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  The Truth about Yamato  

Once, another nation shared the continent with the Freyjagard Empire, one that differed in many ways.

That country was called Yamato.

The people of Yamato were a modest sort. Despite their military prowess, they valued honorable poverty and found more beauty in rustic simplicity than in overt shows of power and wealth.

Curiously, Yamato bore a striking resemblance to a historical version of the High School Prodigies’ homeland, Japan.

The fact that Freyjagard and the country next to it had such radically different cultures was the fruit of Yamato’s long-standing national policy of isolationism. Due to its insular ways, Yamato fostered a completely different value system and set of customs from its Goliath of a neighbor.

Three years ago, however, that humble, peaceful nation met an abrupt end.

After the militaristic Lindworm forcefully deposed Freyjagard’s previous emperor, he turned his sights to Yamato. With the help of a treacherous Yamato princess named Mayoi, the imperial forces successfully invaded Yamato and killed its emperor, Gekkou.

Presently, the country exists as an imperial dominion. Yamato remains in name only.

…Or so it would seem to the outsider.

In truth, there was one who still carried its torch—Emperor Gekkou’s eldest daughter and rightful heir, Kaguya.

After fleeing Freyjagardian forces with her loyal retainer, she waited for a chance to reclaim her nation from the betrayer Mayoi. That opportunity came when the Seven Luminaries defeated Gustav the Fastidious Duke and founded the Republic of Elm, and she seized it. She appeared before the Seven Luminaries and implored them to save Yamato, turning the High School Prodigies’ motto of “equality for all” against them. She asserted that if they truly believed what they espoused, then it was their duty to pull the Yamato people from beneath the thumb of the empire.

Her request created several problems.

The Prodigies had been about to hold the Republic of Elm’s very first democratic election so that they might relinquish power to the people of this world. The last thing they wanted to do was antagonize Freyjagard.

On the other hand, though, the fact that they had founded their nation on the principle of equality meant that they couldn’t reject Kaguya’s request outright. Parity was their whole justification for seceding from the Freyjagard Empire in the first place. If they ignored Kaguya’s petition, other nations would surely denounce them for paying lip service to the idea of equality only when it suited their fancy. It would call the young Republic of Elm’s legitimacy into question.

Thus, the Prodigies suddenly found themselves between a rock and a hard place.

Fortunately, the high schoolers from Earth masquerading as the Seven Luminaries were led by a young man hailed as a skilled politician, Tsukasa Mikogami, and he knew exactly how to proceed.

Tsukasa understood that protecting their creed was worth setting their relationship with Freyjagard back a few steps.

No entity, nation or otherwise, had the right to infringe on people’s basic dignity. As a democracy, the Republic of Elm’s long-term survival hinged on the ability to raise that and the other principles of equality from mere local beliefs to universally held morals shared by all of humanity.

Attaining true peace demanded tribulation, and the High School Prodigies couldn’t afford to shy away from such conflicts.

Tsukasa was well aware of this as he decided what stance his interim government would take. Having heard Kaguya’s plea, he intended to demand that the Freyjagard Empire correct what injustices existed, if any.

Then he got to work.

The first order of business was determining the veracity of Kaguya’s allegations.

To do so, he took Lyrule, Ringo Oohoshi, and Aoi Ichijou with him and headed for Yamato. However, what he found there wholly blindsided him. When the High School Prodigies saw the Yamato dominion’s condition, they couldn’t believe their eyes.

The horrors and utter state of crisis Kaguya had described were nowhere to be seen.

On the contrary, the people of Yamato were lively. If anything, their quality of life was higher than that of the residents of the empire proper, and their relationship with their government was as positive as could be. Although dominion lord Mayoi had aided Freyjagard’s troops during the war and had facilitated the invasion, none of her subjects had a single bad thing to say about her. Whenever they spoke of her governance, their voices rang with gratitude.

In contrast, the rebellion Kaguya was leading to save Yamato had failed to earn the support of the very people it was trying to rescue. In their eyes, the Resistance was little more than a nuisance.

All in all, the conditions on the ground stood in stark contrast to the picture Yamato Kaguya had painted.

It didn’t add up.

Perhaps Kaguya had lied to the good people of Elm in an attempt to manipulate them. Or maybe…there was something more subtle at work.

Regardless, it was clear that Tsukasa’s initial inspection wouldn’t give him and the others the answers they were looking for. With questions still burning in their minds, they followed imperial administrator Jade von Saint-Germain and dominion lord Mayoi, the latter of whom had ridden out to join them on horseback, to the dominion’s old imperial capital—Azuchi.

When the Elm ambassadors arrived at Azuchi Castle, the first hospitality proffered was a warm bath. Their dominion government hosts had judged that dinner would taste better after cleaning away the sand and sweat from their journey, and Tsukasa and the others gratefully accepted their offer.

A group of maids washed their clothes while they bathed, and after Lyrule dried the outfits with magic, the Elm delegation was shown into a room with sliding doors and tatami-mat flooring.

That was where they would be sharing a meal with Yamato dominion lord Mayoi and dominion administrator Jade.

Jade was the one who set the dinner up, and he was the one who decided that their smaller head count meant that it would be more convenient to eat in the cozier two-hundred-square-foot room rather than in the comparatively ostentatious banquet hall.

Before long, byuma maids entered with trays full of Yamato delicacies from both land and sea.

There were abalone skewers sliced just thin enough to have a satisfying bite to them, taro corm cut into hefty chunks and stewed, and mackerel and vegetable namasu pickled in rice vinegar, with pickled eggplant on the side. And no Yamato meal could be complete without its famous miso soup.

“We’ve prepared some refined sake from Mogami for you,” one of the maids said. “And we also have tea, so if anyone prefers not to drink, please don’t hesitate to let us know.”

As Ringo sat before the small trays, she whispered, “These flavors…bring back…memories…”

Tsukasa, who was sitting beside her, nodded. “They do indeed. Everything about this place, from the buildings and the clothes to the cuisine, reminds me of Japan.”

“I concur!” Aoi added heartily. “These soy sauce–based side dishes make the meal, that they do!”

The fragrant smell of the soy sauce on the abalone, the aromatic steam rising from the miso, and the grains of white rice gleaming like ivory pearls all reminded the Prodigies of their homeland and filled them with joy.

“Ah! No, little potato friend, come back!”

Lyrule, however, had never eaten Yamato or Japanese food before and was fighting a losing battle against her chopsticks.

A piece of taro tumbled from her pair and rolled across the tatami floor.

“Oh, how rude of me. I’m terribly sorry!” she apologized, face red with embarrassment.

However, Lyrule’s seatmates Jade and Mayoi reacted not with mockery but with merriment.

“Don’t you worry, Lycchi,” Jade encouraged her. “Using sticks to gobble down your grub takes some mad getting used to.”

“Totes,” Mayoi added. “And the help’ll clean it all up, so it’s no problemo.”

“‘Course, my crazy finger skills let me use these things like a regular pro.”

“Psh, as if. My boo was dropping potatoes all over the place until, like, five minutes ago.”

“Hey, Mayo-Mayo, why you gotta put me on blast like that? If that’s the way it’s gonna be, two can play at that game. I mean, peep this. The two of us went to this imperial shindig the other day, right? Well, while we’re there, she grabs her finger bowl and takes a big ol’ swig! I wish you coulda seen it.”

“Ahhh! Stop, stop! Time out!”


Mayoi’s cheeks flushed, and she balled up her fists and began hitting Jade’s shoulder.

Watching the lovers’ exchange brought a smile to Lyrule’s face.

“I’m sorry, Administrator Jade,” Tsukasa said, “but could we trouble you to get a set of Freyjagard-style utensils for her?”

Jade replied to the request by giving him a quick “You betcha,” then turned to one of the servants.

“Yo, hook my girl Lycchi up with a fork and a spoon. On the double, if you could.”

“I-I’m sorry to be such a bother…,” Lyrule apologized.

“No biggie. I mean, we’re in the empire, so what’s wrong with using a spoon, amirite?” Jade replied.

“But now that I think about it, you angels are, like, blowing my mind over here. You’re all so good with ’em  ,” Mayoi remarked.

“For real, though. Are you guys just better with your hands than us normies, or what?”

“The divine realm we hail from has chopsticks as well, so we’ve had practice, that’s all,” Tsukasa responded. “However, that only goes for the three of us. I appreciate you making accommodations for Lyrule.”

“Hey, man, if the ladies ain’t vibing, it means the host screwed up. And speaking of vibing, I’ve got all sorts of dope activities up my sleeve. And it looks like bellies are starting to get full, so, hey, let’s get into it…with the JK Game! Can I get a ‘hell yeah’?”

Mayoi cheered excitedly. “Whoo-hoo!”

However, Tsukasa and the others only tilted their heads in confusion.

Whatever sort of game this was, they’d never heard of it before.

“Administrator Jade, could I ask you to describe this ‘JK Game’?”

“So this is a little number we thought up to get things hopping with the ladies. The way it works is, we spin this sake bottle in a circle, and whoever it points to is the loser. And when you lose, you have to profess your love to someone else in the room.”

“Wh—?!” Ringo cried.

“We have to do what?!” Lyrule joined in.

As the two young women bolted upright, Jade quickly elaborated.

“No, no, no, it’s not like that. You’re not hitting on ’em for real. The rule is, you always end with, ‘BTW, I was just kidding.’”

Tsukasa nodded. “…Ah, hence the ‘JK.’ I see.”

“Yeah, you get it. It’s a hoot when someone tries to stunt but ends up bombing. The girls get mad cute when they’re embarrassed, and the rules are really simple, so you don’t have a bunch of stuff to remember before you can get groovy. And plus…it’s good practice for when you wanna do it for real.”

Jade shot Lyrule and Ringo a quick wink.

Seeing that made Ringo remember something that occurred at the Rashomon Gate, the entrance to Yamato. When they first met Jade, it hadn’t taken him long to realize that she and Lyrule had feelings for Tsukasa. At the time, he had promised to come up with a way for the two of them to get closer to the young man.

I can’t believe he was actually serious about that…

Ringo was at a loss for what to do.

“Just kidding” or not, there was no way she could profess her love to someone, especially not in front of an audience.

Ringo’s work in the Elm workshop forced her to interact with her imperial exchange student Cranberry and the other employees frequently. Thus, her social skills had improved to the point of being able to hold conversations with people other than just Tsukasa. However, the task set before her was too much for a girl who had lived in low orbit to get away from people until recently.

And Ringo wasn’t the only one with misgivings about this activity.

Lyrule wasn’t as bad about it as Ringo, but she was a bit of a late bloomer herself. Jade’s suggestion had frozen a forced smile onto her face.

Fortunately, Tsukasa was well aware of his compatriots’ personalities—

“What do you all think? As for me, I’d be perfectly happy just enjoying a regular meal.”

—and he took it upon himself to voice the rejection that they were having difficulty getting out themselves.

Making it sound like turning Jade down was his idea instead of theirs was his way of offering them a helping hand.

Ringo felt a surge of gratitude well up inside her, and she readily agreed.

“I—I…agree… It’s too…embarrassing…”

“That’s no good!” Mayoi interjected.

“ !”

“C’mon, Ringo! If you let a little game get you flustered, how’re you gonna stop yourself from clamming up when it’s time to ask your crush out for realsies? That’s no way to be! Being with the guy you’ve got the hots for is what every girl dreams of!  ”

Mayoi’s tone may have been flippant, but the look on her face was as serious as could be. Ringo was no expert in reading people, but even she could tell how earnest the dominion lord was. Like Jade, Mayoi had probably figured out how Ringo and Lyrule felt as well. That was the inspiration behind her heartfelt advice.

The first person to succumb to Mayoi’s compassion—

“I’m in. It sounds like it could be fun.”

—was Lyrule.

Her fair cheeks were still ever-so-faintly scarlet, but her expression was free of its earlier hesitation and discomfort. She confidently smiled as she accepted Jade’s invitation. Lyrule was here as the Republic of Elm’s ambassador.

The JK Game might not have been the first activity she’d have chosen, but she knew how discourteous it would be to reject her host’s hospitality. Furthermore, winning over Mayoi and Jade would go a long way toward building a solid relationship between Elm and Yamato.

It was time for Lyrule to grow up. Spurred on by her newfound sense of responsibility, she chose to set her bashfulness aside.

Seeing that helped encourage Ringo, too. She gave it her all to speak up so that Jade and the others could hear her.

“O-okay… I’ll give it a try…”

Jade clapped his hands together, obviously pleased.

