Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume16 Chapter8
Chapter 8 - The Crimson Princess Maiden
Amid the fervor in the plaza swept with destruction—
The Demon King and his four concubines vanished amid rising black smoke.
"...I never thought they'd use a militarized spirit in this kind of place—"
Using the same elevator he had used to make his appearance, now returning underground, Kamito remarked.
"Yes, but I suppose the silver lining is that there were no deaths in the crowd."
Hearing him, Ellis nodded.
"Is Kamito-kun the target?"
"No, news of our arrival here shouldn't have reached them yet. They were most likely targeting Rubia—"
A mysterious princess maiden who had taken control of the rebel army within mere days would unavoidably incur Sjora's wariness. Sjora must have calculated that the rebel army would fall apart once she was eliminated.
"By the way, you really got into the performance just now..."
"Yes, it did not seem like acting at all. Or perhaps, that is your true nature, Kamito-kun?"
"N-No, it was all an act!"
The "floating stone" carrying Kamito and company stopped underground.
What came into view—
Rubia Elstein, wearing a crimson mask, was waiting for them.
"For starters, allow me to offer praise of well done. Tonight, the rebel army has finally come together as a cohesive whole from the refugee collective it used to be—"
"Don't tell me you arranged for the attack just now?"
Kamito questioned in a harsh tone of voice. Setting up an attack then quelling it to win the crowd's trust was a method frequently employed by rulers but would be crossing the line if Rubia actually did that. Any misstep and there could have been deaths—
"I concede it has not escaped my notice that Zohar personnel infiltrated the Demon's Fist."
Hearing Rubia's answer, Claire and the others showed anger on their faces.
"—That being said, I did not expect the assassins to bring a tactical-class militarized spirit. This insufficient gathering of intelligence was a failing on my part."
Trying to use that kind of militarized spirit with merely two people was definitely reckless to the extreme. Only someone like Muir Alenstarl with her unusual ability would be capable of completing such a crazy mission successfully.
"You allowed them freedom of movement on purpose?"
"Indeed. Instead of capturing enemy spies, it would be better to make good use of them."
Even though it was a failure on her part, everything including the attack just now had been used to increase the Demon King's prestige.
She had essentially taken practical control of the rebel army gathered at Mordis here.
"The true war has yet to come. You should all rest properly."
Saying that, dressed in ritual attire, Rubia turned around and vanished into the shadows in the passage.
Once she had receded out of sight, Rinslet sighed.
"Anyway, let us purify ourselves."
"Yes, th-this embarrassing outfit, I need to take it off as quickly as possible."
Hearing Fianna's suggestion, everyone nodded.
"Fufu, my lord Demon King, would you like to join us?"
"W-What are you talking about!?"
Kamito hastily shook his head in response to Fianna's mischievous smile.
Claire and the girls arrived at an open-air purification facility inside the Demon's Fist and soaked themselves in the hot spring there.
Since the Demon's Fist was built on an active volcano, the hot spring was not natural, but by heating the spring water using highly pure fire spirit crystals, it was still effective in helping their bodies recover from fatigue.
"Mm~, this feels so good... The water quality could give the Elstein springs a run for their money."
Claire stretched her arms out like a cat, partially closing her eyes in pleasure.
"According to local legends in Mordis, this is supposed to be the place where the Demon King's concubines recovered their energies."
"Your Highness, is this really true?"
"Who knows? It's just a legend after all. No one can confirm its truth. However, doesn't it feel great to be able to enter the same hot spring that the Demon King's concubines used?"
Leaning against a rock, Fianna chuckled.
"...N-Not in the slightest! W-What concubines!"
"H-Hmm, multiple concubines, what an awful custom—"
The other three girls protested with blushing faces.
"But that's only according to Ordesian culture, right? Within the Theocracy, it is very common for the king to marry multiple brides. In my view, it isn't particularly depraved or anything."
Unable to muster a rebuttal, Claire began to blow bubbles on the surface of the water.
