Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume14 Chapter3
Chapter 3 - Evil Designs of Conspiracy
Early morning, the imperial capital's sky was shrouded by gray clouds.
After finishing breakfast that consisted only of simple offerings such as bread and soup, Fianna changed into her formal dress and headed to the assembly hall where the nobles had been summoned for an imperial council session. The primary purpose of this gathering was to unify viewpoints within the Empire before the All Nations Conference that was going to resume in the afternoon.
(...With all this intrigue going on regarding the successor question, it would be ridiculous to expect viewpoints to become unified.)
Fianna sighed with gloomy feelings.
She had carefully hidden the blood-signed petition in a secret box in the depths of her desk. Fianna also considered keeping the petition hidden inside Georgios for the sake of guaranteed secrecy. However, there was a chance of items going missing inside the unstable environment of Astral Zero. Due to this reason, she would not keep important articles in there.
(I never intended to engage in a power struggle with nobles, but—)
Lord Conrad's words kept echoing in her mind.
(—Arneus has the Holy Kingdom secretly backing him.)
If this were true, the Empire's demise could easily be predicted from the ascent of another country's puppet to Ordesia's imperial throne.
(...It that were truly to happen, the populace would suffer.)
While these thoughts went through her mind, she arrived in front of the assembly building before she knew it.
A magnificent structure built with marble, the assembly building was located some distance away from Nefescal Palace. After having her identity verified by the door guardian spirit, Fianna entered the assembly building.
The closer she approached the assembly hall, the heavier Fianna's footsteps felt.
This place was demonic den where one would get caught up in political struggles. Perhaps reacting to Fianna's unease, the Bloodstone seemed to shake faintly, hidden before her chest.
Sealed inside the Bloodstone was a guardian that was supposed to be able to protect her. Although Georgios was a top-class spirit, he was not suited to protecting her from assassins.
(There are many here who wish to target my life—)
A moment's carelessness and an assassin's dagger would probably pierce her throat. Fianna subconsciously reached for the Bloodstone in front of her chest and held it lightly.
"What's the matter, Your Highness? You seem quite preoccupied in your thoughts."
Suddenly hearing a seductive voice, Fianna cried out in surprise.
"P-Please do not startle me—"
The one who had suddenly spoken to her was the Dusk Witch dressed in a black dress.
"I did not erase my presence in particular. By the way, is something troubling you?"
"Hmm, that would be best—"
Greyworth and Fianna walked side by side.
(...I suppose I simply ought to confess everything to the headmistress.)
Fianna suppressed her urge to do so. No matter what, this was not the right venue for having such a conversation. Inside the assembly building, there was no telling who might be eavesdropping.
"By the way, a large scale spirit disaster apparently took place in the border region."
Greyworth brought up the subject as though it were casual conversation while walking.
Laurenfrost was situated on the border between the Ordesia Empire and the Holy Kingdom. There were recent rumors about persistent blizzards at the Kyria Mountain Range, but as for a spirit disaster—
"How wide an area did the spirit disaster cover? Are the people living there safe?"
"That I don't know the details. However, according to rumors—"
Greyworth suddenly lowered her voice and said:
"Apparently, there were eyewitness reports of the Holy Kingdom's Sacred Spirit Knights sighted at the forest where the spirit disaster had occurred."
"...The Holy Kingdom's order of knights?"
Fianna could not help but frown in response to the sudden mention of the Holy Kingdom.
"What were the Holy Kingdom's knights doing in Laurenfrost?"
"Their objective remains unknown but they were apparently caught in the large scale spirit disaster and ended up forced to retreat."
Greyworth shrugged and shook her head.
At this moment, Fianna suddenly realized something.
"This was clearly a violation of national borders! If it is brought up during the All Nations Conference in the afternoon, it would allow for effective negotiations with the Holy Kingdom—"
"Indeed. But for some reason, the Empire's intelligence agency, Umbra, has covered up this news."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"In other words, Umbra's core is being controlled by someone who wishes for the Ordesia Empire's corruption. Hmm, infiltrating by taking advantage of when I'm not there to watch over things."
