An atmosphere of silence blanketed that arena etched into the mountainside as all in attendance fell into a hush.
The rules of the duel stated that each participant could only bring one weapon. As the white-haired woman stepped out into the arena carrying a single blue straight sword, her hair flowing in the breeze, every single on-looker became immediately fascinated with the sight of her, even those who knew her could only look on in stunned silence, as if caught up in the atmosphere of the moment.
“What… on earth…?”
As for the members of the audience who saw that the woman they knew eleven years ago hadn’t aged a day… Rather, they were shocked to see that she had somehow become even more stunningly beautiful in the intervening years.
Alice, the Emperor and his cronies, the Prime Minister, the Head Priest and even her father and brothers, all of them stunned.
Alice remembered the brutalized and tortured figure she had seen in the dungeon all those years ago. However, as Shirley’s form was projected in the sky over the arena using distant viewing magic, those looks now exceeded those that had driven her into a deep jealousy during the years of her childhood.
ーー”W-when I checked on her in the dungeon today, both her skin and hair were back to how they were before she got locked up!”
The words of the man who was the chief torturer over a decade ago surfaced in her mind. At the time she thought it was just a ridiculous lie, but now she could see that it was the honest truth.
That older sister of hers who was supposed to be thirty years old now appeared before her still bearing the youthful beauty that she envied all those years ago, how was she to react?
Her prideful mind wanted to believe that she wasn’t inferior, even now. But after ten years, her face had become unmistakably carved with the crow’s feet and wrinkles of age, paling horribly in comparison to the unblemished and soft looking skin that didn’t even seem to have a trace of makeup. Alice suddenly realized that the flame of jealousy burned in her heart after a long absence.
(This is impossible… Surely, it must be some kind of magic trick! That’s right, that Golden Witch…!)
Unable to accept that Shirley was utterly superior in terms of looks even now, Alice tried to run from reality.
But, somewhere deep down she understood it. That kind of youthful beauty wasn’t something that was passed down the lineage of the Earlgrey family, it was something impossible to attain without the favour of the Goddess.
“Wha-!? W-what’s wrong, Alice?”
As if evidence of this, Albert had leaned forward in his seat in order to catch a better view of the beautiful woman.
ー”Hm hmm… It’s been quite some time, but that hair and those eyes of hers are truly disgusting to behold… That said, it’s hard to disparage her face.”
ー”Look at that… I can’t resist that body… Do you think that His Majesty will give her to me as a slave once we win?”
Even though they’re sitting so close nearby, the nobles that supported Albert and Alice did nothing to suppress their animalistic desires as they stared at Shirley.
She remembered many of them. Alice shared her bed not just with many beautiful men, but also nobles she hoped to garner as allies, however many of them were completely listless in bed when they beheld her.
Hearing their crass whispering now, it seems like they prefer the voluptuous figure of Shirley that emphasized the chest… To put it bluntly, Alice’s small frame didn’t compare well at all.
(Still…! Even after eleven years…!)
As they made their way to their seats, Alice also saw Shirley’s twin daughters who had strongly inherited their mother’s good looks and it tore another hole in her heart.
Living life surrounded by a loving family. In every sense, Alice was supposed to live a more blessed life than Shirley. However that youthful face, that figure that charms the hearts of men without a single word and having such angelic looking children… All the things Alice wanted so desperately, she seemed to have.
The crystal at the end of the armrest attached to Albert’s seat… She stared at the magical tool that could activate the traps in the arena.
There wasn’t anyone nearby brave enough to point out that those eyes that were usually filled with confidence had become muddied like sludge.
The Sword Princess stood in the centre of the arena, holding her treasured sword. If Lumiliana is a Princess of the Sword… She now faced an opponent who could be called a Demon of the Sword.
The Empire’s strongest… In other words the world’s strongest, it was the view of the Emperor and all those in attendance that supported him that Shirley, a mere base adventurer, wouldn’t be able to stand up to Lumiliana at all.
(What is this? I can’t judge her skill at all.)
But at that time, Lumiliana was just confused. When you’ve reached her level, even at a young age, usually one can tell the capabilities of your opponent by judging their stance.
Having reached such a mastery in her craft, Lumiliana was an undeniable genius who could do such a thing, but as she stared at the glowing light of that blue sword… The woman who stood before her with the tip of Ig-Alima facing the dirt, she looked like a mere amateur, not a swordswoman, and she couldn’t grasp the true nature of her strength at all.
“…Shirley-sama. I honestly did not ever expect to face you in such a way, but to tell the truth, it was an opportunity I had always prayed for. Neither of us can hold back here, so let’s have a good match.”
There was no response. However, the tip of that blue sword shifted slightly.
