situation as normal. However...
“Okay, my king.”
“Judge. Do everything you can.”
He had made his order, so she nodded.
The wolf created a forward burst of speed with Excalibur in her right hand.
Asama watched as Mitotsudaira moved out ahead.
...Hitting Sensei with an attack is not going to be easy.
But they were sharing this battlefield. Their individual results might seem small, but they were sure to accomplish something great together.
That applied to them all. For example, the silver wolf was not the only one who had gone out ahead.
Futayo had not lost sight of her target.
Oriotri was out ahead of her. She was about to arrive at the tall building that acted as a windbreak toward Musashino’s stern.
Once she crossed that building, she would be at the stern. Then she would run across the rope passageway to Okutama.
Futayo still had to travel along the roofs, so that would let Oriotri pull out ahead.
But she had to get past someone else to continue after their teacher. And not someone she had expected.
“Mogami Yoshiaki-dono! I am honored!”
“You should really be on your guard even as you flatter me.”
An attack arrived even as Yoshiaki spoke. She swung the large metal fan in her right hand.
...Here it comes!
It was a void.
An area of nothingness covered a diameter of several meters ahead of the fan’s swinging path.
Multiple such areas appeared. Futayo did not understand at first and assumed they were wind projectiles.
“Hold on,” said Masazumi from her shoulder. “Those are tearing into the roof.”
She was right. The roofs and eaves of the longhouses were torn away, allowing her to see inside.
Tonbokiri: “That is not good. Damage to the student longhouses is not so bad, but damage to ordinary homes would mean plenty of complaints directed at the Student Council.”
Asama: “Wouldn’t the students complain to?”
Gold Mar: “Or are they too afraid to complain? Y’know, cause of Masazumi’s reign of terror.”
Vice President: “My what!?”
“Ha ha ha. I think they are saying you are doing a good job.”
“Are you sure?” she asked gloomily, but Futayo knew it was best to keep a positive outlook in life. And anyway...
“Don’t get distracted,” said the fox.
Another void appeared. And...
“How about this?”
She was approaching. No, Futayo was running forward, so Yoshiaki had simply slowed down.
...But that still means she is approaching!
Futayo had to push her back because the others were behind her.
They were at risk if Yoshiaki was trying to target them. Not many of that group could fight at close range. Three-Punch Boy could not hit women and the ninja had recently started to use projectiles like boomerangs.
That meant Futayo had to hold her back.
“What did I say about getting distracted?”
The fox rushed in with a sighing relaxation.
She moved to Futayo’s right with what looked like a slight step.
Except she moved in a split-second. The high-speed movement easily shifted her to the next wide block over.
Yoshiaki was on her way to the others.
She had slipped past Futayo. But Futayo noticed something about this new arrangement.
Her opponent had her back turned behind her.
“Bind – Tonbo Spare!”
The roof broke and the fox jumped.
After slipping past her so easily, Yoshiaki had honestly thought this opponent would continue on ahead and let the rest of her class deal with her.
But as soon as her back was turned, the girl attacked.
Yoshiaki did not consider that unfair. This battle had no defined rules. It’s supposed to be a final exam or something like that, I think.
But that girl’s power was real. Yoshiaki had needed to jump aft to let the horizontal line of power pass below her feet. And then...
“That’s more like it.”
A wind blew in from behind, accurately targeting her blind spot.
Shinto acceleration spells were continuous, making 180 degree turns difficult. And this opponent had to be aiming for the moment she landed. So...
“How about this?”
Yoshiaki’s tails swung through the air as she danced. She used the swaying of her body for something.
She used a fox’s physical copy technique. And she made nine copies all at once.
Yoshiaki prepared for battle in midair.
She swung her fan behind her to send a void toward the approaching Musashi Vice Chancellor.
She had nine physical copies.
The enemy had just the one blade. She might lose one copy to that, but she would still have eight attacks left. That was too much to dodge and she doubted that Tonbo Spare had anything resembling rapid-fire. So...
“How will you escape this one?”
The answer was already evident as the enemy leaned forward to accelerate and thrust out the tip of her spear.
From Futayo’s shoulder, Masazumi had the perfect view of the enemy’s incoming attack.
As Yoshiaki fell through the air and prepared to land, she multiplied to nine, forming a wall of bodies.