Having entered the Divine Ritual Institute since childhood, Fianna frequently had the chance to meet princess maidens from other countries. As a result, she did not find it difficult to accept culture and customs foreign to Ordesia's. In contrast, Claire, Rinslet and Ellis had all grown up in prestigious households of Ordesian nobles, hence they had trouble understanding Theocracy customs that went against their concept of traditional marriage, viewing it as immoral.
"By the way, should Legitimate Ordesia allow polygamy like the Theocracy, I wonder?"
"W-What, w-what are you talking about!? Th-That's unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable!"
"Oh dear, but I am the monarch of Legitimate Ordesia, you know? I have the right to decide laws."
"We demand setting up a council!"
"Good grief, this is why the nobles of Ordesia are such stubborn fools..."
Fianna shrugged in exasperation.
"However, contrary to expectations, perhaps Kamito-kun might agree."
The three girls looked at one another.
"W-What do you mean by that..."
"How much of Kamito-kun's Demon King mode earlier do you think was acting?"
Claire and the girls looked at one another.
Indeed, Kamito was acting differently from usual when he put on the Demon King's mask earlier.
Even though Kamito insisted he was merely acting, was that really all there was to it? Perhaps he had a disposition in that direction to begin with and dressing up as the Demon King merely revealed it—
If this were true, Kamito could very likely agree with Fianna's proposal and make his move on every woman around him, setting his eyes on every female encountered, showing no fidelity at all—
(N-No, n-no way—)
At that moment...
"Fufu, this looks pretty fun. May I join in—?"
Hearing her voice from who knew where, Claire widened her eyes.
Out from the shadows of the rocks emerged the darkness spirit with jet-black wings.
She was not wearing her usual dress in the color of darkness. Completely naked, she dipped herself into the water.
Clear eyes the color of dusk. Illuminated mysteriously under the moonlight, her figure was so beautiful that Claire could not help staring mesmerized despite being a member of the same sex.
"Darkness spirit, w-what are you doing here!?"
Claire stood up warily.
Things were fine when she had lost her memories, but now, she was not someone to be trusted.
Although she looked like she was not going to turn against Kamito, one could not say the same for Claire and the others.
"Nothing. I am not here to do anything, Miss Hellcat—"
"I am simply here to enjoy the hot spring. I originally wanted to share a soak together with Kamito, but he lectured me, saying no. So that leaves me no choice but to come to this side."
"What—I-Is, isn't that obviously unacceptable!"
"Th-That is correct. E-Even for a contracted spirit, a m-m-mixed bath is—"
Claire and Ellis cried out with reddened faces.
"—By the way, aren't you a spirit? There's no need to clean yourself, right!?"
"Oh my, but spirits enjoy hot springs too, you know? After all, it is suitable for replenishing divine power."
Splash. Restia stretched out her legs in the water.
Her beautiful and lustrous black hair, seeming like it would meld into the night, spread out on the water surface.
"—Also, I would like to thank all of you."
Hearing that, Claire frowned, full of suspicion.
"Yes, during my amnesia, didn't you all help to look after the other me? Although my current self never experienced it, the memories have been preserved in whole."
Restia swept her gaze across the faces of Claire and the girls.
"Although we have had many differences in the past, let us reconcile."
She gently extended her hand towards Claire.
Claire showed surprise on her face.
The trio of Ellis, Fianna and Rinslet looked at one another with equally troubled expressions.
Claire glared at Restia before her and said:
"Y-You still remember everything you did to us, right?"
She had given Claire a berserk spirit when she was sad over the loss of Scarlet, she had directed Jio Inzagi to attack the Academy, she had also partnered with the dark monster Nepenthes Lore during the Blade Dance's preliminary round to assault Team Scarlet's base—
Their complicated past with the darkness spirit could not be reset to a clean slate so easily.
"You have a point. I have done things to you that merit bearing a grudge. I apologize."
Seeing her bow her head sincerely, Claire fell silent.
She actually knew in her heart. Everything this darkness spirit had been done was with consideration for Kamito.
Her sacrifice for Kamito was genuine. Precisely because she knew this, Claire had such complicated feelings in her heart. However—
Claire looked at the trio behind her.
Then with calm expressions, they all nodded gently.
(...That's right. I should act a bit more mature.)
Claire quietly sighed then stared into Restia's eyes intently.
