Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume14 Chapter1
Chapter 1 - Morning at Winter Gulf
There was a room on the highest floor of Winter Gulf Castle, originally used as Margrave Laurenfrost's office.
Currently, the castle's rooms were opened up for the numerous wounded soldiers, hence, this office was the only place remaining where Kamito and company could settle down for a calm conversation without fear of eavesdropping spirits.
A room with only minimum necessary furniture, tables and chairs—
"In other words, you lost your memory too..."
Shifting her gaze slightly away, the girl nodded lightly.
Kamito and the girl were alone here. Deciding that it might be easier for the two of them to talk alone, Rinslet and the others had tactfully departed.
(...This is Restia, right?)
Kamito thought to himself. He had already confirmed many times with his own eyes.
After all, he could not mistake this appearance.
She was the contracted spirit who had remained at his side the whole time since his childhood.
Even so, his disbelief stemmed from how different she currently was, compared to the Restia he knew so well.
(...The Restia I know would never show such a gaze.)
Slight fear could be seen in her dusk-colored eyes.
That gaze, as though looking at a complete stranger, brought stinging pain to Kamito's chest.
Several days had passed since her awakening in the Forest of Ice Blossoms.
While she was wandering the forest, escaping from the Holy Kingdom's knights who were targeting her, Elfim children had discovered her and hid her at their village.
She had forgotten all memories prior to that, only remembering the name "Restia." Let alone memories of Kamito, she did not even remember the fact that she was a spirit.
(That's very similar to my case when I first woke up...)
Kamito recalled when he had woken up at the Academy recently.
At the time, Kamito had been in a state of amnesia due to the psychological shock of losing Restia.
Due to this condition, he had lost all memories related to Restia.
Of course, no matter how similar their symptoms, seeing as Kamito was a human and Restia was a spirit, they could not be judged using the same standards...
(...Rather, I'd say it's more similar to Iseria's situation.)
Iseria Seaward was the Water Elemental Lord's incarnation who had guided Kamito to these lands. At one point, she had also been sealed underground at the Abandoned City, having lost all her memories apart from her own name.
Although Iseria's case seemed more like someone had intentionally applied a seal, perhaps it was possible that someone's will had interfered with Restia too—?
"So, do you know why you were teleported to this forest?"
She shook her head lightly as soon as he asked his question.
"No, I really can't remember anything before waking up in the forest."
"...I see. If only there were some clues to get your memory back."
Seeing Kamito sigh, she suddenly thought of something, looked up and said:
"Speaking of which, the princess maiden of the Forest Dwellers said the Queen of Ice Blossoms called for me—"
The Queen of Ice Blossoms was the title given to the human princess maiden, Judia Laurenfrost, by the Elfim race living in the Forest of Ice Blossoms.
The Otherworldly Darkness had corrupted her three years ago during a failed ritual. Using her as a catalyst to manifest in the human realm, it summoned the guardian spirit Zirnitra to these lands. Merging with the Otherworldly Darkness, Zirnitra had destroyed the Forest of Ice Blossoms within merely the span of one night.
Liberated from the darkness by the Demon Slayer's power, Judia was still sleeping in a room in the castle.
(Judia had called Restia to these lands. If that's true—)
During the instant when Restia vanished, the Otherworldly Darkness spilling out from the shrine of the Elemental Lords, or something else, could have interfered with Restia—
Kamito looked up and turned to Restia again.
"Is there anything else you remember? Anything at all, like individual terms flashing through your mind... Such as 'Instructional School' or 'Dusk Witch'—"
However, Restia simply shook her head gently.
"...I'm sorry. I really can't recall anything."
She whispered very apologetically.
"I still can't understand completely... that I'm a spirit and contracted to you, stuff of that sort—"
Her voice trembled slightly.
"...I'm really sorry... I guess you're still very confused."
Kamito frantically apologized and placed his hand on Restia's head.
"It's fine if you can't remember me. More important than anything else, you're still alive and we're reunited again, that's good enough—"
Kamito looked at Restia's dusk-colored eyes incredulously.
(...She used to stroke my head during the nights whenever I couldn't sleep.)
Recalling past memories, Kamito smiled wryly.
It was his first time stroking Restia's head. What a new experience.
"U-Umm, it really tickles..."
Troubled whispers came from Restia.
"Oh sorry, I accidentally..."
