Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume17 Chapter6
Chapter 6 - The Mysterious Merchant
Kamito and company went around the pyramid, following the streets to search for lodgings.
Another giant structure with a distinctive look appeared before them.
"What is that thing?"
"Such an odd building."
Ellis involuntarily tilted her head.
"That is a barnea, a ancient type of accommodations complex."
Fianna raised a finger and explained.
"In other words, a hotel?"
"Yes, quite similar. There should be a large bathing facility inside, allowing us to purify ourselves."
Claire's smiling face became radiant.
"It's not a sand bath, right?"
"Of course not."
According to Fianna, who had had contact with foreign cultures while growing up in the Divine Ritual Institute, a barnea was a large combined facility centered on a temple for worshiping spirits and included baths, restaurants and accommodations. Although they were rare in western regions of the continent such as Ordesia, but temples of this sort were actually mainstream in the Theocracy.
Speaking of which, many of the hotels reserved for nobles during their stay at Ragna Ys for the Blade Dance were quite similar to this one too. The Water Spirit Festival that he had attended with Leonora as partners had also been held at a lakeside pool that was part of this kind of hotel facility.
"Should we establish our base here for now?"
"I suppose, but wouldn't the room rates be quite expensive?"
Acting totally unlike a noble daughter from a former duke's family, Claire raised a commoner's worry.
...Indeed, prices here looked to be much more expensive than ordinary inns.
"Hmph, how trivial. Leave such matters to me."
Tossing her platinum blonde hair, Rinslet declared with pride.
"I knew something like this would come up, so I brought plenty of money from home."
With a snap of her fingers, Fenrir, who had been crouching at her feet, spat out imperial gold coins with a clatter.
"You're treating a high-level spirit as a piggy bank..."
"Always be prepared."
Rinslet confidently puffed out her chest.
"But is the Empire's currency usable in this city?"
Upon hearing Ellis' very legitimate question—
Rinslet froze in her proud posture.
"W-What an unexpected blind spot!"
"...Sheesh, you should've realized from the start."
Claire sighed deeply.
Kamito looked at the stalls all around them. They were using money, but sure enough, it was quite different from that circulating on the continent.
"Ooh... To think I brought the money... but it is useless here?"
Seeing his master hang her head in dejection, Fenrir licked her cheek.
"Uh, I remember that Ordesia's imperial gold coins contain real gold, right?"
Kamito suddenly recalled something and brought it up.
"Yes, they are authentic gold coins."
"Then can't you find someone to buy them as gold?"
"I can't believe Kamito came up with a great idea. Although we'll probably get gouged, there's no other way."
Hearing his suggestion, Claire nodded.
"W-Well fancy that!"
Rinslet cheered up again and lifted her face.
"And not just money. I wonder if amulets and spirit crystals can be sold too?"
Kamito and company looked around, trying to find a merchant to buy their gold coins.
Hopefully, they could sell them for a good price—
"I would recommend against it. The merchants of Alkazard are extremely greedy. They will swallow you whole as soon as they figure you out as amateurs."
Hearing a sudden voice, Kamito forcefully turned his head back to see—
Standing there was a man with a friendly smile, dressed like a desert merchant. He had appeared without any of them noticing.
"...Who are you?"
Kamito asked in surprise.
The man looked a bit older than Kamito, probably twenty-years-old or so. Lightly tanned skin. Black irises. His tough countenance seemed reminiscent of a wild eagle.
"Excuse me. I am Safian, a merchant of Zohar."
The young man bent forward, bowing solemnly to Kamito's group.
"Did you say Zohar!?"
Claire exclaimed in surprise.
Logically speaking, the current capital of the Theocracy would not have existed back in the Demon King's time, a thousand years ago.
Furthermore, there was a decisive difference between this man and the residents of the Demon King's Capital.
(...He's using the same language as us, the continent's common tongue.)
Kamito swiftly exchanged a glance with Claire.
Claire nodded lightly. Evidently, they had found someone with a clue.
"You're not a resident of this city?"
Hearing that, the man nodded.
"Indeed. As expected, the same goes for you, people from outside."
While staring at the man's eyes, Kamito nodded cautiously.
"It appears that you have questions for me."
The young man smiled then turned his gaze towards the barnea.
"Well, this is no place for conversation. How about we talk over a meal?"
Despite suspicions towards the mysterious merchant who had suddenly appeared—
Kamito and his friends still decided to listen to what he had to say.
...After all, this was the only clue in this unbelievable and completely incomprehensible situation.
