V2 Chapter 83: The Fourth Kijin

The Nakayama army was positioned on a small hill to the east of the fortress.

The distance was quite significant, and rather than seeming like they had mounted a full-fledged assault, they appeared to be monitoring the movements of the fortress.

Yet there was no lack of vigor in the movements of the Kijin.

The forest of military flags fluttered as if to demonstrate the high morale of the officers and soldiers, and the movements of the soldiers scurrying around inside the defensive barriers were brisk and without waste.

The numbers were close to a thousand, a small size for an army. Such a number could easily be mobilized not only by the great Adoastera Empire but also by the much smaller Canaria Kingdom. Moreover, it might even be possible to mobilize such a force from a single city in Ishka.

From this fact, the approximate national power of the Kijin’s kingdom could be understood.

Of course, there was also the possibility that this thousand or so unit was merely a vanguard, and a main force many times its size was waiting in the rear. However, considering the desolate state of the demon world, the hardships of life in this land could easily be surmised. It was unlikely that the Kijin’s kingdom had the power to form an army of tens of thousands.

Most likely, the unit on the hill was the Kijin’s main force. Naturally, the commander leading it would be an important figure to the Kijin tribe.

Standing atop the fortress walls and observing the Kijin, I silently nodded to myself, thinking that everything was as I had expected.

Then, I turned my eyes to Ursula, who was also checking on the Kijin’s movements next to me.

― Capture the commander of the Kijin forces attacking the demon gate and negotiate with Azuma, the king of the Kijin.

When I revealed this plan to Claira and Ursula, I had thought Ursula would oppose it, regardless of Claira’s opinion.

It was a plan that seemed to underestimate the enemy’s strength, so it would be natural to think I was getting carried away after defeating the Oken and the Demon god.

Of course, I am not underestimating the Kijin’s strength. For example, the boy named Kagari, with whom I had briefly exchanged words. I felt a pulsation of power from him that was incomparable to the Oken. The Demon god, even though defeated once, could still increase its strength through its host Kijin or surrounding conditions. I cannot possibly take the power of the Kijin lightly.

Nevertheless, I chose this rough plan for two reasons. One was that after consuming the Behemoth, my power had increased significantly more than before. Now, I was sure I could at least match Kagari in battle.

The other reason concerned Claira.

Although Claira seems calm in my presence, I can easily imagine her impatience and anxiety for her brother behind the scenes. To gain her favor, I must find Klimt as quickly as possible, even if the worst outcome of death awaits him. It would still mean something to show that I had done everything in my power to find Klimt.

That’s why I chose the somewhat crude method of taking the enemy general hostage and negotiating with the king.

But it would be unreasonable to expect Ursula to deduce all this, and, in any case, it would be troubling if she did.

Therefore, if Ursula were to oppose, I was thinking of defeating a “mythical creature that rivals those roaming in the demon realm” to demonstrate my current strength. This, too, is one of the reasons I’ve come to the demon realm, so it’s not particularly a detour.

However, when I told Ursula my plan, she was initially wide-eyed in surprise but afterward calmly accepted it without much opposition. I would think that if I were to plunge into the demon god’s army, Ursula, being my companion, would also be exposed to great danger, but she didn’t seem to be concerned about that at all.

Rather, she seemed somewhat keen on my proposal. I was curious, so I asked her directly, and Ursula responded while brushing her honey-colored hair as follows:

“Of course, it’s not like I don’t have something to say. No matter how strong Sora has become, I do think you should be a bit more cautious. But, I also understand that Sora is in a hurry for Claira’s sake, and for Klimt’s sake as well.”

“Therefore, I think it’s not time for me to be nitpicking.”

Ursula said, smiling gently.

From that gentle smile, it was clear to me that my classmate was interpreting my actions with excessive goodwill.

Feeling a bit uncomfortable under her gaze, I scratched my cheek, concealing my conscience’s pricking.

Well, it’s true that I am working hard to help the Berch siblings. While at the core I desire the role of an Anima provider, there’s no need to be tormented by guilt at this point, right? Yeah.

As I was internally making excuses, Ursula’s voice suddenly dropped.

“Also, fighting the Kijin is something I desire as a Green Woods knight. Kijin is my father’s enemy, and so I have no reason to stop Sora.”

Her voice, calm yet filled with profound resolve, resonated in my ears.

Ursula’s sharp gaze, fixed on the distant Kijin, became acute, and her face was tinged with a faint shadow.

Seeing Ursula’s voice and expression, part of my memory was stimulated.

I have heard Ursula’s words before. It was told to me by Ursula herself when we were training together before I was banished from the island. If I remember correctly, what Ursula said back then was–

“The Four-eyed Kijin, wasn’t it? The enemy of your father.”

Hearing this, Ursula looked at me in surprise. The shadow that was there just a moment ago was nowhere to be found on the face of my surprised classmate.

“Sora, you remembered my story. Even though so many years have passed since then.”

“No, sorry, I forgot until now. But when I looked at Ursula, I suddenly remembered.”

“I see. But, remembering means you were really listening to my story. That alone makes me grateful. Most people who hear my story dismiss it as nonsense and don’t take it seriously. They say that Kijin can’t appear in city, let alone the Four-eyed Kijin, something they have never heard of.”

The lonely gesture of shaking her head, though its appearance had changed considerably, was entirely the same as the former Ursula.

――Ursula’s father, the previous Shikou, was slain more than ten years ago at the Utgarza residence in capital city.

He was a person whose reputation was not good due to shedding too much blood in his duties, but he was a famed practitioner among the Green Woods banner soldiers. Of course, if he weren’t strong, he could not fulfill the role of a Shikou, whose duty is to enforce laws against the crimes of the Green Woods.

