Volume 1, Chapter 2: Path and Connection
I cannot see
My own face
Point Allocation (In the Water)
Mitotsudaira stood up quickly enough to knock her chair back.
Her king was there.
They had only been apart for about an hour, but it felt like so long since she had detected his scent. As a wolf, the familiar and comforting scent was overpowering.
Besides, she was sitting in his seat instead of her own. Because earlier he had asked her to wait for him. She had used that as an excuse to approach his desk and seat while excited moans filled her heart.
Asama must have understood all that because, when she saw the wolf wiggling around in that seat, she too had…
Wise Sister: “Let’s see, she too had…how should I put this? Heh heh.”
Silver Wolf: “Stop making up nonsense about excited moans and inserting it into someone else’s flashback!”
Asama: “At least don’t drag me into it too!”
Mar-Ga: “Oh, I get it. If we see an opening, we can butt into these flashbacks, can we?”
Vice President: “Keep in mind that this could end up being used as an official record.”
Wise Sister: “Heh heh. Fair enough. But, Mitotsudaira, you were sitting there, weren’t you?”
Silver Wolf: “A-a knight does not sit in her king’s seat without permission!”
Gold Mar: “But since the Chancellor showed up at the window, he knew you were there, didn’t he?”
Silver Wolf: “Um…”
Hori-ko: “It would seem we are gradually cornering Mitotsudaira-sama here.”
Silver Wolf: “S-since when is this a public trial!?”
“If you’re feeling hot, I can take your jacket for you.” Asama placed her own winter jacket over her shoulders. “Now, why did the teacher call for you this time, Toori-kun?”
“Oh, you know.” He handed her his jacket. “Just some stuff about my family. Aaaand maybe because they discovered the shortcut I made before.”
“Judge,” he replied. “I made a passageway through the attic directly connecting the boy’s bathroom to the central open-air observatory. During lunch, I would go there to read on my sign frame or write a song.”
“Oh, is that where you would sometimes go when we went to the restroom?” asked Asama.
“Sounds like it,” said Mitotsudaira. “But, my king, I cannot protect you if you use that.”
“Oh, yeah, don’t worry about that. I made sure it passes above the girl’s bathroom because the plan was for you to use it too.”
“Makes sense,” said Mitotsudaira and Asama until they froze in place a few seconds later.
“W-wait, Toori-kun! It passes above the girl’s bathroom!? You haven’t used that yet, have you!? Like when you went to the bathroom at the same time as us!? That part of the passageway is incomplete, right!?”
He thought for a few seconds before responding in a dazed voice.
“Dang. I wish I’d thought of that.”
“She was not trying to give you ideas, my king!!”
Asama could not keep the heat from her face, but she made sure to scold him.
“Listen, Toori-kun. I am used to getting you out of the guard station when you cause trouble at school, but if it is about us, I would prefer if you told us in advance.”
“Oh, okay. Also…”
“Wait, there’s more?” asked Mitotsudaira.
“Judge. Our teacher also said someone important would be visiting soon and I’m not to cause any trouble then.”
“The big principal.”
Toori gave a toothy grin and pointed his thumb aft.
Musashino’s surface city and the bridge-shaped bridge were visible there, but he was pointing at something beyond all of that – the stern of Okutama.
…Musashi Ariadust Academy.
Musashi was independent Far Eastern territory and, in this student-led world, the center of Far Eastern power was of course an academy. The principal was the leader of the teachers who ran the academy and he lacked the rights of a student, but he still had a lot of power related to the student’s human resources and votes.
As heir to the Asama Shrine in charge of Musashi’s Shinto side, Asama had met that principal. But…
She noticed Mitotsudaira’s eyes were dropping toward the floor.
She looked troubled about something.
“Look, Toori-kun. Your scent is troubling Mito.”
“I-it is not, Asama!”
She knew that.
Anyone with an important position within Musashi would have met the academy principal. That included the #1 knight of Musashi’s Knight League. But…
…Mito has been neglecting a lot of that stuff.
