Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume15 Chapter5
Chapter 5 - Temple of the Dark Dragon
Riding on the flying dragon controlled by Leonora, Kamito went to the trading port of the dragon capital of Grand Dracunia. The long journey on the dragon carriage was covered within the blink of an eye by riding a flying dragon.
After tying the flying dragon to a plaza specialized for dragons, Leonora walked towards a bustling marketplace.
"Such a busy place..."
"Because the Kelbreth Mountain Range is a major source of spirit crystals. Even without ships, it is very common here to use flying dragons to engage in trade."
Just as Leonora said, while Kamito was walking through the market, flying dragons carrying wooden crates of goods kept flying overhead in criss-crossing directions.
"Won't they crash into one another?"
"Experienced flying dragon riders won't have those type of accidents. Novices do drop goods occasionally, but the local residents are used to it."
"This isn't a matter of getting used to it or not, right?"
The reason why the buildings here looked sturdier than those in the imperial capital or the Academy town was hopefully not as a precaution against objects dropped from great heights.
"This amount of air freight is already relatively low. On one hand, the Theocracy's civil war has interrupted trade. On the other hand, trade with Ordesia will probably be put on hold for the near future."
"You call this relatively low..."
Looking at the unceasing flow of dragons overhead, Kamito stared in amazement with his mouth open.
Seeing that, Leonora laughed proudly.
"You are overreacting if you get shocked by something of this level. During the annual Flying Dragon Dance Festival, the entire sky will be blotted out by dragons. Now that is what I call spectacular."
"Eh, I'd really like to see that..."
...What kind of scene would that be like? For some reason, Kamito imagined a large swarm of locusts.
"Great, let me be your guide on that occasion as well."
"Fufu, it is a promise."
—Thus they walked for a while, sometimes looking up at the dragons overhead, other times checking out goods in the market. The two of them then came to a large road under a giant canopy.
On the two sides of the road were shops with fancy signs. The road was crowded with people.
"This is the Dragon's Street—the biggest entertainment district in the dragon capital. You can buy anything you want from general merchandise, craft products to dragon eggs. Apparently, there are also tools for sale for nighttime fun."
"What tools for nighttime fun?"
"Who knows? I don't have a clear idea either..."
Saying that, the two of them strolled casually through Dragon's Street. At an open-air stall on the side of the road, Kamito saw many rare items for sale that could not be found in the Academy town.
"Say, what's that?"
Kamito pointed to a blue egg, large enough for a person to wrap their arms around in a hug.
"A drake egg—a type of small dragon."
"Can you eat it?"
"Of course not. Nobles use them as interior decoration. However, it's possible to make them hatch by using a blazing furnace. Newly hatched drakes are quite cute."
"Small dragons huh? Now I kind of feel like raising one."
Kamito imagined a palm-sized fire-breathing dragon.
"Yes, juvenile drakes are roughly the size of horses and very easy to take care of."
"That's plenty large already."
"Really? I have seven of them at home."
...As expected of a princess of the Dragon Nation. Her standards were completely different.
"If it's no longer possible to keep them, what happens when they go feral?"
"The majority of feral drakes return to the Kelbreth Mountain Range. However, it's just that most of them turn into prey for the bigger dragons."
"What a cruel world..."
Just as the two of them were chatting in front of the shop...
"Oh, are you looking for drake eggs? Excellent taste, good sir."
Smiling cordially, the shopkeeper came outside.
"Oh no, I'm just looking, I don't plan on..."
"What a kidder you are, good sir, amazing. I can't believe you are aiming that high."
Checking out Kamito and Leonora, the shopkeeper smiled suggestively.
"What do you mean?"
"Drake eggs are good luck charms. Rumor has it that a single touch could ensure swift conception."
Kamito hastily backed away. He glanced around, only to see the surrounding people smiling at the two of them as though they were newlyweds.
"You didn't know?"
"O-Of course I didn't. L-Let's go..."
Kamito grabbed Leonora's hand and hastily left that place.
Only after leaving Dragon's Street did Kamito finally stop walking. Leonora glared at Kamito with her face bright red.
"Y-You, do you always go around holding girls' hands this casually!?"
Kamito let go in a panic.
"Oh no, it's not like I mind continuing like this..."
Leonora instantly stammered.
"Uh, after running around, I feel a little hungry..."
"Hmm? Oh, that's true... How about finding a place to have lunch?"
"W-Would you like to go there?"
Leonora pointed to a shop whose sign depicted a gigantic dragon.
"Dragon steak... Don't tell me they sell dragon meat?"