“Looks like the ladies gave us the go-ahead! Gather round, boys and girls, let’s get this ball rollin’ before anyone gets cold feet! Who’s with me?”

“Hooray!  ”

Mayoi placed a tray in the center of the room and spun the sake bottle on it.

The tray’s lacquered surface offered little in the way of friction, but the bottle eventually began to slow.

Eventually, it came to a stop in front of…

“All righty! And the honors go to…Ringo!”

Ahhhhhhh! Ringo screamed internally.

The last time she had tried to get forward with Tsukasa, Lyrule had all but walked in on them. Why did bad things always have to happen to her on the rare occasions she was able to work up her courage?

“All right, girl, show us what you’ve got! Rin-go! Rin-go! Rin-go!”

“Rin-go! Rin-go! Rin-go!”

Jade and Mayoi began chanting in unison to set the mood. They probably intended to motivate the prodigy scientist, but Ringo felt more like they were cutting off all avenues of retreat.

Fake or not, the thought of having to confess her love to Tsukasa with so many people watching made her head spin.

She had agreed to participate, however. There was no backing down now. This was more than a game. Receiving hospitality with grace was an essential element of diplomacy.

That wasn’t the only reason Ringo needed to do this, though. In her heart, she knew Mayoi was right.

Much like her rival Lyrule, she was a late bloomer when it came to romance. Neither one of them was the type to come on strong when they had feelings for someone. Yet between the two, Lyrule was clearly more proactive.

Part of that likely came from her being raised in an era where women were expected to have children. Still, whatever the reason, Ringo was keenly aware that Lyrule was more willing to be bold.

And to make matters worse…Lyrule was pretty enough that even Ringo found her charming. The shy inventor had little confidence in her ability to overcome the sheer destructive power of the two massive warheads loaded in Lyrule’s chest.

Ringo felt defeated in more ways than one. It didn’t seem fair. Lyrule should have to get rid of them. However, she’d already refused to do that, so she left Ringo no choice. The only option was to get stronger. Enough so that a little game wouldn’t give her pause.

Mayoi was right. Even though this was a game, if Ringo managed to express her affection for Tsukasa here, it would give her precious experience to draw upon when it came time for the real thing. It was like Shinobu had said, love was a hunt, and traps or not, she had to catch her prey somehow. The time had come for Ringo to don the mantle of love-huntress once more!

With her heart full of apprehension and resolve, Ringo made her move. She spun her body to the side, squeezed her target’s hand a little more firmly than she needed to—

“I—I! I’ve always…loved you…! P-please…go out…with me!”

—and fired her bullet of love in as loud a voice as she could muster. Ringo’s face was so crimson it appeared likely to catch fire at any moment.

“Wh-who, me?!”

The target was not Tsukasa, for Ringo had turned the opposite way and was now facing Lyrule.

I—I misfired!

“Do I! Spy! Some surprise girl-on-girl action?!” Jade exclaimed.

“Ha-ha!  ” Mayoi laughed. “But I totes get it. Lycchi has it going on.”

“I…um…was just…kidding…! It was…for the game!” Ringo stammered.

“I—I know!” Lyrule replied, still flustered over having been struck by Ringo’s stray bullet.

Ringo hurriedly let go of the other girl’s hand, then let out a long moan, curled into a ball, and concealed her face behind her legs.

That hadn’t been the plan at all.

She’d worked up her resolve to target Tsukasa, she really had. But at the last moment, she froze, and her gun turned in a direction she’d never meant it to.

Ringo trembled in awe at the sheer incompetence she’d just displayed. Perhaps there was a good reason she hadn’t built up a single ounce of self-esteem since middle school. After all that courage she’d mustered, the girl had only succeeded in falling flat on her face.

It wasn’t just embarrassing; it was pathetic. Ringo wished she were anywhere else in the world but there.

“C’mon, don’t look so down!” Jade said. “That proposition was an easy ten-outta-ten! The whole modest-but-trying-her-best vibe you had going, any guy in the world would fall head over heels for that kinda sincerity!”

Mayoi joined in as well. “Yeah, you, like, nailed it! Don’cha agree, Mr. Silver-Haired Angel?”

“Oh, absolutely. That was perfectly charming. You did well.”


Tsukasa was only thanking Ringo for prioritizing their relationship with Yamato despite her bashfulness, but the foremost thing Ringo heard was him calling her “charming.”

That was enough to make all the humiliation worth it.


Ringo kept her head shielded behind her legs, but now it was to hide the dopey smile on her face.


“Whew, that first proposition was a giga-sized doozy. The bar’s set high…now, let’s see who’s gotta try and beat it!”

—she snapped her head right up when she heard Jade set the bottle spinning again.

She’d just realized something.

The only thing controlling this roulette was the hand of fate, and there wasn’t any rule against the same person having to go twice.

Ringo could practically feel the blood drain from her face. She’d already used up her entire supply of bravery, and it was going to take her at least three months to restock.

What would she do if the bottle landed on her again?

However, Ringo’s fears ended up being unfounded.

“Oh?! Well, well, well!” Jade cheered. “Looks like our second contestant is…Tsukasa!”

“Me, hmm?”


Ringo and Lyrule suddenly perked up. The two of them had been so concerned about getting picked themselves that neither had even considered what would happen if Tsukasa was in the hot seat.

However, there was no reason for the roulette not to land on him. And now that it had, someone was about to receive a declaration of love from him.

Both young women hoped—no, prayed—that it would be them.

They knew it was just a game, that it wasn’t real.

Even so, they both found themselves leaning forward in anticipation.

Tsukasa, oblivious to the turmoil in their hearts—

“A question, Administrator Jade. Is it possible to choose the target via roulette as well?”

—put forth a proposal.

Tsukasa was reluctant to choose Ringo or Lyrule, knowing how uncomfortable the game made them. Aoi was still wordlessly wolfing down food, so he didn’t want to bother her, either. That only left Mayoi, but Tsukasa knew too little about the dominion lord to understand how best to sweet-talk her. Hence, the proposal.

Jade gave Tsukasa a half-hearted shrug.

“I mean, nothing is stopping you, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Maybe not, but if I had to pick on my own, we might be here all day. Would you mind doing the honors?”

“Sure thing, my dude.”

Jade did as requested and spun the bottle.

Ringo and Lyrule couldn’t have asked for a better turn of events. Tsukasa was well aware of how timid they both were, so there was little chance he would have picked either of them of his own accord. The bottle, however, had no such scruples.

The two girls stared at the sake bottle, hoping for it to land on them. When it came to a stop, it was facing Jade.

The result came as such a shock that Ringo and Lyrule practically collapsed. Jade, in contrast, had an exasperated I-told-you-so look on his face.

“Aaand that’s what happens. I tried to warn you, man. Two hot babes hookin’ up has a real choice aesthetic to it, but I dunno what anyone gets out of having a dude hit on another dude.”

“I see,” Tsukasa replied. “So this is the problem with picking randomly.”

“Tee-hee!   It’s fine, it’s fine! You’re both hotties, so I’d say we’re A-okay on the aesthetic front. Oh, but heads up, Mr. Angel—just ’cause my boo is a guy doesn’t mean you’re allowed to half-ass it. The game’s no fun unless you really get into it, so good luck!”

“So you’re saying I need to follow Ringo’s lead and put my heart into it, even though I’m lying? This might be more difficult than I expected. What to do, what to do…” Tsukasa sank deep into thought.

That prompted Jade to cut in. “Hey, whoa, you don’t have to take it that seriously.”

“Ha-ha, sorry about that. This is largely new territory for me, and between the fact that I just met you and the fact that you’re a fellow man, I’m having trouble coming up with the right words.”

“Then just wing it, man, shoot from the hip. Doesn’t have to be perfect. Just show us what you’re working with. Tsu-ka-sa. Tsu-ka-sa. Tsu-ka-sa.”

Jade clearly wasn’t excited about this latest pairing, and he wanted to get it over with and move on to the next duo as soon as possible. His chanting was decidedly less enthusiastic than it had been previously.

However, Tsukasa responded to Jade’s urging by shaking his head. “I’m afraid I can’t do that. As the Seven Luminaries angel in charge of matters of state, I have to take responsibility for what I say. It’s a matter of personal pride.”


“I’m saying that once I declare something, I stand by it, no matter the situation.”


As Tsukasa made his rather alarming declaration, he strode over to Jade and gracefully took the other man’s hand in his. Jade let out a sound like a chicken being strangled and tried to shake him off, but Tsukasa held fast.

“Jade von Saint-Germain, we may have only just met, and we may not know much about each other yet, but that’s precisely why I know it will be such a pleasure for us to deepen our understanding of each other.”

“Wh-whoa, man, back up a couple steps! You just said you couldn’t lie, but, like, we’re both dudes!”

“Gender is no barrier when it comes to love. I know it’s too much to ask for now, but I hope that as we get to know each other better, you and I can foster that emotion between us.”

Jade felt as though he was being sucked into Tsukasa’s red and blue eyes.

“Are…are you for real?”


Tsukasa’s speech rang so genuinely that Mayoi and the others completely forgot to keep up the chant. They fell silent.

None among them was more stunned than Jade himself, though.

The flashy young man was about as straight as they came, and he was still struggling to comprehend that nonsense about politicians being unable to lie.

Yet when he saw those eyes fixed on him and the nigh-magical intensity they bore, he could conjure no rebuttal. He started finding himself drawn to Tsukasa’s androgynous features and the way his eyes gleamed like gemstones. Jade’s throat quivered, and right as he was about to say something—

“I was just kidding, of course.”

—Tsukasa released Jade’s hand and stepped back.


“How was that? I wanted to give a performance on par with Ringo’s, so I mustered up as much sincerity as I could, but I don’t know how well I was able to pull it off.”

Mayoi let out a laugh that sounded almost relieved.

“Ah… Ha! Ha-ha! That was a masterclass! I was freaking out over here, like, am I gonna get NTR’d? But hey, what happened to politicians not lying?!”

“What I said about not lying was actually a lie in and of itself.”

“Ha!   You’re a scary one, Mr. Angel! I was breaking out in goosebumps! Weren’t you, babe?”

Mayoi roared with laughter and nudged her partner’s shoulder.

Jade replied—

“………Nah, I knew it wasn’t real.”

—with his head pointed down so as to hide his expression.

“Wait, hon, are you crying?”

“Who said my feelings were hurt?! I feel just fine!”

As Ringo and Lyrule listened to Jade’s oddly high-pitched denial, they both breathed quiet sighs of relief. They had dodged a bullet.

Both of them had wanted to be the one who got picked, yet now understood how perilous that would have been.

If Tsukasa had come on to either of them in such a profound, sincere manner, then turned around and told them he was just kidding, they wouldn’t have been able to get out of bed for a week.

After the game, the rest of the dinner between the two Yamato representatives and the Elm ambassador delegation continued pleasantly.

As Tsukasa followed the hosts’ social cues while carefully observing everything that went on, he came to realize the extent of Jade’s talents.

The game he’d suggested as entertainment was part of it. And between the way he’d gotten Mayoi to tell an embarrassing story about him when Lyrule messed up with her chopsticks and how he’d encouraged Ringo when she was balled up from embarrassment, it was clear that he was paying close attention to the people around him so he could deftly handle situations as they arose.

It went beyond just being friendly. Powers of observation like that took time and effort to cultivate. Conducting oneself the way Jade did required some serious talent.

Despite its storied history and the shortage of imperial nobles who actually wanted to rule Yamato, the nation was still a part of the empire. It was clear now why Jade had been chosen to represent it. He came across as a jokester, but his diplomatic skills were the real deal. Tsukasa knew that once they started negotiating in earnest, he would need to make sure not to underestimate Jade.

As Tsukasa mulled over his thoughts, Mayoi spoke up to break the ice. “Sooo… What brings y’all peeps down to Yamato? You here to see the sights?”

To his surprise, all Tsukasa saw in the girl’s expression was earnest curiosity. “…We did exchange letters about this, you know.”

She honestly didn’t know. Mayoi had no idea what the ambassadors from Elm were doing here.

Tsukasa had been prepared for a lot of things, but the lord of this region not knowing the agenda wasn’t one of them.

Although confused, Tsukasa answered Mayoi’s question as best he could.

“Your sister, Princess Kaguya, came to us Seven Luminaries and told us that the people of Yamato were suffering. As I’m sure you’re aware, our mission in this world is to spread a message of equality for all and ensure that everyone, no matter who they are or what they do, is treated with the dignity they deserve. As such, we had to take her message seriously. We take a strong stance against human rights violations, and we have a duty to do whatever we can to see them rectified and prevented.”

