|Author: Carrot Sauce
|Original Source: SFACG
|Word Count: 3016 characters
|English Source: Re:Library
|Word Count: 1969 words
“A summons has arrived through a junior chamberlain. Father has instructed me to be present at his fiftieth jubilee on the 19th of this month,” announced Asuka.
Upon hearing this, the elder Tsumiji, with a furrowed brow, began, “Considering the current scenario, there are pros and cons to hosting the king’s jubilee. I believe the pros outweigh the cons despite the potential strain on our already dwindling treasury, but—”
“Mister Tsumiji,” an interruption came from the bald, stern-faced Sonosuke, “The question at hand isn’t about the feasibility of hosting the jubilee. Our Princess has convened this meeting to discuss something else.”
Baffled, Tsumiji asked, “What might that be?”
With a dismissive snort, Sonosuke elucidated, “It’s about whether she should attend the jubilee.”
Asuka turned her gaze to Sonosuke, countering, “Lord Sonosuke, it is my father’s milestone celebration. My absence is not an option. Today, we gather here to deliberate upon the delegation’s composition and the city’s defense strategy, especially given the recent emergence of two gates of Yomi — a pressing matter indeed.”
It was then that Ayaka’s keen eyes met Asuka’s, sensing the undercurrent of hesitation beneath the princess’ firm words.
Sonosuke pursued, “Your Highness, are you fully settled on this?”
“Why do you doubt?” she responded.
“Your highness, the date is nearing rapidly. Had a grand jubilee been planned, we would have seen preparations by now. Initially, it was mentioned that the celebration would be a simple affair, but suddenly, following your decision to postpone the wedding and stay away from the royal city, this summons arrives. Doesn’t it seem extremely suspicious? I insist, Princess, you must not attend; it bears all the hallmarks of a trap1!”
Responding, the princess questioned, “As the princess of this kingdom, obliged to grace my father’s jubilee, where do you foresee this alleged trap?”
Tsumiji joined in, advocating for the princess’ attendance, “Indeed, her highness is the monarch’s sole offspring. While commanding his daughter to marry is within his rights, the king harboring ill intentions towards her is implausible.”
Sonosuke, however, had reservations, “Granted, His Majesty wouldn’t harbor such intentions, but it is well known that the prime minister, not the king, wields real power presently. Given his well-documented differences with the princess, there exists a credible threat.”
Tsumiji retorted, trying to downplay the situation, “While their differences are clear, it remains a conflict of interests and privileges, falling short of rebellion.”
The room echoed with unsure voices;
“Could it really be so?”
From the side of the princess, Reika voiced her concerns, “Your highness, there’s been no word from Kiryu. Even assuming the king tasked him with assignments, a crow message should have arrived by now. This silence is worrying.”
Yujin, a samurai with a rough demeanor, chimed in, “The last two years saw Iwaya city enveloped in fog, halting all voice transmission orbs. The origin of the fog remains unknown, rendering us unable to investigate Iwaya City or contact Kiryu.”
A ninja leader interjected, bringing attention to the suspicious behavior of the prime minister’s forces in obstructing their investigations around the fog-encased Iwaya City, asserting, “They have persistently hindered our efforts in the fog, which is highly suspicious.”
The discussion then shifted as Asuka sought Lily’s perspective, asking, “Miss Lily, we would like to hear your thoughts.”
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Lily hesitated before responding, “I am not well-versed in matters of the court. Sister Ayaka, could you share your viewpoint?” Internally, Lily was wrestling with her thoughts. While part of her sensed a trap, she also feared escalating tensions between the princess and the king. Drawing from her own experience of losing contact due to environmental constraints, she found it challenging to arrive at a decisive conclusion in a world fraught with monstrous perils.
After a moment of reflection, Ayaka shared her cautious stance, “I might not fully grasp all the complexities at play here, but the situation undoubtedly warrants suspicion. I advise against going.”
“But, if the princess doesn’t attend, won’t all the earlier efforts be in vain?” another minister argued, fearing not just the king’s wrath but giving the prime minister a favorable opportunity.
“That’s right, there are already whispers that the princess has been using military force for personal gains. If she abstains from attending, it might solidify the perception of her guilty conscience in the populace,” an older minister chimed in, worrying over the unit’s cohesion in the face of the monster menace given the looming suspicions.
Each person voiced their own perspectives, all holding substantial weight.
Asuka had already ruminated over these viewpoints deeply. Her decision stood firm. She was fully aware of the risks entailed in attending the event. However, non-attendance would stymie all her aspirations, ranging from mending ties with her father to orchestrating a united front against the monstrous foes. The jubilee, a commitment of a mere ten days to half a month, seemed obligatory.
