November 7th, 15:45.
"Nagoya is Tōkaidō's provincial capital..."
The location was the main keep of Nagoya Castle. The man occupying the position of Governor General of the Tōkaidō Fiefdom was at the castle's highest balcony, gnashing his teeth. Slender and crane-like in appearance, he was an old man with a blazing gaze.
Dressed in a kimono with an Inverness coat, he was a man of striking impression.
"Never did I expect it would fall to an enemy of a thousand..."
Governor General Akigase Shouzan, ruler of Tōkaidō, remarked in self-mockery.
Currently, "winged giant soldiers" were fighting in the skies over Nagoya.
The invader was the Restoration Alliance. Ten Kinai Chevaliers were leading roughly five hundred Kamuys to attack in concert with the British Empire's six Knights of Her Majesty and the five hundred Crusades under their command.
A mixture of Anglo-Japanese Legions had formed a coalition force of a thousand.
In contrast, on the defending side, the Tōkaidō Fiefdom had a total of sixteen Chevaliers with roughly seven hundred Kamuys.
A great battle was taking place in the sky over Nagoya between a total of seventeen hundred Legions, friend and foe combined.
"Is it impossible to oppose the British Empire when they invade in earnest?"
Akigase Shouzan muttered to himself, his voice filled with poignancy.
On the morning of November 7th, the Restoration Alliance finally started to launch a full offensive against Nagoya and its surroundings.
There were five "tutelary forts" in the region.
These tutelary forts were modernized strongholds created by repairing and remodeling ancient castles and stationing ifrits as guardian deities. The water shrines built underground allowed them to function as bases from where Chevaliers and Legions, the mainstay weapon of modern militaries, could operate.
Namely, Okazaki Castle, Kariya Castle, Kiyosu Castle, Inuyama Castle, and Nagoya Castle.
The Restoration Alliance directly attacked the defensive net formed by these five castles.
Leading five hundred Kamuys, the Kinai Fiefdom had invaded from west of Nagoya. Leading five hundred Crusades, the British Empire's six Knights of Her Majesty attacked from the east.
Nagoya was caught in the middle between the two fronts. Naturally, the enemy's ultimate target was Nagoya Castle, which was the Tōkaidō Governor General's residence and administrative center, the most vital location.
The Restoration Alliance had broken through the Tōkaidō provincial army's defenses to close in on Nagoya Castle.
However, the castles of Okazaki, Kariya, Kiyosu, and Inuyama had also sent Chevaliers leading Kamuy armies as reinforcements to rescue Nagoya Castle.
"The Crusades are truly powerful... No, it is the Knights of Her Majesty who are powerful."
The tide of battle was clear to see. Tōkaidō was obviously at a disadvantage.
"Is it all due to the difference in practical battlefield experience?"
The Restoration Alliance and the Tōkaidō provincial army had given up on formations.
The Legions were scattered about, fighting in close quarters. All over the Nagoya sky, Kamuys were getting defeated by British Crusades.
The Crusades were a size larger than the diminutive Kamuy in physique.
In terms of power output and pure combat strength alone, the Crusades were superior. Furthermore, the Knights of Her Majesty in command all had plenty of field experience and Chevalier Strengths over 90.
Imperial Japan did not have many Chevaliers capable of standing up to them.
"Inferiority in both strength and numbers, such adversity is truly impossible to overcome," Shouzan said quietly.
Also, the Charter of Chivalry imposed several restrictions on attacking civilian buildings.
When fighting in the sky over a city such as Nagoya, intentional destruction of the urban landscape below was forbidden. Indeed, intentional destruction.
For the sake of argument, consider the case of a Legion that had been shot or stabbed.
Unable to sustain flight, the Legion would crash to the ground, its gigantic body and armor crushing buildings in the process. Such cases were accepted as exceptions by the Charter of Chivalry and freed of responsibility.
Currently, the falling Kamuys and Crusades were mercilessly crushing Nagoya's streets.
Fortunately, dead or injured Legions did not explode, but they were still eight-meter-tall giants after all. Their corpses weighed dozens of tons.
Many buildings were smashed by the falling Legions, possibly killing people who had not fled to underground shelters in time.
"The Knights of Her Majesty broke through our defenses, then the Kinai forces invaded... This simple approach totally relies on the British."
Akigase Shouzan scoffed in disdain.
"However, no matter what the defeated side says, it would amount to nothing more than a loser's complaints."
Both Kinai and Tōkaidō were using Kamuys, the blue Legions of Imperial Japan. When civil war broke out, it was common for the aggressor to add fabric strips or extra garments to distinguish themselves.
In this case, the Kinai Kamuys were wearing red scarfs.
"What a disgrace. I failed to devise a single effective measure despite knowing of the enemy's imminent invasion. This incompetence is unacceptable."
"Your Excellency..." Nagoya's castellan bowed his head in anguish.
Shouzan continued, "The Kinai Fiefdom is backed by the British Empire, which means we need support from either Tōsandō or Kantō. However, I exhausted all manner of demands and negotiation methods and still they refused to be swayed..."
"I believe the Tōsandō Fiefdom is leaning towards the Restoration Alliance."
"This is currently unverifiable. Please watch your words."
Shouzan warned the castellan then proceeded to go on a sarcastic diatribe.
"Speaking of which, that fiefdom apparently feels dissatisfied because they received a landlocked realm of mountains back when the lands were divided among the vassals... It would come as no surprise if they actually are colluding with the Restoration Alliance in secret. As for the Kantō Fiefdom—It must be their old habit acting up again. Always sucking up to those women of the imperial palace, only wanting to leave all military matters to Rome."
"Your Excellency, you apparently need to exercise prudence in your words too..."
"Oh, indeed, let us return to the topic at hand. Well, since we cannot rely on the neighboring fiefdoms, Tōkaidō's only choice is to turn to Rome for help." Shouzan shrugged. "But asking them for aid would run the risk of making Rome our master."
"Just like how the Kinai Fiefdom is currently obeying the British military's every word... Right?"
"As dogs of Rome, those Kantō people are no better. No matter, regardless, we no longer have the luxury of waiting for reinforcements."
"All we can do is try our best and see how long we can hold." The castellan quietly expressed his determination, then said, "If only Rikka-sama were here."