At this moment, there was knocking at the door of this quiet room.
"Onii-sama, breakfast is ready."
Kamito heard the voice of Mireille, Rinslet's little sister.
"Oh, it's already such an hour—"
Rising from his chair, Kamito opened the door.
Standing in front of the door was Mireille with Milla the maid by her side.
"Good morning, Onii-sama."
Raising her skirt hem lightly in a curtsy, Mireille greeted adorably.
"Oh, good morning. Was it scary last night?"
"I was fine. Onee-sama and Milla were by my side."
Mireille nodded resolutely.
Last night, this Winter Gulf Castle had almost fallen to the siege by swarms of ice dragons controlled by Zirnitra. Even as a proud daughter of nobles, Mireille was only nine years old. It should have been a terrifying experience.
"I see. You're such a brave child, Mireille."
Kamito stooped down to Mireille's height and patted her on the head.
"My goodness, I hate it when you treat me like a child, Onii-sama."
Mireille pouted angrily.
"Kamito, take this—"
"What do I do with it?"
Milla handed out a maid uniform of the same design as what she was wearing.
Looking at Restia behind Kamito, Milla said calmly:
"Wearing Elfim clothing inside the castle is too conspicuous. It would be best to change into this."
Restia whispered and accepted the maid uniform.
"So, Onii-sama, please leave the room."
"My goodness! Do you intend to peek on a girl changing?"
Set straight by Mireille, Kamito exited the room in a panic.
—Several minutes later, Restia walked out of the room, having changed into a lovely maid uniform.
Long black hair reaching to her waist, an excellent match with the whiteness of her maid's headdress.
Back in her old dress of darkness, Restia gave off an aura of mysterious charm, but now, her appearance was that of an ordinary girl.
"It suits you very well, Miss Spirit."
Slightly shyly, Restia blushed.
"Well, Onii-sama, don't you have any comments?"
"O-Oh... It's very cute."
Kamito scratched his cheek while looking away.
Blushing intensely, Restia looked down in embarrassment.
"...Hoo, it's really quite cold."
The chilly air of the Laurenfrost lands was making Kamito shiver a bit.
Bringing Restia along in her maid uniform, Kamito was following a parapet wall towards the castle's plaza.
Est had stayed in the room. Kamito had wanted to cancel her sword form, but she seemed quite exhausted after the previous day's battle, giving no response to Kamito's touch.
(...That can't be helped either.)
The castle's halls were filled with injured soldiers. Meals had to be eaten outdoors.
Normally, daughters of nobles would not eat together with commoners, but Rinslet ordered to have the plaza opened up for everyone in the castle to share meals together outdoors.
This was probably one reason why Margrave Laurenfrost's family was well loved and respected by the majority of their subjects.
"...Even so, I'm amazed that it's still holding up after that kind of attack."
From the edge of the damaged wall, Kamito looked down at the plaza below.
Roughly a few hours ago, this castle was still under attack from ice dragons.
Piles of debris and gigantic corpses of ice dragons. Large spirits were clearing up. A long line of soldiers were waiting to eat near tents.
Seeing the soldiers wrapped in blood-soaked bandages, Restia reacted with a pained look.
"There's not enough people to help with treatment?"
"No, the Wolf Ritters' healers have gone off with Father's delegation to attend the All Nations Conference. The castles of nobles with elementalists are quite far from here and will need more time before they arrive."
Mireille shook her head and explained.
"If only I could use healing magic too."
Restia bit her lip hard and showed a suffering expression.
Seeing that look on Restia's face, Milla asked Kamito with a complicated expression:
"Kamito, is this girl really that darkness spirit?"
Kamito frowned for an instant, but soon figured it out.
(Oh right, Milla's team was in the Blade Dance—)
Milla had belonged to the Rupture Division, a team that had been crushed by the partnership of Nepenthes Lore and Restia.
Having tasted such terror, Milla probably had difficulty believing that the current Restia was the same one she had encountered in the past.
"...To be honest, I'm not sure either."
Kamito shook his head and replied.
"In terms of appearance, it's definitely Restia, no mistake about it..."
Indeed, looking at the current Restia, one would conclude that the memories and personality constituting the past Restia had vanished completely.
Was her case like Kamito's earlier where simply memories were sealed? Or perhaps—
Seeing Kamito stop walking, Restia tilted her head and looked back at him.
