|Author: Carrot Sauce
|Original Source: SFACG
|Word Count: 3086 characters
|English Source: Re:Library
|Word Count: 1980 words
In the elevated recesses of Iwaya Castle, within the heart of Asuka Royal City, Nankai Kiryu advanced through the aged, shadow-laden hallways, his eyes reflecting a potent fusion of determination and vitality as he navigated the heavy atmosphere.
Arriving at a grand door flanked by two stoic samurai guards, he sank gracefully onto one knee. The door creaked open, unveiling the expansive yet somberly lit confines of the hall beyond.
“His royal highness, King Akira, Nankai Kiryu seeks an audience,” he announced in a clear, resonant tone.
Perched at the elevated end of the hall was King Akira, an elder with hair graying and receding to bare sections of scalp, and adorned with eyes that, while slightly dulled, held a resolute gaze. Though his title of “King Akira” was but a designation, relinquishing any personal name upon ascension to the throne — a tradition hinged on a purported divine lineage — it was one he bore with solemn dignity.
By his side, key figures of the realm gathered — a prime minister, bureaucrats, and seasoned generals — akin to the court of the Heian era, albeit a humbler rendition, presiding over a territory whose human population occupied but a fraction of its vast land, a dominion largely untamed and wild.
Kiryu approached, observing formalities as he bowed deeply before the king.
“You’ve served my daughter diligently, Kiryu. It is recognized,” King Akira acknowledged, albeit with a voice tinged with fatigue.
“Merely fulfilling my duty, your majesty,” Kiryu responded humbly.
With a succinct decree of “Reward,” an official approached, presenting a tray laden with flame gold, a gesture Kiryu accepted with gracious thanks.
“Hmm, the princess’ suggestion surpassed my anticipations, yet it stands to reason. A prospective ruler must prioritize the welfare of the populace and the land above all! Though our views are not fully aligned, I find comfort in her perspective.” King Akira proclaimed, visibly lightening up a tad.
To the side, a flash of annoyance crossed the prime minister’s features, though it was quickly masked.
Kiryu bowed deeply, touching his forehead to the floor in a sudden kowtow, “Your humble servant is most grateful for your understanding and support of the princess’ endeavors, Your Majesty!”
The king’s eyebrows shot up in surprise at Kiryu’s immediate and profound show of gratitude. Kiryu had maintained his composure even as he received praises and rewards, yet the affirmation of the princess’ plans brought forth such a vivid expression of thankfulness. King Akira pondered, finding assurance in Kiryu’s devotion. Perhaps the troubling gossip about the princess harboring intentions of militarization and undermining his authority was baseless after all. As the saying goes, a ruler’s attitude and disposition are reflected in their retinue.
A newfound appreciation for Kiryu dawned in King Akira’s eyes, accompanied by a trace of regret over the minister’s low status that rendered him ineligible as a prospective partner for the princess. “The forthcoming matrimonial alliance of the princess holds significance for our nation’s equilibrium. Ensure she recollects the commitments agreed upon today.”
“Understood, Your Majesty,” Kiryu affirmed solemnly.
Suddenly, the prime minister intervened, “The nineteenth of the coming month marks the fiftieth birthday of His Majesty; a day of nationwide celebration. Despite the pressing military matters, I implore that the princess set aside her duties to make her return. It is imperative, as a paragon of devotion to one’s parent, that she be present. The absence of his lone daughter on such a significant day would surely bring sorrow to the king and invite criticism from the masses, wouldn’t it?”
Caught somewhat off guard, Kiryu nonetheless bowed respectfully, affirming, “Your servant will ensure the princess receives this important message.”
King Akira chimed in eagerly, “Yes, yes, it has been two years since I last saw her. She must be here to celebrate my milestone birthday, come what may.”
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Kiryu responded earnestly, a note of commitment in his voice, “Absolutely, Your Majesty. I will relay your heartfelt wishes to the princess.”
As Kiryu acknowledged the directive, a knot of anxiety formed in his heart. A memory nagged at him; had there not been previous discussions deeming the nation’s vitality to be waning, and thus planning for a more subdued celebration? He couldn’t grasp why the grandiosity of the event escalated immediately after the princess voiced a delay in her wedding plans.
Nonetheless, such decisions and discussions were beyond his purview, reserved for the king and the higher echelons of the court. His duty was clear – to convey the royal edicts as they were bestowed upon him.
In the end, the decision rested with the princess.
Yet as he pondered the burden of his role, it became increasingly apparent that the princess deserved more than just a straightforward relay of the orders. A lingering hesitation held him back; he sensed an underlying complexity that necessitated a more detailed briefing to aid her in making an informed decision.
On the subsequent day of therapy, Asuka found herself considerably improved, yet in line with Ayaka’s advice, the regimen was set to continue twice weekly for a minimum of one month. The mere thought that Lily would once more bind her hands behind her back in a few days evoked an inexplicable palpitation in Asuka Shizu’s heart1.
“I am quite fortunate that Miss Lily is female; had she been male, I might be forced to question my own moral integrity. Reacting to such…situations. However… Miss Lily truly has a masterful touch…” As these thoughts traversed her mind, a blush crept across Asuka’s face, accompanying a quickened breath.
Interrupting her musings, Reika approached, eliciting a startled, “Ah?” as the princess raised her gaze. Noting the ruddiness of her complexion, Reika inquired with concern, “Princess, are you feeling well? You seem flushed.”
Dismissing her apparent disarray with a flick of her hand, Asuka retorted, “What can be done? My wounds are yet to heal fully.”
