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Chapter 9 - A Nocturnal Counterattack

The Resistance intended to go through the Amagi Pass to get to Azuchi.

Therefore, it was of the utmost importance that route was sealed off.

Dominion general Shishi had made his case, and after hearing him out, Administrator Jade von Saint-Germain—the man who held all real authority within Yamato—had mobilized troops accordingly, summoning all the soldiers near Azuchi together before setting out from the capital himself. Between the Yamato dominion warriors and the locally stationed imperials, he had a company of three thousand soldiers alongside him.

After leading them near the summit, Jade had them establish a massive defensive line. Specifically, he had the Yamato soldiers set it up. He wasn’t foisting off the work simply because it was heavy labor, however. There was a perfectly logical reason for doing so.

Most of Yamato was covered in woods and mountains. Between traps that could trigger rockslides to pitfalls to makeshift fences that would hinder an enemy advance, there was no shortage of ways the terrain could be incorporated into a defensive position. And no people were better suited to setting those ploys than the Yamato natives. The war with the empire had given them lots of experience. Their memories may have been sealed off, but their muscles remembered how to do the work being asked of them.

With astounding skill, they transformed the Amagi Pass into a perfect natural stronghold.

Meanwhile, the imperial soldiers were busy with a task of their own—monitoring the Resistance-controlled Fort Steadfast.

“Hey! Over here!”

It was that time of evening when the sky took on its first hints of vermilion. A scouting party captain waved overhead from the rocky overpass where he’d been observing Fort Steadfast’s entrance.

A shadow descended from above at his signal—a dragon with its wings spread wide. It was the Dragon Knight in charge of delivering communications back and forth.

“Yeesh, it’s freezing…,” the Dragon Knight groaned.

“Yeah, there’s not much of summer left. Good work up there,” the captain said appreciatively, then offered the Dragon Knight messenger a warm cup of tea he’d brewed.

“Thanks a million. Ohhh, I can feel my fingers again.” The Dragon Knight took another leisurely sip, then asked, “So what’s the Resistance been up to today?”

“Just as the administrator predicted, they’re using Fort Steadfast as an outpost so they can launch an all-out attack,” his counterpart replied. “Those punks are swarming like flies. We spotted another two hundred entering the fort just today.”

“With the ones already in there, that makes about eight hundred in all, right? Looks like they’re finally ready to settle this.”

When the dominion forces had first mobilized, Jade had said that given the scale of the Resistance’s past attacks, he estimated their ranks at about a thousand if you included noncombatants like women and children, of which at most seven hundred were active combat assets. In other words, the force massing at Fort Steadfast represented a significant percentage of their full head count. They were preparing to deploy everyone they had.


“I don’t know why they’re even bothering. There’s no way in hell a mere eight hundred people are going to get through our army of three thousand when we’ve set up camp and control the high ground,” the captain remarked dismissively.

“Yeah, you can say that again,” the Dragon Knight agreed. “And even if they did manage to pull a fast one and slip past us, there’s still another thousand soldiers defending Azuchi. If they think they’re gettin’ inside easy, then they’ve got another think coming. And while they’re tripping over themselves trying to figure out what to do, our main forces can come down from the pass and crush ’em.”

“For sure, for sure. And we’ve got more people coming in, right?”

The Dragon Knight nodded. “Give it a week, and the soldiers from the outlying areas will arrive. It’ll take them time to travel to Azuchi, and they’ve been disarmed as their way of showing allegiance to the empire, but once they’re here and all suited up, that’ll give us another five thousand to work with. Once that happens, the Resistance is done for.”

“Hah. When you put it like that, it almost makes me feel bad for those poor saps holed up in Fort Steadfast. It doesn’t matter if they attack or defend; their fates are already sealed. May as well have dug their own graves.”

“Heh. That’s what those idiots get for going up against the empire.” The Dragon Knight scoffed as he climbed onto his mount. “All right, I’m going to report back to headquarters. I’ll return at the same time tomorrow, so make sure you keep everything in line.”

“Will do. I have to say, though, watch duty is pretty mind-numbing. Are you certain we should continue observing from a distance? Me and my guys’d be happy to kill a few dozen of the bastards on their way to the fort. Hell, we wouldn’t even ask for overtime pay.”

“Come on, just stick to your orders. Remember, I’m the one who has to report in to Administrator Jade.”

Hearing that name reminded the captain of the thin, comically pompous man who’d briefed them all before they departed the capital. “Isn’t that guy just some spoiled noble brat?”

“Yeah. Son of a mistress, I hear.”

“Ah, that makes sense. I wonder if that’s why they stuck him out here in the middle of nowhere?”

“Your guess is as good as mine there, but I’m sure he’s got his troubles like the rest of us. The point is, there’s nothing Administrator Jade hates more than when things don’t go the way he expects ’em to. Even with all those civilians they’re bringing in, the Resistance still only has a thousand people at most. Against numbers like ours, they’re nothing but dust beneath our feet. We’re here to take out the trash, nothing more, and if they want to make our jobs easier by gathering in one place, I say let ’em. Plus, they’ve got that one nasty piece of work on their side—the one who took on a hundred soldiers back at Azuchi Castle and wiped the floor with them the way Shishi would’ve. If you want to keep your head attached to your shoulders, I’d recommend you stay put.”

“All right, all right, I get it already. I’ll keep my head down and do my job. Less work for us, at least.”

“Good.” The Dragon Knight nodded, then took off into the evening sky, bound for the main camp in the Amagi Pass to relay the scout’s information.

After watching him go, the scouting party captain returned his attention to Fort Steadfast in the distance.

What a bunch of idiots.

If they had just gone along with Mayoi’s magic, they could have lived out their lives in peace, false though it may have been.

There was no way a revolution that small was ever going to bear fruit. They were going to get crushed, and that was going to be that.

This is going to be the easiest war I ever fought, he mused. And at that moment, there probably wasn’t a person in the dominion army who felt differently.

Over the following day, another three hundred gathered under Fort Steadfast’s roof. That brought the Resistance’s numbers to eleven hundred—a sum slightly larger than the dominion army’s initial estimates. However, nobody found that particularly concerning. After all, there were a number of toddlers and elders among the newcomers’ ranks. The people of Yamato, hyuma and byuma alike, were born with considerable physical abilities, so it wasn’t as though they were useless in a fight, but things were different now than they had been during the conflict with Freyjagard three years before.

This time around, the bulk of their own forces were from Yamato as well, so their foes had no advantage in that regard. And when the dominion reinforcements arrived, and their full army swelled to nine thousand strong, the uptick in the Resistance’s ranks would amount to little more than a rounding error. The dominion forces scoffed. Either way, the Resistance was doomed.

Come the following day, something peculiar happened. More support showed up at Fort Steadfast, and they weren’t civilians this time. Each was equipped with weapons and armor.

That was enough to earn some frowns.

Now, their enemies had exceeded expectations. Had the Resistance been concealing its strength somehow? Or had they garnered aid from abroad?

The scouts started to get concerned.

By the next day, the situation had worsened. Reinforcements kept arriving.

There weren’t quite as many of them as there had been the day before, but they were definitely armed and dangerous. Not only did they gather at Fort Steadfast, but it looked like the garrison was at capacity, and some were camping outside.

Something was off. The observing dominion troops were fretting.

Yet again, the Resistance’s ranks increased the next day, and the scout party captain found himself struck speechless. His team was beyond mere worry. Their faces were pale as sheets, and they all thought the same thing.

Did we really make the right call?

Was sitting back and letting this happen really the right decision?

Have…have we made a horrible mistake? One that can’t be undone?

“What the hell are you talking about?!” Jade roared when the Dragon Knight delivered the news. His face was ghostly pale, and he hoisted the messenger up by the collar. “A-are you sure the scouts weren’t just seeing things?!” he demanded, hoping for a different answer.

“I-I’m certain of it, sir!” the Dragon Knight replied. “Ever since they took the fort, the Resistance’s ranks have been swelling nonstop! As of today, they’re already at over two thousand!”

“There’s no fucking way! That’s… That’s double our projections! What is going on here?!”

Based on the Resistance’s previous activities, Shishi had estimated their full size at seven hundred soldiers—or at a thousand, if you included noncombatants. Jade’s calculations had supported that conclusion as well. It was inconceivable that the Resistance could maintain a fighting force of two thousand in its current state.

Nothing about this added up.

“W-we suspect they’ve called in allies from abroad, sir.”

A panicked sweat beaded on Jade’s forehead. “~~~~~~~!”

Perhaps they’d been sheltering the bulk of their forces outside the Yamato dominion all along, or maybe they’d hired a group of Lakan mercenaries. Worse, the Seven Luminaries’ involvement might have inspired Elm to deploy their troops.

Regardless of whoever these unidentified reinforcements were, this was an emergency. The dominion had about three thousand soldiers defending the pass, and now there were two thousand troops at Fort Steadfast. Jade’s numbers advantage was crumbling before his eyes.

Shit, shit, shit! Why does nothing ever go the way I need it to?!

He had to do something.

“No way we can let ’em keep bringing in more help. Change of plans! We’re taking everyone we’ve got and slamming Fort Steadfast as hard as—”

“Calm yourself.”


Jade glared at the kumadori makeup-clad byuma who’d just cut him off—Shishi.

Shishi continued, utterly undaunted by Jade’s expression. “None of our lookouts on the border have reported anything about reinforcements moving past them. Acting in haste carries grave risks, and our reinforcements from the countryside are only two or three days out. For now, we should continue focusing on gathering intelligence about what our enemies are—”

Hearing Shishi’s counterargument turned Jade’s face from a panicked shade of white to furious scarlet. “You want us to keep twiddling our goddamn thumbs?! The whole reason we’re in this mess is because you said that their numbers wouldn’t matter even if we sat back and let them gather together!”

Out of nowhere, something slammed into base camp right beside Jade and Shishi, its heavy landing crushing water barrels and ration boxes.

For a moment, Jade’s heart nearly beat out of his chest. Was it an attack? He swiftly realized that wasn’t the case, however.

As it turned out, the culprit was none other than a Dragon Knight.

“What the FUCK?! The hell do you think you’re doing, riding your dragon right into headquarters?!” Jade bellowed, partly out of anger at having been astonished.

However, the Dragon Knight who’d all but crash-landed had no bandwidth to spare for Jade’s temper. He needed to report what he’d seen during his flight. “I come with news!” he shouted, interrupting Jade’s rant. “There’s some strange activity going on in Fort Steadfast!”

“Wh-what now?!”

“Th-they’ve got a cannon! The Resistance is setting it up in the fort’s courtyard, and it’s massive! It’s over sixty feet long and has a ten-foot bore!”

“WHAAAAAAAT?!?!” Jade screamed.

He couldn’t help himself. A cannon that long was beyond his conception. How could a weapon that monstrous even exist?

Right as he was about to express this notion…

Oh no.

…he remembered something.

Before the Republic of Elm was formally founded, there was something the Seven Luminaries had deployed to eradicate the Warden of the North, Fastidious Duke Gustav, and his entire massive fortress. Its strike was so mighty that it warped the land’s very topography.

“It’s the Divine Lightning…”

When Gustav had used his Rage Soleil war magic, God Akatsuki retaliated by bringing down a miracle. Jade had assumed that it operated similarly to magic, but if the miracle’s true form was that of a divinely crafted weapon, then that explained the cannon’s tremendous size.

After all, it had been powerful enough to blast away a fortress in Gustav from all the way up in Findolph. Its power and range were off the charts, so it stood to reason that everything else about it would defy common sense as well.

The question was, what would happen now that it was set up at Fort Steadfast? Should it be fired…? What then?

The dominion army’s defensive line on the Amagi Pass would be annihilated in a single shot. And worse, Azuchi itself was likely within the cannon’s firing range. If it was used to bomb the capital…

Noooo, no, no, no, no, no…

Jade would lose everything. All he’d sweated and bled to attain would be meaningless.

That’s not an option. No shot.

“You said they’re still setting it up, right?! Did it look ready for use?!”

“N-no, sir! From what I saw from on high, the huge barrel was being held up by a series of pulleys hooked to the fort’s steeples, and the Resistance was still constructing the platform to fix it in place! I think we have some time before it’s operational!”

It was evening, and soon, the sun would set. If the Resistance members were erecting the cannon manually, then their work would inevitably slow after dark.

Marching normally, an army of infantry could make it from the Amagi Pass to Fort Steadfast in about six hours, and if they hurried, they could cut it down to three or four. And given how large the cannon was, there was no way it could be aimed at anything in its immediate vicinity.

If they were going to go, it was now or never.

Jade made the call. “All troops, prepare for battle! We’re going to raze that fort before the Divine Lightning is ready!”

Shishi had objections, and he wasted no time in expressing them. “Hold on. Our foes’ actions are baffling in a number of ways. Besides, if they truly do have two thousand holed up in there, then attacking them would put us at an extreme disadvantage. We would be playing right into their—”

However, his voice cut off midsentence—and it was because Jade had just raised his fist and smashed it into Shishi’s face. It wasn’t enough to so much as make Shishi flinch, but it proved sufficient to quiet him.

Jade glared at Shishi with even more vitriol than before as he shouted, “The only one who’s been playing into their hands is you, you brain-dead moron! Look, I get that you’re a dumbass bumpkin from the sticks who doesn’t know shit, so let me spell it out for you! That Divine Lightning down there? That nasty piece of work is a Seven Luminaries’ weapon that only needed a single shot to wipe a fortress the next domain over off the map! It’s how they killed Gustav, it’s what got Freyjagard to throw in the towel… That cannon basically took down the empire single-fucking-handedly! And like the idiots we were, we gave them time to set it up. Because of YOU!”