"Of course not. They use cattle raised on mountain ranches."
Kamito breathed a sigh of relief.
"It's just that they grow to the size of dragons."
—While Kamito and Leonora were casually sightseeing in the dragon capital...
Claire and company were walking up a mountain path leading to Dragon's Peak.
Although the flying dragons of the Knights of the Dragon Emperor gave them a lift until the middle of the mountain, the rest of the way to the pinnacle had to be journeyed on foot because of the thick mist as well as the large number of violent dragons living there.
...After a while of walking up this steep mountain path, the surrounding mist started to thicken gradually.
It was clearly daytime yet visibility was extremely poor. It was hard to see even a couple of steps ahead.
"...Next up, which way should we go?"
Claire looked around.
"Although Nee-sama said that what I need is here—"
At that moment, Scarlet suddenly meowed then ran off in a certain direction.
"Wait, Scarlet! Going off on your own is dangerous!"
Chasing after Scarlet's tail, waving in the mist, Claire followed.
Soon, she found a set of stone steps in front of her.
"There are steps in this kind of place?"
Claire cocked her head and looked up.
"What happened, suddenly running out... Hmm?"
At this moment, Ellis and the others caught up and noticed the steps too.
"Where does this lead?"
"I am very curious..."
"Let's go up to have a look."
Chasing after Scarlet, Claire and company began to climb the steps.
After ascending roughly three hundred steps—
"...W-What is this place?"
The group had arrived at a stone temple covered in moss.
The architectural style was different from what was commonly seen all over the continent. It looked very ancient.
At the temple's entrance, Scarlet was sitting still.
"The air is very murky..."
Fianna frowned. With especially keen senses as a princess maiden, she was particularly sensitive to impure air.
"Leonora-dono did not mention this place—"
"Scarlet, how did you know about this place?"
Claire asked Scarlet at her feet.
Scarlet's behavior just now was almost like she was leading the way for Claire's group.
However, logically speaking, this should be Scarlet's first visit to this place too.
"—Let's check out the inside."
Claire stepped into the temple apprehensively.
—At that moment...
"What fools dare to disturb my peaceful slumber—"
Suddenly, something's shadow appeared before her eyes—
Frightened, Claire pounced onto Rinslet beside her.
Fianna hastily recited spirit magic to illuminate the surroundings.
What they saw before them was—
Claire could not help but freeze in surprise.
That creature(?) was hovering at Claire's eye level.
It was a palm-sized round black creature.
On the ball-like body were round limbs and a horned lizard's face.
...On the back was something that might count as a tail.
The mysterious creature crossed its arms and puffed out its chest in midair.
"...W-What is this weird creature!?"
Claire cried out with her twintails standing up. Since a deep voice with great solemnity had sounded in the dark, she was expecting something far more terrifying.
"You are the fools who are disturbing my peaceful slum—Hey, what are you doing? Stop that!"
"What the heck is with you? How dare you scare me!"
Claire grabbed its tail hard, instantly causing the strange creature to make lot of noise.
"Let go, Claire. It is definitely this place's guardian spirit or something."
"Bullying spirits will bring bad karma."
After Fianna and Ellis said that...
"Ehhh, what kind of joke is that!? I am not some kind of guardian spirit!"
The weird creature struggled free of Claire's hand and roared angrily.
"I am the dark dragon Vritra who used to rule this Kelbreth Mountain!"
Claire and company showed eyes of despise at the same time.
"...W-Wait, aren't you surprised? This is the legendary dark dragon, you know!?"
Probably failing to get the expected reaction, the weird creature began to panic.
"Say, could you be realistic if you're going to lie? Who's going to believe an unbelievable claim that a weird creature like you is actually the legendary dark dragon? If you don't explain honestly, I'll roast you into charcoal."
While lighting flames of spirit magic on her palm, Claire glared at the mysterious creature.
(Well, now that it's mentioned, it does look a bit like a dragon...)
This creature might be what a black dragon looked like if you shrunk it to a small size then kneaded it like clay.
"I-I am not lying! This is merely a false appearance I use to deceive perceptions. If I were to recover my former power, I could swallow you lot whole in one bite!"
The mysterious creature roared in anger.
Claire shrugged and answered. Just as Fianna pointed out, this was probably something like a dragon spirit that lived in the temple. There was no time to waste on humoring it.
(I have to find the way to become strong as soon as possible...)
Ignoring the mysterious creature that kept causing a ruckus, she was just about to leave when—
"...Curse you, foolish lower lifeforms. The Fire Queen who came before you knew her manners much better."