She should have been some help here, but she was not. That must have been getting her down.
Asama had tried to dodge that issue for Mitotsudaira’s sake, but she noticed he was looking toward the faculty room.
“How about we get going? We can meet back up at the entrance cause I’ve got to grab my shoes. You come too, Asama. Oh, Nate, about my things…”
“I-I will carry them for you!”
“No, I like to leave them in the classroom, so don’t worry about it.”
Mitotsudaira froze in place.
“Just get on down to the entrance in a hurry, okay?” he said to her. “I’ll stop by Asama’s place later, but I need to buy some ingredients for dinner first. Will you join me?”
Asama smiled when she saw the knight obediently nod.
Vice President: “You people have always been weird, haven’t you?”
Mar-Ga: “I bet I know what happened later. Once Asama started managing the Chancellor’s sign frames, she must’ve found information on that hidden passageway and started wiggling around wondering what to do about it.”
Asama: “No, no, no, no, no. That…that definitely didn’t happen.”
Flat Vassal: “Did you check, though?”
Asama: “Toori-kun wouldn’t lie about something like that. Right, Horizon?”
Hori-ko: “Heh. Toori-sama lying? He doesn’t have the guts.”
Smoking Girl: “What’s with the sudden change of nuance there?”
Flat Vassal: “Does she rule through fear- uh, I mean, uh, that must be a game they play together.”
Silver Wolf: “This conversation is taking a turn for the worse, people.”
Gold Mar: “Then to get back on topic…is it possible he was eavesdropping on us in real time?”
Hori-ko: “Sound! Yes, it always starts with a sound. For example, whenever I let out a burst of butt-odor in a crowded place, I make sure to say ‘excuse me!’ …Excuse me!”
Wise Sister: “Already!? Are you demonstrating already, Horizon!? The standards here are lowering fast! So Adele! You do it too! Here, I’ll rub your stomach for you!”
Flat Vassal: “Someone! Help! My stomach is being violated! Ahahahahaha!”
Gold Mar: “Who’s going to come running after hearing that?”
Asama: “Mito! Mito! Get back to the flashback while Adele is distracting her!”
The path from Musashino to Okutama’s Asama Shrine was a straight shot along one of the rope passageways between ships.
Mitotsudaira lived on Murayama, so she was used to taking that path on her way to the shrine.
When she passed through the gates connecting blocks and passed by the guard station there, he would always wave at the guards and Asama would bow.
Her king and Asama gathered attention just by walking through the city. Asama was heir to the Asama Shrine and she managed the infrastructure and divine protections, so when she walked by…
“Oh, Asama-san. We gave some vegetables to your shrine, so leave some as an offering to your mother!”
“Hey, Asama Shrine Representative, my postal route is changing, so prepare the necessary purifications and divine protections if you don’t mind!”
“Oh, Asama-sama. Umeshu season will be here again soon.”
Some she had not seen in a while and some she saw all the time. She would bow to them and she would respond with whatever was appropriate.
…She’s so responsible.
And when Mitotsudaira’s king walked by…
“Ahhhhh! I-it’s Toori! You’re in middle school, so stay away from our elementary school! Stay away!”
“D-don’t come back to our store! Not after you wrapped that eel around your crotch and started singing about how we were going to eat it afterwards!”
“Hey, Toori-kun! Is there any way you can get me the latest doujinshi from Black Hair & Wings!? I need to know what happens next!”
Some he had not seen in a while and some he saw all the time. They would speak up cautiously or run away and he would make weird poses or pursue them with bowed legs.
…Freedom is a wonderful thing.
…Maybe this side of my king saved me too.
Asama: “Stop! You’re trying to whitewash the past, Mito! I remember you looking highly disturbed when you saw him doing that! You need to face reality, Mito!”
Hori-ko: “I see Toori-sama was a nuisance back then as well.”
Gold Mar: “Hm, I wonder how Horizon would have reacted if she had been there.”
Mar-Ga: “Heh. That’s my cue. Let’s make this a ‘what if’ story, shall we? Ready, go.”
