Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume14 Chapter8
Chapter 8 - Infiltrating the Imperial Capital
—The imperial capital of Ostdakia.
This was a city that the Sacred Maiden had turned into a stronghold during the Demon King War a thousand years ago in order to battle the Demon King's army.
After the Demon King War ended, the city's location, corresponding to the current Empire's center, made it a trading hub that connected all parts of the continent. Gradually growing in prosperity, it finally developed into a top metropolis on the continent.
And located in the center of the imperial capital was the great assembly hall where the imperial council convened, as well as Nefescal Palace that served as both the imperial family's residence and the Ordesia's most important shrine.
(...How ironic. To think that the Demon King's successor would return to the city that had served as the bastion of resistance against the Demon King.)
Riding a rocking horse-drawn carriage while tightly gripping the reins from the coachman's seat, Kamito muttered to himself mentally.
In fact, this was not his first time infiltrating the imperial capital. During his childhood, he had sneaked into the imperial capital with Muir, Lily and Restia as part of an Instructional School mission.
"Honestly, will this method really work?"
Claire's worried voice came from inside the carriage.
"...Who knows. To be honest, I'm not confident either."
Dressed as a lady-in-waiting, Kamito sighed from the coachman's seat.
He was the perfect model of a lady-in-waiting working at a royal palace, no matter how you looked.
"You are extremely adorable, Kamito."
Claire giggled humorously.
"...G-Give me a break."
Kamito grimaced and looked back at Claire.
Seated inside the carriage, Claire was dressed in a white dress. Her crimson hair had been dyed blonde.
The cover story was that Claire was a daughter from a noble family and Kamito was her lady-in-waiting. As for Ellis, she was hiding in a cramped pile of cargo.
The role of the noblewoman fell to Claire because her face was less well-known than Ellis who had frequented the imperial capital as a daughter of the Fahrengart family and thus universally recognized. Claire's last visit to the imperial capital was already more than four years ago.
"We'll be at the main gate soon. Don't poke your head out of the carriage and make sure you act like a noble."
The carriage carrying the trio was gradually approaching the imperial capital's massive city gate.
A massive bonfire was lit before the gate while merchants formed a long line up with their merchandise on carts.
"Ohohohoho, I am an aristocrat from upper-crust society—!"
Claire suddenly made a weird sound, causing Kamito to look back in shock at once.
"W-Who the heck are you trying to be!?"
"What do you mean, who...? I'm just imitating Rinslet. Isn't it very noble-like?"
"...L-Like my foot. She'll definitely get mad if she saw this."
"Hmph, I can't believe you're taking Rinslet's side..."
Claire pouted unhappily.
"Just act more like your usual self and that's very noble-like."
"I-Is that so?"
Hearing that, Claire seemed quite pleased, blushing.
Over the massive entrance, a pair of terrifying lion sculptures overlooked Kamito's party.
No wait, those were not sculptures—They were guardian spirits protecting the imperial capital's main gate.
Kamito took out from his bosom the imperial access pass that Vivian had forged.
"We'll be able to pass using this?"
From inside the carriage, Claire nodded slightly nervously and replied.
"I really want to launch an aerial raid directly using Simorgh."
"That'll only get us shot down by the imperial capital's anti-air defenses."
Kamito stopped talking and raised the imperial access pass in front of the gate.
Branded on the pass, magic runes glowed for an instant and quickly vanished. Even when the carriage approached, the guardian spirits on the gate did not react at all, simply sitting there.
(...Looks like entry is a success.)
Kamito mentally breathed a sigh of relief.
Next, an armed guard blocked the carriage.
"Please allow me to check your belongings. Do you mind opening up the cargo hold?"
"I hate waiting. I will have you know that I am in a hurry."
Claire spoke from the carriage.
"Yes, I am terribly sorry. Orders from above mean we must check..."
The guard opened the carriage's cargo hold. There were two wooden boxes stacked inside.
Opening the top box, the guard found candlesticks and other ritual equipment as well as a rare spirit crystal.
"What is this?"
"I bought them during my travels in the Kingdom of Balstan. Look, isn't it pretty?"
Claire held up the spirit crystal to show the guard.
"Although it's not particularly valuable, why don't you take one as a gift, good sir?"
Claire handed the guard a small spirit crystal with a water spirit sealed inside. Ordinary people were unable to use spirit crystals but they could earn a handsome sum of money by selling them to specialized shops.
"...Eh, i-is it really okay?"
"Yes, but in return, I would like to return to my mansion as soon as possible because I am already exhausted. May I pass?"
She conveyed her intention to use bribery as a means to bypass examination, but—
"No, orders from above mandate that—"
The guard shook his head seriously, intending to stick to his principles.
Seeing that, Claire's expression froze.
(...H-Hey, what are we going to do now?)
Kamito gestured to Claire with a look.
