|Author: Carrot Sauce
|Original Source: SFACG
|Word Count: 3130 characters
|English Source: Re:Library
|Word Count: 01974 words
On the terrace of her fortress, Asuka Shizu was engrossed in the foreboding mountains that were barely visible in the deepening night. She found herself pondering — when had she last witnessed the comfort of light? Was the perpetual shadow molding her heart into something twisted and unfamiliar?
Today, Lily had once again assisted her with the medicinal application… A routine that had grown increasingly important to her. Throughout her life, Asuka had been engrossed in her duties and her self-improvement, driven by her natural aptitude. Yet, in these tender moments with Lily, she encountered a kind of bodily pleasure that was entirely new to her.
Overwhelmed with confusion and guilt, she wondered, “Is this immoral? But she’s another woman! What is going wrong with me1? Can it be that I, the respected Princess Asuka, have perverse tendencies?”
She feared judgment, pondering, “What will Lily think of me?”
Her heart raced as she recalled the solemnity Lily brought to the treatment, exacerbating her inner turmoil. “I responded so oddly to her professionalism… could she be let down?” she worried, grappling with the perplexity of her feelings.
“Ugh!” She could feel her cheeks heating up in the darkness, “Why should it matter to me what she thinks?”
She couldn’t shake off the nagging thoughts about Lily, who always seemed to be around her sisters. She found herself wondering, almost involuntarily, “Does she have a partner? What is her experience with love?”
Frustrated with her recurring thoughts, she questioned, “Why am I fixated on her yet again?”
She tried to put the blame on Lily but quickly recoiled, realizing, “No, no, it isn’t her fault. The issue lies with me.”
Suddenly, Reika’s voice pulled her from her turmoil. “Princess, Miss Lily has arrived,” Reika informed her.
Caught off guard, a flush of joy brushed over Asuka before she managed to compose herself. “Oh, is it?” She responded, her voice betraying her initial delight before steadying. As she turned, her facial expression had transformed to one of composed seriousness.
“Understood. Ask her to wait briefly; I will join her shortly.” She instructed with a balanced demeanor, concealing the whirlpool of emotions beneath.
In Iwaya City, Nankai Kiryu lay in wait instead of returning directly to Himeji to update the princess on his mission. Deeply embedded in the heartbeat of Iwaya, Kiryu sought to understand the depths of the unraveling situation, suspecting there was more beneath the surface. His scrutiny focused primarily on the residence of the prime minister, Tsukuba Arai.
In the secretive chambers of the prime minister’s residence, a clandestine meeting was being held. The country’s leader, Tsukuba Arai, had gathered the samurais and ministers loyal to him in a hushed assembly.
A robust, middle-aged official, bald and emanating an aura of strength, kneeled next to the prime minister, “Lord Prime Minister, everything is set as per your directives.”
“There is no room for errors,” instructed Tsubaka Arai, his face marred by a deep frown.
The wild-haired vagabond, Tsubuka Naoya, chimed in assertively, “Father, we have nearly seized control of the city’s defenses. The palace guards pose little threat to our forces!”
Backing him, a lean figure with a large forehead, a dark green beard, and sharp eyes assured in a resonant voice that carried across the room, “Indeed, Lord Prime Minister, the martial clans stand by you, foreseeing no future for the nation under the current regime.”
“Excellent! Yet, utmost secrecy is imperative. We cannot afford any leaks! Several persistent factions still ally with the royal family; while they lack military power, they can stir trouble through unity. Above all, Asuka Shizu must remain in the dark. Should she catch wind of this and speak out, she could give the world figureheads and a ground to oppose us. We cannot allow this to transpire!” declared the Prime Minister, his eyes brimming with foreboding shadows.
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Unified voices echoed in affirmation,
“Fear not, Lord Prime Minister!”
“For the greater good! For the future of our kingdom!”
“The Prime Minister speaks the truth!” The people in the meeting all knelt down, one after another.
“What?” On the eaves of the mansion, a masked ninja was hiding; it was Nankai Kiryu. The Kingdom of Asuka was practically a ninja kingdom. In the varied armies of the realm, ninjas constituted more than half. The Asuka Kingdom excelled in metallurgy, crafting exceptional blades and lightweight yet sturdy armor that covered less area than bulky alternatives. This fact exhibited the remarkable metallurgy skills of the Asukan craftsmen.
Moreover, there were ninja troops equipped with purely heavy armor, a kind that was non-existent within the Heian dynasty. These ninjas were covered head-to-toe in hefty yet incredibly resilient armor.
A majority of the guards in the prime minister’s abode were garbed in this kind of fortified protection.
Distinct from the armored warriors prevalent in the Heian Dynasty, these guards benefited from armor designed to adhere closely to the contours of the wearer’s body. Despite offering formidable defense, the armor did not sacrifice mobility, preserving the wearer’s agility. The construction of such armor was almost transcendent, something beyond the capabilities of an average Heian dynasty blacksmith— it could virtually be considered a masterpiece.
“Misappropriating forces for personal gains, scheming against the very nation you vowed to protect – so you are a traitor!” Kiryu’s heart raced, reeling from the realization of the horrifying plot unfolding before him. He suspected something amiss, but a rebellion of this scale was beyond his grimmest expectations.
The Asuka Kingdom had stood proud for millennia. Despite past defeats to the Nara Dynasty, they persevered, but now, it faced a threat festering from within. “I must alert the princess at once!” Kiryu reasoned, acutely aware that reaching the king would be futile with the city likely under the prime minister’s grip.