The path from Musashino to Okutama’s Asama Shrine was a straight shot along one of the rope passageways between ships.
Mitotsudaira lived on Murayama, so she was used to taking that path on her way to the shrine.
Someone was approaching her from head on.
It was Horizon. She nodded, looked to the idiot, and…
“Oh? Good day to you, dung beetle. Where are you headed?”
Mar-Ga: “W-wait, Mitotsudaira! I’m drawing an illustration for this, so don’t stop!”
Silver Wolf: “Um, Naruze? Not even Horizon would call someone a dung beetle the moment she met them!”
Asama: “Um, Horizon? You shouldn’t have to think so hard on whether or not you’ve done that. Here, drink this tea and relax. Okay?”
Anyway, once they arrived on Okutama, the Asama Shrine was right there. The shrine was built in a nature district that doubled as a park and a Shinto forest.
It was currently evening. The sky was mostly a spring-like yellow, which was entirely visible since the stealth barrier was down.
One only had to look up to see the sky rotating around them. And…
“We are descending, aren’t we?” said Mitotsudaira.
“Yes, we will land in the former Imagawa territory of Totomi tonight,” explained Asama.
The former Imagawa territory continued on toward Mikawa and Suruga in the west, but…
“P.A. Oda manages this land now, so this year we should travel north through the Tian Shan corridor after this.”
“Eh?” he said. “Wait. We aren’t continuing on to Mikawa? We’re going around north this year?”
“Yes. After destroying the Imagawa clan, P.A. Oda is finally speaking with the Testament Union about what to do with the former Imagawa territory and they have reached an agreement there.”
Vice President: “Oh, this I know about. Matsudaira was connected with P.A. Oda and their Mikawa was neutral land, so the Testament Union was trying to give the neighboring Imagawa territory to Matsudaira to expand that neutral land. But P.A. Oda wanted a seaport to the south, so they opposed that plan and entered negotiations.”
Silver Wolf: “Judge. In the end, the seaport issue was solved by creating a more widespread alliance between the Association of Indian States and P.A. Oda. That prevented P.A. Oda from actively taking over Imagawa territory, so it was simply left as their ‘managed territory’. But that meant the Testament Union had successfully avoided conflict with P.A. Oda and left Imagawa territory as untouchable. Musashi thought they would frown on us travelling through Imagawa territory after that, so we chose a route taking us to our trading partners in the Tian Shan region instead.”
Vice President: “Oh, yeah. That is what happened. There was a time there when things to the east across Mikawa Bay were looking pretty dangerous.”
Tonbokiri: “For a time, Tres Portugal and Tres España ships were stationed on the east side of Mikawa Bay staring down the P.A. Oda ships. I was certain Mikawa would finally be caught up in a war, but my father laughed and said we would not be that lucky.”
Tachibana Wife: “I remember that. If the territory east of Mikawa became neutral land, Tres España, Tres Portugal, Holland, England, and the other Testament Union nations who could travel east would need to guard that region. There was a possibility that we would have been stationed there for that purpose.”
Gin drew some water below the sky of a spring evening.
She was at a well. Since they had a field of crops behind their home, the location clearly had plenty of water. The bucket found water quickly and she could see her face reflected in the dark water’s surface when she peered inside.
Of course, if she faced straight down, her face would cast a shadow down and obscure her own reflection.
The reflection in the rippling water shut its eyes while she pulled up the now-full bucket with practiced hand.
Then a cadena firma appeared. It was her father. Unsurprisingly, it was text rather than video or audio. He was supposed to be training the newcomers at the high school right now, she wondered what this was about.
She really wished he would name her as his heir sooner rather than later.
…Do I have to wait until I am in high school for that?
“What is it, father?”
“Tres España seems to have come to a decision about its plans.”
“What plans are those?” she asked while continuing to pull up the bucket.
“Tres España will focus all of its energy on traveling through the Gate and working in the New World.”
He made it sound like none of his business, but that may have been something he had learned over the years. It gave the impression that he had no intention of playing a part in that, but he had more to say.
