|Author: Carrot Sauce||Original Source: SFACG||Word Count: 3365 characters|
|Translator: LazyButAmbitious||English Source: Re:Library||Word Count: 1828 words|
“I get it. We’re committed to joining forces with you, Princess, to vanquish the dangerous archdemons threatening our world. That said, not every demon is evil incarnate; some play a neutral or even benign role. I would urge you to show restraint in eliminating those that pose no direct threat to the kingdom,” Lily suggested.
“Neutral and benign demons, you say? Intriguing. Where exactly did you hail from, Miss Lily? A utopia of some sort? Regardless, if such demons do exist, I’ve no intention of persecuting them needlessly,” Asuka responded.
Lily gave a nod, contemplating the unlikely existence of kind or neutral demons on Iyo Island. The tension between humans and demons here seemed palpably more extreme than in Heian-kyō; they were essentially mortal enemies. This fierce environment might explain why Iyo Island harbored a higher percentage of experts compared to the mainland, becoming a sort of purgatorial isle.
Certainly, given the island’s constraints, it seemed improbable for a being as powerful as Tamamo-no-Mae to exist here. Had that been the case, Tamamo would have surely alerted her much earlier. Dream Eater Baku, the shadowy figure pulling strings from the darkness, clearly operated on a different level. Even if he truly dominated the demonic realm of Iyo Island, his power didn’t appear to rival that of entities like Tamamo-no-Mae or other significant archdemons. Otherwise, why resort to subterfuge and indirect manipulation? He could simply claim dominion over the island without the need for such elaborate schemes.
“Princess, consider your plea heard. We’ll assist you,” Ayaka chimed in, stepping forward.
Asuka seemed to exhale in relief, yet a sense of apprehension lingered in her eyes. “You seem to still have reservations, Your Highness,” Lily observed.
“Indeed, Miss Lily, there is an additional, somewhat delicate, matter I wish to discuss,” Asuka hesitated.
“Please, go on,” Lily urged.
“It’s just that… I hope you and others under my command will become exclusive mercenaries with the highest achievements, holding the top rank in Kingdom Shares.”
“Eh?” Lily was puzzled. While her goal was indeed to serve here and she had full confidence in doing so, she couldn’t understand why the princess was placing such emphasis on this particular point.
“Could it be…” Lily’s eyes widened, and the Princess responded with mild surprise, “You are exceptionally perceptive, Miss Lily.”
“Princess, are you seriously considering…”
“Yes,” A flicker of sadness crossed Princess Asuka’s eyes. “I’m prepared to go through with the arranged marriage organized by my father and the prime minister.”
“I’m aware it’s dishonorable,” Asuka’s gaze grew heavy, “but it’s a necessary sacrifice for the kingdom! If you, Miss Lily, manage to attain the highest rank in Kingdom Shares, my obligation to marry will become moot due to your gender. That way, I won’t be breaking the promise I’ve made to the world. You can be certain that you’ll be handsomely rewarded. When peace reigns, all my treasures will be yours. That should suffice as another way of honoring my promise, shouldn’t it?”
“Hehehe, quite the ingenious way to honor your word,” Shimizu chuckled. “I never expected the Princess of Asuka Kingdom to be so scheming.”
“Sister Shimizu, refrain from such comments.”
“Miss Shimizu, your observation might be accurate. However, relinquishing the current warrior force or defying my father and prime minister, who control the kingdom’s strongest military and resources, is not an option. Opposing them would plunge the kingdom into chaos, weakening us and thereby empowering the demons who are already formidable.”
“Tsukuba Naoya might be the strongest on Iyo Island, but I have no affection for him and am reluctant to marry him. Still, this is the optimal strategy to consolidate the most potent forces in the kingdom. Moreover, I can’t risk losing the faith of these elite warriors. Without their support, even the prime minister’s forces wouldn’t suffice against the demonic threat. Hence, I resorted to this unspeakable tactic. Though disgraceful, it’s better than dooming future generations to live under the eternal shadow of demonic energy.”
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Princess Asuka’s concluding words resonated deeply.
If the world were to remain engulfed in perpetual darkness, humanity, even if it survived, would eventually devolve into monsters. Lily had already glimpsed this reality in the abandoned village.
What value did Princess Asuka’s personal feelings and integrity have when weighed against such an apocalyptic outcome?
It was a complex issue, blurring the lines between Asuka’s unscrupulous means and her admirable, selfless goals.
Lily felt it was not her place to judge, as the situation was too morally complex.
“Princess Asuka, I don’t intend to vie for top merit for such reasons. Acting under deceptive pretenses doesn’t sit well with me. However, my initial purpose here was to earn as many merits as possible and secure the highest rank in Kingdom Shares to exchange them for treasures. If you trust our capabilities, let’s allow things to unfold naturally.”
Princess Asuka examined Lily with a hint of astonishment, but then slowly nodded. “Ah, Miss Lily, your abilities and wisdom are indeed extraordinary. Attaining the top merits naturally follows for someone with your skills. It appears I’ve made this more complicated than it needed to be.”
“Your Highness, I understand your predicament and appreciate your intentions. However, even an arranged marriage may not proceed as smoothly as you anticipate.”
“Eh? Miss Lily, could you elaborate on what you mean by that?”