The prime minister's words from this morning surfaced in Fianna's mind.
(—Arneus has the Holy Kingdom secretly backing him.)
"Umm, since Umbra has covered up this news, then how did you come across it, Headmistress?"
"What a foolish question. Who do you take me for?"
(Indeed, it was a foolish question...)
Greyworth's illustrious past included positions such as the hero from the Ranbal War era, first-ranked knight among the Numbers, and Umbra's chief. She should know the Empire's dark side better than anyone. Although she had lost the power of her contracted spirit, her influence over the Empire would not wane.
"I have gained a rather outstanding pawn on my side, providing me with access to nearly all information."
Smiling suggestively, Greyworth stepped into the assembly hall.
On the step-like arrangement of seating, many nobles had already taken their seats. They were having a heated discussion about matters raised during the All Nations Conference the previous night.
The Ordesia emperor was not present at the imperial family's seating, but many sycophantic nobles could be seen there, hanging around Arneus.
(...Surrounded by nobles whose ambitions are clear as day, what a clown of a king he would be.)
Fianna thought to herself.
At this moment, their eyes met. Unsettled, Arneus then avoided eye contact with Fianna and began to converse secretly with his sycophantic entourage of nobles.
Displeased by these irritating stares, Fianna left the imperial family's seating area and sat down next to Greyworth.
—At this moment, Fianna suddenly felt a sense of dissonance.
"What's the matter?"
Seeing Fianna frown, Greyworth asked.
"Well, I don't think I saw the prime minister..."
"I heard that Lord Conrad is absent due to feeling unwell. Straining himself to handle the heavy workload related to the All Nations Conference, he finally collapsed ill—"
Fianna had not seen anything wrong with him when he visited early this morning.
(Somehow, I have a very bad feeling about this...)
The princess maiden's sharp intuition filled her with great unease.
With the emperor seated, the imperial council started its session in the prime minister's absence.
The meeting's main purpose was determining the Empire's policy towards the Alphas Theocracy.
To observe without intervening or to resolve through military force, there was a massive division in opinion, plunging the assembly into chaos.
"We are not obliged to agree with the Holy Kingdom."
"But if we don't use force, the Ordesia Empire will lose the ability to influence and intimidate the Alphas Theocracy."
"Dracunia's Dragon King has announced unilateral use of military intervention."
"One false move and this could end up repeating the Ranbal War."
A pointless debate continued endlessly without any conclusion in sight. Very evidently, no final conclusion would be reached even if the meeting continued at this rate.
—The meeting's stalemate changed half an hour later.
"Excuse me for being forward, Your Majesty!"
—One of the nobles slowly stood up.
It was Earl Darss, one of the nobles who had been hanging around Arneus earlier.
"By this point, the assembly can no longer reach a unified conclusion. The reason is clear to all of us. Behind the Theocracy issues we are discussing, the matter of imperial succession looms over us."
The earl's words brought a flurry of discussion, because almost everyone present had been quietly thinking about the same question.
"Prince Arneus has proposed taking the same approach as the Holy Kingdom of Lugia. Consequently, those opposed to Prince Arneus' ascension are stubbornly insisting on military intervention."
Saying that, Earl Darss glared in Fianna's direction.
"Why don't we simply decide on the imperial successor right here and now? Otherwise, the meeting will simply drag on as a futile waste of time—"
"I-Indeed..." "The earl makes a fair point." "The existence of factions supporting and opposing Prince Arneus means that this meeting cannot reach a conclusion."
The voices in the assembly hall gradually grew louder.
(...I-I never expected the showdown to take place at such a time.)
Fianna bit her lip lightly.
Darss had been waiting for this opportunity with the council stuck at an impasse. Although he had raised an absurd argument, it did produce excellent results in breaking the stalemate.
