When going there and back again
The only ones who can return
Are those who are not emptyhanded
Point Allocation (Dancing Wind?)
Something dark existed at the bottom of the morning air: shadows.
A dark shade was cast below the green ceiling of the forest.
But that shade did not fill one place: a clearing at the top of a slope.
A manmade structure existed in the center of that early morning forest clearing.
It was a Shinto shrine with a dark thatch roof.
The gate at the entrance said “Yamaga Shrine” and bore the six coin emblem of the Sanada Academy, but they were both very old and the six coins of the academy emblem were half consumed by moss.
The gate sat open and the shrine’s shimenawa were old.
A voice came from the stage remade with a new roof and floor to the right of the shrine.
It was a shrine stage.
A woman stood on the wooden floor with her legs spread horizontally and her body twisted.
She wore a red track suit with the words “Sanada Ten Braves: Unno Rokurou” stitched on the back.
She was moving.
She bent her body forward and placed just the index finger, middle finger, and thumb of both hands on the floor.
She then raised her body up atop her hands and shoulders.
She performed a handstand.
Unno’s movements were not rushed. She raised her body upside-down slowly, as if kneading something. But then she bent her legs behind her and formed an arch by placing the soles of her feet on the back of her head.
She heard a loud sound in the distance.
It was a gunshot. And when she heard it…
“Kakei, huh? Nezu wouldn’t make that noise. …Toh!”
She swung her legs back up like two whips.
She used the movement to push her hands down on the floor and twist her body.
Her right toes landed on the floor. She was standing tall.
Her body did not waver and she made a large rotation with the arms stretched out to the sides before lowering them.
She released a long breath, reached down for the towel on the floor, and balanced her body in a T-shape.
She grabbed the white towel and pulled.
The towel did not quite come with her hand. It was heavy. Heavier than the original fabric had been.
But after a few more tugs, it stretched and dangled down like it had a weight attached but finally reached her hand.
She returned her body to normal and took a breath. She wiped away her sweat and looked to the shrine.
The morning sun shined on it and her eyes focused below the roof.
“Maybe I should arrange for some repairs. The older young master is out of the question and I can’t expect anything from the young master or our teachers. …Honestly, what are we supposed to do when the one in charge of repairs first is the first one we lose?”
Unno sighed and narrowed her eyes toward the old shimenawa and the wooden steps that always looked damp these days.
“Well, the Musashi returned and if Hashiba really is sending the Azuchi Castle out of Edo for the invasion of Mouri, they’ll probably be making their next move soon. I guess this is our only chance. For fixing up this place…and for working as a shrine maiden here.”
“How many years has it been since I arrived here?” wondered Unno as she placed a hand on the shrine stage’s pillar and looked around. “To think the local delinquent girl would end up being a shrine maiden in a foreign land.”
After wandering as the Unneeded, she and the others had arrived in Sanada and trained under their predecessors. That was when she had learned that the Yamaga Shrine, Sanada’s primary shrine, had no shrine maiden.
Since ancient times, shrine maidens had delighted the gods and curried the gods’ favor to hear their words.
The Kabuki dancing Unno was trained in was originally based off of the Kagura dancing. So when she had been urged and coaxed into climbing onto the shrine stage and dancing, a certain thought had come to mind:
…What is this?
She had been licensed in shrine maiden techniques. She had had a mid-level license at the time. That should have been plenty for the god to respond to the call of her dance.
But no matter how much she danced, nothing happened. The same was true of the divine spells produced by this shrine.
Of course nothing happened, she recalled Kakei saying with a laugh. We’re outsiders.
She agreed with that.
A god would not immediately accept just anyone who came to its land. Most were accepted only after participating in a local festival.
And even divine spells did not provide their power to everyone equally. When using a charm or a prayer, there was always a god on the other end and that god was watching. The major shrines and brand name spells had a system to control that and ensure a bare minimum effect, but…
“The local spells here don’t have anything like that.”
She had felt like the god was forsaking her as an outsider.
Kakei had been making a point when he mentioned that. He liked to lecture. A lot had apparently happened to him in the past, so he and his ninja techniques could be cynical when it came to the gods.
But back then, she had only been able to sigh.
But Unno had realized that their predecessors, who had become their teachers, had regretful, baffling, and lonely looks on their faces.
So at the time, she had scratched her head, kicked Kakei, said “well of course we are”, and left.