"Even with her here, she can't turn the battle around on her own... Wait, I recall that she sent a letter whose contents I found rather intriguing."
Rikka was Akigase Shouzan's eldest child.
Although she was the beloved daughter born to Shouzan in his later years, she was definitely not a sheltered lady.
Matching any man in valor, Rikka was Tōkaidō's premier Chevalier and normally posted at Nagoya Castle.
Unfortunately, she was trapped by the Restoration Alliance at Suruga City, serving as the temporary castellan at the tutelary fort there.
In truth, out of Shouzan's retainers, his daughter was the most powerful warrior of them all.
The two younger brothers were no match for their eldest sister. The gap in their talent as generals was as great as between heaven and earth.
Regarding the name of "Hijikata Toshizō" mentioned by his beloved daughter—
Unfortunately, Shouzan did not have time to ponder it.
A ring was heard at the scene. A pipe fox had teleported to arrive.
The palm-size retainer beast released noetic waves to project the words of a message into the air.
'Partial destruction of noesis barrier. A force of Kamuys have invaded Nagoya Castle.'
"They are finally here...!"
Like ordinary tutelary forts, Nagoya Castle had a guardian deity stationed there.
Its name was the ifrit Nue, named after the monster that had appeared at the Emperor's residence of Seiryō-den in the past. The western equivalent in mythology would be the chimera.
The Nue featured a monkey's face, a tanuki's body, a tiger's limbs, and a tail in the shape of a snake.
This ifrit had deployed a noesis barrier to cover the castle.
This barrier was essentially the final defense line. The invading enemy's first priority would be to take over the underground water shrine and capture Governor General Akigase Shouzan.
"No need to protect me. You should go to the front line and focus on defending the castle."
Unlike his daughter, Akigase Shouzan did not possess a Chevalier's power. Instead, he left the fighting to his trusted retainers while shouldering all outcomes and responsibilities himself.
Both Shouzan and the castellan were in their late sixties, from the same generation.
Having known each other for so long, the castellan responded concisely and prepared to set off.
Before leaving, the castellan noticed an army of Legions flying at high speed towards Nagoya Castle from the east.
On a chaotic battlefield where friend and foe were mixed together, this army was packed in a wedge formation.
The orderly army was particularly conspicuous and consisted of about a hundred Legions. All of them blue samurai of Imperial Japan, they were Kamuys. But were they Kinai's or Tōkaidō's reinforcements?
"That is—Rikka-sama's army!"
The castellan yelled excitedly. His keen senses as a Chevalier had detected Rikka's noetic waves.
Shouzan hastily took out his binoculars.
Through the lenses, he observed the gradually approaching army. Standing at the head of the formation was indeed his beloved daughter. She was dressed in Imperial Japan's military uniform, riding a blue wyvern.
"Did she rush here from Suruga knowing that Nagoya is in trouble?"
Despite the female warrior's gallant arrival, Shouzan shook his head.
"What is she doing? Reinforcements of this number will not change the fate of Nagoya's fall."
Rikka's Chevalier Strength was 154, no less than any Knight of Her Majesty.
However, this quantity was still not enough to overturn the battle situation. The father frowned at his daughter's heroic but reckless act of bravery.
"Watch out, Your Excellency!"
A Crusade came flying and the castellan shouted sharply.
The Crusade raised its rifle to fire repeatedly while flying towards Shouzan's balcony. The enemy must have been drawn to the conspicuous main keep.
The scorching beams were being fired at the balcony with a rate of ten times per second.
Normally speaking, this situation would mean certain death, but fortunately, the castellan reacted appropriately.
"In the name of Zuihou, the appellation of the warrior—Assemble, Kamuys!"
The castellan swiftly summoned three Kamuys to block in front of the balcony.
Using themselves as shields, the blue samurai defended the balcony. Shot in the face and torso, the three Legions died in sacrifice, but they also raised their rifles to strike back.
One shot pierced the Crusade's throat, resulting in mutual annihilation—
The castellan had averted disaster in the nick of time. However, both the elderly decorated Chevalier and Shouzan were shocked.
One of the Crusade's stray shots had struck the roof of the main keep.
A large amount of timber, tiles, and other debris was falling from the collapsing roof and onto the balcony where Shouzan and the castellan were. The two of them were buried alive under the rubble...
It was ten minutes later when they were finally rescued by the soldiers rushing to the scene.
The castellan only suffered light injuries with bruises all over him, but Shouzan was in no state to get up on his own—
"We should head to Nagoya too."
It was the morning of November 7th when Tachibana Masatsugu had asserted that.
It was 9:13am at the time. Several hours earlier, he had just defeated the thousand Legions led by King Richard the Lionheart to invade Suruga.
Today, Richard was originally supposed to attack Nagoya too.
However, the Suruga side had succeeded in provoking his passion, setting his heart ablaze. With less than half a day before the Nagoya operation, he went straight for Suruga, unable to suppress his urge to go for a "secret snack"...
The two sides had fought a nocturnal battle.
Fighting bravely throughout the night, the forces of the Suruga tutelary fort won at last.
While everyone was celebrating the hard-earned victory, they received news that "the Restoration Alliance was beginning to march on Nagoya." As soon as Masatsugu heard it, he expressed his view.
Suruga's castellan, Akigase Rikka, tilted her head in puzzlement and asked, "You mean we will go to participate in the battle at Nagoya?"
"Masatsugu-dono, to be honest, there isn't any point, is there?"
All of Suruga's Chevaliers had gathered this morning for a war council.
The ones present were respectively Masatsugu, Rikka, Tachibana Hatsune, as well as the two Chevaliers from Yamanashi, Habuna and Maike, with the additional presence of Alexis Yang, the military adviser sent by the Eastern Roman Empire.
Of course, the noble princess of Imperial Japan, Fujinomiya Shiori was present too—
House Akigase's Chevalier princess address the group calmly, "Last night, we lost a great number of Legions. My Kamuys are down to a hundred or so. I suppose Masatsugu-dono's Kanesadas are not available in decent numbers either?"
"Rikka-sama," Hatsune spoke up timidly. "What you mean is going there will be useless?"
