V2 Chapter 158: Farewell

Ayaka slowly approached Shikibu, stopping abruptly just before entering the range of her sword.

Pulling her still-sheathed sword from her waist, Ayaka quietly sat down in seiza, placed the sword beside her, and deeply bowed her head towards Shikibu, who appeared to be asleep.”

Then, the supposedly sleeping Shikibu’s lips moved slightly.

“Is that you, Ayaka?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“What is your purpose?”

Whether Shikibu had been awake from the start or had awakened upon sensing Ayaka’s presence was unclear. Regardless, Shikibu’s voice was clear, showing no signs of grogginess or exhaustion from fighting with Sora.

In fact, Shikibu’s voice seemed even more firm than when he usually sat solemnly in his lordly seat.

It was hard for Ayaka to believe he had just lost his Anima, she thought to herself before continuing.

“I have come to ask for your permission to retire from the Mitsurugi family as of today.”

“You have my permission.”

Ayaka’s words, delivered with such tension and resolve, were accepted more easily than she had anticipated.

At that moment, Ayaka relinquished her position as the fiancee of the Mitsurugi family’s heir and her status as the second banner’s third-ranked warrior of the Green Woods.

“Thank you.”

“To honor your long loyalty and dedication to our house, you will not undergo the sealing ceremony associated with leaving the island. You have served well.”

The sealing ceremony referred to the procedure applied to Green Woods warriors retiring from the Mitsurugi family.

A warrior who left the island without the lord’s permission would be considered a deserter and executed. Conversely, a warrior who left the island with the lord’s permission would have their fists crushed to ensure they could never use the Phantom Blade Style again, and a magical seal would be applied to prevent them from divulging any information about the Phantom Blade Style.

Shikibu informed Ayaka that she would be exempt from this procedure.

Hearing this, Ayaka did not say “thank you” again. Instead, she lifted her bowed head slightly, furrowing her brows as she looked towards Shikibu, who remained lying down.

“Is that really alright? You must be aware that I am a follower of the Purification.”

“I know. I am aware that you sought the strength to escape from that yoke and aspired to be a banner warrior because of it, daughter seen by the dragon.”

At that, Ayaka involuntarily caught her breath.

She had sensed that Shikibu had seen through her purpose, but his words implied he had been aware of Ayaka’s circumstances from the very beginning.

Ayaka once again directed her gaze towards Shikibu, who lay before her.

Shikibu, who had long reigned as the world’s strongest under the title of Sword Saint, was one of the few humans who knew the truth of three hundred years ago. In that sense, he was close to the followers of the Purification—the advocates for humanity’s cleansing by the dragon god.

More so, the Mitsurugi family, led by Shikibu, was considered the greatest martial force intended to achieve the Purification. Sophia Azurite had chosen the Mitsurugi family for this purpose, to ensure that the Phantom Blade Style’s martial prowess would be passed down through the ages. At least, that was what Ayaka’s family, the Azurites, believed.

Although not confirmed directly, Ayaka speculated that the Cornelius, Paradis, and the Adoastera imperial families shared this belief.

One reason the three prestigious families competed to send their direct children to the Mitsurugi family was here. Even those who called themselves followers of the Purification did not wish for cleansing by the dragon. While there are fanatics among them, most people believe in the dragon to avoid being cleansed. Many among the nobility scheme to seize power in the world after the cleansing.

For them, forming a bond with the Mitsurugi family holds great significance.

Whether Shikibu finds value in that bond is another matter.

Originally, the Mitsurugi family’s possession of the martial power of the Phantom Blade Style made them stand out among forces affirming the Purification. This tendency has become even more apparent since Shikibu’s era.

Not only Shikibu, the lord, but also his two top warriors would dominate as the strongest Sword Saints if the world were different. Even among other banner generals and lieutenants, there’s a collection of individuals capable of taking on thousands. In addition, the rise of the young warriors of the “Golden Generation” is remarkable.

