Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume17 Chapter2
Chapter 2 - The Missing Princess
The sound of hard combat boots echoed along the passage in the fortress.
"...Hey, that was a misunderstanding just now."
Rubia was walking ahead without speaking a word. Facing her back, Kamito gingerly tried to explain.
"By misunderstanding, what are you referring to?"
Rubia stopped walking and looked back. Her long hair, as crimson as her sister's, fluttered softly.
"Well, umm, what happened just now..."
Kamito wanted to explain briefly about the situation on the bed earlier. However, given how unnatural and easily construed as a perverted scene, how should he explain it—?
Possibly due to spending energy on creating panties, or perhaps acting shy in Rubia's presence, Est had returned to her sacred sword form.
Rubia's ruby-like eyes stared intently at Kamito as though penetrating him.
"I understand. There is no need for an explanation."
"I-I'm glad you understand."
Kamito breathed a sigh of relief.
"I also know that you are a Demon King in all meanings of the term. That being said, making a plaything of your partner, a contracted spirit, is certainly to be frowned upon."
"Like I said, you've got the wrong idea...!"
Kamito could not help but clutch his head... Just as he thought, there was a complete misunderstanding.
Rubia stared intently at Kamito's face.
"Ren Ashbell. You should tell me you need to use my body whenever you cannot resist the Darkness Elemental Lord's power."
Kamito recalled the scene at the ritual purification site a few days earlier.
Back then, she definitely said something like this. She did not mind if he used her body as he liked when the power of darkness was about to devour him.
Her entire body was marred by cursed armament seals. Recalling the sight of her beautiful naked body, Kamito could not help but turn red.
After going through the passage, the two of them got on a cargo elevator. The elevator's simple design consisted of a processed metal plate with a spirit crystal embedded inside. When Rubia poured in a small amount of divine power, a spirit mechanism could be heard activating while Kamito felt himself surrounded by an uncomfortable floating sensation.
"By the way, what's the emergency meeting about? Did something serious happen in the Ordesia Empire?"
"Clues have been found regarding Saladia Kahn's whereabouts."
Kamito raised his eyebrows slightly.
Saladia Kahn was the second princess and a former general of the Alphas Theocracy. She was also the younger sister of Sjora Kahn, who had merged with Zohar's core and the strategic-class spirit Leviathan and died.
Saladia was initially imprisoned by her older sister, and the goal of Kamito and company was to rescue her and protect her as the princess.
If Saladia were to take the throne, the chaotic situation in the Theocracy arising from Sjora Kahn's rebellion would end, thus eliminating the chance for intervention by the Ordesia Empire, which had turned into the Holy Kingdom's puppet. In addition, Legitimate Ordesia with Fianna as its empress would win the powerful Dracunia's backing.
However, when Kamito and company first entered the Theocracy's capital of Zohar, Saladia Kahn had escaped, aided by someone unknown.
—Where on earth had she disappeared to?
For the last few days, Rubia's subordinates from the Instructional School were conducting a search, but nothing had turned up yet.
"We shall discuss the specifics later. Walls have ears here."
Getting off the elevator, they arrived a place offering an overlooking view of the whole city at the foot of the mountain.
This place was the surveillance tower of the Mordis fortress.
Looking down, there was a bizarre sight below.
(...I can't get used to this no matter how many times I look at it.)
Frowning, Kamito muttered to himself.
The walls of the mining town Mordis built around the fortress had been invaded by another enormous city. The scene looked like a giant beast was devouring a small animal.
This had happened seventy-two hours earlier.
Aiming to crush the rebel forces gathered at Mordis in one fell swoop, Sjora Kahn, the Theocracy's witch, had activated a strategic-class spirit, Leviathan, that had been sealed and abandoned after a war in the past.
Leviathan was a spirit that would take possession of a city and absorb divine power from the residents. This militarized spirit had possessed the capital of Zohar and gone berserk according to Sjora Kahn's wishes to devastate Mordis.
Although Fianna and others had fortified the city wall's defenses, controlling losses to a minimum, there were still many casualties. From what Kamito had heard, many residents in Zohar had been drained dry of divine power by the militarized spirit, killing them.
Suddenly, Kamito raised his head and looked to the side.
He saw Rubia close her eyes and quietly bring her hands together.
Kamito had seen Fianna perform the same gesture before.
It was a requiem ritual undertaken by princess maidens of the Divine Ritual Institute.
With her long hair fluttering in the breeze like flames, dressed in a military uniform, she seemed like a noble princess maiden momentarily.
"Time to go."
Rubia turned heel and once again ascended the stairs with a determined look on her face.
Kamito hastily followed after her.
As soon as they entered the conference room, Kamito saw the princess lying face down on the table.
"...Oh, Kamito-kun, good morning."
