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so long, sunny days

Chapter Text

To Sangonomiya—

May the world commemorate me as a warrior but I plead you immortalize me as the space your universe once dwelled.

 

 


 

 

In a finite life, Sangonomiya Kokomi cursed its transient majesty.

The rain pattered against the aluminum roofs scattered above the cottages in the Resistance’s second base. Braving the irritating metallic noise was Sangonomiya Kokomi, a military strategist who aimed to overthrow the factions behind the Vision Hunt Decree. Under the guise of preparing for the illustrious Traveler’s arrival to their base tomorrow, she was actually conjuring the twentieth course of action should this outlander be an instrument of espionage by the Shogunate.

Hearing three knuckles tapping on the entrance of her makeshift office in Fort Fujitou, Kokomi addresses the sound. “Her Excellency, it’s Gorou.“

Gorou must have come there for an important matter. After all, Kokomi’s disconnection from her troops as she strategized was a given. Solemnity of space was how she regarded the need for radio silence while she rattled her brain for their game plan. This was evident in her choice of private bases and if it was not for the limited space in the Resistance's territory in Yashiori Island, she would not have settled for a small room in their headquarters right in the middle of loud counts for mock martial battles.

However, her space in Watatsumi Island was a whole different story. Located under a gap in a certain mountain's structure, her office seemed as though it was an inconspicuous cave. No one from the Resistance, not even her esteemed general was aware of its precise location and it was common knowledge not to pry.

It wasn’t among the flock of buildings near training grounds where her soldiers fraternized with each other or instantly be on the frontlines should an unexpected attack occur. The road toward it ended at the first intersection leading to a secret tunnel that guided people to a panic room underground the Sangonomiya Shrine, making Kokomi’s usual space the most vulnerable yet the most secured.

Instead of allowing the general to enter the room that housed nothing but a desk, a chair, shelves of military strategy books, and a book or two of ancient to contemporary romantic fiction novels; Kokomi approached the door and let herself out. “Why, a problem?” she asked in a professional tone, concealing the fatigue and backache from strategizing in the past six hours. Gorou salutes upon seeing her.

“At ease,” said Kokomi.

“Some people in Borou Village wished to consult Your Excellency about the region’s fish trade. They’d recently learned about some representatives of the Tenryou Commission blocking their shipments to Ritou.”

“The Tenryou Commission? That can’t be right. If anything, the Kanjou Commission should be the ones with authority to interfere in local trade and it’s not as if any merchant from Borou Village is an outlander. I don’t understand the necessity for an ordeal as such.”

“So do I,” replied Gorou. “Should I set an appointment with the head of the Kujou Clan?” he adds with a ridiculing grimace.

“That would be our worst scenario,” Kokomi answered. “Kujou Takayuki is not a character I personally find agreeable. Pray you don't find it improper but I prefer not having to deal with the Kujou Clan Head so long as anyone under my jurisdiction doesn't bring forth a situation wherein it's the final remedy."

“I agree, Your Excellency. I don't like him just as much.”

“He’s too… how do I say this, unpleasant? His presence is too unpleasant for my liking. His methods are underhanded yet he sees no need to be cunning nor does he make an effort to conceal them,” she badmouthed the commissioner but her professionalism stopped herself from gossiping further. “Anyway, there would be a ninety-one percent probability that an important officer in the Kujou ranks is coming here tomorrow. That is if you were able to provide the anonymous tip.”

Gorou paused for a second and clarified, “Does Your Excellency mean the one where I anonymously tip to the Tenryou Commission that the fugitive Traveller is heading southwest toward here?“

“Correct.”

“I’ve carried that out yesterday, Your Excellency, just as you instructed.”

“Nicely done, then. I’ll see what I will do about the fish trade situation. For now, be sure to man our camp. Be at the ready twenty-four-seven.”

“I’ll see it through,” Gorou said as if prompting the conversation to end so he may go back to his quarters but his expression emitted the opposite connotation. Like he wanted to question something off-topic and disrespectful, his eyes traveled to the side. After a few moments, Gorou hesitated for a second but he reluctantly asked anyway, “If I may be right to ask, why do you plan to ambush the Traveler tomorrow? It’s not that I’m questioning the strategy itself, it’s only my curiosity.”

