|Author: Carrot Sauce||Original Source: SFACG||Word Count: 3354 characters|
|Translator: Yuki||English Source: Re:Library||Word Count: 1618 words|
Groaning in pain, Aida fell to one knee, his chest marred by two bleeding blade marks. The injuries weren’t fatal, but they were far from trivial. “Brother Aida!” A group of skilled warriors rushed to his aid.
“You scoundrels! You’re courting death!” The warriors drew their weapons and their auras flared, but the envoys seemed unimpressed.
Princess Asuka rose to her feet, her eyes shimmering with a dark intensity. “Enough!” Her voice boomed through the hall, radiating an aura so formidable it restricted the movements of almost everyone present. “You may be my father’s envoys, but know that this is Himeji, and I rule here. Dare you oppose me?” Her eyes seemed to ignite with golden fire.
The envoys looked at her, completely unfazed. “Your Highness, your subjects initiated the aggression. We are merely defending ourselves. Perhaps you should better train your servants. Imagine the disappointment of the king and prime minister if they were to find out.”
“Insolence!” The gathered experts seethed with anger.
Suddenly, a wave of oppressive auras washed into the hall from behind the door. Three seasoned knights, their visages stern, stepped into view. One wore fragmented cyan armor, another was clad in an opulent golden robe, and the last donned the simple attire of a mountain hermit, his rosary beads emanating a mysterious aura.
“The three seniors have arrived!” Onlookers identified them as veteran mercenaries, freshly emerged from secluded training. Holding the fifth, fourth, and second ranks among the princess’ elite force, two were of throned saint realms, and the central figure was a single-soul big dipper. The top-ranked warrior, a double-soul big dipper, was currently absent on a mission.
“Who dares injure our comrades and stir chaos in this royal residence?” The trio exuded majestic authority, particularly the mountain hermit in the center.
Despite sensing the trio’s extraordinary nature, the envoys remained poised. “Does the princess intend to let her subjects assault us? Know that we are more than mere royal envoys; we serve as the left and right Feudal Generals of the prime minister. Is this a mutiny?”
The trio hesitated, clearly taken aback. “Ah, so you’re the much-talked-about left and right hands of the prime minister,” said the mountain hermit, breaking the silence.
“Good that you acknowledge it,” one envoy grumbled. The onlookers felt disheartened; the second strongest in their city seemed to have softened his stance. Must they repress their righteous indignation?
The mountain hermit, known as Tsumiji, persisted, “Both of you are esteemed court generals. We all serve the same crown; your demeaning and harmful actions toward our comrades are excessive, don’t you think?”
“Excessive? You must be blind or deaf! Your side initiated the attack. To assault a king’s envoy is a capital offense; their survival is already a concession on our part,” retorted the left-hand Feudal General.
“Do you honestly believe that these minions would stand a chance if we truly unleashed our might?” the right-hand Feudal General sneered condescendingly.
“Enough with your arrogance,” Tsumiji clenched his fists, suppressing a surge of fury, and his comrades did likewise.
“So, contemplating rebellion, are you?” an envoy queried.
“I…” Tsumiji held back, pondering the consequences. Defiance toward the king might be manageable, but crossing the prime minister could lead to a terrible fate, as history had shown.
“Ahahahaha!” The right-hand envoy cackled uproariously. “Merely lapdogs! Even a big dipper kneels at the mere mention of our master!”
The experts could only grit their teeth, helpless to retaliate.
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Princess Asuka’s face turned icy. “Why have you envoys come here?” To have her valued experts demeaned and harmed was a direct affront to her dignity. Yet, facing envoys backed by the king and the prime minister left her with little choice but to endure.
Puffing their chests, the envoys proclaimed, “By royal command, all are to kneel and receive His Majesty’s decree.”
The room fell silent. Tradition dictated kneeling before a royal order, but the level of insolence displayed by the envoys left a bitter taste. However, their immense backing and sheer power left even the revered three seniors conceding their inability to defy. The other experts, too, had to acknowledge their lower standing. If they were to kneel, it would only be before the king, not these haughty messengers.
Princess Asuka was highly reluctant. Her reputation had taken a significant hit, and intervening now would only exacerbate an already untenable situation. With global monster threats still looming, internal discord was the last thing the kingdom needed. Biting back her pride, Princess Asuka bowed her head and knelt before the envoys. Following her lead, the rest of the officials and warriors, each clenching their teeth in humiliation, knelt as well. They had no other choice.