Perhaps this man might have information on the whereabouts of Princess Saladia, or know something about the strange pyramid.
"Better not trust him too much. He looks suspicious no matter what."
Claire quietly whispered into Kamito's ear.
"I don't think it's nice to judge by appearance."
"That's true... But contrary to how I seem, I'm actually an excellent judge of character."
"Really? I remember the first time we met, you straight out accused me of being a lewd beast."
"That first impression wasn't too far off the mark."
"Give me a break..."
"Hey Claire, what are you chatting with Kamito-kun about?"
Fianna drew up to the two of them, trying to join in the conversation.
Unconcerned with what Kamito and the others were doing—
The young merchant walked straight through the entrance of a gigantic barnea.
Inside was a beautiful garden with a fountain. Flowers of all colors were blooming.
"This Quseir Amra was originally a place for worshiping the city's spirits. Its current appearance is the result of continual expansion, including purification and resting facilities for princess maidens and a temple for making offerings."
Safian looked up at the giant building in front of him and spoke.
Quseir Amra was apparently the name of this barnea. Its unique appearance was the result of haphazard expansion rather than some sort of artistic design.
The ground floor of the building was a grand restaurant facing the garden. It was not crowded inside.
Safian brought Kamito's group to a table.
"Please take a seat—"
Invited to sit, Kamito and company sat down on what appeared to be a sofa.
The young ladies all sat next to Kamito. Although there was space next to the male merchant, no one sat on his side. Even though they were more used to it now, sure enough, these sheltered young ladies of nobility did not usually have contact with men after all.
"Kamito, I-I feel like we are drawing stares..."
Ellis nervously huddled up, timidly looking around at the nearby tables.
Indeed, their table was particularly striking. They could even hear whispers from all around.
"After all, your manner of dress is quite a rare sight. Furthermore—"
Safian smiled wryly.
"As many as five beautiful maidens, of course, people are going to notice."
"...Hey, I'm a guy."
Kamito glared sharply at the merchant before him.
"Just joking, but what a shame. A bit of make up and you would surely be an otherworldly beautiful young—"
Kamito poured serious killing intent into his glare, but Safian remained unfazed, simply smiling.
"Anyway, let's eat first. I'm starving."
Hearing the hungry Claire's suggestion, Rinslet agreed wholeheartedly.
"Now then, where should I start?"
Sweeping his gaze across Kamito's group, Safian slowly began to speak.
"...You're not a resident of this city, right?"
Claire was the first to ask a question.
"Correct, I am not from here. Besides, it is debatable whether the residents in this city are human or not."
Recalling the residents who vanished as soon as they left the city gate, Kamito and the girls looked at one another.
Sure enough, were they something like a hallucination instead of real people..?
"How did you get here? Ordinary people can't possibly come here, right?"
Hearing Kamito's question...
"Yes, I find it quite incredible too—"
Safian looked up at the ceiling and started to recount his story.
"It was a couple of months ago. My companions and I had set off from Zohar with a caravan headed to the Quina Empire. Along the way, we suddenly encountered a violent sandstorm—"
According to him, he had accepted a job from the guild to transport spirit crystals to the Quina Empire's Sparkling Capital and the incident happened during the journey.
While sailing through the desert, they were caught up in chaotic leylines, taking them far from their course. Such accidents would occur in the desert region once in a while.
By the time he realized, his ship was lost in Ghul-a-val, finally shipwrecked and eaten by giant beasts.
Although he had fled in desperation, he ended separated from his companions on the ship, wandering in the desert for many days.
Several days later, having exhausted all his food and water, on the verge of death—
"...That spirit appeared."
"Yes, the spirit that is a giant with a bull's face."
Kamito and the girls looked at one another.
...Naturally, they remembered that spirit too.
It was presumably the Sphinx that Kamito had fought in the desert.
"The spirit healed my almost dying body and took me to this strange city. After that, I have lived here for more than half a year and even started doing business. How unbelievable. While living here, I gradually became able to understand the langauge."
Safian smiled wryly and shrugged.
"...Really? You've suffered a lot too."
Concurring, Kamito still could not relax completely.
The Sphinx—the spirit calling itself the judge.
Would a spirit that attacked indiscriminately, caring about nothing except Demon King eligibility, actually help someone altruistically?
(Oh well, it's impossible for humans to understand spirits, who do whatever they like...)
Suddenly, he looked at the spirit seal on the left hand, recalling a certain darkness spirit who did whatever she liked. Was she still investigating the pyramid?
"Are there others like you?"