“…Did she now?”

“However, that isn’t to say we just accepted her claims at face value, especially not when the issue is this important and affects the relationship between Elm and Freyjagard. We knew we needed to act prudently, meaning that the first order of business was finding out whether or not Princess Kaguya’s allegations were true. We requested that we be allowed to visit Yamato to see its condition for ourselves, and that brings us to where we are now.”


After listening to Tsukasa’s explanation, Mayoi nodded in understanding—

“So that idiot still thinks she’s a Yamato princess.”


—then disparaged her sister in a voice so cold that Tsukasa and the others couldn’t help but gasp.

It wasn’t just her tone, either. It was the look that flashed across her face. It was an expression of deep, ugly hatred.

The contrast between it and the warm, welcoming demeanor she’d shown them previously left a strong impression.

However, the older sister had been heir to the throne, and the younger sister had helped the invaders snatch it away. It made sense that they wouldn’t be on the best of terms.

“You hear the trash Guya’s spewing, bae?” Jade asked, joining the discussion. “The Resistance isn’t doing too hot right now, so Guya fed you some bullshit to get you to do her dirty work. I mean, you saw what it’s like here, right? My Mayo-Mayo’s the best thing that ever happened to this place.”

Tsukasa had to agree with Jade’s assessment.

“True. Based on what we saw today, I find it hard to believe that anything like what Princess Kaguya suggested is going on.”

“Today, tomorrow, there’s nothing to see, my guy. So hey, could you do us a solid and hand Guya over? If anyone’s screwing over Yamato, it’s her and her rebellion. Once she’s outta the picture, Yamato’ll finally be able to integrate into the empire properly. Mayo-Mayo’s job will get easier, I’ll get mad props for overseeing the transition, and Elm and the empire will be bigger homies than ever. Win-win-win, baby.”

Once the geopolitical threat was gone, the empire would have an easier time investing in Yamato’s development, and its people’s quality of life would increase even further. There was a lot to be gained from handing Kaguya over.

Tsukasa knew that already.

It’s still too early to make a decision, though.

Since his arrival in Yamato, Tsukasa hadn’t been able to get one question out of his head: How had Mayoi pulled off such spectacular restoration efforts?

Up until just three years ago, Yamato had been locked in a fierce war with the Freyjagard Empire. Mending damaged infrastructure was one thing, but healing the war’s emotional wounds should have taken far longer than that. Yet by all accounts, Mayoi’s subjects were as cheerful as could be, almost overly so.

How had she brought that about?

Tsukasa couldn’t deduce the root of it for the life of him.

Healing the battered hearts of a defeated people and brokering a positive relationship between them and the empire that had vanquished them in such a short time shouldn’t have been possible. As someone who had seen more than his fair share of long-standing historical grudges play out, Tsukasa was uniquely qualified to declare as much.

Mayoi had seemingly accomplished it, however. That meant she was an even more brilliant politician than Tsukasa. The proof of such was before the young prime minister’s very eyes. Still, from what Tsukasa could tell, Mayoi didn’t come across as someone possessed of that kind of talent.

Jade wasn’t the only one Tsukasa had been keeping a close eye on during their dinner. He’d been observing Mayoi, too, and nothing about her eye movements, speech, or the way she timed them with her expressions suggested that she was anywhere near as calculating as Jade.

She was enjoying herself the way anyone else might’ve been.

Tsukasa could have dismissed that as a friendly attitude if not for the question she had just asked. Mayoi was unaware of why the Elm delegation was visiting. No political mastermind could possibly be that inept.

There was a puzzling incongruity between Yamato’s current state and her abilities as a leader.

As such—

“So, whaddaya—”

“I do have one question.”

—Tsukasa cut Jade off and turned his gaze to Mayoi.

He needed to figure out what was going on.

“As I went around Yamato, I found myself thinking how incredible its leader must be. The prompt repairs being made to its infrastructure were one thing, but what impressed me most were the looks on people’s faces.

“Just three years ago, Yamato was at war with the empire, and I’ve heard that its casualty count reached as high as a tenth of the nation’s population. The war might be over, but even so, I would have expected the people of Yamato to resent living under imperial rule. However, none of them showed me the slightest signs that this was the case.

“As the angel tasked with matters of state by God Akatsuki, I can appreciate how difficult that must have been to achieve. And in just three years? I tip my hat to you. I have to know, for my own benefit, what sort of policies you have in place that accomplished such a remarkable feat.”

Pleased by how Tsukasa was complimenting her, Mayoi gave him a cheerful laugh—

“Hee-hee!   It was a piece of cake, actually. All I had to do…was make ’em forget all that sad stuff with my magic!”

—and, without a shred of guilt in her voice, shared the secret behind her twisted miracle.


Mayoi’s careless comment sucked all the air from the room.

Lyrule and Ringo went completely silent, and Jade glanced around with a vexed look on his face. Tsukasa turned his attention from Mayoi to him.

“I’m sorry, but I think I just heard that you’ve been using magic to falsify your subjects’ memories. Were my ears playing tricks on me, Administrator?”

A bitter smile worked its way across Jade’s face. “…If I told you they were, wouldja believe me?”

Mayoi tilted her head in confusion at the sudden change of atmosphere. “Whoa, what’s with the sudden downer vibes? Don’t tell me I killed the mood. I mean, come on. Who wants a bunch of bummer memories about getting raped and pillaged and having their friends and families die? Remembering that stuff would be, like, a major buzzkill. Aren’t I just a big ol’ sweetheart for helping them forget?”

Now the Elm delegation finally understood.

Since arriving in Yamato, something had seemed eerily off. Suddenly, the idyllic situation that sprang up only three years after a devastating war made sense. The Yamato people didn’t even know that the war had occurred.

Their anger, sorrow, and even their ability to grieve for the people they’d lost had been stolen from them, leaving the traitor princess who’d brought that calamitous war to their doorsteps looking like a benevolent ruler.


Confused, Mayoi asked frantically, “Whoa, hey, what’s with the shouting all of a sudden?!”

“You think something like a government has the right to do such a wicked thing?! No ruler, not even the most tyrannical of despots, can be permitted to have dominion over their subjects’ minds! Forget democracies and autocracies; this is a matter of basic human decency, of taboos that must never be violated! Return the grief they’re entitled to at once!”

Mayoi had altered her people’s memories to turn them into docile puppets that she could rule. It was a wholly monstrous act, and it filled Tsukasa with a burning rage.


“Huh? Getting lectured at is so not my jam,” Mayoi replied without a shred of guilt in her voice. “The only reason I even let them live is ’cause my darling told me I had to be a good ruler. Otherwise, I woulda killed ’em off ages ago.”


The look in her eyes was the same spiteful sort she’d worn upon hearing Kaguya’s name. This was a girl filled with hatred. That ire was not limited to her sister. Instead, it was directed at all of Yamato. Mayoi’s disgust was so intense that she would have butchered every last one of her subjects if it were up to her.

Just as Kaguya had asserted, the people of Yamato were in grave danger.

“Lyrule, Ringo. Get up,” Tsukasa said.


“This fact-finding mission is over. The Yamato dominion government is coldheartedly stealing the minds of its people, and it’s clear that the Elm provisional government has nothing to discuss with them. We’re heading back to Elm now.”

Tsukasa turned as though to indicate that there was nothing more to say.


“So what, you’re gonna head back, babble about ‘something-something for all,’ then make like Mayo-Mayo’s sister and get all up in our business?”

—when Tsukasa made it clear that the negotiations were concluded, Jade rose to his feet.

“You really think I’m gonna let you do that, fam?”

Then he snapped his fingers.

The moment he did, the sliding doors on each side of the room burst open, and a dozen armed men charged in.

They were each clad in chain mail worn under a haori, and they each had a katana—a “Yamato sword,” as they were often called in this world—hanging from their waist.

It was a group of Yamato’s famous samurai warriors.

“Grandmaster Neuro made it clear that I wasn’t supposed to let anything mess with our relationship with Elm, and dead peeps tell no tales. But man, it sure was a bummer how you four slipped on a muddy road and fell to your deaths on your way to Azuchi Castle. Kill ’em all, men! No need to take them alive!!”

Jade abandoned his personable facade and revealed his true nature. The samurai drew their blades at his command.


The situation’s sudden shift sent Ringo and Lyrule into a panic. Tsukasa stepped in front of them without a hint of trepidation. Only an idiot ventured deep into enemy territory without a fallback plan, and Tsukasa Mikogami was no fool. He never knew what the future held, so he made it a habit to be prepared for all eventualities. That was why he’d kept an ace up his sleeve for just such an occasion.

“Aoi, a group of wicked ogres is blocking our path home. Would you mind clearing the way?”

Amid all the commotion, prodigy swordmaster Aoi Ichijou had never stopped partaking in the food. She looked at Tsukasa with a blank expression on her face and her chopsticks still in her mouth, then asked a question whose answer should have been obvious.

“Mrph? Did the negotiations fall through?”

“…Have you not been listening?”

“My task here did not involve thinking, so I thought it best that I stay out of the discussion. That said, one look at the menacing scene before us paints a clear enough picture of the situation, that it does. It was a delightful meal, and I would have liked to pay my compliments to the chef, but it seems that won’t be an option.”

Aoi set down her chopsticks, then rose to her feet, not shrinking in the slightest before the Yamato samurai’s ranks.

“I suppose sparing their lives will have to be thanks enough.”

A fearless smile played on her shapely lips. Her arrogance clearly wounded her opponents’ pride.

“Angel or not, don’t you dare look down on the samurai of Yamato! Get her!!!!!”


The men raised their blades and fanned out to surround Aoi.

They slashed at her from every conceivable angle all at once, yet none of them found purchase. The samurai’s eyes widened with disbelief.

“What the…”

“Wh-where’d she go?!”

“She’s behind you, you fools!” Jade shouted as the soldiers gawked in confusion. The panic in his voice was audible, but he could hardly be blamed for that. In the time it took him to blink, Aoi had slipped past the samurai inundating her and made her way right to him.

Upon realizing the danger their master was in, the samurai whirled around.

“Wh—! You little…!”

“She gave us the slip!”

“Don’t let her lay a finger on the princess!”

Despite their indignant declarations, the men collapsed to the tatami mats on the floor where they stood. It was like watching a group of marionettes get their strings cut at once.

“…Huh? Y-you assholes, this is no time for goofing arou—?!”

The impossible sight perplexed Jade, but it wasn’t long before he realized what had happened. After witnessing the sword wounds spread across the prone samurai’s bodies and Aoi’s newly drawn white blade that spanned nearly six feet, it was hard not to.

She had cut every one of them down. And not only that, she’d done it while passing by them before any realized she had done so.

“Wh-when did you even have time to draw that stupid-big sword?!” Jade exclaimed in disbelief.

“That sword… That’s totes Shura’s sword…!” Mayoi cried.

The pair gawked at Aoi in astonishment.

Aoi had moved so swiftly that both the moment she drew her weapon and the arc it cast when she swung it were invisible to the untrained eye.

When people spoke of the superhuman sword skills of prodigy swordmaster Aoi Ichijou, those were precisely the kinds of feats they were talking about.

Losing her beloved Hoozukimaru in the battle against Gustav had left Aoi temporarily unable to use those skills to their full potential. Still, Aoi had made sure to overcome that setback before setting out for Yamato.

She had done so by going to Kaguya’s retainer, Shura the White Wolf General, and borrowing her nodachi greatsword, Shoutou Byakuran.

“An impressive blade, that it is. It doesn’t merely cut. It numbs the pain from the wounds of its own accord. I may be the one wielding it, but it feels as though the blade has as much control over who it cuts and who it kills as I do.”

Aoi let out an amused laugh at her impression of Byakuran after her first live battle with the weapon.

Comparing it to Hoozukimaru, a blade so bloodthirsty that Aoi constantly had to avoid letting it cut deeper than intended, the personalities of the two weapons were like night and day, but they each possessed a strong-willed nature. That was what allowed Byakuran to withstand Aoi’s techniques.

After Aoi commented on the blade in her grip, she shifted her gaze from it to Jade.

“I’m hardly the sharpest blade in the armory, so I may be misunderstanding the particulars, but as best I can tell, it seems as though many of our problems could be solved by cutting these two down where they stand. Tsukasa, m’lord, your orders?”

Byakuran should have been too long to wield in such a cramped space, yet Aoi leveled it at Jade and Mayoi with masterful finesse.

