Volume 1, Chapter 7: Heat and Water
When you wake up, do it slow
When you doze, do it clearly
When you get up, do it decisively
When you breakfast, do it refreshed
Point Allocation (The Natural Way of Things)
Kimi loved the morning after the Musashi docked.
Most residents of that enormous aerial ship had been born and raised in the sky, but when the Musashi docked and fixed itself to the ground…
“I have less of a spring in my step when I dance, but my feet strike the deck more solidly.”
And that was not all. Her own weight felt different simply getting out of bed in the morning. The ship’s gravitational divine protection had been retuned to avoid interference with the surface.
That meant more weight was pulling down on her body, but she enjoyed how it solidified her center of gravity.
By positioning that center correctly, her dance steps had more weight.
When the Musashi was in flight, her dance steps were light and spry, but for these few days, they gained a more solid sound to them.
“Heh heh. We’ll be here for three days this time. I need to record a few sounds to stock up on those different ‘flavors’. Right, foolish brother?”
Still in bed, she called out to the curtain that functioned as the wall between their rooms, but there was no response.
She could only hear the din of construction from Okutama and the rumbling of transport ships flying above. She also heard the occasional carriage passing by in front of their house, but there was no sound of life from within the house.
However, she could smell food. Her brother had not come to wake her but she could smell heated soup. What did that mean?
“Oh, right. He was going to leave something already prepared for me.”
She remembered her brother had planned to go somewhere.
She got up and stretched in the light shining in through the fixed window.
“Right, right.” She opened a sign frame and a divine mail automatically opened. It was of course from her brother. “Judge. He was going to Asama’s place since she never dealt with his spells yesterday.”
Mitotsudaira awoke from a deep sleep.
She was in the Asama Shrine. Instead of the main building, she was in the clinic on the opposite side.
This room was normally only used for the Asama Shrine’s medical services, primarily delivering babies, but she had borrowed it last night.
It looked vaguely familiar and she finally remembered why.
…We had a sleepover here during elementary school, didn’t we?
Her king, who had not yet been her king back then, had caused nothing but trouble and she mostly thought of it as a “strange memory”.
How many years had it been since she was here?
Well, she would stop by the Asama Shrine periodically to get her spells and divine protections adjusted, but it had been a while since she was here for non-business reasons.
She had felt like a bother the whole time here, but Asama had still brought her a late-night meal on the shrine’s open veranda.
She had brought enough for the both of them. The meal of primarily fish and chicken dishes had seemed a bit light since she was so used to Western food, but the great variety of flavors had made it seem like more.
They had exchanged some information and enjoyed some celebratory sake, but before leaving her for the night, Asama had left her with a change of clothes and…
“We don’t have a bath here, so you’ll have to use the purifying spring out back to wash your hair and body. However, the water is still cold this time of year, so you can use this purifying charm instead if you like. But if you do want to use the spring, um, use this swimsuit because it has a divine protection for regulating your body temperature.”
She had held up an Asama Shrine shrine maiden swimsuit from among the change of clothes. It was on a paper hanger, and…
…That is a fairly bold design.
A note in the usage instructions said it apparently functioned as a supporter too. Since it would be worn underneath when working near or in the water, it was likely designed to not interfere with the inner suit.
There was not one for middle school or younger, so it may have been meant for adults who needed that kind of combat-readiness.
Mitotsudaira had Loup-Garou blood running in her veins.
Her species’ grooming divine protections meant she did not actually have to wash herself with water. Soaking in the bath would soothe her weariness and it functioned as a status symbol, but not so with cold water.
However, if her normal self would not have done it…
“It could make for a nice change of pace.”
She opened the door.
It was morning.
Totomi’s Musashi landport was made so the Musashi would face west since it would head west to Mikawa after departing.
Her room was on the port side of the Asama Shrine and the door was on the right side, meaning it faced north.
Opening the door showed the bluish-white sky of morning. She walked to the spring midway between this building and the main building.