But Futayo lightly twisted her body and thrust out her spear in response.
She held Tonbo Spare near the butt end as it extended to its maximum length.
The blade pierced her opponent, but not just one of her. It skewered three of them.
Then the void was released.
But Yoshiaki’s barrage was short three and Futayo used that as an opening.
Futayo stuck her foot out toward the gap created by the three she had diagonally skewered.
Several sign frames appeared at her knee and then her knee twisted around.
This seemed slow to Masazumi. The movement seemed to play out in slow motion even with so many acceleration spells activated.
That was an illusion.
While Futayo twirled, something like wind blew through on either side of her.
That was the void.
It felt like time had slowed just for them, but Masazumi soon realized what this was.
“The ideal movement!”
“Not quite,” said Futayo as she stopped facing forward.
The six remaining enemies had already landed, but...
“That is fine by me!”
Futayo ran forward.
Yoshiaki mentally gulped.
...I did not expect to be skewered like dango!
The girl had instantly calculated out where those three’s positions would align. Yoshiaki had not meant to leave an opening, but each of the copies were individuals. They each had their own positions to think about and they had been busy attacking, so they had left openings to the front and back or on the sides.
Their actions must have been too uniform. So...
“How will you handle this one!?”
After landing, Yoshiaki took a step back and sent out sextuple voids.
A moment later, she saw the Musashi Vice Chancellor throw her arms in the air as if cheering.
Without warning, she chucked the Musashi Vice President toward Yoshiaki.
...That is a new one!
Yoshiaki was oddly impressed by this.
Weapons came in many forms: swords, spears, bows, guns, and on and on. But...
...Time to add “a person” to that list!
She had seen people use a corpse as a shield to escape on the battlefield, but never before in her long life had she seen someone throw a living VIP at their opponent.
“That seems like a bad idea!”
...A bad idea, huh?
Yoshiaki’s comment sent Masazumi’s thoughts in a philosophical direction.
In one sense, I agreed it’s a bad idea. In another, this feels like par for the course in our class. Then again, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bad idea, but if this counts as participating in the battle, maybe I can get a higher score than just for reaching the finishing line.
Anyway, Futayo must have a plan. She’d better. Please tell me she does. Oh, who am I kidding? She probably expects me to save myself here. I guess this is it for me.
She spoke up for a reason. Futayo was running up after her.
And she swung her right hand.
She threw Tonbo Spare toward Masazumi.
Yoshiaki failed to instantly grasp Tonbo Spare’s path.
She had first worked out whether the thrown spear would hit Musashi’s Vice President.
It would not. But the enemy had made another move while she was checking that.
“Can she move more nimbly without the spear and VIP!?”
Musashi’s Vice Chancellor ran full speed toward one of Yoshiaki’s copies and performed a certain action.
She jumped over or circled around the launched void before it could expand, and...
She tackled the copy.
She slammed her shoulder into the fox with her shoulder blade and back behind the blow. She had essentially moved to the side of the copy after it had swung its arm to launch the void and then she had forcibly knocked it from the ground.
With a loud sound of impact more than a crash, the copy vanished.
...She just powered through that!
This girl had too freestyle a fighting style. But at the same time...
Yoshiaki provided her assessment while thinking back to the Siege of Odawara.
Kani Saizou was a good girl. She was earnest and honest and she had attacked with everything she had. She had also admitted to it when she lost.
That girl had clashed with this one at the Kantou Liberation.
Kani had lost in the end.
Does that mean, thought Yoshiaki, that Kani’s earnestness and honesty failed to reach the Musashi Vice Chancellor?
The Musashi Vice Chancellor must have been much like Kani once.
She would have been trained.
Yoshiaki could guess she had been taught her fighting style by Honda Tadakatsu and the automaton named Kazuno. That meant the Peerless in the East and an automaton capable of singlehandedly battling a god of war.
But they had only taught her methods.
Methods were easy. You taught people what they could do and the theories behind that and, even if they could not copy the movements exactly, they would learn to replicate them in their own way.
But you could not copy your memories, experience, and decision-making to a pupil. So you had to teach them the movements in some foundational patterns that would let them select the best option on a case-by-case basis.
The records said the Musashi Vice Chancellor had dueled Tachibana Muneshige during the Battle of Mikawa.
