Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance:Volume5 Chapter1
Chapter 1 - The Broken Sacred Sword
Waking up, he found himself on his soft bed.
... He sat up and looked back down at himself.
He was not wearing his school uniform, but rather a set of loose pajamas. It seemed that someone had helped him change while he was unconscious.
The dream he witnessed had caused him to break out into a cold sweat.
What on earth —
Trying to recall the events that happened before he fainted, Kamito rubbed his dully aching head.
At that moment —
"Kamito, you're awake?"
From the corner of the room came a voice.
Kamito turned, and saw a beautiful girl in uniform sitting on a chair by the wall.
She had red twintails on the sides of her head.
Her translucent ruby-red pupils gazed anxiously in his direction.
"... Claire, you haven't been here all this time, have you?"
"Eh? No, not very long at all..."
Claire frantically shook her head.
However, dark circles at the corners of her eyes belied the fact that she had not had a good night's rest.
"I apologize for making you worry."
"I-It's nothing, I wasn't worrying."
Kamito returned Claire's concern with a wry smile, and took a look around the room.
This castle room had been arranged for the participants of the Blade Dance. Looking at its spacious windows and quality household items, one could tell that this was not Kamito's usual residence, which was no different from a storage room, but a room from some unknown other place.
With dawn quickly approaching, the sun shone weakly through a slit in the curtains.
"That's good, get some sleep now. Your fever has not fully gone down."
"Ah? I have a fever?"
"Mmhm, it appears to have gotten better now, but you were burning up quite badly just a moment ago."
Claire bent over and placed her hand on Kamito's forehead.
The touch of her ice-cold skin felt incredibly comfortable. .... Oh. There was indeed still a bit of a lingering fever.
"Anyways, Claire –"
"Yes, what is it?"
"Uh, why did I faint?"
".......You don't remember?"
Claire's eyes opened wide in surprise.
"Don't tell me you have amnesia..."
"No, nothing that serious. It's just that my head's still groggy and I can't seem to remember what happened right before I blacked out."
Kamito shook his head silently.
"The events from the ball?"
"Yes, I remember that. You turned down the invitation from the crown prince of some country with the wave of a hand..."
"Around that time, Ren Ashbell invited me to dance –"
While massaging his aching temples, Kamito felt his memory gradually return in chronological order.
Something big must have happened.
(No mistake about that. There was something of extreme importance –)
"Ren Ashbell carved the Brand of Darkness on me, and then –"
Impatience burned in his chest.
Sparkling in the corner of his mind was an image of the radiant silver sword.
"And then, I –"
"Kamito, you rescued us from the hands of the Instructional School assassins!"
Looking at the upset Kamito, Claire spoke up.
"The Instructional School assassins?"
Kamito lifted his head abruptly.
(That's right. At that time, I battled Muir's militarized spirit–)
Claire's words prompted his memories of last night to return in a flood.
During the Blade Dance's opening ceremony last night, Muir Alenstarl, the Instructional School assassin calling herself Kamito's foster younger sister, had controlled a militarized spirit to attack Claire and company.
Marked by Ren Ashbell's Brand of Darkness and covered in wounds, Kamito raced towards the battlefield reluctantly, towards Muir Alenstarl's militarized spirit – but at that very moment, the curse of the mark took effect on Kamito's body, and he was overcome with blinding pain.
And then –
The instant he regained his memory, Kamito's whole body stiffened, as if he'd been struck by lightning.
The image that sprung to mind was that of a girl – with mysterious violet eyes.
With beautiful silvery-white hair that reflected the moonlight.
With small hands that gently stroked his back.
And with lips that were cold as ice yet hot as fire when they touched his.
Then she turned into innumerable particles of light, which dissipated into a void—
That was the last Kamito saw of her.
"... Es... t?"
The name escaped from his lips in a trembling, spontaneous exhale.
It was the name of one who had always remained by his side, the name of an extremely important someone, the name of his contracted spirit.
His slight memory disturbances earlier must have been because he had not wanted to face this fact.
Claire's low, worried words almost went unheard by Kamito.
"You must be joking... Est, why did she–"
Her meaningless words rang hollow.
His newly recovered memory insisted on replaying the last scene he saw before losing consciousness.
At that time, she had whispered in his ear:
Goodbye, Kamito –.
Sword spirit Est – with a head of silvery-white hair, just like a snow fairy.
His contract with her was originally a chance occurrence.