Noticing Kamito, Fianna raised her head and greeted him in a sleepy voice.
"...Yeah, 'morning... By the way, you look very tired."
Fianna was showing faint dark circles under her eyes. Her black hair, usually gorgeous and shining, was messy and filled with split ends as though she did not even have time to brush it.
In front of her was a mountain of open scrolls.
"I have spent the whole night investigating the Demon King Cult's records that were found in Scorpia."
"...You did? It must've been tough."
Kamito praised her. The Demon King Cult's scrolls were not written in the Empire's common language. Instead, they recorded using the Theocracy's Alphaglyphs. It would have been hard to decipher them without Fianna, who had been educated at the Divine Ritual Institute.
"Diving all in seems like a bad idea. Look, aren't you getting dark circles now?"
Upon hearing Claire pointing out from the side, Fianna quickly took out a hand mirror. Seeing her own haggard look, she instantly blushed.
"...! I-I allowed Kamito-kun... t-to see me like this...!"
Unlike her days as the scorned Lost Queen, Fianna was currently the monarch of Legitimate Ordesia, raising a banner of rebellion against the Empire. Without knowing it, she must have been pushing herself again and again.
Kamito sat down next to Claire, only to see some fatigue on Claire's face too. Apparently, she had been doing special training with Scarlet till late last night.
Scarlet was a powerful spirit to begin with. After the training at Dragon's Peak, Claire finally unlocked her true form as Ortlinde the Scarlet Valkyrie. As a spirit weapon, whose formidable powers made Restia acknowledge her as a rival, during the battle of Zohar she was even capable of incinerating multiple Nepthenthes Lores instantaneously, an enemy of which a single specimen had given Team Scarlet great trouble during the Blade Dance.
With Ortlinde so powerful, naturally it was a great burden to Claire as the contractor. At the current stage, Claire still had not fully mastered the power. However, once Claire could fully bring out Ortlinde's power and use her elemental waffe with perfect control—
(...Perhaps in the near future, she might surpass me in strength.)
Recalling a memory of Claire brandishing her whip at upperclassmen at the Academy, Kamito felt strangely emotional.
At that moment—
"Excuse my tardiness. The fortress passages are too complicated and I got lost again."
Dressed in the Sylphid Knights' armor, Ellis arrived with Velsaria. Ellis' face was slightly flushed, probably because she had received notice of the meeting while in the middle of her customary morning training.
The Fahrengart sisters sat down next to each other, opposite to Kamito and others.
"You two were training together today?"
"Yes, I lost two rounds out of three today."
"Winning twice against Velsaria with a spear?"
Even though Velsaria had few opportunities to exhibit her martial arts, due to using spirits like Silent Fortress that specialized in wide-area damage, Kamito expected her to be Ellis' superior in spear skills.
"Th-That is because my esteemed sister held back—"
"The one who held back would be you. You are now stronger than I am. Be confident in yourself."
"My esteemed sister..."
Ellis looked awestruck. Overjoyed at receiving recognition from the adopted elder sister she had idolized as her goal since childhood, she also felt a little confused.
Indeed, compared to her time at the Academy, Ellis' new strength was on a whole different level.
Growing in leaps and bounds after the training at Dracunia, she had taken out Glasya-Labolas, a strategic-class militarized spirit, with a single strike of her magic spear when they ventured into Zohar.
"I relied on the power of cursed armament seals, but you have surpassed yourself through your own willpower. Be proud of yourself."
Velsaria's expression turned into a smile. Kamito could not help but feel his heart pounding faster, not used to seeing her out of her usual cold expression.
"...Ah, something smells good."
Claire sniffed the air.
"This aroma... Stew?"
Hearing Claire, Ellis turned to the door.
"Good morning, everyone. I bring breakfast that I made."
Dressed in an apron, Rinslet entered pushing a trolley.
The trolley carried deep-fried fish, bacon vegetable soup, fresh perfectly baked bread, butter, and fruit yogurt.
"I can't believe you made so much in such short time..."
Claire could not help but exclaim.
"Our meeting is about to start. Save the meal for later."
Rubia spoke icily at this moment.
"No, Lady Rubia. Our minds will not think properly on an empty stomach."
Rubia fell silent, unable to refute Rinslet.
Possibly because Rinslet also knew Rubia from the past, Rinslet was apparently someone capable of disrupting her rhythm.
"Is this some kind of fish?"
Seeing fish with a hard shell, Fianna asked with curiosity.
"This is steamed sandfish. I bought it at the market this morning."
It was hard to obtain fresh fish in the Alphas Theocracy which had no sea coast. Despite the "fish" part of the name, sandfish was actually a type of crustacean living in the sand and not real fish.
"...I-Is it really edible?"
Claire frowned with skeptical expression.
"Despite the mild flavor, it is still quite delicious."