"...Something like that. Given the current circumstances, if the Restoration Alliance—or rather, the British forces—were to get serious, there is no way for us to reverse the fate of Nagoya's fall no matter how we struggle. Should any of us fall in battle, it would be far worse than losing Nagoya."
Nagoya was Akigase Rikka's hometown and Nagoya Castle was her home.
However, she spoken with great detachment to explain why they should not head to the rescue. Her extraordinary qualities as a general were what allowed her to suppress her personal feelings regarding the matter.
Hatsune looked sadly at her senior knight.
Remaining calm and indifferent, Rikka continued to analyze. "Nagoya is quite far away from Suruga. Moving across a long distance in one go will be very draining on Legions. Masatsugu-dono, why don't we observe the situation for now instead?"
Just as Masatsugu was about to reply, Shiori spoke first, "Indeed... Rikka-sama, you make a firm case."
The noble and intelligent Shiori was well-versed in politics and strategy.
The bloodline of Lord Tenryuu the sacred beast had given her a head of platinum blonde hair as well as outstanding special powers.
As a result, every Chevalier here would listen to her seriously and consider her opinion. However, Alexis Yang was staring at Shiori's pretty face in amusement.
"Suruga currently lacks usable troops, an expedition to Nagoya would impose a heavy burden on Suruga, and we do not have sufficient power to turn the tide in the overall situation. However..."
Shiori's clear eyes gazed at Masatsugu.
This was a steadfast gaze with deep faith in her subordinate's abilities.
"Masatsugu-sama, you believe that... doing so will produce definite benefits, don't you?"
"Yes, in order to make effective use of the opportunity before us, we must make a trip to Nagoya."
Masatsugu's tone was calm without any zeal.
However, the word "opportunity" had caught everyone's attention. The other Chevaliers leaned forward, waiting for Masatsugu to speak.
"I see now," Alexis Yang said with delight after listening to Masatsugu's explanation. "I believe that this excellent idea is worth a try. Say, rather than an opportunity, I'd call it a challenge instead."
Several hours later, Rikka led an army of a hundred Kamuys and charged into Nagoya.
"To think he came up with something this outrageous so quickly after last night's battle..."
This morning, Masatsugu had provided a battle plan.
Rikka could not help but smile wryly at the thought of that plan. The staff officer from the Roman military was right. Making effective use of this shred of luck that could barely be called an opportunity would require a challenge as risky as walking on thin ice.
The first challenge was the expedition to Nagoya.
First of all, Rikka must sortie in secret.
The Restoration Alliance's scouts would notice if she openly marched out of the Suruga tutelary fort.
Rikka summoned a hundred Kamuys, applied stealth noetic techniques on them, then sent them underwater into Suruga Bay in batches of ten.
Flying in the sky without cover would be extremely easy for the enemy to spot.
After that, her army entered the mountains from Suruga City's outskirts and went upstream along the Abe River.
Then flying at low speed along the mountain ridge of the Southern Alps, they secretly made their way to Nagoya. Rikka accompanied them on a wyvern.
In fact, movement through deep mountains was quite draining on Legions.
The local earth spirits in the mountains would entangle Legions, trying to assimilate them into becoming "companions." Eliminating interference from earth spirits required expenditure of mystic power.
In any case, Rikka's army moved west while consuming ectoplasmic fluid.
Fortunately, Rikka was able to reach the outskirts of Nagoya without being detected by scouts or noetic reconnaissance. This was probably due to the Restoration Alliance devoting their resources to their large-scale operation.
Hence, it was around 16:00 on November 7th.
A group of Crusades had broken through Nagoya Castle's noesis barrier. At the same time, Rikka's army had also entered the battlefield.
"Avoid unnecessary fighting. We will rush straight to the castle!"
Rikka rode her wyvern and led her army personally.
Aerial fights were taking place in the sky all over the metropolis of Nagoya.
Despite their disadvantage, the Tōkaidō provincial army had held their ground against the Restoration Alliance's Kamuys and Crusades. Neither side was using formations anymore.
The Legions were skirmishing, acting according to their own judgment.
Amid this chaos, Rikka's army entered a wedge formation and flew straight for Nagoya Castle.
Doing so would inevitably stand out. Lady Chevalier Rikka was also standing gallantly at the forefront of the formation as a means of attracting even more attention.
"Sing for me and let everyone know that I, Akigase Rikka, have returned to Nagoya!"
Her hundred Kamuys responded to her command and roared.
This was the War Cry, where Legions emitted shouts and mystic power from behind their masks.
As soon as the friendly forces of the Tōkaidō Kamuys and Chevaliers heard this fierce song of magical effect, they would instantly understand that House Akigase's eldest daughter had returned.
What Rikka was doing was alerting allies of her presence—
This was her true aim.
She gently kicked her wyvern's belly, ordering her mount to speed up. Having flown at low speed along the mountain ridge earlier, it had been a while since she last sliced through the wind.
The refreshing feeling made her smile. Advancing without impediment was exhilarating.
Currently, Rikka's hundred Kamuys were in a packed formation, flying through the sky as a giant wedge. Her army sliced through the battlefield and Nagoya Castle was within sight.
In order to block Rikka's army, the enemy would need to muster a packed formation too.
However, for the Crusades led by the Knights of Her Majesty, immediately organizing themselves in a formation during a chaotic battle would be quite difficult.
"My patience was worth it. This is precisely the situation I had hoped for."
Rikka grinned. She could have rushed into the battlefield earlier, but chose to bide her time instead. She was well aware that reinforcements of a mere hundred Legions would not turn the tide of battle.
Nagoya Castle—Almost there.
Rikka's conspicuous act worked. Nagoya Castle immediately disengaged the defensive noesis barrier.
"They're letting me through? Thank you so much!"
Leading a hundred Kamuys, Rikka charged into Nagoya Castle's premises.
She gazed down upon the golden carps on central keep's roof, the inner citadel, the outer citadel, the government office, the Akigase residence, the majestic Japanese garden, etc. She had finally "returned home."
The noesis barrier activated again. Rikka ordered her Legions.
"Scatter. Defeat any trespassing Crusades inside the castle. Your mission is to make a last stand and guard Nagoya Castle with your lives."
The hundred Kamuys behind her broke out of formation and scattered to look for signs of the enemies.