With the situation turned on them so abruptly, the two of them could do nothing but silently go pale.

Tsukasa shook his head. “No. Provisional or not, we’re still representatives of Elm’s government. It isn’t our place to execute others.”

Given the responsibilities Tsukasa and the others bore, killing Jade and Mayoi would be going too far.

“Then we had best not overstay our welcome. More soldiers come our way as we speak,” replied Aoi.

“True… That said, though, it makes us look weak if we let them get away with something as discourteous as drawing arms on a group of ambassadors.”

Diplomatically speaking, that was something Tsukasa wanted to avoid.

“What would you have us do, then?” Aoi questioned.

“Elm will respond to the Yamato dominion government’s impropriety with dignity. We won’t flee like common burglars—we’ll walk right out that castle gate with our heads held high.”

“…You would have us break through their ranks with just four people?”

“No,” Tsukasa stated plainly. “I want you to do it solo, prodigy swordmaster… Unless you don’t think you’re up to the task?” His tone sounded almost provocative.

Aoi flashed a fierce grin as she answered. “A perfect way to work off those calories. Aid me not, then, lest you get in my way.”

During the Rage Soleil incident, Aoi had told Tsukasa that her limits were so high that only she knew what she was and wasn’t capable of. Tsukasa’s order was a demonstration of trust in that claim. Thus, it was Aoi’s duty as a samurai to meet his expectation. It was time for her to show the world what she was made of.

“Ringo, m’lady, Lyrule, m’lady! Stay close behind me!”


“You don’t…have to tell me twice.”

With that, the Elm delegation fled the room and began making their way toward the castle gate.

“You ain’t giving us the slip that easy…!” Jade spat, glaring at the four from behind.

He couldn’t afford to let them return to Elm alive.

Once dominion lord Mayoi’s inhuman governing methods came to light, the meeting between Elm and Yamato ended abruptly.

For Administrator Jade, who had been given direct orders from Neuro to handle the Kaguya problem quietly and peacefully, the situation could hardly have been worse. If he let the Elm ambassadors make it home and war broke out between them and Freyjagard because of it, his career was as good as over.

However, he wasn’t about to let that happen. Jade mobilized the castle’s one hundred and fifty guardsmen.

“There’s only four of them! Sure, one of them’s got some skills, but we’ll crush ’em with sheer numbers!”

The samurai did as instructed.

Most would have faltered upon being ordered to attack ambassadors of an allied nation, but the castle’s soldiers showed no such hesitation.

As a result of Mayoi’s brainwashing, they saw Jade as one of the core figures who’d spent the last three years raising their nation to a level of prosperity unheard of during the old rule. Plus, he was their esteemed ruler Mayoi’s lover, to boot.

The samurai obediently deployed in front of the group making their way down the large corridor leading directly to the castle’s entrance. The many armed men barred Tsukasa’s and the others’ way.


“What the…?! There’s no way in hell this is just four people!”

The samurai captain, a byuma named Gamou with water buffalo features, couldn’t believe his eyes.

The corridor was a straight path with no forks or places to hide. His forces should have been more than enough to capture the quartet that was fleeing, and yet the Elm delegation’s advance was continuing unabated.

Gamou had been told that the group from Elm numbered only four, yet it was plain to see…

…that their party was clearly at least thirty strong.

Thirty girls with the exact same face and ponytail sliced through his men like paper with their nodachi greatswords as they raced down the hall.

It went without saying that the girl was Aoi Ichijou.

Unsurprisingly, she didn’t have the ability to clone herself. Aoi simply added countless little bits of misdirection into her movements to disorient her enemies.

In martial arts, feinting was an ordinary, everyday technique. When the person doing so was a High School Prodigy, though, the result was anything but ordinary.

On Earth, Aoi Ichijou had spent her life fighting on twenty-first-century battlefields far harsher and with crueler weapons than anything this world had to offer, and she’d done it with nothing but a single sword to her name. A large part of her success was the overwhelming battle aura she emitted. It was so tremendous that it bordered on the divine.

Any who dared to face her couldn’t help but fall under its sway. It was inescapable.

The Yamato soldiers were skilled samurai, which was precisely why they were so helpless before Aoi’s presence. To them, it looked like the young woman had actually split into an army.

Her aura was so all-consuming that they had no way of discerning real from fake. To them, everything appeared genuine.

Every shift in her eyes or twitch in her shoulders made it seem like she had split off another clone of herself, and Yamato forces swiftly fell into disarray.

They ended up swinging their swords in all the wrong directions—

“ ”

—and before they could get their bearings, the real Aoi raced over and mowed them down.

One swing was all it took to best seven men. Aoi was like a farmer chopping through a thicket.

There had been over a hundred soldiers at first, but their ranks were dwindling in mere moments. Half of them had already been felled, and the Elm delegation hadn’t slowed a step.

Aoi and the others pressed on, never once decelerating or veering from their course.

Gamou thought of the strongest samurai he knew, Shishi, and was struck speechless at how Aoi appeared to be just as unbeatable as he was.

We still have the numbers advantage…!

Gamou wasn’t willing to give in just yet, however. There was a good reason why only a hundred of the castle’s one hundred and fifty soldiers were present in the hall. It was because the others were setting up for a pincer attack!

“Here they come!”

All of a sudden, Gamou saw his other fifty men appear behind the crowd of Aois.

“We’ve got them surrounded!”

“Cut down every last scoundrel who dared to threaten Princess Mayoi!”

The second squad charged at the Elm delegation from behind.

The corridor was straight, meaning that Tsukasa’s group had nowhere to retreat. They were trapped.

Tsukasa, Ringo, and Lyrule were all standing behind Aoi, and while Tsukasa could fight when the situation demanded it, he was not nearly as skilled as Aoi. There was no way he’d be able to fend off so many attackers. As such, Aoi would need to protect them. However, that required combating opponents from all directions simultaneously.

It was a tall order, even for the prodigy swordmaster. If Aoi were on her own, the young woman could have easily fought the soldiers off. She could have bested a force ten times their size. Protecting others at the same time complicated the matter, though.

Aoi had understood beforehand that a pincer maneuver like this was possible.

“Aid me not, then, lest you get in my way.”

Yet she had still declared she would handle everything alone.

“““ ?”””

Just as the second squad was within striking distance of the Elm delegation from behind, something changed.

A thunderous sound echoed throughout the spacious chamber. The noise resembled that of a tree being torn to flinders, and it was coming from below.


By the time it reached the samurai’s ears, it was too late. With a shrill creak, the ground beneath the second squad shattered.


They screamed as they plummeted to the basement below.

Aoi hadn’t just repelled the enemies in front of her. She had also made preparations to deal with pursuers from the rear.

The way the ground felt under her feet had told her that there was a subterranean room below, and by carving gashes into key spots along the floor in between felling attackers, she had turned it into a makeshift pitfall trap that gave way once burdened with sufficient weight.

The Yamato soldiers had fallen right into Aoi’s trap.

Instead of striking the Elm delegation from behind like they were supposed to, half of them had gotten caught in the cave-in and fallen. The remaining half stood agape on the far side of the newly formed hole, with no way to carry out their orders.

The decision to trap the enemy on a one-way path with nowhere to escape had backfired entirely. There was no stopping Aoi now.

The unit guarding the main castle’s entrance—the soldiers’ final line of defense—was down to a mere twenty men.

“Damn it all!”

J-just how skilled a veteran is that girl…?!

Not only was she strong, but she’d also seen through their strategy and preempted it.

Gamou was struck speechless yet again at how coolheaded Aoi was, and his last few men trembled in fear as their foe approached.

By that point, they were little more than a disorderly crowd. It was only a matter of time before she charged past them, too.

“So without Shishi, this is all you’re capable of? I shouldn’t have expected anything more from a bunch of vanquished losers.”

Suddenly, a new group of soldiers appeared at the entrance.

They were clad in heavy armor and equipped with pikes, and they shoved the samurai aside as they strode in. This new force totaled roughly fifty.

“I—I know you…!”

One of them was wearing a golden suit of plate armor that Gamou recognized immediately. It belonged to the Golden Knight, who had come over from the empire with Jade. The heavily equipped man cast a disparaging glance at Gamou through the opening in his helmet.

“I can’t watch this shit anymore. Stand aside! Imperial Golden Knight Oath de McBurn is taking over!”

Then he grabbed Gamou’s shoulder and forcefully pushed him back.

“Form up! Pikes at the ready!” he barked at his soldiers.

The imperials spread out across the width of the hallway and held their pikes forward in perfect coordination.

“I don’t care if she’s using magic or literally splitting into duplicates, and it doesn’t matter! If she thinks she can survive five lines of heavy infantry, she’s got another think coming! Chaaaaarge!!!!”

“““Sieg Kaiser!!!!”””

Spurred on by their commanding officer’s shout, the pikemen let out a cry and rushed forward. Five rows of ten pikemen apiece raced toward Aoi like a tidal wave.

Feints were meaningless against such a tactic. The pikes would rake across the entire corridor indiscriminately. Complicating the matter was the fact that Aoi had destroyed the floor behind her, leaving no room to retreat. McBurn had chosen the perfect strategy for the situation.

Still, Aoi Ichijou’s blade was by no means dull enough to be rendered helpless by such a tactic.

“You three would do well to crouch down and cover your ears.”

Tsukasa, Ringo, and Lyrule had no idea what their friend was about to attempt. However, none of them bothered asking for an explanation. Aoi was the one in charge right now, and they knew they needed only to trust her.

Tsukasa, Ringo, and Lyrule immediately did as instructed.

Once Aoi was sure they were safe, she faced the onrushing pikemen, lifted her nodachi horizontally into the air, and drew it back as one might do with an arrow. The swordmaster was making no efforts to mask her stance. In a moment, she was going to thrust her blade forward with all her might.

As the imperial pikemen bore down on her, a few of them chuckled. The Yamato nodachi was long, but it was still just a sword.

There was no way it could beat a polearm when it came to reach.

What’s more, their ranks were comprised of heavy infantry, one of the best-outfitted units in the Freyjagard army. Compared to the Yamato samurai dressed in mere chain mail, the difference was like night and day. And there were fifty of them.

What did this one girl think she was going to accomplish with a single attack? Perhaps this was her futile struggle against certain doom. Or maybe it was her way of dutifully meeting fate head-on.

As the soldiers snickered, Aoi made her move. Just as her stance indicated, her strike was a thrust. The surprising part was how blisteringly quick it was.

There was a flash of light, and a burst of white flame erupted from the friction on Aoi’s sleeve. Such was the terrifying speed of Aoi’s thrust. The motion broke the sound barrier. Wind pressure built up on the tip of her blade, and upon reaching a certain threshold, it created a rift in the air.

In the space of a fleeting moment, that pocket shot forward, growing ever larger and broader as it did…until it eventually shattered.

Upon its rupture—

“My roaring secret technique—Dragon’s Bellow!”

—the very air exploded.

When an object with mass broke the sound barrier, it caused a phenomenon known as a sonic boom. Aoi had done this with raw strength and launched it at her foes like a cannon.

Like a mighty dragon’s roar, the shock wave thundered from Byakuran’s tip and knocked away everything in her path.

Pikes splintered, and armor crumbled. All the imperial soldiers closing in on Aoi were blown aside. Not even Gamou and the other Yamato soldiers in the far back were spared.

Now there wasn’t a single thing barring the Elm delegation’s egress from the castle.

“Onward!” Aoi cried.

Her three companions rose to their feet and followed close behind. At long last, the Elm delegation made their way out.

Thanks to the heavy infantry dampening the blow for him, Gamou had just barely managed to retain consciousness, but all he could do was watch his enemies make their flight.

Now that the ambassadors were beyond the main castle, there was little more he could do. After all, such structures were designed to prevent attackers from entering, and that same principle left forces on the inside ill-equipped to pursue enemies who’d managed to get out.

That was why Gamou had devoted all his resources to capturing the four in the corridor, but nobody could have anticipated that a contingent of one hundred and fifty men would fail to stop a group of four. A warrior with skills on par with the samurai general Shishi was unheard of.


Gamou understood that now was not the time to lament this shame. He shook his head to clear his mind.

We still have a chance. We aren’t out of this yet…!

It was true that many of the castle’s defenses were of little use against fleeing prey. There were some assets still of use, however.

There were the stone stairwells, for example. Each step of Azuchi Castle’s stairwells had been built at different lengths and widths.

If anyone unfamiliar with their intervals tried to run down them at full speed, they would inevitably sprain their ankles.