Kamito took a bite. I see, it tastes like whitefish but with the texture of chicken, quite good.
After the simple breakfast prepared by Rinslet—
"—Saladia Kahn, the Theocracy's second princess, is inside Ghul-a-val."
Rubia opened the discussion in a grave tone of voice.
"Is this accurate?"
"This intel was gathered by my trusted subordinates from merchants frequenting Zohar. The second princess apparently escaped the prison aided by someone, then headed east to the desert."
"As expected, someone helped her to escape..."
Kamito and company had guessed that someone had helped Princess Saladia to escape from prison. Although she was a user of demon spirits like her elder sister, breaking out of a heavily guarded prison singlehandedly would probably be out of the question.
(Someone got past the royal guard's defense net and saved her, huh...)
Kamito frowned mentally. There were not many people capable of escaping with a princess in tow from a prison guarded by what ought to be experienced elementalists.
In addition to elementalist capabilities, skill in covert operations—
(For example, someone raised by the Instructional School, that's a possibility—)
According to reports from Rubia's subordinates...
Two identified travelers had taken a ride on a merchant ship to travel to the desert in the east. After that, there were sightings of them at several towns along the way, but the trail ended at Kabra, the easternmost town in the Theocracy.
"East of Kabra is Ghul-a-val. The second princess is there."
Kamito and company silently looked at one another.
Along with the Holy Mountain Londinia and the deepest part of the Spirit Forest, Ghul-a-val was one of the three great terrifying realms of the continent. Even among the people in Ordesia, Ghul-a-val was widely known.
This was a vast desert region on the border of the Alphas Theocracy and the Quina Empire. Ravaged during the Demon King War a thousand years ago, it had turned into a desolate region devoid of blessings from spirits.
"Excuse me, why would Princess Saladia go there?"
At this moment, Rinslet gently raised her hand to inquire.
It was a most natural question. Only someone seeking suicide would go to that kind of place.
"Well, normally speaking, her goal would be to go into exile in the Quina Empire."
With her chin resting on her hand, Claire murmured.
...I see, that definitely made sense. If she could secure the Quina Empire to back her, she would be able to clean up the civil war quickly.
However, the Quina Empire was a crafty country. With the Theocracy's princess in their hands, they might use her as a puppet to rule over the entire Theocracy by proxy.
(It's not a good place to go in exile...)
"Saladia Kahn's objective is the Demon King's Tomb hidden in the desert."
"The Demon King's Tomb?"
Hearing this term for the first time, Kamito frowned.
"Yes, it is where the Demon King's Coffin lies dormant. According to legend, it's the place where Sacred Maiden Areishia vanquished Demon King Solomon."
Saying that, Rubia took out an ancient parchment scroll from her chest pocket.
She spread open the scroll on the table. Something was apparently written in High Ancient on it, but without specialized education, Kamito had no way of reading it.
"Sleeping in the desert tomb, the Demon King's power..."
Capable of reading High Ancient, Fianna murmured intermittently.
"...What is this?"
"It was discovered in Scorpia's underground library. Among Sjora Kahn's grimoires, this was the most securely guarded. Most likely, only the royal family had access."
"The Demon King's power—"
Feeling a stir in his heart, Kamito placed a hand on his chest.
"...Isn't that just a legend?"
"Indeed. I would say 80 or 90%—"
Rubia admitted it readily and nodded.
"But it is also true that Saladia Kahn disappeared into Ghul-a-val."
"Well, let us suppose the legend is true—"
This time, Fianna spoke.
"Why would Princess Saladia seek to obtain the Demon King's power? What is her plan?"
"She probably desires evidence to prove herself as the Theocracy's legitimate successor. Faith in Demon King Solomon continues to run deep in these lands."
"But we were clearly planning to help her..."
"Indeed, but that isn't necessarily how she would view it. I wouldn't be surprised if she saw us as instigating the rebel army, usurpers keen on taking the Theocracy."
"...By common knowledge, we are wanted criminals in the Ordesia Empire."
Rinslet shrugged slightly and said.
(Seeking the Demon King's legend to prove the legitimacy of her authority, huh...)
Feeling something was not right, Kamito ran things through his mind.
Well, it sort of made sense for now.
That being said, did she really have to risk her life in that dangerous desert for the sake of something in a legend?
(Speaking of which, I'm concerned about what the witch said in the end...)
Suddenly, Kamito recalled Sjora Kahn's last words when she died together with Leviathan's core.
'—a mere city of this sort does not count as any heavy setback. Accept it as a present for celebrating the revival of the true Demon King.'
She had definitely spoken these words in a withered voice of an old man's.
The revival of the true Demon King—
Did that have some connection to the legend of the Demon King's Tomb?
"No matter what, we need to head to Ghul-a-val."