There was a certain amount of truth to that. Shishi offered no rebuttal.

“If you’ve got such a hard-on for avoiding casualties, then go head up the vanguard. If you want to keep your idiot countrymen alive, storm the damn fort yourself and dice up those Resistance and Seven Luminaries fucks for me! Understand?!”

Jade was no fool. He had the perspective to view situations in their entirety, and he possessed sufficient insight to deduce what made other people tick. That was why he’d accepted Shishi’s counsel and deployed his forces atop the Amagi Pass.

Now, though, his eyes were bloodshot. His usual composure was gone.

To him, an attack that could reach Azuchi from Fort Steadfast was utterly unacceptable. There was no getting through to him, and when Shishi recognized that…

“…Very well.”

…he agreed to take point on the attack.

“Well, what the hell are you waiting for?!” Jade roared, then turned his reddened face to the two Dragon Knight messengers. “You two, head back to Azuchi and tell everyone who stayed behind to get their asses over here! If they’ve got horses, they ride. Otherwise, they run as fast as they damn well can!”

“Wh-what sort of formation do you want them to—?”

“We can figure all that stuff out once they get here! Once you’re done with the soldiers, join up with the other eight Dragon Knights and return suited up for air raids! Your dragons are fast enough to catch up with us before we make it to the fort, right?! If you’re not back in time, it better be ’cause you’re dead. Do I make myself clear?!”

““Crystal, sir!””

“Then get moving! Hurry it up, or I’ll kill you myself!”

Jade kicked one of the dragon’s rear ends to urge it on as he began chewing his fingernails and cursing everything happening to him.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit! Like hell I’m going down. Not here!”

The dominion army abandoned their defensive line that stretched across the pass and descended the mountain to march on Fort Steadfast.

Originally, the route connecting Fort Steadfast to the Amagi Pass and Azuchi had been a supply road for transporting soldiers and supplies from the capital to the garrison that was the cornerstone of the city’s defense. The path had been designed from the get-go to be used by wagons and large groups, so despite how mountainous it was, the three-thousand-man dominion army was able to hurry down it with ease and clear the mountains before evening turned to night. And they didn’t stop there—Fort Steadfast was within their sights, and they surged toward it as a flood.

A great forest stood at the base of the trail, but a large swath of it had been cleared so the supply road could make it from the Amagi Pass to the fort. Nothing obstructed the charge.

Leading the way was Shishi, a byuma man whose wolf ears shone white in the moonlight.

As he ran ahead of the army, his expression darkened with anguish.

…Was my judgment in error?

The Resistance had swelled its ranks past what he’d anticipated. At the end of the day, though, that wasn’t really a problem. Yamato was surrounded by mountains and woods, and smuggling a small group of people past the border wasn’t hard to do, especially with the support of a group like the Resistance. If any rebels stationed abroad or Lakan mercenaries who specialized in guerilla warfare wanted to, they could cross over with ease.

However, that only went for small groups. The thousand Resistance members could double their ranks, but three thousand dominion troops guarded the pass. It was always hard for a smaller force to attack a defensive point held by a larger one. Even if they had soldiers and strategists with the proficiency to gain some ground, quickly overrunning the position was a pipe dream. Sooner or later, the situation would reach a standstill, and that would give the defenders’ reinforcements time to show up and overwhelm them. Shishi knew that, so the news about the additional enemy warriors hadn’t shaken him.

If the only thing freaking Jade out had been the additional Resistance members, Shishi likely would have been able to talk him down. However…

That Divine Lightning is a problem.

That was an eventuality Shishi hadn’t anticipated.

Jade had accused him of being a bumpkin, but Shishi had been in the empire until recently, and he knew of Divine Lightning. It was the Seven Luminaries’ ace in the hole. Gustav’s Rage Soleil had burned a full fifth of Yamato to the ground, and Divine Lightning boasted more range and superior power—enough to obliterate everything the moment it detonated. “Divine” was indeed the only way to describe its might.

However, after Shishi learned that the Seven Luminaries were helping the Resistance, he’d believed they wouldn’t use it.

Divine Lightning had only been used in retaliation for Gustav’s use of war magic. By doing so, the Seven Luminaries forced the empire to acknowledge that neither side could use their excessive destructive capabilities without the other retaliating in kind. Coming to Yamato—a self-governing dominion of that same empire—and employing Divine Lightning violated a rule the Seven Luminaries had established. It would throw the whole relationship between the Freyjagard Empire, the Seven Luminaries, and the Republic of Elm into chaos.

Divine Lightning was a trump card, but one that could not be played. The empire wouldn’t hesitate to return in kind with war magic. Destruction would devour the continent, and countless lives would be lost.

That horrible possibility could come true very soon.

I had thought them too wise to make a mistake like that.

Shishi had once seen the Seven Luminaries’ angels for himself, and the look in their eyes was beautiful. They came across as strong-willed, kind, and sagacious all at once. And because of that, Shishi had assumed they would never act so rashly for short-term gains.

In a sense, he’d trusted them.

Shishi had believed that, to the angels, trivial matters like borders and race were unimportant. It was clear to him that their goal was true salvation for as many as possible.

But now…

Did I overestimate them?

…Shishi couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. The notion seeped its way into his heart and refused to yield.

No point worrying about that now.

Fort Steadfast was fast approaching, ever bathed in the moon’s glow. The cannon barrel towered above the fort’s walls, and the pale light from above threw it into stark contrast, drawing the eye. Just below it, a mass of Resistance forces stood atop the wall with their bows at the ready.

The moment the two armies made contact, and the arrows began flying, Shishi abandoned all hesitation. Jade was right. The situation was what it was, and if he wished to save as many people as possible, he had to end the battle swiftly.

“Follow me! I will clear a path!” Shishi roared.

Then he dashed forward as quickly as he could. He pulled ahead of his men and practically soared toward the fort.

“H-holy shit. He’s faster than a horse!”

“The Resistance is so thrown off that they can’t aim at him!”

Sure enough, Shishi’s sudden acceleration had caused the archers on the wall to lose their aim. All the countless arrows they let loose slammed into the ground and the evacuated camps. Not one of them struck so much as Shishi’s shadow. They hurriedly nocked their next round of arrows, but it was no use. Before they had time to fire their second volley, Shishi arrived at the fort’s main gate…


…and with four consecutive slashes so quick it was as though his hands had vanished, he carved the gate into pieces.

Yet again, it was reduced to so much scrap metal.

One of the lumps came tumbling for his head, but Shishi kicked it away before it made contact, then stormed into the fort. It was a straight shot from the gate to the courtyard where Divine Lightning stood. That was the Resistance’s greatest asset. They would surely guard it with everything they had, and there was no doubt in Shishi’s mind that the courtyard would be crawling with Resistance soldiers. He was prepared to meet them, though, and charged in, intent on ending this battle swiftly.

“ ”

Upon entering the courtyard, Shishi fell silent.

It wasn’t from astonishment at the many foes—quite the opposite. The enclosure was vacant. The only people were the archers atop the walls.

As Shishi stood baffled at the fact the Resistance had left their mighty Divine Lightning completely undefended…

“We meet again, that we do.”

…he heard a voice from above.

Shishi looked to the cannon barrel. It was held aloft by ropes and pulleys affixed to the fort’s steeples, and sitting atop it was a young woman with her hair tied back.

Shishi knew her. She was the Seven Luminaries angel he’d crossed blades with back in the empire—Aoi Ichijou.

Aoi watched Shishi as she rose slowly. She drew Byakuran’s long blade in one fluid motion and descended. Thirty vertical feet separated her and Shishi, yet she landed before the man like it was nothing.

The cannon barrel swayed. Aoi had cut the ropes suspending it. The cylinder, robbed of its support, collapsed upon its incomplete platform…

…and as Aoi hit the ground, the barrel shattered to pieces.

Slabs of wood that had been lacquered black with tar flew in all directions.

“ !!!!”

It can’t be, Shishi thought. He reexamined the Resistance archers up on the walls. They were dressed impressively in helmets and armor, but he recognized now that the majority of them were women and the elderly.

That was when Shishi finally understood it was a ploy.

The Resistance had played a trick, and the dominion army had fallen for it headfirst.

Mayoi was in danger.

“I ask that you not turn your back on me,” Aoi stated.

“ ”

“It brings me no joy to cut down a fleeing foe.”

Upon grasping the actual situation, Shishi had instinctively turned to leave, but Aoi would not permit that.

“My task is to bind you here. I will give no chase to the others, but you alone shall not be leaving.”

Without showing so much as a shred of trepidation, she faced the samurai who trounced her once before…

“Come, stay with me awhile. To end on a defeat would stain the good name of Ichijou.”

…ready for a rematch.

Shoutou Byakuran, the blade Aoi had borrowed from Shura, was drawn and ready.

“ ”

Aoi’s talents were such that if Shishi turned away for a moment, his head and his neck would part ways instantly.

Surely this encounter would not be a repeat of the last. Aoi finally had a weapon capable of withstanding her techniques.

Shishi had to fight.

And so…


…he shouted an order to his troops with such incredible might that his words might well have reached the moon.

“The fort was a diversion! The Divine Lightning is a fake! It cannot fire! Their forces make for Azuchi! Return to the capital now!”

“What? A diversion?!”

“H-h-hey, take a look at the Amagi Pass!”

“I see torches! There are people going up the mountain!”

“W-we screwed up! Turn back! TURN BAAAAAACK!”

The soldiers caught on quickly once they heard Shishi’s roar. A procession of glowing specks had emerged from the woods and was proceeding up the mountain pass.

Unfortunately, recognizing what went awry didn’t change the fact that Shishi’s troops numbered three thousand. A swift about-face wasn’t possible, and because not everyone understood what was going on, the soldiers’ ranks quickly descended into chaos. The dominion army had nobody to lead them.

Tantalized by the thought of how much better things would be going if he were back there leading them, Shishi brandished Ounin.

Striking down the angel and returning to Mayoi’s side was the only option. Every minute—every second—mattered.

The plan Tsukasa devised was simplicity itself. Resistance forces pretended to marshal at Fort Steadfast, while the bulk of their army secretly moved through the surrounding woods. Then, when the enemy troops attacked the garrison, they slipped behind them and marched up the pass.

Including noncombatants, the Resistance was a thousand strong, while the Yamato dominion boasted four thousand ready soldiers, and that was excluding those stationed on the outskirts of the nation. Every Resistance fighter was outnumbered four to one. The fact that their enemy had a man who could match Aoi’s tremendous combat prowess made things bleaker still. Between that and the lack of supplies in Yamato crippling Ringo’s contribution, the Resistance had no chance of winning a fair fight. In a sense, it was logical that their plan revolved around not engaging.

However, there was a condition if the plan to use Fort Steadfast as a diversion was going to succeed—the enemies of the Resistance needed to view the fort as an immediate, deadly threat. And against an army of four thousand, a mere one thousand was never going to do the trick. As things stood, the dominion army would’ve been pleased to hold their position atop the Amagi Pass to block the Resistance forces from reaching Azuchi while they waited for their reinforcements to arrive from the rest of Yamato. Retaining Fort Steadfast wasn’t enough to make the plan work. Not on its own.

To make up for that, Tsukasa concocted a pair of bluffs.

The first had to do with the size of the Resistance. If it appeared that the organization numbered more than it did, its encampment at Fort Steadfast would seem more threatening in turn. Plus, accomplishing that was very simple. Tsukasa didn’t need to hire mercenaries from abroad or ask Elm for help. All it took was sending the same people in and out of the stronghold.

By leaving unseen and returning in plain view, Tsukasa could fool the enemy scouts into thinking the Resistance was growing. Back on Earth, the tactic dated back to the Records of the Three Kingdoms era, and the Resistance was able to execute the tactic with ease, thanks to Ringo’s all-seeing military satellite revealing the locations of the dominion scouts. And as the same people went in and out, the rest of the Resistance slowly moved into the nearby woods.

The dominion scouts became convinced of a growing army at the fort, but the truth was the exact opposite. In the end, the Resistance left behind a mere four hundred people, the vast majority of whom were civilians.

A false show of numbers would only go so far, however. To goad the enemy into a reckless offensive, Tsukasa needed to give another push. That was where the second bluff came in—Divine Lightning.

Divine Lightning was the tool the Seven Luminaries had used to land the decisive blow against Fastidious Duke Gustav and force the Freyjagard Empire to acknowledge the Republic of Elm’s independence. Word of its might had spread across the empire, and there was no way that Jade—the man entrusted with all true authority in the Yamato self-governing dominion—was unfamiliar with it. Thus, Tsukasa had instructed Ringo to build a massive fake cannon.

They lacked the materials or equipment to recreate the actual Divine Lightning, but its image had become a symbol of annihilation.

Whenever someone saw a “♡,” they associated it with affection or a heart.

Whenever they saw a “♪,” they associated it with music or enjoyment.

And when they saw a gigantic cannon, they couldn’t help but associate it with unbelievable destructive power.

It would only be a matter of time before Jade connected the dots between that cannon and the Divine Lightning the Seven Luminaries had used. The real Divine Lightning was a missile, yet the people of this world lacked the background and context to comprehend that. And Jade was no exception.

Jade’s big weakness was Mayoi. The entire basis for his position was the relationship he’d fostered with the one person who could control Yamato, and he needed to keep her around if he hoped to continue ruling the dominion successfully. If it became apparent that Fort Steadfast housed something that could threaten her safety, he’d be powerless to ignore it. Stopping the danger would be his top priority, and doing so required him to mobilize his entire army. There would be no other options available to him.