Suddenly hearing that, Claire and the girls could not help but halt in their steps.
"You... What did you just say?"
"Foolish lower lifeforms—"
"After that. You said something about a Fire Queen coming here?"
Claire pursued the matter.
"...How long ago was that?"
"U-Umm, roughly three years ago. No, it might have been four..."
"Three or four years ago..."
Claire rested her chin against her hand in contemplation. The timing matched the period when Rubia had betrayed the Elemental Lords and was working secretly behind the scenes as the Cardinal.
"Nee-sama came here...?"
Claire's murmurs leaked out.
"Did you say 'Nee-sama'?"
Hearing that, the mysterious creature went "hmm" and examined Claire's face.
"Yes, you are that girl's sister! I see now, there is definitely a resemblance. I remember her saying that you are going to visit one day, sooner or later—"
Bouncing around while circling Claire unceremoniously, muttering to itself.
Claire looked down at Scarlet by her feet.
...Speaking of which, what had her sister been doing with Scarlet on the Revenant's deck that time?
(...Could it be that she was telling Scarlet about this place?)
Hence, Scarlet had led Claire and company here?
...Indeed. Even Leonora, who had trained before on Dragon's Peak, did not know of this location. Then surely, this was not somewhere that could be reached by chance.
In that case—
"Uh... Are you seriously the dark dragon Vritra of legend?"
"I already said so just now!"
Claire recalled how Leonora had said that the dark dragon Vritra ruling the Kelbreth Mountain Range was exterminated by Sacred Maiden Areishia a thousand years ago.
(...Wait, did I remember wrong?)
In fact, yes. What Leonora had said was:
—Vritra was defeated by Sacred Maiden Areishia and sealed in a temple on the peak.
"...Then could this temple be—"
"Indeed, this is precisely the temple where my mortal enemy Areishia sealed me."
The dark dragon Vritra crossed its arms conceitedly and replied.
"Yes, it happened a thousand years ago—"
The creature calling itself the legendary dark dragon looked out into the distance and began to recount.
"Why is it narrating when no one asked...?"
"Shush, just listen and don't interrupt."
Rinslet silenced Claire.
"As a powerful dragon spirit, I led the dragons and spirits of Kelbreth Mountain to bring wanton destruction upon the lower realm. Back then, Demon King Solomon had brought virtually all lands under his rule but no army of the Demon King could ever defeat me—"
"Ehhhh, that's amazing—"
While eating snacks that Rinslet had prepared in advance, Claire concurred.
—However, what then appeared was precisely the Salvation Army led by Sacred Maiden Areishia. The Salvation Army routed the dragon army and ascended the Kelbreth Mountain peak, Vritra's stronghold. The people of the lower realm all rejoiced to see the notorious dark dragon coming to an end.
However, Areishia's power was not that strong at the time, hence the powerful Vritra defeated her army and succeeded in capturing her.
"Are you really speaking the truth? The Divine Ritual Institute never taught this."
Fianna asked skeptically.
"Guaranteed. During my prime, even that Dragon King took care not to offend me."
Vritra answered with overwhelming vigor.
"However, I made a grave mistake at the time."
"Yes, meeting defeat at my hands, the sacred maiden depleted her divine power and the sword turned back into its original form as a spirit. Intending to take the powerful sword spirit into my possession, I touched her foot."
Hearing that, Claire and the girls looked at one another.
"For some reason, that seemed to incur the sword spirit's wrath. In the next instant, my arm and a wing had been sliced into two—"
The dark dragon Vritra began to shudder.
"I do not remember clearly what happened next, except that I was thoroughly beaten up, escaping back into this temple of my residence, barely alive. However, that was a poor decision. An isolation barrier was deployed around the temple. In my weakened state, I was sealed by the sacred maiden."
"So that was how you became like this."
Rinslet said with pity.
Its appearance was supposed to be more humongous and terrifying originally. However, after being sealed in a de-powered state, Vritra turned into this strange dragonoid shape.
"...Well, I understand the story now. What an ordeal."
Saying that, Ellis patted Vritra's head.
...It looked like this was the temple where the dark dragon was sealed, no mistake.
However, there was no point in dwelling on the details of what happened to the dark dragon—
"Then why did Nee-sama come here?"
"Hmm, that Fire Queen arrived here on a certain stormy night. Due to the mist barrier deployed by the sacred maiden, ordinary people usually cannot find this place. However, through her unusual intuition, she found the location of this temple."
"Rubia-sama used to be known as the top Queen of all age—"
Fianna murmured quietly.