"...I guess there are things I need to thank you for too."
"I heard it from Kamito before. You were the one who helped Kamito recover his heart and feelings when he was approaching breaking point. If you hadn't nurtured Kamito, we never would have met the current Kamito—"
Claire sighed and shook Restia's hand.
"...Fine, let the past be water under the bridge."
Restia's eyes widened slightly in surprise. Then...
She spoke words of gratitude.
"Then may I join you?"
"Sure you may, but put away those wings. They're against the rules."
"Fufu, I see..."
When Claire pointed that out, the jet-black wings turned into particles of light and disappeared.
Soaking herself up to her shoulders in the hot spring, Restia recited an incantation. Immediately, several small cups appeared out of thin air.
"This is rose wine, a specialty of Mordis. Let this be my gift of reconciliation."
"...Let us drink."
Under the moonlight, Claire and company quietly toasted.
—At the same time, Kamito was enjoying a leisurely dip in the hot spring at the open-air purification facility.
"Hoo, I feel alive again..."
Kamito placed a wet towel on his forehead and leaned against a mossy rock.
Against a large militarized spirit, even Kamito could not avoid consuming a large quantity of divine power. Even Est, placed against a nearby rock, would have to remain in sword form for the time being.
"But I never expected I'd ever have to be the Demon King..."
Looking up at the foreign sky with twinkling stars, Kamito muttered in a daze.
Originally, his plan was to play the Demon King according to Rubia's script, but before he knew it, some sort of limiter in his subconscious seemed to have lifted, causing him to make a declaration he would never say in normal times—
(Don't tell me this mask is also imbued with that kind of magic...)
With eyes of suspicion, Kamito glanced at the Demon King's mask floating on the water surface.
—At that moment.
With a faint sound of water, small ripples began to spread on the water surface.
"—It appears that you have yet to fully control the Darkness Elemental Lord's power, Ren Ashbell."
Hearing the voice, Kamito could not help but stand up.
Only to see appearing behind the steam—
A princess maiden with crimson hair, dressed in white ritual attire.
Seeing her figure, Kamito instantly gasped. Why did she show up here? Before he could ask, his consciousness was seized by her beauty first.
"W-What are you doing—"
Ignoring the flustered Kamito, Rubia slowly lowered herself into the hot spring.
Her gorgeous long ruby-like hair began spreading out on the water surface like fallen petals.
Then with ruby eyes just like Claire's, she stared intently at Kamito—
"You must have consumed plenty of divine power in the battle earlier. I am here to confirm whether you have been corrupted by Ren Ashdoll's power—"
With slender fingers, she gently touched Kamito's face.
Perhaps it was because her skin became visible under her ritual attire after it became wet. Faced with unexpected stimulation, Kamito felt his heart pounding.
Although her younger sister Claire was an amazing beauty so long as she stayed quiet, Rubia's appearance was like a more mature version of Claire, with an additional mysterious melancholic allure that the younger Elstein lacked.
"Y-Yeah, I'm fine..."
While shifting his gaze away from her gorgeous body, Kamito replied.
Despite having used the bold move of the Bursting Blossom Spiral Blade Dance, Kamito was still far from going all-out earlier. It should be different from when he was rescuing Fianna at the imperial capital.
"Is that so—"
However, Rubia narrowed her eyes of ruby—
"...The corruption has already reached such an extent, huh?"
"...? What do you mean—"
Kamito was interrupted mid-sentence.
Because she suddenly pressed her lips upon his.
The paralyzing sense of pleasure flowed through his brain for an instant.
Faced with her unexpected action, Kamito was unable to react in any way.
While caressing Kamito's cheek gently, Rubia slowly moved her lips away.
"...! ...Y-You, what... the hell..."
Kamito muttered in a daze.
—No sooner had he spoken...
He noticed that his body suddenly felt lighter.
Expanding divine power was coursing through his entire body, instantly erasing the fatigue inside him.
"..What did you do?"
"I knew it. Even you are not aware of it."
Rubia looked strictly at Kamito.
"Left alone, you are going to be devoured by the power of darkness at this rate."
"...!? The power of darkness? I didn't feel it at all just now."