The next morning, she had made sure no one was looking and climbed onto the shrine stage.
She had never failed to do her dance training. But that time, she had moved from a random clearing or field and had instead done it on the official shrine stage.
That was the only difference.
But a thought had occurred to her.
…What do you mean we’re outsiders? Are we going to stay that way forever?
She had felt something like anger, but it really came down to how she thought about it. It was entirely possible to live one’s life while thinking having a home was not necessary.
Could she do that?
She had not liked being an outsider and had not wanted to remain one.
But wasn’t that just her dislike of the word “outsider”? Once they no longer saw her as an outsider here, wouldn’t she relax and decide she could leave once more?
“I was really just playing around with how I defined myself.”
Or was I? she thought while looking to the rising sun.
Yamaga Shrine was in Shinshu. That was the central region just west of Kantou. But…
“Is the Ariake in that direction?”
She looked to the east through the forest. A vast plain continued as far as she could see beyond the mountains and forest.
She could not see all the way to the ocean, but…
“It’s 10 kilometers long and 3 kilometers above Mito, so it would have to be around there…”
The Ariake was inside a stealth barrier. She formed a rectangular frame with her fingers to judge the distance. She had done this countless times since returning here. However…
“Is there any point in looking at it?”
A voice reached her from the mountain. A tall skinny figure in a summer uniform was descending from the mountain path into the forest.
Kakei did not enter the shrine’s grounds. He held up the prize in his right hand so Unno could see.
“Yeah, I caught a mountain bird, but I guess the god won’t let me in here.”
Unno nodded her head and waved her hands back and forth.
Is that a yes or a no? he thought while glaring at her, but then she spoke.
“Because it’s unclean? If it’s a corpse, our god will embrace it. …Use it as an offering and it’s all good.”
“This is for breakfast, so I only caught the one.”
Kakei went out of his way to remain in the bushes dividing the shrine from the forest.
And Unno opened her mouth horizontally.
“You can walk through here if you want.”
“If I get the water clinging to me, it’ll affect my footwork. My legs aren’t as strong as Sasuke’s.”
“You’re not too bad yourself, Kakei.”
“That’s because I focus on close-range and circling around people. I focus on indoor stuff, so I’m no good without a flat surface. Sasuke really is impressive.”
That was true. Each of the Unneeded had their own special skills, but Sasuke was the most skilled martial artist.
…I’m only any good at taking up a position and circling behind people.
That was for assassinations. It was admittedly very ninja-like, but…
“I really don’t like running around.”
“Is that so?” asked Unno as she hopped down from the shrine stage. She slipped on her sandals and pursued him as he walked around the shrine grounds.
“What are Sasuke and Saizou doing?” she asked. “You were waiting above since last night for them to contact you, right?”
“They say they’re traveling around Jouetsu and P.A. Oda before returning here. They said to take it easy until then.”
“Did you tell them about Isa?”
“They said they already knew.”
“Is that so?” asked Unno as she looked up into the sky.
A silhouette passed through the sky. It was a slow but large movement.
“A dragon… The various peoples have been on the move ever since Date began to move.”
“The confusion caused by the Musashi outsiders has set even the big ones in motion.”
“I imagine so. But, Kakei…do you think Musashi sees themselves as outsiders?”
“Things might feel different when you’re up in the sky.”
“Then,” she said. “How can they do all that stupid stuff?”
He knew what she wanted to say. It was true that Musashi was a dangerous group that would chat amongst themselves and do stupid things even in the middle of battle. But…
“I bet they have their own sadness.”
“Oh, I get it,” said Unno. “Then I bet Musashi doesn’t even need to think that they’re outsiders. That status had permeated their beings.”
“What makes you say that?”
“When something sad has happened to someone, they’ll try to live without regrets.”
“…Unno, did you hit your head recently?”
The stone she kicked flew accurately, so…
“That was close.”
He shot it down.
His one hand still held the string tying up the mountain bird and his other hand was still in his pocket.
But a shot fired out of empty air and accurately shattered the stone.
The gunshot echoed across the shrine grounds and Unno quietly whistled.
“Well, that’s a man loved by a god for you. You’re really detailed.”
“And that’s why I can’t carelessly enter another god’s shrine. I’m fine with making a mess of an enemy shrine, though. …Oh, but the gunshot won’t be a problem, right?”
“You didn’t ask about the one earlier.”
“That wasn’t me.”