While maintaining a contract with a contracted spirit from the past, the end result was an incomplete contract.
Originally, he could not even wield a tenth of the power with the contract. It must have been considerably painful for a powerful spirit like her.
However, Est had said that was all right.
To be able to contract with you, that alone is wonderful – she had said.
(But I –)
Three years ago, there was a day he had lost a previous contracted spirit.
From that day onwards, he had vowed not to lose anyone important.
"Yet I – again!"
Est had disappeared.
She had sacrificed her very existence in order to save Kamito from being eroded by the curse of the brand.
He threw up his hands in despair only for Claire to quickly catch hold of them.
She gazed steadily into his eyes, with the intent of calming him down.
"Est was not eliminated."
"After all, your hands still bear signs of a spirit contract, right?"
Kamito's eyes widened.
His right hand, the one in Claire's grasp, still bore a design of intersecting swords.
That was the proof of a spirit contract—the spirit seal.
If the contracted spirit were to be eliminated, the spirit seal would then of course disappear.
The reason why Kamito had believed for all these three years that Restia had not vanished—the reason why he had retained a glimmer of hope—was entirely because the spirit seal inscribed on his left hand still remained.
The spirit seal connected the contractor to the contracted spirit; it was a special Gate.
Now the pain was too weak to be felt – but as long as the spirit seal on his right hand did not disappear, he would have proof that Est had not been completely eliminated.
"Est, she's still alive."
"Yes. And even if we cannot call her out now, there must be a way to do so."
If that's the case, I can't remain like this.
"... Ah ah ah ah ah!"
Biting back the pain coursing through his entire body, Kamito got up from the bed.
"Wait, wait a moment, what are you doing!? You still can't –"
"Est is waiting – I don't have the time to continue sleeping!"
Just as Claire's hands moved to stop him–
Gurgle gurgle ~
A lovely sound arose in the room.
All the strength had drained from his body.
"...... ~! Th-Th-This is a misunderstanding, t-there wasn't a strange sound just now!"
"You... don't tell me, you haven't had anything to eat since yesterday?"
"A-After all, you've been having a bad fever, well..."
Claire blushed and stammered.
"You can't afford to skip meals since the battle begins tomorrow."
"... I-I know. Speaking of which, you haven't eaten either."
"Well, I'm more or less accustomed to that..."
In his youth, Kamito had spent most of his time undergoing intense training at the Instructional School.
The education he received there included even training to withstand starvation. Although he had no intention of attempting such a thing, he could now easily go without food for several days.
Something suddenly occurred to Kamito.
(Everyone now knows that I was from the Instructional School...)
Precisely because they were important companions, he had not wanted them to know of his past.
Once they learnt of that, he thought that they would not want anything to do with him anymore.
It was only natural that one would think so.
On the contrary, they had treated Kamito –
"You... what you are or aren't accustomed to, that's entirely beside the point. If you don't eat well, you'll never regain your strength. Look, I even brought fruit here specially f-for you."
At this, Claire indicated the basket on the bedside table.
It was filled to the brim with delicious-looking ripe peaches.
"– Claire, thank you."
"Don't stand on courtesy, it's nothing. After all, they were brought back from the ball."
"No such thing!"
Kamito looked directly at Claire.
"Even after learning I was an orphan from the Instructional School, you still stayed my friend, saying it didn't matter. ... About that, I'm still very glad."
"W-What, ah, well, that..."
Claire blushed and looked away.
"B-But of course, isn't that just how it is? Regardless of your past, you're my slave spirit now and that will not change!"
With a wry smile and a nod of his head, Kamito reached into the basket for a peach.
"Here, hand me a small knife, I'll cut it open."
"Leave it to me. You're the hurt one, get some rest."
"The peach is fragile, so it can be difficult to peel. I thought you weren't good at peeling fruits?"
"W-Well, if you think that..."
Claire hid her face. Truth be told, it seemed that all the women at the academy, both young and adult, were all not that good at homemaking. It wasn't just Claire who was particularly bad at preparing fruits.
Kamito shrugged, picked up a knife from the table, and started peeling the peach in a repeated, circular motion.
Watching his deft handiwork, Claire asked emotionally:
"Did you learn this from that Instructional School too?"
"No, I picked up cooking and other skills during my travels. My travel companion was very picky when it came to the flavor!"
"...By companion, you mean that darkness spirit girl?"
While cutting the peach, Kamito's expression turned sour.
"Well – so it's like that..."
