Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume15 Chapter2
Chapter 2 - Banquet at Winter Gulf
Meanwhile, everyone at the Laurenfrost castle of Winter Gulf was gearing up for a celebration banquet.
Having stayed behind on her own to lead reconstruction efforts in Laurenfrost territory after the devastation brought by Zirnitra, it was only natural that Rinslet did not know about Kamito's group getting arrested upon their return to the Academy or the attempted assassination of the emperor at the imperial capital. After all, the mountain path through the Kyria Mountain Range, serving as the link between Laurenfrost and the imperial capital, had been damaged by Zirnitra's earlier rampage and had yet to be restored to a state suitable for passage.
While the castle was bustling in preparation for the celebrations, Rinslet was in a certain room, changing into the Academy uniform.
"...Sigh, I would really like to see Kamito-san sooner."
Just as she was sighing to herself...
"Lady Rinslet, Mireille-sama has finished her preparations."
From outside the door came the voice of Natalia, head maid and captain of the Wolf Ritters.
"I-I shall be there presently!"
Rinslet hastily finished changing and exited to the corridor.
Ahead in the corridor, Natalia's upright standing figure could be seen.
"Natalia, uh, I was talking to myself just now..."
"No, I did not hear any sound."
"I-Is that so...?"
Rinslet breathed a sigh of relief for now.
"However, I am sympathetic to your feelings of wanting to see your beloved as soon as possible."
Thump thump thump.
Gone bright red in the face, Rinslet kept hammering her fists on the head maid's back. At that moment—
"Wait, Onee-sama, why are you playing around over here? Today is my important day, you know?"
Dressed in the Divine Ritual Institute's princess maiden attire, the third daughter, Mireille, walked towards them along the corridor from up ahead. Following her like a shadow was her personal maid, Milla Bassett. In the back was even the second daughter, Judia, sitting in a wheelchair.
Rinslet stopped hammering the head maid and coughed lightly.
"Mireille, it looks great on you."
Hearing Rinslet's comment, Milla nodded silently.
"Really? But it's harder to move around in these clothes compared to the castle's formal dress..."
Mireille frowned, lifted the hem of her ritual attire and spun around on the spot.
"Stop it. Unseemly behavior will incur the displeasure of spirits."
Seeing Mireille spinning, Rinslet pushed down on her head and stopped her.
"...Th-That would be a problem."
Mireille hastily settled down.
Indeed, Mireille was about to head out to a shrine to conduct a spirit contract ceremony.
Earlier, the border province of Laurenfrost had achieved reconciliation with the reclusive Forest Dwellers who lived in the forest all year round, thus reaching an agreement to rebuild the forest that had been destroyed by Zirnitra. As a return gift, the Forest Dwellers decided to present Mireille with one of their enshrined spirits.
The shrine for the spirit contract ceremony was to be the cave where the second Laurenfrost daughter, Judia, had been imprisoned under cursed ice. Due to this complicated past, someone had suggested changing to a different venue. But now that it was known that the location was no longer dangerous, plus the fact that it was the most sacred shrine in the Laurenfrost region no matter what, hence in the end, preparations were still made to carry out the ritual there.
"I really wish Kamito-oniisama could see me in my formal attire."
Mireille murmured wistfully.
"In that case, how about inviting him to the next Winter Solstice Festival?"
Eyes closed, Judia spoke up. After being freed from the cursed ice, although her health was gradually recovering, her vision was still lost.
"Ah, that's true too. If that's the case, Onee-sama can show off her formal attire to Kamito-oniisama too."
"M-Mireille, please do not make fun of your elder sister!"
Blushing to her ears, Rinslet became flustered.
The Laurenfrost's Winter Solstice Festival's was a festival whose fame spread not only within the Empire's borders but also reached all the other nations. During the festival, snow sculptures of all kinds of spirits would be found all over the city, drawing in large numbers of sightseeing tourists... As a side note, in recent years, snow sculptures of Ren Ashbell were the most dominant in terms of numbers.
As dictated by tradition, the Winter Solstice Festival was presided by princess maidens from the Laurenfrost family. Hence, if Kamito were to be invited here, he would naturally see the Laurenfrost sisters in their formal attire.
"Mireille-sama, the time—"
At that moment, Milla the maid reminded.
"Then let's go—"
Leaving behind the wheelchair-bound Judia and head maid Natalia, Mireille and company set off for the shrine.