Unno looked puzzled, so Kakei smiled a little and explained.
“It was Nezu. …He’s been retraining since he got back here.”
“Oh, how adorable of him.”
Someone arrived from the stone steps leading to the shrine’s entrance, presumably after noticing their conversation.
Unno picked up her pace. She caught up with Kakei as he circled around beyond the torii and stepped out onto the path to the shrine. She then looked down the steps leading up to the shrine.
“Nezu? What is it?”
Nezu looked up at her, raised his eyebrows, and looked away. He instead looked at Kakei next to her. And he spoke to that tall figure in a summer uniform.
“You’re supposed to take over monitoring Houjou from P.A. Oda. When Anayama answered, he said to send out whoever we could and he said that meant, ‘Kakei, Unno, and Mochizuki’.”
“Three people?” asked Kakei. “Isn’t that a bit much for replacing Miyoshi? It’s always been two at the most before.”
Nezu’s eyes alone darted from one to the other, and…
“The Azuchi will apparently start for Mouri tonight.”
“Yeah, I had mostly figured that one out. And?”
“This is only Anayama’s speculation, but he thinks Takigawa’s unit alone won’t be enough personnel to keep an eye on Houjou.”
“Or to be more accurate, to keep an eye on Houjou and Musashi in the Ariake. …Not even the Shirasagi Castle can watch over the entire nation.”
…If Sasuke was here, I’m sure he would have had some ideas about how to distribute us.
Three of them were enough of a fighting force. Ninja were trained to cause disturbances and make attacks and they were at the Special Duty Officer level. If Houjou tried to do something, they could directly hold them back or cause a diversion elsewhere.
“Then this might be a good chance to score some points with P.A. Oda.”
Hearing that, Nezu looked to Kakei with his eyebrows somewhat raised.
“Kakei, I can also-…”
“Noooo, you can’t. You have to help with Yuri’s rehabilitation, don’t you?”
“When the Azuchi leaves Kantou, isn’t the Tottori Castle going to arrive? Once the warship has left, Houjou has its automaton Fuma Ninja. Takigawa’s unit can handle that since they’re a ninja unit, but they can’t do anything to overcome Houjou’s knowledge of the land. They barely ever descend from the Shirasagi Castle, after all.”
“What a pain,” sighed Unno. “So they’ll really be overstaying their welcome, will they? We’ll have to look after them until things settle down in Edo and Houjou.”
“These annoying odd jobs are also a ninja’s job,” said Kakei as he started down the steps.
Then he used his left hand to hand Nezu something.
It was a long needle. It was 10 cm long, meant to be thrown, and made for assassinations, but…
“Protect the place while I’m gone. Got that?”
“Kakei, that’s a death flag.”
“No, I’ve just got way too many of these things. Every time I need something, you’ll get more weapons, Nezu. Your ninja technique can fire these things, right?”
“You’ve already given me more than 100 of them…”
Noting a hint of exasperation in Nezu’s voice, Unno also started down the steps.
Nezu followed suit and quickly lined up alongside Kakei in front of her. After glancing back at her, he asked Kakei a question.
“Um, Kakei, who is that pretty person behind us? Is she your wife?”
“Try to remember what I look like without my makeup, you imbecile!”
Unno kicked Nezu down the stairs.
While they were doing this, Hashiba and Musashi were preparing.
“Musashi is probably going to try something when the Azuchi Castle moves today. Mouri is combined with Hexagone Française and that makes them a powerful enemy for Hashiba, but that’s exactly why Musashi will want to do something here to leave Mouri feeling indebted to them. That means we might have something to do as well.”
“But the real stars aren’t us or Musashi. That position goes to Mouri since they’re the ones pulling in the Azuchi Castle.” Kakei smiled bitterly. “Of course, Hexagone Française has a bunch of ridiculously powerful people like that Reine des Garous, so who knows if they’ll feel any kind of debt even if Musashi does put up a fight over here.”
There was a dark space.
It was a bedroom.
It was a large room with a tall ceiling. The walls had wallpaper and the ceiling was decorated too. Decorative windows positioned from waist height to the ceiling let in plenty of morning light.
The sunlight arrived diagonally from the windows and was dulled by the thin lace curtains.
But weakened though it was, the light shined on the row of bookcases by the wall and the large canopied bed on the west side.
On the bed were a woman and her great mass of hair that shined gold in the dull morning sun.
She was the Reine des Garous.