The Nioumon Gate couldn’t be discounted, either, for at the moment, Mayoi was the only person capable of opening it. With it shut, the Elm delegation was still trapped.

And with that being the case…

“C-Captain Gamou! What in the world happened up here?!”

“ !”

Gamou turned and looked to the side.

There, he saw his second squad, who had just made their way back up from the basement. When they saw the devastation and their allies laid low, they let out a collective gasp. To them, it must have seemed that the entire chamber had come under cannon fire.

His knees screamed in painful objection, but Gamou managed to struggle to his feet.

“It hurts to admit, but our blades are of little use against that girl. We’re stopping by the weapons room to grab the you-know-whats, then going after them! Anyone fleet of foot, circle ahead and make the necessary preparations!”

Once Tsukasa and the rest of the Elm delegation were free of the main castle, they encountered no resistance. Navigating the castle’s peculiar stone stairs cost them some time, but they managed to get past them and arrive at the gate none the worse for wear.

The Nioumon Gate loomed before them, guarding Azuchi Castle’s entrance at an imposing thirty feet tall and fifteen feet wide.

“I take it our goal lies just beyond?” Aoi remarked. “How disappointingly uneventful.”

“But it’s…closed,” Ringo noted.

“Wasn’t it open when we got here, though?” Lyrule asked.

“They must have closed it in the interim. The sun has set, after all. From the look of things, it doesn’t seem to open and close in the typical way. Most of the time, gates such as these have a small room off to the side housing a mechanism that operates them, but I don’t see anything of the sort…”

As Tsukasa pondered how the gate operated, an angry voice called from behind, “Your rampage has gone on long enough!”


The four spun around and saw several dozen Yamato soldiers glaring down at them from the stairway they had descended moments earlier.

One of them, a byuma who was noticeably larger than the others and had water buffalo traits, stood imposingly as he spoke.

“Together, the Nioumon Gate’s two doors weigh in at five tons! Human strength is powerless before them, and it takes two mages working in concert to open and close them! I regret to inform you that our mages are on temporary transfer to the empire, so the only thing that can operate the gate now is Lady Mayoi’s tremendous magic.”

Simply put, Gamou was making it clear that the Elm ambassadors would not be leaving.

“You’re finished! Men, ready!”

The single line of samurai did as instructed and readied their weapons. No longer were they wielding their katanas from before. Now, they were armed with long tubes of metal and wood.

“…Matchlocks, huh?” Tsukasa muttered.

It went without saying that they had loaded them on their way there.


The muzzles of all fifty rifles flashed in unison.

The samurai of Yamato held a great deal of respect for one-on-one combat fought with katanas, to the extent that during the reign of the last Yamato emperor, they didn’t fight with firearms at all.

All the matchlock rifles they were now using had been sent over from the empire after the region became a self-governing dominion.

Their skills were lacking, and their marksmanship was terrible, but between the close range and the fact that there were fifty of them, neither of those things proved fettering.

Even at worst, the natural result would be for at least two or three bullets to hit each of their marks.

However, that never came to pass.


Once again, it was Aoi’s doing.

She took a single step forward and swung Byakuran to the side with its blade vertical.

Every bullet the samurai fired dropped impotently to the ground.


She hadn’t even deflected them with her blade. The mere pressure from her swing had been enough to stop the projectiles in midair.

The sheer gulf between her strength and theirs left the samurai dumbfounded—

“Q-quick, reload! Prepare another round!”

—but after a short while, they hurriedly got to work reloading their rifles.

Meanwhile, Aoi turned her gaze from them as though deeming them unworthy of any further concern.

“Tsukasa, m’lord. I apologize for having to ask, but I fear I have little head for numbers. Is five tons more or less than the weight of a tank?”

“I’m no expert when it comes to military equipment,” Tsukasa said. “It depends on the tank, but I imagine most of them come in at well over that.”

Aoi grinned. “Then this shall be no problem, that it shan’t!”

The young swordmaster sheathed Byakuran and handed it to Tsukasa for safekeeping. Then, she stood before the Nioumon Gate, placed a hand on each door—


—and pushed.

The cobblestones beneath her feet began cracking loudly…and the massive Nioumon Gate began rumbling open.

The samurai went pale at the unbelievable sight—

“No way…”

“That skinny little girl…is opening the Nioumon Gate with her bare hands…?!”

“This is no time for gawking, you idiots! Hurry up and reload!”

—and tried to ready their matchlock rifles faster.

However, on top of their inexperience with firearms, Aoi Ichijou had struck terror into their hearts. Their bodies shook with fear for their opponent, causing them to spill their bullets and gunpowder and undo what little progress they were making.

While the samurai fumbled with their equipment, the Elm delegation passed through the gate.

“Commander,” Tsukasa called.


“I have a message for the administrator. Would you pass it on for me? Tell him that we’re grateful for the lavish send-off…and that we’ll be sure to repay it in kind soon enough.”

When the white-haired boy was finished, the Nioumon Gate slammed shut behind him.

The Elm delegation made good on its promise to leave through the castle’s front gate with their heads held high. Despite having a fort and two hundred soldiers at their disposal, the Yamato forces had failed to so much as slow them down.

After successfully escaping Azuchi Castle through the Nioumon Gate, Tsukasa and the others realized the townspeople were watching them.

Although none of the locals had ventured close to the gate because it was off-limits to them, the opposite side of its moat was only about a hundred feet away, and a crowd of citizens with paper lanterns dotted the shoreline.

The gunshots and shouting from the castle had been audible in town, and everyone wanted to know what was happening. It was too far away for the Elm delegation to make out what the people were saying, but the crowd’s unease was plain.

If things descended into fighting again, some of the populace was liable to get caught in the cross fire.

The Elm delegation knew that they needed to get out of there as soon as possible. They headed to where they had parked their truck beside the Nioumon Gate.



“Well, this isn’t good…”

The moonlight wasn’t bright enough to see distant details, but as they drew near their truck, they immediately realized that something was off.

All of the tires were gone. The vehicle was sitting on its rims. Furthermore, there were strips of shredded rubber scattered all over the ground. It didn’t take a detective to solve this mystery. That sort of damage didn’t happen by accident. Someone had intentionally taken a knife to the tires in order to pop them.

You didn’t have to know what a motor vehicle was to know that destroying a carriage’s wheels was a surefire way to keep it from going anywhere.

Their foes were no idiots. While they had surely never seen a truck before, they knew it moved on wheels like machines they were familiar with.

“Ringo, do you think you can fix it?” Tsukasa asked.

The prodigy inventor gave him an apologetic look. “It won’t…be easy…We only have…two spare tires…and even if I can come up with substitutes…it’ll probably take a while.”

“I broke their will to fight as best I could,” Aoi noted. “But if we spend too long here, they’re sure to send pursuers all the same, that they are.”

“We still have the wheels,” Tsukasa remarked. “Can we drive on just those?”

Ringo shook her head. “I don’t think so. Not…with the state the roads are in.”

“You have a point.”

Tsukasa thought back to the journey they’d taken getting there.

Yesterday’s rain had left the ground throughout Yamato muddy. Trying to drive across it without tires would be a nightmare. It would be just a matter of time before they got stuck in the mud. Walking was likely more reliable at the moment.

Lyrule and Aoi each offered a suggestion for how they might help to fix their popped-tire issue.

“If I may, I could ask the spirits to help firm up the road a little.”

“I also saw a carriage in the castle’s stable, that I did. Shall I go back in and retrieve it?”

Either of those solutions might have worked. However—

“That won’t be necessary. I made sure to state that we were heading back to Elm, but our true destination lies elsewhere,” Tsukasa replied. “As delegates from an interim government, our role was to determine if the people of Yamato were suffering, and if so, to leverage diplomatic pressure and foreign aid to better their circumstances. However, meeting with Mayoi made it abundantly clear to me that we don’t have the luxury of relying on incremental solutions. Just as Princess Kaguya said, the people of Yamato are in grave danger. Every second counts.”

When the conversation had turned to Kaguya and the Yamato people during their dinner, the intense hatred in Mayoi’s face had spoken volumes. She didn’t just hate the nation of Yamato. She despised every single person in it badly enough that she would’ve been content to butcher them all.

Mayoi herself had admitted that the only reason she hadn’t was that Jade had instructed her to be a good ruler. There was little doubt in Tsukasa’s mind that she would have razed Yamato to the ground already if not for that.

Aoi nodded in agreement. “Indeed. The hatred that woman possessed was so strong that it was akin to bloodlust. In my time on the battlefield, I have seen some destitute refugees with eyes like hers. Anger at the cruel whims of fate burns in some like the blackest flames, that it does. Such people often take weapons in hand and fight, letting their rage burn hot enough to consume all around them, including themselves. I know not where that woman’s indignation comes from, but she had best not be left to her own devices for too long. But Tsukasa, m’lord… Would it not have been easier to cut them down then and there?”

Tsukasa shook his head. “We couldn’t. Provisional government or not, we were still there as ambassadors of Elm.”

If they had attacked Jade and Mayoi, there would have been no going back.

Elm was in the middle of its national election, and the people of the republic were taking their very first step toward charting their destiny. Having Elm ambassadors murder the Yamato leadership would have made war with the Freyjagard Empire inevitable.

“That wasn’t an option. The people of Elm could still decide to stab the Seven Luminaries in the back and appeal to the empire. We don’t have the right to take that from them. The election must determine how that plays out.”

“Ah, so that was why,” Aoi said. “I’m afraid that all goes a bit over my head, that it does. How do you intend for us to save the people of Yamato? If we’re not returning to Elm, do we still have business in this land?”

Tsukasa had an answer ready. “The dominion government is denying Yamato its right to self-governance, and there’s already a group here who has every right to oust them. We’re going to help the Resistance win this battle in our place.”

That was Tsukasa’s plan—to join up with the Resistance and quietly lead them to victory. Discretion was of the essence, of course. They couldn’t afford to let the Freyjagard Empire realize what they were doing. Actually, they could, but they needed to be certain the empire couldn’t prove anything. Tsukasa was confident that the four of them would be able to pull it off. However, Lyrule wasn’t quite so sure.

“B-but…how will we even find the Resistance? We don’t even know where they are.”

That was going to make it difficult to assist them. Her concern was understandable, but fortunately, Tsukasa had an answer for that.

“Worry not. I came prepared.”

He reached into his breast pocket and retrieved something from it. Tsukasa had spoken with Shura before the trip to Yamato in order to borrow Byakuran, but also to ask for something else. It was a small white bone carving about the size of a woman’s pinky finger—a whistle.

Tsukasa held it to his mouth and blew. The sound emitted was inaudible to human ears. However, that was by design because it was a dog whistle.

The imperceptible noise echoed through the night…and eventually reached the ears it was meant for.

“Tsukasa, m’lord, was that…?!”

As Aoi trailed off mid-sentence, her expression grew grave. She unsheathed Byakuran. The moment she did, the mountain forest surrounding the town stirred.

A flock of birds hurriedly took flight to make way for whatever approached. Shortly after, screams erupted from the castle town. The shrieks grew louder until those with paper lanterns on the other side of the moat went scattering in all directions. Some of them were so panicked that they even fell in the water.

Ringo and Lyrule huddled together in fear and confusion, and no sooner had they done so than a massive creature came bounding toward them. It had leaped over trees, buildings, and crowds.

Tsukasa, Aoi, Ringo, and Lyrule were face-to-face with a massive wolf.


Even down on all fours, it was still tall enough to eclipse them, and its silvery-white fur shone brightly in the moonlight.

Lyrule had grown up in a hunting village, so seeing its sleek fur, massive frame, and, most importantly, its lupine face was enough for her to recognize it. They had met the beast before.

“Ts-Tsukasa, isn’t this…the wolf who was with Shura at the election announcement ceremony?!”

Tsukasa nodded. “His name is Shiro, or so I’m told. Shura gave me this whistle and told me to call on him if we ran into trouble.”

Aoi had previously mentioned that Shura’s sword had a chance of withstanding her power, so Tsukasa had gone and borrowed it on her behalf. That way, Aoi would be able to fight uninhibited if the negotiations fell through.

When Shura had handed Byakuran over, she gave him the whistle as well.

“If you end up using Byakuran, call for Shiro. He’ll help. And he’s back in Yamato now. He’ll be close enough to come if you whistle for him,” she had explained.

“…And he won’t just bite me out of the blue when he shows up?” Tsukasa had asked.