(...And right now, the mainstay of the anti-Arneus faction, the prime minister, is absent.)
Even if it were coincidental, this sort of timing would be far too unlikely.
(Perhaps the prime minister has been poisoned by the Arneus faction?")
—However, another nobleman spoke up at this time.
"Lord Darss, this session gathers merely for the purpose of discussing our policy towards the Alphas Theocracy."
The one who spoke up was Ellis' grandfather, Duke Cygnus Fahrengart. Born to a prestigious military family, he was a noble who maintained neutrality, belonging to no faction.
"On the contrary, my lord Duke. This discussion regarding our policy against the Theocracy is merely a superficial phenomenon. The true heart of the matter is the question of imperial succession."
Earl Darss replied with some measure of displeasure.
"But Lord Darss—"
This time, another noble stood up to argue against Earl Darss.
Fianna shifted her gaze towards the imperial family's seating area at this time. Starting from a while ago, the emperor had remained silent the whole time, as though listening to them discussing matters was irrelevant to him. His gaze wandered aimlessly towards empty space. Sitting next to him, Arneus was breaking out in cold sweat on his forehead, watching the shifting tides of opinion with a face of pallor.
"Good grief, aptitude as a ruler would be the greatest issue. Without a minimum level of bluffing under such circumstances..."
Greyworth seemed to be murmuring in surprise next to Fianna.
At that very moment...
"—Lord Darss, do you hold the view that these thoughts are running through everyone's mind without exception?"
Sitting in the center among the various seats, a noble stood up and spoke.
(That man is—)
After seeing his face, Fianna could not help but gasp.
It was Duke Finegas Bodo, one of the influential nobles on the petition Fianna had received.
"Oh? And what in particular do you mean by 'these thoughts'?"
"Forgive my impudent choice of words, but Prince Arneus, whom you support, lacks an emperor's aptitude."
Instantly, the assembly hall turned noisy again.
These were normally words that would be kept as whispers behind people's backs. To voice them openly in such a public context in front of the person in question would be completely unprecedented.
Shamed and furious, Arneus glared viciously at Finegas.
"...Hmmm, then in that case, who would you consider as eligible for the Ordesian throne, Lord Finegas?"
Feigning superficial calmness, Darss asked Finegas in return.
—Then the duke inhaled.
"I believe that a legitimate successor of Second Princess Fianna's caliber would be eligible!"
He declared openly in a sonorous voice, audible to everyone present in the hall.
Fianna could not help but lift herself from her seat.
All eyes had gathered upon her. The people in the hall began to chatter among themselves again.
"Her Highness the Second Princess?" "I never thought he would recommend that Lost Queen." "Are you out of your mind? Women are excluded if you're considering contenders for the throne!" "But compared to Prince Arneus—" "The imperial family's knight spirit selected her—"
Naturally, there was no one more disturbed than Fianna herself, under the gaze of everyone present.
(...W-What on earth are they planning?)
She glanced at Finegas who was standing at his position down there, with a prepared expression on his face.
(I won't become empress, absolutely not...)
However, were she to express her opinion right now, the majority of nobles would probably switch to backing Arneus. Thus, a foolish emperor would be selected, turning Ordesia Empire into a puppet manipulated by corrupt nobles and the Holy Kingdom.
"Next, I invite Her Highness to hereby inform all of us of her intent!"
Finegas' sonorous voice resounded across the entire hall.
"...W-Wait, wait a moment, to me, intents of this sort—"
While everyone was watching Fianna intently, waiting for her to speak, at that very moment—
A calamity struck.
The Bloodstone hidden before her chest suddenly shone with dazzling light.
Fianna frantically took out the Bloodstone from her chest.
—Then she immediately noticed. In the center of the blood-hued spirit crystal, a pitch-black mass was spinning in a frenzy while repulsive miasma was released from inside.