She had drawn on all the movement options she had learned through training and used them to their fullest to emerge victorious over him. Muneshige, on the other hand, had been born an ordinary citizen and he had been trained by Tachibana Gin who excelled at multirange combat, so the foundation of his combat was in breaking down those formal “kata”.
During that battle, the Musashi Vice Chancellor must have been much like Kani.
She would have fought by following the kata she had learned from her father. In fact, the records confirmed it.
But she had changed at some point.
She had grown so ill-mannered in her fighting. She still started from a foundation of decision-making and movements built up through training, but now she broke the rules she had mastered to move ever onward.
She must have made different breakthroughs at England, the Armada, Magdeburg, and Novgorod.
Had she made even more progress at Sanada by battling a Celestial Dragon who was immune to ordinary human methods?
“You are one possible result for all those growing children.”
The girl who had lost to this one – no, all of the children who had lost to her – would be working to catch up to her. So...
“I will play along.”
Suzu sensed two of the Yoshiakis disappear.
Was a tackle a specific technique, or a genre of them? Either way, Futayo blew away the two Yoshiakis in her path after throwing Masazumi as a distraction.
Yoshiaki was down to four copies.
And according to Tenzou...
“With physical copies, all of them are real! This is dangerous!”
But Futayo seemed to define the one closest to their middle group as her primary enemy. That was the one she had thrown Masazumi and then Tonbo Spare at.
...Will it hit her!?
Yoshiaki avoided the blow by deflecting it. And she deflected it out to the right instead of up into the air.
Then the four Yoshiakis moved simultaneously. They surrounded Futayo, raised their fans, and swung them.
Several voids were launched.
But just beforehand, Suzu heard a shouted warning. It came from Futayo.
Masazumi’s decision was a simple one.
While she flew through the air, she saw Futayo move out ahead of her and lift her knee.
...Oh, now I get it.
So Masazumi raised her right leg. She stuck out her shoe’s sole as if kicking it toward Futayo. And...
Futayo sent the bottom of her own foot toward Masazumi.
Masazumi’s guess and Futayo’s foot were both accurate.
They pushed off of each other’s right foot and Masazumi held Tsukinowa to her chest.
Thanks to Futayo’s excellent sense of balance, the force of the kick on the sole of her shoe passed straight up her spine. Or so it felt.
And Masazumi knew that Futayo’s jumps were just as powerful as Yoshitsune’s Hassou Tobi. So...
They flew apart from each other, one forward and one back.
Yoshiaki laughed deep in her gut.
The Musashi Vice Chancellor had thrown someone and then used them as midair footing to launch herself again. The Yoshiaki copy that had taken a step back in the lead was forced to catch the flying Vice President, preventing it from attacking with a void. At the same time, the Vice Chancellor crashed back-first into the copy approaching from behind.
It began to vanish.
But the Vice Chancellor was already moving by then. She sighed, and...
She grabbed the wrist of the disappearing copy and aimed the metal fan at another copy.
When the void was released, it scored a direct hit on the copy to the left, causing it to disappear.
Meanwhile, the disappearing one lost the last of its strength and vanished.
The Vice Chancellor used the force of her swinging left arm to turn toward the lead copy holding onto the Vice President.
Only that one and the one to its right remained.
The one on the right ran alongside them and the one in the lead took a step back without letting go of the Vice President.
The Vice Chancellor responded by controlling her orientation with the many sign frames spilling from all over her body. She turned her gaze toward the lead copy.
When she saw it was holding the Vice President, she gasped in surprise.
“Only cowards take hostages!!”
“You threw her at me!!”
Then Yoshiaki saw some light.
It came from her chest. A sign frame had appeared above the Vice President’s shoulder.
The anteater Mouse there bowed to her.
The corners of Yoshiaki’s mouth rose just as the sign frame exploded.
The lead Yoshiaki was blown away, leaving only the one on the right.
Futayo reviewed the situation.
The lead one was gone. Masazumi appeared as the smoke from the blast faded.
Masazumi was moving. She had fallen onto the roof and she was wiping away the smoke from the explosion spell behind her.
She had to wipe away some tears caused by the smoke, but she was fine. So...
Futayo moved in.
She curved a bit to the right to reach the final Yoshiaki there.