"Indeed. We must secure Saladia Kahn as soon as possible. Even though the situation has settled down, the Theocracy's civil war would intensify eventually. We can't just have this guy keep acting out an impostor Demon King."
Kamito concurred quietly. To unite the rebels at Mordis, he had put on an act as an impostor Demon King, but he did not want to repeat that kind of performance ever again.
"Why not have Kamito-kun become the real Demon King?"
"Fianna, come on..."
"I think it really suits you, the Demon King's outfit."
Not only Fianna, but even Claire began to talk like this.
...Kamito could remember how the young ladies had to wear indecent clothing. Did they not mind?
"Vivian Melosa has completed arrangements for a ship to the desert. As soon as you are ready, you may proceed to set off for Ghul-a-val any time."
"It would be best to make haste. It would weigh on my conscience if the princess were to perish in the desert."
"Yes, Dracunia's Lord Dragon King also tasked us with securing Lady Saladia's safety."
"There one more reason why time is of the essence."
At this moment, Rubia slowly spoke up.
"...What is it?"
"The Holy Kingdom of Lugia has apparently sent their knights into Ghul-a-val."
"The Holy Kingdom!?"
Kamito and the girls jumped in surprise and looked at one another.
The Holy Kingdom of Lugia.
This nation, dedicated to the holy faith, had been engaging in clandestine operations in other countries while wielding the Otherworldly Darkness that caused the Elemental Lords to go insane.
What was the Holy Kingdom planning? Their objective remained unclear so far.
During the final round of the Blade Dance, they had targeted Restia's life. At the Academy, they attempted to seize Est while she was sealed underground. In Ordesia they had conspired against Fianna. Even in the coup d'etat when Sjora Kahn took the throne, the Holy Kingdom had been pulling strings in the background.
If the Holy Kingdom's knights had appeared in Ghul-a-val, then things were no longer that simple.
(...They even knew about the Demon King's Burial Chamber underground beneath the Academy.)
In that case, it would be hard to dismiss the legend of the Demon King's Tomb as merely a legend.
"Among the knights sent there, Lurie Lizaldia was apparently spotted too."
Kamito groaned in the back of his throat.
Lurie Lizaldia was originally one of Ordesia's twelve Numbers.
She was the continent's top healer. At the same time, she was also a fearsome wielder of a demon sword.
Furthermore, she had the same name as Yggdra, the winner of the Blade Dance fifteen years ago.
During the attack on Areishia Spirit Academy, Kamito had regained his memory and defeated her, after that she disappeared—
"Is the Holy Kingdom after Princess Saladia?"
Having suffered a near-mortal wound at Lurie's hand previously, Ellis asked nervously.
Rubia shook her head.
"It was a week ago when the knights left the holy capital, so it probably has nothing to do with the princess."
"Then sure enough, it's related to the Demon King's Tomb..."
Hearing Claire's murmurs, everyone fell silent.
The Tomb where the Demon King's power lay dormant.
Suppose that legend were true—
Were that to fall into the Holy Kingdom's hands, consequences would be irreversible and unthinkable.
"Prepare yourselves for the journey. The ship will be ready at the port in one hour."
Declaring this, Rubia stood up and left the conference room.
Everyone returned to their room to make travel preparations.
That being said, there was not much to pack. At most an amulet for protection against sand and ice spirit crystals for warding off the heat.
Well, Kamito had some experience with desert survival outdoors too. Although it would be quite a trial for the young ladies with their sheltered upbringings, it would be a useful experience.
Just as Kamito was thinking these things and packing food and water into his backpack...
"Kamito, spirit crystals are useless in Ghul-a-val."
A voice from behind.
He looked back to see a girl in a dress the color of night, quietly sitting on the bed.
Her clear eyes, the color of dusk, were staring mischievously at Kamito.
"Restia... What do you mean, useless?"
"Low level spirits, the kind that are sealed in spirit crystals like these, won't be able to obtain enough divine power when in Ghul-a-val, which means they'll disappear."
A bit disheartened, Kamito put down the spirit crystals he had taken effort to prepare and placed them on the floor.
It looked like Ghul-a-val was a much harsher place than ordinary deserts.
Just then, Kamito suddenly realized something.
"Could it be that you're very familiar with Ghul-a-val?"
"At least it's not unfamiliar to me, I suppose—"
She tossed her gorgeous lustrous black hair and said.
"After all, I was at the Demon King's capital during the Demon King War a thousand years ago."
"...That's right, now that you mention it."
Even though he had not thought of this during the meeting—
Restia had been employed as the Demon King's weapon in the past.
"Maybe you know something about the Demon King's Tomb too?"
"Demon King's Tomb?"
Seeing her look of puzzlement, Kamito told her about the Tomb's legend.
...After listening, Restia went "hmm" and rested her chin on her hand.