When the previous Shikou was found almost one-sidedly cut down, a considerable uproar occurred within the Mitsurugi family.

The place where he was killed was inside capital city, and the person killed was a Shikou hated by many banner soldiers. Everyone thought the culprit must be among the Green Woods.

Eventually, the culprit was never found, and the case remained unsolved, but the unsettling atmosphere that lingered around the household at that time is still vivid in my childlike memory.

What I referred to as the “Four-eyed Kijin” was the appearance of the criminal that Ursula had reportedly witnessed when her father was killed.

Late at night, awakened by a suspicious noise, Ursula fearfully stepped into the garden and clearly saw her blood-covered father lying prostrate, and the criminal, also holding a bloody sword, standing coldly.

However, as Ursula just said, this testimony was not taken seriously by the adults. At that time, the demon gate’s protection had not been broken, and there were no signs of intrusion from the outside. Also, no one else appeared who had seen the Kijin in question. The conclusion that the daughter, who had witnessed her father’s corpse, was distraught and saw an illusion was probably inevitable.

But Ursula did not doubt what she saw and did not forget it. While pursuing the path of the sword to avenge her father someday, she continued to gather information about the Four-eyed Kijin.

As I mentioned earlier, Ursula and I practiced together for a while. Training between two individuals with disparate abilities had little benefit for Ursula, at least. Nevertheless, she responded to my request because she wanted to obtain clues about the criminal who killed her father.

As the heir of the Mitsurugi family, she expected that I might have information that others did not know. Even if I knew nothing at that time, once I assumed the position of family head, I would have access to information beyond the reach of ordinary banner soldiers. She likely also had the idea of currying favor with me now for that reason.

Well, as for the latter, even at that time, my position was already precarious, so for Ursula, it must have been a case of no harm done.

And, suddenly changing her tone as if to shake something off, Ursula vigorously shook her head.

“S-sorry, sorry. Right now, my situation doesn’t matter, does it? So, what will you do, Sora? Do you intend to attack the Kijin right away?”

“Yeah, there’s no point in waiting. Claira, you’re okay with that too, right?”

When I addressed Claira, who had been silently holding back like a shadow until then, she returned a strong nod that seemed to say there was no need to even ask.

Seeing that, Ursula continued.

“In that case, we should pull out our Soul equipment now. It hasn’t changed much since the old days, so I don’t think I need to explain it to you, Sora, but if we end up fighting each other in the enemy ranks, it would be unbearable.”

Ursula grinned mischievously.

Ursula suppressed her laughter and calmly manifested her Anima,

“――Bloom, Thunder Flower.”

At the same time as the words, Ursula’s Kei swelled up all at once, and a single sword appeared in her hand.

An unremarkable construction. However, only the blade was brilliantly red.

A beauty that sent shivers down one’s spine.

The red sword might remind one of Klimt’s soul equipment, Kurikara, but Ursula’s soul equipment did not emanate the raging flames. Instead, the opposite, a cold tranquility, was vividly apparent.

Some would describe its color as that of blood, while others might liken it to the autumn leaves that paint the fields. Either way, Ursula’s soul equipment had a beauty that disturbed those who saw it.

Previously, Ursula referred to her soul equipment as the incarnation of the red spider lily. It was a shared existence, Anima, suitable for her, who would inherit the blood-soaked Utgarza family.

The red spider lily is a plant that blooms during the equinoctial period. Its radially spread red flowers are glossy and beautiful, leaving a strong impression, but its overly vivid red color sometimes highlights eeriness more than beauty. The existence of popular beliefs, such as “it blooms by sucking the blood of the dead,” probably derives from this aspect.

Often growing in graveyards, this flower might also contribute to the ominous impression associated with red spider lilies.

The Utgarza family had been public executioners for generations, shedding the blood of many Green Woods warriors. Ursula’s father, who had been killed, had created many casualties in his duties and was loathed by his peers. It was not hard to imagine how people reacted when they found out that the soul equipment mastered by his daughter was the red spider lily, deeply associated with blood and graves.

What had I answered to Ursula, who seemed to mock herself by likening herself to the red spider lily?

I searched my memory to recall the time.

The red spider lily contains poison, one of the reasons it’s considered an ominous flower. At the same time, this poison also keeps away rodents and moles, protecting the dead buried in the ground. Seeing this flower in graveyards often has a history of being planted by human hands for this reason.

I knew this. I don’t remember whether it was my mother, Gozu, Cecil’s siblings, or perhaps Ayaka who taught me.

Anyway, the red spider lily also has the role of a tomb guardian. It’s not just an ominous flower―I believe I encouraged Ursula with such words.

Thinking back now, likening a Anima, to a tomb guardian would not be encouraging, and Ursula probably never sought my encouragement. I don’t even remember her responding to my words.

However, at the time, I thought Ursula seemed disheartened and felt I had to encourage her. Even so, my encouragement was not thoughtless. I felt admiration mixed with beauty for Ursula’s soul equipment; I never felt it was ominous.

And that impression has not changed even now.

“Your Soul Equipment is as beautiful as ever.”

Those words were not flattery, but came straight from the heart.

Ursula smiled in response, a smile somehow different from those she’d shown up until now, a surprisingly beautiful smile.

“Hee hee, thank you. Now then, shall I see the famed Demon God Slayer’s Soul Equipment? Or will you keep it concealed until you pierce the enemy’s lines?”

“Nah, I’ll bring it out here. If I boost my Kei here, I might be able to lure out the enemy.”

I jabbed my right hand forward, cracking a joke.

Though it was a joke, in reality, if the enemy commander was Kagari, he might jump out eagerly to face me. When we’d met before, he’d said several times that he wanted to fight me.

Thinking about that, I manifested my Soul Equipment.

“Devour it all, Soul Eater.”

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