The results spoke for themselves. As soon as the dominion army learned of the fake Divine Lightning, it immediately abandoned its fortified defensive position on the pass and launched into a poorly planned attack, discarding its unbeatable position.

After all the calculated moves, Jade had committed a fatal error, enabling Tsukasa to make his move. As the enemy army descended the mountain, the Resistance got to work. Its people raced up that same peak the army attacking Fort Steadfast had occupied and broke through the once impassable defensive position without suffering so much as a scratch.

The Resistance fighters let out astonished whispers as they reached the discarded fortifications at the top of the pass.

“Th-this is incredible…”

“I can’t believe it all went so smoothly…”

It wasn’t excitement that colored their voices. They were too awed and bewildered for that. A similar sense of incredulity filled Kira’s heart as he gazed at the two angels and the elf-eared girl walking at the front of the group. This was the power that had allowed a revolution that began in an impoverished mountain village to end with seizing independence from the Freyjagard Empire.

All that said, though…

“I can see them! There’s the Resistance!”

“Stop ’em! Don’t let the bastards reach Azuchi!”

…shouts from behind twisted Kira’s expression into a frown. “They’re coming for us.”

Hibari, the young woman beside him, looked back. “Whoa, I didn’t expect them to turn around so fast.”

Innumerable torches bobbed after the Resistance, pushing through the darkness.

Their foes were giving chase.

Naturally, the diversion was never going to keep the dominion army fooled for long. Aside from Aoi and the handful of fighters left behind to sell the illusion, the only people left in Fort Steadfast were women, children, and the elderly. They were dressed in armor the Resistance had taken from Fort Steadfast’s arsenal, but they were no use in a serious fight. Between that and Shishi’s presence among the enemy’s ranks, it was no surprise the opposing troops had breached the fort’s walls so quickly.

The bluff had fallen apart the moment an enemy soldier breached the wall, and with nothing to keep it there, the dominion army had turned around and given chase.

“Just like we planned, I’m going to take five hundred of our men and storm Azuchi. Kira, Hibari, the rest here is up to you.”

As soon as the situation changed, Tsukasa looked back at the pair with his heterochromatic eyes and issued their new orders.

It had always been clear that the enemy would pursue, so before the battle, Tsukasa put together an intercept squad led by Kira and Hibari.

“Leave it to us!” Hibari replied. “Commander Kokubu, keep the angels safe for us.”

“Aye, ma’am. I’ll protect them with my life.”

“Eyeballing it, it looks like the main enemy force that attacked Fort Steadfast totals just shy of three thousand,” Kira noted. “I suspect they still have troops in reserve protecting Azuchi. Take care down there.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Tsukasa answered. “Commander Kokubu, let’s go.”

The young prime minister cast his gaze over Hibari, Kira, and the hundred-odd Resistance members who would be staying behind to defend the pass, then took the five hundred fighters that made up the main force and began the march down for the capital.

That was where Mayoi, the enemy ringleader and the source of everything wrong with Yamato, was. And that was where they were going to strike her down.

Kira watched the bulk of the Resistance leave.

“His expression never broke. It was resolute to the end.”

It was the dead of night, yet Tsukasa had seemed so radiant that Kira found himself squinting all the same.

Kira and Hibari’s group was going to stay behind on the pass to prevent the dominion army from giving chase, but the enemy army dwarfed their numbers.

It was an impossible task.

Sure, they could slow the enemy’s advance, but they had no chance of actually stopping them.

In a sense, those who’d remained at Fort Steadfast were reasonably safe. Once the attackers realized the stronghold was irrelevant, they would surely abandon it.

Those one hundred Resistance members protecting the route to Azuchi were going to get slaughtered, however. Every person on the pass knew they were being sent to their deaths.

They were sacrificial pawns, and Tsukasa Mikogami understood that full well. How could he not? He was the one who’d devised the tactic.

Yet he hadn’t apologized.

Not once did he beg for forgiveness; his expression had remained dignified and commanding even as he left Kira and Hibari’s squad behind.

Few were capable of that.

It was an expression of Tsukasa’s determination to keep those left behind from regretting their sacrifice. Yet it was also a symbol of his resolve to accept the resentment of those who would die for his plan. Tsukasa accepted full responsibility for his actions.

“He’s incredible…”

Like Tsukasa, Kira was a leader, so he felt that keenly. Could I have done the same thing? he wondered. Not a chance. Were it he, he would have ended up crying and apologizing. As much as that might have seemed like a kindness, it was an act of base cowardice—one that robbed those who were about to die of their right to resent him. The only person Kira would have saved by doing that was himself.

How could he ask forgiveness of soldiers he sent to die? What gave him the right? Nothing, and Tsukasa Mikogami recognized that. He understood, so he said nothing. He refused to permit himself the chance to seek absolution from those he was killing.

“He truly is strict on himself…,” Kira muttered.

“You’re right. He judges himself more harshly than anyone else and never shows weakness, no matter the situation. That strength reminds me of our imperial family.”


“That’s why I think it’d be pretty shameful of us to take advantage of that strength.”


Hibari gave Kira a mischievous smile, and when he looked around, he saw that the rest of the Resistance fighters were wearing similar grins.

The sight reminded Kira of what manner of people the citizens of Yamato were.

They hadn’t depended on their imperial family’s self-sacrificing ways, nor lazed about as generations of rulers put in the hard work.

The Yamato imperial family had a rule: In order to prevent the kind of strife that arose from succession disputes, the emperor’s siblings always took their own lives. That was how far the family was willing to go to ensure that its subjects lived in peace, and the populace responded to that devotion in kind by offering their selfless loyalty. Each side supported the other, and that unity was the cornerstone behind three centuries of domestic peace.

As such…

“You’re absolutely right.”

…leaving nothing for their savior but curses as they met death just wasn’t their style.

They refused to be so craven.

A debt of the sort they owed to the angels ought to be repaid with gratitude, not contempt.

“Now, let’s do whatever we can to make it through this alive. That’s the only way to keep him from carrying our nonexistent grudges.”

Kira’s timid heart swelled, bolstered by the infectious morale…

“The enemy’s vanguard is fast approaching! It’s the empire’s Dragon Knight bombers!”

…and the hour of reckoning arrived.

The first foes to appear were the Dragon Knights, the fastest units in the entire dominion army.

In total, there were ten riders.

“They flew to Azuchi, then went back to Fort Steadfast, and now they’ve turned around again. I can’t deny they’ve put in an honest day’s work,” Kira remarked.

“Leave this to me.”

While the fearsome enemies cut menacingly across the night sky like a fell wind, Hibari was the first to step forward. She drew an arrow from the quiver on her back…

“Archers, forward!”

…and shouted to her subordinates in the same breath.

Upon hearing her order, everyone in the company with a bow advanced, set their arrows ablaze in their campfires, and drew their bowstrings back, training their eyes on the dark air above.

“Will your arrows reach them?”

“Dragons normally fly well beyond our range.”

Hibari answered Kira’s question with all her usual quiet modesty…

“But it’s a different story when they drop bombs.”

…then shot a look into the sky far sharper than her standard demeanor would have suggested she was capable of.

Hibari was right. Under normal circumstances, Dragon Knights soared at too great an altitude for projectiles to reach them. During a bombing run, though, they had to descend significantly for a brief moment to ensure that their payloads struck true. Dragons could only carry a small number of explosives at once, so it was important that they made every bit count.

Under calm skies, they had to drop down to an altitude of about six hundred feet, and in places like the Amagi Pass, where winds were fierce, they had to descend to three hundred.

And at such a close distance to the ground…

“…a Yamato archer can snipe them with ease.”

As the words left Hibari’s mouth, the fire arrows soared into the night and left burning trails in their wake. Those glowing streaks raced toward the ten diving Dragon Knights as though sucked toward them…

…and massive blasts of flame blossomed in the air.

When the arrows struck the Dragon Knights’ explosive, it caused them to detonate early. Suffice it to say, getting hit by blasts from point-blank range left the Dragon Knights in poor condition. All ten riders and mounts fell from the air, ribbons of smoke behind them as they hurtled lifelessly toward the ground.

“Wh—? Our dragons! How’d the entire bomber squad get shot down?!”

“It’s Hibari’s archers! The Dragon Knights went in too close!”

“Shut up, you samurai hicks! It’s just a handful of sacrificial pawns! We’ll overrun them with our numbers!”

The Dragon Knights had gone in first to get the drop on the Resistance troops, and seeing them get shot down sent terror through the dominion forces. However, their Silver Knight field commander forcefully stopped the panic and ordered the army to retake the high ground from the Resistance by charging in.

The mountain slope rumbled as the soldiers surged up like a tsunami.

At a glance, Kira could tell that the enemy vanguard alone outnumbered them by five to one, if not more. Receiving that attack head-on would mean being swept away before ever getting the chance to fight back. And in the face of inevitable obliteration…

“How’s your stomach holding up, Master Kira?”

“Never better. I made sure to down all the medicine I had in preparation for this,” Kira replied playfully as he stared down at the tidal wave of swords and spears raging its way toward him.

All right, it’s time to do as much as we can. Fortunately, we have no shortage of tools to work with!

…he drew his commander’s sword and gave the order.

“Squads one and four, release the rockslide!”

On Kira’s signal, the Resistance members wrenched free the stakes that held up countless boulders across the mountain pass. With nothing to support them, the rocks tumbled downhill, crushing the cavalrymen that made up the dominion army’s advance guard.


“Damn it! They’re using our traps!”

“What the hell?! Now they’re in the position we were supposed to be in!”

“Quit charging straight forward, you hicks! You’ve got room to maneuver, so use it! Remember, you’re fighting to save your dominion lord!”

“H-he’s right! We have to protect Lady Mayoi!”

“Don’t let the rebels get to her!”

The dominion soldiers were dismayed that their own traps were being used against them. However, one little setback wasn’t enough to take the wind out of their sails. The Amagi Pass had been carved out of the mountain specifically to serve as a military supply road, and it was wide enough to accommodate a whole army. There was plenty of room to the sides, and the dominion forces spread out.

To their surprise…


…the soldiers on each edge of the road took a nasty fall.

As soon as they had tried to climb the slope, they crumpled to their knees.

Had the path fallen into disrepair? Was that why they’d tripped?

Not quite.

“Th-the ground’s slippery! I can’t get up the hill!”

“What is this stuff? Oil? Oh, shit…!”

By the time they realized what was about to happen, it was already too late.

“Archers, fire!”


The moment Kira brought his blade down, the Resistance’s archers loosed burning arrows upon the oil-soaked dominion warriors.

Hellfire exploded across the pass, swallowing it in the blink of an eye and forming a searing wall between the two camps.

Flames engulfed the charging Yamato soldiers…

“Wh-what the hell?! You bastards know why they’re fighting for their domain lord, don’t you?! And now you’re coming at them with no restraint? You’re some heartless sons of bitches! That’s what you people are!”

…and the Resistance’s fierce efforts earned a yell from the imperial Silver Knight leading the advance team. Kira heard the indictment…but his heart never wavered.

The Silver Knight’s protest was so wrongheaded it wasn’t even worth laughing at. The Resistance knew full well that the Yamato soldiers in the dominion army fought only because of the mind control, and that was precisely why the Resistance met them on the battlefield. This was the only answer to the silent cries for freedom from those who’d been robbed of everything.

“Hear me well.”

Kira swept his gaze over the enemy ranks and spoke loud and true.

“We stand here today not as the Yamato that was beaten by the Freyjagard. We are a hundred of this nation’s best. A hundred who, for three years, never forgot what they were fighting for. Who never gave up in the face of an endless battle. If, knowing that, you still foolishly wish to pass us, then, by all means, come throw away your lives! You can burn our homes, steal our families, and desecrate our land, but you will never extinguish our pride—and you will never crush the will of Yamato!”


Their roar shook the mountain far more than a mere hundred people should have been capable of.


The imperial troops shrank back…

“The will…of Yamato…”

…and the brainwashed Yamato soldiers gazed up through the wall of fire at the Resistance as though entranced.

They could feel an emotion swelling in their hearts, although none of them understood what it was.

Up on the Amagi Pass, the Resistance and dominion forces were finally coming to a head. The dominion advance guard had the superior numbers, but they had left the pass in too much of a hurry to disassemble their defensive fortifications, and Kira’s Resistance forces were making full use of them all to stop the enemy in its tracks. The dominion advance guard was in for a rough fight.

Meanwhile, the rest of the dominion forces marched from the empty Fort Steadfast toward the road through the mountains. Jade, their supreme commander, was riding in the middle with the army’s central company.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit! You’re telling me that Fort Steadfast was bait and the Divine Lightning was a fake?! Are you fucking kidding me?!” he roared, pulling at his hair.

His eyes were bloodshot, and there was no reason or composure to be found in them. The imperial knights he was with kept a safe distance for fear of becoming the object of his fury.

However, Jade found that irritating in and of itself, and he turned to one of the knights and snapped angrily, “I want answers! Why hasn’t the advance guard crushed those Resistance numbskulls yet?! They’re only a few weaklings, right?!”

Jade seethed with frustration, but he forced his mind to remain on the present situation. His foes had lured the dominion army down to Fort Steadfast, and it stood to reason they would use that opening to try to take Azuchi. It was hard to imagine them having left more than a handful of fighters on the pass, so the dominion advance guard should have routed them by now. Jade had yet to receive any good news from the front lines, however.

Beneath Jade’s incensed glare, an imperial knight beside him stammered an answer. “I—I believe it’s because they’ve taken our defensive fortifications and are using them for themselves, and, um…us abandoning our position and attacking Fort Steadfast completely backfired on us…”

“Oh, so what, you’re saying it’s my fault?!”