The Asama Shrine’s spring was of course artificial.
The Musashi’s water was recycled through purification and a portion of that was diverted for the shrine’s purification purposes. The spring was divided into a large women’s side and a small men’s side, but the women’s side was being shared at the moment.
“So, Asama, do I really have to soak up to the shoulders in here?”
“Like I say every single time, Toori-kun, I can’t stabilize your spells otherwise. Besides, we’re docked on the surface today and it’s spring, so the water is relatively warm.”
Asama was wearing a swimsuit as she reached a hand into the gently flowing spring to check on the temperature.
“Oh, brr. …See, Toori-kun? It’s fine.”
“Y-you just said brr!”
“Just get to it. I want to hurry this up since I have to make enough breakfast for Mito too.”
“Okay, okay,” said Toori who was also wearing a swimsuit as he entered up to his knees. And then, “All the way to the shoulders? You’re sure?”
“Yes. Very sure.”
Asama stepped in, soaking up to her knees, and she clapped her hands once.
Several sign frames automatically appeared around the two of them.
…I could probably do this with my eyes closed by now.
Asama viewed the sign frames floating around them.
The shrine supervisor and a worshiper had entered the same purification field and they were linked via the water.
She confirmed that she had been given authority over the settings for Toori’s spells and divine protections.
“See, Toori-kun? It’s not as bad as it was during the winter, so hurry on in.”
“Wait, wait, wait. Let me get used to it first.”
It was true the water was still pretty cold this time of year. She would use the spring for her morning purifications, but she still had to psych herself up before dumping it over her head.
…I’m usually naked, so the swimsuit makes it seem a little easier today.
She really could not blame Toori since he was not used to it.
“Okay, you can sit on the edge and soak your legs until you’re ready. I’ll make some minor settings adjustments, but there is one thing I never managed to tell you yesterday.”
“Is it about Nate?”
He’s perceptive, she thought, but that was hardly new.
She sat on the wooden flooring at the edge of the spring and patted the floor next to her.
“Take a seat.”
He did so.
He seemed oddly restless for just sitting down, but maybe she was imagining that. Regardless, he continued the conversation.
“You said she wanted to ask me for a massage, right? Did something happen?”
“I think it’s more that something is happening…or maybe she wants something to happen.”
“So what got into her all of a sudden? Did sis tell her something?”
“No, Kimi is innocent for once.”
Asama explained what Mitotsudaira had told her. And…
“Now, Mito is Shinto too, making her a part of our Kotodama culture. So when you massage her chest, make sure to recite the traditional Shinto prayer of ‘grow, grow, growwww!’ ”
“You sure that’s a Shinto prayer?”
“O-of course it is. I mean, any requests made to your god are prayers, right?”
“Is that so?” he said while scratching his head. Meanwhile, she had finished her preparations, so she had Hanami come out and opened a new sign frame.
“Now, Toori-kun. You really do need to soak up to your shoulders now.”
“Eh? C-can’t I have a little longer to get used to it?”
He pulled his hips back, hugged his own body, and wiggled around.
“Can’t I wait till it warms up more? Y’know, like when the sun’s a little higher in the sky.”
“Unfortunately, we have school today, so we need to do this early. So hop to it.”
She stood up and placed her hands on his shoulders. She made sure to keep a smile.
“Okay, let’s start with up to your hips.”
Mitotsudaira was changing in the spring’s dressing room.
She slipped off the kosode she had worn as pajamas and she put on the swimsuit. The swimsuit was attached using the hard point parts, so…
…You can tighten the straps to your liking at the neck and hips.
The hard point parts settings could be used to alter the tightness of the inner suit on the body and the tightness of the various belts you wore.
She would probably start changing equipment a lot more once she entered high school and began combat training, so she would probably need to get help from someone who knew how to set up automatic settings and specialized programs.
“Asama, I guess.”
That would probably be safest, she decided as she spotted something.
Someone else’s clothing was already in one of the baskets on the dressing room’s shelf.
