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Chapter 8 - Smoldering Embers

It was about half a month before the Bluebloods would stage their coup d’état in the empire.

The Yamato self-governing dominion sat at the easternmost side of the Freyjagard Empire. Its capital, Azuchi, was surrounded on three sides by forested mountains, providing the city with substantial natural fortification. The only way to march from the empire to Azuchi was to go through the Amagi Pass, and the entrance to the mountain range was guarded by the sturdy Fort Steadfast. Throughout Yamato’s long history, the garrison had thwarted the Freyjagard Empire’s numerous invasions, providing Yamato with opportunities to turn the tides. The fort was downright impenetrable, and for the dominion government, it served as their final line of defense.

Or it had, up until a few days ago. The Resistance, with the help of the High School Prodigies, who’d come to Yamato as ambassadors from the Republic of Elm, had claimed Fort Steadfast as theirs.

“Whoa, the repair efforts are coming along nicely. You’ve got that wall we blasted nearly completely patched up.”

“Darn tootin’ I do. I’ll have you know I’m a professional.”

“Wait, you’re a carpenter? I coulda sworn you were a winter hunter like me.”

“Okay, technically it was my old man who was the carpenter.”

“That makes you just as much an amateur as the rest of us, pal.”

“Hey, I’ve been helping my dad out with his work since I was a kid. Even after I became a winter hunter, I always handled all the repairs ’n’ stuff when we made camp. As you can see, I’ve still got it.” As he spoke, the byuma who’d been restoring the section of the fort that got destroyed in battle the other day took a breather. He sat down on a pile of rubble and drank from his canteen. “Ah, that hits the spot. Course, if they’d sent me some of the guys makin’ that weird doohickey inside, I coulda finished even quicker. I guess it’s fine, though. The wall wasn’t too busted up to begin with.”

“True.” The other Resistance member, a skinny hyuma, nodded in agreement. “Makes sense, what with how quick our siege ended. Never thought I’d see Fort Steadfast fall that easy.”

“It’s all thanks to Ms. Aoi. I can slash through iron, too, but the most I can manage is about three bu [just under half an inch]. I can’t believe anyone other than Master Shishi is capable of cleaving through Fort Steadfast’s ten-sun-thick [about twelve inches] iron gate with just a sword.”

The two of them turned and glanced over at Fort Steadfast’s entrance.

The garrison had only one entrance, which had once been barred by a twelve-inch-thick iron gate that was substantially sturdier than the stone walls encircling Fort Steadfast. However, the gate was a shadow of its former self now. It had been sliced into seven slabs of iron, and prodigy inventor Ringo Oohoshi was hard at work trying to join them back together.

The Resistance had stormed Fort Steadfast a few nights prior, and the first step of their raid had been for prodigy swordmaster Aoi Ichijou to intentionally cleave through the sturdiest part of the structure as if slicing through tofu.

It made for an awe-inspiring sight—one that the Resistance fighters would never forget. Nor would they ever fail to recall the shrill screams that had risen up from the enemy combatants inside.

“Guess ya can’t blame ’em for freaking out when we charged in that boldly.”

“You can say that again. Those angels were a godsend for sure, but we pulled our weight, too. Fort Steadfast’s stopped tons of imperial invasions, but we took it over in a single night with basically no losses. We’re pretty dang strong.”

“Don’t go gettin’ big heads, now.”


The newcomer hadn’t so much as raised his voice, but his words struck the pair of soldiers as surely as if they’d been shouted. They turned around…

“C-Commander Kokubu!”

…and saw a man standing behind them. It was the middle-aged, suntanned samurai who’d given orders during the attack on the fort. He was a longtime veteran and, after Shura, the second strongest member of the Resistance forces.

Kokubu turned his sharp, hawkish gaze upon the two young soldiers drunk on the taste of the victory. “You kids did good work, sure, but we only got through the battle so painlessly because of Mr. Tsukasa.”


“While Ms. Aoi distracted our foes, he set up barrel bombs at the fortress’s rear wall and blasted a hole in it. But instead of using the opening to invade, he abandoned it to rejoin Ms. Aoi. Didn’t that strike you as odd?”

“It did,” answered one of the two warriors. “I wondered why bother going through the effort to make an entrance he wasn’t gonna use. All it did was leave more for us to clean up.”

Kokubu shook his head. “It might’ve seemed meaningless, but that there was the most critical maneuver of the whole battle.”

“How so?”

“By giving our opponents an escape route, Mr. Tsukasa prevented the fort’s soldiers from becoming dead men walking.”

In military parlance, this was known as a three-sided siege. When you attacked an opponent, boxing them in on all four sides and leaving them no way to retreat would drive them to desperation and turn them into dead men walking—soldiers who could no longer be cowed by the fear of death. That kind of abandon paved the way for a vicious counterattack, and the phrase “three-sided siege” was a reminder to always leave one side open. No matter the era, keen military leaders were careful never to attack every gate when they were assaulting a castle. Standard operating procedure was to make sure your enemies had a way to flee so they didn’t become cornered rats.

However, that necessary tactic proved difficult to employ because of Fort Steadfast’s construction.

The bastion possessed only a single gate for entrance or exit. What’s more, it was incredibly heavy and made of iron, so it wasn’t the kind of thing someone could open on a whim. Fort Steadfast was designed that way precisely because it was the Yamato capital’s final line of defense. Just as the doctrine of three-sided sieges asserted, the best way to draw out a soldier’s full strength was to turn them into a dead man walking, and Fort Steadfast was designed specifically to prevent the people defending it from fleeing. By taking advantage of that psychological mechanism, the garrison drew the most out of every soldier defending it. While the dead men walking held back their enemy’s advance with their newfound tenacity, reinforcements from Azuchi could circle around the enemy army and launch a counterattack.

It wasn’t mere luck that had allowed Fort Steadfast to repel the imperial army on so many occasions. Every miracle had some trick or contrivance behind it, and that no-escape-method had allowed Yamato to overcome many crises since the nation’s founding. That cruelly rational system was the bastion’s foundation, the source of its strength and impregnability.

Naturally, attacking Fort Steadfast without accounting for that factor would have led them to tremendous losses. A single glance at the structure’s location and layout had been enough for Tsukasa to recognize that.

That was why he’d turned the whole situation on its head.

By loudly destroying the front gate and stirring up the enemy troops’ fears, then blowing a hole in the outer wall right when they thought there was no escape, Tsukasa had offered the defending Yamato forces a way out. As they grappled with the notion that they would die, Tsukasa offered them a single ray of hope to latch on to like a proverbial spider’s thread being lowered into the depths of hell.

There wasn’t a person alive capable of refusing that lifeline.

With that, Fort Steadfast became little more than an antiquated pile of rocks.

“The soldiers in Fort Steadfast fled in fear of Ms. Aoi’s might, and that allowed what should’ve been a protracted siege to end in a single night. Now we control a forward outpost in our campaign to take back Yamato, and it hardly cost us a man to achieve it. Who cares about slaughtering the fort’s soldiers when we already got the biggest prize there is?”

The two younger soldiers gave their commander’s explanation a pair of appreciative nods.

“O-oh, wow… So that’s what happened…”

“I get it. We cut through that thick gate instead of goin’ in the side to make our foes feel like they didn’t have a shot.”

The two of them had been on the breaching squad and had witnessed firsthand just how unmotivated the fort’s defenders were. It was all thanks to Tsukasa’s plan that eliminated what made Fort Steadfast so steadfast before his side ever set foot in the structure.

