|Author: Carrot Sauce||Original Source: SFACG||Word Count: 3410 characters|
|Translator: Yuki||English Source: Re:Library||Word Count: 1757 words|
A tremor suddenly overtook Aida as the realization struck him. Could that horrific explosion be connected to these women? He stared at Lily, baffled, “This woman… what level is she at? A big dipper expert? Impossible! There has to be a mastermind behind her, one who attributed all these accomplishments to her. Sure, she’s strong, but she merely played a decorative role! Either way, she’s not someone I can afford to mess with; if the big dipper expert behind her were to get angry, it would be a serious matter.”
The room was abuzz, all eyes on Lily’s group, their astonishment palpable. It was unimaginable how these three women could have slain two big dipper arch-demons, even working together.
Princess Asuka was the only one who seemed unperturbed, her eyes on Lily as she spoke, “Miss Lily, you have vanquished a grave menace to Himeji. Though we’ve called on help from around the world, without my personal leadership, Himeji lacks the might to confront two double-soul big dipper arch-demons. If not for your presence, the experts on this expedition might have suffered dire losses. My heartfelt thanks to you!”
“It is our duty, your highness,” Lily replied, humility in her voice. “My sisters and I have journeyed far and wide, both for the world and for ourselves. Fighting for rewards is but natural. That you express such gratitude leaves me feeling unworthy.”
Princess Asuka’s nod conveyed her understanding, and she spoke to Lily with a frankness that hinted at admiration. “After the banquet, please join me for a conversation. If there are any treasures you wish to trade for, simply tell me. With your and your sisters’ prowess, I doubt Kiryu possesses anything to pique your interest.”
Lily responded with a respectful bow.
A murmur of envy filled the hall at the princess’ offer. Everyone knew the treasures she held were unparalleled, but it was not a matter of her unwillingness to extend the offer to them; their merits and shares simply did not qualify.
Naturally, there were veterans who had been loyal to Himeji for numerous years, amassing greater merits and shares than Lily and her companions. However, they were absent from this expedition. It must be acknowledged that achieving over two thousand shares in just one mission was an unprecedented feat!
“Everyone, the conversion of your merits to kingdom shares is noted. Should you wish to trade for treasures, you may do so at your convenience. Now, let the feast begin!” Princess Asuka proclaimed, raising her cup in tribute. “This cup, I dedicate to our fallen warriors!” She held her wine cup aloft, solemnly spilling the contents on the ground.
Her voice lifted again, “The second cup is for all here. Cheers!”
Lily observed that while Princess Asuka had arranged for fine wine to be served, she herself sipped tea. “Let’s drink tea then,” Lily suggested to Ayaka and Shimizu, who agreed. Shimizu wasn’t averse to wine but simply uninterested, and Ayaka never drank wine at all.
Shortly thereafter, a troupe of dancers and musicians appeared, garbed in costumes that appeared to predate those of the Heian dynasty. As the strains of ancient music filled the air, the dance commenced. The hall was abuzz with chatter, filled with discussions about the startling revelations that had been unveiled.
The burly Yujin, already inebriated, stood and proclaimed, “Miss Lily! Come sit at the front; you and your sisters are the true stars of tonight’s banquet.”
Lily’s laughter rang out, “There’s no need; we’re quite content here.”
Yujin surveyed the hall before pointing at himself and some other generals. “We should give up our seats for Miss Lily and her group. Without them, we might all have perished against those double-soul big dipper arch-demons. It’s our duty to show gratitude and decency! Unlike some who swagger about with their insignificant skills. How disgraceful!” His glare fell on Aida, who sat at the head of the table, his face a picture of profound embarrassment.
Bam! Aida’s hand came down on the table with force, “What did you say? Are we suddenly beneath you because there’s a new powerhouse in play? Hmph! I won’t tolerate such disrespect!” he exclaimed. In his anger, Aida kicked the table aside and began to storm out.
“Lord Aida,” Princess Asuka interjected, her face stern but her voice even, “This is a misunderstanding. You are one of Himeji’s esteemed experts, and we would never slight our honored guests. Please, sit and join us again.”
Aida paused, and a hefty sumo wrestler also moved to calm him.
“Lord Aida,” Princess Asuka urged, her eyes earnest, “You and others like you are crucial in defending the Asuka kingdom and saving our world. Please stay.” Her plea was genuine; she truly needed their strength, their presence beside her.
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“Hmph, for the sake of the princess’ dignity, I’ll overlook this,” Aida grumbled, retaking his seat.
Watching from a distance, Lily thought to herself how difficult it must be to be a princess. With all the power and wealth came the chains of responsibility, having to tolerate and suppress personal feelings for the sake of ideals and position.
After this brief commotion, the atmosphere returned to its relaxed state. Although the Asuka kingdom’s fare was modest, it had a simple, unrefined taste. Lily sensed the intention behind it; in these years of famine, Princess Asuka was mindful of waste. The banquet was frugal, with dishes made from common ingredients, and Lily recognized the hard work put in by the castle’s chefs and staff.