A cryptic grin crawled up Kokomi’s skin. At times, the greatest course of action is disguised as philanthropy, she thought but it was never anything she'd tell the general who had seen her as the incarnation of infallible governance.

“'Ambush' is too big a word, Gorou. We need the Traveler’s strength if we want to overthrow the Shogunate. Something like attempting to make the Raiden Shogun’s allies turn on her. It isn’t foolproof but the Resistance wouldn’t be anything that this outlander is interested in if it meant being on shaky terms with an archon.”

“But the ambush? I just can’t put two and two together on my own. I apologize for sounding intrusive when I don’t have the prowess to conduct better plans. Your Excellency, you don’t have to answer.”

“Don’t sweat it, Gorou, you’re the general. Your input is valuable,” reassured Kokomi. “According to the Yashiro Commission, the Traveller’s interests purely revolved around speaking with the Shogun and not addressing the Vision Hunt Decree. Unless she climbs the headlines as Inazuma’s most wanted, she’ll never cooperate with us. Our ambush isn’t planned to hurt her, it’s merely our passive stance just in case she’s still, for some reason, working with the Shogunate.”

The crease on Gorou’s forehead didn’t leave like Kokomi’s explanation was not able to alleviate a thing about his confusion. “With all due respect, Your Excellency, but you still think it’s possible that the Traveller is allied with the Raiden Shogun?”

“Not in the least, but making contingency plans doesn’t hurt us. Much less the case when I need to keep everything under my control. The Resistance has to weaponize that Traveller as she's the key to this war. Infighting within the leaders of Inazuma has always been inevitable the moment the Shogunate earned public distaste and our only path to emerge as victors is to capitalize on that Traveler. Otherwise, we have no right to keep waging wars we can't win.”

Ah, there it is.

Sangonomiya Kokomi whose grip on control tightened as whatever left of her moral ascendancy loosened. The eminent Divine Priestess of Watatsumi was nothing short of deranged in every instance her command was in question. Her countless contingency plans served as the token of control that ceaselessly left her under the abstract impression of mortal omniscience. Her obsession with taking control was akin to the desire to predict the future. Every footprint housed evidence of malintent dressed as leadership.

Behind the eyes that sought nothing less than goodwill was the ingenious brain that was gradually unhinged by her fear of the unanticipated.

So long as she had the right to say “All went according to plan” at the end of the day, the brimming obsession with the illusion of pulling the strings at the nastiest pits of Kokomi’s soul would be satisfied.

“If there’s nothing else, Gorou, do see yourself out.”

 


 

In the grand scheme of things, Kujou Sara is but a pawn. Barely.

She’s disposable. A patron to a leader whose constituents saw as tyrannical, her: a mere instrument of oppression. At the mercy of her clan’s beliefs, she trembles against a sea of ambitions she’s taken from the people. While the Kujou Clan provided a roof over her head, the walls in the estate weren’t the only thing propagating the silent distance.

The great adopted daughter Kujou is estranged but no one has the decency to be blatant about it. The other night, she walked up to empty plates with local Liyue leftover delicacies a certain merchant gave as gifts—one they, except her, shared for a lively dinner. The irony lies in the fact that she was the recipient of the delicacies.

Sara was never one to be as shallow as the thought but maybe she wanted to experience adeptal cuisine too. Maybe even a family who saw her beyond the prowess she wields.

A subordinate approached her in haste, holding a tattered piece of paper that encapsulated the same sense of urgency. "General Kujou, I was waiting for your return from Ritou!" The soldier yells once he entered the encampment, a few meters away from where Sara was studying a new formation one of their strategists sent.

Handing the piece of paper no bigger than the average palm, the soldier reports, "We received an anonymous tip regarding the Traveler's whereabouts." The news perked Sara's ears up, locking her full attention. "We don't know how reliable it is considering that the sender wasn't identified by the post office."

"What does it say?"

"The Traveler is expected to arrive at the Resistance camp in Yashiori Island around 16:00 tomorrow. If it's of any help, General Kujou, we have some troops stationed near Fort Fujitou at our rendezvous point for equipment transportation, permission to alert them of the Traveler's arrival?"

