Two Treasured Swords, One Held By a Demon
“Now then, Count Maynard, here is the letter from Duke Lucius.”
“Ohh, I am deeply grateful to Your Highness for coming all this way, and also sorry you had to make the trip.”
“No, think nothing of it, I don’t know where my enemies lie after all.”
The girl with flowing blonde hair and sky blue eyes, Princess Philia, handed the letter that had been penned directly to the count who governed the southwestern-most territory of the Empire.
In the nation known as the Duchy that lay to the Southwest of the Empire, there is no unified head of state amongst the 23 confederated principalities that make up its territory. It is a highly unusual country on that continent, a decentralized government where matters of national policy are agreed upon by a council of representative nobles from each principality.
As he read the letter from Duke Lucius, who held the largest territory in the country and thus was deeply influential, Count Maynard nodded in satisfaction.
“…Indeed, I have confirmed the contents of the letter. May I please ask you to wait a while as I prepare my reply, Your Highness? My response shall adjoin our territory to the Duchy.”
If you undermine their authority, the Imperial Family will fall. In other words, if the Empire is chipped away piece by piece, change can come without the people’s blood being spilt. It was revenge for what had been done to Shirley who she looked up to as a beloved elder sister, a battle to avenge the parents murdered by aristocrats who then propped up her brother on the throne and her solemn duty as a member of the Imperial Family to protect the people from the cruel excesses of those who held the reins of power.
Philia’s subterfuge isn’t just limited to the Empire and the Kingdom, a country that many in her own nation see as the enemy, but also to the Duchy and even the Theocracy.
Her ideal solution is to push insignificant territories piece by piece to lesser states, weakening the Empire without spilling blood.
“If I may be so brash to say it, but it’s plain to see that since the coronation of His Imperial Majesty, the Empire has been in terminal decline. With another tax hike from the central government looming, this offer to join the Duchy truly came at the right time.”
“…Truly, I wish I had the ability to rule this country.”
Philia still holds a fondness for her motherland. Even though she’s going this far to undermine both her own country and her brother, the Emperor, the thought of becoming the Empress herself and changing the country from a position of power had crossed her mind.
However, Imperial custom dictates that unless there is no male Imperial family member, it is illegal for a woman to become Empress. In order to change such a law in a nation where conservative traditionalism runs deep, she would need the support of the highest ranking aristocrats in the land, but since a lot of them currently back her brother they would baulk at the idea of gambling on an idealistic young girl who hasn’t even reached her twentieth year.
Even if Philia somehow managed to coronate herself as Empress, she didn’t have enough allies yet to usurp Albert who still enjoyed strong support from certain corners, so knowing that the odds in a direct confrontation were stacked against her Philia retreated and resorted to shifting the territory of the Empire as if it were her own.
I am a traitor… Philia cursed herself on the inside. But, the die had already been cast long ago, as the elegant smile she wore on her face told nothing of the guilt she harboured in her heart.
“Why not take tea in the guest room whilst you wait for me to finish this letter? I must apologize as my wife is out on business, so I have no one for you to talk to.”
“Thank you for your kind concern. If it isn’t too much trouble, I’ll accept your offer.”
Philia said so as the red-haired female knight held open the door behind her, then after leaving the room with Lumiliana, she stretched her back in that empty corridor.
“So long as Count Maynard isn’t a ‘rat’, then things here are settled. It won’t be long before I can return to your home, Lumiliana, and spend some relaxing time doing all that paperwork.”
“Your Highness, people usually don’t relax doing paperwork.”
“Really? I find spending some relaxing time with documents far more enjoyable compared to travelling all over the place, dodging assassins and spies all the time.”
Lumiliana sighed at her workaholic Princess.
“In the past few years, you haven’t even taken a single day off for yourself, have you? You know, I’m not the only one worried that you might collapse someday?”
“Uuu… If you say something like that…”
Philia hasn’t had time for breaks as she’s travelled all over in pursuit of her goals, she doesn’t want to admit it, but the fatigue in her body has definitely been building up.
Managing one’s own physical condition should be absolutely basic. Certainly, she had been neglecting herself, so Lumiliana’s words had pierced deep.
“That’s it! Since it would be best for you to take a break, why don’t we travel through Earl Vaude’s territory again and pay Shirley-sama a visit?”