"...W-What, is this... Kyah!?"
A small crack appeared on the surface of the Bloodstone in her hand. Then—
The crimson spirit crystal shattered in Fianna's hand and fell to the ground.
The dark miasma erupted from the scattered fragments. The shrapnel from the explosion left cuts on Fianna's skin.
The miasma spun in a thunderous vortex, rampaging like a storm in the middle of the assembly hall.
"W-What is this!?" "A spirit, a berserk spirit!" "Uwahhhhhhhhhh!"
Panicking, the nobles screamed.
(...W-What the heck is happening...?)
Fianna stared in shock at the fragments of the Bloodstone, scattered on the floor.
The spirit sealed in the spirit crystal had not been released by chance. Naturally, she herself had never invoked the spell of release. Liberating a spirit required one to release divine power first.
—No, there was another possibility.
(If a releasing spell were to be written inside the spirit crystal in advance—)
"Princess, w-what on earth is going on—"
Pulling Fianna by the hand, Greyworth pushed her to the floor.
"T-To release a spirit crystal so recklessly—"
"This is no mere spirit crystal. These signs indicate—"
The violently shaking air shattered the windows, showering fragments all over the floor. The rampaging miasma was gathering near the hall's ceiling, soon turning into a gigantic black cloud.
Fianna felt her back run cold.
This was an oppressive and deathly presence, making her feel as her heart was being squeezed violently.
(An archdemon-class spirit...)
Fianna gasped and murmured in her heart, breaking out in goosebumps all over her body.
This was the strongest class of spirit in Astral Zero as certified by the Spirit Investigation Association.
"...I-Impossible. Why is it here?"
Lying prone on the floor on top of Fianna, Greyworth murmured. Unbelievable, to think that the Dusk Witch could sound so shaken—
"Headmistress, do you recognize that spirit!?"
"...Of course, I do."
Greyworth wiped sweat off her forehead.
"—That's my contracted spirit!"
"Although it is unbelievable, I can't possibly be mistaken. This is the contracted spirit I lost—Dīs Pater."
Fianna had heard that spirit's name before in rumors. During the Ranbal War, it had brought terror and despair to the knights from the Holy Kingdom of Lugia as a grim reaper on the battlefield.
—The strongest demon spirit.
(...Why was it inside the spirit crystal?)
The spirit sealed in the Bloodstone given to Fianna by the prime minister was supposed to be a guardian capable of protecting Fianna from assassins.
However, the demon spirit wrapped in that dark miasma was absolutely no guardian spirit.
This spirit simply brought destruction and slaughter, driven by desire alone.
"Princess, where did you get this Bloodstone from?"
Fianna was about to answer when—
A great amount of miasma began to expand and explode.
As a result of the concentrated deathly presence, Fianna was blown away completely. Her entire body trembled. For an instant, she experienced an illusion as though her heart had been grabbed. Or perhaps, only she with her disposition as an excellent princess maiden was able to sense such a strong aura of death.
"...A-Ah... Ahh, ah..."
Tearing out of the spinning black cloud, what emerged from there was—
A grim reaper, clad in black, wielding a jet-black scythe.
The grim reaper slowly raised the scythe in his hand—
"—Get down now, he is about to steal souls!"
Greyworth shouted in an extremely loud voice, causing everyone present to reflexively dive to the ground.
The scythe's blade swept through empty space, producing a raging wind infused with the presence of death.
"Uwahhhhhhhhh!" "R-Run away, hurry—"
The nobles all surged towards the hall's entrance. Although this thoughtless act of the nobles was a bit impulsive, it might have been a correct decision too. What the highest-ranked demon spirit preferred were the pure souls of the righteous rather than the souls of foolish humans.
However, among the nobles fleeing this way and that, there were also those who stayed put quietly, not daring to move at all.
The Ordesia emperor was one of them. For some reason, his gaze was hollow and glazed over. Despite such an abnormal situation happening before his eyes, he looked like nothing was happening at all.