She lay face down in the soft bed with a smile on her face and damp, see-through sheets clinging to her body. Her body sank down on her legs which were spread to the left and right.
As she sank down into the shaking bed, she held her sweaty breasts between her arms.
“Hee hee. So we never did manage to finish our lessons. But there’s still time left, so how about we get something to eat?”
The Reine des Garous licked the sweat from her lips which were faintly decorated with lipstick.
Her smile deepened as she looked at the person she was leaning over.
“So how about we check to see how our precious, precious cooking turned out?”
She inhaled, stopped a few times midway, and used intermittent strength to lift her lower stomach.
“Ah, wait, hee!” said the person below her.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure it turned out well. Yes…today’s cooking method was ‘marinating’. The title is ‘A One-Night Soaking between You and Me’. Hee hee. It’s like we’re studying for a test. But, but. We did let it soak all night in a nice hoooot place. I can tell without looking that the marinade has thoroughly soaked the meat.”
She smiled a little but then spoke sharply without warning. She sat up and looked down at him from above.
“But you need to wait a while longer, okay?”
“Oh, dear. Oh, dear. What is that look for? We of course need an hors d’oeuvre before the soup or viande.” She lowered her face to her partner’s. “But we need to prepare an amuse gueule even before that.”
More than a kiss, the Reine des Garous seemed to swallow her partner’s lips with her own. She forced his lips apart with her tongue, and…
She scooped out the heated dampness inside to make it hers while allowing her own to flow down her tongue to offer it to him.
A few Catholic signe cadre opened next to her. They contained the emblem of the Three Musketeers, but she pushed them away with a finger. If she erased them, they would only reappear right next to her.
“Do this and they still provide a view from a distance.”
“Eh? …Th-they can see us through those signe cadre?”
The Reine des Garou’s expression changed when she heard that. Her smile relaxed and her cheeks reddened.
“Turning up the heat in the middle of marinating? Isn’t that a little aggressive? W-wait a moment and I will add plenty of kindling, so stay perfectly still, okay? Moving would be dangerous. It’s the wife’s job to manage the fire, so I’ll do my best. I’ll do my very best!”
“Eh? Th-that isn’t what I meant.”
“Not to worry. I told them I would get back to them when we were done eating…2 weeks ago.”
“With the amuse-gueule over, it’s time for the hors d’oeuvre.”
The Reine des Garous licked her partner.
She licked him everywhere her tongue could reach at the moment: his face, his neck, below his ears, along his hairline, and his hair itself.
“Um, your hands please…”
He raised his hands, so she licked between his fingers, his elbow, his armpit, and as much of his back as she could reach while twisting his body.
“Ah, wait. Twist me like that and, um, it feels so much tighter and the ‘marinating’ is going to move to the next stage! The next stage!”
“Hee hee. That’s fine with me. Think of this as the final rubbing and keep fighting! Yes, first I’ll rub it from the right and then from the left. …Oh, dear. Why are you crying? We’re only at the hors d’oeuvre.”
“I’m sure I won’t be able to experience this time or this flavor for a while after this.”
He breathed a heated sigh and obediently nodded, so she nodded deeply back. And…
“That way of nodding looked incredibly tasty. I just about skipped straight to the viande after the hors d’oeuvre.”
“Um, hasn’t this cooking lesson transformed into a mealtime manners lesson?”
“What were the proper manners again? Do you remember?”
“You’re supposed to hold the knife and fork with your index finger placed gently on the back.”
“And weren’t there signals used to show you’re still eating or finished eating?”
“Testament. If you cross the knife and fork on your plate, it means you’re still eating. If you align them together on the right, it means you’re finished eating.”
“That’s right,” she said while wrapping her arms around him and crossing them on his back.
She also wrapped her legs around him and clutched at his lower hips with the back of her knees and her heels. But while she made sure she could still move her hips up and down…
“I’m supposed to place my index fingers on the back, right?”
She moved the index fingers of her crossed arms and traced them along his back.
He cried out and tried to arch his back, but he was pinned down by the legs and arms around him and she then took his lips too.
“I hold it down with the knife while I eat it, don’t I?”
She softly bit them and lightly sucked at them. After breathing in, she let go.
She did it a few more times. After all…
“I’m going to be working on the front line for a while. And the clash between Hexagone Française and Hashiba is finally beginning.”
I need to devour him as much as I can today, thought the Reine des Garous.
