|Author: Carrot Sauce||Original Source: SFACG||Word Count: 3097 characters|
|Translator: Keissen||English Source: Re:Library||Word Count: 1588 words|
“Ladies,” Kiryu interjected, approaching them with a concerned expression. “Mr. Kiryu?” Lily queried.
“I must make an audacious request,” Kiryu confessed, four individuals standing loyally behind him. “These are my cousin and his companions, all of whom are trustworthy and steadfast. The demons we face this time are exceptionally powerful and perilous. I’m worried for both your safety and my cousin’s. Therefore, I humbly ask that you join forces with them. My anxiety would be lessened if you do.”
Lily, hesitating, replied, “Well…” She hadn’t planned to team up with anyone, but Kiryu’s sincerity was persuasive. Considering his cousin was involved, she felt reluctant to decline outright.
“Sisters, what do you think?” she asked.
“Lily, it’s your call,” Ayaka answered. If Kiryu’s relatives were reliable, there seemed no harm in joining forces.
“Alright then,” Lily finally agreed, nodding her consent.
“Really? Awesome!” Kiryu exclaimed, pulling forward a well-groomed young man who stood slightly taller and possessed more narrow eyes. “These three are Miss Lily, Miss Ayaka, and Miss Shimizu, who have traveled from afar. Please take care of them, show them respect, and be cautious, understood?”
“Understood, brother,” the young man responded shyly, bowing towards the women. “Hello, sisters. I’m Fuyuki Yamatsugu, and these are my companions. We’ll rely on each other during the journey.”
“Of course, likewise,” Lily assured him, noticing the three people behind Fuyuki: a blue-clad female ninja named Haruka, a female warrior in exposed armor named Reiko, and a corpulent onmyoji named Daimon Okazawa, who seemed awkward around women, despite having two on his team. Lily’s agreement was also influenced by the presence of two women on the other side.
The experts formed their respective groups and, in turn, boarded the lift—a suspended platform made of wood and iron chains, operated manually. Lily and her new companions stepped into the wooden lift, and as the chains clanked, they slowly descended.
Most of the experts present could easily jump from the thousand-meter-high cliff without injury, but the lift was mainly for unranked experts and regular soldiers. Once on the ground, teams of experts crossed the suspension bridge between the mountain valleys and entered the dense forest, while Lily and her group stayed behind.
The leading groups of experts began to move more swiftly, sprinting through the forest or leaping between the massive trees. Lily and her companions quickened their pace to keep up, jumping from branch to branch.
Fuyuki frequently glanced at Lily, as though he wanted to speak but held back. Lily grew increasingly uneasy under his scrutiny. Eventually, Fuyuki found his voice, “Well… May I inquire about your abilities? It may seem sudden, but as we’ll soon be comrades on the battlefield, it’s best we understand each other.”
Lily responded with a question as they maneuvered through the rugged landscape, “What about you all?”
“Heheh,” Fuyuki chuckled, rubbing the back of his head while leaping in midair. “I must confess, I’m merely a Late Throned Monarch.”
“Brother Fuyuki, you’re far too humble! How can you feel shame as a Late Throned Monarch? Reiko and I are just Middle Throned Monarchs; doesn’t that make us inferior?” the female ninja, catching up, protested.
The corpulent onmyoji, Daimon, trailed behind, stuttering in excitement at the sight of the three beauties but fearful of speaking.
“Daimon’s an Early Throned Monarch, but as an Onmyoji, he has many support spells. He excels in team battles rather than solo combat. By collaborating, he can enhance our effectiveness and even ensure your safety,” the exposed warrior, Reiko, explained.
“Ah, that’s true…” Lily conceded, nodding absentmindedly.
“Ladies, you haven’t revealed your strength yet,” Reiko probed.
“We are Throned experts, just like you,” Shimizu clarified.
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“That makes sense,” Haruka acknowledged. “Most who can join this battle are the rookies. The majority are Throned Monarchs, while the weaker ones are Throned Sovereigns.”
Reiko chimed in, “Miss Lily, it’s delightful to have more women here. We can stick together while encamped. The dynamics can be awkward with two men and two women, but at least these two are well-behaved. Men from other teams are often more bothersome. Some even harass us.”
Soon enough, the two girls were engaged in lively conversation with Lily and the others. They paused by a river, where Reiko offered a rice ball from their Asuka Kingdom. “Food is scarce these days. These are made from mountain stems that grow at night. We grind them into powder and shape them like rice. Though they don’t taste like actual rice, they have the wonderful ability to restore your spirit power.”
“Ah, thank you…” Lily smiled, accepting the offering.