That wasn’t all, though. There was something else that made Commander Kokubu confident that Tsukasa deserved the credit for the plan’s success—the responses to his orders during the attack.

“Listen… Remember how Mr. Tsukasa personally went through each of our squads and shuffled the members around before the attack? Well, his reorganization was nothin’ short of incredible. I was an officer during our last big war with Freyjagard, too, and in all my days, I’d never commanded squads anywhere near as coordinated as the ones we had the other night.”

The group in charge of blasting the wall got it done without a hitch, those meant to storm the garrison ran in gallantly without hesitation, and the squad responsible for covering the flank did so with an almost paranoid level of vigilance.

Everyone had executed their tasks beautifully.

It sounded so easy, but in most battles, achieving that level of control was a pipe dream. Yet the inexplicable had been a reality this time.

“Most of the Resistance troops are like you boys and only became soldiers when they got conscripted in the war three years back. Goes without saying that none of you have the experience of proper fighters. Yet your precision, your speed, everything you did put our seasoned enemies to shame. And the only reason that was possible was because every one of you fit your assigned roles like a glove.”

“So you’re saying that Mr. Tsukasa figured out what each of us was good at and appointed us to squads where we could do our best?” the hyuma soldier asked.

“Th-there’s no way. He must’ve just gotten lucky, right?” the byuma said.

Kokubu answered their questions with one of his own. “You ever tell Mr. Tsukasa you were good at carpentry?”

“Who, me? No, I don’t think so. During the reorganization, I told him about me being a winter hunter, but… Wait, huh?” The byuma soldier gasped. “Hey, you’re right. I never mentioned carpentry once.”

Kokubu had hit the nail on the head. Sure enough, Tsukasa had determined the individual talents of Resistance members he’d only just met and put them into suitable groups. Being prime minister required delegating responsibiliteis to huge numbers of people, and it was in that role that Tsukasa had fostered his keen powers of observation. Everything about a person’s appearance, from the way their gaze shifted, to the movements of their mouth, to how tan their skin was, to the state of their hands, to their build, to the length of their fingernails, and even to the odor they gave off, told the story of their life.

Tsukasa saw all of it.

He discerned people’s emotional states from their actions and gestures, and by inspecting their physiques, he could intuit the processes by which they’d attained them. Once he was armed with that knowledge, he could pick those best suited for a task. On a large scale, this allowed him to get an organization operating at peak efficiency.

If not for that, he never would have been able to take Japan as it reeled from both a global financial crisis and the previous administration’s misgovernance and right the ship in just a single year.

However, the Resistance members knew nothing of Tsukasa’s history, so they had no problem interpreting his triumph as that of a supernatural being—an angel.

“Those angel eyes of his can see right through humans like us,” Kokubu said. “I gotta hand it to Lady Kaguya. These reinforcements she sent us are somethin’ else.”

“…You really believe the angels are actual angels, Commander?”

“Do you not?”

“I mean, there’s no mistakin’ how incredible they are, but…they look so human, and besides, I don’t know if angels even exist at all.”

The middle-aged commander nodded sagely. “Far as I’m concerned, it don’t much matter one way or the other.” He paused a beat, then went on. “Honestly, I almost hope they are human.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, maybe. If it turns out that Mr. Tsukasa’s power to manage people ain’t divine, and he’s just a man like you or me, then he must surely be the king of some nation at least a dozen times bigger ’n Freyjagard. I can’t for the life of me think of anyone I’d rather have on my side than that.”

Prodigy politician Tsukasa Mikogami.

Prodigy inventor Ringo Oohoshi.

Prodigy swordmaster Aoi Ichijou.

The three of them, together with Lyrule, had come to Yamato with two goals.

One of them was to see whether Kaguya, who was still held in the Republic of Elm, was telling the truth about the Yamato people being subjected to inhumane conditions.

The other was to hopefully determine the identity of the “Evil Dragon.”

An entity, one that was probably responsible for bringing them to that world in the first place, had once contacted them through Lyrule to deliver a message to them.

“This world…is being engulfed…in a massive evil dragon’s maw… I beg of you, O Seven Heroes, you must save this world.”

Then there was the Seven Luminaries’ religion that had once been popular on this continent.

“Long ago, seven heroes arrived from another world and saved the continent from an evil dragon’s rule.”

Based on those two pieces of information, they had already concluded that the evil dragon was some sort of threat to the world. However, its exact nature remained unclear. All Tsukasa and the others knew was that if they returned to Earth via Neuro’s magic, the notion of some evil dragon terrorizing this world would haunt them. People of this planet had aided the Prodigies and even saved their lives. And during their time here, the high schoolers had made all sorts of irreplaceable friendships. Regrets were the last thing they wanted to have. If some great danger approached and could only be stopped with their help, then they would do everything they could. Only then would the teenagers be able to head home with clear consciences.

That was why, when Neuro offered to send them home, they’d asked for a postponement instead of immediately accepting. And in the meantime, they’d gotten to work investigating the evil dragon. That was when Princess Kaguya of Yamato told them of a small tribe of elves who lived in her country and told their children, “Yggdra doth not like bad children—and a mean old dragon will gobble them up.” The tale bore a striking resemblance to the stories about the evil dragon.

According to Kaguya, the elves lived in a hidden village in Yamato, and the Prodigies figured visiting this secluded place might reveal more about the evil dragon’s true nature. Unfortunately, not even Kaguya, who was an elf, knew of the settlement’s location. The Prodigies knew that finding it would be no easy task, but it was the first decent lead to pursue. There was no way they were going to give up on it.

Following that tiny thread had brought them to Yamato and had led to their acquiring the journal of a traveling merchant—Elch’s father Adel—who they suspected had traveled to the elf village.

A few days had passed since the occupation of Fort Steadfast, and night had fallen.

Up on the ramparts, Tsukasa flipped through an aged journal. It was the one he’d been given by Resistance tactician Kira, the one that had belonged to Adel. Tsukasa suspected that the elves might know who or what the evil dragon was, and this diary was the one present clue to the elf village’s location.

A little while had passed since Tsukasa received the journal, but between preparing to capture the fort, overseeing its repairs, and getting ready for the rest of their campaign to retake Yamato, he hadn’t been able to set aside any time to read it. Now that the initial reconstruction was done, though, he finally had a few moments to peruse the contents of the account. After quickly but thoroughly reviewing the information contained within…

…Tsukasa let out a long, deep sigh.

Was it out of disappointment?

Not at all.

Adel’s notes had simply proved so engrossing that Tsukasa had forgotten to breathe. The writings were of great significance to him and the other Prodigies…

…and to her, too.

“Excuse me, Tsukasa?”


Someone called to the young prime minister standing alone beneath the night sky.

Tsukasa tore his gaze away from the closed journal and looked in the direction of the voice. There he spied the very girl he’d been thinking of coming his way. Her long blond hair shone white as it swayed in the moon’s glow.

“Hello there, Lyrule. What brings you out so late?”

“Summer’s almost over, and if you go out after dark, it brings your temperature down. Especially when it’s so windy,” she replied, offering Tsukasa a fur blanket.

“Thank you. That was thoughtful.” Tsukasa took the quilt and draped it over himself. “You’ve been treating the wounded, I assume?”

“That’s right, and the spirits have been helping me. The time I spent with Keine taught me a lot. Of course, not that many people actually got injured. I have to say, the Resistance’s fighters are a sturdy bunch.”