The next instant after Claire and her party jumped into the vortex of light while huddled together—
Kamito fell down amidst total darkness.
(This place is...?)
—Just as he was about to make his body upright, he suddenly noticed something important.
(...I-I can't breathe!?)
Kamito's nose was under the weight of something elastic, preventing him from breathing. Don't tell me I got buried under a mountain of rubble because of that gigantic gravity sphere—
(...It's no joke if I really got buried alive!)
Kamito tried every way to get himself out and grabbed the object pressing against his nose.
He felt a soft and supple texture. His fingers sensed a bit of warmth.
(...W-What is this?)
Confronted with this incredible tactile feeling, Kamito tilted his head in puzzlement.
Boing. Boing boing.
Suddenly, Kamito heard a scream overhead.
"O-O, O-O fire, bring forth light!"
In the next instant, a small fireball appeared in the darkness with a pop.
What entered his view was—
Kamito cried out in his heart.
With a fireball in her hand, Claire looked down at Kamito with a shocked expression.
(...In other words, what blocked my face just now, don't tell me it was...)
Indeed... That soft and elastic object was Claire's bottom.
"Y-You, y-you, w-what, w-what are you doing~...!?"
Rumble rumble rumble rumble rumble...!
Claire's face went bright red while her crimson hair rose up like a cat.
"W-Wait, I was just trying to figure out my surroundings..."
Kamito instantly panicked and explained frantically.
"Because it felt nice, so I couldn't help... Ah—"
"...~Tsk, y-you, y-you pervert and beast of lust~!"
Tearfully, Claire lost her temper and summoned Flametongue in her hand.
"I-I haven't even had a b-bath yet... You jerk!"
"B-By the time I came to my senses, you were already on top of me, honest...!"
Confronted with Claire who was angry for a strange reason, Kamito frantically shook his head.
"...S-Say, where is this place?"
Kamito stood up and looked around.
"T-Trying to change the subject huh..."
Despite her displeasure, Claire still used the fireball lit on her palm to illuminate the surroundings.
Numerous ice stalactites were growing from the ceiling while hard ice covered the floor... At the very least, this was not the same temple as where Kamito and company were at earlier.
(...By the way, this place looks a bit familiar.)
Where had he seen it? It should have been recent...
"I've been here before... I think."
"What is going on?"
Frowning, Claire increased the fireball's brightness.
—Next, they found Ellis and Fianna collapsed nearby.
"Are they okay?"
Kamito knelt down and gently rocked them by the shoulder.
"...Ooh, mmm... Kamito?"
Ellis and Fianna opened their eyes.
"Fianna, what happened? What on earth was that vortex of light earlier—"
Claire's question went straight to the point.
"...Looks like the teleportation was a success."
Fianna pressed on her temples while she replied softly.
"Yes, that temple was a teleportation device provided to royals to use for escaping the imperial capital."
"...I see now. Oh, so that's what you meant by it being not available for Arneus."
A person without an elementalist's power would not be able to activate the magic device either, despite being part of the royal bloodline. Even if Arneus knew of the location's existence, he would still be unable to send pursuers.
"So, where did we teleport to?"
"Hmm, supposing there was no mistake in setting the coordinates, it is probably..."
At that moment, a human presence approached on the other side of the darkness.
The four of them instantly raised their guard.
Apart from Kamito and company, did someone else pass through the vortex of light in pursuit...?
With nervous expressions, the group stared intently into the depths of the dark.
Only to see appearing from there—
"...Who goes there!?"
It turned out to be Rinslet, holding an ice arrow in her hand, accompanied by the wide-eyed Mireille.
"My, truly what a surprise..."
Within Margrave Laurenfrost's territory, at Winter Gulf Castle...
Taken to a great hall in the castle, Kamito and company sat down at a table, drinking black tea specially brewed by Milla Bassett with honey added to warm themselves up from the cold.
"No wonder I found it familiar..."
Setting his teacup down on the table, Kamito muttered quietly.
Indeed, the cave covered with cold ice was precisely where Rinslet's sister Judia had been imprisoned in cursed ice by the Water Elemental Lord.
Rinslet had apparently shown up there with Mireille to carry out a spirit contract ceremony.
The ceremony was held successfully after Kamito and company left the cave. Currently, Mireille's new contracted spirit was sitting on her shoulder, a small snow weasel. Although lacking Fenrir's intimidating appearance, it looked like a very smart and wise spirit, quite similar to Mireille in that regard. The spirit had already gotten very close to Mireille and was affectionately rubbing its warm fur against her cheek.