“It’s not that I know much about Asuka Kingdom. It’s just a lingering sense of unease I have.” Lily admitted.
“I appreciate the warning. I’ll proceed with caution, rest assured,” said Princess Asuka, nodding.
Switching gears, Princess Asuka said, “Since you’re already here and you’ve amassed a significant amount of merits on your first venture, why not see what you can exchange them for? I may not be as available to see you once I’m married.”
“Is it worth sacrificing your personal feelings for what you perceive as the greater good?” Lily questioned solemnly.
A flicker of sadness crossed Princess Asuka’s otherwise steadfast eyes. “Let’s not dwell on that. It might just be the destiny of a royal like me. Would you like to explore the treasures available for exchange?”
Lily couldn’t entirely endorse the princess’ decision, but the allure of treasures remained appealing. “Of course. Could you show us what’s on offer?”
As they shifted the conversation to treasures, a sense of ease returned to the room.
“These three booklets detail our secret techniques, valuable materials, and treasures, along with the corresponding shares needed for each. Feel free to peruse and let me know what interests you,” said Princess Asuka, presenting three booklets.
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“Take a look, Lily,” Ayaka suggested.
“Sister Ayaka, let’s review them together. You’re more familiar with treasures than I am, so if you spot something valuable, let me know.”
At the moment, Lily was less captivated by the secret methods on offer and more by the array of treasures available. Picking up the treasure catalog, she began to leaf through its pages. The princess’ collection was extensive, with the least valuable items still boasting a ninth-grade classification. Notably, the majority were weapons and armor, likely a testament to the Asuka Clan’s expertise in metalwork and craftsmanship. While many adventurers would risk life and limb to secure such valuable armaments, the Asuka Clan could readily produce them, given the right materials. This explained the abundance of such treasures in the collection.
“Kotetsu1, a ninth-grade katana for just 3 shares? That’s surprisingly affordable,” Lily observed.
“And this ninth-grade Spirit Essence Helmet has extra lightning resistance and is priced at 8 shares. It’s understandably pricier due to its special abilities,” added Ayaka.
Both women continued scanning the catalog. Seeing their expressions and overhearing Shimizu discussing yet not committing to any items, Princess Asuka allowed a faint smile to cross her face.
“It seems typical treasures don’t entice you,” she said before summoning glowing golden text to appear before them. “These are the crown jewels of my collection, but they come at a steep cost.”
Lily and her companions cast their eyes on the listed treasures:
“A low-grade spirit artifact sword, Tadashi Muramasa; for 150 shares.”
“A Celestial Maiden’s Tattered Plume; 300 shares.”
“A Celestial Battle Maiden’s Broken Naginata; 230 shares.”
“A low-grade domain treasure, Phaseless Ring; 210 shares.”
“And a high-quality, low-grade spirit artifact sword, Flame Gold Muramasa, crafted by the Asuka royal family and capable of slicing through metal; 550 shares.”
These were all exceptional treasures, and Lily found her own merits suddenly paling in comparison. “Hmm?” As she continued to scan upward, the treasures only seemed to grow more extraordinary.
Situated at the top of the list were a few bold words: “Lunar crystal; 2,000 shares.” No elaborate descriptions accompanied it—just that terse label. Yet, those scant words were enough to astonish Lily. A Lunar crystal! This was the coveted item that Minamoto no Yoritomo and others had been vying for. Could it be that Princess Asuka was actually willing to trade it? And since it was up for barter, it was likely the Asuka Clan had more than one!
Having already fused with a Lunar crystal herself, Lily had experienced its transformative power, doubling her physical might and elevating her to the status of a celestial battle maiden. Even though the prevailing wisdom held that one could only fuse with a single piece of Lunar crystal at the Throne Stage, neither Ayaka nor Shimizu had done so. This crystal could directly boost their capabilities. After all, low-grade spirit artifacts were already a part of everyone’s arsenal; they were not wanting in that regard.
Her first priority would be to secure a single piece of Lunar Crystal for Ayaka and Shimizu.
“I’ve made up my mind, Princess Asuka. I’ll exchange 2,000 shares for a Lunar Crystal,” Lily declared.
Asuka’s eyes gleamed. “Ah, Miss Lily, you possess excellent judgment to recognize the finest offering here.” Although Lunar crystals were beyond valuation, Princess Asuka genuinely hoped Lily and her companions would secure worthwhile treasures. Hence, she had priced the Lunar crystal precisely to match Lily’s accumulated shares, an offer she hadn’t extended to any other experts, not even those with more shares than Lily.
“I’ve recorded your shares, and I’ll deduct them accordingly,” Asuka proceeded, “Let’s make the exchange for the Lunar crystal now.” With those words, Asuka’s hand turned, revealing a luminescent crystal that looked like a tear wrought from moonlight. The crystal exuded an irresistible allure to Lily.
Lily noticed something: the entry for the Lunar crystal didn’t vanish from the glowing catalog. So it seemed Princess Asuka indeed had multiple pieces.
“Sister Shimizu, Sister Ayaka, you should be the ones to collect it,” said Lily, recalling how the Lunar Crystal had previously merged into her being upon contact.
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Before the sisters could respond, the Lunar crystal in Asuka’s grasp erupted in a dazzling burst of light, magnetically flying toward Lily. This phenomenon was not within the control of either Lily or Asuka; it was a spontaneous activation2.