Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume10 Chapter3
Chapter 3 - Captive Claire
After taking the magic stones from the two elementalists, belonging to the Knights of the Dragon Emperor and the Sacred Spirit Knights respectively, Kamito met up with Ellis and the rest.
The flying dragon elementalist instantly retreated as soon as she realized her teammate had been defeated.
Including Muir Alenstarl who had forfeited voluntarily, Kamito's team had now obtained three magic stones.
Fenrir was used to take the injured Kamito and Fianna over to a nearby shrine. A large piece of cloth was laid on the floor while Kamito lay on it, with a healing stone resting on top of his broken arm.
Although Fianna's spirit magic was normally more effective, due to her current unstable state of divine power, only magic amounting to emergency first aid could be used.
"...Seriously, you are way too reckless."
"To think you would use a broken arm to blade dance, how unbelievable!"
Ellis and Rinslet both exclaimed in surprise.
Their expressions were both worried and relieved.
"Umm... I don't quite believe it myself... Ouch!"
Kamito looked down at his arm that was bent strangely out of shape.
(...Back then, what was that driving me?)
The voice that resounded within his mind, whose was it—?
Even though it was very similar to Restia's voice, there were subtle differences.
Rather than the tonal quality or anything of that sort, it was the personality hidden behind the voice that gave him a sense of dissonance.
(...It can't be completely unrelated to her, I guess.)
Suddenly, Kamito's gaze shifted towards Fianna who was lying beside him.
Her dusk-colored eyes seemed even dimmer. One could instantly tell she was currently very weak.
Compared to fatigue of the body, her mental exhaustion seemed even more severe.
Although Kamito hesitated over whether he should talk to her, there were some things he needed to ask.
Regarding the demon sword of darkness she was carrying.
Why would Fianna be holding on to the Vorpal Sword—
Probably noticing Kamito's gaze, Fianna turned towards him.
"Fianna, are you okay now?"
"Yeah. I'm sorry for making you worry. What about you, Kamito-kun?"
"No need to worry about me, these kinds of minor injuries heal fast."
"This is no minor injury okay, jeez..."
Ellis interjected with mild anger.
"By the way, aren't you two hungry? Why don't I prepare something to eat—"
"When the body is unwell, heavy meals should be avoided."
"In that case, I have a lot of canned peaches. Claire decided on her own to stuff them all in there."
Saying that, Rinslet took out several tins of peaches from Fenrir's mouth.
Hearing Claire's name, Fianna suddenly stood up.
"...I have something I need to tell you all."
Fianna turned her gaze towards everyone with a solemn expression.
After listening to Fianna's explanation—
For a moment, Kamito and the rest kept exchanging glances in silence.
...This was hardly surprising. What Fianna revealed was completely shocking.
Rubia Elstein—Claire's elder sister by blood, the Calamity Queen who had betrayed the Elemental Lords.
She was the true identity of the fake Ren Ashbell.
Fianna had first discovered the truth back when she was imprisoned by Sjora Kahn. Back then, it was Rubia Elstein who rescued Fianna.
"I'm sorry for keeping this from everyone all this time. Even though I had wanted to tell you earlier."
"...No, if I were in your place, I would probably have done the same."
Kamito comforted Fianna who had her head bowed down.
Ren Ashbell—the greatest enemy she had to defeat was actually her very own elder sister, of course this sort of thing could not be told to Claire.
Despite appearances, Claire was a very delicate girl. Confronted with the cold hard truth which could completely subdue her heart, she could very well lose her power as an elementalist.
Fianna had kept things secret in her heart alone because Claire's keen senses might notice something if Kamito and the rest were told.
However, Claire had now discovered the truth.
Kamito knew how much effort she had invested in order to see her older sister again.
The kind of thoughts, feelings and determination she embraced to participate in this current Blade Dance.
Surely, she must have suffered an unimaginably heavy blow.
(...In a critical time, I was not able to protect her.)
I will be your contracted spirit—That was what he had promised her clearly.
Kamito silently clenched his trembling fist.
"But why would Claire's older sister steal Ren Ashbell's identity to participate in this blade dance festival?"
"I don't know what her intentions are either."
Ellis inquired with puzzlement but Fianna could only shake her head.