“The central nations like Takeda, Azai, and Kazan have welcomed the Musashi now that they are headed north from the Mikawa region. Doing that has left the Testament Union indebted to those P.A. Oda allies, so…”
“So the area east of Mikawa will be left alone? I am not very familiar with the east, but will Takeda be moving south?”
“That is more than we know at this time.”
“Testament. What will Tres España do about this?”
“The Chancellor’s Officers and Student Council should be ordered to the New World. With one of our Logismoi Oplo functioning as a spare, that may also help locate a user for it. So…”
“Are you telling me to get used to New World food in advance?”
She knew what he was going to say next.
He would say “that’s the spirit” and then…
…“But you probably should not push yourself too hard.”
Was that his way of showing concern? Did he not really care? Or was he too embarrassed to say more? She did not know.
However, someone must have been converting the text into Tres Españan for their job because the usual line came out as…
“Don’t be pushing yourself too hard. Okey dokey?”
That made her father sound more playful than he was. She wanted to believe that was not on purpose. It certainly seemed excessive.
She realized she had stopped drawing in the bucket, so she got moving again.
She took a breath.
She placed the bucket on the edge of the well and glanced back toward the house.
From here, she could only see the rear of the house, but there was a young man collapsed in the garden out front.
The bucketful of water was meant to wake him up.
She had sparred with him because her father told her to.
“Father even said he wants to make him his heir.”
Was she not good enough for that?
After all, that guy could not even swing a sword properly. She only needed a single wooden sword to deal with him. He had learned to put up a bit more of a fight lately, but he still always ended up sprawled out on the ground after training the was complete.
She was not happy about this and she was not about to go the extra mile and tend to his injuries. Once she splashed water on him to wake him up, she would see him to the main gate. Then she only had to lock the gate after he left.
That might sound cold, but he would come back the following day if that was all she did.
The water in the bucket created a reflection much closer than in the well.
For a brief moment, her face there looked red.
That had to be the light of the sunset, so she looked up and quickly washed off her face.
She did so a second and third time before looking back down at the bucket water which was now rippling from the drops of water falling into it.
Her face was no longer so bright. She could see it clearly. But then she grabbed the bucket.
She did not want to splash that guy with the same water used to wash her face.
She scattered the water across the ground and tossed the bucket into the well once more.
She felt heat in her face when she turned toward the sun setting in the west. She did not like that, so she looked to the colors of night to the east.
The night that came after the sunset was an ominous thing for Tres España since they were guaranteed to decline in the history recreation. A great nation was in motion beyond the sky there, but…
“If I go to the New World, the east may forever be none of my concern.”
Tachibana Wife: “I think this was around the time that happened.”
Tachibana Wife: “Why are you all staring at me?”
Gold Mar: “Now that’s what I call love.”
Mar-Ga: “True love, even. This definitely deserves that title.”
Tachibana Wife: “Must you interpret everything in that light!?”
Asama: “I mean, you really stand out compared to how carefree the rest of us were back then.”
Asama looked to the eastern sky that was rotating above the Musashi.
She had previously opened a sign frame to adjust the Musashi’s spell field for the docking sequence. The Musashi’s spell field was made of multiple spells, including ones to combat mysterious phenomena and ones to keep out any malicious data. It could be kept at full power when in the air since there was nothing else it could interfere with, but it had to be weakened while docking.
That was closely related to the steering and buffering spells used by the automatons, so it was difficult to automate. Buffering and power usage reports were currently arriving as graphs from Musashino’s bridge, so Asama matched the range and power of the spell field to those graphs.
“Making adjustments again, Asama?”
“Um, yes. It’s the usual work.”
“The usual? Did you do this last year?”
“Not exactly.” Asama waved her hands side to side with a bitter smile on her lips. “Last year, my dad had only just given me this job and I hadn’t figured out how to automate any of it, so when we docked, I would head home and use the Asama Shrine databank as a basis for my work. But I figured out the general upper limits after the peak time at the start of the year, so I’ve started automating some of it, which allows Hanami to handle it.”