Kaguya answered that one. “Nay. Shiro is a noble wolf—a descendent of Yamato’s guardian deity. He would never be so rude. If he were to bite you, he would make sure you saw it coming.”

“I’d rather he didn’t bite me at all.”

“Ha-ha. I jest, I jest. I promise he shan’t bite you, so worry not. Shiro understands the speech of man, and if you show him the whistle, he will know you to be an ally.”

As he thought back to that conversation, Tsukasa did as Kaguya had instructed. He raised Shura’s whistle in front of Shiro’s nose and jaw, the latter of which looked big enough to rip a person’s head off in a single bite.

Then, he spoke.

“I need you to take us to Princess Kaguya’s allies. Can you do that?”


The white wolf responded by opening its maw wide—



—but despite Lyrule’s and Ringo’s warnings, Tsukasa did not move. All Shiro took in his teeth was the whistle, deftly hooking its cord around one of his fangs. Then, he turned his back to the group and stooped down. Clearly, the great beast was telling them to get on.

“We seem to have an understanding, that we do,” Aoi remarked.

Tsukasa had been worried seeing those powerful jaws open, but Shiro had made no move to attack. As such…

“Ringo, Lyrule, get on. If he’s going to offer, it would be rude not to take him up on it, and his back should be large enough to fit both of you.”

“But what will you two do?” Lyrule asked.

“Aoi and I will walk.”

Ringo gave him a worried look. “But won’t…they…come after us?”

“Remember this afternoon? Given how the other locals are giving them the cold shoulder, the Resistance base is probably somewhat remote. Getting there will require heading off the beaten path, which means we’ll be fine. Tracking people through dark mountains without a guide is easier said than done,” Tsukasa assured.

Even search-and-rescue parties in the Prodigies’ era had difficulty locating someone lost in the peaks. Tsukasa’s explanation proved satisfactory, and Ringo and Lyrule timidly mounted Shiro’s argent back.

“Oh, goodness,” Lyrule commented. “He’s so fluffy. Our village made its living hunting, so we dealt with all sorts of pelts, but I’ve never seen a wolf with such luxurious fur before. It’s like he came from another world or something…”

“You’re right,” Ringo agreed. “He’s so…silky.”

After seeing how readily Shiro accepted them onto his back, the two girls finally relaxed a bit. The wolf’s magnificent coat gleamed as they gazed spellbound at it.

“Huh? Wh—?! Tsu…Tsukasa!” Ringo suddenly exclaimed. She was practically screaming. Frantically, she pointed at the back of Shiro’s neck.

Alarmed at Ringo’s rare display of shock, Tsukasa rushed over.

“Well, that’s certainly something.”

Buried underneath Shiro’s fur in the spot Ringo was pointing at, sat a black, jewel-like crystal. It had merged with his skin, almost like a scab. The two of them recognized that stone, for they’d seen its like twice before.

The first time was on the Lord of the Woods near Elm Village, and the second was when Gustav showed up during the declaration of Elm’s independence.

The precise nature of the crystal remained unknown. According to Keine’s and Ringo’s analysis, it bore a close resemblance to human flesh, but past that…


Before Tsukasa had time to give the matter much consideration, though, Shiro rose to his feet as if to say it was time to depart. Now that the townsfolk had fled, the streets were empty, and he took off at a run.

Tsukasa thought for a moment to keep observing the odd stone, but he chose to set that matter aside for now. There was only so long a person could loiter a mere jog from his enemy’s castle. The importance of the obsidian rock would have to be solved later. There were more pressing matters.

Tsukasa would get a chance to look into it eventually. Even knowing as much, it still bothered him.

There’s still so much about this world we don’t know.

That was why he needed to make sure that he was prepared for every eventuality, no matter how unlikely it might be.

For the moment, however, Tsukasa and Aoi followed Shiro’s lead, leaving Yamato’s former imperial capital, Azuchi, behind them and vanishing into the darkened forest.

After Mayoi’s careless comment ruined the Yamato-Elm meeting, the Elm delegation had left in a hurry.

However, Jade was not content to let the visiting diplomats get away and was determined to have them killed to conceal that the discussion had gone sour. The first thing he did was send up a signal flare.

That red light illuminating the sky had informed the castle’s soldiers that they were to intercept the intruders. Then, Jade had mobilized the ninja forces and sent them outside the castle’s perimeter through tunnels so they could destroy the wheels of the Elm delegation’s bizarre carriage. Surely, there was no way those four could escape. Jade had been confident of his victory.

“You couldn’t stop them?!”

And that was why Gamou’s report came as such a shock.

“To my great shame, no. Our foes were more skilled than we anticipated.”

“That’s why I sent two hundred of you nitwits! And you couldn’t catch four lousy people?! What gives?! This is unacceptable, my guy! I mean, what do we even pay you for?! Okay, what about the ninjas, then?! I sent a bunch of them out. What happened?!

“W-well, they did as you ordered and destroyed the wheels, but the wheels exploded the moment they stuck their knives in. They eventually succeeded in destroying them all, but they suffered serious injuries in the process. By their own admission, they had no choice but to retreat.”

“Rrrgh! You’re all useless, all of you!”

When you puncture large, off-road tires by hand, the air pressure released is strong enough to blast a person’s skin off. That the ninjas successfully destroyed all four despite that was worthy of praise. Jade was ignorant of that, though, so all he did was lambaste them as he cradled his head in his hands.

He was screwed.

Grandmaster Neuro ul Levias had personally instructed him to make sure the conference went smoothly, and given how the Elm ambassadors had reacted, especially Tsukasa, who was probably the nation’s de facto leader, the dominion government had likely just put the Freyjagard Empire in a disadvantageous position.

Neuro’s opinion of Jade was about to plummet, and with it, so would the career that Jade had scrabbled and bled to build. That was why it had been so crucial that Jade kill the Elm delegation in the castle, and yet…

Perhaps trying to calm her lover down, Mayoi said, “Hey, it’s no biggie! Not like we were ever gonna be besties with ’em anyways. I mean, they’re hiding my sister from us, so I was totes down with killing their asses anyways.   Just leave it to me! I’ll go round up ten thousand soldiers and kill ’em all dead! Two hundred might not have been enough, but with ten thousand, we’ll mop the floor with ’em! That’s me, always coming up with big-brain solutions. Holler!  ”

When Jade heard that, something inside him snapped. “Leave it to YOU?!?!”


He punched Mayoi in the face so hard, she collapsed onto the ground. A single hit proved insufficient to sate his anger, so he began mercilessly kicking her in the stomach. Jade’s foot plunged into her gut again and again and again and again.

“L-Lady Mayoi!!!!”

“Hey Mayo-Mayo, remember what I told you yesterday? ‘Don’t say anything stupid’! But noooo, you just had to go and open your big mouth! Now I’ve got a giant goddamn mess to clean up, and it’s all your fault!!!! Plus, we had ’em trapped in a closed-off castle, and two hundred people couldn’t get the job done. Now that they’ve made it outside, throwing bodies at the problem isn’t gonna cut it! Do you have any idea how thin they’d be spread, you stupid bitch?! Try using your fucking brain every once in a while!”

“Ow, ow, it hurts…! P-please stop…”

Mayoi clutched her stomach in agony just as Jade began to slam the girl’s head with his heel. “Knock knock, anybody home?!”

The violent outburst didn’t last much longer, however. Captain Gamou was still present, and he seized Jade by the collar and dragged him away from Mayoi.

“You wretch! How dare you lay a hand on Lady Mayoi!”

Gamou’s memories may have been false, but they were the indisputable truth to him. In his eyes, Mayoi was Yamato’s good and rightful ruler, and anyone who hurt her was going to have to answer to him. He drew his katana in righteous fury.

“Administrator from the empire or not, such actions are irredeemable! I’ll see that your head rolls for that affront!” Anger burned in Gamou’s eyes as he raised his blade aloft.

Jade responded…by shooting him a shockingly chilly glare. His voice was equally as icy as he spoke. “…What, you’re seriously gonna kill me? Ain’t that just crazy, Mayo-Mayo?”

Mayoi raised her voice, screaming through her violent coughs. “Kaff! Get—koff! Get away from him! Leave my darling alone!”

“What?! B-but my lady, after what he did to you—”

“I don’t care! Leave him alone and go crawl in a hole and die, you worthless piece of shit!”

As Mayoi shouted, a brilliant flash erupted from her body. Jade’s kicking had torn her sash, leaving her belly bare, exposing a black crystal embedded in it.

When it let out its dark pulse—

“At once, Lady Mayoi.”

—Gamou replied in a voice empty of all emotion.

Then the byuma man used his katana to lop his own head off.

Blood spurted as he crumpled to the floor.

However, neither of the two witnesses offered much in the way of a reaction.

Mayoi didn’t spare Gamou another glance. Instead, she pulled herself over to Jade.

“I-I’m so sorry about that, darling. Did—kaff, koff—did he hurt you?”

Jade slowly rose to his feet.

“Remember what I told you, Mayo-Mayo? Someday, I’m gonna claw my way to the imperial throne, so useful women are totally my type. But now look at this shit I’m in. With you slowing me down at every turn, Grandmaster Neuro ain’t gonna think too highly of me. At some point, a guy starts running outta love and patience.”

The instant the words left his mouth, Mayoi let out a shrill scream and violently shook her head from side to side in denial.

“No. Noooo!!!! Don’t say that! Please, take it back!”

“You and me? I’m thinking we’re done.”


It had been one thing while he was beating her, but her screams now were on a whole different level. Jade’s words pained her like she was being rent in two. She clung to his leg and sobbed as she made her maddened, desperate plea.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I’ll be useful! I’d do anything for you, darling, you know that!! So, don’t dump me! Don’t dump me, please!! I don’t wanna be singllllllllllllllllle!!!!”


Seeing Mayoi debase herself like that helped Jade calm himself a bit.

Gotta chill, he chided himself. Then he began to work out a solution.

At this point, there was no way they’d be able to catch the runaways. Yamato was primarily woods and mountains, so trying to sniff out four people was a fool’s errand. Securing the borders would help a little, but not enough to give him any real peace of mind. The safest option was to act under the assumption that the Elm delegation would be returning home without issue.

Trying to get ahead by piggybacking off Neuro’s influence wasn’t an option now that things had gone so awry.

Jade cursed under his breath at the state of it all. He’d put in such effort to manipulate Mayoi, subjugate Yamato, and rise to the position of administrator.

I’m still in this, though.

He wasn’t done for just yet.

There was one more path he could take, turning to the Bluebloods—the faction of traditionalist Freyjagard nobles who were taking a stand against the Four Grandmasters. Jade believed that switching sides gave him the best shot.

It wasn’t an appealing strategy. Jade knew quite well how wretched the Bluebloods were. Still, it seemed the best option in the long term.

With his plan set, Jade addressed the woman still clinging to his leg. “…Mayo-Mayo.”

Mayoi’s whole body twitched. She was afraid she was about to get dumped. However, Jade took a far gentler tone than he had moments before—

“That thing about us breaking up…JK about all that.”

—and he stooped and rubbed Mayoi’s head.


“Ha-ha. C’mon, lighten up! It was all just part of the game. You know, the JK Game? C’mon, Mayo-Mayo. You know you’re my ride or die.”

Changing his tune so blatantly took a lot of nerve. If anyone else had been present, they would have scowled in disgust. Unfortunately, Mayoi’s relief blinded her to how hollow his words were.

“…Ah, ha-ha.   S-so it was all part of the game. W-well, yeah, like, obviously! I mean, we’re the lovey-doveyest couple around! Oh, darling, you’re such a tease!” She smiled, her face covered in tears and blood.

Jade gave her a saccharine grin.

“But when I said we were boned, I meant it. I screwed up Grandmaster Neuro’s mission, so using him to climb the ladder is a no-go now. That means we gotta pivot and side with the Bluebloods. But if we wanna do that, we’re gonna have to toss ’em a little something-something to make it worth their while.”

“A something…something?”

“Yeah, like something that’ll really insult the Grandmaster. Something that’ll show the world how bad he blew it by making that alliance with Elm.”

Jade knew precisely what would do the trick. Mayoi’s pointed ears were neither hyuma nor byuma, but a special characteristic of those who had elven blood. He gently stroked them as he went on.

“Y’know Mayo-Mayo, your ears are pretty unique. There’s only a couple people in the empire with triangular ones like these… Outside of you, Guya, and Lycchi, I’ve never seen any nearly this long. Anyone could tell they’re yours just by looking at ’em. And man, if the Elm ambassadors pulled a sword on you during dinner and sliced one of ’em off before making a break for it…that’d be the scandal to end all scandals, don’cha think?”