"I have heard a little about it. A legend circulating in the Demon King Cult since ancient times. In a city at the far end of the desert, there is a coffin where the Demon King's remains are sealed—"
"The Demon King's remains? That kind of thing—"
It was hard to imagine something like that surviving till now, a thousand years later. However, it was definitely a mystery what had happened to the Demon King after his defeat at the hands of the Sacred Maiden.
Kamito thought of something just then.
Rubia had previously used a taboo spell for calling souls, resurrecting Nepenthes Lore underground of Ragna Ys. Although it was a Demon King "failure" but the terrifying powers of darkness it wielded still gave Team Scarlet a hard time.
(If the Demon King's remains are still in that tomb...)
Then it was possible that people would try to resurrect him somehow.
Or perhaps, those remains were precisely the "Demon King's power" recorded in ancient texts?
"In any case..."
Restia plucked a feather and threw it to the ground.
"There is no doubt that the Demon King's capital, destroyed by Sacred Maiden Areishia, is located in Ghul-a-val. Once we go there, perhaps we can clear up the matter of the tomb."
Suddenly realizing something, Kamito looked up.
"Say, by the way, do you know the location of the Demon King's capital?"
"Yes. I should be able to offer some pointers if you are fine with the approximate location."
Restia replied nonchalantly.
Hearing that, Kamito could not help but stand up.
"Oh my, that'll be such a great help. If we had to wander aimlessly in that big desert, it'd be torture."
"Fufu, you could praise me more."
"Sheesh, put some effort into it..."
On the bed, Restia crossed her legs the other way and pouted unhappily.
"However, even with knowledge of the location, you're still not guaranteed to reach the Demon King's capital."
"What do you mean?"
"After all, no one has been able to find it for the past thousand years, right? For a city of such prosperity, yet not even any ruins have been found, is that even possible?"
—Indeed, she was right.
No matter how terrible a desert of death, one would expect many fearless adventurers and grave robbers to have attempted to locate the ruins. Then there was the Demon King Cult that sought the Demon King's revival, surely they must have tried everything to find the location of legend.
However, there had never been any rumors of the city's ruins being found.
"Kamito, do you remember the village where I woke up last time?"
"...The Forest of Ice Blossoms?"
"Yes. Similarly, that forest village eluded discovery, right?"
Located in Laurenfrost territory was the Forest of Ice Blossoms, where the village of an Elfim tribe had kept the amnesiac Restia hidden. The forest had been shrouded in thick mist generated by an ancient magic device, keeping outside invaders out the whole time.
"In other words, the Demon King's capital has a similar barrier, is that it?"
It definitely made sense. Going that far would be perfectly logical if someone was going to seal away the Demon King's remains. Or perhaps it was the Demon King himself who had activated this type of barrier magic ahead of time to prevent people from desecrating his remains after his death.
"—If that's the case, we're helpless."
Dispelling a barrier, capable of hiding the site of an entire city, would be no easy task even for Fianna, an expert in barrier magic.
(...Speaking of which, did Saladia Kahn head to the desert because she knew there's a way to lift the barrier?)
Otherwise, she probably would not do something so rash—
"Restia, any other clues?"
Restia slowly shook her head in response to Kamito's question.
"...Sorry, Kamito. It was a thousand years ago when I was there last. Back then, my self-awareness as a spirit was also sealed away by the Demon King, who used me as just a weapon. Completely unconscious—like during the time when I was sealed in that ring."
"...I see, fair point. Then I'm sorry for asking you so many questions—"
Hearing her murmurs, Kamito looked up.
"—By the Demon King's side the whole time, she might know something—"
"Yes, you remember, right? Demon King Solomon's one and only contracted spirit—"
"Uh... I think so—"
Kamito searched the depths of his memories. It was something he had unintentionally heard while preparing his impostor Demon King costume.
The Demon King only used spirits as tools and had never opened his heart to anyone else, entering a contract with only one spirit—
"Where is that spirit now?"
"I don't know."
Restia shook her head.
"But according to an old legend—"
As though staring off into the distance, she spoke softly.
"And so it goes, she disappeared somewhere in Astral Zero after the Demon King's death."
Inside an office set up in the fortress, Fianna was struggling through a mountain of mail sent from various countries.
As the monarch of the independent state of Legitimate Ordesia, she had to reply to various diplomatic correspondence before setting off on her journey.
"Looks like the imperial council finally decided to break diplomatic ties with Dracunia."
She sighed while writing replies to various lords and nobles who had written to express their support for Legitimate Ordesia.
Her foolish brother was not the one behind the council's decision.
The current imperial council had fallen to being a puppet of the Holy Kingdom of Lugia.
(What is the Holy Kingdom's goal...?)
All she could conclude was that the Kingdom was trying to use Ordesia to set the the continent ablaze with war.