“It makes sense. It’s been three years since the war, and they’ve spent that whole time fighting a lonely battle where the very people they’re trying to rescue aren’t aware they’re being dominated. That’s the kind of thing that forges hearts and minds alike into steel.”

Still, Tsukasa was surprised that the Resistance could muster so many troops, given that the brainwashed people of Yamato saw them as an annoyance. Normally, guerilla tactics were only possible when you had the support of the locals. Without their aid, obtaining supplies became all but impossible, and you would be left to wither away slowly.

However, Yamato’s rebellion movement was different.

They were haggard, to be sure, and tired to the bone, but they hadn’t let that dull their fangs. Instead of allowing themselves to be reduced to a pack of wild dogs focused only on survival, they had remained as wolves and kept their minds on the real fight.

“I have no doubt they’ll be able to retake Yamato,” Tsukasa declared. His voice rang with confidence.

Lyrule nodded in agreement, but stopped abruptly. She’d just noticed that Tsukasa was holding Adel’s notes.

“Oh, you have Adel’s journal. Did you read it all the way through?”

“…I did, yes.”

“And, um… What did it say?” Lyrule inquired. Reserved as her voice was, fierce curiosity burned in her eyes.

She wasn’t asking if Tsukasa had found information about the elf village. Rather, She hoped to hear Adel’s words.

Lyrule had no parents of her own, but Winona was like a mother to her, and with Adel being Winona’s husband, he was the closest thing Lyrule had to a father. It was only reasonable for her to want to know what her beloved family member had spent his time doing in this foreign land…and whether or not he’d left any messages for her and the others back in Elm.

The anticipation must have been torturous.

Tsukasa looked down for a moment before answering. “There was a lot. In addition to the journal entries, there were lists of transaction records and sketches of things Adel saw on his travels. There were also a lot of gaps, some of them up to a year long, which makes me think he kept the journal less as a regular habit and more as a way to kill time on long trips. Still, it allows us to track his actions over a fairly long period.”

The account detailed how the Orion Company had entrusted Adel with the task of overcoming Yamato’s isolationist national policies so it could expand into the new foreign market.

Then it described that Yamato’s closed-off topography and general mistrust of the empire led to all of Adel’s negotiations going poorly.

Later, midway through his travels, Adel got into an accident after entering a vast forest.

“…One passage explains that when he was at death’s door in the woods, he was saved by a small tribe of elves who revered a god named Yggdra…and who believed in a religion called the Seven Luminaries.”

Lyrule’s eyes went wide. “The Seven Luminaries?! Then…then we were right!”

“We were indeed. We finally found it.”

Just as Tsukasa had predicted, the true Seven Luminaries’ religion had survived the Freyjagard Empire’s purge and continued quietly being practiced deep in the forest of the neighboring nation of Yamato.

“According to Adel’s notes, the person who rescued him was Hinowa, Kaguya’s mother. This was back before she married into the Yamato imperial family. After that, he began trading with the elf village, and it was actually through Adel that Hinowa and Emperor Gekkou met and became engaged. Both thought very highly of him, and thanks to that, he was able to establish trade routes with Yamato despite their longstanding isolationist policies. Once the Orion Company became the sole pioneers of the Yamato marketplace, it rapidly grew to the largest enterprise north of Drachen.”

“I never knew… That must be why Adel refused to turn his back on Yamato in its hour of need.”

“Exactly,” Tsukasa replied. “The people of Yamato weren’t just trading partners to him. In Adel’s eyes, he owed them his life. And as for the woods where he had his accident, he doesn’t list any precise route, but between his ledger entries and the locations he recorded before and after the incident, I’m certain that it happened in the Forest of No Return in southern Yamato. That alone is a huge find.”

A vast sea of trees stretched across the southeastern side of the continent, and somewhere within, there was a hidden elf village.

There, Adel heard the story that went, “Long ago, seven heroes arrived from another world and saved the continent from an evil dragon’s rule.” Later, he’d passed that tale along to Winona.

Finding that hidden village would reveal everything: the story’s origin, the nature of the evil dragon, who had summoned the Prodigies, and why. All the secrets would be uncovered at last; Tsukasa was confident after reading Adel’s journal.

“Also…” There was one more thing. The diary’s contents…contained a big secret about a certain person. Tsukasa hesitated for a moment, but ultimately handed the journal to Lyrule. “There’s something else. Some information in this journal concerns you specifically.”

Lyrule gasped. “Wh…? M-me?”

“That’s right.”

“What do you mean?”

Tsukasa shook his head. “I don’t think it’s really my place to say. Take the diary and read for yourself when you’re ready.”

It wasn’t imperative that Lyrule learn the truth. The events recorded in Adel’s account would have no immediate impact on the girl’s life, and learning of them might only upset her.

For a moment, Tsukasa had considered not mentioning the topic at all, at least not for the time being. What’s the harm in waiting until the Yamato situation is resolved to tell her? he’d mused.

However, Tsukasa had quickly changed his mind. It didn’t matter what else was going on; he had no right to keep this information from her. Doing so would go against everything he stood for as a person.

Thus, Tsukasa relinquished the journal to Lyrule.


Lyrule seemed a little daunted before Tsukasa’s serious expression, but she took the old book from him regardless.

The rest was up to her.

After handing the journal over, Tsukasa turned his gaze away from Lyrule and toward the southern sky. “The Forest of No Return is to our south-southeast, but there are several checkpoints between here and there, and they’re controlled by an adversarial power—Princess Mayoi’s dominion government.

“Our first course of action will be to change that. Both to ensure we can conduct our search in peace…and to rescue the Yamato people.”

Everything about the Yamato self-governing dominion was twisted and wrong. In the war three years prior, Kaguya’s sister Mayoi had betrayed her nation and aided the Freyjagard Empire with their invasion. Then she’d sealed away the Yamato people’s memories, ruling as though the takeover had been amicable. At first glance, present-day Yamato appeared peaceful and idyllic…but that was nothing more than a facade. The people had been unjustly robbed of their outrage and sorrow. They were being forced to live a lie. It was a flagrant abuse of human rights, and because the Prodigies were trying to elevate civil liberties to a globally acknowledged norm, the issue became that much more pressing for them.

On top of that, Tsukasa had seen something he couldn’t ignore. During the dinner at Azuchi Castle, he’d caught a glimpse of the sheer hatred Mayoi carried for Yamato.

“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.”

“That woman is a threat. I don’t know what exactly transpired between Mayoi and her homeland, but she despises this nation and everything in it.

“The longer she has power over the lives of its people, the more likely it is that something terrible will happen.”

Now that Tsukasa and the others understood how dangerous Mayoi was, they were obliged to do something about her. They needed to work together with the Resistance to oust her from power before the worst-case scenario became a reality.

In contrast to Tsukasa’s enthusiasm, a look of unease crossed Lyrule’s face. “I actually wanted to talk to you about that. I’m certainly all for helping the Yamato people, but…I’m just a little worried about everyone back in Elm. Our opponents saw Aoi fighting in that last battle, so I have to imagine that by now they know that we’re helping the Resistance…”

She was concerned that their actions would put the Republic of Elm in an awkward political position.

“I can’t say your fears are unfounded,” Tsukasa replied.

The idea was that they were helping the Resistance as the Seven Luminaries, not as the Republic of Elm. They could truthfully state that when they went to Azuchi Castle as ambassadors, they’d stuck fast to Elm’s policy of fighting only for self-defense and never went on the attack. Furthermore, when Tsukasa informed Elm about the situation in Yamato via satellite, he chose to keep their involvement with the Resistance to the High School Prodigies’ inner circle. That information never made it to the general public, so the Republic of Elm could truthfully assert that the Seven Luminaries had made that decision independently.