“P-perish the thought, sir! I’m only stating that because we handed our traps over to the enemy, it’s going to take some time to break their line, even with, um, our superior numbers…”

Jade’s handsome features twisted further, and he ground his teeth. “What about Shishi, then?! Why isn’t that worthless chump back yet?! That damn geezer isn’t some chick changing her clothes, so why’s he taking as long as one?!”

“At the moment, he’s inside Fort Steadfast facing off against the angel dressed like a samurai who single-handedly bested the Azuchi Castle defenses!”

“Aoi…,” Jade growled.

“The angel is terrifyingly strong, and she’s actually fighting Master Shishi to a standstill! We thought of going in to help, but the battle is so far beyond what we can keep up with, our interference would be a needless sacrifice…”

Jade had seen Aoi’s combat prowess with his own two eyes. He had thrown every soldier the castle had at her, yet it hadn’t slowed her down. It came as little surprise that she was able to hold her own against the man hailed as the greatest samurai in Yamato.

“Damn it, I’m surrounded by incompetents! I am up to here with this shit!”

Were Shishi with the dominion army, his power would have easily broken through the pass. There was nothing Jade could do about that now, though. His frustration mounted, and he kicked the neighboring knight’s steed. “If Shishi’s not coming, then it’s up to you assholes to pick up the slack! Go join those advance guard good-for-nothings! Move it! The only thing you idiots have going for you is your numbers, so use ’em already!”

No sooner had Jade given the order…

“““ ???!!!!!”””

…than a tremor and a terrible roar the likes of which none had heard before shook the entire army as it thundered down the Amagi Pass supply road.

There was something unnatural about the noise. It was like a series of thunderclaps, all ringing out at the exact same time.

Something had happened. The sound made that clear enough.

“Wh-what the hell was that about?!”

Jade immediately raised his head to survey the situation…

“Ahhhhhh! Administrator, u-up there!”

…then looked to where the knight beside him was pointing. There lay their destination: the Amagi Pass’s peak, where the dominion advance guard was engaging the Resistance.

The path there, as well as the mountain beneath it, had been reduced to dust and rubble.


The sheer scale of the destruction forced the dominion forces to stop in astonishment.

“Messenger! Messenger coming through!”

As Jade sat upon his horse in disbelief, an orderly came dashing from the front of the central company.

“What the hell was that?” Jade demanded. “What the hell just happened?!”

White-faced, the orderly replied, “I have news! The Resistance forces encamped ahead blew up the road and caved in a large chunk of the mountain!”


“We suspect they used the blasting powder we left behind in our hurry to make it to the fort! The advance guard was fighting them at the time of the rupture and was caught in the landslide! Our soldiers have been routed, and they’ve suffered serious casualties! Furthermore, the supply route has been completely destroyed, and there’s no way we can march our army through the pass!”

“ ”

Jade’s entire body shook, nearly causing him to tumble off his horse. He was so dizzy it felt as though the world lurched beneath him. Although he remained on his mount, he couldn’t stop the cold sweat flowing from his pores.

How…how is this happening?

He’d done everything right. Not once had he spurred on his army in frivolity or haste. No, he’d carefully scrutinized all his actions before taking them. Yet even so, his position kept getting worse.

Nothing was going his way, and he didn’t understand why.

How had the situation gotten so bad? Jade hadn’t made any errors—at least, he didn’t believe so. Sure, looking at it in retrospect, the Divine Lightning was a fake, and he’d fallen for the enemy’s diversion, but what if it had been real? Allowing the Resistance to keep a weapon that could attack Azuchi directly from Fort Steadfast was ludicrous. His choice to mobilize the army as quickly as possible had been correct. Given the predicament, it had been the only option. There had been no other reasonable choices.

He’d been placed in a scenario with no superior alternatives.


The moment he arrived at that realization, a shiver ran through Jade’s body, and a memory played out in his head.

He recalled the dinner party with the Elm ambassadors in Azuchi, and, more specifically, he remembered those heterochromatic red and blue eyes staring at him from across the table.

Jade prided himself on his diplomacy, and he’d recognized that Tsukasa had been observing him as surely as he’d been watching Tsukasa. However, it still boggled the mind. What enabled Tsukasa to play him so thoroughly? How much practice did a person need observing others to pull off something like that?

Or did Jade have it all wrong?

Was the real reason Tsukasa had read him like a book in only half a day…

…’Cause I’m really just that shallow of a dude?

“A-Administrator, what do we do?!”

“Should we head for the Oono Plains?! We still have a thousand soldiers in Azuchi, and they might well hold out long enough for us to make the detour!”

“We’re pushing through…”


When Jade gave his order, the imperial knights gawked, certain their ears had deceived them. Upon seeing their expressions…something inside Jade snapped. “All troops, continue on the present course! I don’t care if we have to scramble through the rubble and climb up a sheer cliff face. We’re getting through that pass and butchering the Resistance down to their last warrior!”

“B-but sir, marching through the debris will make us sitting ducks! It’ll be a bloodbath!”

“So what?! How many arrows did the enemy bring? A hundred? Then I guess a hundred of you will just have to eat dirt! A thousand? Then a thousand of you can bite it! We’ll still have over a thousand soldiers left, and they’ll have the corpses of their useless brethren to pile up and climb over! I have Mayoi’s full backing in all acts of dominion leadership, and that means my orders are her orders! Quit your bitching and moaning, and get up there!”

“A-at once, sir!”

As the army stood around flustered, Jade spurred them back into action by glaring at them with the ferocity of a man who might draw his sword and start lashing out at any moment.

There was no plan. He had nothing but numbers and was determined to use them to force through the Amagi Pass.

Fuck this. I’m not going down. Not here, not like this!

Jade’s body trembled as if those heterochromatic eyes were staring at him.


Deep inside Azuchi Castle, a young woman was gasping in agony atop a futon in the main castle tower’s keep. Her tawny brown skin was damp with sweat, and there was a black crystal fused into her stomach. Her chest heaved up and down with pain.

It was Mayoi, dominion lord of the Yamato self-governing dominion.

“Hahh, hahh, hahh…!”

“Try to stay strong, Lady Mayoi,” her lady-in-waiting said, concerned. She took a cloth and wiped Mayoi’s naked body.

No matter how much the lady-in-waiting cleaned, though, more sweat kept coming.

“Miasma has gotten inside the cut. It was a pretty nasty injury you took.”

What she was saying—in this world’s parlance—was that Mayoi’s pain stemmed from the wound she had suffered when her ear got lopped off. Bacteria had entered the cut and was wreaking havoc on her body.

“Not to worry, though. We were able to treat it quickly, so I’m sure it will heal before long. I must say, though, it was truly savage of them to cut off your ear. And to then join with the Resistance malcontents who refuse to see how just your rule is? They may claim to be angels, but they’re devils through and through.”

In truth, Jade was the one who’d lopped off Mayoi’s ear, but the lady-in-waiting didn’t know that, so her burning anger was directed at the Seven Luminaries.

Mayoi looked up at her, still panting in pain. “H-how…is…my darling? Is…there any news?”

The lady-in-waiting gave her a sad look. “Not yet, I’m afraid. I’m sorry, my lady…”


Mayoi’s expression darkened with concern for Jade’s well-being out on the war front, and the lady-in-waiting tried gently to cheer her up. “I’m sure that Administrator Jade is doing just fine, though. His force vastly outnumbers the Resistance, and we have Master Shishi on our side. He would never lose to some frail rebellion. The administrator should be back in no time.”

It was obvious that Mayoi needed all the energy and willpower she could muster to fight through the disease.


“For now, all you should worry about is your own health…Lady Kaguya.”

…the lady-in-waiting’s tongue slipped. Her expression froze. “O-oh dear.”

“ ”

“Wh-why did I just…?”


That was the name of Mayoi’s sister, and as far as the people of Yamato were concerned, it was the name of a traitor jeopardizing Yamato’s peace. Why had that woman’s name come out of her mouth? And why…why did saying it fill her with such a sense of affection?

A flustered look crossed the lady-in-waiting’s face…

“Why? Ha. Ha-ha-ha!”

…and upon seeing it, Mayoi burst into scornful laughter.

“That’s a stupid question. It’s what you people have always done.”

“Lady…Mayoi? ?!”

The lady-in-waiting didn’t understand what Mayoi was saying. She looked to her ruler and recognized something in the young woman’s eyes—hatred. It burned hot enough to spit flames.

Mayoi’s rage was so intense, in fact, that glimpsing it brought all the lady-in-waiting’s stolen memories back in the span of an instant…

“Burn your mouth with that brazier and never speak again.”

“As you wish, my lady.”

…but when the stone embedded in Mayoi’s stomach flashed, the lady-in-waiting plunged her head into the nearby fire.

Flesh sizzled, and the lady-in-waiting’s body convulsed violently. Even so, though, she made no move to raise her head. Her body jolted a few times, then moved no more.

“…It stinks.”

Mayoi scrunched up her face as the acrid scent of burnt flesh permeated the room. Using a post for support, she struggled her way up from her futon and tottered unsteadily out of the room.

“Lady Mayoi?! Are you sure you’re all right to be up and about already?!”

“Do you need a hand, my lady?”

“Where is it you need to go at this late hour?”

“Shut up. Shut up. Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up!”

Mayoi’s other servants rushed to her side, and she covered the sides of her head with her hands to silence their voices.

She felt sick and wanted to vomit, but it wasn’t because of her illness. It was because of their faces. It was the love and respect in their expressions. Everything about them disgusted Mayoi, and it was because she knew that all of it was a sham.

Under normal circumstances, she would have no value to these people, and they would never…


Thinking about it sent a sharp wave of nausea through Mayoi, and she clamped her hands over her mouth. However, the revulsion refused to subside.

Mayoi felt as though she were going mad.

Looking at their faces?

Hearing their voices?

Having to breathe the same air they breathed?

It was all intolerable.

Jade was the only reason she’d endured it all.

He’d told her to rule Yamato, so she had. Knowing that was what he needed to improve his position, and knowing that she was helping him gave Mayoi the strength to suffer through.

Now, though, Jade was gone. And without him there, Mayoi couldn’t stand a single thing about this nation. She wanted to slaughter every last person in it as soon as possible.

That wasn’t what Jade wanted, however. It’d only make problems for him. Thus, Mayoi struggled desperately to push down her nausea and loathing.

Please…come back soon… I need you…

Mayoi swallowed her vomit and let tears gush from her eyes instead.

She was in pain and terribly lonely.

The oppressive solitude squeezed at her chest.

She wanted to be nearer to Jade, even if only a little, so she braced herself against the wall and ascended the stairs of a watchtower with a clear view of the Amagi Pass.

Then, as soon as she reached the watchtower’s balcony…

Clang! Clang! Clang!

…the piercing cry of an alarm bell sounded from below her on the west side of Azuchi.


Mayoi peered down to see what had happened.

The Amagi Pass fed into the city’s west side, and from that route came a procession of lit torches bound for Azuchi Castle.

The procession’s furious shouts filled the air.

After leaving the rear guard behind on the pass, the High-School-Prodigy-led Resistance forces descended the mountain. On their way down, they ran into the cavalrymen who came from Azuchi when Jade gave the order to launch an all-out attack, but their foes were just a jumbled-up pile of soldiers with no real formation to speak of. Between that and the fact that the clash was on a slope where being mounted offered few of its usual advantages, the Resistance force was able to pulverize the dominion army with ease.

During the darkest hour of night, the Resistance arrived at the heart of Yamato’s corruption—Azuchi, capital of the Yamato self-governing dominion.

“We’re here! We made it! After three long years, we’re finally back!”

“The enemy stronghold is straight ahead! It’s time we take that traitor down!”


The Resistance fighters flooded into the capital like a dam had burst. There were over five hundred of them, and they were done committing petty acts of domestic terrorism. This attack was nothing short of a bona fide war.

The dominion army gawked in horror at the impossible situation—the inconceivable situation—they were in. What the hell was the main dominion army doing? What had happened to the cavalrymen who had just gone to join up with them? Their hearts stirred with fear and questions.

“Stop them, dammit! We can’t let the rebels get to Lady Mayoi!”

“Don’t fight them head-on! Take advantage of the terrain and cut ’em off!”

It was a small mercy that, like the cavalry who’d gone on ahead of them, these dominion warriors were fully armed in preparation to join up with the majority of the army still off with Jade. The infantry squads in Azuchi quickly drew their swords and fanned out across the castle town to stop the enemy encroachment.

Due to the earlier diversion, the dominion troops were scattered. Their previously overwhelming numbers advantage had evaporated. However, the Azuchi Castle town was still the dominion’s home turf.

The defending troops skillfully used the city’s lattice-shaped network of roads to launch crippling surprise attacks on the Resistance forces making for the castle.

Or at least, they attempted to.

“I…I-6! H-3! There’s an ambush up ahead!”

“Vanguard, ready! Aaand throw!”



None of their plans worked out. Whenever they got ready to launch a surprise attack, the Resistance hurled explosives at their hiding spots with disturbing accuracy, ruining the ambushes before they began.

How did the ill-equipped rebels know exactly where the dominion soldiers were hiding when they didn’t have a single Dragon Knight on their side? The defenders were at a loss.

They couldn’t even begin to comprehend what was really happening. They had no idea that the Resistance—or rather, the High School Prodigies—were looking down on everything occurring in Azuchi from far above the sky where the Dragon Knights soared. Beyond even the atmosphere.

As long as Ringo Oohoshi had her satellite, there was no way they’d fall for any sneak attacks.