“Henceforth, under the ordainment of the Goddess, our mother in the heavens, let victory or defeat be decided by the skill of those before us… Both sides, take your stance.”
When the cardinal lowers his arm, the battle will begin. Shirley and Lumiliana both gripped their blades.
Unexpectedly, the typical period in a duel where the opponents feel each other out didn’t happen.
Lumiliana kicked off the stone floor with a burst of power and closed the distance between them at extreme speed. The eyes of the onlookers couldn’t keep up with the speed and it seemed like the battle was over in one flash, with Shirley having been slashed straight through the torso.
But, there wasn’t a single speck of blood. Not even a blemish on her white dress. Lumiliana didn’t know what to think… Then she turned her eyes down to that familiar sword of hers, noticing that most of everything above the hilt was gone.
As soon as she did, the sound of something piercing the stone floor echoed through the silent stadium. Canary and Asterios were the only people in the audience who knew immediately it was the missing blade.
Lumiliana retreated in a hurry.
It had been completely cut away. As if slicing through a blade of tall grass, her treasured sword had been completely sliced apart.
She recognized that it was a sword technique beyond human comprehension. Trying to seize the initiative and claim an early victory, she had fallen into the trap of misjudging her opponent. If Shirley had wanted to she could have ended Lumiliana’s life with that same stroke of her blade.
(Such speed…! But…!)
The curse of her blood doesn’t allow her to give in. She understands already that she’s completely outmatched by the swordswoman who stands in front of her, but she still hasn’t lost yet, so Lumiliana began to pour magical energy into her broken blade.
Then, as if held together by a magnet, the blade that was lodged into the stone flew out and combined back with the hilt of the sword.
“So, that was a magical weapon after all?”
“That’s right… A sword passed down by each generation of our house!”
She traced a circle in the air with the tip of the blade. In the next moment, a small whirlwind of sand and stone began to speed toward Shirley.
Without changing her expression, Shirley raised her blade. Then the storm of earth in front of her was bisected by two vertical slices of water and fire.
If it had touched her, flesh and bone would have been torn apart, but Shirley never froze up in fear and dodged the blows by rushing forward.
Even though she could only catch a glimpse of her shadow as she flashed towards her, Lumiliana managed to block the heavy blow aimed at her. But when Shirley’s strike was stopped by Lumiliana’s blade, a chance for the Sword Princess appeared as her blade began to spark with electricity.
An intense electric barrage lit up the area around Lumiliana. Although the shocks might not be the kind that would instantly atomize you like the dragon king’s attacks, if Shirley took one of those lightning strikes directly her movement would be dulled and she could taste defeat.
“The heirloom sword of the Regnard family… I remember now, I heard about it a long time ago.”
If all five elemental attributes are mastered any situation can be dealt with. It’s a tactical way of thinking that dates back to the very early days of magic development, but even in this modern era it still remains a powerful strategy.
And this was the sword that embodied that theory… 《The Command of Five Principles》, Clarent.
In ancient times it was a blade that was wielded by the Emperors themselves, a symbol of Imperial authority, but one day it was granted to a particularly meritorious knight, thus beginning the House of Regnard.
The blade was originally imbued with the power of earth attribute magic, but its true strength can only be brought out when enhanced with the flow of magical energy from its wielder, allowing it to unleash every type of elemental magic.
Both incredible talent and an almighty weapon… To compare her with an adventurer, it’s not hard to imagine her attaining the heights of an S-Rank. Merely looking at titles, anyone who didn’t know her would think that the B-Ranked Shirley wouldn’t stand a chance.
The swirling flames, the blasts of wind, the raging waters, the towering stone swords and the thunderstorm of electric shocks, with a single flow of movement she avoided them all and clashed blades with the knight once again.
A blade that struck as fast as sound without a single pause flashed mercilessly at Lumiliana. As a dazzling light show of sparks flew in the crashing together of their blades, it was all the Sword Princess could do to protect herself with her own sword.
“…I-Isn’t it too fast to see anything?”
“Mm… Same for me.”
“I thought maybe it would be easier to see it from a distance… But, to be honest, I don’t know what’s happening.”
As Sophie and Tio sat with the three rookie adventurers in seats on the Kingdom’s side of the arena, they watched the sword fight taking place before them at unbelievable speed, unable to comprehend the full scope of what they were seeing.
They couldn’t see the two figures that were duelling, only intermittent sparks flying in the maelstrom of elemental magic that engulfed the arena.
“Asterios-san… Can you follow this fight?”
“Yes. The two of them are living through their swords… Even if I can see their movements, I cannot truly grasp their art.”