“However, the empire isn’t likely to agree to that so easily.”

Tsukasa had set up this situation so that when things in Yamato came to a head, the Republic of Elm and its newly assembled national assembly would have a legitimate excuse to cut ties with the Seven Luminaries. It could declare that the situation was the Seven Luminaries’ and the Freyjagard Empire’s problem and wash its hands of the whole affair. Unfortunately, that alibi wouldn’t actually quell the empire’s rage.

Diplomatic relations between the Republic of Elm and the Freyjagard Empire were about to break down in a fundamental way. However…

“At the end of the day, the exact same thing would’ve happened whether we aided the Resistance or not.”


“As soon as things went south at that dinner party and the dominion government attacked us, there were always going to be repercussions concerning Elm’s relationship with the empire. Even if we didn’t press the issue, the dominion government leaders would inevitably report back to Freyjagard and claim that we threw the first punch.”

“B-but that would be a lie, wouldn’t it?”

“Definitely. But when it comes to statecraft, having the truth on your side is far less important than having the biggest voice. In diplomacy, you can get away with anything as long as you say it loudly enough for a long enough time. And because we were going to have to get the situation under control one way or the other, our best option was to start choosing which truths we told to make ourselves look as favorable as possible. ‘The dominion government attacked us out of nowhere, so we formed a temporary alliance with the Resistance to keep ourselves safe.’”

From the moment the Yamato dominion government drew steel against Tsukasa and the others at the castle, greater trouble was unavoidable. At the same time, however, that meant there was no need to make an effort to keep the peace. Now that the situation had devolved into open combat, Tsukasa’s side could milk it for all it was worth; no more waiting around for enemies to come to them.

“Once Freyjagard takes action, our options will become far more limited, so I want to resolve things in Yamato before they have a chance to act. For the time being, we still have the ability to shove all the blame on the Yamato dominion government and insist that all our actions were taken in the name of legitimate self-defense.”

“W-wow, that’s really aggressive. I don’t know that I would have thought of that…”

“Charging in when your opponent is on the back foot and ensuring that you seize all the ground they’re forced to give up is basic diplomacy. Compromise and conciliation don’t just spring out of thin air. They can only be fostered once both sides have finished exchanging blows. The dominion government crossed the line first, and I have no intention of handling them gently. The next thing we’ll want to do is—”

Suddenly, a sound cut through the night from across the pass, silencing Tsukasa. It was the tolling of a bell, and the noise shook the air as it traveled across the whole length of Yamato.

“That’s… That’s the bell Kira mentioned, isn’t it?”

Tsukasa gave Lyrule’s question a nod. “And to think that, at first, all I thought it did was tell the time…”

Now that the bell’s ringing had interrupted their conversation, the two of them thought back to their first night with the Resistance.

After they’d agreed to aid the Resistance in the name of the Seven Luminaries, they started discussing how they intended to take Fort Steadfast and what their plans would look like from there. During that conversation, Tsukasa had posed a question to Kira, the tactician managing the Resistance in Kaguya’s absence.

“There’s something I’ve been wondering. How did the Resistance members protect their memories from being altered like the rest of the Yamato people’s?”

“Did Lady Kaguya not tell you?” Kira asked with a tilt of the head. However, when Tsukasa replied…

“She suggested it would be best if we saw Yamato’s situation for ourselves.”

…Kira smiled. “I can see that Lady Kaguya has placed a lot of faith in you. Now, before I explain, I should start by telling you how Lady Mayoi is brainwashing the masses. That information happens to be of deep strategic importance. Have you ever heard a bell ringing since you crossed the border and entered Yamato?”

“We have. I recall it chiming after we fled from Azuchi.”

Tsukasa was referring to when Shiro, the massive wolf that accompanied Kaguya’s retainer Shura, led him and the others to the Resistance hideout. During that journey, the Elm delegation had definitely heard an earthshakingly loud bell.

“The noise itself is the magic Lady Mayoi uses to control Yamato. Inside Azuchi Castle, next to the main castle tower, there’s an abandoned belfry that went unused and unmaintained for so long that the whole thing grew over with moss. It was so ancient that it seemed likely to collapse at any moment. Between that and how much of an eyesore it was, we advised Emperor Gekkou on several occasions to have it demolished and rebuilt. However, we were forbidden from even approaching it. I always found that a bit odd…but as it turned out, there was a good reason for that. The bell housed in that tower is no mere worn-down lump of metal but an ancient magical artifact. If someone with magical aptitude casts their power upon it, they can use its song to command all the native spirits of Yamato and send their spell across the nation.”

This wasn’t the first time Tsukasa had heard about artifacts. He’d encountered mentions of others while digging through all the books on magic he could find in Heiseraat’s mansion to prepare for the battle against Gustav. Artifacts were magical devices used in times of yore that people occasionally dug up. Most were simply wands and cauldrons like the sort Lyrule and other modern-day mages employed, but the rare few were incredibly powerful tools that modern magic couldn’t replicate.

“Spirits don’t just exist in plants and flowers; they exist in people, too. They make up our bodies, and if you meddle with them, it’s possible to manipulate people’s minds and memories. Magic like that has the power to devastate nations, and that’s why the bell’s secret was only passed to those who took Yamato’s throne. We had no idea until our homeland fell and Lady Kaguya told us about it. Somehow, though, Lady Mayoi discovered the truth despite not being at the top of the line of succession…”

Kira went on to describe how that had led to Yamato’s defeat in the previous war. After disguising herself as Kaguya, Mayoi used the bell to delay Yamato’s response to the empire’s attack. The effects were devastating.

“I don’t know where she learned it, but Lady Mayoi has some incredibly powerful brainwashing magic, and thanks to the bell, she’s able to spread and maintain it over the whole of Yamato. There are only two ways for people on Yamato soil to escape its effects. Hibari, would you mind showing them the first one?”

“Of course.”

When Kira spoke her name, the young woman sitting next to Tsukasa withdrew an item from her sleeve. It was a red drawstring pouch small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. Inside was a beautiful pink clam. The shell was closed up tight and bound with a lock of black hair.

“Each of these amulets has a strand of the owner’s hair inside and is sealed with hair from Lady Kaguya’s own head. Lady Kaguya made them for us, and it is by their power that some of the Resistance is kept safe from the bell. However, I take it that you angels don’t have anything of the sort.”

Tsukasa nodded. “That’s right. The only things Princess Kaguya gave us were a wolf whistle and a sword.”

“I don’t have any protective charm, either,” Kira said, “and I imagine the imperial soldiers stationed in Yamato don’t. Yet the brainwashing still doesn’t affect us, and that’s because of the second method. It’s actually more of a prerequisite than something intentionally achievable, and it has to do with the circumstances of our birth.”

“What do you mean?”

“According to Lady Kaguya, the bell only works on the spirits native to Yamato, so while it influences people who’ve spent generations drinking Yamato water and growing up here, it has no sway over those without Yamato’s native spirits in them, like you angels or the imperial soldiers. My parents and I were driven out of Lakan and came to Yamato when I was a child, so the bell doesn’t influence me. Most of the Resistance’s members are immigrants and people whose families have lived here for three generations or less; all those without strong enough ties to fall under Lady Mayoi’s control. After all, Lady Kaguya can only make so many amulets…”

Tsukasa nodded at Kira’s explanation.