While Ringo ran behind Tsukasa and fed him moment-to-moment information on the enemy’s moves, Tsukasa took that information and used it to predict what the enemy would do next. “They’re coming down Peng Street to cut in front of us and aiming to rush out from R-8 to seal our way off.”

“What do we do, Mr. Tsukasa?!”

“We can’t afford to let our forces get whittled down here. We’re changing course and using Wagtail Street to slip past their flank.”

“Yes, sir!”

Tsukasa’s tanned, middle-aged samurai attendant Kokubu mobilized the Resistance members. The dominion army had tried to anticipate the invaders’ movements, blocking off a road accordingly. However, the Resistance slipped into an alley the next street over and dashed right on past them, practically laughing in the dominion army’s face.


“C-can they see us or something?!”

“After themmmm! Don’t let them get to the castle!”

The dominion forces quickly turned around to give chase.

By the time the Resistance arrived at the main road leading to the palace, the dominion soldiers had all but caught up with them. Although the Resistance’s fighters sported only light armaments, noncombatants like Ringo and Lyrule slowed their pace considerably.

Just as it seemed the dominion forces were close enough to grab the Resistance attackers, disaster struck.


“DAMMIT, that hurts!”

Screams erupted from the dominion ranks. Their charge was broken, and the reason for that lay at their feet. Torchlight revealed faintly gleaming metal spikes strewn across the ground.

“Shit, those assholes dropped caltrops behind them!”

“Go around them, and be quick about it!”

Whether they liked it or not, that put a definite damper on the dominion army’s pursuit.

Meanwhile, the Resistance forces crossed the moat, finally reaching Azuchi Castle’s Nioumon Gate. It was a mighty iron barricade; together, its two doors weighed in at five tons.

When the High School Prodigies escaped Azuchi Castle during their earlier visit, it had taken Aoi’s prodigious strength to open the way, and what’s more, they were going in this time rather than coming out. Naturally, the gate was barred from within. No amount of effort would be enough for them to pull it open.

Tsukasa had never planned on opening the door, though.

“Aim for the support pillars! Aaand throw!”

Kokubu shouted out the order, and the handful of Resistance members at the front of the group hurled explosives at the pillars holding up the Nioumon Gate.

The bombs they used had been custom-made by Ringo Oohoshi. She’d modified the firebombs the Resistance typically employed, altering the way they were packed to bolster their blasting power vastly. On top of that, she’d also reworked their ignition mechanism such that mere impact with a target generated the heat necessary for detonation. This reduced the number of soldiers needed to wield the weapons effectively, making the explosives functional even in situations where blasting powder was impractical.

Any gate, no matter how sturdy, was vulnerable at its hinges. The Nioumon Gate remained shut tight, yet it was helpless before the point-blank bursts. The force from the bombs knocked the gate all the way into the castle, and the Resistance troops trampled over the inert barricade as they hurried into the palace’s outermost ring.

“Here’s something to remember us by!” a Resistance member shouted.

“““Agh!””” the pursuing dominion soldiers cried.

The Resistance rear guard had scattered explosives behind them and blown up the bridge crossing the moat.

“Shit, they cut us off!”

“Dammit, those bastards… Head around to the west! We can still get to the castle through the Bentenmon Gate! Hurry!”

With the bridge floating in chunks down in the moat, the dominion soldiers who’d chased the Resistance from the castle town had to delay their pursuit. The Nioumon Gate wasn’t the only entrance to the palace. A second access point called the Bentenmon Gate existed specifically for emergencies and also led into the castle’s outermost ring. The Resistance hadn’t stopped their enemies completely.

However, taking the detour to the west was a time-consuming endeavor. The Resistance had bought themselves a reprieve, and that was enough.

“Hell yeah! We made it all to the way to the outer ring without breaking a sweat!”

“We can do this! They put so many people up on the pass that the castle’s defenses have more holes than a strainer! Victory is in sight!”

“Let’s keep this up and break through to the middle ring!”

With no hostiles at their backs, the Resistance turned their full might toward seizing control of the outer ring, and in no time at all, it was theirs.

Perhaps owing to how much personnel had been assigned to the Amagi Pass and the rest of the city, the castle’s outer ring had no real defense to speak of. There were no archers in its watchtower, nor any guards stationed at its gate, just a handful of fleeing servants.

The plan was proceeding unbelievably well, and morale among the Resistance’s ranks was high. However…

“Tsu-Tsukasa…,” Ringo called, her voice heavy with concern.

“I know,” he replied.

Even without Ringo’s satellite watching their enemies’ movements, observing the situation at hand was plenty for Tsukasa to realize what was going on.

“Don’t get careless!” he shouted. “The enemy is lying in wait!”


“L-look out!”

The Resistance forces had been all gung ho about storming the middle ring, but suddenly, they stopped in their tracks. A storm of arrows and gunfire poured down from the middle ring.

“There they are! I have the insurgents in my sights!”

“Lady Mayoi is just behind us! We have to stop the brigands here, no matter what!”


Atop the stone stairs to the middle ring, a densely packed defensive line of soldiers stood before the Kigishinomon Gate.

When Kokubu saw them, he gasped. “Tch… Th-there’s so many of them!”

“They didn’t have many fighters, so they decided to abandon the outer ring to make their stand here.”

In terms of square footage, the outer ring was nearly twice as big as the middle one, and from the look of things, the enemy couldn’t have been working with more than three hundred soldiers. It simply wasn’t possible to cover the outer ring with so few, so their decision was logical.

Tsukasa glared up at the Kigishinomon Gate. “Even taking that into account, they have more people left than I anticipated. A fair number must have stayed behind in Azuchi, defying Administrator Jade’s orders.”

“Ultimately, the one they follow is Princess Mayoi. Ain’t no surprise they got cold feet at the prospect of leaving the castle unguarded,” Kokubu replied. “What’s the plan? There’s more of us than them, but they’re holed up and have the high ground. And we can’t exactly mill about thinking it over…”

“You’re right. If we waste too much time, dominion forces will come through the Bentenmon Gate and hit us from behind.”

A growing rumble ran through the ground—footsteps of enemy soldiers running from the west. If things didn’t change soon, the situation would turn ugly.

That said, Tsukasa had known the situation would be rough from the get-go. Doctrine held that successfully attacking a castle required a force three to ten times that of the defending side. The size of the army on the Amagi Pass had led them to estimate Azuchi held a thousand warriors, meaning that the Resistance’s five hundred were far from sufficient.

If anything, the fact that Jade had mobilized the soldiers in Azuchi to take part in his offensive and left the city with so few guards that they’d been forced to abandon the castle’s outer ring was already more than the Resistance could have possibly hoped for. Tsukasa hadn’t even been counting on it.

No, he’d prepared a different move to ensure that storming the castle succeeded.

“Worry not, Commander Kokubu. Breaking the middle ring won’t take us long at all.”

Not a moment later, an explosion rocked the air, and lights bloomed in the dark sky.

“Wh-what’s going on?!”

“Fireworks? Who the hell would set off fireworks at a time like this?!”

“W-wait, look there! There’s someone up on the roof!”

The dominion forces hunkered in the middle ring looked up. A high wall surrounded the middle ring, and a trio of figures stood atop it, silhouetted by the light of the fireworks.

Tsukasa called up to them.

“Hope we didn’t keep you waiting, Shinobu.”

Hope we didn’t keep you waiting.

Upon hearing those words, the scarf-clad girl standing atop the ramparts—prodigy journalist Shinobu Sarutobi—replied with a cheerful smile that seemed wildly out of place on a battlefield.

“Nope! We just got here ourselves. Just for the record, though, I’m pooped. Going from the empire to Elm, and then hurrying down from there with everyone in tow takes a lot out of a girl.”

“Tsukasa! Everyone! I missed you guys!”

“Ringo! Please, tail me you didn’t get hurt while you were gone!”

The footing up on the roof couldn’t possibly have been stable, yet the spiderlike machine with an array of manipulator arms hopped nimbly up and down on it all the same. He, along with a boy wearing a top hat, waved at their friends below.

Ringo’s and Lyrule’s eyes lit up.


“Shinobu! Akatsuki! And—”

There was one more person with them, too.

The white-haired girl with wolf ears and a tail standing between Shinobu and Akatsuki was none other than…

“I-it’s Shura!” one of the dominion soldiers cried. “That girl next to the ninja, that’s Shura the White Wolf General!”

“But that’s impossible!” another one yelped. “I thought she was locked up in Elm!”

“Wait, does that mean Princess Kaguya is in Azuchi, too?!”

…Shura the White Wolf General, former Yamato army commander and Samurai General Shishi’s daughter.

She was also the mightiest fighter among the Resistance’s ranks, and her arrival sent a chill through the soldiers in the middle ring. How was she there when she was supposed to be imprisoned in the Republic of Elm?

As it turned out, the answer was simple: Tsukasa had asked Shinobu to bring her and Kaguya, and she had—by destroying their prison. From there, she sneaked them into Azuchi and waited for the battle to start.

Tsukasa had arranged this, and he’d moved the girls into place so they would be ready when the moment came. “As you can see, we’re about to charge the middle ring,” he said. “Would you mind sowing some chaos for us?”

“You got it!” Shinobu shouted back. “All righty, it’s go time. Bearabbit, Shura, Akatsuki, you guys ready?”

“Pawger that!”


“Yeah! Let’s do this!”

The AI, girl, and boy all replied in turn. Of them all, Akatsuki’s response was uncharacteristically enthusiastic. A look of surprise crossed Shinobu’s face. “Whoa, Akatsuki. Sounds like someone woke up on the right side of bed today.”

“Yeah! And it’s all thanks to those special ninja pills you gave me!”

“Ah, right,” Shinobu answered. Now, it all made sense.

“They’re called ‘steelskin pills,’ right? You know, the ones you told me made a person’s body so hard that not even arrows could pierce it? With those on my side, there’s nothing to be afraid of!”

Right before they’d entered the castle, Akatsuki had been moaning about how scared he was, so Shinobu gave him some medicine. And it was the real deal, too, made from a secret recipe passed down through the Sarutobi clan for generations. Shinobu flashed Akatsuki a confident thumbs-up. “Yeah, there probably isn’t!”


“Oh, my family’s kept the recipe going for ages, but it always sounded kinda sketchy, so I’ve never actually used them. I mean, what if they didn’t work? I’d be boned!”


“Just don’t go all pincushion on me. If they work, maybe I’ll try them out myself.”


At that point, Shura cut in. “Talk if you like, but I’m going on ahead.”

“Hey, hey, hey, Shura, hold up!” Shinobu yelped. “I said I’m coming!”

“Don’t you worry, Ringo, I’ll save you from those barbearians!”

Shura leaped off the wall, unwilling to wait any longer, and Shinobu and Bearabbit followed along after her and engaged the dominion forces in the middle ring.

The only one left behind was Akatsuki, feet frozen and face pale as a sheet.


The dominion forces in the middle ring had gotten into position to stop the Resistance troops approaching from the outer ring, but when Shinobu, Shura, and Bearabbit got the drop on them from behind, their formation fell apart.

This wasn’t just any surprise attack. It was one conducted by a pair of girls with incredible close combat skills and Bearabbit, whom Ringo had equipped with all manner of state-of-the-art weaponry to protect her from the many organizations that coveted her brainpower. The effects were immediate.

Shinobu blinded the soldiers with flash pellets, and Shura followed up by charging in and cutting them down. In the blink of an eye, the entrenched middle ring guards were in shambles.

“Don’t let them ruin our position, you idiots!”

“Agh! What the hell is that spider-monster thing?!”

“There’s no need to panic! Shishi and that woman samurai are one thing, but without Byakuran or Shiro, throwing ten of you at Shura should be enough to defeat her! Crush her!”

The garrison commander in charge of the units in the middle ring barked frantic orders, hoping to right the course of battle.

Tsukasa wasn’t about to permit that, however.

“Garrison Commander, the main Resistance forces are coming up the Tsubaki Steps and heading for the middle ring!”

“What! Why aren’t our archers up in the watchtower stopping them from—what?!”

The garrison commander looked up just in time to see the pink cloud spreading through the air.

No, it couldn’t have been some ordinary quirk of the weather.

“They set up a smoke screen!”

“BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA! Cower in impotence! Your arrows are powerless before the strength of my miracles!”

It was none other than Prince Akatsuki. Soaring in illusionary flight before the watchtower, he blasted out the smoke he used in his shows from beneath his cloak.

“What’s up with this wonky-colored fog? I can’t see a thing!”

“Dammit, he’s farting at us!”

“W-why I never!” Akatsuki cried. “Show some respect, mortal!”

“There’s no way you’ll be able to hit anyone like this!” the garrison commander shouted up at the archers. “For now, shoot down the flying pip-squeak!”

The soldiers in the watchtower had their orders, and they let their arrows fly. Akatsuki flew left, right, and every which way to evade the volley, yet before long…


…he groaned and froze in midair.

Akatsuki doubled over with an arrow buried in his chest.

“We got him!”

“…Heh-heh. BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!”

However, the prodigy magician swiftly righted his posture and let out a booming laugh with the arrow still stuck right in his heart.

“Know that I am God Akatsuki! You think your puny weapons can fell a deity?! No arrow may strike me down!”

Impaled as he was, he didn’t show the slightest sign of weakness. The pills Shinobu had leveraged to convince Akatsuki to come along had worked.

Okay, no, obviously they hadn’t.

In truth, Bearabbit had shot down all the soldiers’ arrows with his antiair defense system’s machine gun. Not a single one of them had actually reached Akatsuki. And as for the one in his chest, that was a prop Akatsuki had made beforehand by cutting the arrowhead to make it appear as though he’d been struck. The trick was super simple, but combined with Akatsuki’s talent for misdirection, the enemy soldiers believed it unquestioningly.