Once the last of the officials and the three esteemed seniors had knelt, the room was a sea of bowed heads. All except for one figure—Fuyuki, who, kneeling at the front, kept casting furtive glances and winks towards Lily’s group. Lily, however, acted as if she couldn’t see him.
“What should we do, Lily?” Ayaka was equally disinclined to kneel but awaited Lily’s direction.
With a flick of her finger, Lily summoned a ninth-grade tea caddy named Tsukumo-Kaminasu into her hand. The room fell into a profound silence, a cloak of despair enveloping the atmosphere.
The envoys surveyed the room, silently gloating over the bowed princess and experts. “Just a pack of dogs in the face of true authority,” they thought. Their musings were interrupted by the subtle yet clear sound of water being poured into a teacup.
The envoys spun around, only then noticing three ethereally beautiful women in exquisite attire sitting off to the side. Lily was delicately pouring tea.
“Sister, the unique flavor of this tea is really heightened by my aubergine teacup, don’t you agree?” Lily elegantly sipped her tea.
The envoys could only stare, baffled. Not only had these women disregarded the command to kneel, but they also exuded an unflappable calm.
With poised elegance, Lily poured herself a cup of tea and took a moment to savor its aroma and taste.
“Um, you three…” The atmosphere was surreal; a thick silence enveloped the room.
“Miss Lily…” Unable to find the right words, Princess Asuka too fell quiet.
“Doesn’t this tea’s aroma become even more captivating when brewed with Tsukumo-Kaminasu? Care for a sip?” Lily gracefully passed the teacup to Ayaka.
“Mmm, absolutely,” Ayaka responded with a smile.
“What on Earth is going on? Who are you three?” The left Feudal General bellowed.
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“Can you not see? We’re enjoying our tea,” Shimizu retorted, her voice a blend of iciness and grace.
Stunned, the masks adorning the faces of the envoys seemed to contort. “Why, in the name of all that’s holy, are you drinking tea? Before the envoys of the king, the Feudal Generals of the prime minister, and a royal edict, you dare not kneel?”
Yet, the women remained nonchalant, their tea undisturbed.
King? Prime Minister? To Lily, such titles were irrelevant. Lily, Ayaka, and their companions had been at odds with the Heian Dynasty for quite some time. The current emperor was impotent, while the cloistered emperor and Minamoto no Yoritomo were plotting their demise.
In such a world, why would they kneel to anyone, especially not to the ineffectual rulers of the Heian Dynasty? The imperial court had shown itself to be nothing but an enemy, seeking to crush them. And as for this so-called king of Iyo Island and his prime minister? Lily couldn’t be bothered to give them a second thought.
Taking a delicate sip of her tea, Lily calmly articulated, “I won’t dignify you two contemptible, posturing curs by discussing whether some purported king or prime minister from Asuka Kingdom deserves our deference. But let’s be clear: if anyone expects a salute, let that king or prime minister start by saluting us. Only then might we consider returning the gesture. Isn’t that so, my sisters?”
“Couldn’t agree more,” Ayaka and Shimizu both nodded.
For Shimizu, the complexities of any court were inconsequential; her universe revolved around her sister Lily and nothing else.
As for Ayaka, there was a time when she might have been aligned with Lily’s sentiments, holding a sense of reverence for the emperor. However, her perspective had changed. The imperial court no longer commanded her loyalty.
“What did you just say?” The envoys were momentarily dumbstruck by Lily’s soft yet assured tone.
It wasn’t only the envoys. The entire hall seemed to be in a state of collective shock, their eyes wide and mouths agape as they looked at Lily.
“You insolent, audacious woman. How dare you utter such blatant disrespect? Have you grown weary of your own life?” The envoys’ oppressive energies intensified as they moved menacingly towards Lily.
“Princess Asuka, did you recruit these women? They’re speaking in terms of rebellion! How should this be addressed?”
Still kneeling, Princess Asuka kept her head lowered. “They are not subjects of the Asuka Kingdom; hence, they are not bound by our laws. What rebellion could they possibly be inciting?”
“Regardless of their citizenship, they are within our kingdom’s territory and are thus required to obey the king and the prime minister. How can you still defend them? Failure to explain will result in a report to the higher-ups!” The left Feudal General bellowed.
Princess Asuka remained silent, not offering any further words.
Lily, fully grasping the predicament Princess Asuka was in, nodded in approval. The princess was truly an upright individual.
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“You presumptuous women, ignorant of the vastness of the heavens and earth!” The envoys unsheathed their blades, tainted with dried blood, and aimed them at Lily1.
“Disrespecting the king and the prime minister is a capital offense!”