There were twenty-odd wyverns mixed in the group, carrying personnel with special skills, such as noetic officers, all of them brought her from Suruga intentionally.
They were tasked with an important mission too.
Rikka nodded and emitted noesis, issuing further orders to her Kamuys.
"Call out to the comrades of the Tōkaidō provincial army and have them assemble here. Summon all Legions and Chevaliers to return to the castle by my command."
The blue samurai scattered throughout the castle.
The singing from their distinctive voices, with a relaxed and pliable tone color akin to ripples on the surface of water, was gradually spreading through Nagoya City.
As bases from where Legions operated, tutelary forts were equipped with water shrines.
A water shrine was a massive reservoir for storing artificial ectoplasmic fluid. The mysterious liquid's purpose was not only limited to supplying Legions and Chevaliers with spiritual energy.
Ectoplasmic fluid was also the energy source for fluid reactors, which generated great quantities of electrical power for surrounding regions.
In the majority of cases, tutelary forts with their water shrines also served to support the livelihoods of the nearby population in some manner. For local businesses and shops, tutelary forts were important "customers."
Essential to regional life, tutelary forts were important facilities for civilians too.
Naturally, there was a water shrine underground of Nagoya Castle too.
Inside the giant subterranean reservoir were a neat array of columns with a bath in the depths. This architectural design was universally adopted throughout the world and identical to the one at Suruga.
Rikka's forces from Suruga should be fighting bravely on ground level.
Meanwhile, Masatsugu and company were immersed in bath's vat of ectoplasmic fluid. The facility resembled a huge public bath, but the ectoplasmic fluid was ice-cold and completely different from hot water.
Soaking in ectoplasmic fluid, Masatsugu muttered to himself, "Back when my power as a Chevalier awakened, I found it quite unbelievable."
"W-What did you find unbelievable?"
He was conversing with his little sister from the Tachibana clan.
Riding wyverns, the two of them had accompanied Rikka's army.
"Just before the tutelary fort was about to fall to the British, why didn't they destroy the water shrine? Then the enemy won't be able to use it, right?"
"I-It's written in the textbook given to us during Chevalier Conferment."
"I remember it was a book on military tactics and strategy... A manual on warfare, I guess."
Hatsune cringed, avoiding eye contact with Masatsugu.
Her voice was trembling and she seemed extremely flustered.
It was rare for the cheerful and energetic girl to react this way. One could hardly blame her. Currently, she was in front of Masatsugu, completely naked while immersed in ectoplasmic fluid.
With her knees drawn up to her chest, she was sitting in the vat of ectoplasmic fluid.
In other words, she was using her legs and knees to block "critical parts" from being exposed.
Like her, Masatsugu was nude too, soaking in the vat of ectoplasmic fluid. Unlike Hatsune, he was sitting naturally in cross-legged posture, making no effort to hide himself.
"Y-You're talking about scorched earth tactics like burning food and land to prevent the enemy from using them, right? Those tactics have existed since the ancient Greeks... B-But they're forbidden in the modern world."
"Oh, you mean the Charter of Chivalry?"
"If a water shrine is damaged, life in the surrounding area could collapse. For example, the electricity supply will apparently plummet."
"Scorched earth tactics are actually pretty useful, as long as you don't get the timing wrong."
"L-Let's put that aside for now, Onii-sama."
"Umm... Quit staring at me, okay? I'm not wearing anything..."
"W-Why aren't you turning your face away!? I'm begging you here!"
"Sorry, your body is too beautiful. Also, you look very cute when you're shy, so I can't help myself. I don't mean any harm at all."
"Sheesh! Onii-sama, why do you say these things out of the blue!"
Masatsugu shared his perverted thoughts nonchalantly, causing Hatsune to turn her face away in exasperation.
However, he could see faint signs of delight on the side of the Tachibana little sister's face. Perhaps Masatsugu's straightforward praise had pleased her greatly.
Masatsugu was the first to break the silence.
"Sorry, but please endure this for a while longer. We need to finish the tutelary pact as quickly as possible to turn Nagoya Castle into our stronghold."
"Y-Yeah. Bathing together saves time too, I guess."
Hatsune changed her mindset and agreed.
Her embarrassment had not gone away, but she turned her thoughts to Rikka.
Rikka had sortied with her army from Suruga, created an opening leading to Nagoya Castle, and attracted her allies' attention. However, the Chevaliers accompanying her did not need to perform all of those tasks like her.
The plan was for Masatsugu and Hatsune to make Nagoya their stronghold first before summoning Legions.
By doing so, they could increase the number of Legions they could summon while avoiding the consumption of a long journey.
Rikka's army, fighting on the surface, was actually quite exhausted already. If the fighting dragged on too long, the enemy would eventually see through their ploy.
"We need to hurry and help Rikka-sama, Onii-sama!" Hatsune finally regained composure. Sitting in the pool, she said, "It's almost ready. I need to establish the pact quickly... Upon my Appellation of Kurou Hougan Yoshitsune, I pray to the local shrine of Nagoya. Pray grant me the blessing of holy water and the authorizing seal of warfare to become a war god to defend Nagoya!"
"And allow me, Tachibana Masatsugu, to join the ranks of the war gods in defense of the local land."
Hatsune shouted loudly and Masatsugu chimed in indifferently. Their bodies glowed faintly and the tutelary pact establishing Nagoya Castle as their stronghold was complete.
Hatsune clenched her fist tightly and whispered, "I feel my whole body brimming with energy. It's probably due to resupplying ectoplasmic fluid, I guess?"
Ectoplasmic fluid had the effect of strengthening a Chevalier's physical body and conferring vitality.
The fatigue from staying up all of last night had vanished. Of course, this was also thanks to Hatsune taking a nap on her wyvern mount along the way to Nagoya.
Wyverns were very intelligent creatures and would fly while taking surrounding circumstances into consideration even when their riders were asleep.
...But then again, flying on wyvern was not a smooth ride at all. For people who need a comfortable environment to sleep, a wyvern's back was definitely not a suitable bed.
Battle preparations were complete. Only now did a thought occur to Hatsune. "Onii-sama, all you did was form a tutelary pact without obtaining ectoplasmic fluid, right?"