A strange voice came out. Even though she hadn’t said it loudly, to speak about using their secret smuggling route into the Kingdom so suddenly, and what’s more to talk about going to play with Shirley?
“T-That’s impossible! I can’t interrupt my sister’s business, what’s more, it takes days to get from here to the Kingdom, I can’t just go for no reason!”
“Is that so? I thought if it was for Shirley-sama, Your Highness wouldn’t be opposed to taking some days off.”
Does she have a point? Philia wondered to herself. It’s because she can imagine herself actually doing it that she’s all the more anxious about it.
“Actually, is this not just about you wanting to have a rematch with my sister, Lumiliana?”
“W-Well… I mean… If the opportunity arose…”
Philia gazed at her attendant who was now taking her turn to become flustered.
After she had been defeated by Shirley in the duel, aristocratic criticisms befell Lumiliana from all sides. As a knight whose solemn duty it was to protect her master, she herself bore the weight of that defeat and didn’t make any excuses.
Although self-indulgent words such as ‘That cheeky little brat’s career is doomed’, ‘See, this is why we should have never let women become knights’, and, from the Emperor himself; ‘You useless, servile scum!’, they had all stopped talking when Philia had spoken up.
“Could any of you have fought against Shirley-sama and won? None in this room have ever come close to defeating Lumiliana.”
The room had fallen silent at that. There had been many calls to replace Philia’s escort after the duel, but when it comes to a personal guard trust was more important than strength or standing. How many people in the Empire could truly swear themselves to be Philia’s shield?
And so, Lumiliana still serves as Philia’s personal escort. The Empire’s greatest female knight had taken her defeat to heart and absorbed herself in ever more intensive training, with the unwitting goal of one day bloodying the nose of that sword demon who seemed to tower above her.
“But, back then, it seemed like the behaviour of Grandmaster Wolff was even stranger than usual.”
Ever since his defeat at the tournament the year prior, the leader of the Empire’s knights, Gran, had been acting hostile towards Lumiliana.
As she lost the duel, he had looked incredibly joyful, and as he cursed at the girl many years younger than himself――――
“So, this is the child prodigy of the House of Regnard!? She’s just a little girl after all! Truly, the only reason she bested me in the previous tournament was because of some low trick! We cannot keep such a base and vile knave in our honourable knightly order! On my authority as the Grandmaster, you are hereby stripped of your chivalric rank! Never again call yourself a knight!”
Gran had said such a thing with a malicious grin on his face, but he faltered when Philia passionately retorted.
“The only qualification for a knight is fealty sworn to their master. Outside of that, there are no such rules. The Imperial Knights are but a remnant of a bygone era, is not the real protection of the realm shouldered by the army? Besides, Lumiliana is a member of a unit directly formed by myself. In other words, separate from your Imperial Knights, and thus outside your authority… As a leader of men, how can you not even know who is under your command?”
As Gran glared at Philia with a face so red it looked like it was about to burst, he turned and left the hall at an impressive speed.
“Looking back, it was almost as if someone had insulted my sister the way I got angry for your sake, Lumiliana… I really wish I hadn’t said things so recklessly.”
In ancient times, the Imperial family had granted two swords to the two knights who had contributed meritorious deeds to the Empire.
One was given to the ancestor of the Regnard family, the sword known as Clarent which had the ability to manipulate five elements. The Wolff family was also given a powerful magic weapon, which is kept by Gran, the family head.
“Now then, you stole food from the Imperial Capital… Am I not wrong?”
In the interrogation room of the barracks, Gran sat in front of a man whose hands were bound by rope.
Knights or soldiers, no matter what country, their main duties consist of maintaining order. For a dirty beggar who stole food in the capital, there would usually be a strict punishment after a thorough investigation… But, it was rare for the Grandmaster himself to be conduction an interrogation.
“P-Please forgive me, m’lord. Since taxes are so high, life is so hard… It was just a sudden impulse…”
He was a man who ran a bar in the Imperial Capital only three months ago. But because of the tax hikes, his business had gone under and after he lost the last of his money he had nowhere to go but to wander the streets, being picked up by a nearby patrol after being caught stealing fruit.
Although people who break the law shouldn’t be so easily forgiven, such facts of life were becoming commonplace with the Empire’s current state. Usually, judges would have a measure of leniency due to the circumstances, but Gran struck the floor of the room with the scabbard of his sword and snapped back harshly.