"Miss Mireille, uh, may I touch its tail?"
Ellis, who loved cute animals, asked somewhat excitedly.
"Sure, go ahead."
Mireille held onto Ellis' shoulder and immediately, the snow weasel spirit skipped across to Ellis' shoulder and wrapped itself around her neck like a scarf.
"Wow... I-It is quite adorable."
Relaxing her normally serious expression, Ellis beamed nonstop.
(...No, Ellis, you're the one who's adorable.)
—Thinking that such a comment would most likely upset her, Kamito kept his thoughts to himself.
"But thank goodness that the teleportation completed successfully without incident. It would be problematic had we gone to Kelzanos or Fahrengart instead of Laurenfrost."
Fianna whispered quietly.
The temple's teleportation device with Gates connected to the territories of the Four Great Houses—Elstein, Fahrengart, Laurenfrost and Kelzanos.
Among them, the Gate leading to the confiscated Elstein territory no longer existed while the House of Kelzanos was the leader of the pro-Arneus faction of nobles. Although the House of Fahrengart maintained neutrality, if Arneus were to become the official designated successor, they probably would not proactively protect Fianna either. Even having Ellis with them would not help. Given the current situation, the only place within the Ordesia Empire for them to seek asylum was Rinslet's location, Margrave Laurenfrost's territory.
"...In any case, it is wonderful that you are safe and sound, Your Highness."
After Rinslet said that—
Fianna bit her lip hard and looked at Kamito and the others in sequence.
"...Yes, truly, I am... extremely grateful. If you had not come, I would have..."
She spoke in a trembling voice.
Although she had maintained her mental fortitude the whole time, Fianna's tensed mind probably relaxed after coming to a safe place at last. There was sobbing in her voice.
"That goes without saying. You're a member of Team Scarlet."
Hearing Claire's remark that sounded like she was hiding embarrassment, Kamito nodded in agreement.
After wiping her tears away with her fingers, Fianna restored her expression of fortitude and said:
"However, Kamito-kun, how did all of you infiltrate the imperial capital? Especially the nobles district, for which it is probably impossible to enter through ordinary methods."
"Oh, that's a long story..."
Kamito paused for a moment then continued.
"Actually, Rubia's the one who planned out the operation to rescue you, Fianna."
Fianna widened her dusk-colored eyes.
Kamito told her everything about the discussion with Rubia on the flying ship.
The Holy Kingdom's conspiracy to undermine the Ordesia Empire. The Fire Elemental Lord who had been reborn somewhere in the human realm. Also, there was Rubia's intention to issue a declaration as Legitimate Ordesia in opposition to the current Ordesia imperial family—
"Yes, Nee-sama plans to raise a banner in your name to oppose the Empire that has turned into the Holy Kingdom's puppet state."
"If the declaration of Legitimate Ordesia is issued, Your Highness, it would be tantamount to overt rebellion against the Ordesia imperial family."
"Is that so...? Indeed you are right."
Fianna lowered her head and entered deep thought with a solemn expression.
"I think there's no need for you to give an immediate answer."
Kamito commented. The choice meant betraying the home country that had nurtured her and even her own family, to make enemies of them.
This answer would not be easy to decide. Even if Fianna decided to reject Rubia's plan, Kamito would still respect her wish. Claire, Ellis and Rinslet presumably felt the same.
However, Fianna soon raised her head and looked at Kamito and the others in turn—
"No. I shall become the empress of Legitimate Ordesia."
She declared decisively.
"Fianna, are you sure?"
"Yes, I shall become the empress, to fight the Holy Kingdom—"
Confronted with Kamito's question, Fianna nodded resolutely.
Witnessing Fianna's facial expression of resolve, Kamito and the others looked at one another.
The first to extend her hand was Claire.
"...Great. I will support your resolve, Fianna."
"Yes, for the sake of my homeland, I am willing to fight on your side, Your Highness."
Ellis stacked her hand on top of Claire's. Kamito silently placed his hand on top next.
"...Understood. I too shall join you."
Finally, Rinslet also showed an expression of resolve and stacked her hand on top.
"Rinslet, don't you need to govern Laurenfrost?"
"This castle will be governed by Mireille for the time being."
Faced with the frowning Claire, Rinslet asserted with confidence.