However, why did the Kingdom need to do that?
(...Regardless, my brother definitely won't leave us alone.)
Currently, reactions were mixed among the other countries regarding Legitimate Ordesia. Though ignored when first established in exile, after establishing an alliance with Dracunia's Dragon King and putting an end to the Theocracy's atrocities, Legitimate Ordesia's profile had increased with each passing day.
One after another, the nations of the continent condemned Sjora Kahn for using Leviathan, a strategic-class militarized spirit. At the same time, they also criticized Ordesia for opposing military intervention in the Theocracy this whole time.
(Right now, no matter what, we must do everything we can to win over Princess Saladia to our side—)
Just as she slipped into deep thought, there was knocking at the office's door.
"Your Highness, I prepared tea."
"Thank you. Perfect timing for a break."
Ellis pushed the door open and entered, bringing teacups for two.
Ellis had been appointed secretary and bodyguard duties. After all, she was topnotch as a bodyguard while her serious and reliable qualities made her very suitable as a secretary too.
As soon as Ellis put down a teacup on the table, Fianna could smell the rich aroma of milk tea.
She took a sip and exhaled with pleasure.
"Sweet and delicious. My fatigue is swept away."
"I tried adding some honey and sugar, though Rinslet considers that heretical—"
Saying that, Ellis took a glance at the document that Fianna had just signed.
"This emblem... Is it from the Quina Empire?"
"Just a personal letter. It's not official diplomatic correspondence."
"This is the sender."
Fianna showed the name of the sender to Ellis.
"Linfa Sin Quina... A letter personally written by Princess Linfa!?"
Ellis was slightly shocked.
Team Scarlet had encountered Princess Linfa during the Blade Dance tournament where she was the princess maiden of the formidable team Four Gods. Her divine beast spirit Kirin produced barriers rivaling that of Fianna's elemental waffe.
Team Scarlet and the Four Gods had fought together against Sjora Kahn. After the first round, they had celebrated a victory party together, but—
"Princess Linfa expresses her support for Legitimate Ordesia. She says she is preparing to send an emissary soon."
"Quina supports Legitimate Ordesia?"
Seeing Ellis widen her brown eyes, Fianna shook her head with a wry smile.
"No, the Quina Empire has yet to recognize us. This document is just a personal letter from Princess Linfa. She has many considerations of her own, I suppose."
"I recall that Her Highness Linfa is the third princess. What a complicated position."
In a different way, the great nation of Quina in the east was just as dangerous as the Holy Kingdom. While watching from the side as Ordesia gradually turned into the Holy Kingdom's puppet, Quina had its eyes set on dominating the continent. They seemed to be maintaining their wait-and-see policy of diplomacy for now in regards to Legitimate Ordesia.
Under such circumstances, it was quite encouraging to know that they had forged friendship with a former rival at the Blade Dance.
"There are also many lords within Ordesia who express their support for us."
"House Alfreed of the Golden Islands, House Bolmist who serves as the Laurenfrost's flag-bearer, and House Daria of Black Bay... None of the great houses, but at least it gives us some confidence."
"Currently, there is practically no one in the palace who feels loyal to my brother. If our supporters continue to increase, retaking Ordesia will no longer be a dream..."
Fianna tidied up the letters she had finished and handed them to Ellis.
Looking at the pile of letters in her hands, Ellis bit her lip hard.
"What of House Fahrengart, Your Highness?"
Fianna quietly shook her head.
The Dukedom of Fahrengart was a knightly house pledged to absolute loyalty towards the Emperor of Ordesia.
Even if the monarch were incompetent, they would probably still uphold loyalty to the very end.
"Your Highness, there is no need for you to apologize."
When Fianna bowed her head lightly and spoke softly, Ellis asserted with determination.
"My esteemed sister and I have prepared ourselves. As knights, we make our decision without regret."
Having heard Ellis' thoughts from the heart, Fianna quietly bowed her head.
Exactly an hour went by after the morning meeting.
Kamito and his teammates gathered at the port in the eastern part of Mordis.
Although called a port, Mordis was a town in the middle of the desert after all. Naturally, there was no sea around.
When ports in the desert were mentioned, they normally referred to where "sand ships" were moored.
"So this is a sand ship that I've heard about—"
Carrying heavy luggage on his back, Kamito looked up at a ship half sunk in the sand and muttered.
This was no military vessel but a merchant ship used for trading across the desert, not particular large. Although no weaponry was installed, it was supposed to be quite impressive in speed.
"Unfortunately, the Revenant cannot be used—"
Holding down her bangs that were blowing in the wind, Rubia commented.
The Revenant, the military ship used by the League of Inferno, was currently undergoing maintenance at a Mordis dock. Although flying was not impossible, it was not possible to guarantee a secure supply of spirit power in Ghul-a-val and the drive reactor's spirit mechanism could malfunction, risking a crash.