To sum it all up, the bell was essentially a giant magic wand that could control Yamato’s native spirits. However, its very existence gave rise to another concern.

“…That’s a dangerous object to have lying around. Given how the secret’s been passed down through the generations, it stands to reason that there might have been rulers other than Mayoi who used the bell for selfish ends. Even if you manage to reclaim Yamato from Freyjagard, what’s to stop Princess Kaguya from using the bell to bring everyone under her control? Don’t you find the prospect worrisome?” Tsukasa looked at Kira and Hibari. The two of them had the expressions of pigeons who’d been shot with peashooters. “What’s the matter?”

Kira shook his head. “I, um, I don’t really know how to put it…”

“You just made me realize that I’d never considered that,” Hibari replied.

“…You didn’t?”

“No, not at all. Part of it is that before Lady Hinowa joined the bloodline, no one in the imperial family was born a mage, but…more importantly, we just know. We’ve had a lot of emperors across our history, and none of them have ever been the sort to do something so selfish.”

Hibari went on to elaborate on the myriad ways the past rulers of Yamato had put their people first. She detailed how they were the first ones to practice what they preached about moderation when times were lean, how they never covered up crimes committed by their relatives and always saw that justice was done, and how none of them had wielded their power to live in luxury as imperial nobles did.

The way Hibari described it, Yamato’s emperors acted on behalf of their nation and people without fail. They were ever their own harshest critics, and when it was impossible to spare the citizens from suffering, they made sure to share that burden.

“And Lady Kaguya is no different.”

Her people wanted their nation back, and to that end, she had unflinchingly allowed Elm to take her captive. Considering how Elm and Freyjagard were allies, she had to know that an executioner’s block might await her. Yet she still hadn’t hesitated.

Hibari explained that there was an absolute truth shared by all residents of Yamato, regardless of whether they came from a family that had lived here for generations or were fresh immigrants like Kira.

“Lady Kaguya and Lord Gekkou never wielded their authority against us, instead using their words and deeds for the good of all. And from what I hear, the emperors and imperial families of generations past all did the same. That’s why, for the past three hundred years, as far back as our records go, Yamato has never seen an uprising or civil war. If we can’t believe in the people who’ve governed us so justly, what in the world can we believe in?”

Hibari’s unshakable confidence was plain in her smile and voice, and it was accompanied by the great pride she felt at getting to serve her nation and ruler.

Upon seeing how she beamed, Tsukasa could say nothing but “I see.” He was ashamed of himself for having voiced his cynical notion.

Yamato wasn’t an island nation but one of multiple counties that all sat on the same continent. Isolationist national policies notwithstanding, the fact that Yamato was situated directly adjacent to the Freyjagard Empire meant there was no way it could stop immigrants from flowing in. Brainwashing that only worked on people who’d been there for generations was an unsustainable way to hold such a population together.

That newcomers like Kira took up arms in Yamato’s defense was proof that the nation’s previous rulers had fostered positive relationships with their subjects and avoided abusing their power.

“Forgive me. I can see my suspicions were unfounded,” Tsukasa apologized to Kira and Hibari. Then he returned to the topic at hand. “Given how much trust your leaders have been able to garner, I clearly have a lot to learn from them once all this is over. More to the point, I understand how Mayoi managed to seize control of Yamato now. I suppose that means our goal is to take out that bell.”

Kira nodded. “That’s right. Without that artifact’s influence over the native spirits, she won’t be able to maintain her brainwashing. Basically, destroying that bell…”

“…will dispel the mind control, and the Yamato citizens will recover their lost memories,” Tsukasa replied, finishing Kira’s sentence for him.

“Precisely. Eradicating the bell is the key to our victory.”

As Tsukasa thought back to his first meeting with the Resistance, he glared up at the eastern sky. Tolls yet echoed through the air. “If we can get rid of that artifact, the people of Yamato will be free, and things will return to how they were. The problem is the bell’s location. It’s located in the heart of Yamato, deep within Azuchi Castle. Mayoi and Jade know that protecting it is a matter of life and death for them, so they’ll spare no effort in its defense.”

“Will we even be able to reach it with it so heavily defended?” Lyrule wondered.

Tsukasa shook his head. “Not as things stand, no. The Resistance’s full forces number seven hundred strong, but only a hair over a hundred are ready to fight right this instant. In contrast, our intelligence suggests that, including all the imperial forces, the Yamato army is composed of over five thousand soldiers. We’re grossly outnumbered, and our foes are better equipped, to boot. And to top it all off…there’s the matter of that white-faced samurai, Shishi.”

On their way back from their peace accord with Neuro, the Seven Luminaries’ envoy group was beset by an imperial noble and his band of knights. Shishi, a byuma samurai wearing white powder and red kumadori makeup, was one of the assailants. He was the father of Kaguya’s retainer Shura, the White Wolf Genreal. Shishi had proved strong enough to overpower Aoi in single combat. The prodigy swordswoman had been wielding an inferior sword at the time, but her loss was still a shock.

Shishi was the enemy’s wild card. Even operating as a solo fighter, he was mighty enough to shape this entire war.

Ignoring the threat he posed would be folly.

“According to Princess Kaguya, he was only on temporary transfer to the empire to serve as a sword instructor at the time. Normally, he leads the Yamato dominion army. His being away when we fled the castle was a stroke of good fortune for us, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he’s returned in the interim. Regardless of whether he was in Freyjagard during our escape, Mayoi and Jade almost certainly called him back afterward out of fear that the Republic of Elm would retaliate for what they did. There’s no sense in holding onto false hope. We should assume Shishi is here and plan accordingly.”

With that being the case, any plan that relied on Aoi brute-forcing her way through enemy lines was off the table. The situation was stacked pretty heavily against the Resistance.

“If we want to prevail in spite of that, then we’re going to need to get crafty.”

With that, Tsukasa pulled his eyes from the eastern sky, peering at the solid ground below. Following his gaze, Lyrule noticed something. Fort Steadfast shone white under the argent moonlight from atop its perch on a gentle slope. A swarm of shadowed figures steadily approached from across the rugged terrain.

“Are they who I think they are?!”

“That’s right. They’re exactly who we’ve been waiting for.”

It wasn’t the enemy. No proper army would ever move in such a scattered formation.

No, the group headed to Fort Steadfast under cover of night worked diligently to seemingly bolster the Resistance’s meager forces.

“The people we’re fighting against are innocents who’ve had their memories tampered with, so we want to keep casualties on both sides to an absolute minimum. Our goal is to secure the most victories with as little fighting as possible. We need to start by dealing with the elephant in the room and shrinking the difference between our total forces and the enemy’s. If we’re lucky, seeing what we’re up to will make our opponents panic and bait them into an ill-conceived siege. Let’s see how this plays out.”

As it turned out, Tsukasa’s prediction was right on the mark.

That very day, Yamato’s Samurai General, Shishi, returned to Azuchi from his stint training Archduke Weltenbruger’s Shwarzrichtenritter in the art of swordsmanship.

“Master Shishi! Welcome home!”

“It’s so good to have you back!”

It was said that all of Yamato’s samurai could slice through iron like it was nothing, but there was one man in particular whose overwhelming strength was without peer. The soldiers celebrated his return with joyous cheers.

“You have no idea what a relief it is to have you here with us, sir! A few days ago, the Resistance and their Elm angel collaborators took Fort Steadfast as part of their grudge against our good friends in Freyjagard…”

“So I’ve heard,” Shishi replied. “Where is the administrator? I need to discuss our response with him immediately.”