"However, the reason why she took Claire away was obvious. In order to make her the Darkness Queen. —For making Kamito-kun awaken as the Demon King."
—Throb. Kamito's head began to hurt again.
The Demon King—the successor to the Darkness Elemental Lord whose existence had been purged from proper history.
Like Rubia, Restia also wanted Kamito awaken as the Demon King.
(...What on earth is the reason?)
What relation did this have with her Wish three years ago—?
Kamito looked at the demon sword Fianna handed over.
The Vorpal Sword was apparently entrusted to Fianna by Claire just before she was taken away.
As for why Claire was in possession of this sword—What had transpired was unclear.
(Could it be that she was protecting Restia?)
...The demon sword held in his hand gave no response.
Even when Kamito tried infusing a small amount of divine power into it, there was no reaction. Given this kind of state, even if Restia could return to human form, she could not be used as an elemental waffe.
Kamito had clearly been searching for her throughout these three years, but now that he finally retrieved her, there was no sense of reality. The current Vorpal Sword was merely a symbolic representation in the form of a sword.
"We must hurry to save Claire!"
Rinslet stood up and yelled vigorously.
Normally elegant in behavior, she was now quite anxious.
...She really did worry a lot about Claire. Although the pair of childhood friends quarreled often, Kamito knew that they were close friends dating back to their childhood.
"Indeed, although we have no idea what Claire's elder sister intends, we cannot stand back and ignore when our comrade has been abducted like this."
Ellis nodded seriously and declared. She and Claire were often in opposition in the past, but by now she had come to regard Claire as a precious comrade.
"But where is Claire actually?"
Suppressing his anxious emotions, Kamito asked calmly.
The abandoned city Megidoa was a very vast place. And covered by the sea of trees, the ruins were like a labyrinth. Searching randomly would only prove fruitless.
"Although this is only my speculation..."
Fianna nodded as she said.
"Rubia-sama will surely perform the ritual for making Claire the Darkness Queen here in this abandoned city. In order to conduct such a large scale ritual, naturally a place with powerful leylines would be selected. Thinking back, when I was captured by Sjora Kahn, she also chose an ancient shrine with powerful leylines, right?"
"But aren't the leylines in this abandoned city unusable?"
"Yeah. Indeed the leylines in this abandoned city have become broken and fragmented due to the past Spirit War. But exactly because of that, it is difficult to find areas where the leylines remain intact."
If a piece of land contained many leylines, there would be too many choices for performing rituals and very hard to narrow down. However, within this abandoned city, eligible locations were very rare.
In other words, all they need to find was a place where leylines gathered and very likely it would be the place where the ritual for making Claire the Darkness Queen would be held—Essentially that.
"Although I can't use Clairvoyance at Princess Linfa's high level, I can still use it to find leylines."
Fianna turned towards Rinslet.
"Can you give me a water basin for ritual use? Also, please prepare a few jewels."
Hearing Rinslet's command, Fenrir widened its huge jaws and spat out the luggage from the alternate dimension.
Appearing before Kamito and the girls' eyes was a massive water basin for rituals.
Rinslet placed her hand on the basin and used magic to fill it with purified water.
Fianna knelt down before the basin and placed several jewels into the water.
"O Jewels, display for me where the power of the world is distributed—"
Reacting to the solemn spell, the jewels floating on the water surface began to spin rapidly.
Treating this much smaller water basin as the abandoned city, the jewels began to seek out locations where leylines flowed.
"How is it?"
"Please wait a moment... The spirit seals' interference makes things hard to read."
Sweat appeared on Fianna's forehead.
(...The spirit seals are interfering with each other huh.)
Kamito glanced at Fianna's right hand.
The fire spirit seal Claire had entrusted her was carved right there.
Using the Covenant exchanged between royalty and nobility, Claire had transferred Scarlet's spirit contract to Fianna. Hence, Fianna was currently in a very unstable state for an elementalist, that of dual contracts.
"There are no active leylines nearby... Probably, much farther away..."
Widening her dusk-colored eyes, Fianna stared unerringly at the water basin.
"Places where leylines are gathered... There... are a number of them... Yah!?"
Suddenly, Fianna screamed as her hands left the basin as if they were repelled.