—This behavior was definitely a habit of the contracted spirit he had spent his past together with.
Kamito and company descended to the plaza through stairs on the parapet wall.
Amidst the many tents that had been set up, the groans of the wounded could be heard.
—Among them, one group was kept in isolation.
"What's over there?"
"Elfim children from the Forest of Ice Blossoms. The Wolf Ritters are protecting them."
Hearing Milla say that, Restia immediately rushed to the tent.
Kamito chased after the frantic Restia.
Inside the isolated tent, he saw a familiar looking girl.
(This girl is definitely...)
Lying on the simple bed was the Elfim princess maiden who had collapsed in the forest.
Restia ran to the bedside and called the girl's name.
The girl opened her red eyes.
"...Thank goodness. I'm so glad you're fine."
Restia exhaled in relief and held the girl's hand.
The girl named Rana blinked—
"Restia, you're not angry?"
"Why would I?"
"Because we did that to you..."
The girl looked down and stammered in embarrassment.
Restia shook her head and held the girl's hand tightly.
"Had your people not hidden me back then, those human knights would have captured me by now. And at the time, all your minds were being controlled by the Queen of Ice Blossoms."
"You know each other?"
Restia nodded lightly to answer Kamito's question.
"Yes. This girl looked after me during my time with the Elfim village."
"Oh, this girl..."
Rana turned her gaze to Kamito.
"Speaking of which, I still haven't introduced myself since meeting you in the forest. I'm Kazehaya Kamito."
"...Oh, it's you who helped us lay Zirnitra to rest."
Rana held Kamito's hand and said thank you very quietly.
"I'm so glad that everyone seems fine."
Restia swept a glance over the children in the tent.
Bound by the curse cast by the Queen of Ice Blossoms, the Forest Dwellers were weakened and on the verge of death when they were rescued.
However, this comment caused Rana to look gloomy.
"No, although our lives were saved, the Forest of Ice Blossoms has been ruined. We have no place to go now."
"Can't you live somewhere apart from the forest? Even living in human territory is also—"
"We are a race that lives and dies with the forest. Asking us to cast our pride aside in this manner would be impossible."
Rana shook her head, looking drained in energy.
This could not be helped. That forest had been everything to them.
"—The forest isn't ruined, you know?"
"...Are you from Margrave Laurenfrost's family?"
Rana widened her eyes in surprise to find out that the feudal lord's daughter had arrived.
"The House of Laurenfrost will pledge their full support to help your people with the restoration of the Forest of Ice Blossoms. If we all work together, the forest will definitely go back to the way it was."
Mireille clenched her fist tightly and declared with intense emotion.
Rana stared at the lord's daughter in dumbfounded astonishment.
Living in the Forest of Ice Blossoms, the Elfim race had been in opposition against the humans of these lands.
Despite this relationship of hostility, this younger girl was—
Without any pretension, she was extending a helping hand to them.
"Let's be friends from now on, okay?"
Rana stared at the little hand Mireille had extended—
Then she looked at the children in the tent.
Gazing at Rana, the children all nodded together at her.
Rana lightly shook Mireille's tiny extended hand.
Then as though following a vassal's etiquette, she bowed her head.
"We Forest Dwellers agree to pledge our allegiance as vassals to the House of Laurenfrost, to enter and live in the castle under Laurenfrost administration."
"Not as vassals. What we Laurenfrost wish for is an alliance on equal terms."
Mireille spoke cheerfully.
Watching how Mireille was acting, Kamito remarked quietly to Milla.
"From the way it looks, Mireille will grow up to be an excellent ruler."
"...Of course. Mireille-sama does have that kind of potential."
Milla smiled, showing a facial expression that seemed unprecedented.
"Kamito! You're late!"
"Indeed, my stomach is protesting noisily!"
Standing dressed in aprons, Claire and Ellis were pouting, looking quite displeased.
The kerchiefs they were wearing on their heads looked cute, just like cat ears.
"...I'm sorry. So you two are helping out with cooking to serve the refugees?"
"Yes, manpower seems to be short—"
"I threw together some ingredients from the castle and tried making soup."
Inside the tent, there was a large pot with rising steam. A fragrant aroma was wafting in the air.
The hellcat spirit under the large pot was releasing fierce flames.
"Wow, even Scarlet is helping out. Good job."