Claire looked doubtful.
"Look, it is peeled."
As if to change the subject, Kamito speared the peeled peach on a fork and presented it to Claire.
As she took a bite, some peach juice sprayed back at him.
"Yum yum~ so sweet, it's really delicious...!"
Her red twintails danced in joy.
Claire put her hands to her cheeks, an expression of sheer bliss on her face. She looked so lovely one could accidentally lose oneself in admiration.
"Well, now, have another..."
Kamito raised the fork holding the peach. Like a cat being teased, Claire's gaze followed it in a trance-like state.
"Look, here it is!"
He moved his hand away.
Claire's mouth opened and shut as she chased the peach doggedly.
Left, right. ... And again.
Finding it very interesting, Kamito intended to continue for a little longer –
"... ~Oi, w-why are you so cruel!"
Claire snarled, tears welling in her eyes.
"... Sorry, just felt like you were as adorable as a cat, so."
"...?! W-What do you mean cute... s-stupid idiot, that's what you are!"
Into the mouth of the red-faced, frantically gesticulating Claire –
– went the peach.
And she bit down.
"Whew, ah, it's so delicious ..."
"Just like a cat."
Claire shot Kamito a look.
"Hey, isn't this situation backwards?"
"The injured person is you, but I'm the one eating."
"Well, it's a small matter, don't worry about it."
Kamito shrugged his shoulders and conveniently put the peach into his own mouth.
The slightly tangy taste of the peach juice spread immediately in his mouth.
"Mmm, it really is delicious. It's thoroughly ripe!"
"I-Isn't that the same fork..."
"... What's the matter?"
"N-No, it's nothing –"
Claire hastily took her eyes off him.
Kamito put the fork aside and asked.
"What's the performance for the Blade Dance? The divination of the Queens has already been revealed, right?"
While Kamito was unconscious, the five Queens had held a ceremony at the great temple of the Divine Ritual Institute, where the five Elemental Lords bestowed their oracle. The performance was to be decided by this oracle – as for the competition format, it would be announced at a later date.
At this, Claire's expression grew serious.
"Mmhm, the blade dance performance to be presented will be – the Tempest."
That had been the competition format used for the Blade Dance not only in recent years, but also tens, and even hundreds of years ago.
The elementalists presenting the blade dance performance would come together at the gathering place in the vast sacred lands, and the teams would do battle with each other over a number of days. Each individual's combat skills would be put to the test, but beyond that, of even greater significance were their tactical and strategic ability, as well as teamwork and cooperation.
"... It will be a tough battle."
"Indeed. On the other hand, they clearly could have chosen a knockout-style tournament. If so, I suppose this was the best possible outcome."
Claire nodded with a serious look on her face.
The blade dance performance's format would be the Tempest. This piece of information was one he had previously thought about.
With the only constraint being "five elementalists to a team", a little investigating on the history of the Blade Dance would have made it clear that the number of possible performance formats was only about ten or so.
As a matter of fact, Areishia Spirit Academy had even conducted an extensive training exercise under the assumption that this performance would be selected.
However, one could still hold out hope, for as long as possible, that this performance would not be chosen – this way of thinking was still true.
More so than individual skill, this competition format emphasized a team's combined strength. One would be hard-pressed to say this system had any benefits for Claire, who was still worried and unconfident in regards to teamwork.
Furthermore, Team Scarlet had only formed recently. The five members had begun working together a mere few weeks ago. While each of them was a strong elementalist in his or her own right, their combined team strength still could not compare to that of the other teams.
Kamito's gaze turned to the spirit seal inscribed on his right hand.
All along, Kamito's overwhelming strength had always been unrivaled amongst his companions.
However, Kamito was now in a state lacking his contracted spirits.
Despite previously being known as the Strongest Blade Dancer, without his contracted spirit, Kamito could not reach his full strength as an elementalist.
Following that, he rested his hand lightly on the chest wound that was still aching dully.
(—The curse of this brand has yet to fade completely.)
The Brand of Darkness that Ren Ashbell had engraved was even now still eating away at his body.
Although Est had suppressed the worst of the damage by sacrificing herself, she had not entirely destroyed it.
Murmuring her name, even injecting divine power into it, the spirit seal yielded no response.
Instead, an intense scorching pain invaded his entire body.
"... Ah, damn it..."
"You'd better not act rashly. What you can do now is to get a good rest in order to regain your strength and divine power."
"... Ah, ah, I know."