It might seem like they’re just brazenly slashing away at each other, but the dance of constantly shifting offence and defence is something beautiful to behold for anyone who can see it. And in that performance, it was the knight who rivaled any S-Rank swordsman who was on the back foot.
In this kind of divine duel, Shirley should, by all means, be at a disadvantage. Only one weapon allowed, magic is freely able to be used, it seems like she’d be forced into surrender or a sure defeat.
The restriction to one weapon should be a bottleneck to her battle potential. Shirley’s signature style is to create copies of swords using magic, fighting in a way that let her use multiple blades disposably, sometimes even launching them as projectiles.
It is technically magic, but it looks to any onlooker like she’s simply using multiple weapons. Shirley herself decided not to use her most viable tactic, saying that she didn’t want to give anyone an excuse to doubt her victory after the fact, so she faced the Sword Princess with but one blade.
However, the strength of the Demonic White Sword was overwhelming. Lumiliana tried to put more distance between the two of them and launched more long range attacks, but they didn’t even scratch her as she ploughed through them, once again clashing in close quarters.
Lumiliana is certainly strong. Even if she faced the dragon king that Shirley cast down, she could well have defeated it in a protracted fight.
However, Shirley’s strength far surpassed any monster.
(I hadn’t noticed until now, but this opponent is far stronger than some knight guarding a princess should be. That witch probably knew full well.)
Why is it taking her so long to deal with a mere adventurer? Is what many of the nobility and hangers-on in the crowd were wondering, including the Imperial Knights who had been hollering and cheering the entire fight. On the Imperial side of the arena, the spectators weren’t truly aware of the situation, but two people in particular began to notice just how abnormal Shirley was.
(W-What’s going on!? She’s still running around even though the trap was activated…! A-Alice, what about you!?)
(I-It’s useless! It’s the same for me…!)
The Emperor and his wife whispered frantically to each other. Even though they were trying to activate the traps that would disable Shirley and grant them an immediate victory, her supernatural eyes had already long seen through the traps, rendering them essentially duds.
It would have been meaningless to inform the referee of the foul play. Although the swordswoman can see it, the magical effects of the traps are invisible to anyone else who sees them, this was how influential people in the past would get away with their cheating.
There were various effects such as trapping one’s foot to the floor, numbing the entire body or removing all sense of friction in an area, but all of them were useless.
――――Behold, Shirley. There are a lot of traps littered about, no?
――――Yes, I can see them all. It doesn’t seem like they intend to fight fairly.
In the presence of the strongest witch and the differing eyes that could see everything, such plotting is essentially worthless.
She could have removed the traps beforehand. But, her reason for doing so is very simple… For an opponent of Lumiliana’s level, dealing with the traps at the same time isn’t an issue.
An adventurer is defined by the struggles they face. So, Shirley fought against the top rate magical knight known as Lumiliana whilst destroying all the traps along the way.
Anything she caught in her eyes was at the mercy of her blade, even magic that has no physical form or shape. As soon as she saw the flow of energy begin to shift beneath her, she would slice it in half without even breaking her stride, completely neutering the trap before it even activated.
Plans, contraptions and abilities, none can stand up to her overwhelming force. When they saw her dash forward like that, Albert and Alice, as well as her opponent Lumiliana, began to truly grasp the true terror of what they were up against.
(She’s beyond human… Like some kind of monster…!)
The white swordswoman who could barely be seen with the naked eye as she moved had already transcended the natural laws of man. But, she’s a knight. The curse of her blood aside, as someone who served the princess she couldn’t lose.
“So… Take thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis!!”
With the help of a summoned gale of wind she bought herself space once again, then began to imbue her blade with as much magic as she could for an all-out attack. Then, completely surrounding the arena without a single gap, massive fists made of earth and stone emerged from the ground.
Drilled into the rocks are cavities from which projectiles of ice and fire can shoot. The magic Lumiliana activated created a crossfire so complete that there wasn’t any hope of escaping without suffering serious damage.
No matter how inhuman her agility may be, if she’s forced into dodging all manner of projectiles an opening will present itself. If she tries to protect herself with a magical barrier, Lumiliana intends to rush her the moment she begins attempting to chant and strike her with a full power blow.
As the 17-year-old who stood at the apex of the nation’s martial arts stood in front of an enemy who threatened to shatter her self-confidence, Lumiliana realized that an avaricious desire for victory was beginning to overwhelm her heart.
(…I want to win!)
She was ashamed of it, but right now all she could focus on was the swordswoman before her eyes. As if in response to her surge of fighting spirit, the holes in the rocks began to fire bullets all at once.
If it hit her, the magic would be fatal. From the stands, she distinctly heard her daughters cry out. At that moment, Shirley unleashed one of the true abilities of her blade that she had kept hidden.