"Letting Mireille handle it... Will it really be okay?"
"She has already reached an age capable of employing a contracted spirit. Furthermore, the Wolf Ritters are at Winter Gulf Castle."
"Yes, it'll be okay. While Onee-sama is away, I will complete the job of administration splendidly. Besides, I still have Milla too."
After Mireille nodded, Milla Bassett, who was on standby in the back, nodded as well.
"Indeed, Arneus would not want to make enemies of the Laurenfrost Wolf Ritters until he has all the nobles in the nation under his control..."
Claire analyzed calmly. As long as they obeyed the Empire on the surface, he probably would not recklessly make a move on a border province that was tasked with the core of the Empire's national defense.
With hands stacked, the four of them focused their gaze on Fianna.
In response, Fianna—
"...Thank you, everyone."
With tears appearing in the corners of her eyes again, she nodded and placed her hand on top at last.
"Then how do we proceed?"
"First, we need to meet up with Rubia's flying ship... Velsaria and the others are supposed to have acted as a diversion for the imperial capital's forces."
"Use my Simorgh. It will be the fastest and most reliable means of communications."
Ellis chanted words of summoning and the demon wind spirit immediately appeared out of thin air with wings spread. After, Ellis spoke a few words of instructions into his ear, Simorgh flapped his wings forcefully and flew away into the sky—
"Before the Captain's bird returns, you should all take a rest at Winter Gulf Castle. As it so happens, Mireille's banquet is about to start."
"Sorry, Rinslet, for making so much trouble for you."
"No need to be formal. Kamito-san, you are the benefactor who had saved Laurenfrost. We are heavily indebted to you."
"A banquet would be nice, but I'd like to take a bath and cleanse myself first."
Claire looked down at her uniform and said.
"Yes... I have not gone through purification for at least three days."
After glancing at Kamito, Fianna blushed shyly.
She had been imprisoned ever since the day of the abortive attempted assassination on the emperor. Although the princess maidens tasked with keeping watch would regularly wipe her body, her holiness still decreased substantially. The reason why she had still been able to summon Georgios while in that state was probably thanks to her unusually strong bond with her contracted spirit.
"Prepare a bath immediately."
Rinslet nodded and swiftly issued orders to the maids in the castle.
Fianna's physical condition had weakened due to her imprisonment. After being treated by the castle's healers, she was taken to an open-air bath outside the castle.
Claire and Ellis, who did not need healing, had already finished taking their baths and gone to join Rinslet to help out in the courtyard preparations for the celebration banquet.
The outdoor changing area felt so cold that it was like freezing.
Shivering while removing her tattered dress and taking off her underwear, Fianna pinched the flesh on her arm while naked and sighed slightly.
"...I've lost quite a bit of weight and my skin has worsened too."
During the several day long prison life, not only was she deprived of bathing but she also did not receive enough sustenance apart from water. At the same time, while isolated from information of the external world, her body and mind were tormented by the fear of the upcoming execution whose exact date and time was unknown.
Fianna slowly sat down on a wet rock.
Dipping her feet into the open-air bath's hot water, she instantly felt comfortable stimulation on her skin.
Slowly, lowering herself into the water up to her shoulders, she exhaled.
Although it was not a natural hot spring, the water was very warm after being heated by a fire spirit crystal, thus soothing her weakened body. She could feel the received divine power circulating within herself while the lost holiness gradually recovered.
Fianna closed her eyes and breathed deeply and slowly.
With this, she could truly feel at peace at last.
(This place is no longer that prison...)
Staring at the gray cold sky, she murmured to herself mentally.
However, this was surely the only moment that she could relax like this...
Legitimate Ordesia as planned by Rubia—If Fianna were to become its monarch, it meant raising the banner of rebellion against the powerful Ordesia Empire.
That could possibly develop into a large-scale civil war, tearing the Empire into two.
(I cannot allow Ordesia to become the Holy Kingdom's puppet state... But—)
She still worried. Even though she had mustered her resolve at one point, her heart was still slightly wavering after all.
(Don't worry, I am no longer the Lost Queen from that time...)
Fianna wrapped her arms tightly around her wet body. Then recalling the sensations of Kamito's embrace, her lips moved apart involuntarily.
(Back then, although Kamito-kun was behaving a bit strangely...)
Arriving on the scene before Fianna's eyes and defeating Leschkir Hirschkilt at the time, Kamito was different from his usual self. He had given off a slightly scary impression.