When soaked in ectoplasmic fluid, Chevaliers were able to "resupply" themselves and their Legions.
Unfortunately, Masatsugu was unable to resupply on his own unless he remembered his name from his past life. His Chevalier Strength was supposed to be around 1000, but currently, he could only summon a fraction of that.
"Sure enough, it would be a good idea to resupply here... Right?"
Hatsune fell silent. She had realized what she needed to do and had the intention of going through with it. But due to maidenly feelings of embarrassment, she was fidgeting awkwardly, unable to bring it up—
Noticing Hatsune's thoughts and feelings, Masatsugu relaxed his face and smiled.
He got up quietly and walked over to Hatsune, who was sitting in the ectoplasmic fluid.
"Hatsune, if it's okay with you, I'd like to borrow your power. Okay?"
"O-Okay. B-But Onii-sama, I don't like doing it from the front."
Hatsune's tone sounded a little unhappy.
However, with her eyes closed and eyebrows raised, Hatsune's expression was not harsh. Instead, it seemed like she was too embarrassed to look Masatsugu in the eye due to the intense pounding in her chest.
"What do you mean?"
"Th-Think about it, two people hugging each other in the bath, that's too soon for me... I-I want you to touch me from behind instead."
Hatsune's request was filled with embarrassment and innocence.
Masatsugu circled around to the little sister's back and hugged her against his chest.
Hatsune moaned. She could feel that Masatsugu's body was just as cold as ectoplasmic fluid.
In contrast, her body was boiling hot. The power of the refilled ectoplasmic fluid had warmed her entire body.
"Onii-sama, your body is still ice-cold..."
"Your warmth is all I need."
Hatsune was using her knees and legs to block the front of her body. As a result, Masatsugu could not touch her breasts—in other words, the softest and most maternal parts of the body, but he did not mind.
This maiden whom he called his sworn sister was doing so much for his sake.
This alone felt plenty blissful already. Hatsune was sharing the warmth of her body and soul with him.
"You are so adorable."
"O-Onii-sama, here you go sweet talking again. Mm—mmmmmmm."
Embraced against Masatsugu's bosom, Hatsune could not help but tremble all over.
Incidentally, after resupplying and Hatsune was drying off with bath towel, she finally learned that "Actually, the ectoplasmic fluid sharing ritual could've waited until you're dressed."
"Then I got taken advantage of!?"
Hatsune screamed in mortification.
Thus, after this interlude with his sister, preparations were complete at last.
Masatsugu was wearing his usual black stiff-collar uniform and Japanese sword, Izumi-no-Kami Kanesada, while Hatsune was dressed in Haikara-san style with a pink kimono, hakama, and low boots. The two of them returned to ground level.
A pipe fox was running ahead of them, leading the way. The noetic officers who had come along this expedition from Suruga had imparted the layout of Nagoya Castle to this small retainer beast ahead of time, allowing it to assist the Tachibana siblings who were visiting the castle for the first time.
The two of them arrived at a vast Japanese garden.
One of Rikka's Kamuys was facing off against a British Crusade.
This was a one-on-one duel between Legions both standing roughly eight meters tall. However, the British Legion was a size bigger and this was melee battle, not a shooting match.
The two Legions were using their bayonet rifles—i.e. rifles with a blade fitted on the barrel—and wielding them like "spears."
The Tachibana siblings watched as the Crusade rushed to attack first. Thrusting the bayonet blade consecutively at the Kamuy's body, it was a double thrust.
The Kamuy dodged dexterously.
Next, the Crusade swung the rifle horizontally as though brandishing a massive club.
The Crusade had given up on thrusts, choosing to attack with the rifle's body instead.
The Kamuy was knocked down—Not really.
It had dropped to the ground on its own initiative to dodge the rifle swing. While on the ground, the Japanese blue samurai did not forget to slice sideways.
This severed the Crusade's shin.
Liquid flowed out from the wound. Ectoplasmic fluid was spurting out of the British Legion's leg.
Now it was the Crusade's turn to fall. The Kamuy swiftly got up and stabbed the British Legion in the throat, ending the battle.
"So Crusades can be taken care of just like that, Onii-sama!"
"In theory, yes, but putting it into practice is not that easy."
Hatsune's eyes were glimmering, but Masatsugu had a different opinion.
Using martial arts and agility to win against the strength of British troops was quite an ideal strategy.
To have all Kamuys follow this approach and carry it out without issue, this stood testament to Rikka's outstanding abilities as a commander.
In fact, for the majority of Japanese Chevaliers, even if they issued the same command, their troops would have trouble following through to the very end.
After all, Legions were "giants with their own mind."
If a commander's noesis was too weak, or lacked a concrete image of the required tactics, Legions would move or fight according to "their own judgment."
Winning the melee battle just now in such a splendid manner, Rikka's army was impressive as always.
However, in the next instant...
The victorious Kamuy was struck in the back by a descending flash of light, blowing it away.
A new Crusade had arrived. The approaching British Legion fired with its rifle, killing the Kamuy in front of the Tachibana siblings.
Another Kamuy flying at low speed nearby rushed against the new Crusade.
This Kamuy happened to be searching for enemies. It sped up all at once, circled around to the Crusade's back and stabbed—But unfortunately, things did not go as planned.
The Kamuy's attack speed was insufficient.
This ambush from the air was a bit sluggish. The targeted Crusade shot back before the Kamuy's attack could connect, piercing the Kamuy's head and mask.
Rikka's army had set off from Suruga, spending several hours to cross the Southern Alps to reach Nagoya.
The exhaustion from this long journey had deprived the Kamuys of their speed.
"The Kamuys are reaching their limit. Let's summon our Legions."
"Yeah. Upon my Appellation of Kurou Hougan Yoshitsune, assemble, my Legions!"
Masatsugu and Hatsune called for their own Legions, using their own contrasting styles of summoning.
The "Kanesada" was the Kamuy variant equipped with red-purple armor. The "Kurou Hougan" was the Kamuy variant in red armor and a white garment with an elongated helmet resembling an eboshi, a type of headgear worn by court nobles in the past.
Overhead, forty Kanesadas and thirty Kurou Hougans had manifested.
Hatsune's Chevalier Strength was 72. She had lost few Legions in the battle last night and actually could have summoned more than these thirty.