Sara didn’t answer but, instead, ponders over the situation silently. Fort Fujitou was located west of Watatsumi Island in an accessible proximity to the Sangonomiya Shrine with boats. There was a possibility that their priestess would be present along with her general whether or not she’s already in Yashiori Island. “It’s an obvious ambush,” said Sara in a tone meant to underestimate whatever objective the Resistance had in mind.

“There’s no need to send our men. I’ll come there myself tomorrow and have the soldiers stationed in Yashiori back me up."

Her subordinate creased his brows, Sara understood why. The pragmatic response was to have the soldiers in Yashiori survey the situation themselves for an anonymous tip that was neither reliable nor favorable. It wasn't like the general to send an order that pointless. However, the man merely saluted and made his way out, he knew better than to question Sara's commands. He knew that Sara doesn't send out orders with motives outside the Shogunate's best interest.

Not this time, funnily.

Sara spent the entire evening rationalizing her attendance to the Traveler’s alleged arrival in Fort Fujitou tomorrow. In any given angle possible, the equation led to a dirty old dead-end in the gutter of her own free will—something she wasn't given much of growing up.

Staring at the ceiling, waiting for her eyelids to collect fatigue, the general's futile attempt at understanding herself awaits the day's end. She groans as she placed her weight on her elbow, grabbing the Kujou Clan seal resting atop her nightstand as if it was of importance so dire that she had to watch it before sleeping.

A lone firecracker disrupts the solemnity of the night, exploding in the heavens as it left dust that resembled a wave, its azure glow painting the sky amidst its death. Right before Sara notes that she must issue a public firework curfew, an ordinance whose necessity she never thought would ever exist, directed at the Naganohara daughter in specification; the faint tinge of blue in the clouds spearheaded a thought, absurd as it was fleeting.

She recalled the fisherfolk in Ritou with three full boats of fish set to be sold as soon as possible lest they were stuck with rotten merchandise beyond the market's interest. Her visit to Ritou that morning was on official business precisely for the boat situation, she learned that some of the lower ranks in the Tenryou Commission would make under-the-table advances in the local export industry, saying it was under official orders.

The fisherfolk turned out to be from Watatsumi Island, a territory where the Shogunate's authority existed least. Prior to their knowledge of her appearance, Sara mellowed down her presence and eavesdropped on the conversation between the citizens of Watatsumi and her soldiers, doubling down behind a bale to conceal herself.

"But this isn't your job," a fisherwoman around forty says. "The Kanjou Commission's headquarters is over there, why can't we coordinate with one of theirs?"

One of the two Tenryou officers huffed, a sharp one. "See, lady, it doesn't have to be as complicated as you people make it out to be. There's a liability policy where local merchants are required to pay a fee. Again, it's forty thousand Mora," he replies with a ruffian tone in an obvious feat to intimidate the fisherfolk.

"Why weren't we informed of this liability policy when we were preparing? We don't carry a sum as big as forty thousand when we're at sea if it's not needed," a fisherman interjects, he was around the same age as the woman.

"That's right! If a policy as important as this was really being implemented, Her Excellency would have informed us herself or at least send a messenger!”

"Well, maybe your excellency,"—the title was enunciated with mockery—"forgot to spoonfeed you the alert. Some leaders are incompetent is all, no need to beat yourself up. Just give the fee, wouldja?" the other Tenryou soldier says, he couldn't hide his boredom any less.

As if mere stares were capable of stabbing through the officer's trachea, the lady glares at him distantly before saying, "You don't have to degrade Her Excellency just for a random stupid directive you can't even validate. That's just low."

"Woah woah, brake right there, Ma'am," a prominent air of arrogance and mockery was present when the officer interrupted. "This is a policy briefed to us by Kujou Sara herself. Heh! You're being too bitchy just for forty thousand Mora. Shame that the economy sank this low, huh. As low as me, ain’t it?”

The fisherfolk retracted the insult but Sara's focus was averted from the argument. As she walked towards the conversation, she realizes how these Tenryou officers casually threw a false order to her name, one that dilutes the crest of their commission in the service of the Shogun and Inazuma. She deduces that her scope of priority didn't include Ritou and her name was an easy scapegoat around here.