She had one chance at winning this.
...She will need to adjust for the change in vision after the copies’ destruction!
There had been several Yoshiakis, but now they were gathered into just the one again. Her vision, hearing, and other senses were being narrowed back down to just the one.
There would be a delay before she managed that. So...
“I can use that!”
Futayo had no weapon. Nor did she have Masazumi’s weight. She would have to attack with her shoulder.
Narumi was chasing after the others when she saw Yoshiaki’s decisions and the other movements that followed.
First, Yoshiaki swung her right hand. But she swung it backwards instead of at the Vice Chancellor rushing in at her.
She launched the void toward unoccupied space.
That seemed meaningless, but the gouging power would likely eat through the air. So while the space seemed empty, there was wind there to be devoured.
Yoshiaki was sucked in toward the absence of air. With the sound of a bursting vacuum, her track suit was torn, but she managed to take a large step back.
That put more space between her and the Vice Chancellor.
It was not much, but Narumi judged it was enough for Yoshiaki. Because...
...It gives her time to recover from the sensory confusion caused by the copies!
That meant the fox would be back to normal.
There was no more opening there.
She turned to face the Musashi Vice Chancellor who was defenseless now that her attack had been dodged.
And she swung her large fan as a counterattack while the Musashi Vice Chancellor prepared to take another step.
But just as she made the attack with her left arm...
She was blown away.
The Asama Shrine Representative had sniped her in the back from the middle group.
Suzu sensed the perfect hit.
She had noticed Futayo and Masazumi’s combo play make short work of Yoshiaki’s copies and now she knew why.
“It was to hide...this.”
Throwing Masazumi had been to draw Yoshiaki’s attention in that direction.
And Futayo had done something when Yoshiaki had adjusted herself at the end there.
After her final attack was dodged, she had prepared for her next move but not actually made it.
By staying still, she had kept Yoshiaki from moving out of Asama’s sights.
And focusing on Futayo had required the fox to turn her back on the middle group.
That was Futayo’s reason for continuing to fight even after losing her weapon. She had made that tackle to prove she could still fight.
...It was all...so she could distract her from...us over here.
Asama only had to make use of that opportunity. And...
She had done so.
But once Suzu thought about it...
“W-wait, isn’t that...overdoing it?”
Yoshiaki was nowhere to be seen at the site of the direct hit. Only a wisp of ether light smoke remained.
Worshiper: “Was that even an anti-personnel attack?”
Scarred: “Master Tenzou? Does a physical copy count as personnel?”
10ZO: “Well, the last of the physical copies is considered to be the original person again.”
Me: “Then let’s test it out on Tenzou! Asama! Lend me your bow!”
Asama: “I-I can’t do that. You need special permission to use it!”
Art-Ga: “You would’ve given it to him if it didn’t?”
Futayo took a breath on the roof.
She relaxed and then released her Soaring Wings spell.
...I can’t catch up to Sensei from here.
But she had done her duty. They had achieved a great feat as a group here.
“Mogami Yoshiaki has been-”
The word “defeated” never arrived.
Masazumi raised both hands while walking toward Futayo on the roof. Then she placed her hands on Futayo’s shoulders.
Something about this felt wrong. The feeling was a lot like a chill.
Then she heard Masazumi’s voice, but not from the girl standing in front of her.
It came from a hole created by one of the voids.
“I’m down here!”
She did indeed see Masazumi down in the broken building.
...What does this mean?
“Too bad,” said the Masazumi smiling with her hands on Futayo’s shoulders. She spoke with Yoshiaki’s voice.
There was no need to question it because a glowing mist scattered and that Masazumi disappeared.
Track suit Yoshiaki stood there instead.
“That was indeed a close one.” She placed her hands below Futayo’s arms now. “The anteater on the Vice President’s shoulder used an explosion spell. It could have been an impact spell, a repulsion spell, or anything really, so why an explosion? To hide the scene behind me with the blast.”
In other words...
“I knew you had to be preparing something behind me.”
I screwed that one up, thought Masazumi with a hand on her forehead in a dusty storeroom.
Her mistake had been the selection of spell. She had tried to be clever, but that had felt unnatural.
Which may have been why she had been dropped into this hole created by a void when the blast hit.