In the previous battle, Kamito had neither felt his divine power depleting nor encountered the feeling of Ren Ashdoll's power corrupting his body, one that he had felt multiple times before. As far as he could tell, he had not heard her voice, trying to entice him to awaken as the Demon King either.
"It is because your divine power is gradually merging with Ren Ashdoll's power. You are already corrupted by the power of darkness—"
Speechless, Kamito stared at his hands.
(...Don't tell me, it was during that time, huh?)
Speaking of which, during the battle against Greyworth, the moment just as he was about to be devoured by the power of darkness—
There had been a feeling like some kind of shackles being lifted.
Suppose what Rubia just said was true, then the power of darkness might devour him in the future before his divine power reached depletion.
"This is my oversight. I failed to realize the possibility that you might have been corrupted this much, and even asked you to fight that militarized spirit—"
Withdrawing her hand from Kamito's cheek, Rubia slowly stood up.
Water droplets were slowly falling from the tips of her wet crimson hair.
"From now on, whenever you are about to be devoured by the power of darkness—Use me, Ren Ashbell."
"...? What does that mean—"
Hearing her declaration, Kamito responded in puzzlement.
"In other words, use my body as you please—"
Rubia spoke in a calm tone of voice.
"I can serve you as Queen, to become a sacrifice for swallowing the power of darkness—"
Saying that, she lightly slid off her wet ritual attire.
In that instant, Kamito widened his eyes.
Under the moonlight, her gorgeous body, covered with glistening water droplets, was in full display.
Two bulges, tracing out beautiful curves. Long slender legs evocative of a doe's. Crimson hair, draping over her pale skin. She looked like a goddess.
"—An ugly body, wouldn't you agree?"
She spoke with self-derision.
Her beautiful naked body—
Was marked by numerous patterns resembling countless intertwined snakes.
"Cursed armament seals were implanted all over my body in order to summon the Sacred Maiden's power and the ultimate flame spirit Laevateinn. This body is now the farthest thing away from a pure princess maiden. It is merely a poisonous vessel covered with filthy curses. I care not how you violate it. Just do with it as you please, whenever you desire it. I can be the venting target for suppressing your power of darkness. It is the only contribution I am capable of now that I have lost my powers as an elementalist—"
Kamito was at a loss for words, facing Rubia who had delivered such words seriously.
Clenching his trembling fist, he stared into her eyes squarely.
Staring at those ruby eyes with crimson flames within them—
"You are always acting like that—"
"Foisting everything on yourself, trying to handle everything alone. That's why four years ago, you vanished without telling your true thoughts and feelings to Fianna or your one and only little sister—"
"I am simply atoning for my sin."
Hearing what he said, Rubia shook her head.
"It's not your fault that the land of Elstein was ravaged by fire."
"It is my sin. Because I was the Queen serving the Fire Elemental Lord—"
Stubbornly set in her ways, she remained unconvinced.
For the sake of atoning for that sin, she had carved innumerable cursed armament seals onto her body.
...What massive resolve she must have committed.
She had been fighting bravely alone.
Suppressing all her emotions under that crimson mask—
And now, she still intends to sacrifice herself alone.
Kamito and Rubia stared at each other for a few seconds.
The first to look away was Rubia.
She slowly turned her body and told Kamito in her usual voice, cold as ever.
"In a few days, the rebel forces will be rallied to attack Zohar. Recuperate and rest as much as possible for now, Demon King—"
While Rubia was preparing to leave, Kamito spoke to her from behind:
"...I went to your study in the flying ship."
Kamito said to her.
"By chance, I found them. The letters Claire wrote to you."
Yes, kept between the books in the study were Claire's letters. Written in childish handwriting, they had been sent to the elder sister who had separated from her to enter the Divine Ritual Institute.
Rubia must have read them too many times to count. Left on the letters were signs of repeated reading.
"Claire always wanted to talk to you—"
"I am not her elder sister. I have already lost that right—"
"...Are you happy with things being like that!?"
"Yes. The person named Rubia Elstein was rendered ash the day of that fire. Standing before you right now is merely a corpse left behind by the crimson blaze."
Saying that, she disappeared into the darkness of the night.