“Not really. I’m automating it and skipping all the work specifically because it isn’t anything incredible.”
There was in fact a lot she could still simplify. And…
“With the route change this year, last year’s data isn’t all that useful, making this something of a pain.”
“But that gives the Musashi some peace of mind, doesn’t it?”
“Yes. This year, I can focus more on Toori-kun and Kimi’s spells and rank promotions. I can also handle your spells and divine transmissions, so don’t worry,” said Asama to Mitotsudaira. “Especially you, Mito, since you haven’t settled on a primary god to worship. You’re still using the broadly-defined ‘Asama Shrine’ settings that are generally only for a trial period.”
“Y-yes, judge. But that hasn’t been a problem for me.”
“Nate’s from a knight family, so she might get in trouble if she goes full Shinto. But if you feel like taking that next step, I say go for it.”
His first line and second one seemed contradictory, but that was one way he showed he cared.
And she agreed that it might be a nice thing to do if she ever felt like it.
“Well, please come to me if you think of anything. I will help you get it all set up.”
“You’re sounding more and more like a real representative of the Asama Shrine.”
“Oh? How so?”
The knight and king exchanged a glance and the latter spoke up first.
“The drinking, the shooting, and the high-pressure sales tactics?”
“I-I do not use high-pressure sales tactics on my friends.”
“Um, you aren’t going to deny the drinking and shooting?” asked Mitotsudaira.
Those things are necessary. Yes. But…
…This really is strange.
She was walking and adjusting the spell field while chatting with those two, but she probably would have been silently working all on her own if she did not have any friends like them.
She wanted to get better at this work so she would have more time to spend with the others and more time to help them as well. Yes, for example…
“Toori-kun, a guard station just sent me a divine mail asking if they should come here to ‘deal with the idiot’. Any idea why they sent that to me?”
“Huh, that’s weird. All I did today was put on an evil god cultist mask and chase some kids around at the elementary school.”
“That is more than enough!” shouted Mitotsudaira.
Asama could handle something as simple entering school grounds without permission, so she decided to do so. The punishment was…
“Toori-kun, would you rather a divine punishment or a lecture for entering school grounds without permission and causing a scene?”
“Asama! Asama! Isn’t a lecture letting him off too easy!?”
“So what’s the divine punishment for that?”
She searched for it.
“Um…since it was an elementary school, you will have to speak in baby talk for the next 3 months, you will have to recite the times tables 30 times each day for the same period, and a school lunch made of ether will be shoved up your butt.”
“My king, I think you should choose the lecture.”
“Hmm, then I can lecture you at length while making some spell adjustments later on. Oh, and I will sign you up for some public service.”
“Part-time work as a shrine maiden, huh?”
“My king, will you be crossdressing again?”
In elementary school, they had dressed him up as a shrine maiden as a joke and a lot of people had been tricked, but that had apparently taught him that he could pull that kind of thing off. In middle school, he had trained in some disguise divine protections and spells, so even Asama did not recognize him at first sometimes.
Anyway, if he was working at the shrine, she knew he would not be causing trouble elsewhere. That should ensure some peace for the city, she thought while completing the spell field adjustments.
…Okay, now I have to input the new course.
They were headed north. That was an unlucky direction, but it also brought them near Mt. Fuji, the home base of the Asama Shrine. That holy ground corresponded to Sagarmatha and even she had only been there a few times. With this new route, they might start visiting it every year. So…
“What kind of spell field adjustments were you thinking of making for the trip from Totomi to Mikawa?” asked Mitotsudaira.
“Well, I was thinking of making the field a little bit stronger. Partially because this is our first time taking the route, but also because our god will provide the extra power for it while so close to Fuji Asama.”
“I want to try out a number of things right now. I’m thinking of temporarily strengthening the inner spell field instead of just the hull one. I will of course be limiting its power to ensure it does not harm any of the crew.”
“Asama, what happens if you make the field more powerful?”