(Still, having Kamito-kun acting that way once in a while was not bad either...)
Recalling memories from that time, that powerful embrace, the taking of her lips, she instantly felt her cheeks heat up.
Back then, a certain violent power had rampaged inside Fianna's body, allowing her to deploy her elemental waffe even when her divine power had been almost completely depleted. That power, like a howling storm, was still lingering inside her, smoking nonstop like a wood fire.
Feeling the inside of her body gradually heating up, Fianna moaned slightly.
(...Tsk, no good, I must calm down...)
Fianna's fingertips naturally reached for the tips of her breasts.
Sweet numbing pain was an unknown feeling she had never experienced before.
Fianna forcefully dug her fingernails into her skin in an attempt to cover up her body's elevated temperature using pain, but it seemed more like adding dry firewood to a smoking flame.
"...Mm, ah... Hoo... Ah, ummmmmm...!"
Sweet sounds leaked out from her gorgeous cherry lips.
"...N-No good... Why, is... this...?"
...No, she was actually well aware of the reason. It must be because she was thinking about Kamito.
Her consciousness gradually grew hazy.
(A-At this rate, I am going to act weird...)
Fianna drove out the thoughts of Kamito from her mind for now, closed her eyes and regulated her breathing.
She was supposed to have fully mastered the method of maintaining a calm mind regardless of the situation, back during her training at the Divine Ritual Institute. The harsh training included spending a number of days while soaking her body underwater. However, no matter what method she tried, her body did not cool down at all. Instead, the more she tried not to think of Kamito, the more easily his face would surface in her mind...
(...Ooh~, s-such shameless ideas when clearly even thinking such thoughts should be forbidden...!)
As a pure princess maiden, Fianna's entire mind was about to be washed out by a flood of terrifying lustful delusions that she had never imagined before...
Inside these thoughts were delusions including things that Kamito would absolutely not do in reality. Noticing a desire within herself to be treated violently like a plaything, to be violated beyond recognition... Fianna instantly felt ashamed of these hidden desires.
(H-How a-awful of me. I can't believe I'm wishing for Kamito-kun to do such things...)
He would surely despise her if he found out what she had been thinking...
As though punishing herself, Fianna dug her fingernails into her skin.
Red marks appeared on her pale skin but in spite of that, her body's aching did not subside.
"...Ah, mm, yah...!"
Amid her hazy consciousness, Fianna's fingers gradually slid down from her chest to her lower abdomen...
Sitting on a rock, Kamito suddenly looked up.
He was secretly acting as Fianna's bodyguard some distance away from the bath.
Although this place was under the jurisdiction of Winter Gulf Castle, which was safe, with a celebration banquet about to start, the nearby residents would be coming to the castle. It was a real possibility that spies from the Holy Kingdom or the pro-Arneus faction might be mixed among them.
He prepared himself to take instant action if anyone suspicious approached the vicinity.
(...Just now, I think I heard Fianna's voice.)
If Fianna screamed, he could instantly rush over from this instant. However, her voice just now was far too quiet to be considered a scream. The sound would have been impossible to hear had Kamito's hearing not been trained at the Instructional School.
Picking up the Demon Slayer by the hilt, he quietly stood up.
Next, he made his way to the rocky area where Fianna was bathing and listened carefully.
...Ah, mmmm... Kami... to-kun, help... me...
Instantly, Kamito ran over on reflex.
Kicking against a rock, he instantly jumped up and used divine power to enhance his leg strength to clear the wall of rock.
"Fianna, are you okay!?"
Landing on a rock in the bath, he swung his sword to create wind for sweeping steam away.
—He saw Fianna's figure, curled up in the hot water.
"—Ah, mm, huff, huff, huff..."
Kamito hastily rushed over, picked up Fianna in his arms and placed her outside the hot water bath.
Although it was his first time to witness her naked body and he could not help but blush, now was not the time to be concerned about such things—
"Huff, huff... Kamito... -kun...?"
Fianna blinked, her mind in a daze.
"What's wrong? Did you get dizzy from soaking for too long?"
Kamito took off his jacket and covered up her body.
Fianna slowly reached out and held Kamito's arm.
Her seductive dusk-colored eyes stared at Kamito intently...
"Sor, ry... Suddenly, my body heated up... Ah, mm...♪ "
Instantly, her body shook violently as though having a convulsion.