Swift as a shadow, Kiryu descended from the roof, dodging the vigilant ninja guards before scaling the mansion wall. He ventured alone into the foreboding darkness of the mountain path.
“Nankai Kiryu!” The chilling voice that called out halted him. It was the towering vagabond, Tsukuba Naoya, renowned as the mightiest warrior globally. “Not him…” Kiryu froze, sweat beading on his forehead as armored ninja guards materialized, blocking his path, and ninja archers took positions on the cliff walls and amongst the trees.
Attempting to feign innocence, Kiryu said, “Senior, you’ve mistaken me for someone else,” his voice shaky but hands ready for battle.
Naoya chuckled menacingly, “Oh come now, Kiryu. You’ve been lurking on my superior’s property, and you think a mask will save you from recognition? I know the princess’ loyal servant anywhere.”
Kiryu was cornered, his heart sinking. The realization dawned that escaping Naoya would be a herculean task; the man was a formidable opponent. But the urgency of his mission surged, driven by the dire implications it held for the kingdom and the princess’s safety.
“I have no clue what you’re talking about; you’ve definitely mistaken me,” Kiryu stammered, igniting his spirit sea. His aura flared, revealing smoke bombs in his hand which he hurled outward. “Boom! Boom! Boom!” Explosions followed, smoke cloaking the path as he dashed amidst the chaos.
“Fire!” commanded Naoya. A deluge of spiritual arrows and darts plummeted from above, engulfing Kiryu as he charged forward. His body became a canvas of pain, arrows and darts jutting out as his eyes morphed into pools of bloodshot rage, his face mirroring the wrath of a demon.
“I have to reach the Princess!”
Black heavy armored ninjas surged towards him in response. Undeterred, Kiryu maneuvered with agility, evading blows while extracting a dagger. He identified the vulnerable joints in the armor, plunging his weapon in with determined precision. The relentless sounds of metal clashing echoed as the ninjas fell one after another, either gravely injured or lifeless. The blood-soaked path bore testimony to Kiryu’s relentless fight, a vivid representation of his undying loyalty.
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From a vantage point in the sky, coldness flashed in Naoya’s eyes before his figure became a blend of red and purple, a deadly afterimage descending rapidly toward Kiryu.
With a curse, Kiryu acknowledged he couldn’t outspeed Naoya, instead gathering his remaining strength for a formidable slash. But Naoya contorted eerily, evading the desperate attack with ease. In the tense stillness that followed, Naoya drew an ancient sword engraved with purple eldritch runes, his eyes hard and uncompromising. A ghastly blade light flashed, followed by a sickening sound of flesh being torn open.
A fatal wound appeared on Kiryu’s chest, a heartbreaking testament to a life spent in servitude and adulation for the princess. Blood erupted as he collapsed, the mask that had shielded his identity slipping away to reveal a face marred with determination and fear.
“I must… warn the Princess…” Kiryu’s voice was a shattered whisper as he dragged his failing body forward, a streak of blood marking his trail. He harbored the desperate wish to convey the perilous news to his beloved princess, but the deadly blade found him once again, piercing through his back and heart with ruthless precision.
“Hmph, just a pathetic, weak dog after all!” Naoya proclaimed, disdain evident in his voice as he stepped on the lifeless body, his face adorned with a cold, triumphant smile. “Dispose of this dog’s corpse as food for the demon hounds and ensure his death remains a secret!”
“We obey!” came the united response from the surrounding ninjas, their voices steeped in submission.
Asuka gazed toward the infinite stretch of mountains that lay in the direction of the royal city, her eyes filled with worry and contemplation. The vast distance separating the two cities, spanning at least two thousand miles, rendered any visual connection impossible.
“Kiryu, what’s keeping you? How did father react to my suggestion?” she whispered to herself, the void answering her with silence.
In recent days, her wounded body had been under the careful care of Lily, whose treatments, though they incited feelings of shame and self-reproach in Asuka, had facilitated significant healing.
“Miss Lily is so kind and genuine in her help. I shouldn’t harbor such troubled thoughts… It’s just a normal treatment,” she murmured, wrestling with her internal turmoil. “I am a normal woman,” she reiterated in a bid to assuage her own doubts, albeit unclear on the efficacy of her self-consoling strategy.
Ten days elapsed before an envoy dispatched from the capital made his appearance. Instead of the previously encountered haughty Feudal Generals, it was the unassuming Junior Chamberlain Kumoto Yajima who came bearing the news of the king’s impending fiftieth birthday celebration.
The revelation caught her slightly off guard, yet she acknowledged the necessity of extending a gracious gesture towards the king, a move that would ideally foster hope and reassurance among the populace.
“Lord Kumoto, do you know why Kiryu hasn’t come back? Why have you undertaken this journey instead of him?” She questioned, a knot of concern tightening in her stomach.
“The details are somewhat blurry to me, Princess. All I’ve heard is that the king has entrusted him with different responsibilities,” replied the chamberlain, his words carrying an undertone of uncertainty.
Asuka nodded pensively, cognizant of the fact that Kiryu, being her trusted aide, held a stature beyond the reach of others’ command. Only a royal edict from the king would have the force to divert Kiryu to other endeavors. In her heart, a flicker of hope ignited, coaxing her to believe that Kiryu was on a mission concerning her.
Once the envoy took his leave, Asuka convened a meeting with her chief retainers and the mercenaries. Among the attendees was Lily, who held a special rank among the mercenaries, accompanied by Ayaka. Absent from the gathering was Shimizu, whose passion for training overpowered any interest in attending such assemblies.