A tiny flame burst out from her right hand and started dancing violently in the air.
"Fianna, are you okay!?"
"Yeah... Just a bit surprised—"
"Your Highness, there's fire!"
Rinslet pointed at the water basin.
The flame suddenly crossed over to the water basin, finally focusing into a point.
"...What is going on?"
"Could it be Scarlet telling us where Claire is located?"
Hearing Kamito's suggestion, everyone stared at the water basin.
...The fire remained in one position without moving.
"...No doubt about it, this is Scarlet's will."
Fianna explained as she looked at the glowing spirit seal on her right hand.
"Even after the spirit seal has been transferred, Scarlet still seems to maintain some connection to Claire, the original master."
Despite being unable to manifest in the form of the hell cat, Scarlet was still trying to help out her master.
"As expected of Scarlet!"
Rinslet exclaimed in admiration as she watched the flame on the water basin.
"Well then, Your Highness, do you know where this is located?"
"This is the most eastern end of the abandoned city. Uh, the distance from here is—"
Fianna swiftly calculated the relative distance between the flame and the jewels.
"Based on our speed, two or three hours traveling directly in a straight line."
"Two or three hours traveling directly in a straight line..."
Kamito muttered with a solemn expression.
Fianna's conclusion was ultimately just a theoretical shortest distance in a straight line. But in actual fact, the abandoned city was a labyrinth with a sea of trees growing all over the ruins. Along the way, they could be attacked by Forsaken Spirits and might even come into conflict with other teams.
Although Ellis could use wind magic to fly in the air, flying continuously for hours was not possible. And alone, she could not get Claire back from Rubia's clutches.
"We must get Claire back before the Darkness Queen ritual is completed..."
Just as the entire atmosphere within the shrine was weighed down by a gloomy solemnity—
"All we need is a way that guarantees that we reach the destination without encountering enemies along the way, right?"
Hearing Rinslet's question, everyone turned to look at her in puzzlement.
...A dream. One that she seldom dreamt, a dream about that particular day.
"No way... I won't believe it..."
Young Claire could be heard crying her eyes out in the front gates.
"Nee-sama couldn't possibly have done that...!"
Several horse-drawn carriages were waiting in front of the gates of the massive castle built on a gentle hill.
As Claire cried, the Empire's soldiers were taking away her parents before her eyes.
After a nominal trial at the imperial capital, Duke and Duchess Elstein were sentenced to Barses Prison that was notorious for detaining political prisoners.
"...Father... Sniff... Mother... Waaaaaaaaaaaah!"
As Claire cried loudly, she clutched her one-piece dress, creasing the hem completely.
But no one came to help her. All the retainers who used to act so gently were now casting ice-cold gazes at her.
Rather than compassion or sadness, their gazes were filled with hatred and derision. After the Elstein family lost their title and their lands, the daughter held no residual value at all.
"—Stand up, younger sister of the traitor."
A haughty officer violently pulled young Claire by the hand.
"That Elstein spirit contracted to you, return it to the imperial family."
"Return your spirit to the imperial family. Come on, hurry and stand up!"
"...No, no way!"
Claire shook her head and pleaded.
"Scarlet is my precious friend."
"Shut up! You're the younger sister of the traitor who shamed the Empire!"
The officer slapped Claire, completely without mercy.
"Are you trying to delay me from finishing my job!?"
"I-It hurts... Yaaaaaaa....!"
Claire screamed as she was dragged forcefully by the arm.
"Hey, hold on. Getting serious with a child is just simply unsightly—"
—Suddenly someone grabbed the officer's arm from the side.
"This girl and the flame spirit shall be under my supervision for now."
"W-What did you say? Dame Greyworth!"
The officer looked at that person fearfully.
"I can sense exceptional talent from this girl. Wrecking the opportunity here would be quite a shame. If she went to study at my Academy, I'm certain she will become an excellent elementalist."
"Th-This is no joking matter! This girl is the younger sister of that Calamity Queen!"
"...So what? Are you objecting to my decision, one made by the Dusk Witch?"
With eyes as sharp as an eagle's, she glared at the officer.
"O-Of course not, if Dame Greyworth says so, how would I dare..."
The officer nodded reluctantly.