She resolves the situation by compensating for the unwarranted stress and suspending the officers for half a year, they were to surrender the Tenryou-issued gear by sunset. In a week, the report stating this incident would long be under a pile of other days on record. Sara, on the other hand, had an epiphany.

The funny thing is: epiphanies are, by definition, serendipitous moments of realization. What's supposed to be an illuminated bulb floating atop Sara's skull merely dropped itself and negated the epiphany instead, scathing a functional train of thought and rigging the rails to an existential canyon.

Sara heaves a sigh, a long one, encapsulating the gravity of her confusion. She thinks about how the fisherfolk from Watatsumi were quick to come to their Divine Priestess' defense at the mere accusation of her incompetence. Later on, she thinks about how easy it was for her subordinates to use her name like a passage to an illegal gold mine where her authority was bannered for giggles. Staring at the Kujou Clan crest on her nightstand, she slowly sculpted her flaws on one part of her brain.

How shameful, a general as a cork for under-the-table transactions. Maybe it was jealousy or the repressed complex of authority she developed growing up? The respect she gained banked on her strength while her existence will forever be under a clan who saw her no less than a general, not the child they adopted to grow nurtured. She thinks how there would be no one, not even beyond the entire stretch of Teyvat, cared so much as to come to her defense.

Just her since day one.

Sara hates how she’s accustomed to solitude, how it manifested itself into a tangible entity that accompanied her. A black haze lies beside her, What am I doing wrong? she thinks.

"What kind of leader are you, Sangonomiya Kokomi?" she asked herself. A calm breeze reminiscent of the sea's scent trespassed through her window.

 


 

The heavens were gloomy. Kokomi’s eyes stared down the traveler, scanning from her shoes to the disheveled rag on top of her head. Is this what people call “hair” these days?

“It’s nice to meet you.”

They were in Fort Fujitou. Gorou was beside Kokomi with four other soldiers in a concave formation to cover all of the priestess’ blind spots. In front of her was a blonde woman with wounds and scars all across her arms and legs. For the most part, Kokomi found the girl quite the beauty. It’s not much of a shame that the infamous fight with the Shogun did her numbers.

With a smile so bright that the Yashiori skies almost cleared up, Kokomi replies:

“The pleasure is all mine. May I know your name? We’ve only known you as the ‘traveler’ from the rumors. I believe behind every form of strength has a name behind it. It just so happened that the chatter missed yours."

"Lumine."

Kokomi smiles, one side of her lip shy from reaching her ears. "Lovely name."

The poor traveler could only respond with a flushed face. Kokomi, after all, had a wildcard charisma only a select few had witnessed. The conversation continues by the floating kid beside Lumine saying, "And I'm Paimon! We came here from Narukami Island because this is where Thoma advised us to go. You must be Sangonomiya Kokomi?”

“That, I am.” Kokomi subtly takes a step back, creating space for the surrounding soldiers should a suboptimal situation arise from her next inquiry. “I hope you don’t take this to heart, Lumine, it pays no price whatsoever to take an additional step forward for caution. How do I confirm that you don’t work for the Shogunate?”

However, Kokomi knew that the Traveler wasn’t in any way affiliated to the Raiden Shogun the moment she saw Lumine’s injuries. The long scratches on her leg were clawed by the planks that built a platform around the Statue of the Omnipresent God. A noticeable one stretched three inches above Lumine’s knee up until a small portion of her thigh but it continued on her palm, stopping right before the distal wrist crease.

Kokomi observed the wound and although at first glance, it would seem possible that the cut was caused by two separate accidents that took place not too far apart—Lumine was a reputable adventurer, after all—she was able to rule that out.

The lacerations on her leg and palm’s alignment matched each other, and it was evident from the similar gashes surrounding it that a single drag by the wooden planks caused it. This injury incapacitates the traveler’s full mobility as the wound on the leg intersects with her joints, causing tingling aches each time she moved. Moreover, the wound on the palm affects her blade work knowing that the pointy hilt of Lumine’s sword may irritate it further. There was no way that the Shogunate would exploit someone with an injury this inconvenient.

Still, Kokomi pursued the line of inquiry.

