Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume4 Chapter2
Chapter 2 - Sky Voyage
Hovering over the ether-filled clouds, the flying ship advanced as though it were gliding.
The destination was one of the sanctuaries located in Astral Zero--the floating island of Ragna Ys.
It was the venue to be used for the current Blade Dance festival.
Normally, it was a sanctuary that only permitted the coming and going of the Divine Ritual Institute's princess maidens who served the Elemental Lords. But during the Blade Dance, it was specially opened to ordinary people.
"I can't help but say this. This flying ship is too awesome, right?"
Looking out the window, Kamito gazed down at the vast sea of clouds and felt a little dizzy.
This was hardly surprising, seeing as it was his first time riding a flying ship.
The young ladies of noble birth seemed to be used to it already. After putting down their luggage, the team went to their assigned lounge and took a break on the sofa.
The walls were made of polished marble tiles while the floor was even covered by a beautifully embroidered red carpet.
The cabin was furnished with abundant supplies of everyday necessities, all of them top class in quality.
"By the way, it doesn't shake at all?"
"This is the latest model of flying ship, you know? If the journey goes smoothly, we'll probably arrive around noon or so."
The one answering was Claire, lying on the sofa... It was no big deal, but her current posture was hiking up her skirt and on the verge of exposing her panties. Hence, Kamito frantically shifted his gaze away.
"Oh right, the competition's opening ceremony will be held tonight at the castle hall. Did you bring formal clothes for a ball?"
"No I didn't. I'd rather be excused from balls."
Recalling the Blade Dance three years earlier, Kamito whispered with an embarrassed look.
To be honest, the ballroom scene had left him with traumatic memories.
For some reason, Claire's murmurs sounded a bit disappointed.
"...? Will I cause trouble for you by not bringing formal clothes?"
"O-Of course not!"
Blushing red, Claire turned her head away and ignored Kamito.
"What are you getting mad about..."
"I-I'm not mad, okay... Idiot."
"Please, the two of you. Must you quarrel even on the ship?"
Rinslet shrugged in exasperation.
"Rinslet, what are you doing?"
On the table, Rinslet was arranging the tea set she had brought.
"I'm going to make tea now. Would everyone like to enjoy some afternoon tea together?"
"Great idea, I've heard long ago that the tea leaves produced in the Laurenfrost region are especially sweet and soothing."
"Indeed, although it is currently the eve before the Blade Dance, a suitable level of relaxation is still required."
Originally outside, enjoying the scenery, Fianna and Ellis gathered back around the table.
Apparently, no matter what time or place, gracefully enjoying afternoon tea was customary for these high-class young ladies.
Rinslet elegantly poured tea into the dainty teacups. A citrous fragrance spread through the entire room along with the steam.
"Thanks. Wow... So fragrant."
Claire offered honest praise.
"This is orange tea special to the Laurenfrost region."
"Fufu, the tea brewed by milady is really delicious."
Carol the maid giggled and smiled.
"Isn't brewing tea normally part of the maid's job?"
No sooner had Kamito remarked...
"What are you talking about!? If my cute little Carol were to be scalded by accident, would you be able to compensate?"
For some reason, Kamito was scolded soundly by Rinslet.
As a side note, only invited humans were allowed to enter the sanctuary, but because Carol belonged to the Laurenfrost family—in other words, she was Rinslet's personal possession—she was given special permission to accompany Rinslet.
But in actual fact, Rinslet was apparently quite displeased about Carol being treated as an object.
"Kamito-san, how many spoonfuls of sugar would you like?"
"Oh, just one please."
"Claire, two spoonfuls for you, is that right?"
"Hey, why did you memorize my preference?"
"I-I didn't memorize it, okay! I simply recalled by chance!"
Rinslet yelled angrily with her face all red.
"Milady and Claire-sama used to play together often in the past."
Kamito asked the smiling Carol.
"Yes, Claire-sama used to be very very attached to milady—"
"Hold it right there. W-What nonsense are you talking about!?"
"T-That's right, Claire and I are rivals!"
Rinslet angrily turned her face away.
"No sugar in mine, please."
"As expected of a princess, knowing the best drinking method for appreciating tea."
Rinslet nodded happily to concur.
At this moment, Ellis sudden coughed dryly once...
"I-I would like milk tea with a generous serving of sugar, please."
Her voice sounded a bit shy.
"Yeah yeah, milk tea, isn't that right?"
"If possible, please add fresh cream and honey with floating marshmallows on top..."
"W-What is with your demands!?"
Rinslet's face twitched slightly after hearing Ellis.
"Your method of drinking tea is sacrilege to tea itself!"
"I-I have always drank tea this way! In order to survive the harsh sword training, intaking ample sugar is necessary."
"Good grief, the Fahrengart family with its military tradition is truly..."
"The Sylphid Knights' captain turns out to be unexpectedly childish. To think you'd be ignorant of how to appreciate the delicate flavor of tea."
"S-Shut up! Sweet things are tastier to begin with!"
Seeing Claire cast a pitying gaze towards her, Ellis tearfully retorted.