They had not predicted this situation. They originally thought that checking the belongings of nobles would be a mere formality after they had passed through the checkpoint.
In fact, thoroughly checking a noble's belongings in the imperial capital was quite an exceptional case. At the very least, bribing the guards was virtually guaranteed to work in the past.
(...Is the imperial capital on an even higher level of alert than imagined?)
"Then please allow me to search."
Despite faltering, the guard still intended to open the wooden box on the bottom.
This was precisely where Ellis was hiding.
"I am terribly sorry, these are the rules—"
The guard ignored Claire's protest and touched the lower wooden box.
In that instant...
Something passed through the wooden box's lid and flew out ferociously.
The guard cried out in surprise, instantly falling on his bottom.
Poking its head out from the wooden box was a demon bird, making terrifying noises.
"M-Milady, w-what on earth is..."
"...U-Uh, it's my pet bird I bought at a market during my travels. Isn't it cute?"
Looking up at the demon bird, the guard's face was twitching from terror.
"It's your fault for touching the wooden box recklessly. How do you intend to take responsibility?"
"I-I-I-I am terribly sorry, milady...!"
The guard kept bowing his head to apologize.
"P-Please forgive me. You may pass!"
"Hmph, whatever. Let us hurry—"
At Claire's urging, Kamito drove the carriage through the gate.
A while after entering the city—
"...Phew, we got through at least."
Kamito breathed a long sigh of relief.
"Simorgh's scary face came in handy."
Hearing that, the demon wind spirit cooed proudly from the wooden box.
"Anyway, infiltration is a success huh?"
"No, the main event starts now."
The imperial capital's layout could basically be divided into two parts.
There was the nobles' residential district with Nefescal Palace at the center and the surrounding urban area.
The two areas were separated by walls. Guarding that massive gate was not ordinary soldiers but spirit knights from the army. Naturally, the alert level was dramatically higher and they could not deceive their way through using a forged pass like earlier.
Kamito parked the carriage at a stop. Leaving the carriage there, they continued their way on foot in the city.
"...Phew, I almost suffocated."
Coming out of the wooden box, Ellis stretched hard.
"It's all thanks to Ellis' quick thinking just now."
"Yes, but I never imagined I would ever sneak into the imperial capital like this..."
As a Fahrengart knight, she must feel quite uncomfortable about sneaking secretly into the imperial capital.
"First, let's get into contact with that Murders merchant."
Claire took out something from a wooden box while she spoke. The enchanted equipment and spirit crystals in the wooden box were not only for earning the gate guard's trust but also for bribing the Murders merchant.
"The magic equipment shop at District 5."
Putting on gray overcoats, the trio walked quickly in alleyways.
"This place was more bustling the last time I visited..."
Under his hood, Kamito whispered.
"Looks like an air of unease is hanging over the Empire's citizens due to the incident."
After passing through several gates demarcating divisions between districts, they stepped into a slum district.
Even the most prosperous city on the continent had its own dark side.
The magic equipment shop stood all alone inside the district.
Without examining closely while they walked, it would have been very easy not to notice the shop.
Completely nondescript, it was an ordinary shop in appearance. From the perspective of an ordinary citizen unversed in enchanted equipment and spirit crystals, all one could tell was that it was a slightly messy shop.
Claire knocked four times at a predetermined interval.
It was a secret signal. Soon, the door unlocked with a quiet sound.
A short man's smiling face emerged from the door's gap.
"...I have waited for you, ladies."
"You're the guide?"
Hearing Claire's question, the man giggled and gestured with his eyes for them to come in.
Entering the shop, Kamito and company changed back into ordinary school uniforms.
Then they put on black cloaks over their uniforms. Woven with protective magic, the Academy's uniforms had excellent durability, comparable in specs with the military uniform of the Imperial Knights. Although it was a bit conspicuous, the school uniform was still worth wearing.
"—You have already received word from the Cardinal's messenger, haven't you?"
"Indeed, a request hoping for my aid... How polite. The Cardinal is one of my major customers after all."
The Murders merchant grinned.
Claire poured out something from the bag in her hand onto the counter.
"This is the Cardinal's reward for you—"
"...Wow, that's so generous. All rare treasures."
Picking up a small spirit crystal to play in his hand, the merchant smiled with satisfaction.
"The Cardinal has also broken the underground merchant Vivian Melosa out from Balsas Prison. This is enough of a reward for Murders, right?"
"Yes, of course, of course. Standing from our perspective, it's not like we can ignore the ascension of Prince Arneus, who's allied closely to the Holy Kingdom—"
The merchant brought his hands together while he spoke.
"Recently, business has become hard. Although we earned a fortune from various nations across the continent during the Ranbal War, in this day and age, our only sources of income are limited to scrapped militarized spirits and cheap cursed armament seals—"
"...Y-You bastard, how impertinent! It is only because of people like you that my esteemed sister—"
Seeing Ellis about to draw her sword impulsively, Claire hastily stopped her.