"Dame Greyworth, this will only worsen your position within the imperial palace, you know?"
Greyworth simply shrugged in response to the threat.
Once the officer and the soldiers had left, she bowed her head and looked down at Claire.
Even someone as ignorant in worldly affairs as Claire would have heard of the Dusk Witch's title.
Served by a powerful demon spirit, reputed to have vanquished even archdemon-class spirits, the continent's strongest elementalist.
"Stand up, Elstein lass."
"Don't make me repeat myself. Hurry and get up."
Claire timidly stood up.
"The parents who have protected you until now are gone. Are you ready to decide your own fate by your own will?"
Young Claire was faced with a choice.
At that point in time, it was still possible for Claire to hand over Scarlet to the imperial family, move away to another place to hide her identity and live the rest of her life as an ordinary girl.
As for her other choice, a cruel fate undoubtedly awaited her.
—But Claire had already made her decision.
"I will see my elder sister again. To see her and to find out the truth!"
"...Very well, then become strong, Elstein lass."
Seeing something in Claire's eyes as she nodded—
Greyworth narrowed her eagle-like eyes and smiled.
—Several months after that, having already abandoned the Elstein name, Claire placed first in the entrance exams for Areishia Spirit Academy, thereby entering the gateway to success through the preparatory institution for Ordesia's prestigious families.
However, that was merely the beginning of Claire's trials.
"...Did you know? That girl is the younger sister of the Calamity Queen."
"Woah! Why would such a scary child be in the same academy as us?"
Mercilessly targeted by hateful and derisive gazes, Claire spent every single day in fear.
Even so, she did not run away because she had resolved herself to her goal of meeting her sister once again.
"Hey, did you know? Having a girl like you around here is very troubling."
"I-I'm sorry, but..."
"So, how about we destroy this spirit seal for you?"
"What are you people doing!?"
Rinslet yelled as she rushed into Claire's classroom.
"Ara, are you trying to oppose your elders?"
"Even as a daughter of the Laurenfrost family, you are just a student like everyone else within this school."
The upperclassmen nobles mocked.
"Indeed, family background means nothing within the Academy. Let us decide the victor purely through power?"
Rinslet smiled with composure as she released a magical snowstorm at the upperclassmen.
"Woah! W-We'll get you next time!"
Leaving behind such words, the girls fled frantically.
"Rinslet-chan... Th-Thank you."
"Hmph, it's not like I wanted to help you. I simply hate that sort of people."
Rinslet blushed and shifted her gaze away.
"I-I must become stronger..."
Rinslet watched in amazement as Claire immersed herself in deep thought.
"That's right, I'll become stronger... Much much stronger, stronger than anyone else..."
Strong enough to obtain victory in the Blade Dance, to meet up with her older sister again.
...Then on that day, three years ago, Claire met her.
Rather, it did not really count as meeting for Claire simply idolized her from afar.
The Strongest Blade Dancer—Ren Ashbell.
An otherworldly beauty, roughly the same age as her.
Love at first sight. Claire wished to become just as strong, to be able to perform a blade dance just as elegant.
In the center of the arena where confetti flew, the black-haired girl was surrounded by tremendous cheers.
The face of the girl began to overlap with a young man's face familiar to Claire—
Waking up from a long dream, the first thing that entered Claire's view was a shining magic circle beneath her feet.
"This place is...?"
She saw a vast space around her.
Numerous stone pillars supported a tall ceiling. Candlesticks were lit up, illuminating walls with strangely designed sculptures carved upon them.
(Looks like the ruins of some historical site...)
Claire surveyed the surroundings with unease—
At this time, she finally remembered.
(Right... Nee-sama took me—)
The cruel truth she did not want to face.
—The fake Ren Ashbell turned out to be her own elder sister Rubia.
She had captured Claire and brought her here.
...If only I could simply treat this all as just a dream.
However, her right hand, with its missing spirit seal, pointed out the cold hard truth.
(...How much time has passed since I was brought here?)
Claire sighed in her mind.
Could night have already arrived? Since light did not reach the interior of the ruins, there was no way to tell the passage of time.
(Looks like my clothes have been changed to a priestess' garb...)
Claire gripped the long hem that dangled all the way down to the floor.