"Everybody ready? I'm going to ask you to fight bravely!"
"Indeed, your job is to defend this castle to the death."
This was a very merciless order, but neither Masatsugu nor Hatsune expressed any sense of martyrdom.
Masatsugu's expression was aloof as always while Hatsune grinned—Like a child about to play a prank.
"By the way, Onii-sama, don't forget Rikka-sama's request."
"Oh, you mean that. I don't really think it's necessary to use that Feat of Arms here... But whatever. Kanesadas, draw your swords."
Masatsugu was reminded by the little sister.
Rikka had told him it was imperative to use Izumi-no-Kami Kanesada's Feat of Arms when fighting inside the castle.
Izumi-no-Kami Kanesada was the Japanese sword used by Hijikata Toshizō, a samurai of the Bakumatsu era. Its Appellation granted identical katanas and Shinsengumi swordsmanship to the Legions commanded by its inheritor.
At Masatsugu's command, the forty Kanesadas transformed their bayonet rifles into Japanese swords.
"So they have arrived?"
Riding a wyvern, Rikka was flying slowly near the central keep.
This was to get an overhead view of the battle taking place in Nagoya Castle.
She saw the arrival of allies, the Kanesada and Kurou Hougan variants of the Kamuy. Seventy of them had materialized in the air over the Japanese garden.
"Their help comes at a welcome moment. My Legions are nearing their limit."
The Kamuys brought from Suruga continued to show great fortitude, but could not hide their growing fatigue. Fighting against the Crusades invading the castle, Rikka's Kamuys were losing the original dexterity in their movements.
One after another, the Kamuys died in action.
Attacked by the Restoration Alliance from outside, the noesis barrier guarding Nagoya Castle was also about to collapse. Cracks were showing all over the place.
The Crusades and the Kinai Kamuys kept invading from the cracks.
However, enemies were not the only ones coming to the castle.
The Tōkaidō provincial army's Kamuys were also gathering in Nagoya Castle successively.
Entering the castle through the cracks used by the Restoration Alliance, they shot or slashed enemies, killing them on sight.
Among them were a few Chevaliers on wyvern mounts.
They were all Rikka's colleagues and Tōkaidō Chevaliers well-acquainted with her.
"Vibes are coming together of making a last stand to the bitter end. So this what they call 'Living and dying with the castle.'"
Rikka smiled fearlessly.
Locked in a chaotic struggle, both friend and foe had gathered at Nagoya Castle.
The conditions favoring their plan were gradually ripening. This was the plan that Tachibana Masatsugu had put forth and carried out by Akigase Rikka with minor adjustments.
"Now the last piece of the puzzle is my father's consent..."
Akigase Rikka was not the Tōkaidō provincial army's commander-in-chief. That was her father's office. Rikka did not have the authority to command the Nagoya castellan and the Chevaliers who had gathered here.
What she had done earlier was an act of grandstanding as the premier Chevalier and the Governor General's daughter.
The next phase required her father's approval so as to issue new orders to the Chevaliers to be carried out swiftly.
For this purpose, Rikka had brought a team of noetic officers along with her army in addition to the Tachibana siblings.
The noetic officers' first priority was to inform her father of the detailed battle plan. After obtaining his approval, they would then contact all the Tōkaidō Chevaliers scattered across the battlefield.
How was the situation going to unfold next?
"My father should be well aware that dying in a last stand at Nagoya would be meaningless... I just hope this is not wishful thinking on my part as his daughter."
Instantly, a pipe fox teleported to Rikka's shoulder.
The messenger retainer beast projected the information into the air. It was sent by the Suruga noetic officers.
Rikka chuckled. Preparations were evidently complete.
She transmitted noesis to every Kamuy fighting relentlessly in the castle.
"Good work, all of you. Please try your best to engage and hinder the invading Legions of the Restoration Alliance."
Rikka was asking them to fight in the castle until death.
The crux of the plan depended on using the Tōkaidō Legions summoned to the castle, as well as the entire Nagoya Castle itself, as bait. Rikka tugged on her wyvern's reins, ordering it to head to a new destination.
She was going to the central keep's entrance.
According to the original plan, it was where she was to converge with her father, the Tachibana siblings, and others.
The objective was to retreat from Nagoya Castle with minimum sacrifice.
During this offensive launched by the Restoration Alliance against Nagoya...
Superficially, a Chevalier from the Kinai Fiefdom held the position of "supreme commander."
But actually, this commander had neither the authority nor the ability to direct British forces. And there were a total of six Knights of Her Majesty participating in this operation.
The one leading these six knights was Sir David.
He belonged to the Far East Fleet of the British Imperial Forces. Prior to the arrival of Edward the Black Prince, Sir David was the top knight among his peers.
Only thirty-two years old, this young knight had short blond hair.
His Chevalier Strength ws 167, which was extremely outstanding for a modern soldier who was not a Resurrectee.
"Are the Tōkaidō samurai planning to hole up in their castle?" David muttered.
Riding a British white wyvern, he was flying slowly in the city.
He was currently over a baseball field. Nagoya Castle was four or five kilometers to the west. Japanese and British Legions alike were rushing to the castle, turning it into the center of a chaotic battle.
"The Tōkaidō Kamuys seem to have suddenly lost a large fraction of their numbers."
Through noetic waves, Chevaliers were capable of sensing total numbers of Legions instantaneously.
Both the Kinai and Tōkaidō fiefdoms used Kamuys, but no Chevalier would ever mix up any Legion's allegiance.
Coincidentally, Sir Cole, a fellow Knight of Her Majesty was flying close by.
"Perhaps they're conserving their forces, preparing to fight a long war of attrition against us, David?" This colleague shared the question on his mind after hearing his leader's mutters.
Cole was only twenty-three years old, an inexperienced Knight of Her Majesty. These newcomers would occasionally leave Britain or Europe to areas such as the Far East in search of battlefields. This allowed them to fight freely without nagging from "the old folk."
"De-materializing Legions that are not in combat does reduce a Chevalier's burden."
"Perhaps they are hoping for reinforcements from Tōsandō or Kantō," Sir David smiled wryly with pity. "With the secret agreement between Tōsandō and us, they're virtually our people already. As for the Kantō Fiefdom... Their forces will never make it in time. The sun is about to set."