“Rice has become a rarity in the past two years,” Haruka reflected, leaning against a tree. “The grains are expensive, especially fresh rice. Only a few traders risk importing it across the ocean, making it even pricier. Adepts can afford it with Flame Gold, but common folk suffer. Many die every year.”
“But adepts hesitate to spend Flame Gold on rice, as we can use it for weapons and treasures,” Fuyuki added, revealing a disparity in wealth between the adepts of Iyo Island and the Heian Dynasty.
“The sky remains dark like this…” Lily observed, looking up. “Can the people even survive?”
Haruka shook her head, her voice filled with despair. “Our farms have been abandoned for years. We rely on hunting, fishing, and foraging for nocturnal plants, but those areas are infested with demons. We risk our lives for food! Weaker villages have perished. If this continues, our future is bleak.”
“So the Princess has greater concerns than we do. She’s been gathering experts worldwide to battle the demons, all in hopes of someday restoring peace and witnessing the sun once again. Isn’t that right?” Reiko inquired.
“But will the sun truly return if we vanquish the demons?” Shimizu asked, a hint of doubt in her voice.
Haruka’s eyes widened, sharing a surprised look with Reiko. “Well… I never really pondered that question.”
Reiko’s expression became distant. “I believe Princess Asuka has contemplated these matters. We are here to follow her commands and fight the demons for rewards. But my reasons go beyond mere financial gain; I want to grow stronger! Humans have altered my husband and children1. My entire life’s purpose, my very training, is devoted to combating demons forever.”
Lily was struck with admiration as she learned about Reiko’s tragic past, all hidden beneath her audacious armor and bold attitude.
“Who hasn’t suffered?” Haruka interjected, her voice trembling. “I witnessed my father become a demon, even saw him attacking my mother and younger brother!”
“We’ve answered the Princess’ summons today to battle the demons,” Fuyuki declared, stepping closer. “I realize we might not change the world, but we can at least instill some hope.”
Daimon, usually so reticent, suddenly spoke up, his voice dripping with indifference. “Regrettably, not everyone shares this sentiment. Indeed, many adepts could endure eternal darkness. For many, it’s about the rewards, the promise.”
His words hung heavily in the air, silencing the group.
Lily’s heart ached as she realized the truth in his statement. The people around her were genuinely compassionate, but the broader reality was grim. Tens of thousands of civilians teetered on the brink of extinction, while too many adepts and clans selfishly pursued their own gains.
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After taking a brief respite, they resumed their journey, soon reaching the location Yujin had described. As most groups began to slow down and disperse, they scouted the area and continued to advance. Having teamed up with Fuyuki, they were guided in the right direction.
“The Eldritch Energy ahead is growing stronger,” Lily whispered, her sword hilt clearing the way before them.
“Miss Lily, allow me to lead. We may come across demons as we proceed. It’s wise for us to maintain some distance from one another, to avoid a simultaneous ambush,” Fuyuki cautioned with a grave tone.
By this time, all the adepts in their respective teams were keeping their distance and employing their spirit power to survey their surroundings. Lily and her companions followed suit.
They hadn’t journeyed far when Lily suddenly sensed potent auras several thousand meters away. Others in the group quickly detected it as well.
“Demons! Ahead!” Haruka exclaimed, leaping onto a tree branch.
Almost simultaneously, the other party sensed Lily’s group. Eldritch Energy burst forth from the distant mountains, and the unseen enemies charged forward.
“They’re here! And they’re fast!” Haruka yelled, her voice betraying her talent for detection.
Moments after her warning, gusts of wind whipped through the dark forests ahead, causing the trees to shake violently. Whoosh! The forest seemed to tremble in anticipation.
“Daimon! Prepare a defensive spell!” Fuyuki commanded, drawing his Grade-8 weapon.
“Understood!” Daimon, typically so quiet, responded with swift determination, and golden runes began to encircle Fuyuki’s form.
“Daimon! Protect me as well!” Reiko demanded, and Daimon started to cast spells on her.
But it was already too late!
Without warning, several flaming purple blades shot through the forest. They hurtled towards Reiko and Fuyuki, who were at the front line.
Fuyuki parried with his long sword, while Reiko nimbly rolled to the side, avoiding three of the blades. A fourth, however, grazed her arm, drawing blood.
“Ah! The blade is poisoned!” Reiko cried out in alarm.
“Daimon2! Antidote!” Fuyuki yelled.
“Ah, yes, yes!” Daimon fumbled for a green herb and a talisman, beginning an incantation.
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Then, without warning, a series of thunderous noises erupted: Bam! Boom! Boom!
Dark shadows, seven meters tall and with grotesquely elongated limbs, sprang from the trees, poised to attack!