She was currently dressed in high-ranking ritual attire that only Queens wore.
Her twintails had been untied and carefully combed. A golden jeweled crown had been placed upon her head.
The last time she ever dressed like this was back when she was invited to participate in the Grand Spirit Festival at the imperial capital during her childhood.
(...Nee-sama mentioned she was going to make me the Darkness Queen for serving the Demon King.)
—In that case, this ritual attire must be part of the preparations.
(—Screw that. How could I let Kamito become the Demon King!?)
She had to escape as quickly as possible—
Just as she stood up, intending to run—
Claire felt intense pain in her fingers.
"...Oh well, of course."
Claire frowned painfully and groaned.
The magic circle carved on the ground seemed to be a barrier for imprisoning Claire.
"Given some time, maybe I can dispel it."
Just as Claire bent over to decipher the spell—
"I constructed this barrier. No one can dispel it other than Queens equal in rank to me."
The gates to the room were slowly being pushed open.
Claire held her breath.
The one who appeared was her elder sister in a scarlet mask.
Accompanied by the sound of heavy military boots, the elder sister approached. Claire glared back defiantly.
For the past four years, she had survived desperately for the sake of meeting her sister again.
—To see her and ask about the truth.
However, even though she was now clearly before her, Claire did not know what to say.
To cry, to hate or to scold—Or to express some other words. The thousands of words she had prepared for this very moment disappeared without a trace like a puff of smoke.
(...I miss you. All this time, I wanted to see you.)
Those ruby eyes filled with silent flames were identical to Claire's.
Except with one decisive difference.
Not simply the result of four years' passage, but an even more absolute difference.
(—Nee-sama has changed. Changed into a Nee-sama I don't recognize.)
First of all, she had to confirm this fact.
(...However, I am the same in this regard.)
Claire had already bid her young self goodbye.
Given Claire's earlier self, she would have submitted long ago.
She was only able to stand before her sister now because she was no longer the same.
(...I, as well as Kamito. And everyone else in the team.)
Hence, she was not going to shift her gaze away from the truth before her eyes.
—Claire finally squeezed out a voice.
"...Nee-sama, why did you betray the Elemental Lords?"
Claire asked as she stared straight into the eyes behind the mask.
Rubia returned her gaze head on.
"Because it is necessary. To save this world."
"...Save this world?"
Hearing her sister's unexpected reply, Claire became confused.
"Indeed, to save this world, I must vanquish—Those Elemental Lords."
"—Are you serious, Nee-sama?"
Claire shut her mouth in astonishment.
Has she gone mad, driven by a sense of vengeance—?
"Without the grace and blessings of the Five Great Elemental Lords, the people living on this continent cannot start fires, cultivate the land, or even benefit from wind and water!"
"—Indeed. Hence, this world must be destroyed once."
This time—Claire was rendered completely speechless.
Rubia's speech did not display any sense of falsehood or confusion. Her words carried relentless resolve.
Those eyes, the same color as Claire's, what on earth have they seen—
"Standing on equal footing with the Elemental Lords is the power of the Demon King—So long as that power is obtained, destroying the Elemental Lords is not impossible."
"B-But in that case, many spirits will be destroyed!"
The Elemental Lords were not only powerful spirits but also beings who ruled spirits of the natural world.
Destroying them meant that the power of spirits would disappear completely from the entire continent.
Once this happened, who knew what terrifying chaos would result in this world that was built using the power of spirits—
(...No, surely it was not only limited to chaos.)
Chaos brought distrust, distrust brought terror—Very likely, a great tragedy completely surpassing the Ranbal War in the past would result.
"Nee-sama, you are saying that causing that kind of war is necessary?"
"In order to liberate humans from the spirits, sacrifice cannot be avoided, no matter how large."
"How could that be... Nee-sama!"
Claire's fingertips touched the barrier, causing an intense eruption of sparks.
"...I have already abandoned the name of Elstein. I am no longer your elder sister!"
Rubia ended the conversation on her own and turned away.
"The ritual will start after the preparations are complete. Before that, stay there obediently."
"Nee-sama... Wait up, Nee-samaaaaaaaa!"
Claire's screams were drowned out by the shutting sound of the stone doors.