She continued to admire the unique artistic concept of the dance being performed, but her attention was soon diverted by a loud announcement from the entrance of the hall.
“His majesty the king’s envoy has arrived.”
“The king?” Lily’s thoughts were interrupted, “Right, I once heard mention of the Asuka kingdom’s king.”
The music ceased, and the dancers retreated at the announcement. Lily glanced at Princess Asuka Shizu, noticing a frown on her face, an expression uncharacteristic of a daughter hearing news of her father. But then again, the royal family was hardly typical.
Heavy footsteps approached, and two tall men in black robes adorned with flame patterns and golden bamboo hats entered, their muddy sandals betraying recent travel.
Lily’s interest piqued, and she set down her tea cup to focus on the men. “These two, though mere envoys, are actually single-soul big dipper experts!” she observed to herself.
The two envoys displayed arrogance in their stance and demeanor, hands behind their backs, blades at their sides. They didn’t even salute the princess, instead casting an imperious look around the room. “Princess Asuka, in the midst of a kingdom’s crisis, you indulge in feasting, song, and dance? How would the king or the prime minister feel about this extravagance?” they taunted.
Unruffled by their insolence, Princess Asuka calmly responded, “I believe you misunderstand, my lords. This is a modest celebration for our victorious returning forces. Many warriors were lost or wounded in battle. While I may choose to live frugally, the kingdom must honor those who have bravely fought for us.”
“Your highness the princess,” one envoy sneered, “His majesty and the prime minister question your recruitment of common rabble as personal forces. Remember your duty; defending the country is the royal court’s responsibility.”
These words darkened Princess Asuka’s expression.
Slam! The sumo, Omiya Fujizo, slammed his thick hand onto the table, rising to his feet. “You two mere envoys dare rebuke the princess? Who do you think you are? Explain yourselves!”
Striding towards the envoys, he continued, “If you don’t clarify your meaning, don’t expect to leave unchallenged today. I owe no loyalty to the Asuka kingdom, so don’t expect mercy from me!”
“Lord Omiya, halt!” Kiryu’s voice rang out urgently, but it was too late. Omiya was already lunging at one of the envoys.
The envoy’s hand, gloved with dark golden claws, shot out and clamped onto Omiya’s massive arm. With a monstrous surge of strength, he twisted Omiya’s hand into an unnatural angle, the golden claws sinking deep into the flesh and causing blood to spray out.
“Aghh!! Arghh!” Omiya’s cries filled the room as he was brought to his knees, his hand rendered useless.
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“Hmph, as I thought, a mere wastrel,” the envoy sneered. “What’s the use of gathering such rabble? All they do is eat, drink, and tarnish the princess’ reputation.”
With a vicious kick, the envoy sent Omiya’s large body soaring through the air, directly towards Princess Asuka.
Lily prepared to intervene, but Ayaka restrained her with a shake of her head.
Aida leaped into action, catching Omiya mid-air. His landing sent him skidding back across the wooden floor, barely stopping in front of the platform where the princess was seated.
“Brother Aida…” Omiya gasped, blood trickling from his mouth and a noticeable dent in his chest. “Help… avenge your brother, cough…”
Several other experts rushed to assist Omiya, anger burning in their eyes as they glared at the two envoys.
“We fought to the death for your Asuka Kingdom! You two are beyond contempt!” one of them shouted.
Aida advanced, declaring, “Enough talk! As Omiya said, we’re not citizens of Asuka Kingdom! Your apologies, even on bended knee, won’t suffice!”
“Oh?” The envoys tilted their heads, revealing terrifying cyan demon masks as their auras flared. “Just you?”
Aida faltered at their fearsome presence but quickly recovered. “B̲a̲s̲t̲a̲r̲d̲s̲…”
“Lord Aida, cease! They are my father’s envoys,” Princess Asuka implored.
“I care not who they are! Offend me, and I’ll slay you!” Aida’s powerful aura erupted, scattering tables, bowls, and chopsticks.
Ayaka swiftly deployed a protective arte, encircling herself, Lily, and Shimizu, allowing them to continue sipping tea as if all were calm.
“Haaa!” Aida, a blur of motion, charged at the envoys, drawing his longsword.
Two beams of blade light flashed, clanging against each other in a metallic collision.
A soft sound accompanied Aida’s sword being knocked from his grip, and two long cuts appeared across his chest, while Reiko’s eyes widened in horror as the blade spun towards her.
“No!” Princess Asuka started to react but felt she wouldn’t be quick enough.
With a flick of her hand, Lily sent the tea cup she’d been holding streaking through the air. It collided with the longsword like a white falling star, altering its course with a resounding ding. The blade whisked past Reiko’s short hair and embedded itself in a thick wooden pillar.
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“What?” Only Princess Asuka saw clearly what had transpired, and she was left in a state of shock.