A brief pause ensued before Reika cautiously broached the topic, “Princess, would you like me to postpone the meeting with the warriors?”
“No, there’s no need for that. I’ll attend it right away.”
“What is it?”
“It appears there are tea stains on your skirt.”
“Nn??” With a flushed face, Asuka hastily grabbed at her skirt, realizing the mishap. “Ah, I must’ve spilled tea while drinking and didn’t notice. I’ll go change immediately.”
“Let me assist you, Princess.”
“No, I can manage it myself!”
As Asuka hurried away, Reika watched her, a pang of sadness striking her heart. “She shoulders so many responsibilities that she often overlooks her own needs,” she muttered, a hint of worry tinging her words.
After changing into formal attire and draping a coat over herself, the princess headed to the fifth-floor hall to address the gathering of experts. The mandate from her father, the king, was unequivocal and brooked no defiance; addressing the matter of her marriage had to be approached delicately. Asuka vowed silently to uphold her commitment to the mercenaries, yet bore in mind the possibility of the qualified individual deeming her unfit in the future.
Facing the council, she conveyed her cautious adherence to the king’s directive, letting out a self-deprecating chuckle as she spoke. Her candor fostered a deeper understanding and evoked supportive nods from the assembly who appreciated her frankness.
Following her address, the meeting turned to the current standings in the kingdom share rankings:
Lily: 4216 shares
Sonosuke: 4060 shares
Tsumiji: 3248 shares
Serizuku: 2570 shares
Kazuya Sasaki: 1535 shares
Individuals ranked below eighth possessed less than 1000 shares.
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Lily’s leading position, merited by her feat of annihilating a triple-soul Big Dipper and closing the perilous Yomi gate, was accepted without surprise by the attendees, all aware of her achievements. While Sonosuke was her closest rival, his recent heavy expenditure on a fine blade had somewhat curtailed his standing. As the majority of the experts were present, the occasion facilitated a first encounter between Lily and Sonosuke.
Sonosuke, a remarkable single-soul Big Dipper expert, stood distinguished with his extraordinary talent and heightened perception, overshadowing even Tsumiji. His figure was tall and slender, his head bald, and he sported a simple white robe that gave him an air of ethereal elegance, resembling a jade tree gracefully facing the wind. Despite his youthful age, not yet hitting thirty, his eyes held a depth that seemed to have witnessed the myriad joys and sorrows of life.
Upon meeting Asuka’s gaze, a subtle change occurred in his detached eyes, revealing traces of worldly desires. He approached the princess, hands clasped behind his back, a question lingering in his mind, spurred by the day’s rankings. “Your highness, I find myself grappling with a query, unsure whether it is my place to voice it.”
“Please, feel free to ask, Brother Sonosuke.”
“It had not been a concern before, but given today’s standings, it begets the question — should the world find stability, what becomes of the scenario where a female holds the highest rank?” His piercing eyes fixated on Lily, reflecting a competitive spirit.
Lily shifted uncomfortably under his scrutiny, a thought crossing her mind that the seemingly aloof Sonosuke harbored ambitions towards the princess. “Well, it’s his right after all,” she conceded inwardly.
Asuka responded, her words consistent with her prior commitment, “As I have mentioned before, I stand by my promise, open to reconsideration only if deemed unworthy by the other party.” Her gaze flitted towards Lily briefly, a flash of realization dawning upon her — her look carried an improper undertone, akin to flirting. A slight panic ensued within her, chiding herself for the scandalous implication of her gaze. Thankfully, Lily seemed oblivious, saving her from a potential embarrassing situation.
Gathering her composure, Asuka continued, “Thus, in a scenario where the top rank is held by a female, say Miss Lily, the decisive power would lie with her.” The princess couldn’t help but amuse herself internally at her diplomatic evasion of the question.
“Hm?” Others might have missed it, but Shimizu caught the fleeting change in Asuka’s expression, her face breaking into a sly, cold smile.
Sonosuke pivoted to face Lily, engaging her directly. “So, what is your stance, Miss Lily? Given that both of you are women, marriage isn’t a viable option. Would you consider relinquishing your right, essentially offering the opportunity to the next male contender deeply in love with the princess?” His eyes bore into Lily’s with intensified sharpness, compelling her to envisage the alternative scenario.
A tangible pressure hung in the air; Sonosuke’s query harbored the potential to forge a fresh accord. Given the princess’ previously stated commitment, reverting would prove challenging.
Lily met his probing gaze steadily, retorting, “Why direct this question to me, Mr. Sonosuke? Such matters should be deliberated when the time comes. Furthermore, the future rankings remain a mystery. Are you, perhaps, experiencing a crisis of confidence in your own abilities?”
Upon hearing Lily’s retort, a wave of relief washed over Asuka. She inwardly commended, “Miss Lily’s response was incredibly shrewd, expertly dodging the trap laid in the question. I half expected her to champion the notion of us getting married despite being women; an idea that would undoubtedly have me swimming in a sea of embarrassment… Not to mention the societal disgrace it could entail… Wait, what on earth am I contemplating? Why am I entertaining such bizarre notions2!?”
“Ahaha,” Sonosuke laughed awkwardly, echoing with agreement, “Yes, yes, you’re absolutely right, Miss Lily. It was merely a hypothetical scenario. I am well aware of your formidable prowess; truthfully, I stand no chance against you. Our paths are intertwined in service to the princess, and I look forward to engaging you in a friendly duel someday.”
Offering a diplomatic nod, Lily responded with composed grace, “I am open to the idea. Should an apt moment present itself, I would be honored to stand against you.” Her polite acceptance maintained the harmony while showcasing her unyielding spirit.