“What do you mean ‘how’?” The Traveler and her companion seemed to be taken aback by the question, animosity brewing in her tone. “I survived the Raiden Shogun by a single strand of hair, I wasn’t able to gather proof that her attempt at pulverizing me was reason enough to believe that we’re not working for the Shogunate.”

Kokomi didn’t seem fazed by the change of attitude towards her. “As I said, Lumine, fate never heeds to the cries of those who had forgone caution. I sincerely apologize for my poorly-worded question.“ She gestures to one of the soldiers on her left. “For now, although I remain to have queries, I suggest you rest and familiarize yourself with our base. Have Teppei accompany you wherever, rest assured that you’ll find him dependable. I wish to speak with you over supper.”

Lumine nods, her mood seemingly better.

However, from a distance—a particularly thick bush, to be specific—the minuscule shift in Lumine’s expression went unnoticed. Sara, from over thirty meters away, covered her person with the leaves of a low plant, crouching down towards the soil to assure her tall physique goes unnoticed. With her were two soldiers from their only rendezvous point in Yashiori Island, one they went through the depths of hell and political knots to gain approval for establishment, who were also concealing their presence.

When the Traveler and the floating child beside her began walking away from Kokomi and the Resistance’s general with a low-ranking soldier in tow, Sara turned to her men.

“Head to the Tenryou Headquarters and tell the Deputy General that the Resistance and the Traveler had made contact at”—she takes a swift peek at the sky to estimate the time—“16:30.”

The pair of soldiers Sara had accompanying her were in a momentary pause. She figured that the buffer was due to the fact that it has been too long since these men have received her direct orders, manning rendezvous points was one of the slower aspects of the military and these assignments are commonly given to bachelors who are willing to spend months away from home. It did not take them long to regain alertness,

"Are you not heading back to Narukami as well, General Kujou?"

She would but the insignificant, counter-productive, and annoying question that intruded her brain was not pacified. It was arbitrary and likely something she would chastise herself for later on. "I'm staying here in Fort Fujitou," giving no context nor elaboration, Sara answers. It wasn't like she can justify her choice to herself, what more to external ears?

The two men could only agree and salute to Sara amidst their confusion. She gives a single nod in response and watched as they were no longer within her line of sight. The soldiers made their way towards a low but robust cottage that had a decent pantry and a small armory, preparing themselves to head back to the main headquarters.

Still lying low, the previous distance of thirty meters diminished to ten. Reading lips turned into eavesdropping, Sara intrudes the conversation of Watatsumi's leaders, utilizing her stealth training in the most pathetic way possible. How low! A general of the strongest armed force of Inazuma infiltrating the enemy base to gather insider information? This was a job for informants or assigned spies, Sara figures how stupid she had been acting lately.

However, she rationalizes it by treating her situation—bending in half to hide behind bushes, rolling across the soil to transfer from one plant to another—as an act of espionage under her own orders for the best interest of the Shogunate. She continues listening in on Kokomi and Gorou's explanation, slowly forgetting the pathetic excuse she gave herself.

What kind of leader are you, Sangonomiya Kokomi? This question has been bugging her the moment she decided to dwell on her emotions last night. What did Kokomi have that she didn't? What were her lapses that her subordinates couldn't respect her in ways that keep her integrity and honor intact regardless of whose eyes present? She wonders how come the rumors encapsulate the warmth of Watatsumi all emanating from their divine priestess alone.

"Gorou, recount the inventory and make sure that at least ten sets of armor and emergency spears are in usable condition."

From the side of her eye, Sara saw Gorou gesturing to the remaining three soldiers to see through Kokomi's orders. In front of the cabin that served as a temporary headquarters in Yashiori Island, Kokomi and Gorou were the only ones remaining after the Traveler's welcome. They and Sara somewhere concealed in the surroundings.

"Is there anything else, Your Excellency?"

"Just one last. Prepare transportation, I wish to head back to Watatsumi before dawn."

The general seemed confused. Before dawn was hardly feasible with the sunset fast approaching the past few days. However, seeing that Kokomi headed inside the small building, he quickly ran to the shore in order to give their priestess a small boat for her way back to Watatsumi Island. With Kokomi and Gorou gone, Sara was in deep thought as she stayed concealed. To go as far as traveling to Watatsumi, should she? Or is she scraping the littlest stains of self-respect she had?