“…I…” Mayoi’s face went as pale as a sheet.

It was clear that Jade wanted to fabricate a story about the Elm ambassadors turning to violence during an otherwise peaceful discussion. A baseless claim wouldn’t hold, however, so he planned to cut off one of Mayoi’s ears to serve as “evidence.” That would be proof enough, and because Neuro was the one who’d made peace with Elm, he was the one who’d take the fall.

The Bluebloods labored to oust Neuro, and a development like this was the sort that they’d latch on to immediately. That would be Jade’s in with them.

“You meant it when you said you’d do anything for me, right?” Jade pressured, grabbing Mayoi’s ear with one hand. His other drew a knife from a waist pocket.

Mayoi trembled violently, yet instead of trying to run—

“If I do…will that make you love me even more?”

—she asked a desperate question.

Jade beamed. “What’re you talking about, babe? My love for you is as maxed out as it gets.” Then he placed the knife at the base of her ear…and lopped it clean off.

Jade didn’t hesitate. He went about the action with the casualness of someone plucking an apple from a tree.

“Ah, ah, AAAAAAAARGH!!!!”

A scream surged from Mayoi’s throat as she crumpled to the ground from the overwhelming pain.



Jade looked down at her as she writhed. His lover had relinquished a part of her body for him, yet his expression remained entirely disinterested.

When I ship this ear over, I’ll need to ask ’em to send Shishi back from his teaching gig. Once those four return to Elm, there’s a chance they’ll launch an invasion.

Jade’s mind was preoccupied with his own plans, although that was to be expected.

To him, Mayoi was just a tool. He’d felt that way since the moment they met. She existed to help him claw his way up from the dregs of society, nothing more. His heart was empty and devoid of any love for her whatsoever.

The game had nothing to do with it— their entire relationship had been founded on lies.

If anything, Jade held Mayoi in contempt. She was weak and stupid. Looking at her reminded the man of his past self, and it vexed him. Still, he couldn’t afford to get rid of her yet. If he wanted to pitch himself to the Bluebloods, he would need Yamato.

Through Mayoi, Jade controlled Yamato’s military like it was his own, and he needed that power if he was going to actualize his dreams. Thus, he had no recourse but to maintain the farce of a relationship.

Jade reached into his pocket, withdrew his handkerchief, and pressed it against the side of Mayoi’s profusely bleeding head. It was a token gesture of sympathy—an act of love in pretext alone. Mayoi accepted it wholeheartedly, though, giving Jade a broad smile. The joyous look on her face was that of a woman who’d just been saved.

There sat a deep forest in northern Yamato that locals seldom ventured into. They called it the Sea of White Trees. The mountains surrounding the Sea of White Trees shrouded it in a protective mist, and much of the woods had yet to be mapped.

Within that shrouded forest sat a village.

It was composed of little more than simple wood-frame tents, with sheets of grass and cloth draped over them, and dwellings that had been cleverly built under rocky overpasses and in tree hollows. Humble plots of farmland accompanied the modest structures. Calling it a village was almost too generous. It was closer to a camp.

This was the Resistance hideout, where the soldiers who had escaped Mayoi’s memory alteration conspired with Kaguya to reclaim their nation.

One of the tents was markedly larger than the others. That was their war room, where they held strategy meetings. Inside it sat a long-haired, bespectacled hyuma named Kira, who had once been the Yamato Empire’s tactician. He had been taking notes a moment ago, but the new report he’d received caused him to stop writing and raise an eyebrow.

“Are… Are you sure, Hibari?”

The young woman across from him, Hibari, replied with a big nod.

“Certain. The red fireworks going up over Azuchi last night were visible from Yoshino’s red-light district. But isn’t it the wrong time of year to be holding a festival?”

“It must have been a signal. According to the soldiers we have observing the Rashomon Gate, the Elm ambassadors arrived yesterday, too… Did something happen during their meeting, I wonder…?”

“Well, let’s just hope that Elm didn’t agree to turn over Lady Kaguya.”


No sooner did the words leave Hibari’s mouth than Kira let out a loud, bloody cough. However, Hibari didn’t look the slightest bit concerned. To the contrary, she actually gave him an exasperated shrug.

“This again, Master Kira?”

“Rgh… I’m worried, dammit! You know how reckless Lady Kaguya is! I mean, going to a foreign land to ask for aid with only Shura there to defend her? They’re allied with the Freyjagard Empire, for crying out loud! I don’t care how important the mission was; she should have sent me instead! Wh-what if they’re torturing her?! And even if they aren’t, what if they stuff her in some freezing jail cell and she takes ill?! Oh, my stomach. My stomach…!”

“You’re such a worrywart, Master Kira.”

He was always like this.

Kira had more wisdom and talent than most people could dream of, between his military prowess and his skill as a poet, but he was also terribly faint of heart. The stress from even the smallest of troubles would cause him to cough up blood as his gastritis flared up. Everyone who knew him long enough saw the scene play out dozens of times. After realizing that he turned out fine, no matter how much blood he hacked up, they had more or less given up fretting over him.

“With Lady Shura there, I’m sure she’ll be all right. Here, drink some water.”


Kira received the bamboo cup of water Hibari offered him and used it to wash down some medicine of his own concoction. Doing so allowed him to regain some of his composure.

The man wasn’t blind to his proclivities, after all. He knew that he had a bad habit of assuming the worst. In truth, there was little danger of Elm handling Kaguya that roughly. The country had been founded on the principle of equality for all, so mistreating someone who came to them asking for help would go against their entire creed.

Judging by Elm’s current state, it clearly was in the hands of competent people. None of them would be foolish enough to risk jeopardizing their nation’s moral standing. Kaguya had understood that much, too. That was the whole reason she’d enacted her daring plan.

Furthermore, Elm had refused to hand Kaguya over to the empire without visiting the Yamato dominion for themselves first. Things were proceeding more or less the way the princess had hoped. Still, Kira knew that they weren’t out of the woods yet. There was no guarantee Elm would side with them.

The meeting in Yamato was worrisome, but Kira was more concerned about Elm’s election. Depending on how that bold experiment played out, there was a possibility Elm would turn Kaguya over to Freyjagard anyway.

“…Hibari, what’s the status on our troops?”

“We have roughly a hundred soldiers standing by and ready to act whenever, as per your orders, Master Kira.”

“Have them hold their positions and remain on high alert. If Elm rejects Lady Kaguya’s plea and chooses to give her up, then we’ll storm their caravan on its way to Azuchi and rescue her no matter the cost. Without her, we’ll never be able to restore Yamato.”

“Yes, sir.”

Satisfied by her reply, Kira picked up his brush and tried to get back to work. At the moment, he was in the middle of organizing the Resistance’s supplies and finances. The papers laid out in front of him documented their current condition. They described food supplies, equipment, workforce, and so on. As Kira looked back over the figures he’d just tallied, he turned a pained thought to the words he himself had just said.

“Restore Yamato,” huh…

With Kaguya and Shura gone, command of the Resistance had fallen to him. He’d put on a confident face in front of Hibari because that was a leader’s responsibility.

Yet as things stand, we won’t be able to put up a fight.

Guerilla tactics only worked with support from locals. Without the ability to source new supplies or personnel, it was taking all the Resistance had just to keep their heads above water. If Elm decided to oppose the rebellion, then miraculously recovering Kaguya would be a meaningless effort down the road anyway.

I have to make preparations to let Lady Kaguya survive, even if all else fails…

Kira’s gut began throbbing again. Right as he started clutching at it, though, someone rushed into the tent. A single glance at the rabbit-eared byuma samurai’s shocked demeanor was enough to tell him that something significant had occurred.

“M-Master Kira, big news!”

“Agh!” he cried. “Big?! As in, bad big?! Hibari, what do we do?!” Kira had already been feeling down, so, fearing the worst, he flew into a panic.

“Well, for starters, maybe we should hear her out?” Fortunately, Hibari’s chiding managed to calm the man down.

“All right, what’s this all about?” Kira asked.

“It’s Shiro! He’s back!” Hibari replied. “And he has four people with him who claim they’re the Elm ambassadors!”


Thanks to Shiro’s guidance, the Elm delegation managed to handily make their way through the dense mountain forest with no pursuers. They stopped once for the night, then arrived at the Resistance hideout the next day.

Kira and Hibari were managing things there in Kaguya’s absence, so the two of them greeted their new visitors. After some light introductions, they ushered the visitors into the war room tent and gave them a warm meal, albeit a meager one.

“That’s millet gruel and pheasant soup. Please, eat up while it’s hot.”

As Hibari handed Tsukasa and the others some trays, Kira gave them an apologetic bow.

“I’m sorry we have nothing nicer to offer you after you came such a long way to see us.”

“Not at all,” Tsukasa responded. “If anything, we should be the ones apologizing for the sudden intrusion.” While the two of them exchanged their diplomatic pleasantries—

“Forgive me for starting without you, but I’m famished, that I am. Your hospitality is much appreciated!”

—Aoi, whose plan had been to abdicate all the thinking to Tsukasa from the get-go, began unconcernedly eating.

Hibari, who was still in the middle of setting the dishes on the trays, rushed over to her in alarm. “Oh no, be careful! The pheasant meat has little bones in it, so if you drink it so quickly, you might hurt your—”

Crunch, crunch, crunch.

“Delicious! It tastes like chicken cartilage, that it does!  ”

“Wow,” Hibari replied. “I suppose that’s an angel for you.”

“That isn’t an angel thing. It’s just an Aoi thing.” Impressed as Hibari was, Tsukasa preferred to avoid being lumped in with Aoi.

He had been served pheasant once before, back on Earth, so he knew just how tricky it was to eat on account of its tiny, sharp bones. If he tried to mimic what Aoi had just done, it would shred his mouth and esophagus, possibly even killing him. That said, it was still meat.

Given where the Resistance was hiding, such a dish must have been a rare treat. They really were welcoming them with as much hospitality as they were able to muster.

Thankful for their hosts’ thoughtfulness, Tsukasa warned Ringo and Lyrule about the bones, then partook of his portion. However, by the time he was a mere two or three bites in—

“I-if I may!”

—Kira could no longer contain himself.

“I don’t mind in the slightest if you continue eating, but please, hear me out! I have so many questions!”

“…I imagine so. I don’t blame you.” Tsukasa signaled to the others that he would handle the inquiries, so they could go ahead and continue eating, then turned back to face Kira. “All right, ask away.”

“Thank you for being so accommodating. First, there’s something I absolutely need to know! Is our princess, Lady Kaguya, all right?! She hasn’t been h-harmed, has she?!”

It was a natural thing for him to be curious about. Tsukasa had seen this coming and thus replied immediately.

“Perish the thought. Our alliance with the empire means that we can’t go around treating her like a state guest, but rest assured that we’ve been treating her with the dignity and respect she deserves.”

“What about her food?! Is she eating properly?!”

“Neither she nor Shura seemed to have much of a taste for bread, so we had the Freyjagard government help us import Yamato rice. We’ve been preparing foods she’s accustomed to.”

“Goodness, you really are showing her respect!”

Kira hadn’t anticipated that Elm would go to such lengths. Hibari’s eyes widened in surprise, but her superior’s concerns had yet to be quelled.

“A-and what about her health?! The unfamiliar air hasn’t caused her to take ill, has it…?!”

“We met right before I left Elm, and she looked as fine as ever.”

“Ah, but looks can be deceiving! I mean, this is Lady Kaguya we’re talking about. Who’s to say she wasn’t just putting on a brave face?! But feces, feces never lie. Is she defecating daily?!”

“…I have no idea, and honestly, I think that’s for the best.”

Tsukasa didn’t know, nor did he want to.

“Don’t be gross, Master Kira. Can’t you see they’re trying to eat?”

“Ah, of…of course. My apologies.”

After Hibari cast him an icy look, Kira realized just how out of line that inquiry had been. His face went red. He then turned to Lyrule and Ringo, who had frozen mid-bite, and gave them a small bow.

“Sorry about that,” Hibari apologized. “He’s the nervous type.”

That much was plain to all in the tent.

From what Tsukasa had heard, Kira was a tactician by trade. In that line of work, discretion was often the better part of valor. Between him and Shura, it was plain to see that Kaguya was blessed with some excellent retainers.

“Worry not, Mr. Kira. Even if she was unfortunate enough to fall ill, the Seven Luminaries angel with the power of healing would be close at hand. I can guarantee you in the surest of terms that her well-being is in no danger.”