“I believe he’s in the keep with Lady Mayoi,” one of the castle guards replied.

“Very well.”

Having learned of Jade’s location, Shishi headed straight for the keep.

“You useless little SHIT!”

“Agh! I’m sor—! Ahhh!”

When Shishi reached the top of the stairs, he heard a man throwing a temper tantrum, a woman’s muffled screams, and the sound of flesh being struck repeatedly.

Shishi took off at a run, speeding down the hallway, and hurled open the sliding door to the room where the noise was coming from.

“This! Is! The! Worst! Why’d those shitbird angels have to go and make such a giant mess, huh?! When Archduke Weltenbruger finds out we lost Fort Steadfast, all that goodwill I earned by stabbing the grandmaster in the back is gonna go flying out the window! And it’s all because you couldn’t keep your goddamn mouth shut for ONE lousy dinner party, you stupid bitch!”

“Kaff, koff! I’m s-so sorry. Ow! I’m sor—”

Inside, Shishi found Administrator Jade von Saint-Germain standing with a look of rage over Mayoi, who was curled up on the floor, desperately trying to weather his abuse. But that wasn’t all—two dead samurai were lying in a massive pool of blood that permeated the room’s tatami flooring.

Shishi couldn’t begin to imagine how long Jade had been on this latest rampage.

Underneath her disheveled clothes, Mayoi’s skin was covered in bruises, and the bandages over the as-of-yet-unhealed wound from her amputated ear were soaked red with blood.

Upon seeing that, Shishi acted.

“ !”

Jade stopped his violence at once.

And he had a good reason—Shishi had just drawn Shoutou Ounin, his blade forged by the same smith who’d made Shura’s Shoutou Byakuran, and slid it right up against Jade’s throat. The weapon glowed like a firefly as Shishi spoke dispassionately. “Mr. Administrator, I would appreciate it if you cooled your head.”

“So the big lug is back.” Jade gave Shishi a deranged, bloodshot glare and pointed at his sword. “What’s the idea here, huh? You gonna kill me? Is that it? You’re gonna kill the only reason your oh-so-precious Mayo-Mayo has for living? Hey, uh, word to Mayo-Mayo. Ol’ Shishi here is trying to off your squeeze, in case you hadn’t noticed. You good with that? Damn, girl, that’s cold. And here I thought you actually loved me.”

The moment Jade questioned her love for him, Mayoi’s entire body quivered.

She was terrified of losing her one and only beloved.

While remaining prostrated on the ground, she raised her head and began screaming as she vomited from the pain in her guts. “Kaff, koff! Get your filthy hands off him, you worthless lunk! Then go die! Just die already, okay?!”

Although Shishi had just swooped in and saved her, Mayoi spat contemptuous words at him.

The moment she did, the black crystal embedded in her abdomen flashed…


…yet unlike the two dead samurai on the floor, Shishi made no attempt to end his own life.

He simply lowered his blade from Jade’s neck…

“I have been made aware that the insurgents took Fort Steadfast. I wish to discuss our response.”

…and got down to business.

Upon being faced with Shishi’s undaunted demeanor…

“Tch. The way Grandmaster Neuro explained it, Mayo-Mayo’s Administrative Authority works even better on strong people with more Yamato blood in ’em. That’s some nutty willpower you’ve got there.”

…Jade clicked his tongue and stepped away from Mayoi.

Even he recognized that continuing to lash out wasn’t going to help turn things around.

“Eh, whatevs. If you already know the score, that’ll make this quick. I’m gonna need you to zip down to Fort Steadfast and slaughter the idiots holed up in there ASAP. Feel free to round up whatever pawns you find lying around to help.”

The fort had been seized on Jade’s watch, and for him, that made it an emergency. He needed the situation to be dealt with, and Shishi was the man to do it.

However, Shishi wasn’t so certain. “Is that not too hasty? Fort Steadfast is a mighty bastion. Attacking it now will cost us a great deal of men.”

“Do I look like a guy who gives a shit how many of you Yamato shitstains die? I told you to jump, so the only question I wanna hear is ‘how high?’! Besides, none of this woulda happened if you worthless Yamato samurai hadn’t let that single damn angel chick make you look like a buncha chumps!”

“About that.”


“That angel, Aoi, is strong. When last we clashed, she was hindered by a blade that failed to equal her technique. But I’m told now that she has borrowed Byakuran from Shura and has overcome that impediment. Should we challenge her while forgoing our tactical advantages, we stand to suffer tremendous losses.”

“Again, I do not care how many of you sacks of garbage have to die as long as I—”

“You want to win Archduke Weltenbruger’s regard, yes? As the man tasked with overseeing this dominion, do you not think carelessly discarding the lives you manage would reflect poorly on you?”


Shishi’s argument was enough to end Jade’s irritation-fueled rebuttals. In truth, even Jade recognized that quelling the insurrection with as few Yamato deaths as possible would be the optimal outcome for him. Hearing Shishi lay it out like that helped him recover some of his cool. “…What would you have us do then, huh?” he asked. “You got some sorta plan?”

“Our circumstances hardly call for one,” Shishi responded simply.

“Say what?”

“The latest news from our scouts holds that our foes are gathering in Fort Steadfast.

“They number just shy of four hundred, but their ranks grow by the day.

“Considering the scope of their past activities, we place their full forces at seven hundred strong.

“Their aim is doubtless to use Fort Steadfast as an outpost to gather their troops at, then attack Azuchi with everything they have. Regardless, they still have but seven hundred fighters. Even counting the women and children, the total scarcely reaches a thousand. Their full strength amounts to nothing more than a paltry force.”

In Yamato, even the women and children were nothing to be taken lightly. Their physical abilities far outstripped those of their imperial counterparts, and with access to weapons, many of them were fully capable of fighting.

However, that was no matter.

Most of the dominion’s forces were Yamato citizens, too.

In short, Shishi asserted that there was no sense in getting riled up over such a small group of foes. Hastily rushing in would accomplish nothing of benefit.

“The Resistance has no local support. Their supplies are meager. They cannot possibly hold the fort long. Soon enough, they will be forced to come out on their own. I see no need to take the initiative. Not when sieging them would put us at a crushing disadvantage. Instead, we ought to play this by the book, seize a positional advantage, and use our overwhelming numbers to crush their reckless advance.”

Their foes were massing, but they were doing so after spending three years on the run. The Resistance’s troops were haggard and weak, and the dominion army was as mighty as ever. All the dominion forces needed to do was hold tight and meet the rebels’ attack head-on.

Shishi’s counsel earned him a glower from Jade. “What kind of positional advantage are we talking about here? I swear, if you tell me you wanna fight them in Azuchi…”

Shishi shook his head. Battling in Azuchi would give the dominion army a tactical advantage, but allowing their foes to breach the stronghold was too dangerous. Doing so would leave Jade’s forces no room to regroup and recover in the event that something unexpected occurred. That wasn’t a problem, however, for Azuchi wasn’t the only place where they could secure advantageous footing.

“There are but two routes one can use to bring a large-scale force from Fort Steadfast to Azuchi,” Shishi explained. “One is the road on the Amagi Pass that lies between the fort and the capital. The other involves taking a wide detour around the mountains and crossing north over the Oono Plains. Both routes are viable.

“However, we must also consider that our foes took on a good deal of risk capturing Fort Steadfast. I have no doubt that their true intention is the former path—the shortest journey from the fort to Azuchi. Knowing that, I suggest we take all our forces in central Yamato, assemble them in Azuchi, and form an army of four thousand.