"The Fire Queen had suffered severe injuries and was apparently under pursuit."
"Back then, both the Divine Ritual Institute and Ordesia's knights were searching for Nee-sama. So it was because she hid in this place, protected by the sacred maiden's barrier, that they lost her trail..."
"That girl stayed here for many months to undertake princess maiden training. As it so happened, I was lacking a conversation partner too. Those days were such a delight..."
—The dark dragon kept nodding as though remembering that time fondly. Although spirits had no concept of time, after being sealed in this kind of place for as long as a thousand years, it was probably hard not to feel lonely.
Claire murmured with a complicated expression.
The past Rubia in Claire's memories was very gentle, considerate and approachable. Back when she was staying at this temple, it was possible that she had yet to become the current Cardinal, consumed in her quest for carnage.
"So Nee-sama trained here..."
Saying that, she looked around the temple's dim interior.
However, this decrepit temple did not look suitable for a princess maiden's training no matter what.
What exactly did her sister do to obtain such potent power...?
"How did Nee-sama train? We want to become stronger."
Claire approached Vritra and said with a pleading expression.
"...Hmm, become stronger huh?"
"Indeed, I cannot sense power from you on that girl's level. The hellcat seems to be a powerful spirit, but has not released its rightful power at all."
Hearing the same thing as what her sister had said, Claire was instantly plunged into despair.
Seeing like that, Vritra closed its eyes for a while before—
"You lot, follow me—"
It turned and moved deeper into the temple.
Claire and company looked at one another.
"Say, where are we going...?"
Following the hovering Vritra in the lead, they walked along a passage leading to the depths of the temple—
Then they encountered a square room with High Ancient carved all over the floor in front of them.
"...This place is?"
"An ancient historical site. I've read about similar ones in the library of the Divine Ritual Institute..."
Fianna murmured in interest.
"Indeed. This historical site dates back to antiquity as a device for Elfim princess maidens to increase their ability to commune with spirits."
Vritra nodded proudly.
"Then Nee-sama was training here?"
"Yes. Her goal was probably this historical site from the start."
"What kind of training did Rubia-sama do exactly?"
Ellis asked. A training enthusiast, she looked like she could hardly contain her excitement.
"I do not know the details. However, the girl said it was not ordinary training. This is a place for people to confront the value of their own existence—"
"The value of your own existence..."
Claire murmured with a wondering look.
"Uh, Mr. Dark Dragon, may we use this place?"
Next, Vritra looked away as though embarrassed.
"Hmph, in recognition of the Fire Queen who stands as the only one in this era to establish ties of friendship with me, I shall lend this place to you. After all, it was part of the contract with that girl—"
"None of your business. Very well, how about it? Use it if that is your wish, otherwise, leave this temple immediately!"
Vritra snarled angrily.
"Then we will use it with gratitude. You are surprisingly nice."
"...What? I-I am the evil dark dragon!"
Claire patted it on the head, prompting Vritra to open its mouth and breathe small flames.
"Fine, make haste and enter the room!"
At Vritra's urging, Claire and the others stepped into the square-shaped room.
Instantly, reacting to the divine power of princess maidens, the High Ancient covering the floor began to glow.
"...W-What is this!?"
In the next instant—
Claire and everyone else turned into particles of light and vanished.
That dream, encountered again.
Inside darkness, I am alone with my jet-black wings closed, waiting for a certain person the whole time.
A duration hundreds, thousands of years long, like an eternity—
Have I been waiting in this darkness the whole time?
The seal branded on the left hand.
Glowing faintly in the darkness, it was her last remaining hope.
(...Who on earth are you waiting for?)
Inside the dream, I asked her—
As one might expect, I did not receive an answer.
At that moment, Restia woke up.
(That dream again...)
...Recently, she frequently had this dream about waiting for a certain person in the darkness the whole time, her dream.
It was clearly a dream but preserved especially vividly in her memory...
—Suddenly, Restia noticed an alarming change.
(...Where is this?)
She had clearly opened her eyes but her surroundings were shrouded in darkness, just like the dream.
She remembered she had been taken to a room in the castle, to lie down on the bed and sleep.
This place had neither windows nor glowing orbs hovering at the ceiling for illumination. Instead of a soft bed's mattress, her back was resting against an entangled mess of tree vines.
(...Why am I in this kind of place!?)
Restia frantically tried to get up, but—
Her arms and legs were immobilized. Vines were restraining her body.
The more intensely she struggled, the tighter the vines bound her.
Restia called his name hoarsely.