Watching this back and forth exchange between them...
(These two girls seem to have let go of their former grudges too...)
Kamito smiled wryly in his heart.
For quite a long while, due to being in opposition to the Sylphid Knights, Claire had always been on poor terms with Ellis who stood as the captain of the aforementioned Knights. Ellis had only joined Team Scarlet two weeks earlier. Back when they first started group training, the two girls often had arguments.
These arguments were sparked by all sorts of strange reasons, but in the vast majority of cases, it was due to Claire inexplicably objecting whenever Ellis suggested partnering with Kamito since they were both close range combatants...
This was hardly surprising. The two girls had completely different personalities.
Although they were both excellent students, Ellis was the very rigid, hardworking type while Claire was the genius type who did as she pleased. The only thing they had in common was their competitiveness.
Precisely because of that, the atmosphere was very tense between them during the first week. However...
"I can't believe this, you actually put honey into the tea..."
"T-That is the way I like it! If you have so many objections, why not have a taste for yourself first!?"
"Hmph, how could something so sickeningly sweet possibly be good... Eh?"
Claire took a small sip from Ellis' teacup and widened her eyes slightly.
"What is the matter?"
"...It's not bad, there seems to be a kind of gentle taste."
"I know, right?"
"But this does ruin the flavor of high-quality black tea. At most, it's just a bad kid's drink."
"Y-You might have a point..."
By now, the two girls' relationship had grown to the point that they were able to argue casually like this.
"...By the way, your hell cat spirit is so cute."
While saying that, Ellis reached out to stroke Scarlet who was curled up in a ball on the sofa.
Using her fingertips to play with Scarlet's soft and fuzzy tail, she also pressed on the pads on the cat's paws.
"Hey hey hey, Scarlet is my contracted spirit. Don't touch Scarlet so carelessly."
"J-Just a little should be fine..."
Ellis tightly hugged Scarlet affectionately while pouting.
It turned out that the rigid Captain of the Knights had an unexpectedly soft spot for cute things.
(...Come to think of it, she also kept things like stuffed dolls in her room.)
Scarlet cried out uneasily and sought Claire for help.
"I already told you to let Scarlet go. Don't you have your own contracted spirit!?"
"But Simorgh's appearance is too uncute..."
Ellis murmured in a sulking manner.
...If Ellis' contracted spirit were to overhear this, it would surely run away from home in exasperation.
"Just a little while longer, please let me play more with Scarlet."
Ellis continued to hug Scarlet stubbornly. At this moment...
"Meow meow! Meoooww!"
Fast as an arrow, Scarlet escaped from Ellis' arms and bolted from the room.
Claire sighed in exasperation.
"Didn't I say already? Apart from me, Scarlet won't let other humans get intimate with her."
"How can you say that with a straight face? Could you stop using my Fenrir as your pillow?"
Rinslet glared and threw a sideways glance at Claire.
"...B-But Fenrir feels so nice and cool."
On the sofa, Claire was resting her head against the back of a white wolf with long fur.
The high-level demon ice spirit Fenrir was whimpering softly, looking rather troubled.
(...I know how you feel.)
Treated as a slave spirit by Claire, Kamito could not help but sympathize with Fenrir.
"Fufu, Kamito-kun, you may use my bosom as a pillow any time you want. I don't mind at all."
"...Please don't joke around with me, Your Highness the Princess."
Kamito poked Fianna lightly in the forehead.
"...Jeez, I'm not joking at all."
Fianna bit her index finger gently and pouted unhappily.
"Sigh, I'll need to go look for Scarlet later. With a ship this big, it'll be a tiring search."
Saying that, Claire sighed deliberately in an exaggerated manner. Seeing that, Ellis turned to stare into the distance.
"Speaking of which, the other countries' representatives are also on this flying ship, right?"
"Yeah, apart from us, a number of teams should have already boarded the ship along the way."
Claire nodded to answer Kamito's question.
Kamito placed his cup of tea onto the table...
"What about Ren Ashbell, the Strongest Blade Dancer?"
As soon Kamito spoke, the room was filled with a tense atmosphere.
Because his words carried an indescribable sense of pressure.
"No, she's not on this ship."
Claire shook her head calmly and said:
"Because for this Blade Dance, she is participating as a representative for the Alphas Theocracy. So even if she's traveling by ship, it'll be a different one."
"But this is still so hard to accept."
"I know. It's hard to believe that an elementalist of her strength would run over to represent a country like the Alphas Theocracy."
Rinslet spoke with puzzlement and Claire concurred.
The Alphas Theocracy was a small country sandwiched between two great nations: the Ordesia Empire and the Dragon Duchy of Dracunia on the east and west respectively. Although its main exports were spirit crystals excavated from mines, the Theocracy actually made its massive fortune through the excavation and trade of artifacts from ancient ruins.
Among the ancient artifacts unearthed by the Alphas Theocracy, there were many that held extremely powerful sealed spirits inside them. It was said that during the past Ranbal War, the Theocracy made astronomical profits as the only neutral nation by supplying various countries with militarized spirits.