That said…

“As a matter of fact, why not cease shooting me altogether? All you’re doing is wasting your arrows!”

Ohhhhh, make it stop, make it stop, make it stop, make it stoppp!!!!

…the ordeal was taking a considerable emotional toll on the illusionist. Akatsuki was a professional, however, so he made sure not to let any of his panic show.

“Instead, allow me to return the favor!”

During the brief opening the watchtower soldiers left while they prepared their next volley, Akatsuki took advantage of the skills he’d honed practicing knife throwing to hurl a green smoke bomb through one of the tower’s narrow arrow slits.

As he did…

“Aaagh! This stuff is poisonous!”

…he screamed in a shrill tone much closer to his natural voice.

Akatsuki was copying a trick Masato Sanada had used a while back. Masato was an elite swindler—though he would say entrepreneur—and his technique immediately bore fruit for Akatsuki.


Akatsuki’s fake scream caused panic among the watchtower’s archers. They wanted desperately to escape from the ominous-colored vapor, but their station was too cramped for that. Instead of fleeing, they all managed to smash into each other and crumple to the ground in a big heap.

While Akatsuki disabled the watchtower…


…a cacophony of shrieks sounded from the middle ring. The Resistance forces had broken through Kigishinomon Gate.

“Damn it all! Retreat! We need to fall back to the inner castle and regroup! Fall baaaaack!”

The High School Prodigies’ surprise attack caught the dominion soldiers entirely off guard. They were helpless, and as panic grew, organizing the scattered warriors while fending off the Rebellion’s assault rapidly became impossible. The only person who might have had the leadership skills to turn the situation around was Shishi, and he was absent.

Realizing that his side was facing total annihilation, the garrison commander ordered the surviving units to retreat to the Toranomon Gate to make their stand at the final barricade standing between the invaders and the inner castle.

The dominion soldiers scattered like roaches, but the Resistance had no intention of giving them an opportunity to regroup, immediately giving chase.

Amid the chaos, Shinobu joined up with Tsukasa.

“That was some mighty fine havoc you sowed,” Tsukasa praised. “It was a big help.”

“Sha-sha. All in a day’s work.”

“Are you okay, Shinobu? You’re not hurt?”

“Oh, don’t you worry about me, Lyrule. It would’ve been one thing if I were all on my own, but Shura was there with me. Besides, all we were there to do was cause a ruckus. As far as fights go, I barely had to stick my neck out at all. If anything, I’m the one who should be asking if you’re all right. Are you sure you want to keep tagging along? I know fighting’s not your jam.”

Tsukasa interrupted Shinobu’s concerns by asking her about something else. “Speaking of which, where are Keine and Princess Kaguya?”

“Oh, them? They’re hiding in the castle town. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to our favorite princess, and besides, most of their work won’t start till after the war’s over,” Shinobu explained. Then, with an unusually serious expression on her face, she asked Tsukasa a question of her own. “Listen…are you really sure about all of this? Joining up with the Resistance out of self-defense was one thing, but having the Seven Luminaries stage a jailbreak for those two is gonna make things real awkward between us and Elm.”

Tsukasa nodded. “That’s not a problem. With their national assembly up and running, there’s nothing left for us to do there. Now that they’re trying to be self-reliant, our presence will only get in the way. The best thing to do is to give them space; this is the perfect time and way to do it… Honestly, I would’ve been fine sticking around and helping out a bit more, but it is what it is.”


Tsukasa, as well as Ringo behind him, were both picturing the faces of the imperial exchange students they’d been mentoring. The pair had been wonderful pupils with talent and passion in spades, and there was so much more that Tsukasa and Ringo had wanted to teach them. It was a shame, to be sure, but…

“For now, it’s more important that we investigate the global threat known as the evil dragon.”

They needed to know if it was safe to trust Neuro, who had tried to conceal the evil dragon’s existence from them. Locating the entity who had called them to this world as the Seven Heroes who would oppose the evil dragon was paramount as well. Most critical of all, however, the High School Prodigies wanted to ensure that the friends they’d made here had a safe future ahead of them.

Now that they knew that the teachings of the true Seven Luminaries, the religion that held the answer to all their questions, could be found in the hidden elf village, it was only logical that it should jump to the top of their priority list.

“Whenever you want to make a decision, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re dealing with first.”

“Feels like the finish line’s finally in sight, huh?” Shinobu remarked.

Tsukasa nodded. “Once we uncover the truth about the Seven Luminaries’ religion, everything regarding the evil dragon and the one who summoned us to oppose it should become clear. To that end, we need to remove the obstacles in our path by resolving the Yamato situation. Let’s do this! We have the inner castle in our sights!”

“The Kigishinomon Gate in the middle ring has fallen! The enemy’s broken through!”

“The rebel forces are pouring into the middle ring! We can’t stop them!”

“Imbeciles, the lot of you! What the hell are our watchtowers doing?!”

“Some weirdo who called himself the god of the Seven Luminaries farted all over them! They can’t see a thing!”

“We even tried shooting him down, but he shrugged off our arrows like it was nothing! There’s no stopping him!”

“Shit, they’re almost here!”

“Dammit! Hold them back! Whatever it takes! What happened to the backup that was supposed to come through the Bentenmon Gate?!”

“It appears they’re stuck at the entrance to the middle ring! They can’t get through the Kigishinomon Gate!”

“The rebels destroyed it, you idiot! Why’s a demolished gate tripping them up?!”

“O-one of the angels who came in with the Resistance mended the damage unbelievably quickly and locked out the Bentenmon Gate troops!”


“One of our samurai who can slice through iron is trying to break it down, but the Azuchi Castle gates are built thick to prevent enemies from cleaving through them. Reports say it’ll take some time to get through!”

“A-are you telling me the inner castle is on its own, then?!”

“All we can do for now is establish a defensive perimeter and give Lady Mayoi enough time to escape!”

After their forces in the middle ring were routed handily, the garrison headquarters in the inner castle collapsed into pandemonium. Orders that sounded more like angry bellows flew through the air. They needed to protect Mayoi, no matter the cost.

Then, out of the blue, Mayoi herself rushed down from the main castle tower’s keep. Her worry was plain. “What’s going on?! Where’s my darling? What’s happened to him?!”

“Lady Mayoi, it’s not safe here! I beseech you, take shelter in the keep!”

Mayoi ignored the samurai’s warnings and instead grabbed him by the collar, firing questions with a look of utter desperation. “What are those pieces of shit doing here?! I need to know about my darling! Is he okay?! Tell me!”

Upon seeing her expression, the samurai recognized that he needed to start by calming her fears. “One of our ninjas just brought back news by crossing the mountains without going through the pass. The administrator and his company are fine. The enemy lured our main army away with a diversion, then sneaked around them.”

“S-so you’re saying my darling is okay?!”

“That’s right, ma’am.”

“…Oh, thank goodness.”

Mayoi was so overcome with relief that she sank to the floor.

The samurai went on. “But because of that, nearly all the enemy troops are gathered right on our doorstep, and with how they blew up the Amagi Pass, the main bulk of our army won’t be able to help anytime soon! It won’t be long before this very room becomes a battlefield! Please, Lady Mayoi, you have to be ready to use the keep’s tunnels to flee the castle!”

Upon hearing that, Mayoi immediately changed her expression of relief to one of panic. “No! We can’t let them get to the bell!”

“The…the bell? You mean the big one in the next tower over?”

“Yeah, that one! You have to protect it, or I’m finished! They can’t be allowed in here!”

The bell’s power was a secret revealed only to those who would inherit Yamato’s throne. Jade was the one who’d told Mayoi about it, and her older sister Kaguya likely learned the truth from their father, Gekkou. Now, the Resistance was coming to destroy it.

Mayoi couldn’t let them reach the inner castle.

However, Mayoi’s order earned her some reluctance from the samurai. “I-I’m terribly sorry, my lady, but with the present forces in the castle, it’s going to take everything we have just to keep you alive. Protecting that giant bell simply isn’t—”

“Did I ask for excuses?! I told you to do it, so just—eek!”

Midway through their argument, an explosion sounded from right beside the Toranomon Gate that separated the inner castle from the middle ring. War cries poured in from outside, and metal clashed against metal. The ground rumbled from the weight of so many heavy footsteps.

The fighting was at Mayoi’s door. Before long, the inner castle would be breached. Mayoi went pale.

What do I do, what do I do, what do I do?!

If things persisted, Azuchi Castle was really going to fall.

She needed to do something.

Aha, that’s it! I can use the bell to launch offensive magic!

Mayoi had never studied offensive magic, much less used it, but surely with her Administrative Authority, she should be able to use the spirits as an intermediary to cast a wide-area attack spell that would render her enemies—

Agh, no! That won’t work!

Halfway through her thought, Mayoi shook her head. Sure, she might well be able to pull it off. Perhaps she could even conjure something on the level of war magic. However, it was still a no-go.

The bell was functionally a magic wand, and the noise it cast all throughout Yamato was how she commanded the spirits. As a result, she couldn’t exactly control where her spells manifested. There was no telling what might happen if she used the bell to propagate destructive magic.

Jade was somewhere in Yamato, and Mayoi refused to endanger him. As the princess’s thoughts raced, the enemy’s voices grew closer and closer.

“Lady Mayoi, the enemy will breach the inner castle any moment now! I beg you, get yourself to safety!”

“Shut up! If I let the bell get smashed, my darling will hate me! I’d rather die than let that happen! Now, quit your griping and go protect the bell! I don’t care if you all die defending it, just make sure you—oh.”

With no forewarning, Mayoi’s temper subsided. Her face had been flushed with fear a moment before, but now, her lips were curled into a malignant smile. It was like the corners of her mouth were trying to pierce her cheeks clean through.

“Heh. Your girl Mayoi just thought up a fantastic idea.”

“Lady Mayoi…?”

Given the predicament, the samurai was baffled at his ruler’s abrupt glee. Mayoi’s thoughts turned as she swept her gaze over both him and the frightened soldiers rushing around the inner castle.

There were so many of them, yet none were making themselves useful. Each was completely worthless, even after Mayoi had so generously spared their lives. After she’d spent all that time refraining from killing them.

Everything Mayoi did was in service of Jade. The majority of the empire’s forces were off conquering, and thanks to her, Jade was able to get the credit for dutifully keeping the unruly Yamato dominion in line.

In other words, if Azuchi were to fall and the bell was destroyed, then Mayoi would no longer have a reason to keep those wretched people alive.

That’s right. That’s right!

If they weren’t useful to her and Jade anymore, then as far as she was concerned…

…they could all perish.

While Mayoi argued with the garrison headquarters personnel, the Resistance vanguard in Azuchi Castle finally pushed forward to the point where the entrance to the inner castle, the Toranomon Gate, was in view.

“There it is! Once we’re beyond the Toranomon Gate, we’ll be smack-dab in the heart of the castle! I can see the bell from here!”

“We made it! We finally made it!”

Tears welled up in the Resistance members’ eyes. The end of their long battle was nearing at last. They had turned their blades on their fellow Yamato countrymen and cut them down, an act as painful as dying themselves.

However, the dominion army still had no idea they were being brainwashed, and they were prepared to fight tooth and nail to repel the Resistance assault.

“Don’t let the rebels take one more step toward Lady Mayoi!”


The charge from the Toranomon Gate began with a great cry and previously unseen fervor. It made sense—the inner castle was right behind these soldiers, and in it sat the keep where Mayoi was.

“At this point, forcing them to fall back won’t be an option anymore. They’ll come at us like it’s life-or-death,” Tsukasa remarked. “From here on out, we’ll have to push through them by force.”

“I know. You angels should get behind the vanguard,” Kokubu replied confidently. “Mr. Tsukasa, it’s thanks to your plans that we made it to the Toranomon Gate in such good spirits. You’ve done more than enough for us already. This last push, this one’s all us!”

After a great inhale…

“All forces, charge! Pack all your feelings from these past three years into your swords and smash the Toranomon Gate to dust!”

…Kokubu shouted at the top of his lungs.


The Resistance answered his order with a fierce battle cry and charged up the stone steps to the inner castle.

For the first time during the entire battle in Azuchi, the dominion army and Resistance forces clashed in earnest. However, the conflict didn’t stay even for long. Little by little, the Resistance fighters pushed their way up the stairs, inching ever closer to their goal.

The number of people stationed in the inner castle had been whittled down by deployments to the Amagi Pass and the city. Now it was the Resistance that had the greater army. Still, the dominion forces had the high ground. The question was, why were they being repelled so handily?

It all came down to motivation.

Right now, the Resistance was fighting for every man, woman, and child in the nation. They drew steel to save the very dominion warriors they were clashing with, and they had spent the entire war enduring the pain, fear, and sorrow that came with slaying their comrades. There was no matching resolve like that. Their determination gave them strength and courage, forming a tailwind that pushed the Resistance ever forward.

False loyalty inspired by fabricated truths could never hope to quell a storm like that.

“Shit, we can’t hold them! Close the gate! CLOSE THE GAAAATE!”

“Don’t let them bolt it shut! Push ’em all the way back through!”


A mere ten minutes after the all-out push began, the Resistance vanguard broke through the Toranomon Gate and successfully entered the inner castle.

“All right, we made it through!”

However, their victory was short-lived.

For not a moment later, a heavy metallic echo reverberated through the night sky.

“Agh! Was that…?”

It was the unmistakable tolling of a bell. Mayoi must have used it to cast a spell. But what kind?

A frown crept across Tsukasa’s face…


…and Lyrule let out a scream from beside him and dropped to her knees.

“Lyrule, what’s wrong?!”

