|Author: Carrot Sauce||Original Source: SFACG||Word Count: 3116 characters|
|Translator: Keissen||English Source: Re:Library||Word Count: 1655 words|
Lily hesitated, uncertain if the other side would notice immediately that the formation was restored.
“Sister Ayaka, I’ll teleport and test it out.”
“Don’t fret, Lily. This is my forte. Everything should go smoothly. Let’s proceed together.”
Together, Ayaka and Lily stepped into the teleportation formation, powering it up with a Magatama.
A flash of light later, they found themselves in the shrine’s courtyard in Suno.
“We did it,” Lily exclaimed with joy.
To her surprise, Kimiko and several other sisters were already there, awaiting their arrival. The mended formation eased Kimiko’s concerns. It provided a safe retreat if Yoritomo and the Cloistered Emperor were to launch an assault.
Inside Kimiko’s abode, they discussed strategy. The consensus was to back Kimiko’s plan to bolster both fronts. The Tsunaga Sisters and cavalrywomen would retreat to Cherry Blossom Valley, while the Suno natives would stay put, only pulling back to the valley if confronted with peril.
“Lady Kimiko, my heart won’t rest easy knowing you remain here,” voiced Lily.
Kimiko responded with determination, “Lily, I have to stay put. I was previously unequipped to activate the formation. But I still possess numerous treasures here. I intend to retrofit some of Suno’s defensive formations to trigger it. While it might not deter Yoritomo, it’s more than capable against common foes. Besides, as Tamamo-no-Mae, I have my pride. I refuse to be mocked by him.”
Understanding Kimiko’s resolve, Lily simply said, “If that’s your decision, Lady Kimiko, tread carefully.”
Smiling, Kimiko reassured, “Fear not, Lily. I can always flee to Cherry Blossom Valley if the danger escalates. But given you and Ayaka are heading to Iyo Island, you should be more vigilant. Iyo Island is notorious, shrouded in darkness and overrun by demons. Its perils might surpass your wildest fears.”
“Rest assured, Lady Kimiko,” Lily said, sharing a nod with Ayaka. Lily had changed; she was now undeniably the most dependable among them.
However, Shimizu, observing the closeness between Lily and Ayaka, seemed slightly miffed.
Suddenly remembering something, Lily presented an ancient diagram. “Lady Kimiko, I’m returning the Himemiya Sen-no-hana Painting to you.”
Kimiko, refusing the offer, handed it back, “There’s no need. Having lost my demonic powers, training serves no purpose for me. Retain it and use it as you see fit. Your power stands as our sisters’ strongest defense. Please, don’t turn me down.”
“Oh…” Understanding Kimiko’s insistence, Lily gratefully accepted the painting once more.
“Listen…” As they conversed, Shimizu elegantly tossed her hair back and stepped forward. “Considering Lady Kimiko’s warnings about Iyo Island’s dangers, venturing there with just you and Sister Ayaka may not be enough.”
Everyone looked at her, puzzled.
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Perceiving their confusion, Shimizu quickly added, “What if I accompany you both?”
Ayaka blinked in surprise. “Miss Shimizu, while I appreciate your concern, the dangers of Iyo Island are immense. Even with Lily by my side, we can’t guarantee our safety. I fear we might be unable to protect you should we encounter peril.”
“Hehe, what are you talking about,” with a sly grin, Shimizu replied, “Sister Ayaka, I can fend for myself. I don’t need guardians. Together, we’ll be stronger. More hands make light work, don’t they?”
“Sister Shimizu, I…” began Lily, hesitant to voice her reservations. It wasn’t that she was opposed to the idea. Rather, she was concerned about Shimizu’s capability in the face of potential dangers. She recalled that Shuten Doji had effortlessly enlisted several Big Dipper elites from Iyo Island, underscoring its perilous nature.
Reading Lily’s concern, Shimizu reassured her, playing with her hair in a playful gesture. “Lily, there’s something I haven’t shared due to our busy schedules.” Her eyes gleamed, “Recently, I ascended to the rank of a Throned Sovereign.”
Lily’s eyes widened in surprise. Deep down, she believed Shimizu; her sister had no reason to fabricate such a claim.
Shimizu, catching Lily’s shocked expression, teased, “You seem astonished, Lily. Haven’t you noticed the change in me? It’s a little disheartening, thinking you might not have been paying attention. Or perhaps, you’d rather I not join and disrupt your duo?” Her eyes darted between Lily and Ayaka, mischief evident.
Caught off guard, Lily stammered, “That’s not it, not at all.” She felt cornered, worried that anything she said might come off as insincere.
Intrigued, Kimiko chimed in, “Miss Shimizu, at full power, how formidable are you now?”
With a smirk, Shimizu responded, “Given the Cursed Blade Yakumo that Lily entrusted to me, I’d say I match the might of a Throned Saint.”
Impressed, Kimiko nodded, signaling her endorsement. “You certainly have the qualifications to accompany them.”
“Impossible,” Ayaka, however, voiced her disbelief. “How did you progress so rapidly?”
“Hehehe.” Shimizu, running her fingers over the ancient Jade adorning her neck, extended a cryptic invitation, “Why not experience my Jade Dimension for yourselves when you’re free?”