This time, it was Fianna's turn to ask a question.
"Uh, that is, people brought here by spirits—"
"Yes, I have already encountered a few. From what they told me, they were brought here after getting stranded in Ghul-a-val like me."
"Can they not leave?"
"Don't tell me something like you'll disappear as soon as you exit the city gate—"
Claire murmured nervously, but Safian smiled and shook his head.
"No need to worry about that. You can exit the gate any time, but—"
"There are terrifying beasts living in Ghul-a-val outside. There are no sand ships here, so any attempt to leave would probably turn you into a mummified corpse out in the desert."
Indeed, it was hard to imagine ordinary people walking out of the desert unless they were elementalists. The merchants on sand ships were truly risking their lives for business.
"Then you plan on living in this city indefinitely?"
"That might not be half bad. After living here for a while, I have found it rather comfortable, actually."
Safian shrugged slightly.
...Well, I suppose he might be telling the truth.
"We are elementalists. We could help you if you wish to leave."
"Thank you for the kind offer. I shall consider it."
Hearing the suggestion from Ellis, who was driven by a strong sense of responsibility, Safian nodded ambiguously.
"By the way, have you recently come across a girl who came from outside like us? It should be during the past few days—"
At this moment, Kamito casually tried to ask about Princess Saladia—
"...No, the only outsiders I met recently are you."
However, Safian only shook his head gently.
He did not seem to be lying.
In that case, perhaps the princess had yet to arrive?
During this time, their food and drinks were brought to the table.
"Wow, it looks delicious..."
Claire's stomach rumbled adorably.
"Well, let us continue our conversation later. Time to eat."
Safian raised his wine glass and smiled generously.
Rose-scented beer. Freshly baked bread. Smoked lamb made with plenty of spices. Several types of pickles. Stir-fried meat and eggs...
Although there were a few vegetables they had never seen before, the food served was not too different from what they had eaten in the Theocracy.
"Looks quite tasty."
"Y-Yes... Wait, is it really safe to eat?"
Claire seemed somewhat worried. Indeed, Kamito had his own doubts whether the food cooked in this town were the same as normal food.
"The taste is not bad."
"Hmm... A knight is bound by duty to eat what ought to be eaten."
...Presumably famished from their walk in the desert, Rinslet and Ellis immediately started on a meat dish.
(...Sigh, I guess it's fine. This merchant guy is eating too.)
Before the young ladies finished it all, Kamito took some meat and inserted it into his bread to eat.
"What is this skewered barbecued meat?"
Picking up a skewer of black meat, Rinslet asked in puzzlement.
"Meat of the sand whale. You can catch them in these parts."
"No way. The sand whale went extinct long ago."
Hearing that, the knowledgeable Claire murmured softly.
Kamito tried a bite of sand whale meat too.
"...This doesn't taste that great."
Not only was the meat tough but it also had a kind of flavor that even spices could not cover up.
"Hmm, this texture is more similar to the ground dragon meat I ate in Dracunia..."
"Kamito, you've had dragon meat before?"
"Yeah, in a restaurant in Dracunia, with Leonora... Owww!"
Sitting next to him, Claire stomped his foot hard.
"W-What are you doing!?"
"W-While we were putting our lives on the line, training on Dragon's Peak, h-how dare you go on a date!?"
Rumble rumble rumble rumble rumble...!
Claire's twintails were standing up on end like flames.
"T-To think I respected Leonora-dono as an honorable knight—"
"How I mustn't lower my guard!"
Ellis and Rinslet glared at Kamito angrily as well.
"—Thanks for the food."
Soon the meal ended and the table was piled with empty dishes.
Seeing the mountains of empty dishes, people from surrounding tables made astonished noises.
Elementalist girls were usually big eaters. They ate with impunity because using spirits consumed divine power.
"Let this be my treat."
Saying that, Safian took out his purse.
Hearing that, Rinslet stood up and tossed her hair glamorously.
"Hmph, do know that we are nobles. We have not fallen so low as to need charity from commoners."
"Even though we are in exile."
"P-Putting that aside, this meal shall be paid for by the courtesy of the Laurenfrost margraviate. Would you be so kind as to convert these imperial gold coins for me?"
"Yes, as you wish."
Safian laughed awkwardly and exchanged the city's coins for the imperial gold coins.
What he handed over were slightly deformed coins bearing the image of a young man.
"I have never seen such currency in the continent."
"Surely they are coins from a thousand years ago."
Suddenly, Kamito felt a strange sense of dissonance and kept staring at the coins.