Just then, Kamito saw it.
On Fianna's neck, a birthmark resembling a seal was appearing—
It was a pattern sharing some similarity with Restia's spirit seal. However, this one was far more complicated and ominous—
"Could it be the seal of Ren Ashdoll, the Darkness Elemental Lord...!?"
Kamito gasped forcefully. He recalled the conversation he had had with Rubia on the flying ship's deck prior to sneaking into the imperial capital.
—The Demon King's princess maidens. Reportedly a thousand years ago, Demon King Solomon had taken princess maidens from conquered nations and made them his concubines, sharing the Darkness Elemental Lord's power with them. The power that Kamito had given Fianna through a kiss was probably eating away at Fianna's body, tormenting her right now...
"...Mm, ah, ooh... Huff, huff..."
Held in Kamito's arms, Fianna panted painfully.
Ellis and Rinslet probably had not experienced such a strong reaction in their instances... But after all, back when he kissed Fianna, Kamito was almost about to be devoured by the power of darkness within him. Most likely, that was what caused more direct effects on her.
(...Hmm, what should I do?)
Kamito bit his lip. Taking her back to the castle's healers would probably not help. Was sitting here, waiting for the power of darkness to subside on its own the only option...?
Fianna gripped Kamito's arm tightly, opened her mouth and bit him. With that, her irregular breathing seemed to calm down slightly.
"...Mm, Kamito-kun, sorry... This... Ahhh!"
"...It's okay. Until you settle down, carry on like this."
With his jacket between them, Kamito hugged Fianna.
After keeping this up for some time... Fianna's breathing gradually turned steady.
A couple of red bite marks had been added to Kamito's shoulder and arm.
"Has it calmed down?"
Held in Kamito's arms, Fianna lowered her head shyly.
"...Sorry, it's my fault."
"Uh, I kissed you once in the imperial capital, right? Back then, I think part of the Darkness Elemental Lord's power inside me transferred to you, Fianna."
"So... that power is the Darkness Elemental Lord's..."
Fianna looked like she had guessed this to some extent too. She nodded gently.
"B-Back, I think I lost my mind a bit... Uh, sorry."
"I understand, Kamito-kun. You were clearly behaving oddly at the time."
Confronted with Kamito bowing his head in apology, Fianna smiled with a chuckle.
Then she blushed to her ears.
"Uh... Keep what happened a secret, okay?"
"Y-Yeah, of course..."
After hearing Fianna's quiet whisper, Kamito nodded repeatedly.
—At that moment, Kamito suddenly recalled a certain matter.
"Speaking of secrets, about Greyworth—"
"I think it'd be best not to tell Claire and the others for now. From their perspective, the Dusk Witch is someone they idolize. Telling them right now would be a big shock."
"I agree that this would be more appropriate. After all, this is a rare day of celebration."
"Yeah, let's wait until after we meet up with Rubia before deciding the timing to let them know."
It was evening.
The celebration banquet to commemorate Mireille's spirit contract officially commenced in the castle's spacious courtyard.
Bonfires were lit all over the courtyard while the tables were laden with abundant delicacies.
There was honey-roasted pigeon, turnip and lentil soup, and local river fish, a Laurenfrost specialty, steamed while wrapped in spices. Also, grilled deer steak, smoked quail eggs, barley bread fresh out of the oven and topped with cheese... At the time same, the wine cellar was opened up to distribute quality wine to the local residents who had gathered here. As for children and people who could not drink, soda and fruit juice was prepared for them.
"Looks very luxurious."
Sitting at a table in a corner of the courtyard, Kamito remarked while eating bread.
This was bread that had been deep-fried with a thick coating after being stuffed with a filling of meat and stewed vegetables. As a famous Laurenfrost specialty, it was so popular that it was rapidly all taken as soon as it was served.
"Yes, I believe that by doing this, we can raise morale in the reconstruction efforts to some extent."
While savoring hot wine, Rinslet replied. As a side note, the one directing the cooking in the kitchen was Rinslet herself. Although she could not personally cook due to the great quantities required, every dish without exception was an exquisite masterpiece in flavor under her direction.
On the altar set up in the middle of the courtyard, dressed in a ritual attire, Mireille was performing a dance together with her contracted spirit, the snow weasel.
Despite being only nine years old, her dance performance was quite spectacular.
"Rinslet-sama, the Lord of Ornore would like to greet you."
"Understood, I shall be there presently."