Kamito petted Scarlet's head as praise. Scarlet meowed in apparent joy.
"Vegetable with peppers added will help warm the body. There is also beans in the pod, bread and boiled potatoes. If only there were more ingredients."
"...It is all due to the great blizzard at the Kyria Mountain Range. The transport of food supplies has been greatly affected."
Milla spoke quite apologetically.
"No, it's good enough. This soup is very tasty—"
Feeling curious about something at this time, Kamito asked Ellis.
"By the way, Ellis, your injuries are fine already?"
This had happened before they set off from the Academy. Ellis had been gravely wounded by Lurie Lizaldia and would normally need to be hospitalized longer. Since she had pushed herself to visit Laurenfrost, Kamito was very worried about her injuries.
"...~Uh, umm, that is because..."
Saying that, Ellis went bright red in the face for some reason.
"I-I already recovered. Even I myself am frightened by this astounding rate of recovery."
"Uh, yes, that is the gist of it..."
Ellis turned her face away, looking very shy.
"I guess... it probably is... thanks to you..."
"...~B-Because, umm... with you... that k-kiss..."
Ellis stammered with her face red. At that moment—
"Hey! Is the food not ready yet?" "We're all starving in the back of the line. Hurry up!"
Gruff voices of soldiers could be heard from behind. Never in their wildest dreams would these soldiers have imagined noble daughters from the Fahrengart and former Elstein families to be cooking for them.
"Leave this to me. You two go have breakfast first."
Milla requested a shift rotation.
"...Yes, sorry about that. Thanks for doing this."
"That's so helpful of you. Scarlet, you can take a break too."
Scarlet crawled out from the blazing flames. The fire under the pot weakened.
"Breakfast is this way—"
Claire led them in a direction opposite to the castle plaza, to a place where there were some simple stools and a table made from logs.
"Simorgh and I used fallen trees in the forest to make this table."
"As expected of Ellis, how skillful and thoughtful."
Speaking of which, back when Kamito first enrolled at the Academy, Ellis had created a small house for him that resembled a stable.
...But it was demolished instantly during a fight between Claire and Rinslet.
(...That was a couple months ago already. That sure brings back memories.)
Placing plates on the table for eating bread and soup, they sat down on the stools.
Restia picked an isolated seat next to Kamito.
"Come to think of it, where's Rinslet?"
"Onee-sama is currently making rounds in the castle. I expect her to be here presently."
"...Then it can't be helped. Let's start first."
Claire opened the pot's lid with an expanding aroma of soup.
"Wow, it looks great..."
The instant Kamito smelled the fragrance, he felt an intense appetite. After consuming vast amounts of divine power last night in the battle against Zirnitra, he was now extremely hungry.
Ellis poured a bowl of soup for Kamito. Taking a spoon, Kamito began to drink the soup ravenously.
"...Hmm, although it's a bit spicy... This is great stuff!"
Kamito drink the fragrant soup and praised with a thumbs-up.
"I-Is that so...? Thank goodness..."
"...Hold on, Kamito! T-Try my bread too!"
"...Huh? Don't tell me you made this, Claire?"
Staring at the pile of bread in the basket, Kamito was shocked.
The rye bread was giving off an intense aroma of perfectly baked bread.
At a glance, there was not a single piece of bread that had been burnt to charcoal.
"D-Don't tell me this is canned bread?"
"Kamito, I'm going to get mad."
"...S-Sorry! ...But how did you do it?"
As a result, Claire proudly puffed out her flat chest.
"I'm now able to control the flames I release."
"R-Really? But why—"
"...I'm not so sure myself. Ever since Nee-sama forced me to become the Darkness Queen, I've been able to control the Elstein Flames perfectly."
"Prior to that, I've always had to suppress my flames as much as possible, but things are different now. It feels like I can release the flames I want any time now."
"I see now. So the reason why you were only able to make charcoal-like food before was because you couldn't control your flames very well."
"Yes, I feel like I can cook anything now. I won't lose to Ellis and Rinslet anymore."
Claire smiled confidently and made a victory sign with her hand.
"Hoo, the world of cooking is a harsh one."
Kamito looked towards the plaza ahead to see Rinslet accompanied by Fenrir.
"Hmm, you finally came, Rinslet..."
"Things have finally drawn to a close."
Rinslet arrived at the table and picked up a piece of bread from the basket.