It was Asama’s kosode.
It was neatly folded, but the chest portion near the top looked stretched. Or was she only imagining that?
It was early morning, so Asama was probably performing her customary purification as a shrine maiden.
But knowing Asama was in there put her at ease.
Nothing in particular had happened between the two of them. But during Mitotsudaira’s wild period, Asama had found reasons to keep her distance while still remaining close enough to be there for her.
It probably helped that she was so close to Mitotsudaira’s king. She and Kimi were probably the only people she could really call her friends. So…
“Maybe I should let myself relax around her more.”
That sounds like such an excuse, she thought, but she decided her bitter smile was a sign of being relaxed.
When she attached the swimsuit straps to the hard point part latches, they were automatically tightened.
The fit of the swimsuit grew tighter around her chest, sides, butt, and crotch.
The cloth felt cold, but it soon felt no different from her skin.
She left the tightness setting as is and lightly twisted her body. The tightness flexibly responded to her movement. She let it calculate that bit of extra room into its settings.
…I need to set it fairly tight or it will slip out of place.
The swimsuit had a number of divine protections in place and the fitting process took such things into account, but if she set the straps too, there would be no chance of it slipping. She was honestly amazed nothing ever slipped out of place for Asama or Kimi, but they probably had a specialized program for that.
…Which I don’t need!
She felt an irritated sort of acceptance, but then she sensed something.
It was a scent. A familiar and almost nostalgic one.
What is his scent doing here? she wondered as she turned to look.
A Far Eastern middle school boy’s uniform was in the clothes basket next to Asama’s.
If his scent was here, then he would be too.
Her king and Asama were naked(?) together in the spring.
Mitotsudaira could see two sets of clothing.
For Asama, that was just the kosode, but her king’s included everything, including his underwear.
As for the people themselves…
Mitotsudaira turned toward the entrance to the spring.
She heard voices. When she focused her ears, she could make out a wet splashing and Asama’s voice.
“C’mon, Toori-kun, in here.”
What were they doing? Asama’s voice continued as if to answer that question.
“Hurry up, Toori-kun. Go in. You need to go in.”
“No, wait, it’s too soon. Aren’t you supposed to let yourself get wet first!?”
What are they doing? she wondered as their words gave form to her imagination.
“It’s okay, so come on. Just relax and it will be over soon enough, okay?”
“Hee hee.” Asama sounded somewhat weary. “See, it was fine. And you’re already in up to the belly button. But please go in the rest of the way for me, okay?”
“W-wait, wait, wait! It’s too much, it’s too much!”
“Ah, stop struggling. I’m only guiding you in because you refused to do it on your own, you know? Now, stay in there for at least a count of 100, okay?”
“Now, tell me once you’re used to being in there, so I can get to work. I think you’ll like what I have prepared for you today.”
“Wh-what are you two doing!?”
Mitotsudaira threw open the spring door and leaped out onto the wooden flooring.
There she saw her king submerged up to his shoulders in the spring and Asama behind him with several sign frames open.
This was not even close to what she had been imagining. Well, the two of them being in the spring together fit her imagination, but…
The two looked back her way and her king raised a hand from the spring
“Oh, Nate. You’re up?”
“Um, yes. Good morning, my king. But, um…”
She had to ask.
“What are you doing?”
“Eh? I have some useful new adjustments for his spells and divine protections and applying them requires a few purifications in the spring, but he refused to soak up to his shoulders.” Asama waved her hands dismissively and raised her eyebrows with her mouth spread horizontally. “So I kind of forced him into the water, which may have been a little selfish.”
Mitotsudaira’s shoulders slumped and she raised her hands while turning away.
She knew it was wrong to hit things, but still…
She punched the pillar at the entrance.
Wise Sister: “Hm, or should I have had you sniff my foolish brother’s clothes?”
Silver Wolf: “Kimi! Kimi! Stop making up things that didn’t happen!”
Asama: “But I’m pretty sure you did punch the wall back then.”