The current military strength of the Green Woods’ eight banners is unparalleled compared to previous generations, making it a formidable and frightening force for other Purification powers.

It’s certain that the Mitsurugi family, led by Shikibu, will be a significant force in achieving the Purification. However, if Shikibu were to revolt against the Purification powers, the Mitsurugi family’s power could become a massive barrier to their goals.

In essence, whether the Purification succeeds or fails depends on Shikibu.

So far, Shikibu has not actively obstructed the Purification, but he has not been keenly cooperative either. His attitude has been passive, as if he would only act if told to.

This has led some followers of the Purification to doubt Shikibu’s true intentions.

Indeed, Ayaka was also ordered to monitor Shikibu, and given the secret command to eliminate him if possible, due to his excessively large influence being a concern.

The current situation, with Shikibu having lost his Anima, presented an ideal opportunity for his removal. At least, that’s undoubtedly how those above Ayaka would see it.

Ayaka herself, regardless of whether she intended to act on it, couldn’t deny harboring such thoughts.

Yet, those thoughts dissipated the moment she faced Shikibu.

Unwittingly, Ayaka felt a shiver run down her spine.

Indeed, in terms of sheer strength, Shikibu would have been superior the day before.

However, if asked who was more frightening, Ayaka would choose the current Shikibu before her.

Shikibu, who seemed weary of his role as the lord, was far more intimidating while lying on the futon and speaking with an energetic voice. Ayaka was convinced that if she attempted to draw her Soul Equipment to strike Shikibu, her head would be severed from her body in the next moment.

Had Shikibu not permitted her retirement, or had he decided to conduct the sealing ceremony despite permitting her retirement, Ayaka would have drawn her sword against him.

With Sophia Azurite’s demise and the dragon that appeared three hundred years ago being vanquished, Ayaka had received orders to return from the holy capital. She could no longer stay with the Mitsurugi family, nor could she afford to lose her ability to fight. If Shikibu intended to make those things happen, she would have had no choice but to fight him.

However, Shikibu allowed Ayaka’s retirement and exempted her from the sealing ceremony. Therefore, there was no need to confront Shikibu unnecessarily. Ayaka had been given a secret command to eliminate Shikibu if possible, but as mentioned before, defeating the current Shikibu was nearly impossible for her.

If forced to choose, her only option would be to maintain a safe distance and launch Void Armor attacks from afar, but even if she managed to kill Shikibu, the banner warriors engaged in heated debates in the great hall would rush to her, tearing apart Ayaka for assassinating their lord.

Ayaka had no intention of sacrificing her life for the Purification.

Thus, there was neither the need nor the desire to fight Shikibu here. She thought it best to express her gratitude for the care she had received and then leave. That was Ayaka’s intention, and she was about to act accordingly.

However, betraying her own will, Ayaka blurted out one final question.

“May I ask one last thing? What do you intend for Sora to do?”

Without hesitation, Shikibu responded to the question laden with various emotions.

“What Sora decides to do is up to Sora. Knowing my thoughts on the matter would be meaningless.”

“So, you’re not intending to entrust the Mitsurugi family to Sora, who is unbound by the past’s shackles, in order to thwart the Purification? Is that correct to understand?”

“That’s precisely it.”

Hearing this, Ayaka slightly closed her eyes, as if searching for the meaning behind Shikibu’s words.

After a moment, Ayaka opened her eyes, bowed deeply once again to Shikibu, then picked up her sword from beside her and stood up.

She walked to the sliding doors that led to the corridor, and before opening them, she bowed deeply to Shikibu once more and then left the lord’s chamber.

Walking alone down the deserted corridor, Ayaka inadvertently let her gaze drift upwards. In her line of sight stretched a winter night sky, resembling a blanket of silver sand.

For a while, Ayaka Azurite remained like that, gazing at the starry sky. Silently, as if searching for something, she stared intently at the stars.

Liked it? Take a second to support WordyCrown on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!