“Let the Stars Depart the Heavens, 《Blue Citadel of the Country》Ig-Alima.”
An object falling through the air will fly faster than a bird with wings due to momentum. The sapphire coloured sword whose name implies the defence of the nation, its true ability is to manipulate the speed of flying objects other than living things down to nothing.
From one-hundred to zero. With all momentum lost, the hail of bullets and the floating rocks they came from fell to the floor by the will of gravity.
Even her final all-or-nothing attack was batted aside as if it were nothing. A fraction of a second after they hit the ground, Shirley suddenly flashed towards Lumiliana and swung Ig-Alima at her breast with indescribable speed.
“I-I messed up!?”
This may seem like a sudden change in subject, but the Imperial Palace is a symbol of Emperor Albert’s authority and majesty. When he sat the throne in that place, he truly felt the pride of being the man who sat astride the entire Empire, it was also where he had spent his honeymoon so it was filled with happy memories of his beloved wife.
Although it’s for different reasons than her husband, the palace is also a very important place for Alice. Dresses and jewellery crafted purely for herself, a blooming garden made only for herself, symbols of authority only for herself… It is a place where everything she had ever achieved since becoming the wife of the Crown Prince had been packed away.
That’s why… There were only a small handful of people who could fully accept the sight they now beheld in the Imperial Capital below as something more than an illusion straight away.
“KUHAHAHAHAHA! Be at ease, I’ve long since removed anyone in the vicinity with spatial magic! There’s no danger of human collateral!”
The witch’s roaring laughter filled the stunned stadium.
The palace that represented the Emperor’s might had been cut clean in two, blown into the sky by the force of the slash, who could accept such a ridiculous reality?
And even more than that, who could ever accept that it wasn’t some impossible natural disaster that had caused this, but instead a single technique by a single swordswoman?
“W-WHAT IS THIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIS!?”
“M-My palace… My dresses… MY JEWEEEEEEEEEEEEEELS!?”
As she had swung it, Shirley’s blade had certainly passed straight through Lumiliana’s body. However the lady knight suffered no wound, she had simply been transfixed by the otherworldly power that stood before her, as the only thing that had actually been sliced was the massive palace in the distance.
She had developed this technique when she considered what she could do if her daughters were taken hostage. Assuming that a criminal held her daughter close, she worked on the skill in secret to be able to cut through and murder whoever threatened her daughter without doing her any harm.
Inhuman ability and motherly love, it was that fusion that gave birth to this impossible ability. The enigma of the Sword Demon who only cuts what she desires, 《The Severing Shadow》, that legend began here.
“…To think there was a swordswoman who could cleave a castle in two… The world sure is wide…”
At that time, Lumiliana truly understood. Although she had always strived to fulfil the role of a Sword Princess, that flowery title is nothing compared to the power before her, power that far better suits the title of a Demon.
“It wasn’t ‘Sword Princess’ but ‘Sword Demon’… To even think we could ever be rivals… I’m such a fool…”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about… Besides, I’m not interested in nicknames, they just seem to attach themselves to me somehow.”
“Ahaha… Somehow, when you say that… I feel defeated in more ways than one…”
Lumiliana self-reflected. The arrogance she had unwittingly carried in her heart had been shattered, her pride left completely in the dust. In the end losing was the best result, but having been so soundly defeated, how could she ever think that she was worthy of protecting Philia?
But, in a way, this was refreshing. In her mind she had stood at the peak, but now she has a new mountain to scale.
“That said… You took it easy on me, right…?”
Shirley didn’t answer, but that silence may as well have been an affirmation. She had wondered about it many times during the fight, but in the end, Shirley always had Lumiliana dancing in the palm of her hand, she could have finished the battle any time she pleased.
The only reason she didn’t was because of her intentions to cut the palace. She had manipulated Lumiliana to stand between herself and the palace directly so that she could cut both at the same time.
“…I had something I wanted to cut.”
Her quest for revenge had ended back then. But, she could never escape the smouldering flame that burned in the corner of her heart. Perhaps, just this once it was a good idea to get caught up in Canary’s whims, such were Shirley’s thoughts as she watched the upper part of the castle begin to fall to the ground.
“It may be selfish of me, but it’s truly refreshing being able to clear away a grudge.”
“So this fight was all just a sideshow to you cutting the castle…”
What a monster… Those words that were going to be spoken with awe, praise and frustration, never came out. Lumiliana’s unhurt body lost consciousness and fell to the ground at the same time that the broken palace smashed into the earth with a roaring thud.
Please think back to the prologue and the whole Kenki/Kenhime thing before you go “what the hell is Lumiliana talking about” on me.
Also, the volume isn’t over yet, one more chapter.