"...B-But can this man really be trusted?"
"There is no choice. His aid is absolutely essential."
"Please don't worry. Murders merchants all have a scale in their heart for weighing risks and benefits. As long as the scales don't tip over, betrayal definitely won't happen."
The merchant smiled and opened a door in the depths of the shop.
"Please, come this way—"
A hidden flight of steps led underground from beneath a set of shelves in the back of the shop.
Holding a torch for illumination, the merchant kept descending into darkness.
"This is a place Murders uses for smuggling goods."
"...A sewer? But if that's the case, there should be water noises..."
While using a spirit crystal to illuminate the walls, Kamito commented.
"Underground ruins. A relic dating back to the Demon King War when Sacred Maiden Areishia converted this city into her stronghold. These types of underground ruins are abundant in the imperial capital, more than you can count."
"Sheesh, can't you remember from Freya-sensei's class?"
"I remember hearing about them too, but this is actually my first time entering one—"
Ellis examined the walls around her while murmuring quietly.
"The Empire leaves places like this alone?"
"Completely burying all the vast underground ruins is impossible. Besides, the Ordesia military finds value in such underground passages."
At this moment, a large rat ran past Claire's feet.
"...Huahh, a r-rat!"
"Be careful, there are even worse rats in these parts."
"...Rats huh. I remember that it's a euphemism for Umbra's special operative knights."
"Yes, that's why it's best to keep quiet from this point on because running into them is a possibility."
...Advancing silently lasted roughly half an hour.
Then Kamito, maintaining a high level of focus, heard a tiny sound.
Friction from boot soles. Breathing from multiple people in the darkness.
Kamito sighed secretly and stopped walking.
Walking in front, Claire and Ellis showed surprise.
"Say, Mr. Merchant..."
"What can I do for you?"
The merchant smiled cordially and turned his head back.
"You mentioned earlier, right? Something about a set of scales in every Murders merchant's heart—"
"...Sure, what about it?"
"What's the other side on your scales?"
Kamito asked calmly.
Hearing that, the merchant rested his chin against his hand and made a thinking look.
"Hmm, yes. For example, if I were to hand you over to the Imperial Knights, I could make a tidy profit. After all, you are wanted criminals, my dear customers."
"But you're an illegal merchant. You can't make contact with the knights, right?"
"Precisely. The scales are tipped towards you, dear customers. Please rest assured."
"Oh really? In that case—"
Instantly, Kamito drew a dagger from his waist—
And parried countless silver slashes flashing the darkness.
"What is the meaning of this?"
"...! Kamito, we're surrounded!?"
Kamito focused his mind and detected the presences in the darkness.
(...That's quite a lot. Seven or eight ahead with three or four behind?)
Under this sort of darkness, it was no easy task to ascertain enemy numbers. It was possible for several people to lie in ambush.
(Don't tell me that all of them are elementalists?)
The faint smile on the merchant's face earlier had vanished.
"...I can't believe you deflected all the blades of the assassins—"
"If they're assassins, they'd better train more on how to hide their killing intent, okay? Although I can't see them, their directions are completely clear to me—"
Saying that, Claire released her elemental waffe, Flametongue.
Blazing crimson flames illuminated the darkness in the underground passage.
A masked group of differing ages and appearances came into view.
Rather than Ordesia's Imperial Knights, they were most likely—
(...Rogue elementalists hired as mercenaries huh.)
Although rare, talents as an elementalist would occasionally blossom in people without noble heritage. Those people would be forcibly sent to educational institutions for elementalists, but depending on circumstances, some of them would end up bought by Murders and other criminal organizations to become illegal mercenaries.
Although they were vastly inferior to elementalists trained at the Academy—most of them were unable to deploy elemental waffen—these elementalists had gone through actual combat training, so they were still able to overwhelm mighty opponents through sheer numbers.
"I knew it. A dirty Murders merchant simply cannot be trusted in the first place."
Ellis readied Ray Hawk and glared angrily at the merchant before her.
"Hoho... Truth be told, I have made quite a fortune on selling militarized spirits to the Cardinal. However, it's simply not enough to tip my scales towards her, that's all."
"Then what's being weighed on the other side of the scales?"
Hearing Kamito's question, the merchant shrugged.
"In a word, authorization to trade in the Holy Kingdom of Lugia's Alexandria. Can you offer anything better than that, my dears?"
"...No way! The Holy Kingdom can't possibly make a deal with Murders!"
Claire widened her eyes.
"The continental situation is changing every second, little lady."
"Is Arneus your newest customer?"
"Oh dear, I might've said too much."
The merchant laughed and took a step back into the darkness.
"I don't want to get caught in this, so I'll be running away now."