"Did Claire really bake this bread?"
"Yes, I did not help her."
Rinslet gracefully tore a piece off with her fingertips and popped it into her mouth.
"...H-How is it?"
Rinslet swallowed the bread.
"...N-Not... Not bad, I suppose!"
"W-What!? If it's good, then be honest okay?"
"You're too naive. The path of bread baking is very profound... Well, if you beg me sincerely, it's not like I can't mercifully teach you the secret to making bread, okay?"
"...L-Like anyone would beg you... Oh well, if you beg me 'please allow me to teach you' then it's not like I can't consider it, okay?"
Confronted with such a nostalgic argument, Kamito felt too exhausted to comment.
Watching those two—
Restia chuckled and began to laugh.
Everyone focused their gaze on Restia.
"...Uh, e-excuse me!"
Restia blushed and apologized very quietly.
Claire and Rinslet exchanged glances and settled down.
"Hey Darkness Spirit, don't be shy. Eat as much as you want."
Claire handed a piece of bread over to Restia.
"...Yes, thank you. I shall begin."
Restia lowered her head and began to eat the bread in a very ladylike manner.
"...Mm, it is really good!"
"I-Is it? This is bread with walnut added."
"Walnut? So good..."
Watching Restia acting like this, Claire murmured.
"It feels so unusual to see her like this. To think she's that darkness spirit..."
Kamito recalled what Milla had said just now.
—Is this girl really that darkness spirit?
(...She really looks just like a human girl. But—)
A spirit reborn as a human—Could something like that actually happen?
"...Speaking of which, how is the situation in the castle?"
"The wounded are more numerous than expected. Reconstruction will likely take more time."
Rinslet shook her head and replied to Ellis.
"I have already sent a letter to my father at the imperial capital. However, they are currently holding the All Nations Conference. Even if they hurry back, it will require a few days."
"Well, I shall ask my grandfather for some support. Just think of it as a small favor to the Laurenfrost family."
"Much appreciated. That would be a great help, Captain."
"Onee-sama, the Elfim's forest restoration will need support too."
"Yes, I know. But before that, the first thing we need to do is bury Zirnitra's remains that is contaminating the forest environment..."
Merging with countless ice dragons, Zirnitra had not been teleported automatically back to Astral Zero. The gigantic remains were still lying in the forest.
Left unattended like this, the currently living trees would absorb the aura of death from the remains and soon perish for real.
"Although there is still a mountain of problems waiting to be resolved, I believe you should rest for a bit first."
As the stand-in master of the Laurenfrost family, Rinslet had kept everything going but her fatigue was reaching a limit. There were clear signs of exhaustion in her demeanor.
"Yes~ I will rest properly once things have been resolved to a point where I need not worry... Oh—"
Rinslet looked at Kamito as though she suddenly realized something.
"...Hmm? What's wrong?"
For some reason, her face turned red and she began to rub her knees together awkwardly.
"A-Actually, there is an excellent method that could erase my exhaustion..."
"An excellent method? Using divine power to massage the body or something?"
"E-Even more effective than that..."
"What method is it? Rinslet, hurry and tell—"
"B-Basically, umm... a k-k-kiss with Kamito-san—"
Rinslet was interrupted by the head maid, Natalia, who had come running.
"Natalia? Did something happen?"
"Please hasten your return! Judia-sama has awakened!"
Nefescal Palace at the imperial capital, Ostdakia—
"...Sigh, this is why I hate the palace."
At dawn, Fianna dragged her tired body to her bed and collapsed, sighing deeply.
A certain incident had taken place in the Alphas Theocracy recently. Representatives from the surrounding countries had been invited to the All Nations Conference to discuss countermeasures.
This incident was a sudden coup d'etat in the Theocracy. The mastermind, Sjora Kahn had taken over the palace of Scorpia in merely half a day's time and beheaded the Hierarch.
Currently, the Theocracy was split between the Sjora faction and the former-Hierarch faction, resulting in an intense civil war. The flames of internal strife were blazing with ever increasing intensity and starting to affect neighboring countries.
As a long-term trading partner of the Theocracy's, the Ordesia Empire could not stand aside and watch this happening without intervention. Hence, the All Nations Conference was held.
With a number of breaks in between, the conference had persisted late into the night.
