Volume 10 - Dream Eater: Chapter 13 – Under Himeji City
By the river in the village, a weather-beaten vagrant stood, observing the surroundings. The carriage pulled to a stop, and Lily, along with s.h.i.+mizu and Ayaka, disembarked. The vagrant, a man in his thirties with a stubbled face and standing tall for his time at six feet, appeared startled at the sight of the elegantly dressed and attractive women approaching.
Lily stepped forward, offering a modest bow, and the vagrant’s eyes widened. “Ladies, you don’t seem local. Could you have come from across the ocean, like the legends tell?” he inquired.
The Asuka Dynasty, for unknown reasons, was defeated by the ancestors of the Heian Dynasty and escaped to Iyo Island. It has been thousands of years, and now, the residents of Iyo Island virtually know nothing about the Heian Dynasty.
Lily neither confirmed nor denied his suspicion, instead turning her attention to his weapon. “Sir, are you a samurai of this place?” she asked.
“I hail from s.h.i.+sa,” the vagrant replied. “s.h.i.+sa is now overrun with demons, and the wealthy are in league with them. Some even say that many of the affluent are demons themselves. I could no longer bear it, so I left my home, journeyed the world, and arrived here last year. I heard that Princess Asuka was seeking brave souls willing to defend this land, so I became one of her samurai.”
He scrutinized them further. “It seems you three are not ordinary people, and you carry weapons. Are you skilled women from a distant land?”
“Yes, precisely,” Lily nodded. “We intend to respond to Princess Asuka’s call and are on our way to Himeji City. Do you know how far we are from it?”
“Just fifty miles along this river,” the vagrant gestured to the s.h.i.+mmering water, bathed in an ethereal light. “You’ll be there soon.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“No need to thank me. Your beauty and willingness to protect the world impress me greatly,” he said, sincerity in his voice.
“Are you guarding this village?” Ayaka wondered, drawing the vagrant’s attention and admiration to her stature.
“Yes, the Princess has ordered me and others to protect it,” he confirmed, his face falling. “But we were too late. Demons have ravaged this village for years. Look at it—utterly ruined.”
He glanced at the sunless sky, frowning. “It’s been years since the sun last shone here. The children don’t even know what sunlight is…”
Lily’s eyes wandered over the darkened village, where malnourished children, skeletal yet laughing, played around a bonfire. The sight was soul-crus.h.i.+ng.
“Without sunlight, nothing grows. Trees here thrive on dark energies, strengthening the Eldritch Energy and the demons. They attack, and we’ve lost samurai. I wonder how long I’ll survive, but I’ll fight until my last breath,” the vagrant’s voice broke, and Lily noted a deep scar on his gaunt chest.
With a flick of her arm, Lily produced a Grade-8 katana. “Sir, take this weapon to aid you in slaying the demons. Let it be a gift to mark our meeting.”
“What? But…” he stammered.
A warrior of the middle Permanence Stage, he understood weapons but had none suitable for battle. His Grade-7 katana, worn from years of fighting, was on the verge of breaking. The demons were formidable, and he was ill-equipped.
The vagrant promptly dropped to one knee, accepting the weapon with reverence. “Ladies, to bestow upon me such a treasured gift immediately, are you perhaps divine beings? I feel unworthy of such a significant present, but for the sake of the village, I shall abandon my pride and accept it with grat.i.tude!”
“Sir, there’s no need for formalities. We share the desire to aid and defend this village,” Lily a.s.sured him, producing an aged booklet from her hands. “This manual of sword techniques may serve you well.”
Though these items were seized from Shuten and the Big Dipper experts and were not exceptionally potent, they were still invaluable treasures for anyone at the Permanence Stage or below.
With a grateful expression, the vagrant took the booklet, immediately sensing its ancient and remarkable aura. “I thank you, heavenly beings!” He had knelt on one knee to receive the weapon, but upon receiving the booklet, he bowed fully in kowtow.
The sword could enhance his physical strength, but the booklet could foster his inner growth and elevate his training. These wandering warriors found strength in constant self-improvement, and what they needed most were techniques and guidance!
Had Lily not been bestowed with incredible abilities through Lunar energy and the Tsukuyomi Swordstyle, she could never have attained her current strength by relying solely on her own efforts.
Lily nodded, her eyes gentle. “Sir, take care.”
“Thank you, divine ones!” The vagrant continued to kowtow, his grat.i.tude deep.
Lily’s extraordinary luck and achievements had made her one of the strongest beings in this world, a figure of legend. And today, this wandering and lost vagrant had found his fortune through an encounter with her!