Clenching his lips tightly, Kamito nodded and laid flat on the bed again.
(... Kamito seemed to be pretty depressed.)
Outside Kamito's room, Claire let out a small sigh.
This was not unreasonable. After all, he was an elementalist who had lost his contracted spirit before his own eyes.
That bitterness, Claire understood all too well, as she too had lost Scarlet in the past. At that time, Claire had given up on herself and had even allowed herself to be tempted by the darkness spirit.
Of course, Est's eradication had left Claire somewhat shaken too.
For Est had not been just another contracted spirit.
She was also an important companion of Claire's in the academy; for more than two months, they had fought side by side.
".......We need to quickly find a way to bring Est back."
The practical problem was that, without Est, Team Scarlet had no chance of winning the battle royale. Kamito had incomparable strength, but an elementalist without a contracted spirit at his side would not be able to do his best at a competition such as the Blade Dance, where there were many tough opponents.
There must be a way to bring Est back – true, she had just said that, but what exactly one would need to do, she did not know. Assuming it was possible was fine and all, but they might not have enough time.
The Blade Dance battle would begin tomorrow; they could only afford to spare one day. If Kamito could not bring Est back in that time, they would have to rely on only the four remaining people to win the battle royale.
Although they did not intend on losing to the other teams, the fact of the matter was that their chances of victory against a strong opponent—such as, say, the Dracunia Dragons led by Leonora Lancaster—were slim indeed.
Moreover, in order to win the grand event, they would still have to take down Ren Ashbell, the most powerful of the blade dancers.
Then again, it was also possible for Kamito to look for another spirit to contract with.
(But, all things considered, that was not likely...)
Pacing around the portico, Claire shook her head. Leaving aside for the moment the issue of finding a suitable new contracted spirit, Kamito would most certainly reject the idea of any other spirit but Est.
(Speaking of whom –)
Out of the blue, the image of that darkness spirit girl inadvertently surfaced in Claire's mind.
Jet-black hair, billowing in the wind. A lovely girl with eyes the color of dusk.
(In the end, I still did not ask Kamito about her...)
A wave of pain rushed through her chest as she thought of it.
It was yesterday evening, in the courtyard of the castle: Kamito and the darkness spirit girl, their lips locked in a kiss.
It wasn't that she lacked the opportunity to ask; it was just not a suitable time for such a matter. Shocked and upset over having lost Est, Kamito was not in a state for her to pursue the matter to completion.
(But that girl; what on earth was her relationship with Kamito...?)
The previous contracted spirit was a girl of darkness who, even now, still held Kamito's heart.
The strange pain in her chest burned more and more intensely.
"W-Well, whatever, that rascal can get all kissy-kissy with whoever he wants to! It's got nothing to with me, right?"
Claire reasoned this out with herself and then stopped outside the room.
She opened the door —
There were three people in the room who rose from the couch in unison.
"Is Kamito awake!?"
Claire nodded her head in response to Ellis's query.
"Well, yeah, but it seems the fever has not receded yet. He should continue to rest."
".....Hmm, I see. All in all, it's good that he's doing alright."
"T-To actually have a girl worry so much over him. This guy still causes headaches like before!"
Rinslet crossed and uncrossed her fingers restlessly.
"... It was really all thanks to Est. My skills were simply ineffective against the curse of that brand."
In contrast with the other two, who seemed to have breathed sighs of relief, Fianna wore a somber expression.
Fianna was originally the second-best princess maiden overall in the Divine Ritual Institute. Her power and skill at curse-breaking was comparable to that of the current princess maidens.
However, the Brand of Darkness inscribed by Ren Ashbell on Kamito's body contained a curse so strong that it left even Fianna helpless.
If at that time Est had not sacrificed herself, then —
Kamito's physical body would have been utterly corroded by the curse. At worst, he might even have died.
"I have searched through a wide range of material but still couldn't find any information on this curse."
The pile of heavy books around Fianna was as high as a mountain.
She had brought these with her from the academy. They contained incantations and curses as well as documents related to spirits.
"But even now, I still cannot believe that..."
Ellis spoke while clenching her lips.
"That Ren Ashbell would go so far as to actually do such a thing —"
"... Yeah, I know."
The strongest blade dancer.
Her goal was to become a princess maiden elementalist, the most lauded person.
At the Blade Dance three years ago, her blade dance performance had mesmerized countless girls.