Called by head maid Natalia, Rinslet stood up. Starting from a while ago, she had been busy nonstop, rushing about to greet lords from various territories.
Claire, Ellis and Fianna were lining up respectively at the long lines for various popular dishes.
At that moment, Kamito felt someone grab his sleeve and tug slowly.
He looked back to see that Est had turned back into human form at some point. She was staring at him intently.
"Est, is there anything you like? I'll go get them for you."
"Yes, I am hungry."
"You worked really hard too, Est—"
After all, she had clashed with Greyworth's sword many times. An ordinary spirit probably would have shattered in the initial impact.
Holding a plate to carry the food, Kamito was just about to get up when—
"Could this little miss be a spirit?"
A local old lady inquired.
"Yeah, that's right..."
"Wow, just as I thought huh? This is my first time to see a humanoid spirit in my entire life... Thank you, thank you..."
The old lady brought her palms together and started to pay respects to Est. Seeing that, the surrounding locals also gathered around to worship Est. Although it was widely known that the highest ranking spirits could take human form, chances for meeting humanoid spirits were extremely rare, even for the students enrolled at Areishia Spirit Academy.
The residents brought plates piled with food to Est one after another.
"Being worshiped by humans seems like a very distant memory... Ahm, ahm..."
Served with enthusiastic hospitality, Est kept eating nonstop.
...Somehow, watching this scene felt very soothing for one's soul.
"Kamito, feed me too."
"Yup, I got it."
Kamito picked up a fresh hot donut and brought it to Est's mouth.
"Ahm... Very tasty, Kamito."
"Ouch... Est, don't eat me along with it..."
Seeing Est trying to eat his fingers too, Kamito smiled wryly.
This time, it was the hellcat's turn to call out at Kamito's feet.
"Oh, Scarlet, you want some too?"
Kamito picked up venison wrapped in vegetables and fed it to Scarlet.
"Hold on, don't start feeding Scarlet without permission."
At that moment, Claire and the girls returned with plates filled with food.
"Oh, umm... I've brought your share too, Kamito-kun."
After making eye contact, Kamito and Fianna blushed mildly as though recalling what had happened earlier, looking away in embarrassment.
"So you brought your uniform."
"Yes, I keep my clothes inside Georgios."
After Fianna took her seat at the table, Kamito asked quietly:
"Uh... Are you okay now?"
"Y-Yes... Thanks to you, Kamito-kun, it has calmed down."
"...What are they talking about?"
Watching the two of them, Claire frowned in puzzlement.
The banquet lasted until late night. The local population greatly enjoyed being treated to the celebration. However, since the star of the event, Mireille, was still a child, she had apparently gone to bed early.
While listening to the orchestra's music, Kamito also returned to the bedroom assigned to him.
Although he inexplicably found Milla the maid present in his room, rolling about in his bed, she immediately smoothed out the sheets as soon as she noticed Kamito.
"Well then, Kamito-sama, good night."
After bowing her head respectfully, she took her leave.
"...What was that about?"
Puzzled, Kamito changed into pajamas and lay on the bed.
The bed was very soft and comfortable.
With his arms spread out, Kamito stared at the ceiling.
The wound on his flank, supposed to be closed up, was hurting with a dull pain.
(...Greyworth, I never expected you to become our enemy.)
There was a palpable feeling of numbness still lingering on his two hands which he had used to engage the Witch in battle. This familiar sensation was one that he had experienced more than enough times three years ago.
It had been so long since he last faced such fierce resistance. Besides, the number of elementalists capable of matching Kamito blow for blow were few to begin with, countable on one hand.
His opponent at the Blade Dance final match three years ago, Luminaris the Paladin, Rubia Elstein with holy maiden powers, Lurie Lizaldia of the Numbers, Shao Fu of the Four Gods representing the Quina Empire, and Leonora the dragon knight of Dracunia...
(...Speaking of Leonora, she helped me out again.)
Back then, Leonora had no reason to assist Kamito in battle.
The same went for the Blade Dance too. After challenging Kamito to a match and meeting defeat, she upheld her promise to go help Ellis and Rinslet.
As fellow elementalists, she was truly a good opponent worthy of respect.
In Rubia's plan, the declaration of Legitimate Ordesia required seeking asylum from the Dragon Duchy of Dracunia. He was most likely going to meet Leonora there again—
Immersed in his thoughts, with eyes closed, Kamito soon fell asleep.