“Hm.” She placed a hand on her chin. “Simply put, it’s like lighting more bug repellant incense.”
“Oh.” Mitotsudaira nodded in understanding. “So it traps and crushes any mysterious phenomena that try to appear.”
“But make it too powerful and it would affect nonhumans like you, Mito, so it can be a tricky balancing act. You want enough power to purify just the mysterious phenomena without causing anyone else any harm.”
“But if you do that, won’t it force some things to make an appearance all of a sudden?” he asked.
“Hm. We would need something to show up to prove it works.” She placed her hand on the confirm button for the adjustments. “But it should be fine. There has to be a separate cause for those things to appear, but this area is peaceful these days. Just think of this as a test for powering up the spell field.”
She pressed the button.
A subtle change came over the air. It was so subtle only she, he, and Mitotsudaira would have noticed it, since they knew something had just happened.
A tremor ran through Mitotsudaira, shaking her plentiful hair.
“Is that what I just felt?”
“Yes, the Musashi is making a natural descent, so this is no extra burden on the power system. The change felt natural, didn’t it? That means it was safe.”
A moment later, an alarm pierced the air.
It took the form of a series of short blasts that indicated danger. Hearing the wide-range alarm continue on and on, Asama froze in place and looked at the other two in front of her.
“W-wait, why are you giving me that knowing look!? This wasn’t my fault! Probably, anyway!”
Adele was grabbing an early dinner before heading to her part-time job.
Her home was in Murayama’s underground area. It was part of a student longhouse that gave a discount for students, especially middle school ones. She had lost her parents, so she had yet again picked up some bread crusts at the Tama Blue Thunder where Toori’s mother worked.
“Add in my home-grown vegetables and the egg ration and that’s a feast.”
She threw the vegetables into the pot-au-feu left on the stove as additional ingredients.
She placed the new bread crusts in a colander and set them aside to dry. She dumped out the ones that had already been drying, sliced them up to equal widths, and cooked them with butter in a frying pan. Once they gained some scorch marks, she dropped the egg inside with yolk unbroken and added some salt and pepper. Then she put the lid on for about 20 seconds.
After removing it from the stove, she had a still-runny boiled egg with butter croutons. When dropping the egg into the croutons, it was best to gather them together in the middle before creating an opening in the very center. That let the heat reach the egg better.
Washing plates was a pain, so she did not use them. She placed a pot stand and the frying pan on her small room’s table. For the pot-au-feu, she scooped up some from the very bottom and poured it into a cup.
“There we go.”
It was not too heavy and not too light for a meal just before work. It seemed just right to her. She was Catholic, so she made sure to cross herself and say grace.
“Lord, thank you for the blessings that were my parents and that are my classmates…even if they don’t seem like much of a blessing.”
Part of her felt like she should only have mentioned her parents.
But then she heard an alarm.
…That alarm signals a threat outside the ship, doesn’t it?
She opened a sign frame and found a live video from the Chancellor’s Officers. She hoped to be a vassal, so she was registered as part of Musashi’s reserve forces.
Based on the low-resolution footage, this was a scene to port. A line of lights was visible there.
“A ghost fleet?”
There were ghost ships there.
The Musashi used its giant form to purify the ones that grew active every few years in different places. Adele knew that because a similar purification had previously occurred in the mountains and in a specific airspace. But…
“There’s way too many of them!” said a voice on the video. “And they’re already-”
That had to be the 1st Special Duty Officer’s unit. The voice was accompanied by the image zooming in to show…
The ghost fleet was firing a tremendous number of what looked like glowing arrows. Musashi’s spell field was of course weakening and eliminating those, but…
“We’ve detected some ghost ships analogous to light warships! They’re firing arrows now, but they will likely switch to artillery soon! All available personnel gather in Murayama’s diplomatic port or contact your commander for instructions!”
Hearing that, Adele looked to the food in front of her. She could not help but glare for a moment.
“I guess it’s time to run.”
She heard the type of alarm change as she crammed the food into her mouth as quickly as possible.
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