Lily gasped, “Jade Dimension?”
Ayaka held her silence for a moment, reminiscing. When she was younger, she was familiar with the Jade Dimension, though she had only managed to activate one out of its six floating islands. Lily, on the other hand, possessed an ancient mirror that led to the Mirror Dimension. She was aware, however, that not all such mirrors had this ability. This insight led her to conclude that Shimizu’s ancient Jade was unique. Especially considering its past; it was a fusion of Shimizu’s fortuitous discovery and another jade that belonged to Minamoto no Shenzu.
Lily pondered, “Could this be the jade that broke when Ayaka was on Izumo Mountain?” This thought revealed to her the intricate complexities of their situation.
Shimizu leaned close to Lily, whispering, “If you step into the Jade Dimension, I’ll have full control. You might not be able to resist any action I take. Perhaps that’s what you’re hoping for?”
Lily’s cheeks flushed, “Resist? What do you mean?”
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Ayaka, trying to maintain composure, reprimanded, “Why are you discussing this so openly? Shouldn’t we focus on more pressing matters?”
Seeming amused, Shimizu retorted, “Well, even Lady Kimiko recognizes my strength. Won’t I be of use?”
“I’m not entirely convinced. Just ensure you don’t become a liability.” Ayaka said, clearly irritated.
“Ayaka, please…” Lily’s eyes conveyed her wish for Shimizu to join them. Recognizing this, an impatient Ayaka conceded, “Lily, as our leader, it’s your call on who comes with us.”
“Well… Alright…” Lily glanced at Shimizu and gave a reassuring nod.
Excitedly, Shimizu exclaimed, “Fantastic!” She eagerly took Lily’s hand, then turned to Ayaka, “I’ll be relying on you throughout.”
“Well, naturally.” Ayaka merely responded with a hint of irritation.
The sliding door slid open to reveal Rei, her hair disheveled and cheeks flushed.
“I… I want to come along too,” she declared.
Lily rushed to her, gently holding her. “No, it’s not a good idea. Lady Kimiko advised that you recover. You shouldn’t engage in any combat or tire yourself.”
Kimiko chimed in, “Indeed, Miss Uesugi. First, you need to fully recover from the effects of the poison and attain the status of Throned Sovereign.”
Rei’s face dropped in disappointment. Being overshadowed by Lily was one thing, but falling behind Shimizu was a bitter pill to swallow1. If only she hadn’t been affected by the so-called Dreaming Fragrance! She felt utterly powerless.
That evening, Kimiko, Nariaki, and the others set out on an expedition to Cherry Blossom Valley, with Lily in tow. In the mansion, the sisters threw a quaint party. Everyone was present except for Mido Yukiko and Yuki Mayumi, which made Lily’s heart swell with joy. They indulged in modest meals and sipped on tea and juice, soaking in the cheerful ambiance.
Saionji Nanako took center stage, performing a traditional dance mimicking the catching of mudskippers, which lifted spirits. However, the mood shifted when Kagura played a mournful tune on her flute, touching the hearts of all present.
“Come on, Lily, take a sip.” Rei coaxed.
Caught off guard, Lily’s cheeks turned a rosy hue. For some reason, possibly due to the lingering effects of a drug or some underlying resentment, Rei persistently stayed close to Lily, occasionally drawing her into an embrace and urging her to drink.
Shimizu, observing the scene, remarked, “It’s just juice. Why behave as though it’s liquor?”
Rei shot back, “One doesn’t need alcohol to feel light-headed. See? Even our Lil’ Lily is blushing, isn’t she?”
Shimizu retorted, “Hmph, it’s your antics that are causing her discomfort.”
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Jumping to Lily’s defense, Ayaka added, “Really, Miss Uesugi. We’re celebrating our recent triumph over the demons and bidding farewell to Lily. Why make her uncomfortable?” There was a shared glance of understanding between Ayaka and Shimizu, suggesting some unspoken agreement.
“Since the two of you are about to head off on what seems like a honeymoon and vacation with Lily, shouldn’t I be allowed some moments with her now?” Rei said, drawing Lily into a reluctant embrace.
Ayaka’s eyebrows furrowed, “Honeymoon? Do you really believe we’re just going for leisure?”
Attempting to defuse the situation, Kimiko, who was engaged in conversation with Kotoka and Sakiko, interjected, “Enough! Let’s just enjoy the evening, Fujiwara no Ayaka.”
Lily, enveloped in Rei’s embrace, was overwhelmed by a mix of emotions. The familiar scent of Rei brought both comfort and a pang of sadness.
“Sister Uesugi, you should rest,” she murmured.
Rei leaned in closer, her whisper barely audible, “I’m holding back for now. But once you return, I promise to make it up to you.”
Although Rei’s words were inaudible to Shimizu and Ayaka, Lily’s flushed face hinted at the intimate nature of their exchange.
Observing this, Ayaka commented with a tinge of jealousy, “It seems Lily is more receptive to Rei’s advances than she lets on. Just look at her!”
In an attempt to ease the tension, Haihime approached with a glass of fruit juice, narrowing her eyes playfully and offering a smile, “How about a drink, Lady Ayaka?”
Matching Haihime’s playful tone, Ayaka responded with a squinted smile, “Of course.”