The biggest reason for the conference's slow progress was the Holy Kingdom of Lugia, which used to persist in a harsh stance towards the Theocracy, now changed their tune and expressed support for the coup d'etat's mastermind, Sjora Kahn.
The major kingdom's unexpected attitude gave pause to the other delegates of the other countries, plunging the conference into turmoil.
Dracunia proposed the use of force. With the most trade going on with the Theocracy, the Kingdom of Balstan suggested supporting Second Princess Saladia Kahn. The shrewd Quina Empire feigned a bystander stance, hoping for more turmoil among the various continental nations.
After listening to so many opinions, the Emperor of Ordesia seemed to have difficulty clarifying an official position. Even among the imperial council, opinions were split between intervention and non-intervention factions.
Those wielding the greatest authority after the emperor, namely, Lord Conrad the prime minister, the family of Duke Finegas that stood as the biggest faction in the imperial council, and others were apparently proponents of military intervention.
(However, the nobles in the Arneus faction seem to be supporting the Holy Kingdom's proposal—)
What concerned Fianna the most were the intentions of her elder brother, Arneus.
In fact, the one presiding over this All Nations Conference was Arneus rather than the emperor.
There were also rumors that the emperor would abdicate soon, passing the throne to him.
However, even if it was related to this, the imperial council held a different opinion.
This was the question of Arneus' eligibility.
As far as his younger sister, Fianna, saw things, Arneus would make a poor king given his violent and merciless character. With a fool like him as the emperor, the Ordesia Empire would turn into food for the neighboring major powers within the blink of an eye.
On the other hand, there were nobles who hoped for a foolish and easily manipulated monarch to appear.
(That being said, this has nothing to do with me at all...)
Fianna shook her head quietly. Although there were also people among the nobles who wished to support Fianna, having recovered her power of the spirit contract, to become empress, Fianna had no such intentions at all.
"No matter what, it looks like the conference will drag on."
She sighed deeply again.
...Her anxiety stemmed from uncertainty over how things would turn out in the end.
(...I really want to go back to the Academy to see Kamito-kun and the others.)
Just as she was about to take off her tight-fitting formal dress to change into sleepwear, at that moment—
She heard light knocking at the door.
She paused in what she was doing and looked in the door's direction. The palace's female attendants were not permitted to enter this room. Fianna never expected someone to be visiting the Second Princess at this hour.
(...Also, there should be guards in the corridor.)
Fianna raised her guard and hid a spirit crystal beneath the hem of her dress.
Walking to the door, she asked quietly.
"...Who is it?"
"—It is me, Princess, Your Highness."
She heard the voice of someone unexpected.
"...Could it be you, Lord Conrad?"
Never expecting this, Fianna gasped.
Duke Conrad Batimas was the Ordesia Empire's prime minister, one who held the right to speak on behalf of the emperor on the imperial council.
"Princess, I wish to speak to you regarding some confidential matters. Would you be available right now?"
"...A-As you wish."
Despite some hesitation, Fianna decided she must not make the Empire's prime minister wait too long in the corridor.
Fianna opened the door with her key and discreetly looked outside.
"I am terribly sorry for disturbing you at this hour, Your Highness—"
An elderly man with white hair bowed his head politely.
He seemed to be alone without any attendants.
"Lord Conrad, please come in first."
"Yes, pardon my intrusion."
Lord Conrad stumbled into the room, walking with a cane.
Lord Conrad had often looked after Fianna during her childhood before enrolling in the Divine Ritual Institute. After Fianna lost her power of the spirit contract, he continued to treat her the same as before. This was the kind of rare noble he was.
Precisely because of that, Fianna's impression of him was quite favorable. However—
(...Confidential words for me from the empire's prime minister?)
...Somehow, she had a bad feeling about this.
"Who are the soldiers in the corridor?"
"The soldiers here are all my loyal subordinates because those of unproven origins must not come near you, Princess."
Lord Conrad swept his gaze around the room's walls in a circle.
"It seems that there are no spirits in this room?"
"...Yes, I deployed a barrier of sorts."
"Very well, then I shall cut straight to the chase."
Lord Conrad nodded lightly, staring intently into Fianna's eyes.
"Your Highness, I wish to support you as the next empress."
His words were not unexpected. Rather, Fianna knew that there could be no other reason for the Empire's prime minister to pay her a visit at this time.
However, even so, she still could not suppress the wavering in her heart.