“From there, we can garrison a thousand men in Azuchi while taking the other three thousand and forming a defensive line in the Amagi Pass. That will give us the high ground and allow us to pick favorable engagements.”

“Oh yeah?” Jade replied. “And what’re you gonna do if they ignore the pass and take that detour across the plains, huh?”

“That would be fine, too. The forests surrounding Fort Steadfast make it hard to track our foes’ movements, but the Oono Plains are open and exposed. If they marched that way, we would easily spot them, even from atop the pass. In the time it will require them to circle the mountains, we will be able to return to Azuchi ahead of them. We would be forced to react, yes, but our response would be academic. Once we see them crossing the plains, we can split our forces on the pass into two units and have each one take a different route down the mountains. Fifteen hundred soldiers will greet the rebels head-on from the Azuchi side, and the remaining half will pincer them from behind, securing a complete victory.”

The primary advantage to controlling Fort Steadfast was its access to the Amagi Pass and the expediency that route provided to Azuchi. Infantry could make the trek in a single day. By contrast, the roundabout journey across the Oono Plains required three days. The Resistance forgoing the swiftest option to the capital and willingly providing their enemy time to surround them would be utter suicide.

“However, all that is immaterial. With Kira leading them, our foes will never move along the Oono Plains.”

In other words, all the dominion army needed to concern itself with was the Amagi Pass. That was where the rebels would make their move—Shishi was certain.

“Meanwhile, as we mobilize what soldiers we can quickly muster in central Yamato and block off the pass, we can also call back our forces scattered across rural areas and all but a thousand of those stationed across the old border. That will give us another five thousand men to deploy. If our foes act in haste before our reinforcements arrive, we can use our tactical advantage to crush them. If they give in to their cowardice and continue holing up in the fort, we can wait for the five thousand extra men and siege the fort with truly overwhelming numbers.”

“Why bother leaving anyone on the old border at all?” Jade asked. “If we bring those guys in, too, we’ll have a full ten thousand to work with. I mean, it’s not like Yamato even exists anymore. Who gives a shit about defending its border with the empire?”

Shishi gave his question a shake of the head. “That would be too dangerous.”

“How’s that?”

“At present, we have little insight into how deep the ties between Princess Kaguya and Elm truly run. If the Elm ambassadors came to Yamato intending to aid the Resistance from the onset, then they may have planned for reinforcements to arrive when the Resistance makes its next move. Alternatively, the Resistance could have warriors sheltered abroad that they now wish to call in.

“With our eight thousand against our foes’ projected seven hundred, our advantage is already more than sufficient. Rather than raising that gap by another thousand, I should think it more prudent to ensure we stay vigilant against the possibility of aid for the enemy.”

“…Hmm. You’ve got a point there.”

“The plan I have outlined is the surest way for us to exterminate the Resistance while putting our army in as little danger as possible. My goal is to avoid having Yamato come to harm, and yours is to elevate your social standing in Freyjagard. I feel this is a matter we can see eye to eye on. What say you, Administrator?”

Shishi’s tone was unemotional, but his tranquility gave him a certain persuasiveness. He’d explained why Jade’s plan to storm Fort Steadfast was rash and outlined a better, more efficient way to destroy the Resistance.

Jade gave him a petty glare…

“Ha-ha-ha. Haaaaa-ha-ha-ha!”

…then out of the blue, he burst into laughter.

“Darling?” Mayoi asked.

“Ha-ha-ha! Y’know what, Shishi? You’re totally right. That is the best way to kill all those poor suckers who are fighting their guts out for Yamato. Man… You’re not even brainwashed like the others, and here you are, still giving it your all for the dominion government. What a swell samurai general we’ve got here! You’re a true-blue turncoat, you know that? Ha-ha-ha!”

Jade’s voice was gleeful, and his words rang with disdain. He was laughing at Shishi for possessing the willpower to shake off Mayoi’s mind control and still remain more loyal to her than anyone else. He’d even formulated a strategy to slaughter his old allies.

However, Shishi offered no response to Jade’s mockery. He simply waited silently for Jade to accept or reject his strategy.

Jade seemed to find his obedience and the fact that he hadn’t said one word in his own defense hilarious, and he gave Shishi a satisfied nod. “All right, I’m in. As Freyjagard admin, I hereby adopt your plan. Go rally those troops and bring ’em up to the Amagi Pass. Just remember, I’m the supreme commander, and you’re my loyal lapdog who cuts the fuckers down for me. We clear?”

“We are.”

“Good boy. That’s what I like to hear.”

With that, Jade reached up to thump Shishi on the shoulder—which sat well above Jade’s head—and left the room. As supreme commander, he needed to make preparations before he set off for the Amagi Pass.

“Lady Mayoi, are you injured?”

Once Jade was gone, Shishi knelt down and offered his hand to the visibly battered Mayoi. However…

“Get your grubby mitts off me!”

…Mayoi herself slapped it away. It was almost shocking that anyone’s expression could contort with such fury.

“Darling, wait up! Wait for me!”

She stood without Shishi’s help and tottered unsteadily after Jade.

Shishi was the only one left in the room.

He silently approached the corpses lying on the floor and slid their eyelids shut.

“Bite your tongue. I’m not here to hear you talk.”

All of a sudden, the words of loathing his daughter spat at him during their recent reunion surfaced in his mind.

He could still feel her hateful gaze.

Do not waver.

He summoned his willpower and shook off the memory.

“A true-blue turncoat.”

From Shura’s perspective, that was exactly what Shishi was.

After how drained the last war had left them, though, Shishi knew that the only way for Yamato to survive was under the empire’s heel. False as their peace was, they were alive. That was what mattered most.

He was making the right choice.

This was…the only path.

Kira, tactician and interim leader for the Resistance, rushed over to Tsukasa. “Mr. Tsukasa, our recon parties have reported back with news.”

It was night, and another few days had passed since they took Fort Steadfast and finished making their repairs.

“Good. Let’s hear it.”

“First of all, our scouts have news from the Amagi Pass. An enemy regiment left Azuchi early this morning…and it’s around three thousand strong!”

Hearing that sent a stir through the nearby Resistance members. “““T-three thousand…?!”””

Kira went on. “By the look of things, our enemy is taking all its forces in central Yamato and massing them in Azuchi.”

“Does it look like the three thousand soldiers who departed Azuchi are marching to retake the fort?” Tsukasa asked.

Kira shook his head. “No, they stopped their advance the moment they reached the pass. At present, they’ve formed a defensive formation. The bulk of their forces are infantrymen, and they’ve only deployed two of the precious Dragon Knights the imperial forces brought with them from Freyjagard. Given that they’re setting up ways to trigger rockslides and other traps that make use of the high ground, we can assume that they’ve given up on Fort Steadfast and are planning to intercept us at the pass.”

Tsukasa nodded. “I agree. It sounds like they’re hunkering down to hold their position.”

According to the intelligence the Resistance had passed along to Tsukasa ahead of time, the imperial troops stationed in Yamato had counted ten Dragon Knights among their ranks. Dragon Knights were nasty opponents, yet the enemy had left the majority of their aerial combatants in Azuchi. If they intended on conducting bombing runs, then it was safe to assume they had no intention of reclaiming Fort Steadfast. Instead, they were purposely holding the Dragon Knights back to guard Azuchi.

It was a clear refusal to relinquish advantage. Tsukasa had to commend the dominion army for the calculated decision.