Mar-Ga: “I really wish you had let that shift right into asking him for help on the chest massage thing.”
Gold Mar: “Ga-chan, Ga-chan! You have a nosebleed!”
“I see. Not only are you in charge of my king and Kimi’s divine protections and spells, but they provide research support, so they need the same level of preparations as you do.”
Asama confirmed that while Mitotsudaira ducked her head below the spring water to purify herself.
Asama noticed the water bead up on Mitotsudaira’s skin and drip like a mini-waterfall from her hair.
…The cold doesn’t slow her down at all. Is that her knight resolve or her puppy-dog side?
She had finished the settings and tuning for Toori, so he was lying on the wooden flooring of the washing area. She had not had him do much, but…
“Asama had her way with me…against my will…”
“I’m busy this morning, so please don’t cause much trouble. We’re third years now, so I am prepared to be stricter with you.”
“Eh?” said Mitotsudaira.
“Did I say something weird, Mito?”
“Well, um.” The wolf would not look her in the eye. “It sounded like you were being pretty gentle with him earlier, but you call that ‘stricter’?”
“Did I say something weird, Asama?”
“Well, um.” Asama hung her head a little. “I really did think I was being strict.”
Mitotsudaira smiled, tensed her shoulders, and looked like she really wanted to say something about that.
But instead she sighed and said something else.
“W-well, as long as it’s effective, I guess. Right!?”
“Um, I guess so.”
But there was one thing that had been on her mind recently.
…Why won’t Mito sit down?
Both of them were standing up in the spring. That was fine since her purification was complete, but it looked kind of uncomfortable or like she could not relax. So…
“Um, Mito, you can sit down over there.”
Asama gestured toward the washing area where he was collapsed on the floor and Mitotsudaira responded with a bashful smile.
“I cannot sit next to my king without his permission.”
This one really is her puppy-dog side, thought Asama.
But she had work to do.
“Shall I check on your divine protections too, Mito?”
“What does that entail? I know my contract is with you, but I would prefer you not do anything weird.”
“I just thought I could temporarily give you a general-use anti-ghost spell as a divine protection. Given what happened yesterday, it seems like a good idea until we leave Totomi. Oh, but the bill will be sent to Musashi, so you don’t have to worry about that. We must guarantee the safety of anyone involved in that incident after all. Also,” she continued, “can you promise not to talk about what happened in that battle unless I am present, you are on the shrine’s grounds, or you are with the guards?”
“Hm? Are you afraid of the information leaking out?”
“Well, I’m not entirely sure if it will happen, but there is a good chance talking about it could summon them back.”
Mitotsudaira pulled her hands back to her chest and shrank down a bit.
She was nervous. She knew how to fight given her past, but she must have had her own thoughts concerning that battle the night before.
Asama did her best not to frighten the girl while continuing on.
“Last night, that…ninja? Well, the denser ghost attacked you, right? They were supposed to be pursuing something else, but they decided to attack you instead for some reason. We still don’t know for sure, but there is a good chance that you created a spiritual connection between you and the ghost by attacking and letting their enemy escape.”
“Are you suggesting that ninja ghost could be lurking somewhere around me?”
“I can’t say for sure, but it is possible.”
“And you can’t purify it away?”
“Purification works in this world – the world of the living. Ghosts are closer to the ley lines than us, so while purification does affect them if they appear here, it does nothing if they remain in the ley lines. There is one way of doing it.” Asama pointed at her feet. “If you stay at the Asama Shrine for a few days for a long-term procedure, I could probably ask our god to work in her world to break the unwanted connection you’ve created. That would be a lot of work, though.”
“What would happen to the ghost then?”
“Freed from the connection, they would probably appear elsewhere the next chance they had.”
“I can’t let that happen.”
“I had a feeling you would say that,” said Asama.
Mitotsudaira had a plan in mind now, so she removed her hands from her chest and lightly slapped her skin.
“I might have a ghost haunting me, but I bet I can manage with help from your divine protections. So set those up when you are ready.”