Looking down at the emperor, the demon spirit grinned rather happily.
(...You must make it in time, Georgios...!)
Crawling on the floor, Fianna summoned the knight spirit.
—However, she did not make it in time.
The jet-black scythe slowly swung down—
In that instant, the grim reaper's head was sent flying.
The weapon that had chopped off the demon spirit's head and sent it flying in a parabola was a gigantic battle axe.
"—Are you alright, Your Majesty!?"
A silver-haired spirit knight clad in silver-white armor had broken through the hall's wall and emerged.
Fourth of the Numbers—Dunei Lampert.
The silver-white knight took a leap and launched a fierce attack against the decapitated demon spirit.
Dual-wielded battle axes, an elemental waffe with divine power enveloping the blades—However, the demon spirit instantly turned into floating miasma and easily evaded the attack.
"...Curse you! What is an archdemon-class spirit doing here?"
Dunei yelled. Dīs Pater took on a grim reaper's form again and swung the gigantic scythe at the Numbers knight.
Black demonic wind howled. Dunei was blown away by the potent wind of destruction, smashing her hard against the wall.
Had it been another spirit knight in her place, she would have surely died from this attack. However, Dunei prided herself as a member of the Empire's strongest, the Numbers, and was also contracted to an earth spirit, renowned for having the strongest defense. She stumbled and stood up, glaring angrily at the demon spirit hovering in the air.
Despite losing his head, Dīs Pater could still produce audible gloating laughter. He raised his jet-black scythe again without hesitation, slashing at the heavily injured Numbers knight whose movements had slowed down.
—In that very instant...
"I beseech thee to capture and crush, O cage of gravity!"
The demon spirit's body became twisted limply. A sphere resembling a rotating shadow appeared around Dīs Pater, distorting the surrounding space.
Spinning at high speed, the shadow-like sphere compressed the demon spirit's body, crushing it together with the air.
(...Isn't that Dame Leschkir's gravity spirit, Typhon!?)
Fianna looked at the sound's direction.
In front of the assembly hall's half-wrecked entrance, another knight had appeared.
Standing in stark contrast to the straitlaced Dunei, she was a raven-haired beauty with an air of seductive charms.
Leschkir Hirschkilt, ranked third of the Numbers and nicknamed the Gravity Queen.
"Dunei, I have the spirit captured now. Take this opportunity to eliminate it quickly—"
Carrying her elemental waffe of battle axes, Dunei charged at the immobilized demon spirit that was imprisoned by the cage of gravity.
Pouring her entire divine power into her battle axes, she swung hard.
Pitch-black miasma spurted out like blood, splattering and dripping down Dunei's armor.
Completely chopped into two, Dīs Pater cackled in a disturbing manner before vanishing from this world.
Naturally, an archdemon-class spirit could not possibly be destroyed by an attack of this level. Released from the Bloodstone's contract, the spirit had probably returned to Astral Zero.
"Your Majesty, are you alright—?"
Dunei hurried over to the side of the collapsed emperor.
In terms of time, no more than a minute or two had passed. However, the assembly hall was already wrecked beyond recognition with the floors stained red from the blood of the wounded.
(...Why... Why did this happen...)
Confronted by the hellish scene before her eyes, Fianna was plunged into confusion.
—At that moment...
"Y-You, what on earth are you doing!? Dame Leschkir!"
In the process of fleeing the hall, Arneus yelled loudly.
"Hurry up and arrest that girl! She will assassinate the emperor if you wait!"
Fianna looked around her in shock.
"How terrifying..." "I can't believe she tried to kill everyone at the imperial council..." "Don't tell me she is an accomplice of the Theocracy's Sjora Kahn—"
"...N-No, wrong, I—!"
Fianna was just about to deny allegations when Dame Leschkir stood in front of her and blocked her.
"Second Princess, you will have plenty of time to explain yourself later."