On the other hand, the sand ships used in the Theocracy were able to follow leylines that were hidden deep underground, allowing them to sail through the desert without difficulty. However, their only drawback was that they could not head to anywhere that was not connected by leylines, thus they could only move along simple routes.
"This is my first time on a sand ship."
"Me too. It is bigger than I had imagined."
Claire and Rinslet were looking at the ship with wonder.
Their luggage was packed very full.
"...Rinslet, what do you have in there?"
"Snacks, obviously. See, Claire, your favorite canned peaches are inside too."
"Eh, you're serious♪"
Claire's twintails jumped adorably.
"You two, we are not going on a trip for fun."
Seeing the Claire and Rinslet acting like that, Ellis warned.
"Fianna, that's all the luggage you're carrying?"
Seeing Fianna traveling light with just a shoulder bag, Kamito asked her.
"Yes, I am keeping the rest inside Georgios."
Fianna winked and drew near to Kamito's ear to whisper.
"Fufu, Kamito-kun, I've also prepared all kinds of erotic underwear to use at night."
"...! G-Give me a break...!"
Kamito was a healthy male, after all.
...Unable to stop himself from imagining what kind of underwear for a moment, he instantly went red.
"Okay, let's hurry!"
Picking up their luggage, Claire and the girls immediately made their way into the ship.
Seeing that, Kamito shrugged and turned around to look at Rubia.
"I'm leaving the rest here to you. Will you be okay?"
"Yes. Velsaria and I shall do our best until your team returns."
Although Sjora Kahn was defeated, the civil war in the Theocracy was still highly volatile. If the absence of Princess Saladia continued, the situation would only grow more chaotic.
"I'm leaving Muir and Lily to you too—"
"No need to say anymore. They are my precious subordinates."
Rubia replied coldly.
Muir Alenstahl and Lily had been discovered near Leviathan. Depleted of divine power to an almost life threatening degree, they were still comatose.
But fortunately, they were in no danger of dying, thanks to Muir subconsciously activating her special ability, the Jester's Vise, back when Leviathan was devouring them. Afraid of this power, capable of rendering spirits insane, Leviathan had given up on absorbing the two of them.
(...Subordinates, huh? She still insists on this word when she's painstakingly taking care of them.)
Faced with Rubia's air of nonchalance, Kamito laughed wryly in his thoughts.
Lily aside, the reason why Rubia paid extra care to Muir Alenstahl was probably because Muir reminded Rubia of Claire in certain ways.
"Then I'll be going—"
Picking up his luggage, Kamito started to walk—
Feeling as though someone behind him wanted to speak, Kamito looked back.
"What's the matter?"
Confronted with his question, Rubia looked hesitant.
(...What's going on?)
To think that she would be indecisive at times.
Surprised, Kamito frowned. At that moment—
As though committing her resolve, she drew her face close to Kamito's.
"I entrust my little sister to you."
Those were the words she quietly spoke to him.
"Hey, do not retreat! Faltering will be a taint to honor of the glorious Knights of Saint Lugia!"
"B-But Lady Ineza, this spirit—gahhhhhh!"
A knight in elemental waffe armor was struck by a massive hammer, sending her flying spectacularly.
Falling headfirst into a sand dune, she stopped moving.
"...! Damn it, I can't believe... the best of the knights... all wiped out...?"
The knight dressed in vestments of red on a white background, Ineza Sandra, groaned. She was the commander of this expeditionary force.
All over this land of red sand were fallen knights of the Holy Kingdom. Any of them would be an elite templar knight heaped with respect and accolades back in their country.
Such an elite force of knights, yet they were no match at all here.
Looking down on the knights was a giant humanoid spirit with a head shaped like a crocodile's.
The spirit featured muscular limbs and eyes glowing red. Held in its hand was a giant hammer glowing with golden light.
Against a single spirit—
Tasked with finding the Tomb, the Knights of Saint Lugia were crushed, unable to put up any resistance.
This was a nightmare.
<—Art thou one who is worthy?>
The spirit's voice echoed all around, carried by the desert's dry wind.
Faced with the spirit asking for the third time—
"...! What do you mean by worthy!? What the hell do you want!?"
Ineza shouted back in a rage.
The spirit stared at her with completely emotionless eyes.
<—Thou art unworthy of stepping foot into the Demon King's land. Leave now.>
A gale howled as the spirit swung the hammer at Ineza.
She frantically raised her elemental waffe, a holy spear, intending to block—
In that very instant before the hammer swung down...
A small figure rushed out in front of her.
"You would do best to value your own life more, Captain."
A black-haired woman had blocked the spirit's hammer.
Instead of the holy vestments of the Saint Lugia Knights, she was wearing a healer's white robe.