“I am ready now. For now, I will strengthen your offensive and defensive ones, but I will also give you one that warns you when that ghost appears nearby. Assume that all of this will be altered or removed when we leave Totomi and approach Asama Okumiya.”
“Eh? Isn’t Asama Okumiya that shrine on the mountain?”
He had sat up from the floor, so he was probably preparing to leave now that his divine protection adjustments were complete.
“Yes, our Okumiya Shrine is at the summit of Mt. Fuji. This here is the Asama Shrine’s main shrine, but Okumiya is on Mt. Fuji like it always has been. It has a closer connection to the ley lines, so it might be best to go there if you did want to sever the spiritual connection. Also,” she said. “Asama Okumiya and the other Asama Shrines in the area have a fair number of worshipers from Matsudaira, Oda, Takeda, Imagawa, and other nations in the area. That is the source of our power, but it also serves to support those nations.”
“So once we depart from here, we can solve most all of this by going to Asama Okumiya?” asked Mitotsudaira.
“Most likely…is how it’s looking. So while that mystery ghost fleet from last night was a lot to deal with, the end is in sight, so you don’t have to worry too much.”
“We haven’t been on the ground in a while. If you have some time, how about heading down for a bit?”
Hori-ko: “So did you head down to have some fun?”
Mar-Ga: “The course change was such a huge deal for us and them that there just wasn’t time.”
Gold Mar: “They did make some adjustments and plans to speed things up, but three days just wasn’t enough time.”
Scarred: “Why was it so much trouble?”
Silver Wolf: “Judge. Totomi’s market was built over a wide area so the Musashi could dock, but there was only so much space for the transport ships and such to land. That meant the more powerful merchants got to send their transport ships in first to make their deals.”
Marube-ya: “And in the most predictable move ever, the more powerful ones intentionally stalled in their deals so the lesser merchants barely got to do anything at all.”
Musashino: “If I may interject, why do humans love complaining about delays so much when you are the ones constantly delaying everyone else? Over.”
Asama: “It makes us feel better I guess? Okay, I don’t really know. Sorry.”
Flat Vassal: “But you and the Treasurer were only trainee merchants at the time, right? How did you deal with that?”
Marube-ya: “Hm? Shiro-kun and I were put pretty much at the tail end of the list, so we went around to all the Musashi’s ramen places to try them out. Our last stop was in Ming, remember? That had led to a lot of new places opening up and we were checking to see which ones would likely survive. If they showed promise, we could back them and enter into a partnership.”
Mar-Ga: “Wouldn’t you get fat that way?”
Marube-ya: “There are, um, ways of avoiding that.”
Righteousness: “Noodles from the butt again?”
Marube-ya: “Can we please never mention that!? Ever again!?”
Silver Wolf: “Um, anyway, Mary, everyone on the Musashi and on the ground were in a hurry to get the trading done with, so the only tourist flights were scheduled for the final day.”
Scarred: “You never saw that in England since you would stay there for a week or two, but I guess it changes depending on the region. I have so much to learn.”
Flat Vassal: “I’m pretty sure that was the most normal response any of us has made this entire conversation.”
They could not head down on the first day, so even after docking, the Musashi’s transport ship docking areas were full of life.
Mitotsudaira remembered eating breakfast with her king and Asama in Asama’s room that morning.
She was not a big rice eater, but the rice Asama had cooked filled her empty stomach nicely. The miso pork and fried egg served with the rice had a strong flavor and a gentle, mature flavor respectively. She thought the fish ball soup was going to smell really fishy, but…
A very small amount of chopped citrus peel had been mixed in.
As a Loup-Garou, she had trouble with powerful citrus smells, but this was subtle enough to only act as an accent. It reminded her of how her father would often cook meat in a citrus sauce back home.
“Hm? Mito, was the fish ball soup too strong for you?”
“No, it reminded me of the past, that’s all.”
It had a nice palate cleansing flavor. She took a mint candy as a dessert and walked partway home with her king.