"What's wrong, Kamito?"
The face on the coin seemed somehow familiar—
(...Am I worrying too much?)
"Is there a purification facility here suitable for body cleansing?"
Just then, Fianna asked Safian.
"A purification bath for princess maidens is located not far from here."
"Wonderful. I can finally take a normal bath."
Claire exhaled with relief.
"What are your plans, Kamito-kun? Would you like to take a bath with us?"
Fianna bent forward, exposing her cleavage, teasing Kamito.
"I-I'll head to the room to put down our luggage, then check out the pyramid."
Kamito instantly blushed and looked away.
"Eh, are you going to the pyramid alone?"
"I'm just taking a walk to check out the neighborhood. Also, Restia might be around there."
Saying that, Kamito turned to face Safian again.
"...By the way, do you know anything about that pyramid?"
"Hmm, I can't say I do."
Safian shook his head sadly.
"Even the locals don't know who built it or why. I tried investigating before but could not even find anything resembling an entrance—"
"...I see. Looks like we'll just have to investigate patiently."
"Very well, we shall finish purifying ourselves before converging with you."
"Allow me to take you to your lodgings, if you don't mind. To avoid getting lost in Quseir Amra."
Nodding a little, Kamito picked up the Demon Slayer and stood up.
In fact, the suggestion was perfect for Kamito.
There was something he wanted to verify.
With Safian leading the way, Kamito went up Quseir Amra's twisting stairs. Similar to Areishia Spirit Academy's academic building, the internal layout was dizzyingly complicated. That being said, the Academic's unique layout was supposed to incorporate principles of spirit engineering.
(...But here, it's surely because of continual unplanned expansion.)
Keeping his eyes intently on the merchant walking in front of him, Kamito pondered.
After walking up the stairs and passing through another passage, they finally arrived at the accommodations block.
"Living quarters are here. All you need to do is get sorted out at the front desk."
"...You've been a great help. Thank you very much."
"You are welcome. After all, it is rare to find people entering this city by accident. If I may be of any assistance—"
Before he could finish, Kamito swiftly closed the distance.
Instantly, he pressed his index finger on the man's neck.
The young man looked puzzled.
"You—Who the hell are you?"
Kamito asked coldly.
His index finger was pressed on the carotid artery. This was an assassination technique that Kamito had learned during childhood at the Instructional School. Taking the man's life from here would be a piece of a cake.
Safian remained calm and smiled confidently.
He could not be unaware of what kind of situation he was in. After all, Kamito had shown his intent to kill, enough for even ordinary people to feel it.
"An ordinary merchant—Do you really think I'll swallow that? When you first showed up in front of us, it was completely silent."
Indeed, when the man spoke to them on the street, Kamito had not relaxed his guard towards the surroundings. He would have been the first to notice as soon as anyone intentionally approached the girls.
However, this man had appeared in front of Kamito's group without making a sound.
"I'm not bragging when I say you can count on one hand the people capable of doing this in my presence. At least on the level of my master or one of the Numbers specializing in stealth operations. For someone like that to be an ordinary merchant? Brought here by the Sphinx when collapsed in the middle of your journey? Like hell anyone would believe such lies."
Safian smiled wryly and shrugged.
"But you really cannot blame me for having no presence."
Instantly, Kamito widened his eyes.
"After all, I am someone who never existed in the first place."
Safian disappeared from before his eyes then stood behind Kamito.
(...! He vanished without me noticing!?)
Cold sweat flowed down Kamito's cheek.
...This was impossible. Kamito's attention did not leave the man in front of him, not even for a second.
But the fact was he had slipped away from Kamito's grasp.
(...Spirit magic for spatial movement? No, it's not that kind of trick—)
The man must have moved during an opening in Kamito's attention. Nothing more than that.
Kamito's entire body stiffened. Safian spoke to him.
"You should use the Demon Slayer if you truly intended to threaten me."
"...! How do you know about Est!? Who the hell are you—"
"I am a fragment."
"Yes, a fragment of his regret, remaining in this Demon King's Capital—"
"...? What are you talking about?"
Safian smiled and turned his back to Kamito, walking down the stairs where they had come from.
"I am glad to meet you, Demon King's successor and holder of the Sacred Sword. She must have been the one to guide you and your companions here."
"...! Wait, what the hell does this all mean?"
Kamito hastily chased after him.
However, Safian, who was supposed to be descending the stairs, had already vanished without a sound.
A large sand ship had arrived at the camp of the Knights of Lugia.