The woman slightly lifted the small set of glasses perched on her nose and spoke.
"The Sphinx of the Demon King's Tomb is clearly beyond your ability."
"...! Dame Lurie—!"
Ineza angrily shouted the name of the woman who had saved her.
Military healer, Lurie Lizaldia—Former eighth of the Ordesian Empire's Numbers.
Especially adept in healing spells of spirit magic, she held the rank of "Holy Maiden."
Having betrayed her home country of Ordesia, she was now serving the Holy Kingdom of Lugia's Cardinal Millennia Sanctus as a guest general.
Earlier, Ineza had clearly ordered her to stand by in the sand dragon ship—
"Stand down, Dame Lurie. You are getting in the way of battle."
Making no effort to hide her scorn, Ineza spoke. In her eyes, this woman, who had betrayed her own country as one of Ordesia's Numbers, was completely untrustworthy.
Even though Lurie was Millennia's trusted subordinate, Ineza considered herself higher in rank, as the commander of this expeditionary force at least.
"There's no way I can just stand back. At this rate, you really are going to be wiped out."
Lurie shook her head, easily pushing aside the hammer with her demon sword.
The spirit hovered in the air, looking down at the new enemy. Then—
<—Thou art unworthy of stepping foot into the Demon King's land. Leave now.>
It repeated exactly what it had just said.
"Sorry, no can do."
Lurie shrugged and smiled ironically.
"After all, my master wishes to obtain what is inside the Tomb—"
<—Unworthy one, leave now!>
The spirit's eyes glowed red and a high-temperature beam shot out from the jewel on its forehead.
Within the blink of an eye, the spot where Lurie had been standing was surrounded by blazing flames.
"—Oh my, what a pain."
However, Lurie was no longer there.
With a flash of the sword, she swung her demon sword fluidly in midair. Completely incongruent with her rank of Holy Maiden, the demon sword was shrouded in ominous miasma.
"O king of soul-devouring demon swords, slaughter the enemy before me—Bloody Strike!"
The blood-colored blade glowed crimson—
Lurie Lizaldia's demon sword instantly sent the hammer flying together with the amputated arm holding it.
The severed arm rolled in the air while gradually turning into particles of light and disappearing.
However, the spirit made no change in expression and repeated itself.
<—Thou art unworthy of stepping foot into the Demon King's land. Leave now... Leave now... Leave now...>
The spirit's massive body gradually disappeared into the blowing sand and dust.
Lurie stabbed the demon sword into the ground by her foot.
There was not even a single drop of sweat on her forehead.
Ineza Sandra could not help but feel terrified.
It was hard to imagine this to be the power of a Holy Maiden specialized in the art of healing.
Lurie turned her head towards Ineza.
"That Sphinx is something like a hallucination generated by the Demon King's power. A guardian for selecting visitors to enter the Tomb. Sure enough, failing to obtain the Demon Slayer in Ordesia has serious consequences. If only I had that sacred sword, I'd be recognized as worthy, I suppose—"
Ineza gulped and spoke.
"At this rate, the glorious Saint Lugia Knights will face total annihilation at the hands of these spirits. You should retreat and contact the Kingdom."
Seven days had passed since this company of paladins were sent to Ghul-a-val.
Initially optimistic regarding this search mission for the Demon King's Tomb, they had encountered resistance from powerful archdemon-class spirits like the Sphinx just now.
Of course, these knights were the Holy Kingdom's elite and had previously completed quests to eliminate archdemon-class spirits in the past. In fact, they had defeated multiple instances of these guardian spirits.
However, the spirit kept reappearing no matter how many times they defeated it, attacking without regard for night or day.
This company, with fully twelve spirit knights, was reaching the brink of collapse.
"Indeed, the Tomb's Sphinx is quite a pain."
Lurie used a finger to lift her glasses.
Kneeling next to injured knights, she used spirit magic to heal them one after another.
"But retreat is not an option. Des Esseintes' orders are absolute."
"...! Are you telling us to face total annihilation just like that!?"
Confronted with the captain's emotional outburst, Lurie shook her head.
"I have already taken action and requested reinforcements from the Kingdom."
"Dame Millennia and Luminaris' Sacred Spirit Knights are heading here."
"Did you say the Sacred Spirit Knights?"
Ineza raised her eyebrows.
Indeed, Luminaris Saint Leisched hailed from a prestigious family at the city of Alexandria. Having fought her way to the Blade Dance finals before, she was the Holy Kingdom's most honored knight.
However, even if she brought her subordinates along as reinforcements, they would still be helpless against the infinitely spawning Sphinx spirits.
"Luminaris will bring that along. A chance for a field test too."
"Yes, if we blow away this entire desert, the troublesome guardians will all disappear, right?"
While healing the injured knights, Lurie smiled coldly.