Asama had lent her a stole when she left the Asama Shrine. She had lost her right sleeve the night before and the left sleeve was damaged as well.
She had removed both the sleeves, making it a sleeveless outfit, but it was still too early in the year for that.
Walking alongside her king with her shoulders covered made her feel defenseless.
…I must not let my guard down. My old senses are returning to an extent.
Their walk eventually took them to the point where their paths diverged. He stuck with her a little longer, taking a longer route to school, but finally…
“Okay, see you at school.”
They parted and kept walking. They would see each other at school soon enough, but…
He had apparently been waiting for her to leave the Asama Shrine.
Mitotsudaira felt doubly bad about that as she walked home.
Once because she had made her king go to the trouble and twice because she had been happy to learn about it.
He would not have known last night when she would leave, which was why Asama had spoken to him and convinced him leave without her.
He was currently headed to school while she had to stop by her home to pick up some things.
She looked up in the sky and walked to Murayama until she received a divine mail from Asama.
It was about last night. She explained in detail about the circumstances of her king waiting for her.
“Thinking back, I feel like I was butting into your business there. Sorry about that. He asked when your questioning would end and it was already late, so I suggested he wait at my place instead of at the gate between ships, but he thought it would look cooler if it felt like you just so happened to bump into each other outside.”
“Why does he care so much about things like that?”
“I know, right? And when I suggested he ask you himself, he said, ‘I would look like a real stuck-up sort of king if I demanded she hurry it up because I’m waiting for her, don’t you think?’ ”
Asama did such a spot-on impression of his voice Mitotsudaira nearly laughed out loud.
…Did he accompany me partway home to make up for that?
That would be just like him.
She would have been delighted if she had seen her king waiting for her last night, but a knight could not worry her king or put him through all that extra trouble. So…
“It was probably best that you let me know he tried waiting for me without actually letting him do it. You did the right thing, Asama.”
“I’m glad to hear that. But, um, for future reference, what would you have preferred as a knight?”
“Good question,” she replied. Of course, she had no idea if something like this would ever happen again. “I wish he had just told me himself that he was waiting. That would not make him ‘stuck up’. A knight is supposed to respond to her king’s summons. And even if he summons you in a stuck-up sort of way…”
“When I have just completed a job for him, his summons are a sign that he is going to reward me. …Not that I accomplished much of anything last night.”
“D-don’t even think about summoning that ghost again to do better this time, okay?”
“Not even I am that crazy,” she said with a bitter smile.
I am such a hypocrite, she also realized.
She said she did not want her king to go to any extra trouble for her, but that described so much of what she was letting him do today.
She needed to be stronger.
She needed to reach a level where she could protect him herself and come running whenever he needed her.
Calling herself his first knight was meaningless otherwise.
…I need to do this right.
The wolf made a silent vow as she looked up into the morning sky where more deliveries were flying around than normal.
Mitotsudaira remembered a time later in that day as well.
She was called to the faculty room for questioning afterschool, but someone approached him before she left for that.
It was Suzu.
She tangled her fingers together in the air and spoke to him.
“We have an…opening this evening…so do you…want to go?”
She started to wonder what this was about, but what she had learned that morning let her erase the question from her mind.
Her king had his own life to live too.
She left for the faculty room so as not to get in his way.
Gold Mar: “Mito-tsan’s really getting the hang of this. She’s even segueing between memories properly.”
Wise Sister: “Heh heh. She’s just full of herself! Full of her wolfy self! She’s feeling such a powerful self-centered high it’s seeping from her skin! Yes, just get a whiff of this! Sniiiiiff! Ahh, what is this sweet aroma!? Lick. Why, it’s sweet yakiniku sauce! With apples and honey!?”
Silver Wolf: “L-lies! I always get the medium spicy sauce! And apples and honey are a curry thing!”
Hori-ko: “Mitotsudaira-sama, I hate to interrupt your food-based identity crisis, but please try to calm down.”
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