“No, no… That’s…that’s horrible…!”


The girl clamped her hands over her long ears so hard she practically squished them flat. Her entire body shook. Realizing that something was very wrong, Ringo hurried over and rubbed Lyrule’s back.

However, Lyrule wasn’t the only one who reacted to the chime.

“Mr. Tsukasa, the dominion troops are acting weird!” Kokubu shouted in alarm from all the way up the stairs to the inner castle.

The garrisoned troops had changed with the bell’s ringing. The moment they heard it, all the terrified panic drained from their faces, replaced with emotionless masks.


“Wh-what’s going on? Why’d they freeze up like that?”

“Is it just me, or are they all muttering some—?”

“Protect, protect, protect protect, pro, tect, protect…”

“““Protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect!”””


The vacant-eyed soldiers raised their weapons and charged, chanting an out-of-sync mantra. The sheer soullessness of their actions sent primal chills down the Resistance fighters’ spines.

When Kokubu saw the fear spreading through his army like a plague…

“Don’t go falterin’ now! The bell’s just up yonder! Cut ’em down and keep going!”

…he realized that, as their commander, he needed to set an example before things took an unpleasant turn. If they lost ground here, they’d be swiftly flanked before they got another chance to storm the inner castle. He dived into the fray.

As the man in charge, it was the right thing to do.


Kokubu was no Shishi, but he was a skilled samurai in his own right. Even solo, he was still a force to be reckoned with. He cleaved a path through the dominion soldiers, lopping off three of their heads with a single cut. His rousing display of valor renewed his shell-shocked subordinates’ morale.

Or at least, it should have.


Instead, they stood petrified by a horrific sight. The beheaded warriors reached out and grabbed Kokubu as they went down.

“I-it can’t be! How are they still fighting?!”

Kokubu’s expression went stiff with astonishment, but he narrowly managed to wrestle his dominant arm free right as an enemy samurai rushed in to cut him down. He ran his sword through the man’s throat, yet it did not stop his opponent, who brought his blade down upon Kokubu.


“““Protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect!”””


“Commander Kokubu!”

After the first slash, the rest happened in an instant.

Kokubu, along with the enemies grasping at him, got run through by several swords and spears before vanishing beneath the next wave of soldiers.

“““Protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect!”””

After trampling over Kokubu, the dominion force surged toward the rest of the Resistance fighters who’d made their way into the inner castle to try to engulf them as well. No one was issuing orders to the mindless warriors. They simply moved forward with the inexorable strength of a tsunami.

The Resistance tried to fight back, of course…

“Wh-what’s wrong with these guys?! They’re slicing through their own allies!”

“Dammit, I’m cutting and stabbing, but none of it slows them… ARRRGH!”

“Ahh-ahhhh! What the hell’s going on?!”

…but there was no stopping the onslaught. No matter how the brave people of the Resistance hacked away, their enemies pressed on, undaunted, for as long as they had enough blood in their bodies to move.

“Protect, protect, protect, Lady, Mayoi, bell, protect…”

“Must, protect, must, protect, if we don’t protect, our lives have no value…”

“If we aren’t useful, to Lady Mayoi, we die. We die, we die we die, protect, we die…”

All the while, they continued chanting as though possessed.

They knew no pain or fear, and there was no repelling them.

In what seemed like no time at all, the Resistance vanguard in the inner castle got swallowed up by the fell torrent of death, and when Tsukasa reacted to the disturbance by rushing up to the Toranomon Gate, the hellish scene that greeted him caused the blood to drain from his face.

“Please tell me she didn’t—”

“Ha-ha-ha! Haaa-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!!”

Scornful laughter rained down from above.

Tsukasa followed the sound to the castle tower balcony…


…and saw the Yamato princess resting her elbows on its railing.

Her shoulders shook with delighted chuckles as she beheld the carnage below. “What a bunch of total dummies! Like, I can’t even! We’ve got the idiots who went all nutso after I cast a single little spell, and we’ve got the morons who came in like a bunch of fools ’cause they seriously believed they could save them by smashing the bell! It’s idiots as far as the eye can see!”

“You used the bell,” Tsukasa said, his eyes burning with fury.

Mayoi clapped her hands together. “Ding ding ding! You got it, first guess! I used the bell to give them an order. Make yourselves useful, I told them! Protect the bell! And if you fail to protect it, then drop dead right then and there! Ha-ha-ha!”

Mayoi’s proclamation sent a shocked stir through the Resistance.

“S-she did what…?!”

“W-wait, so if we destroy the bell, then everyone here will die…?”

The Resistance’s whole plan had been to save Yamato by destroying the bell, yet their victory condition had been uprooted.

And what’s more…

“ ‘Everyone here’? Please, you think I’d stop at just the people nearby?”

…they didn’t even know how cruel the situation actually was.

From his place in the air, Akatsuki was the first to discover the truth. “Ts-Tsukasa, bad news! There’s a whole bunch of people charging through the city, and they’re coming this way!”

The thing was, the bell was an artifact with influence over the whole of Yamato, and its tolling had already transmitted Mayoi’s spell across its full range.

Now everyone whose veins ran thick with Yamato blood had become a puppet and was being pulled to the battle—soldiers and civilians alike.

“““Protect protect protect protect protect protect protect protect!”””

The people of Azuchi chanted so loudly that the ground shook as they raced toward the castle. Meanwhile, the soldiers who’d come in through the Bentenmon Gate and gotten blocked off by Ringo’s newly repaired Kigishinomon Gate leaped into action as well. They began using their own bodies as battering rams and throwing themselves against the sealed iron doors. It was clearly a futile effort, yet they continued again and again. Eventually, the soldiers in the back began smashing into the ones in front of them like a pileup on a highway.

Skulls were crushed between iron and flesh. Gray matter got splattered every which way, and the soldiers squished it underfoot as they continued throwing themselves at the barrier. Eventually, the sheer pressure was enough to snap the bar latching the gate shut. The doors swung open.

With an awful sound, a wave of blood and crushed bits of what used to be human beings washed inside.

Akatsuki had to clamp his hands over his mouth to keep from vomiting at the sight. “Oh… Hrrrrrk…”

“Akatsuki, what’s wrong?!” Shinobu shouted up at him.

“The soldiers down below threw themselves at the gate… And now they’re all squished and pulpy!”

Akatsuki lacked the vocabulary to describe the grotesque spectacle adequately, but his description was enough for Tsukasa to comprehend the severity of their predicament. He shouted down to the Resistance members who were still in the middle ring, “The enemies are coming at us from behind! Watch your backs!”

Not a moment later, the dominion soldiers who’d broken through the Kigishinomon Gate came charging at the Resistance rear guard.


“Dammit! Dammit, dammit, shit! Stay back! NOOOOO!”

“It’s no use! I’m stabbing and slashing, but they just keep coming! What do we do?!”

“We fought this whole war because we wanted to save people. We believed we could save people. How did it come to this?!”

The Resistance was boxed in, and terror reigned. However, the source of their despair wasn’t the deadly pincer formation. It was that their one hope—the belief that destroying the bell would free their loved ones—had been wrenched from them.

That dream was the sole thing that kept the Resistance going, even when they were forced to turn their blades on their neighbors, people who were like family to them. Without it, they couldn’t bring themselves to fight the brainwashed soldiers. It didn’t matter that their own lives were in danger. Not when these mindless puppets were the same innocents they’d sacrificed three years to rescue.

All across the battlefield, Resistance members got butchered as they lost their will to continue. The people of Yamato cared so much for their peers, and they were murdering each other.

All the while, the culprit behind the grim proceedings laughed from atop her tower. “What’ll it be? What’s the plan, little angels? If you stick around, they’ll eventually squish you flat, but if you smash the bell, they’re all gonna die. Think you can do it? You got the guts to smash it? For the record, I’d be a-okay with that. Ha-ha-ha!”

Both her irksome voice and the sneer playing at her lips…

“You would have the NERVE to use your people like that?!”

…sparked the fires of rage within a certain young man whose respect for the responsibilities of a leader dwarfed all other concerns.



His friends’ eyes went wide. They had all spent a lot of time together, and that enraged roar was unlike anything they’d ever heard from him. His usual quiet composure was nowhere to be found.

“Akatsuki, change of plans! I need you to throw every smoke bomb you have into the inner castle!” Tsukasa shouted to the floating magician.

Akatsuki looked flustered. “What? But if I do that, then everyone’ll—”

“Hurry!” Tsukasa urged. “We don’t have time to argue. Just trust me and do it!”


Tsukasa’s instructions brought two things to mind for Akatsuki: the people he’d watched get crushed under one another’s weight and the throng of civilians gathering in the castle.

If that many people rushed chaotically into the castle’s narrow corridors, the casualties would be innumerable.

“Don’t you dare die on me, okay?” Akatsuki cried. “If you do, I’m gonna come haunt you!”

The prodigy magician did as Tsukasa ordered.

All of Akatsuki’s remaining smoke bombs went flying into the inner castle. They immediately burst, flooding the area with multicolored vapor.

Up in the keep, Mayoi cocked her head to the side. “Wait, a smoke screen? But if you do that…”

…wouldn’t it obscure the Resistance’s vision, too?

As a matter of fact, it did.

“What’s going on?! I can’t see any—ARRRGH!”

“Dammit, just focus on defense! It’s every man for himself!”

“What the hell are the angels thinking?!”

Confused exclamations sounded from every direction as the Resistance fighters found themselves abruptly robbed of their sight. And who could blame them? Mayoi chuckled at the predictable turn of events…

“Ah-ha-ha. Talk about blowing up in your face. What a bunch of dumb—Huh?”

…but her laughter came to an abrupt end.

Suddenly, three people came rushing out of the rainbow-colored smoke that blanketed most of the inner castle: Tsukasa Mikogami, Ringo Oohoshi, and Lyrule.

They had slipped past the dominion forces.

“We…made it!” Ringo cheered.

“And we owe it to you, Ringo,” Tsukasa replied. “You never let me down. Now come on. We have to hurry!”

How had they woven their way so accurately around the dominion forces when no one could see?

The answer lay with Ringo Oohoshi.

Ringo could always be found with a pair of goggles hanging from her hat, and they provided her with more than just a heads-up display screen. In particular, they analyzed geological conditions and detected heat sources via thermography. By combining that thermography feature with GPS data, Ringo could easily maneuver around obstacles in zero-visibility conditions. She had led her friends through the enemy line.

The three broke away from the Resistance fighters and dashed for the main castle tower.

Mayoi’s composure remained unbroken at this development, however. She had stationed two of the finest samurai in her army at the entrance to the main castle tower. They were no match for Shishi or Aoi, but they were certainly proficient enough to hold their own against someone of Shura’s caliber. Tsukasa, Ringo, and Lyrule wouldn’t be getting past them.

Plus, even if they did, the keep was designed to protect the emperor. It was packed to the gills with secret tunnels and hidden rooms. Mayoi would have no trouble escaping. No blade would ever reach her.

As it turned out, Mayoi’s assumption about her safety was correct. Tsukasa, Ringo, and Lyrule weren’t headed for the main castle tower, though.


The group hurried straight past its entrance without so much as a glance. Their true objective lay beyond, deeper within the palace.

They were making for the belfry.

“Where do you think you’re going?! Didn’t you hear me?! If you break the bell, everyone’s going to bite it! Are you guys seriously gonna do it anyway?! You’re kidding, right?!”

Mayoi was stunned. Given the situation, the notion that the Resistance might prioritize destroying the bell over capturing her had never crossed her mind.

“Are you actually gonna do it? Your plan is to kill everyone in Yamato?!”

It couldn’t be.

Mayoi recalled how Tsukasa had behaved during the dinner party and how he’d denounced her wicked method of governance. Someone that softhearted didn’t have the guts to go through with so cruel an option.


A chill ran down Mayoi’s spine. She got the feeling she’d forgotten a critical point about that dinner party, a piece of information more important than anything related to Tsukasa. After she racked her brain, it dawned on her at last.

The three people racing toward the belfry had all been present at the dinner party, and one of them, the blond-haired Lyrule, possessed the same pointed ears of the highly magically adept elf tribe that Mayoi did.

“I screwed uuuup!”

“All right, so we know how Mayoi is keeping Yamato under her thumb,” Tsukasa remarked. He and the rest of the Elm delegation had only recently arrived at the Resistance hideout. “And by that same token, we know our core strategic objective.”

“That’s right,” Kira replied. “Without the bell’s power to compel the native spirits of Yamato, she won’t be able to maintain her brainwashing magic. All we have to do is destroy the bell.”

“Then the brainwashing will break, and the people of Yamato will get their memories back,” Tsukasa concluded.

“Exactly. If we destroy the artifact, we achieve victory.”

The way Kira put it, the war they were about to take part in was going to be relatively straightforward. However, Tsukasa had some other thoughts on the matter. “Are you sure about that?”

“What do you mean?”

“The way I see it, that victory condition you’ve laid out has a gaping hole in it.”

Kira gave him a confused look. “A…a hole, you say?”

Tsukasa nodded. “From what you’ve told us, the bell is older than Yamato itself. I have to imagine that it won’t be easy to smash an artifact that’s survived through the ages. Or am I wrong? Have you conducted tests and succeeded in cracking it or achieving other quantifiable results?”

“I-I’m afraid we haven’t…”

“If we want to storm the castle with a force as small as ours, it’ll need to be a surprise attack, which means we’ll only be able to carry light equipment that doesn’t compromise our mobility. We won’t be able to bring anything with any serious destructive punch. If it turns out that our hammers, swords, and grenades aren’t powerful enough to damage the bell, it’ll put us in a deeply awkward position. Even if our diversion on the Amagi Pass succeeds and we get our main forces into the castle, failure to harm the artifact will lead to us being surrounded and exterminated.”