His luck that day was rooted in his steadfast loyalty and determination.
The adage holds true: it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish.
Providing the village with money and food would only delay their inevitable ruin. Instead, by offering them weapons and training guides, they could empower themselves to stand strong.
The trio re-entered the carriage and moved on.
The vagrant looked up as the ox-drawn carriage, once right before his eyes, sped into the distance, vanis.h.i.+ng into the wilderness with a blink.
“They must indeed be divine…” he murmured, awe in his voice, “who would have thought that even a wanderer like me could be touched by such fortune!”
The carriage journeyed onward for dozens of miles, navigating through landscapes where rivers gently twisted into mountain valleys. Under the immense silver moon, and surrounded by the dark, towering mountains, lay an imposing mountain city. Illuminated by specks of orange light within its completely black structure, the city’s most eye-catching feature was a seven-story pavilion that jutted out from the mountain cliffs, standing guard over the valley below.
Upon disembarking from the carriage and ascending a mountain slope, the trio fixed their eyes upon the city, awe-struck.
“This has to be Himeji City,” Lily declared.
Despite the darkness, Lily sensed an intense, fiery aura emanating from the base of this mountain city. A thought crossed her mind, “I wonder what sort of individual she is, this legendary Princess Asuka.”
Not far from the city, Lily guided the ox carriage off the path, and she started walking with her sisters across an ancient wooden bridge that spanned the river below. This bridge, a hundred meters above the water and hundreds of meters in length, left Lily deeply impressed. She marveled at the engineering prowess of the Asuka Kingdom, which seemed to rival that of the Heian Dynasty. The seven-story pavilion stood as a testament to this skill, something few engineers outside the capital of the Heian Dynasty could achieve.
On the other side of the bridge, they were met by several spear-wielding guards, dressed in cloth armor that gave them a ninja-like appearance. These guards, entranced by the stunning beauty of the three women approaching from the darkness, dared not show any disrespect.
“Ladies, please halt. You are nearing Himeji City. From whence have you come, and why seek you entry into the city?” a guard inquired.
“We three sisters are experts, journeying the world to hone our skills. We’ve heard that Princess Asuka seeks experts here, so we have come,” Lily explained.
The guard studied the three women, each one extraordinarily beautiful and majestic, clearly no ordinary beings. Their daring night-time venture into the wilderness alone marked them as exceptional. Though he couldn’t discern the weapons they bore, he knew them to be extraordinary.
“I understand. Currently, Himeji City actively seeks experts from all corners of the world. Please, follow me, ladies,” he said, leading them up stone steps to a plateau overlooking the mountain valley and the ma.s.sive city gates of Himeji City.
These gates, nearly thirty meters high and apparently incredibly thick, were usually closed. A guard shouted to his comrades atop the walls, and a giant platform was lowered. As the travelers boarded it, those above pulled it back up.
Atop the city walls, wide and illuminated by bonfires, were stationed numerous veteran soldiers, dressed in leather vests, loose trousers, and wrapped boots. Some emitted a notably potent aura, adorned with cloth armor embroidered with beastly figures.
With further inspection, Lily realized that all these guards exuded intense, formidable auras. Clearly, the ruler of Himeji City, Princess Asuka, was a brilliant military leader.
In addition to the guards, there were various experts clad in an a.s.sortment of clothing present atop the city walls. Among them, three individuals of differing statures—a tall one, a fat one resembling a Martial Monk, and a short vagabond—cast their eyes toward the newcomers.
“Look, more newbies,” they commented, their voices tinged with amus.e.m.e.nt and curiosity.
“Wow, three girls this time? They’re something else, aren’t they? Where have you all journeyed from?” asked the short vagrant, crouching and twirling a stalk of gra.s.s between his lips.
The fat Martial Monk, adorned with a thick bead necklace, snorted in disdain, “Hmph, do you think it’s a simple matter to gain rewards from Himeji City? You must be prepared to risk your life in battle! Times are hard, and Princess Asuka is in desperate need of experts. The city has attracted its fair share of impostors.”
The tall samurai sighed, his voice tinged with regret, “It’s a shame our Princess is a woman. These ladies might find little success here, and worse, they could fall prey to the unscrupulous.”
“Hahahahaha!” Laughter erupted from the surrounding experts at these words.
“Lily, such people always exist. Let’s pay them no mind,” Ayaka whispered, and Lily did not even spare them a glance.
At that moment, a handsome man with short hair, dressed in greenish ninja attire, approached them. “Ladies, have you come for the recruitment?” he asked.