—Kamito, listen to me, Kamito, where are you...?
Inside endless darkness that stretched without boundary... Her voice came.
(Restia... Is that you?)
Guided by the voice, Kamito felt his way around the darkness to advance...
In the center of the lurking darkness, he saw a concentration of greater darkness standing there.
It was the darkness spirit girl, sitting crouched there with her beautiful jet-black wings closed.
(Restia, I am here!)
Towards her figure, Kamito desperately reached out—
Kamito woke to a start.
(...A dream huh?)
Wiping sweat from his brow, he slowly sat up.
The sky outside was still dark, so it looked like dawn had not come yet. Normally, he would be woken up by either Scarlet or the presence of Est in his bed. Very rarely would he open his eyes at such an hour.
(...It's been so long since I last had a dream of Restia.)
During the three years of wandering in search of Restia, there was almost never a night when he did not dream of her. Among them included both beautiful dreams from childhood and severe nightmares.
But only in recent times did having such dreams become less and less frequent—
Suddenly, a mild pain passed through his left hand. Kamito could not help but look at the back of his hand, but Restia's disappeared spirit seal had not returned.
This was an occasional illusion. Perhaps fighting Greyworth might have stirred up his past memories with Restia—Reaching this conclusion, Kamito got out of bed.
He somehow felt like he was no longer in the mood for sleep.
After putting on a leather glove over his left hand, he exited the room.
He had abandoned the glove after losing the spirit seal, but after Restia returned with her memories lost, he had started wearing it again.
Kamito went through the corridor to reach the a balcony in the castle.
The moon was still bright. Looking down at the courtyard below, he could see the place littered with wine bottles and drunken soldiers and locals.
After leaning on the railing and enjoying the night breeze for a while—
"Kamito, what are you doing...?"
Suddenly, he heard a voice.
He looked back to see Claire arrive in her pajamas.
"What's up, Claire?"
"Hmm... I couldn't sleep for some reason."
Claire came up to Kamito and leaned her head against him.
"Claire, are you... drunk?"
"Yes, a little... I might have drank too much."
Her cheeks were a few shades redder. Usually a bit childish, Claire's appearance instantly looked gorgeous with her twintails untied and a tipsy expression. However, letting such comments loose would probably bring forth the flaming whip, so Kamito kept quiet.
Claire looked out at the starry sky that was even more expansive than the Forest of Ice Blossoms and said:
"Things have gotten huge in many ways."
"Yeah, you're right."
"...It feels like I've experienced many things since meeting you."
Back when he first arrived at the Academy, Kamito's mind was completely occupied with finding Restia.
But now, they were about to be swept into a war to decide the world's fate—
"Back then, I was trying desperately to meet my sister. I did many reckless things, a-and caused lots of trouble for you too."
"Well... After all, I almost got burned to charcoal as soon as we met."
"Th-That was your fault for seeing me naked, Kamito... A-And you even said something about having no interest in a child's naked body, didn't you!?"
"...Now that you mention it, I think you're right."
Thinking back, he had apparently said something quite awful at the time...
"I-It was my first time to be seen naked by a boy, it was such a shock..."
"It was my bad there... Sorry."
Kamito apologized honestly.
"But even though the way we met was so terrible—"
Claire paused then continued.
"Kamito, I think it was truly wonderful that I met you."
Claire lowered her head. Under the night's darkness, it was hard to see her expression clearly. The reason why she could voice her true feelings honestly was because she was drunk, right?
"Me too. I'm deeply grateful for the coincidence that allowed me to meet you in the Spirit Forest back then."
Saying that, Kamito patted Claire on the head.
—Yes, it was coincidence. It was only out of coincidence that Kamito, the Demon King's reincarnation, had rescued Claire and even contracted with Est.
It was absolutely not destiny decided by someone—
That coincidence was far more precious than so-called destiny. That was what Kamito thought.
Claire looked up and stared at Kamito.
Then taking a deep breath as though committing some kind of resolve—
"Uh, umm, Kamito... I-I..."
—Just at that moment.
Suddenly, Kamito noticed something glowing in the night sky.
The light source was approaching Winter Gulf Castle.
It was a military ship's searchlight.
"Could it be the Imperial Knights?"
"No, that's... Nee-sama's military ship!"
At the same time as Claire's exclamation—
The outline of the military ship, the Revenant, appeared from the other side of the Kyria Mountain Range.