Yoshiaki had used the empty space to cushion against the blast. Still, Masazumi had thought Yoshiaki must have taken some damage and that her own absence would not change much really. However...
“I didn’t expect her to transform into me!”
Futayo had set up a checkmate against the Yoshiaki on the right, but that had not been the final one. It was only a decoy.
And now, up on the roof, Yoshiaki spoke with a fan over her mouth.
“The thing about foxes is, we will feign injury to lure the hunter away from our nest. You fell for exactly the same trick.”
Masazumi wanted to complain, but it was a solid tactic. Yoshiaki had taken Masazumi’s place to ensure her own safety, almost like she was using camouflage magic.
“Ko ko,” she laughed. “You seem to fight well against an honest opponent who fights by physical means, but you appear to have difficulty with illusions.”
That was true.
At Mikawa, the Armada, and most every battle since, they had generally fought powerful nations and fighters who used their strength and skill to stand in their way. If anything...
...The duels in England were the closest thing to this.
“You understand, don’t you?” said Yoshiaki. “This is my specialty. Musashi has a long way to go if you would fall so easily for a fox’s illusions.”
She lifted up Futayo and then hugged her tight.
“Caught you! Finally, one of the big ones!!”
Art-Ga: “Nice. Public humiliation is exactly the kind of scenario I’m looking for.”
Asama: “W-well, this was a Chancellor against a Vice Chancellor!”
Uqui: “We all work together and this is how it ends?”
Bell: “U-um...are you ready...t-to work together...again?”
Horizey: “Why, Suzu-sama? I did not take you for the bloodthirsty type.”
Still Got It: “Oh, come now. Forget about me and I really will hit you with this ship.”
Almost Everyone: “Ahhhhhh!!”
Mitotsudaira got Oriotri in her sights just before the rope pathway.
She was running across the top of the tall building at Musashino’s stern and her quarry was about to cross between the ships.
...At this pace, I should catch up in Okutama’s nature district!
She had the greater speed. She was out of breath by now, but...
“I can still carry out my king’s command!”
Okay, she thought while preparing to run down the vertical wall.
A shadow was cast from behind her.
It was still morning and they were traveling east to Kantou, so the bow was pointed east. Any shadows would be cast aft, but...
...What’s tall enough to reach the top of this building!?
She knew who to blame without needing to look back.
The Reine des Garous smiled when her daughter contacted her for once.
Still Got It: “My, my, Nate! What has you missing your mother so much in the middle of class? Is there a problem you need help with!? I can answer anything you might need to know about reproduction, home medicine, and stamens and pistils! So don’t be shy and raise your hand! C’mon! Do it!”
Silver Wolf: “Mother! What are you doing right now?”
The Reine des Garous thought as she ran. She placed her right index finger on her lips and tilted her head.
...Oh, that stall ahead on the left smells nice.
She paid with a signe cadre and snatched up some chicken skewers from the underground food stall, all while continuing to run. She held the skewers between her fingers to partake of their chickeny goodness.
Still Got It: “Nate, I am busy consuming a drink at the moment.”
Silver Wolf: You mean chicken, don’t you!? Chicken skewers!? If you got that one level down on Musashino, it must have been from Hattori Hen-zo, run by an Iga ninja! You didn’t destroy it, did you!?”
Still Got It: “My, my, Nate. I think I cleaned them out for the day.”
Silver Wolf: “Mother! First you destroy the Musashi and now you’re depriving the rest of us of chicken!? Do you think you can get away these atrocities!?”
“Hm,” thought the Reine des Garous. And...
Still Got It: “Nate? But I’m not a Musashi resident.”
Silver Wolf: “Have you ever heard taking responsibility for your actions!? Also- uh, oh.”
Still Got It: “Uh, oh?”
Just as she tilted her head, the transport ship held in her raised left arm shook like a ringing bell.
The ship had crashed into something up above.
Unno spat out her water while watching from atop Sanada Academy.
Terrestrial Dragon Kakei Torahide glared over at her while resting his elbow on the edge of the roof to watch the same thing.
“Gross. Clean that up.”
“Yeah, but...did you see that!?”
She pointed over at Musashi’s 1st central ship, Musashino, where the vertical transport ship had hit the bridge-shaped bridge.
Not just hit, crashed into.
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