"Lord Conrad, I—"
"Your Highness, please look at this."
Lord Conrad interrupted Fianna's reflexive refusal and took out a scroll from his bosom, opening it in front of Fianna's eyes.
Written on the scroll were the names of many people with traces of blood on them.
Fianna pretty much had some impression of every name. They were aristocrats wielding power and influence in the Ordesia Empire.
"Indeed, this is a blood-signed petition from the various nobles supporting your bid to become empress."
"...Eh, no way..."
Including the prime minister, there was a total of twenty-four names recorded on the scroll. This represented roughly a quarter of the imperial council. There were this many nobles who hoped for Fianna to ascend to the imperial throne.
"Indeed, Arneus is my foolish brother. However, to ask me to become empress, this—"
"If Prince Arneus were to become emperor, the Ordesia Empire shall be set on a path headed to ruin sooner or later. He can be regarded as nothing more than exploited by nobles in the Arneus faction. There is nothing worse than this—"
Lord Conrad lowered his voice and whispered to Fianna.
"Because Prince Arneus has the Holy Kingdom secretly backing him."
"...The Holy Kingdom?"
Fianna asked involuntarily.
If the Holy Kingdom of Lugia were to cast its shadow over the Ordesia emperor, indeed, it was only natural for Lord Conrad to worry as the prime minister.
(...Arneus' opinions in the All Nations Conference has been unnaturally in line with the Holy Kingdom this time.)
...It was a plausible suggestion. Ever since the end of the Ranbal War, the Holy Kingdom had started eyeing Ordesia greedily.
"Does His Majesty know of this?"
"Most regrettably, Prince Arneus has won His Majesty's deep trust. Rather, it would be better to say that His Majesty himself has the possibility of falling under the Holy Kingdom's patronage—"
"I believe that His Majesty has not taken a forceful stance against the Theocracy on this occasion may be partially due to consideration for the Holy Kingdom's wishes."
Lord Conrad's gray eyes stared intently at Fianna.
"Between you, who has already graduated from the Divine Ritual Institute, First Princess Linnea and direct descendants of imperial lineage who are in the line of succession, Princess Fianna, you are the only one who was selected by the imperial family's spirit."
"...But as the most suitable successor? Are you sure you are not mistaken?"
"Please berate me if my words offend you, but for the sake of our homeland's future, I am willing to incur your resentment, Your Highness."
"An empress will face opposition from the surrounding nations. The Divine Ritual Institute has decreed that princess maidens who serve spirits are forbidden from involving themselves in politics."
"There are past precedents of empresses in history. In Dracunia's case, a spirit ascended to the throne. Alternatively, if Your Highness would select a husband from among the Empire's nobles—"
"...No, absolutely not...!"
Fianna cried out reflexively.
(...Because I have someone I love already!)
Fianna's face turned red. She coughed deliberately for obfuscation.
Lord Conrad hunched his shoulders and spoke as though lecturing.
"...Indeed, it is only natural for Your Highness to feel hesitation. This requires time for you to contemplate."
"I shan't become the empress."
"The time has simply not come yet. This is fine for now. Well then—"
Lord Conrad interrupted her and took out something from his bosom.
It was spirit crystal glowing with ominous light, as red as blood.
Fianna had seen this spirit crystal before.
"—Don't tell me this is a Bloodstone!?"
An extremely rare type of spirit crystal, on the level of national treasures, the Bloodstone could only be mined from Astral Zero's sanctuary.
This was the same type of spirit crystal as what Fianna had stolen when she fled from the imperial palace. However, the spirit sealed in her Bloodstone was lost during the battle against Jio Inzagi.
The prime minister placed the ominously glowing spirit crystal lightly into Fianna's palm and closed her hand.
"This is something that can protect you. Please keep in on your person at all times."
"The nobles in the Arneus faction wish to assassinate you, Princess. Dame Greyworth's word no longer holds sway over the imperial council. You must protect yourself properly now."
"...How ironic. Back when everyone called me the Lost Queen, no one ever thought to take my life, because I was not even worth killing—"
Fianna bit her lip and spoke in self-deprecation.
"Whether friend or foe, there is no longer anyone remaining in this palace who underestimates you, Your Highness."
The prime minister shook his head and reached for the door.
"—See you later at the imperial council."
The door closed with a dry noise.
Fianna gripped the Bloodstone forcefully.