Furthermore, although it was impossible to substantiate, it was rumored that the black market organization Murders was also headquartered in the Theocracy, hence garnering eyes of suspicion from the other countries.
For a country like that to have survived all this time without being invaded by its large neighbors, apart from the Hierarch's shrewd diplomatic clout, its strategic location between two opposing superpowers also played a major role.
"Besides, it's already been fifty years since the last time the Theocracy sent representatives to take part in the Blade Dance. And they've never won. Why would they suddenly..."
Ren Ashbell was already the idol for all girls aspiring to be elementalists.
Why was everyone's idol representing a small country that only had negative publicity? Claire and the others could not understand at all.
"Speaking of the Alphas Theocracy, there are rumors of them buying militarized spirits on a large scale."
Ellis crossed her arms before her chest while speaking quietly.
"Why would they need to gather militarized spirits at this time...?"
Also, things were not that simple.
There were other reasons why the Alphas Theocracy was regarded as a dangerous element.
(I think I recall that it's also where Demon King worship originated?)
Demon King worshiping was secretly taking root in various places over the continent.
Allegedly, the Alphas Theocracy was the headquarters.
After all, that country's capital was where Demon King Solomon was born.
The Demon King's worshipers believed firmly that the Demon King would descend upon the Alphas Theocracy again.
Demon King... This word caused an inexplicable beating in Kamito's heart.
(Those people who raised me were also a branch of the Demon King worshipers...)
The Instructional School had tried to create their own Demon King through human methods.
Hence, they offered their blessing to Kamito, the male elementalist, and bestowed upon him the highest ranked darkness spirit who had been commanded by the former Demon King in the past.
"By the way, there's really so little information about Ren Ashbell."
Claire shrugged and said:
"All that's known is she suddenly appeared three years ago, an elementalist without any background. She is sixteen years old like us and contracted to a darkness spirit. That's all we know about her at the moment."
In order to win the Blade Dance, apart from prowess in using spirits, collecting information about opponents was an important part.
The Academy had provided information on some of the other teams, such as the attributes of contracted spirits, the form of elemental waffen, but there was almost nothing regarding the all-important Ren Ashbell.
Nothing was confirmed, not only for Ren Ashbell herself but also the entire team.
(An elementalist whose true identity and goal are both unknown huh...)
It would be fine if she was just an imposter using the legendary elementalist's name and title as a ruse.
But things could not possibly be that simple.
(Greyworth said, as long as I defeat her...)
The reason why she recruited Kamito to the Academy was for defeating her in the Blade Dance.
Kamito looked at his leather gloved left hand.
(No mistake about it. Restia is currently working together with that imposter.)
Several weeks earlier, a battle had taken place at an abandoned mine between Kamito and friends against one of the Instructional School's orphans: Jio Inzagi.
...Because this is her wish.
Back then, that was what Restia had said.
Furthermore, she also said: "One day, you will surely encounter each other."
The darkness spirit girl's transfiguration.
If her transfiguration was related to the other Ren Ashbell...
(I will absolutely not forgive that girl.)
Kamito's clenched fist was silently shaking under the table.
"But I never thought I would be standing on the same stage as her, in just a few hours' time."
Ellis suddenly murmured with heartfelt emotion.
"Three years ago, I was still in the audience, watching her first battle."
"I also saw her match against Velsaria. She really was so pretty."
"Ren Ashbell's blade dancing is superb, right?"
Ellis' cheeks were blushing slightly while Claire and Rinslet were nodding and concurring.
Kamito turned his face away with an embarrassed look.
"Oh dear, there's no need to make such a big fuss, okay? Even if she's known as the Strongest Blade Dancer, that was three years ago already. Her power is probably getting more and more exaggerated by rumors. That girl actually isn't that amazing, right?"
Just as he shrugged and finished...
"W-What nonsense are you babbling!?"
"Are you a fool?"
"Oh please, there should be limits to ignorance."
"Uh, no, I'm sorry..."
Facing angry glares from the three high-class ladies, Kamito had no choice but to apologize frantically.
(...It's not like I can tell them that the real one is standing right here before their eyes.)
Fearing that he would collapse from the girls ganging up on him, Kamito suddenly rose up and left his place at the table.
"Where are you going?"
"Nowhere in particular. Just gonna look for Scarlet a bit."
Kamito made an excuse and made his way towards the exit.
"Hmph, he fled..."
"Fufu, Kamito-kun is such a poor dear."
As the only one privy to Kamito's true identity here, Fianna giggled secretly to herself.
Four thousand meters up in the air...
A small combat vessel had appeared directly underneath the flying ship that the Blade Dance participants were traveling on.
It had been lurking in a forest, waiting for its prey to arrive.
The metal cabin door opened and out walked a young-looking girl.
Her ash-gray hair, tied up on the opposite sides of her, was swaying in the strong wind blowing head on.
The girl smiled and began to chant the incantation for a spirit's release.
Instantly, the ring on her middle finger gave off red light.
"Okay, let's rampage! Annihilation spirit Death Gaze!"
As the air cracked open, out emerged a giant black monster.