Whether it was Claire, Ellis, or anyone, they all held a powerful and honorable person like her in high respect. They had endured the Academy's numerous, strict training regimens in order to be an elementalist like her.
Which was why when Muir Alenstarl told them that it was she who had carved the Brand of Darkness onto Kamito's body, they completely could not bring themselves to believe it.
However, on further reflection—
(Not a single one of them knew anything about who she was...)
For example, what wish she made to the Elemental Lords as the victor of the Blade Dance three years prior.
Why, after reaching the highest possible level of renown, did she suddenly disappear without a trace from the eyes of the world.
And why, with things in their current state, would she want to make a return?
Speculation of all sorts were floating about, but it still remained a mystery.
Finally, why would the strongest active elementalist want to place a curse on Kamito.
The reason for that was unclear as well.
(For preemptive reasons, so as to reduce Kamito to a certain amount of strength before the battle royale?)
Even if that were so, there was no need to use such a circuitous strategy as a curse.
One would only need to fight with overwhelming brute strength to eliminate others, like what Muir Alenstarl did.
"Without conclusive evidence, that impostor elementalist may as well be the real Ren Ashbell."
"... But in that case, why not use her real identity?"
"Maybe there's some reason why she couldn't use her true identity," muttered Fianna.
"You think there is a hidden reason?"
"Ah... I-I didn't say anything!"
Addressing the frowning Claire, Fianna hurriedly shook her head.
"If there was someone masquerading as Ren Ashbell and using her name, I would never forgive her."
Placing her hands on the sword at her waist, Ellis spoke up.
"Come on, let's take the initiative to go ask her—"
"Impossible. We don't even know where she is in the first place."
Claire shook her head at Ellis's impulsive and dangerous proposal.
The team representing Ren Ashbell, Team Inferno of Alphas Theocracy, had apparently stayed in a tower outside the region where they waited for an opportunity to strike. No one knew where they were.
Moreover, Muir Alenstarl, who had vanished after yesterday's skirmish, had not given up on her plans to kill Claire and company. A slow, stealthy approach would be more practical than a direct dangerous one.
"Her intentions are indeed a major concern, but—the foremost problem here has to be Est."
Claire turned towards Fianna and asked,
"I'll get straight to the point. Est – can she still return?"
Fianna stroked her chin, as though deep in thought.
"If Kamito's hand still shows signs of the spirit seal, it is evidence that Est has not been completely vanquished. Ordinarily, once she fully regains her power, she can return. It's just that –"
"This is just my hypothesis – Est may have been trapped in a prison of the curse. Regarding this, I cannot be sure."
"What do you mean?"
"Est used her power to suppress the curse, but she did not completely break it. Now she might be held, shackled by the curse, unable to move."
"In order to rescue Est, we'll have to deal with the curse first, won't we?"
Ellis nodded with a serious expression.
"In regards to the Brand of Darkness, I can get some help from the forces at the Divine Ritual Institute. ... Next, there is the problem of Kamito himself. Although I don't think this will crush his spirits..."
"But, he seemed really upset......"
Even in front of Claire, he had put on a brave front so as not to let anyone see him weak. At the end of the day however, he could not hide how much the loss of Est had affected him.
By the looks of it, it should take him quite some time to get his act together.
"In that case......is there anything we can do for him?"
"Truthfully speaking, it's not that we don't have an option..."
"Eh, really?" "What's is it?" "D-Don't leave us guessing! Tell us directly, please!"
Hearing this, Claire and the others who were not giving up, gathered in front of Fianna.
Fianna sighed and said:
"... Help our own opponents. While it is infuriating, we really have no choice."
She uttered this sentence of cryptic meaning –
And then informed them on what they - can - do - for - Kamito.
The trio's faces instantly turned bright red.
"W-Wait a minute! That sort of thing – how could we possibly to do that!"
"R-Really now! Such a shameful thing... as a knight, I cannot accept it!"
"Keep in mind that I am the eldest daughter of the noble Laurenfrost family!"
The wave of protest from the girls came at the same time.
"Hmm – so you mean to say that you don't want Kamito to recover?"
Fianna sharply spoke and pointed at them.
"Of course that isn't true–"
"... I-I didn't mean it like that, except–"
The three blushed and stammered.
A mischievous smile formed on Fianna's face.
"All right then, it's settled. There are all sorts of ceremonial props in the luggage I brought. Help yourselves."
As she spoke, she reached into the travel bag and took out a myriad of colorful costumes and props.