Addressing the concerns vocalized, she pondered aloud, “Utilizing the prevailing military predicament as an excuse can’t hold forever. How can I aspire to marshal the kingdom against the demons without fostering harmony first? Refusing to marry was one thing, but avoiding the jubilee altogether could tarnish my reputation irreparably, not forgetting the endless series of explanations it would necessitate in the future.”
With radiant determination in her eyes, Asuka asserted, “I must go. I am prepared to face any dangers head-on, showcasing my genuine commitment to aligning all kingdom forces. My objective isn’t to vie for power against the prime minister but to rally together in our battle against the demons, a shared objective of every citizen. It is sensible to seize this opportunity to return to Iwaya city.”
Sonosuke, riddled with concern, tried to reason with her, “Princess, I urge you to rethink…”
Asuka responded appreciatively yet firmly, “Thank you, Lord Sonosuke, but my mind is made up.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Sonosuke pledged, “In that case, I insist on accompanying you as a guard.”
Lily chimed in, volunteering herself, “Princess, allow me to join you.”
Taken aback, Sonosuke questioned, “You? But…” He halted mid-sentence, recalling Lily’s formidable prowess, demonstrated when she eliminated a triple-soul big dipper. There was no denying her capabilities.
Overwhelmed by her superior strength, he yielded, lowering his head in acceptance, understanding he had no ground to object.
Asuka looked at Lily with a sense of relief, saying somewhat awkwardly, “Excellent, Miss Lily can still… treat my wounds.” It was a common thing to attend to injuries, but her phrasing felt peculiar. She gathered herself before emphasizing the paramount importance of defending Himeji in her absence. “This city is our bedrock, granting me confidence and support while I am in Iwaya. I trust everyone to guard it zealously. Upon my return, you all will be duly rewarded!”
“Yes Princess!” came the unanimous agreement, their faith in the princess unyielding, ready to fulfill her commands.
Addressing her entourage, Asuka detailed, “Reika and I will head to Iwaya. Miss Lily, you…”
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“We three sisters will accompany you,” Lily interjected, her priority being not just the princess but also Ayaka and Shimizu’s wellbeing.
“Mm, ok,” Asuka acquiesced, nodding understandingly. It was Lily’s personal stance, and none objected.
“There’s around ten days until the jubilee. It’s about a thousand miles from here to Iwaya, and half of that distance necessitates traveling through specific mountain roads due to the fog. Not even I can bypass the fog, whether on land or in the air. The mountain paths will be steep and arduous, requiring at least five to six days of travel. Prepare well; we depart in five days,” Asuka announced decisively.
Given the princess’ directives, Lily’s group resumed their regimen of training and recuperating. Although the road required no special preparations, Lily had her obligations as an exclusive mercenary in the princess’ service. With the jubilee approaching, she needed to find a suitable birthday gift for the king — a task somewhat eased by her collection of rare treasures.
Five days later, the trio joined Asuka and Reika beneath the imposing structure of Himeji Castle. Accompanying them were Reika’s subordinates and an additional fifty guards, forming an all-female retinue ready to display both power and pageantry despite the perpetual darkness that gripped the morning sky.
“Miss Lily, we’re departing.” The princess said from atop her extraordinary mount, a horse known as a throne-realmed spirit beast, notable for its flaming horn and hooves engulfed in flames. It was not just any horse; it was a flaming horse, celebrated for its incredible speed.
Seated on an azure ox cart, Lily’s group prepared for the journey.
With a worried furrow in her brow, Reika voiced her concerns, “Miss Lily, we have several days of travel ahead on very rough and dangerous mountain roads. Shouldn’t we hurry? Isn’t this cart a bit too slow?”
Lily broke into a reassuring laugh, saying, “Just go at your own pace; we will be fine.”
Heeding her words, Asuka initiated their departure, announcing, “Very well, we depart.” As they set forth from the city, a number of experts who had come to bid them farewell observed their procession.
From the apex of a tower, Sonosuke watched them with a potent blend of longing and concern. “I really want to accompany the princess; it might be dangerous, but so what?”
As the caravan progressed, increasing their pace steadily, it comprised not just the princess and Reika but also around ten kunoichis on horseback and one maneuvering a pangolin-type beast through the dense forest, while others moved agilely amongst towering tree canopies.
Meanwhile, the ox cart of Lily’s group maintained a peculiar but persistent pace — seemingly slow, yet always just there when someone turned to check, as if defying logic.
After a full day of travel, they approached lands shrouded in a dense fog. Before embarking into the unknown, Asuka called for a halt. “Let’s rest here for tonight,” she suggested.
A collective “Yes!” echoed as the kunoichis began setting up camp, some climbing trees to keep watch, while others busied themselves on the ground.
The ox cart, serving as a versatile mobile barracks for Lily and her group, afforded them the luxury to stop and relax wherever necessary, seamlessly adapting to the evolving circumstances.
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