After all, she would come down with withdrawal symptoms if she did not do so regularly.
And those withdrawal symptoms were quite serious:
…I feel an irresistible urge to see him.
She never noticed while seeing him every day and consuming him whenever she felt like it, but she generally wanted to see him and be with him.
When she wanted to really feel like she was with him, she would consume him and sometimes even milk him dry. She felt like the latter had started happening more often once their daughter had left. Is that because I don’t have to hold back anymore or because I’m feeling stress from the loneliness of her absence? Either way, I need to handle this better.
But if she went out to the front line, she would be unable to see him.
She had prepared 3 months’ worth of his homemade jam sauce as a reducing agent, but she doubted that would last her more than a week.
In the past, she had brought along clothes smelling of him, but that was a bad idea. After being driven half mad by withdrawal symptoms, she had tried to force those clothes onto herself before going to sleep and they had torn. She also had a vague recollection of trying to cook and eat them after that, but she did not quite remember what happened there.
The worst time was when she had gone to the south to deter Hashiba after they had taken over K.P.A. Italia.
Her deterrence had simply been wandering around near the provisional border. She had been told she could use the occasional fallen tree she came across to throw into K.P.A. Italia, so – long story short – 5 of their guard stations had been destroyed by a physical attack that slipped right past their ether detection.
The problem had been when she had looked up at the sky during the moonlit night. She used a signe cadre to say good night to him when he would have been about to go to sleep. Then they had looked up into the night sky together and seen the two moons there.
She had suddenly remembered when they had confessed to each other long ago.
The withdrawal symptoms had rushed in at that moment.
She had been completely unable to contain herself, so she had obeyed her homing instinct and ran back home.
…I ran super fast.
She returned to find him asleep. In the bed, he had been holding a map, most likely to find the location of the front line his wife was on.
…I’m right here.
But she could not say that, so she had decided to simply gaze upon his sleeping face, calm her heart, and smell him.
But then he had grabbed her hand and gotten up.
“I could smell you were here.”
He had continued without letting go of her hand.
“I was lonely.”
She had nodded once, lifted him from the bed, pecked at him over and over while having a good cry, pushed him down onto the floor, and…
…I milked him dry, didn’t I?
She recalled it happening 8 times faster than usual. And he had yelled “N-no! If we make this much noise, people will be able to hear us outside!”, so she knew he must have been fired up too.
But she also felt that getting him to rub her head had meant a lot more than devouring him.
The next morning, she had returned to the front line in the blanket she always used with him.
“Huh? You’re done already?” Mouri-03 had asked.
“Say that and I’ll head back there every day.”
In the end, the Student Council had been forced to make a ruling, but luckily…
“They aren’t going to limit or criticize my daily interactions with you.”
War was a wonderful thing. It expanded her lifestyle.
And she wanted to make full use of the advantages it brought her, so…
“Um, I am a country woman who was raised in the mountains, but there is one dining rule I know very well.”
“Testament. In Hexagone Française, meat dishes always come with a sauce and you have to slather the sauce all over it before eating.”
The Reine des Garous kissed him and continued speaking without pulling back very far.
“I’ll come down with withdrawal symptoms if I don’t have the sauce you make for me.”
“The marinating should be about done. I’ll remove the excess marinade and polish it up, so cross your knife and fork when the sauce is ready. And to get you there…”
She spread her knees and spread his legs between them.
She could not resist now. So after positioning him like that…
“Now, let’s prepare for the main dish. Let’s see how long you can remain calm at the end here. Oooone, twoooo, threeee. Oh, dear. You don’t have to cry. Or is that supposed to be the soup?”
The Reine des Garous laughed and sent her body crawling along his. And then a sudden thought came to her.
They were making up for a coming deficiency, but…
“I wonder if Nate will ever learn the joy and loneliness of devouring someone like this.”
“And so our victorious mood from Novgorod ends here. This information was just officially sent to Asama via IZUMO, but Hashiba’s forces have begun an all-out war with Hexagone Française’s Mouri forces.”
Masazumi spoke in her track suit and her words rang through the small room where Musashi’s main forces were gathered.
They were in the front academy building on Okutama, the rear central ship. This was the tatami-floored student council room in the center of the 3rd floor.
They still had to organize some of their things there, but it was a place for them all. And Masazumi said more there.
“I would now like to go over what information we have and then think about our next move. …Got that?”