What Tsukasa was thinking of was the Rage Soleil war magic Gustav used to attack Dormundt. Despite Ringo’s access to surface-to-air missiles with destructive capabilities that were far beyond any bombs this world had to offer, she still hadn’t been able to destroy Rage Soleil before it detonated.

The Prodigies had access to knowledge and technology centuries beyond the cultures of this planet, but magic was the one domain where they came up short. Spells defied logic, and the Prodigies lacked the heuristics to gauge exactly how much of a threat they posed.

Tsukasa knew that without exact information and verified facts, it was too dangerous to go up against magic without at least considering everything that could go wrong. That was why he’d questioned Kira’s proposed victory condition.

“N-now that you mention it, you’re absolutely right.”

Upon hearing Tsukasa’s concerns regarding the supernatural traits that magic possessed, Kira reassessed his assumptions as well. All of what he’d told the Prodigies about the bell—how casting a spell on it would spread the magic across all the spirits of Yamato and allow it to affect a huge area for an extended period—were things he’d heard from Kaguya, a member of the imperial family. The thing was, because the imperial family members were the only ones who knew the bell’s secret, Kira had blindly trusted Kaguya’s words as correct and exhaustive. Now, though, he realized that Tsukasa had a point. If it turned out that physically destroying the bell was impossible, things could turn ugly quickly.

After all, it wasn’t as though Kaguya had ever actually tried damaging it.

“In that case, it might be safer for us to go after Lady Mayoi rather than the bell.”

“Maybe, but I’d still like to destroy the bell if possible. An object with the power to freely control the minds of an entire nation has no right to exist. I have no problems with the bell’s destruction being our primary tactic; I’m only saying that contingencies are never a bad idea. For example…while you’re right that restraining Mayoi is one option, another option is available to us. If the bell works like a massive magic wand that can influence all the spirits of Yamato, then I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t take advantage of that function and make the spirits undo the mind control.”

Hibari clapped her hands together. “Ah, I get it. You’re saying that we could fight magic with magic.”

However, a pained expression crossed Kira’s face. “There’s just one problem.”

“And that is?”

“Aside from Lady Kaguya, there isn’t a single person in the Resistance who can use magic.”

“Not one?”

“I’m afraid so. Because of how few Yamato people are born with magical aptitude and how many are blessed with tremendous physical prowess, our nation has historically placed a great emphasis on martial skill and offered nothing in the way of magical instruction. Of course…now that I know the bell’s secret, I suspect that might have been by design to prevent the artifact from being misused,” Kira explained apologetically.

“Then I guess we don’t have much choice,” Tsukasa replied. He nodded, then turned his gaze her way. “Listen, Lyrule, we can destroy the bell, or we can capture Mayoi. But if both of those options become too difficult, there’s a third one available to us—and with your ability to communicate with spirits, I want you to serve as the linchpin.”

“Stop them! Someone, stop them before they get to the belfry!” Mayoi all but shrieked the command.

The people of Yamato were so physically capable that they generally held magic in low esteem. Furthermore, they hadn’t interacted much with the elf tribe until just recently, during the last Yamato emperor’s reign. There were a lot of reasons why magic played so little a role in the nation’s affairs, but now, that very same fact was coming back to haunt Mayoi. The idea that her enemies might have mages among their ranks should have been obvious, but she’d completely overlooked it.

“““ ”””

The two samurai guarding the main castle tower, as well as the pair of ninjas lurking in the courtyard thicket, rushed at Tsukasa’s group with swords and chain-sickles in hand.

However, the four assailants never reached their targets.



Before they could, Shinobu and Shura came rushing out of the rainbow smoke as well. They leaped forward, kicking aside the chain-sickle-wielding ninjas in midair. From there, Shinobu raised a kunai, and Shura her sword, to block the samurai’s attacks.

“Yeesh,” Shinobu said. “If you guys are gonna dive in alone, you could at least give me a heads-up first. What if I hadn’t backed you up in time?”

“I had full confidence that you would read my play and react accordingly,” Tsukasa replied.

“Oh yeah? I mean, you weren’t wrong, but still.”

“I beg of you,” Shura cried. “Save Yamato… Save our people!”

It was difficult to imagine just how much watching Yamato inch closer and closer to the brink must have pained her. Tsukasa and the others did not respond to the grief-stricken plea with words but with their actions. They turned their backs on Shura and Shinobu and continued the sprint to the bell tower.



…a stroke from the samurai cut Shinobu’s kunai in two.

There it was—the Yamato iron-cleaving slash.

“Wowzers,” Shinobu quipped bitterly as she looked down at the ruined weapon. Its tempered steel had been sliced through like so much butter. “That’s a mean trick. There’s no way I’m beating that.”

Shinobu was no slouch in a fight, but her true calling was intelligence-gathering. Aoi was the true combat master.

“That said, turning tail and running isn’t exactly an option, either.”

“All you have to do is keep them busy. Do what you can to hold out…”

“You know I will!”

Shinobu was aware of how much the cards were stacked against her, but she stood her ground all the same. Her friends running for the belfry represented hope, and she was going to protect them to the last.

She cast aside her useless kunai pieces and drew her illegally modified high-voltage stun gun in its place. Her opponents were puppets who kept on attacking, even with their heads cut off, so she knew the weapon wouldn’t be able to stop them. Even so, the muscle convulsions it caused would hopefully slow them down.

Victory might have been off the table, but Shinobu was determined to buy as much time as she could for the others by holding off their pursuers for as long as possible. And it was thanks to Shinobu’s aid that Tsukasa, Lyrule, and Ringo made it to the final hundred feet before the belfry.

“No, no, no, no, no…”

They’d be inside within the next ten seconds.

The blood drained from Mayoi’s face.

“Stop them! Someone stop them already! Why won’t anyone just do what I say?!”

However, no amount of tantrum-throwing would change the fact that none of Mayoi’s pawns were in a position to obey her orders. She couldn’t catch the trio of Seven Luminaries, and they weren’t going to quit.

Despair gathered in Mayoi’s heart. Her enemies would ring the bell, and when they did, it would break the spell she’d cast over Yamato. The people were going to remember everything. They would recall the war they fought with the empire and Mayoi’s betrayal and mind control.

Mayoi was going to lose it all…


…and be sent back to what her life was like before Jade rescued her. Her place in the world would die, spelling the return of her old isolated existence.

Mayoi had only one word to say in the face of that notion.


“Lyrule, look out!”


The warning came from Akatsuki, still observing the battle from the highest vantage point. While Mayoi screamed from atop her keep, he’d spied her drawing a small flintlock rifle from within her robe.

Before Lyrule had a chance to react, though, Mayoi pulled the trigger…

“ ”

…and the deadly projectile lanced forth.

Tsukasa immediately dived into the line of fire to protect Lyrule, and the bullet struck him squarely in the heart.

Lyrule whirled just in time to see Tsukasa’s body crumple from the force of impact…


“I’m fine!!!!”

…but he shouted down her terrified scream and remained standing.

“My jacket is NIJ compliant. It can shrug off anything up to a nine millimeter FMJ.”

Tsukasa drew his own pistol from inside his suit and fired two shots at the castle keep. The first struck Mayoi’s rifle and knocked it out of her hand, while the second sank into her thigh. Mayoi collapsed to the balcony floor.

With truly nothing standing in their way…

“Lyrule, you’re up!”

…the elf girl hurried onward.

During the battle against Gustav, Lyrule gained the ability to hear spirits’ voices. Most mages simply issued them unilateral orders, yet she possessed the rare talent to hold dialogues with them. Thanks to that ability, she understood spirits pretty well. At their heart, spirits were basically like kind, innocent children. They had a much simpler understanding of the world than humans did, so they couldn’t communicate anything more complicated than basic emotions, but that was enough for Lyrule to know how gentle they were.

That was the major reason she disliked using magic to harm others. Spirits could affect the world on a microscopic level, and magic impressed a mental image on them, forcing the spirits to use their microscopic powers to change the world on a macroscopic scale. Killing a person with magic was like handing a small child a knife and demanding that they stab someone. If you gave spirits an order like that, they would scream out in grief and terror, but with no way to resist magic, they had to obey. Lyrule could never bring herself to do something so cruel.

Furthermore, Lyrule’s understanding of the spirits’ gentle natures raised a question. There was something that didn’t make sense to her, and she’d been mulling it over since learning of Yamato’s secret. Why was it that, in a nation so warped, with its people so oppressed, she had never once heard the spirits screaming?

Lyrule had spent nearly a month in Yamato, and not once had the spirits seemed agitated to her. Fellow citizens who all loved their nation were being manipulated into killing each other, and she would’ve thought that being forced to facilitate something like that would cause spirits to cry out. How did the kindly spirits remain so unshaken?

It didn’t add up.

Now that she heard how the spirits screamed for compelling the Yamato people to throw away their lives, it all became clear.

It all tied back to what Mayoi had said at the dinner party.

“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.”

The Yamato spirits must have sensed the grain of truth in those words. The nation’s peace was false, but they wanted to protect it all the same. In the war three years prior, magic had forced the spirits to participate in the slaughter of Yamato’s populace, and although they hadn’t had any say in the matter, every choice they’d made since then had been for the sake of those very same people.

It made Lyrule realize how deeply full of kindness Yamato was.

Between the spirits who didn’t want the people to be sad and the Resistance fighting to restore everyone’s lost feelings, it seemed like just about everyone had enough empathy to endanger themselves on others’ behalf—the exact same way a certain village had chosen to take on an entire nation to protect a single orphan girl. And that was precisely why…

…this isn’t right.

Those with no qualms about making others suffer to sate their greed were wrong. Lyrule refused to let their selfish ways stand, and if there was a way for her to use her powers to stop them…

…then I’m going to fight!

She was going to do what Tsukasa, the other Prodigies, and Winona and the villagers did for her.

Her powers were unusual, a gift from some mysterious voice, but with only one way to answer the cries she alone could hear…

…then it’s up to me to do whatever I can!


Lyrule ran up the belfry steps and used the great wooden striker like a wand to cast a spell while beating it against the bell at the same time.

The native spirits had watched over Yamato for so long. And now, they were free.

The spell traveled from the striker to the bell, where it was amplified before rippling out across the whole of Yamato, along with a deep gonging.

Yamato’s native spirits were released from Mayoi’s wicked yoke.

The change began with the spirits’ microscopic world, then gradually expanded until the effect was visible to the naked eye. The dominion army had been going on a mindless offensive, but now, they began dropping their weapons and stopping their horrible, suicidal advance. The civilians who’d rushed into the castle did the same.

And the spell didn’t stop at Azuchi. It wove through forests, crossed mountains, and spread to all of Yamato.


West of Azuchi, up on the Amagi Pass, it reached the ears of a group of samurai right as they backed Kira into a corner and raised their swords to strike him down.

The earth spirits that made up their bodies had been manipulated to fill them with a powerful obsession, but that false loyalty faded in the blink of an eye. Their long-sealed memories were free, and they remembered everything.

Recollections of the three years since Yamato lost the war returned, including everything lost, as well as who had taken it and commanded the mind-controlled people’s blind devotion.

And they remembered who it was they were fighting.

“………Master… Kira… What…have we…?”

The raised blades slipped from the samurai’s hands and clattered to the ground. Tears streaming down the samurai’s cheeks stained the abandoned weapons.

When Kira saw the lifeless expressions break, he understood what had happened. The bell’s song was one of good fortune, produced by Tsukasa’s Azuchi invasion team. At last, Yamato was liberated from Mayoi’s spell, and its denizens had their memories and emotions back.

However…Kira couldn’t bring himself to celebrate.


The samurai’s abrupt awakening left them overwhelmed, and Kira had no idea how to console them. He and the Resistance had spent the past three years loathing Mayoi and the empire, but the same wasn’t true of those under the wicked princess’s control. After Yamato’s crushing defeat, they’d been robbed of the opportunity to hate the people who’d hijacked their nation, families, and souls. In fact, they’d been forced to revere their enemy and fight to protect her.

All that time and all those lives were forever lost. There were so many things they would never get back, and there was naught to show for it.

And yet…


…all of a sudden, a dazzling light crested on the horizon, forcing Kira and the others to squint. Kira faced the radiant glow and saw that dawn had finally arrived.

Transfixed by the brilliance, he spoke, “…It’s over. It’s finally over. The long night has finally ended…”

On hearing that, the Yamato members of the dominion army collapsed to their knees…


…and wailed so hard they nearly coughed up blood.

They cried for three years of imprisoned sorrow, for all the rage they could no longer contain, for all the anguish beyond words, and for all else pooled in their souls.

Those wails told Kira that the battle was truly at its end. The tension of the situation had kept him fighting, but now, the fatigue struck him hard. He swayed on his feet, but the moment before he collapsed, Hibari—who was even more injured than Kira—offered him her shoulder.

Her face was covered in lacerations and drenched in blood, but her smile was one of utmost relief. “…We did.”

“That’s right,” Kira replied, nodding slowly. “And now, the true battle begins.”

He understood.

The people had woken from their long nightmare, and it was time to start moving again. Yamato would need to confront an unpleasant reality—the Freyjagard Empire would not be pleased with its colony’s desire for independence.

Yamato was exhausted, and its people were wounded, but it would have to stand on its own as it once did. Such was the price of reclaiming freedom and dignity.

“I guess there’s no rest for the wicked,” Hibari remarked.

Kira nodded. “You can say that again.”

Come what may, they were going to have to make it work, for this was their home.

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