In any case, Sara was fazed by her own thoughts. She hadn’t satisfied herself with the answer as to what kind of leader Sangonomiya Kokomi was but it wasn’t like she’s one to have an abundance of freedom. It was the first time she’s ever wanted anything for herself in defiance to the strict warrior’s code drilled mercilessly to her head even as a child.

She asked herself if she had the right to even want anything.

But the doors to the Resistance’s Yashiori Headquarters opened and came Kokomi bathing in the breeze.

It no longer mattered whether Sara had the right. She just wanted.

All sorts of feelings filled her gut. Foreign ones she felt appalled to even have. The discomfort followed her even when she emptied her quiver to reduce the weight of her person. Even in the brief waveride to Watatsumi Island where she tailed Kokomi’s boat. Luckily, the island’s landscape allowed her to continue moving along stealthily.

Had someone told Sara a year ago that her agility and quick reaction time were to be used in something as pathetic as unsolicited surveillance of the enemy leader for a self-indulgent question, she would have laughed it off, treating it as an insult. However, as she stood outside a cave-like structure whose interior seemed like it belonged to a remarkable scholar under the rain of Watatsumi Island, Sara from a year ago had a boatload of debunking to witness as the Sara of now desperately tried to cloak her presence.

Maybe that was enough woeful self-castigation for today, she thinks as she decides to let the rain pass before returning to Narukami Island.

 


 

The rain wails across the heavens while the sound descends to the ground. Water poured down the island of Watatsumi. Kokomi remained seated behind her desk as she takes a peek out the entrance of her secret base, watching the area don a blurry gray hue from the rainfall. With it, the faint silhouette of a shivering bow. She uses her hands to rub an eye yet the person was still there. That rules out the possibility of daydreaming.

Leaving her chair, Kokomi approaches the figure and discovers a tall woman whose indigo hair was drenched by the shower. She seems to be waiting for the rain to pass while using whatever shelter the mountain provided. It took her a while before being able to notice Kokomi’s presence.

“General Kujou,” Kokomi breathes out her name, her voice almost drowning amidst the deafening racket from when the raindrops smash to land, “I wasn’t expecting you here—“she surveys Sara’s surroundings and deduces that she was without any troops”—alone.”

Kokomi extends a hand for pleasantries, “Glad to see you here, General.”

“As am I, Your Excellency,” Sara replies, the title escaping her lips with disguised malice. To think such a circumstance would arise: her addressing the opposition’s frontrunner the same way she would the Shogun, sends chills down her spine.

A loud thunder, particularly violent, sliced through the clouds and briefly illuminated the surroundings.

“The drizzle’s becoming aggressive, General, I presume you’d rather have a roof above you, no? I don’t particularly mind sharing mine,” Kokomi suggests as her thumb gracefully gestures at her secret base.

Sara scoffed, “I’ve been in worse situations, Your Excellency. I appreciate your hospitality although there’s no need to pamper me like you do your soldiers.” She mentally pats herself on the back for a backhanded compliment well done.

“I see,” Kokomi said as a few couple lightning bolts struck consecutively. “Ah, lightning's in the mix, too. This downpour is quite a brash entertainer. You see, General, there are several trees planted in this part of the island. The energy provided by the lightning may trigger an unusually high concentration of sap inside these trees to a specific level of heat. Textbooks say when worse comes to worst, these trees may erupt messily. The cleanup is one thing, collateral injury is another.”

She continues, “The very ground you’re standing on is a detonator of a natural explosive. Should you incur an injury, I’m afraid bringing me to justice would come to no avail. Not for intending to harm you with a conscious objective as it was the lightning’s fault; not for paying no mind as I’ve graciously offered you shelter.”

Sara latches her bow properly on her back and faces Kokomi completely, staring below as the priestess was a few inches shy from reaching her normal line of sight. “Sounds rhetorical to me, Your Excellency. I’m afraid you’re gonna have to do better than that.”

“It’s not rhetorical, it’s theoretical. And by ‘do better than that’ what exactly do you mean?” Kokomi catches on the banter, enthusiastically engaging in the general’s taunting like an excited puppy.