“I care not! Thieving in a land ruled by such a sage Emperor is an unfathomable crime! I shall punish you accordingly!”
If you judged him purely by this exchange, you would think that he was a man who valued rules above all else. But, the action that Gran took next veered heavily away from the duties of a knight.
“H-Hieeee!? Why are you d-drawing your sword!?”
The sword that Gran held in his hands had a very simple design compared to the ornately decorated Clarent, its paired blade.
The hilt was wrapped in cloth, on which various magical sigils had been drawn, the doubled edge blade was flat and sturdy, with no decorations or curvature to speak of. It’s hard to believe that this is a sword fit for nobility, but this was in truth the treasured blade handed down amongst the Wolff family for generations.
“Those who commit crimes in this land are an affront to the Emperor and deserve a thousand deaths…!”
“N-No way!? I admit I committed a crime, but surely death is going too far!!?”
The man’s logic is sound. A punishment should certainly be handed down for his crime, but only on the level that a minor crime such as attempted theft deserves.
But without even taking it to trial, Gran has decided to become the arbiter of justice all by himself… And since Gran’s sudden desire to execute a man of his own accord is a far bigger crime than petty theft, it’s easy to understand just how unreasonable this all seems.
“You waste of skin…! You baseborn scum…! You should see it as a mercy that I send you to the Goddess.”
Gran’s eyes are gleaming murderously as the cold steel of his blade gleamed. Realizing that the man in front of him was little more than a bloodthirsty beast, the man ran screaming towards the closed door despite both his hands being tied.
He was going to die. The man desperately threw himself against the door with his body and wailed for help, but it did not come, as the figure of Gran, a man forged from many years of training to be the Grandmaster of the Imperial Knights, loomed over him.
“Trying to escape or calling for aid, it’s no use. Gold has found its way into the right hands and I’ve already cast《Silent》.”
“And besides, no one will make a fuss if a vagabond like yourself disappeared.”
As he grabbed the cuff of the man who could only swing his head back and forth in protest, Gran thrust the sword through his throat.
“Gah…. Maaa…. Aghh…..!”
As blood began to bubble in the man’s mouth, the Grandmaster twisted the blade in his throat and severed his life. Then, it was as if a red blood vessel began to pulsate along the length of the blade like it was sucking the blood from the wound.
As he watched the sword do its grisly work, he waited until the man’s corpse was drained of all its fluids and looked like a mummy before he pulled out the blade.
“Fufufu… Splendid. With this, I can become even stronger…!”
A surge of energy and magical power coursed through his veins. Indeed, Gran is stronger now than he was before killing the man.
“Please look at me now, Alice… I shall become stronger than anyone. Strong enough to protect you from all the dangers of the world… Power enough to overwhelm anyone, even Shirley.”
He blushed slightly as he spoke as if he were composing poetry for his beloved. The barbaric act Gran just committed was unbefitting a knight, but it wasn’t the first time it had happened.
But, since he only preys on those who nobody would miss there haven’t been any complaints about his killings, this way many innocents had already fallen to his sword.
“My ancestors truly imparted me with a wonderful gift… With this, I shall become peerlessly strong… Soon enough, Alice will only have eyes for me…”
His loyalties forgotten and his training disdained, the Grandmaster’s lips unknowingly curled into a malicious smile.
That young boy who had once so earnestly and diligently practised every day to reach his ideal had been swept away, replaced only by a demon who drains the lives of others to sate his own greed.
“…Yes, for the time being, I have to gather more power. If I destroy Shirley with overwhelming strength, Alice will be sure to yearn for me, all the more if I bring her back a princess as well.”
He can only challenge that swordswoman who surpasses human reason once he’s built up sufficient power to defeat her handily. And since Alice is not blessed with children, if he returned along with Albert’s blood-related daughters, Gran didn’t doubt for a moment that she would fall in love with him all over again.
The conditions imposed upon the Empire forbade any acts of aggression against the Kingdom. But so long as that former noblewoman who fell to the status of a commoner is killed first, then the details can be sorted out later.
For once he was truly grateful to be the head of the Wolff family as that man turned demon ordered his subordinate to locate his next prey, then leaned back arrogantly in his chair.
…In his mind, he had already defeated Shirley, all he had to do was acquire more power.