Even if Kaguya came down with a fatal illness, Tsukasa knew that Keine would find some way to cure it, and that unshakable confidence in her fueled the conviction in his words.

That declaration finally set Kira’s heart at ease.

“Oh, thank goodness… What a load off my chest…”

“I take it that’s enough to satisfy you?”

“Indeed it is. On behalf of the people of Yamato, and as their representative, I thank you for the warm reception you’ve given Lady Kaguya.” Kira bowed low as he spoke.

Tsukasa knew the best course of action would be to accept Kira’s gratitude. Instead of offering a humble deflection, he only waited for Kira to raise his head.

After a few moments…

“…If I may be so bold, I have another question I’d like to ask.”

Kira was ready to move on to other matters now that he knew Kaguya was unharmed. The worry had vanished from his face and was replaced by a sagacious gleam in his eyes. He observed Tsukasa carefully as he spoke.

“What in the world compels you to visit our humble camp? As I recall, you’re scheduled to be in the middle of a conference regarding Kaguya’s fate over in Azuchi right now. Shiro brought you here himself, so I know you’re no impostors. And then there’s the matter of the red fireworks sighted over Azuchi last night. While launched during celebrations, they’re also used to relay orders to soldiers. Did something happen during your meeting with Princess Mayoi?”

“I see you have keen eyes and sharp ears,” remarked Tsukasa. It was impressive that Kira’s forces had gathered that information both swiftly and accurately. “To get straight to the point, the negotiations between the Seven Luminaries and the Yamato dominion government have completely broken down.”


“During our brief time at Azuchi Castle, we learned about how the Yamato people’s memories were tampered with and how a warmongering usurper was being revered as a benevolent ruler. The Seven Luminaries hold the principle of equality for all and the idea that people’s rights and dignity must be protected at all costs to be sacred. As such, we’re unable to turn a blind eye to Yamato’s current situation.”

“Do you mean to say…?!”

“The Seven Luminaries will be taking immediate action to answer Princess Kaguya’s plea. Your Resistance movement has our full support.”

“W-we did it, Master Kira! They’re joining our side!” Hibari immediately let out a joyful cheer when she heard the news. Kira’s expression was still as stern as ever, though.

“…You said ‘the Seven Luminaries.’ Am I correct in taking that to mean that the Republic of Elm will not be offering us its assistance?” Unlike Hibari, he had picked up on the nuance in Tsukasa’s wording.

Tsukasa nodded openly. “You are. The only ones with the power to determine Elm’s future course of action are the people who get chosen for the national assembly in the election that’s currently underway. The Seven Luminaries have no say in their decisions, which means I can only guarantee support from us angels. I hope that doesn’t come as a letdown.”

“Not in the slightest!” Kira gave his head a slightly exaggerated shake. “I’ve heard all the stories about how the Republic of Elm came to be. Through the guidance of a group of divine agents, a revolution that began in a single small mountain village quickly expanded until it had wrenched four northern domains from imperial control. What you achieved was a miracle. Nothing could be more heartening to have by our side than your miraculous strength!”

Tsukasa got the sense that Kira was trying to convince himself as much as he was Tsukasa. If he had the option between a mere seven people and the might of the entire nation of Elm, he would have picked the latter in a heartbeat, and Tsukasa wouldn’t have held that against him.

All Kira knew of the Prodigies were the tiny bits and pieces he’d picked up from rumors, and he was wise enough not to believe everything he heard. Trusting claims about angels leading a mountain village to form an entire nation was ludicrous. He only chose to put his faith in those wild anecdotes because he had nowhere else to turn. Kira still didn’t trust them. Tsukasa was going to have to prove himself. Fortunately, he knew just what to do.

“Then, without further ado, I’d like to discuss how we’re going to overthrow the dominion government. If possible, I’d like us to make our first move tomorrow.”

“Th-th-that soon?! Do you already have a plan or something?”

As Kira gawked in surprise, Tsukasa gave his reply. “I have several, but to know how realistic they are, I need you to help me understand the Resistance’s present situation. How many able-bodied soldiers would you be able to muster?”

Kira fumbled for a reply, but eventually said, “I’m ashamed to admit it, but although we’ve been fighting on behalf of the Yamato people, their altered memories have made it difficult to garner support. The only way we’ve been able to maintain even our meager existence is with what little money we’ve scraped together by selling our spare game and what our members working in red-light districts have been able to send back. Only one hundred of our seven hundred soldiers are ready for combat…”

“What?!” Tsukasa cried in a rare show of incredulity. That number fell well outside the young man’s expectations. With the Resistance unable to earn widespread support and teetering on the edge of poverty—

“You have a hundred battle-ready soldiers?!”

—it was amazing that they were able to maintain forces like that.

“That’s correct, yes. I had them on standby for a recovery mission if you decided to have Elm hand Lady Kaguya over to the empire. Come to think of it, I was just in the middle of updating the documents on our current supplies. It also had a list of our human resources, so it would probably be faster to show you.”

Kira took the stack of rolled-up papers sitting on his desk and somewhat sheepishly handed it over. When Tsukasa read through them, he found the entirety of the Resistance’s logistics situation listed as it currently stood.

…I’m impressed.

They were impoverished, to be sure, but they hadn’t let that dull their blades. The reports listed resources in almost excessive detail, and Tsukasa could see that they were well and truly ready for battle. Much of that was owed to their airtight leadership. There was more to it than that, however.

I see. It’s no wonder the wise Princess Kaguya decided to play such a bold move.

What impressed Tsukasa most of all was the sheet that detailed the Resistance’s capable fighters. It described the responsibilities of every person in easily digestible terms. Most notably, it also revealed how many the Resistance was holding in reserve.

Given the way they had failed to earn support from the locals, the temptation to have everyone out working, so they could scrape together a little more money, must have been overwhelming, yet they had avoided doing so. Kira had successfully kept the big picture in mind. They weren’t there just to survive; they were there to fight.

Still, doing that was no easy feat. You had to shed as much of your arrogance, negligence, and greed as possible and focus entirely on the task at hand. Even then, you could never achieve more than your base goal. That was the price success demanded.

The fact that Kira could do that meant that he was the best bureaucrat a person could ask for. Part of the reason Kaguya had decided to take action herself was that she knew Kira would be able to hold the Resistance together in her absence.

“With this much manpower and supplies, we’ll be able to get to work overthrowing the dominion government at once,” Tsukasa stated.

“W-with so few people?! But how…?”

“I’ll explain in a moment. Hibari, I think I see a map of Yamato hanging on the wall over there. Would you mind if I borrowed it?”

“O-of course not. Let me get it for you.”

Hibari pulled the tacks from the map and spread the chart on the floor.

After looking the entire thing over, Tsukasa asked, “This mark represents our current location, correct?”

“It’s an approximation, but yes.”

“On our journey here, we passed by a large fortress. Right around…here.”

“Ah, you mean Fort Steadfast. It’s an impregnable bastion that’s repelled many Freyjagard invasions over our nation’s long history.”

“Sounds like it lives up to its name. That makes it all the more suited for our purposes. The plan is to have you storm the fortress with your hundred men, possibly by as soon as next week, to secure us an outpost on our path to Azuchi. After that, and this is the important part…”

Tsukasa explained his plan to Kira and Hibari, speaking in a pleasant tone neither too fervent nor too aloof. One by one, he laid out the actions they would need to carry out and the steps necessary to overturn the dominion government. The strategy was shockingly straightforward, yet at the same time chillingly effective—so much so that it earned gasps from the two Resistance members and the other three from Elm.

“Ah…! I—I never even considered such a strategy! But…it just might work! You’re right—the forces we have on hand would be plenty for that!” Kira cried.

“W-wow!” Hibari concurred. “I can’t believe you devised all that!”

“I didn’t,” Tsukasa replied. “I copied it off a certain scoundrel who used it in an actual battle. They say Yamato’s standing army is ten thousand strong, and if all goes well, this should go a long way toward evening the playing field. It’s a gamble, but the odds will be in our favor.”

All that remained was for Kira to agree to his plan or reject it. Tsukasa gave the man a look to let him know that the final decision lay in the Resistance’s hands. Kira spent a few moments in thought—

“All right. Let’s do it!”

—before choosing to adopt Tsukasa’s strategy.

He understood the Resistance’s current condition better than anyone, and he knew that this plan was the best shot they had.

“But…would you mind if I asked you one question?” Kira said while regarding Tsukasa with a bewildered look.

Tsukasa tilted his head in confusion. His explanation should have been clear enough that there shouldn’t have been any part requiring further clarification.

“What’s on your mind, Mr. Kira?”

“It’s just, this plan… I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how much danger it puts you all in… Why would you go so far for the people of Yamato?”

Ah, Tsukasa thought. So that’s what he’s hung up on.

He had only just met Kira, but it was clear to see just how nervous—cautious, perhaps—a man he was. To him, the whole arrangement undoubtedly seemed too good to be true. To the point that he was prepared to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Tsukasa recognized that coming clean was the best approach in this situation. Instead of lying and saying it was because they were angels, he decided to tell Kira the truth about how they had a dog in the fight as well. It was time to reveal the other thing they had come to Yamato for.

“…Mr. Kira, I’m afraid you’re working under two misconceptions. First off, although this strategy does endanger us, we’re more than talented enough to see it through. Don’t think of it as us taking on an excess of risk, but rather as us taking on responsibilities worthy of our skills.

“Second, while we do truly want to help liberate Yamato, I would be remiss not to mention that we have a separate, more personal goal we hope to achieve. There’s a place we’re looking for somewhere in Yamato, and with the dominion government trying to kill us, it’s going to make searching for it unreasonably difficult.”

“What place, might I ask?”

“I take it you’re familiar with ‘elves,’ Mr. Kira?”

Kira replied in the affirmative. “Of course. The empress was one.”

“Princess Kaguya and Princess Mayoi’s mother, yes. We’re hoping to find the elf settlement where she used to live. Do either of you know anything about it, by any chance?”

Kira shook his head apologetically. “…Unfortunately, I’m afraid not. Hibari?”

The woman mirrored her superior’s gesture. “I’m sorry, I can’t say where it is, either. I know that’s where Lady Hinowa came from, that’s all. I’ve heard there was a law against revealing anything about the settlement’s location to outsiders.”

“…Well, thank you anyway,” Tsukasa answered.

That was more or less what he’d anticipated.

He had posed the same question to Hinowa’s daughter Kaguya when he went to borrow Byakuran and the dog whistle, but even she was unsure. All her mother had told her was that it lay somewhere in the woods.

If the Prodigies wanted to find the settlement, they would have to search for it themselves. Right as the discouragement was starting to hit Tsukasa in earnest, though, Kira spoke up as though he’d just remembered something.

“Wait!! Actually, I might have something that could point you in the right direction!”

“You do?!” Tsukasa said, surprised.

“Hold on just a moment! As I recall, it was somewhere around here…” Kira hurriedly stood and rushed over to the other side of the tent, where he began tearing through the mound of wicker boxes piled high in the back.

After getting to the bottom of the heap—

“Aha! I found it!”

—he opened one of the lowest boxes and pulled out an old, roughly bound book.

“What is it?”

“It’s a journal that once belonged to a merchant named Adel who often visited Yamato on his travels. He and the empress knew each other before she married Emperor Gekkou, so there might be something in here about the elf settle—”

“HOLD ON A MOMENT!!!!” cried a female voice.

“““ ?!?!”””

Lyrule had risen to her feet. She had dutifully been keeping quiet to not disturb the discussion, so her abrupt shout came as a bit of a shock to everyone present.

Everyone looked at her in astonishment. Lyrule was far too preoccupied to worry about that, however.

“M-may I please take a look at that journal?!” she entreated hastily.

“Of course. Be my guest.”

Kira handed it over, and the blond elf hurriedly opened it and stared intently at the writing within.


The more she read, the wider her eyes grew. An outburst from Lyrule, who was usually so modest and polite, was enough to get Ringo to speak up in front of strangers.

“…What’s…wrong?” the shy inventor asked.

Tsukasa, meanwhile, was sinking into thought.


Now that he thought about it, that same name had come up in a conversation from a long time ago. If he remembered correctly…

“Lyrule, are they talking about who I think they are?”

Nodding slowly, Lyrule answered, “They are. It’s… It’s him; I know it is. I’d recognize these characters anywhere. They’re a perfect match to the ones Elch and I studied to learn how to read!”

Sure enough, the notebook’s former owner was none other than…

“This handwriting is Elch’s father’s!!”

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