“I have no idea what contingent traps you have laying on this base, Your Excellency, but I personally don’t think I’m as big a fool as someone who willingly enters secluded enemy territory without backup.” Spoiler: she had already entered secluded enemy territory without backup.

“Unless,” Sara gives a long pause before adding on to her sentence, “May I presume this is out of pity? You neither have to take responsibility nor feel bad for my exposure to harmless rain. Pity is never a good thing for the recipient although morally gratifying for the giver, is it not?”

“You saw right through me, hah! I do pity you, General. Although you don’t have to treat this with hostility, I merely welcome you to this base as a host and not an enemy. Think of it as my gesture of hospitality for your lingering presence—that quite possibly has an ulterior agenda—here in my island.”

“This conversation has been coated with hostility the first time you opened your mouth, Your Excellency. One step there and you could kill me.” Sara’s lips grew into a grin. “Prove it otherwise. After all, there’s not a soul around to restrict you.”

Kokomi had no idea why she even wanted Sara to take refuge in her base in the first place. She could let the enemy general rot in rain here for centuries to come, wallow in incurable flu for her entire lifetime. However, Sara’s delivery posed a challenge Kokomi wasn’t one to back down from.

“It’s simple. You have nothing but a bow, your quiver no longer has a single arrow. Apart from your physical prowess—which I assume is impeccable—then you’re practically defenseless. I’m not injuring the enemy under such circumstances, much less kill. I don’t play cheap moves in a game I find most exhilarating." Kokomi went silent for a brief moment and asked, "Query for query?"

"Go ahead."

"I'm at risk as much as you. How do I guarantee you won't kill me with physical might alone? Frankly, I’m the one vulnerable here, General Kujou."

"And why do you think I have the obligation to guarantee your safety?"

The death threat caused Kokomi to burst out laughing. Her face that never ceased to smile since the beginning of the conversation was moving rhythmically along with the pleasant sound of her giggles. Her shoulders moved in an up-down motion as thin tears welled up in her eyes. Taking a deep inhale after losing quite the breath while laughing, Kokomi says, "Ha! You make this game exponentially more enjoyable, General. I'm almost impressed."

Sara merely looked at Kokomi up and down, her gaze full of ill intent as she began towards the secret base walking past the priestess.

“‘Game’?” She asks as she settled herself on a stool, squeezing the rainfall out of her hair. “So, the battlefield is a game to you?” She sounded offended.

Kokomi returned to the seat she was in before approaching the general. She replies, “What an interesting perception of my statement. Now, that’s one inhumane way to put things in my mouth, is it not? I simply regarded strategizing as a game, not the war per se. We’re fighting for a cause, General, that speculation alone holds no truth now nor will it ever.”

Kokomi’s tone and expression contradicted her words. Although what she was saying seemed serious and out of offense, her delivery was steady with a nonchalant grin on her face.

“The battlefield moves in the tune of the strategy, Your Excellency. What difference does it make?”

“You’re a general who’s been on the frontlines for years since forever. Do you strictly follow your army’s strategist? At the tide of battle, you’ll never know how a war pans out, and abiding by the strategy is a luxury never to come. It’s a thought process as simple as that, I’m surprised—and a little embarrassed—you failed to pick up on that.”

“It’s a simple thought process you complicated to the bone. Are you really adept in military strategy or do you also circle around your words during a battle’s crucial moments? Ah, no offense, Your Excellency.” Full offense.

“None taken.” All taken. “I do see your point. By the way, there’s no need for you to call me ‘Your Excellency.’ Around here, just 'Sangonomiya' is fine. Surely, the title doesn’t come naturally to you as well.”

Kokomi hears Sara humming in agreement, she waits for Sara to respond with something along the lines of allowing her to drop the forced honorifics and address herself as “Kujou” instead of "General" but nothing slipped out her lips since.

Only then did she realize; afterward, she mentally punched Sara.

Now it’s “Sangonomiya” calling her “General Kujou” like the divine priestess was ranked lower than the general in the same regiment.

Kokomi notices Sara’s lips slyly perking up as if containing laughter. Touche.