The setting sun's rays were dyeing Nagoya's cityscape orange.
David delivered bold words amid the colors of dusk. "Nagoya Castle will definitely fall to us before the sun rises again tomorrow morning. Cole, I'm looking forward to your contributions."
If Tachibana Masatsugu were present to witness this scene...
He would probably nod lightly and secretly celebrate the success of "the risky first phase."
In Akigase Rikka's case, she would probably clench her fist and express her joy with a pose filled with fighting spirit and youthful fervor.
The preconceptions of the Knights of Her Majesty had aided Masatsugu and his group.
These knights believed that the loyal and brave Japanese samurai had prepared themselves "to die for their cause." One would not fault them for their complacency. After all, they had yet to taste defeat since landing in Japan.
Hence, the battle-hardened Knights of Her Majesty were already blinded by their bias. They were convinced that the strengths and weaknesses of Japanese Chevaliers could all be attributed to their excessively rigid samurai spirit—
Rikka's army had deliberately charged into the battlefield in an ostentatious manner.
Roaring, her Legions had called upon her Tōkaidō comrades to follow her and gather in the castle for a last stand to defend Nagoya Castle.
In the meantime, the noetic officers from Suruga were in charge of preparations.
They rushed over to the Tōkaidō Governor General and secured authorization to proceed with the plan. After that, they sent out pipe foxes to notify the ten-odd Chevaliers scattered throughout the castle or the city.
In other words...
'Calling all Chevaliers, leave your Kamuys on the battlefield while doing your utmost to return to Nagoya Castle. Thirty minutes from now, all units shall retreat from the castle together with His Excellency the Governor General.'
'Chevaliers unable to return to the castle shall escape Nagoya at your own discretion. Converge at the Suruga tutelary fort.'
'There is no need to defend Nagoya Castle with your life. The key to Tōkaidō's continued existence depends on future battles.'
The above was the content of the message.
The message was jointly signed by "Akigase Shouzan and Hijikata" as the ones issuing the orders.
Twelve Chevaliers returned to Nagoya Castle and the group began to retreat.
"When penetrating enemy territory, know locations to avoid and identify poorly guarded lines of retreat to ensure certain escape. Charge the enemy, break their formation, take no prisoners... Behold my Feat of Arms—Kotouhisshutsu!"
The Tachibana little sister was the one in charge of creating the opening to retreat.
In front of Nagoya Castle's central keep, Hatsune summoned five Kurou Hougans. She recited the mantra loudly and invoked the Feat of Arms—Kotouhisshutsu.
Leading the Legions under her command, the Tachibana little sister marched forward confidently.
Masatsugu was following right behind her, accompanied by Akigase Rikka, Rikka's father Akigase Shouzan, a few of Shouzan's trusted subordinates, and the team of noetic officers from Suruga.
Finally, rounding out the total were ten Tōkaidō Chevaliers.
Fujinomiya Shiori had said previously, "Can achieve instantaneous movement so long as the distance is not too great—A type of teleportation power. Perhaps it is a reenactment of the legends of the Hyodori-goe surprise assault and jumping over eight ships."
This was an explanation of the Feat of Arms—Kotouhisshutsu's power.
The Feat of Arms instantly transported everyone from Nagoya Castle to ten-odd kilometers to the northeast.
It was not a huge distance, but Japan was a nation of mountains. These ten-odd kilometers could take them to favorable terrain.
On this occasion. the group had moved to the mountainous area upstream of the Shounai River.
Escaping the intense siege, the group had arrived at a stream with pure and clean water.
Masatsugu and company were standing on the shore that was covered in gravel. They were going to sneak through the mountains, so Hatsune dismissed her five Legions.
This crazy method of movement easily rivaled Minamoto no Yoshitsune's famous legend of Hyodori-goe.
The first time he heard that story, Masatsugu had the following thoughts. Even if horses and deer were both quadrupedal creatures, how could horses traverse mountain paths used by deer exclusively? Totally ridiculous.
In any case, their retreat operation had begun.
The noetic officers summoned twenty or so retainer beasts, the Mibu wolves.
They were giant wolves with silver fur and the size of purebred racehorses. Carrying one or two people each, they raced over mountain paths.
Their destination was Suruga, more than a hundred kilometers away. Furthermore, the sky was growing dark.
Normally, it was impossible to run in the mountains under such conditions. Fortunately, the Mibu wolves had excellent night vision and sense of smell, paired with extraordinary endurance and leg strength.
With noetic officers guiding them forward using noetic control, the wolves did not have any trouble for now.
After the wolves started running, Rikka had her Mibu wolf catch up to Masatsugu's mount and run side by side with his.
"Masatsugu-dono, may I have a moment of your time?" Rikka struck up conversation with Masatsugu. "Frankly speaking, I believe that the retreat operation from Nagoya has gone relatively smoothly."
"Indeed, Hatsune's Feat of Arms—or rather, Kurou Hougan Yoshitsune's Feat of Arms—is astoundingly powerful. It's possible that the Restoration Alliance is still unaware that we have retreated."
The one who deserved the most credit in this battle was currently sitting in front of Masatsugu, riding the same wolf.
Usage of Kotouhisshutsu was very draining. Unbelievably, Hatsune was able to nod off to sleep while riding a wolf's back.
Masatsugu had his little sister leaning against his chest. He lowered his voice and said, "Were Richard present, this would've been a crazy gamble to avoid."
"I agree, it's just that..." Rikka smiled and sneaked a glance at Masatsugu. "When you devised our current strategem, Masatsugu-dono, you took this point into consideration, didn't you?"
"Last night, the Lionheart's one thousand Legions perished in battle at Suruga. It would take at last ten days or half a month for them to fully revive, which means he should be behaving these few days."
"If that man had been present at Nagoya, the castle might've fallen before we could hurry to the scene." Masatsugu shrugged and replied, "When we summoned the troops and knights to gather at the castle, it would've been possible for him to notice our intention to retreat. In any case, defeating him last night was definitely a good thing."
"Yes, which is why we dared to take a gamble." Rikka nodded in agreement.
Smart and brave—Rare and valuable were generals blessed with both intelligence and valor. Akigase Rikka was evidently one of them.