"—Alright, stop moving. Settle down."
"...Shut up. Don't touch me."
Saladia was just about to chant healing magic when Jio Inzagi violently brushed her hand away.
"This will naturally heal on its own. After all, I am the Demon King's successor."
Showing off the cursed armament seal carved on his arm, Jio grinned fearlessly.
"...As you wish. When pus forms in the wound, I shan't be held responsible."
Saladia sighed in exasperation and closed the book-type elemental waffe.
"This place will soon be discovered, right? We must not linger for long."
They were currently hiding in a heretical Demon King cult chapel that Sjora Kahn had destroyed, turning it into a set of ruins.
There were still many knights of the royal guard in the surrounding areas, currently searching for her whereabouts.
Although Saladia had deployed an isolation barrier around the structure to prevent people from approaching, any well-trained elementalist would notice a barrier of this level.
Outside the chapel, a sandstorm was howling.
Sandstorms would blow in Zohar a couple nights every month. Although they could not hide here forever, it was true that they had no way of leaving until the sandstorm ended.
"Tsk, annoying sand."
"This is the Demon King's breath."
"A legend. These sandstorms are the breaths of Demon King Solomon—"
While concurring, Saladia murmured in her thoughts.
(...On the other hand, I find talk about the Demon King's reincarnation even more superstitious.)
Naturally, she would never voice such opinions—
Putting aside whether this man was the Demon King's reincarnation, as a bodyguard, he was undoubtedly quite excellent.
Indeed, amazing was the only word to describe Jio Inzagi's combat style just now.
Successively releasing the spirits that Saladia had sealed into his cursed armament seals, he discarded them immediately after using them. This horrifying combat style was unthinkable to any normal elementalist.
Under the weak illumination of a glowing orb, Saladia gazed at the young man's profile. Finally, she mustered her courage and asked:
"...Who on earth are you?"
"I am the Demon King's successor."
"No, not in that sense... Any ordinary person would have died from having so many cursed armament seals implanted. Where on earth did these things—"
Jio Inzagi bared his teeth and grinned fearlessly.
"From a certain facility that raised and trained me—"
"A facility that a princess like you won't know about. I was taken there as a baby where they all kinds of things with my body as they pleased... Oh well, in short, it was hell on earth. Those without aptitude died one after another. Once old enough to speak, kids were forced to kill one another, then tossed into the bottom of a valley like trash—"
Saladia covered her mouth with her hands, unable to speak.
...This man was probably speaking the truth. Based on a princess maiden's instinct, she could see through lies.
However, having grown up in the royal palace, she was unable to imagine that kind of hell.
"Hey, what's with that look in your eyes? Are you pitying me?"
Jio Inzagi narrowed his eyes sharply and glared at Saladia.
"Don't use your own fucking standards to measure others. I'm very grateful that my body turned out like this. Thanks to that, I am one step closer to the Demon King—"
Looking at the cursed armament seal carved on his arm, he made terrifying smile.
"Why are you so... about the Demon King—"
Just as Saladia was about to ask him...
The chapel's floor shook while dust and debris on the ceiling came clattering down.
"...What, an earthquake?"
"...No, Zohar has never had any earthquakes before—"
Saying that, she stopped, her body trembling in terror.
"—Could it be that my sister has released that seal?"
Across the desert with a sandstorm howling through the night, two ground dragons were dashing.
They were carrying Muir and Lily, heading to Zohar for reconnaissance.
"An hour or so until we reach Zohar. Don't get careless, Muir."
"Nothing to worry about. If we're discovered, just take out the enemy and it'll be fine, right?"
"Our mission is simply to return with gathered intelligence. We must avoid fighting as much as possible—"
Lily scolded her sharply. In that instant...
Suddenly, there was a terrifying rumbling in the ground. The desert shook violently.
"...W-What?" "What is going on!?"
The eerie rumbling in the earth persisted. The ground dragons crouched down in fear.
This was no simple earthquake.
The rhythmic vibrations were almost like a living creature's fetal movements—
"Lily, something is approaching..."
Lily stared intently through the howling sandstorm.
Then her eyes widened in shock.
"...Isn't that Zohar!?"