Throwing his torch to the ground, he rushed into the underground passage.
"...! Wait, hold it right there!"
Claire swung her fiery whip—
But before that, a stone wall rose up. It was a spirit used by a rogue elementalist.
"...Kamito, we must give chase. If he runs away, we won't be able to get out—"
Kamito drew the Demon Slayer and smashed the stone wall. However, the merchant was already out of sight. Taking his place, a number of rogue elementalists were blocking the way with weapons readied.
Naturally, this quantity of opponents were no match for Kamito's party. However, inside this narrow underground passage with dismal visibility, defeating all of them looked like it could take some time.
(Breaking through by force seems to be the only option huh—)
Kamito entered a stance for a group fight. Although he wanted to avoid wasting too much divine power, circumstances did not permit—
Then at that very moment...
A scream sounded from the depths of the underground passage.
It was the Murders merchant's voice. Kamito and his friends exchanged glances with one another. The rogue elementalists hired by the merchant also paused.
"W-Why!? Why are you here...!?"
"Unfortunately for you, this is my backyard, little rat."
A cute voice was heard, accompanied by nimble footsteps, standing in stark contrast against the merchant's scream.
A swaying spirit crystal's illumination approached, illuminating the underground passage.
The merchant appeared with his arm twisted behind his back. Pressed against the side of his head was a weapon with extremely limited circulation across the entire continent—A hand gun.
Kamito had some recollection of this hand gun that was embedded with spirit crystals.
"...Guh, uh... Huff, huff, huff..."
Inside a world dominated by silence and darkness...
Fianna was currently focusing her mind.
Whether physical stamina or willpower, she was about to reach her limit. Even so, those dusk-colored eyes of hers still did not lose their light. Because she had a reason that enabled her to struggle free of despair.
(...Kamito-kun... is coming...)
—Rewinding to several hours prior. The special operative knight claiming to work under Greyworth finally contacted her a second time. Umbra never used the same method of communication twice, hence this time was a shredded piece of paper instead of a spirit crystal.
After reassembling the piece of paper, Fianna read the brief message of "He is here" written on it.
That was sufficient.
With this alone, she was able to endure any kind of suffering.
She bit her parched lip hard.
Putting the blood on her finger, she drew carefully on the ground.
(—Binding Spell No.14, combined with a double-layered seal, I guess?)
She closed her eyes and analyzed the composition of the magic circle engraved on the stone floor. Then using the blood on her finger, she carefully overwrote the main elements composing magic circle.
This type of tedious and complicated task that would make a person's brain explode, she was repeating it again and again.
Drawing another layer of a detailed pattern on top of dried blood, she repeated this endlessly. An extremely intricate magic circle gradually took shape while she immersed herself in her work.
Naturally, using blood to rewrite a magic circle was absolutely not something any ordinary princess maiden could accomplish. This was a god-like feat that could only be achieved by Fianna who possessed outstanding talent in addition to vast knowledge regarding barriers.
She had already lost a great deal of blood, to the point that even maintaining consciousness felt unbelievable.
However, the efforts of this suffocating hardship was finally about to bear fruit.
(...Kamito-kun... is coming... That's why, I too—)
Several hours had passed since she started drawing her magic circle. It was almost time for the guard's patrol. And once discovered, all her efforts so far would end up wasted.
Anxiety filled her mind. However, all would be for naught if she were to lose caution now.
"—I... command thee... for the third, time... Obey, the covenant of blood—"
With her bleeding lips, she recited the final words of the incantation.
"...Liberate me... from these bonds—!"
At long last, Fianna finished the final magic circle.
Drawn on the floor, the magic circle of blood glowed blue-white.
—Success. An exorcism circle was completed, capable of breaking on a structural level this magic circle that insulated this Temple of World Isolation from links to Astral Zero.
(...With this... The link to Astral Zero is restored.)
Fianna exhaled in relief and collapsed sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall.
She closed her eyes and concentrated briefly. Immediately, she could feel her body connected to Astral Zero with divine power coursing through her entire being.
(...First, I must... find Kamito and the others...)
—How much time had elapsed since receiving the last report from that special operative knight?
Perhaps they were already inside the imperial capital.
(...I hope they won't be caught by the Imperial Knights—)
Arranging fingers in a spiritual gesture, she recalled Kamito's image in her mind.
This was Fianna's prided skill of divination, allowing one to search for a specified person with a deep mental connection by raising a princess maiden's sensing abilities to the absolute limit. Although it was vastly inferior in accuracy to Princess Linfa's Clairvoyance, she could still get an approximate location as long as her target was not too far away.
With her five senses at a high level of focus, she was hit by a dizzying feeling as though all her nerves had been bundled into a single resonating string. Her consciousness expanded from her body, outwards from this prison, to the shrine outside the prison, to the world outside the shrine—
(Wait for me, Kamito-kun—)