Without needing Masatsugu to spell everything out, she was able to read between the lines.
"The true challenge lay with my colleagues... How to quickly convince the Tōkaidō Chevaliers and lead them to escape, that was the key."
Listening to Rikka, Masatsugu finally understood her intent. "No wonder you used the name of Hijikata."
"Yes, I borrowed the princess' wisdom. After all, I was taken in by the same trick too."
"Personally, Rikka-dono, I feel that your own reputation alone is already enough."
"I am not that popular. People only think of me as the Governor General's unworthy daughter, stubborn and lacking in feminine charm."
"You're too modest."
Mastsugu and Rikka's Mibu wolves were currently running at the head of the pack.
The five Mibu wolves behind were carrying ten Tōkaidō Chevaliers between them. Oddly enough, these Chevaliers were staring at Masatsugu's back with eyes of fervor...
Rikka smirked. "It was worth it for you to use Izumi-no-Kami Kanesada at Nagoya Castle. Everyone is wondering whether you are Hijikata Toshizō—or rather, they are hoping for you to be Hijikata Toshizō."
"The British have Edward the Black Prince and King Richard the Lionheart. Then Japan ought to have its own hero step forward... This hope is far stronger than you can imagine. Furthermore, the Mibu wolves we are riding..." Rikka touched the silver fur of the running wolf and said, "Did you know? Hijikata Toshizō-dono used to lead a pack of Mibu wolves to fight on various battlefields across eastern Japan to protect the northern court at Hokkaidō from the Meiji government's attacks."
"I've heard bits and pieces of that."
"Stuck with inferior numbers and equipment, Hijikata-dono had no choice but to avoid pitched battles. Instead, he relied on the Mibu wolves to fight on the run. Using guerrilla tactics similar to those of bandits, he made fools out of the government's armed forces."
"After battles, he often rode a Mibu wolf to retreat."
In a certain way, this retreat operation was a reenactment of Hijikata Toshizō's legend too.
Perhaps this was why the Tōkaidō Chevaliers were willing to accept the retreat operation. Otherwise, they were all determined to "die for their cause" in the beginning.
Now, Masatsugu finally understood where Rikka's worries were coming from.
In fact, prior to setting off, Akigase Rikka and her father had engaged in a similar debate.
Currently, the old man who was Tōkaidō's Governor General was fast asleep—or rather, unconscious. He had suffered heavy injuries during the battle at Nagoya Castle.
His wounds included bruises all over his body, external injuries to the head, sprains to the neck vertebrae, broken ribs, etc.
Currently, the Governor General was being transported by tying him to the back of a Mibu wolf.
In any case, he had to be delivered to Suruga first before they could talk about treatment and recuperation.
Akigase Shouzan had only received minimal first aid. Until just before setting off, he had remained conscious. As soon as he saw his beloved daughter, the two of them had started arguing.
'Your strategy is correct. Dying in a last stand at Nagoya would be meaningless. However, I would rather die than retreat.'
Just before escaping Nagoya Castle, everyone had gathered in front of the central keep.
Lying on a stretcher, Rikka's father made his determination clear.
As the Governor General, he could not leave behind the city's residents and escape on his own. He was going to stay behind to fulfill a lord's duties.
In contrast, the daughter gave him no respect for it.
'I am worried that the enemy will use you as a hostage or a bargaining chip in negotiations if you were to be captured. Either way, since you happen to be injured, I will transport you to Suruga in your current state.'
'My esteemed father, didn't you make the same decision? Where are my younger brothers?'
'Oh right, Rikka-sama.' Hatsune had asked without thinking. 'You have two younger brothers, right?'
'Yes, they were sent away soon after war broke out between the Restoration Alliance and us. My father knew that Nagoya would turn into a battlefield sooner or later.'
'Hmph, if the ruler's children are rendered captives,' Akigase Shouzan spoke with disdain, 'the retainers will begin to have unnecessary worries. To be perfectly honest, I wanted to order them to commit suicide if and when the castle falls, to live and die with Nagoya.'
'Had you actually given that order to your sons, history would have deemed you an anachronistic tyrant.' Rikka did not hold back her criticisms. 'Nowadays, domestic and foreign media will harshly condemn rulers who issue unreasonable commands to their retainers or children.'
'Stating the obvious. That is why I had to take precautions.'
'Then the same will be done for you who are injured.'
'Traveling to Suruga with your injuries will be quite an ordeal. Consider this a lesson and endure the pain.'
Viewed on a certain level, this kind of upfront conversation could not have happened except between this particular pair of father and daughter.
In the end, Tōkaidō Governor General Akigase Shouzan fainted during the bumpy ride on the wolf's back, turning him into silent luggage.
However, there were those who disagreed with the retreat operation.
Nagoya's castellan and two elderly Chevaliers had decided to stay, insisting someone needed to take responsibility for the civilians and the enemy armies.
In any case, Masatsugu's faction had now gained ten new Chevaliers.
Simply having a headcount would be meaningless. The whole point of taking the expedition to Nagoya from Suruga was to make effective use of their combat power.
"Masatsugu-dono, it is about time. Let us ride wyverns instead of Mibu wolves."
Masatsugu agreed with Rikka's suggestion.
They asked the noetic officers to summon wyverns then switched to flying.
For the time being, they would follow the mountain ridge and fly at low altitude, the same as what they had done during the journey to Nagoya. The plan was to instantly increase elevation once they neared Suruga to head to the tutelary fort.
This was a stealth operation, but time was of the essence.
Tonight's operation was not over. More plans lay ahead.
"Rikka-dono, take this chance while they're switching to wyverns to tell the other knights about that—"
"Very well, I shall explain. Then let us wake my father. I need his consent for the battle plan. If he is in delirium, I will need him to appoint me as the acting Governor General at least."
At a glance, Akigase Shouzan seemed to be a strict father.
However, his beloved daughter was also a strong-willed woman who was strict with her father too. One might say 'Like father, like daughter.' Perhaps this father and daughter pair were quite alike in personality.
A wry smile surfaced on Masatsugu's face while he watched their amusing interactions.
To the eyes of others, his smile would probably be nothing more than a slight twitch on the corner of his mouth—