Not a merchant ship. Instead, this was an official military vessel equipped by the Holy Kingdom.
This was a military ship actively used for desert transport of supplies during the Ranbal War. However, most of these ships had been retired from active duty, leaving only seven ships bearing the empty name of Desert Fleet.
Bringing a cloud of dust and sand and bearing the Holy Kingdom's flag, the sand ship stopped near the camp.
On the ship was a cardinal from Des Esseintes, the supreme governing council of the Holy Kingdom, and eight members of the Sacred Spirit Knights tasked as bodyguards—
On the sand in front of the ship, Lurie Lizaldia greeted the cardinal.
"Later than expected, Millennia—"
"Fine-tuning that thing used up too much time. It turned three militarized spirits into charcoal as soon as it awakened."
Walking down the gangway was an adorable young girl dressed in vestments of pure white.
She looked thirteen or fourteen in age. Particularly striking was her glittering blonde hair, skin as pale and smooth as porcelain, and clear violet eyes. However, out of place on this adorable girl's appearance was a simple eye patch on her left eye.
This was Millennia Sanctus—Thirteenth of Des Esseintes.
Although her rank was not very high in the council's internal hierarchy, she had intimate ties to the military leadership. Even within the secretive Des Esseintes, she exuded a particularly eerie presence.
"You seem to have run into trouble of your own."
"An annoying barrier. Also, there's the Sphinx."
Lurie shrugged lightly. In terms of hierarchy, a cardinal of Des Esseintes ought to rank higher than Lurie, a guest general, but there was an air between them like that of intimate friends.
"Dear me, shouldn't dispelling the barrier be all too easy for you?"
"It's quite a special barrier. Existing in a minor dimensional distortion between the human realm and Astral Zero, the entire Demon King's Capital has been anchored there spatially and temporally."
In the past, the burial chamber where the Demon King's spirits had been sealed had appeared underground at Areishia Spirit Academy. This barrier probably had similar properties.
It posed a challenge even for Lurie, who specialized in barrier magic.
"So I see—"
Millennia Sanctus looked across the scorching desert.
Suddenly, her rosebud-like lips bloomed with joy.
"She is right there—"
"My older sister—no, younger sister? I sense her. After all, she and I are cut from the same cloth."
"Could it be that Ren Ashbell is here?"
"Unmistakable. How did they come across clues to the Tomb, I wonder?"
With her finger to her lip, Millennia smiled.
"...Looks like I get to fight that boy again."
Lurie Lizaldia showed a dark glimmer in her eyes.
"Now that is something to look forward to. Ren Ashbell the Strongest Blade Dancer versus the winner of the Blade Dance fifteen years ago—If both sides were to go all out, who would win?"
"—You know the answer already."
Saying that, Lurie looked towards the ship.
"Has the Lord fully awakened? Looks like the original schedule had to be rushed."
"No, half-awakened at best."
"Will that pose a problem?"
"It is enough to crack open the barrier."
Millennia swung her staff with a chuckle, causing it to ring.
The ship's side opened. The Sacred Spirit Knights began to lower a large box using a rope.
A metallic box of pure white. The shape was reminiscent of a coffin.
Led by Luminaris, the paladins all showed nervous expressions.
At the Sacred Capital's laboratory facility, the entity sleeping in this coffin had incinerated militarized spirits into charcoal in a flash.
Millennia Sanctus gently touched the edge of the coffin.
Then she recited words of summoning used by Queens.
"La ura me aluara shin, erul ragna volcas— ig alusiagi im, ys areisia—"
Meaning "the great tyrant, present in eternal conflagration, transcending the logic of good and evil, the executor of judgment," this was High Ancient that only very few humans understood.
In the distant past, these words of power had been lost during the era of the Spirit War—
"—Firg fomalhaut volcanicus."
The instant the incantation finished with words meaning "the incarnation of all flames on this plane"...
The coffin's lid instantly glowed red-hot and crimson flames surged forth.
The astounding heat, which felt like it would burn all the flesh from one's body, caused the surrounding knights to back away.
Out of the blazing crimson flames—That made its appearance.
A girl dressed in a vivid dress of scarlet.
Her long crimson hair reached waist length. Her eyes were like rubies with brilliant flames dwelling within them.
On her head were two curling horns.
As exquisite as artwork made of glass, there was an air of fragility to her body.
Enveloped in flames, the girl swept her gaze across the knights surrounding her with a cold inorganic expression on her face.
Then her voice displeasure.
"Are you the ones who dare to disturb my sleep?"
Thus she spoke.