Even if they had decided to carry out bombing runs, the largest domesticated dragons were only about ten to twelve feet long, and they couldn’t transport that much blasting powder at once. Rather than wasting an invaluable air force’s efforts on trivial attacks, having them maintain a bird’s-eye view of the war situation was far wiser.

In particular, urban warfare had a habit of getting messy, and flying scouts could make all the difference. The remaining eight Dragon Knights could cover the whole of Azuchi. Should the Resistance take the battle to the streets, the dominion forces would be able to track enemy movements with ease. It would be all but impossible for the Resistance to gain the element of surprise.

“It would have made things easier for us if they’d taken all their forces and come at us head-on, but I suppose that was too much to ask for.”

Between the defensive lineup on the pass and the Dragon Knights patrolling the enemy base, the dominion army’s sensible moves certainly weren’t making things easy for the Resistance. When you were working with a smaller army, you won by waiting for your opponent to make a mistake.

“What do our scouts around the fort say?” Tsukasa inquired.

“There are soldiers along the road and stationed at the checkpoints, but no more than there would usually be,” Kira replied. “There are also a handful of enemy squads scattered around the fort, but given their small numbers, it appears they’re just conducting recon rather than trying to encircle us and starve us out. When our reinforcements arrived at the fort the other day, some of them ran into enemy search teams en route, but when our people fled, the hostiles never gave chase. At no point were any blows actually exchanged.”

“They’re playing things slow, then. That’s not what I like to see.”

“What…do you mean?” Ringo asked.

“Due to the guerilla campaign the Resistance has been waging, our foes have a pretty good idea of how large our forces are. The fact of the matter is, we can barely muster seven hundred combatants. The Amagi Pass is the key to this war, and they know that there’s no reason to leave it underdefended to support an unnecessary siege. They’re keeping an eye on us while also understanding there’s no need to keep us from assembling our soldiers. If anything, that’s just going to make it easier for them to crush us all in one fell swoop. I imagine that’s approximately how they see the situation.”

There were only so many routes that could support a full-scale army, so blocking those off was one thing, but trying to stop a small guerilla force from joining up in a country of forests and mountains was an exercise in futility. Any attempt the dominion forces made to do so would demand inordinate time and resources—enough that it would leave their defenses sufficiently thin for the Resistance to punch through. The dominion forces’ greed would have been their undoing. A more logical move was to dedicate a small portion of troops to recon and leave it at that.

“Nothing seems to be going our way, does it?” Tsukasa remarked. “Our enemies are refusing to play into our hands. These are the decisions of someone confident and experienced, who knows rushing in is meaningless. Whoever’s calling the shots over there, I highly doubt it’s Mayoi or Administrator Jade.”

“According to our people in Azuchi, Master Shishi returned from his stint with the empire the other day,” Kira noted.

“It figures…”

Kira’s expression darkened with worry. “The man is a legend. With him commanding the dominion army, it’ll take a lot to trip them up. What do we do?”

It was obvious from his face just how anxious he was about facing one of his homeland’s greatest heroes. Given the way he clutched his gut, there was a good chance his stomachache had returned. Kira was undoubtedly skilled, but he tended to fixate on the negatives of whatever situation he found himself in.

Tsukasa didn’t see that trait of his as a flaw, however. If anything, Kira’s timidity was one of his strengths. By constantly imagining the worst possible outcome, he was able to take steps to make sure it never came to pass. The Resistance had survived in hiding for three whole years without falling apart, and that was thanks in huge part to Kira’s management.

The man was fine just the way he was.

Forcing himself to act boldly was unnecessary. Not when he was using his timidity correctly and letting it lead him to the prudent course of action. There were as many sets of skills and temperaments in the world as there were people, and everyone had different qualities they brought to the table.

Whatever Kira lacked, the people he worked with could supply.

Knowing that, Tsukasa put an uncharacteristic amount of strength into his rarely used facial muscles and made sure that when he spoke next, it was with an indomitable smile. “Not a thing.”


“Our opponents are acting strategically, yes, and they’re taking all the right steps to make our lives difficult. But the thing is, this all falls well within our expectations. There’s no need for us to alter our strategy. From here, we’ll continue with stage two and keep massing our forces.”

“Through their surveillance net?”

“That won’t be a problem. They’ve already shown that they don’t intend on stopping us from gathering, and more importantly, they aren’t the only ones with eyes in the sky. Ringo, you’re up.”

“Y-you got it,” Ringo replied, then flipped open the laptop she’d brought with her from Elm.

“What’s that…glowing slab?” Kira questioned.

“Think of it as an angelic magical device,” Tsukasa replied. “It’s linked directly with God Akatsuki’s clairvoyance.”

Ringo typed away at the keyboard, and the screen changed.

Now it displayed an image taken from the satellite Ringo launched during the People’s Revolution to allow the Prodigies to communicate over long distances and direct her nuclear missiles.

“H-how is that possible?! That’s…that’s a view of Yamato from the sky!”

“With Akatsuki’s clairvoyance, we can see our enemies’ precise locations and the exact state of their recon operations. Not even the darkest of moonless nights can obscure God’s vision.”

That earned quite a bit of excitement from Kira and the nearby Resistance members.

“That’s… That’s incredible…”

“Phew, these angels don’t mess around.”

“Yamato used to have Dragon Knights of its own, but they all died in the war. Feels good to have air support again.”

Despite it being the dead of night, the screen displayed a clear overhead view of the enemy camp, the dominion scouts hiding near shady piles of rocks, and the Dragon Knights giving their mounts rest.

With that clear a picture of where enemies were stationed, there would be no issues executing the strategy Tsukasa had proposed the first day he met up with the Resistance.

The well-thought-out decisions made by enemy command prevented the dominion forces from falling into disarray the way the Resistance had hoped, but Tsukasa was right. Everything was proceeding well within anticipated bounds.

“Ringo, Aoi went over to receive the newcomers. I need you to pass the enemy positions along to her…and tell her that it’s time to start setting up that cannon inside the fort.”


“It’s finally time, then…?”

Tsukasa gave Kira’s question a firm nod. “That’s right. The moment they finish setting up that defensive line in the Amagi Pass, we’ll move our plan to its final stage. Time is on our opponents’ side, however. If we wait around too long, it’ll allow them to assemble their forces not just from central Yamato but from the outlying regions as well, and the additional support will let them overrun us.

“If we permit them to gather their full ten thousand soldiers, it’ll be game over. Our job is to end this war before their remote reinforcements arrive. It’s time to employ the plan we discussed to break the dominion army’s ranks—then storm Azuchi!”

“““ ”””


As Ringo operated her laptop, a shiver ran through her entire body. The tension emanating from the nearby Resistance members was palpable.

After listening to Tsukasa’s speech, they began trickling away one by one with grim expressions all around.

It was time for them to return to their posts and charges.

Not a single one of them let out a valorous war cry. At this point, they were beyond the need to express their resolve aloud.

They had all spent three years with their homeland and families torn from them. All the while, they ate weeds and wallowed in dirt, barely surviving, yet they did survive. Rage and determination burned hot within them, enough to set the sky ablaze.

Heartened by their conviction, Tsukasa fished out his smartphone, launched the messaging app the Prodigies used to communicate with each other…


…and used his admin privileges to block Masato Sanada from the group chat.

Then he posted a message. This war would have massive repercussions on global affairs, and with that in mind, it was time to lay some groundwork.

“Shinobu, I have a job for you. An urgent one.”

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