The next day, Shin woke up a bit before dawn.
Yuzuha, in beast mode, was sleeping next to him, her tails resting on Shin’s chest and stomach.
“Aah…yeah..I fell asleep.”
While enjoying the tails’ softness, Shin recalled what happened the previous evening. I must have been more tired than I thought, he said to himself while getting up and stretching.
“Ah, sorry, did I wake you?”
Yuzuha had felt Shin’s movements and opened her eyes.
One hour after the sun rose, he felt people moving in the next room.
Kanade looked like she felt much better, and Karin was relieved too.
“Well, let’s go ahead and bring the medicinal herb to your sister then.”
“Yes, let us make haste!”
Completely recovered after one night of rest, Kanade ran off ahead of the group.
Behind her, Shin and Karin started running too.
“Please do not push yourself too hard, Milady.”
Karin was worried because of what had happened the day before, so she warned Kanade.
Kanade regretted having worried her, so she replied “I know.”
The group proceeded on their way while taking breaks whenever needed. On the way, Shin used his detection skills to check the surroundings for threats.
To be robbed by thieves just after they obtained the Dead Snake Grass would have been a bad joke.
They would probably not be attacked in a place where people could see, but to be sure he chose to stay alert.
Maybe thanks to that, they could reach Kujou territory without any enemy attacks.
“From here, it would take maybe only another half day.”
“Are you not pushing yourself? Are you not doing anything unusual?”
“I am not. I am alright. We’ve come all this way, I will not collapse right at the end.”
While taking a break at a tea house along the road, Shin’s party discussed the route to their destination.
Kanade’s jinx was that obstacles would always appear right at the end.
The mysterious attackers, the encounter with monsters that shouldn’t have been there…all the events that had happened in the few days since they met Shin were all nothing to laugh about.
It was natural for Shin to be especially careful.
“We still don’t know anything about those assailants, we can’t let our guard down.”
“I have also pondered about them. If they attacked knowing that I am a Kujou, the main family could be on the move too.”
“Could it be that something happened while we were outside the country?”
“I cannot say. But we will know once we return.”
Shin didn’t know what had become of Kanade’s position within the main house, but imagined that they would be able to gather some sort of information.
Shin himself planned to go on his way after he had seen them off at their destination. His face was already known though, so even if he parted with them, there was no assurance that he wouldn’t be involved again.
“Well, we are almost there. Let’s go.”
“As you wish.”
The group departed again, with Shin in the lead.
As Kanade had said, after half a day the castle’s main compound came in sight. It was unmistakably a Japanese-style castle.
A group clad in armor stood on the path to the castle.
“Are those the castle soldiers?”
“Their flag’s emblem…they’re from the Toudou family.”
“Kankurou, then. Toshiro could be there as well.”
Kanade and Karin seemed to know the emblem depicted on the soldiers’ flags and were not worried by their presence.
Shin also heard a name that was not new to him, so he was relieved and decided to ask about them.
“Do you know them?”
“Yes, not only them, but we have part of our soldiers patrol the territory. Thanks to that, damage and casualties due to monsters and thieves are kept to a minimum.”
The soldiers they had met were apparently on their way back from a patrol.
“But because of that, there are a few branches of adventurers’ guilds.”
“What do you mean?”
“Quests for adventurers to take…especially ones about exterminating monsters that would offer high rewards…well, those monsters are eliminated by the patrolling soldiers. Their average level is 200, so they can handle any monster except extraordinarily powerful ones. Because of that, few in this country aim to become adventurers. Of course, there are powerful warriors belonging to Hinomoto’s adventurer guilds though.”
Karin briefly commented that she was very surprised after leaving the country.
Some people even called Hinomoto a “country of demons and barbarians”.
Even in Balmel, a fortified town always under the threat of the “Flood”, the average level of the soldiers was less than 150. Only a few elites went above 200, so Shin understood the reason behind that name or the people that didn’t know it.
“Hinomoto believes strongly that national matters should be handled within the country. We do not have a large territory like the mainland after all. Our country should be handled by ourselves, and we do.”
Hinomoto was also said to be safer than the mainland.
As they were talking, they caught up with the group of soldiers. The rear troops noticed Shin’s group.
“I am the first-born daughter of the Saegusa family, Saegusa Karin. I accompany Lady Kanade of the Kujou. Who is leading this platoon?”
As Karin introduced herself, the troops hesitated for a moment, then divided in two perfect lines, showing two men in the center.
Shin used 【Analyze】 to display the names and levels of the men that were slowly walking towards them.
One was Yaejima Toshiro, a level 190 samurai. He looked in his early twenties, black hair with white streaks and brown eyes, a proud-looking young man.
In contrast to the lead-colored armor the other soldiers wore, his was navy blue. His social status and standing were probably different.
The two katanas hanging from both sides of his waist suggested he was a two-sword style user.
The other man was Toudou Kankurou, a level 255 samurai and a man between 50 and 60 years of age.
His hair was white and his forehead wrinkled, but his sharply straight posture and stance did not show signs of old age. His eyes were thin almost to a slit, his expression soft and gentle.
He clearly stood out among the armor-clad soldiers, as he was wearing a dark green robe and deep blue, almost black, large-fitting trousers called hakama.
Shin understood the reason why he wasn’t wearing armor. His hakama trousers’ stats were higher than the soldiers’ armor. What caught his attention even more was the katana hanging from the old man’s waist.
“Lady Karin, noble Kanade. I heard you had left Hinomoto, but I am glad to see you are safe and sound.”
“It brings me joy to see you in good health too, Kankurou. Are you returning from a patrol?”
The man Karin called Hinomoto’s strongest warrior started talking to Kanade in a soft tone.
“Yes, we have just slain a monster that was reported to be difficult to subdue. Noble Kanade, if you have returned, does it mean that you have obtained the medicinal herb?”
Kankurou’s expression shifted from smiling to serious. He knew the reason why Kanade had left Hinomoto it seemed.
“Yes, we have obtained a sufficient amount. How is my sister’s condition?”
“Progressively worsening, albeit slowly. But there should still be time. We shall lead the way, your companion is…..!?”
Kankurou talked while shifting his eyes towards Shin. While talking, his expression clearly showed that he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
“Lord Kankurou, do you know this man?”
“N-no, I…my apologies. He simply resembles someone I used to know.”
“Ah, no, please do not worry.”
Kankurou shook his head to Toshiro’s question and apologized to Shin.
Shin thought that his reaction was somewhat exaggerated, but has nothing to inquire further, so he did not say anything in particular.
“This man is sir Shin. He assisted us in retrieving the medicinal herb. I shall lead him to the mansion. Lord Kankurou, Lady Kanade, please head to Lady Haruna’s quarters.”
“To the mansion? Hm, can he be trusted?”
Karin looked straight at Kankurou and nodded.
“If lady Karin says so, then there should be no problems.”
“Sir, are you certain? At times like these, it is not advisable to welcome strangers of unknown background…”
“Toshiro, we bear a large debt of gratitude to Shin. I do not know what happened, but I personally vouch that he is no enemy sleuth.”
“…..if Lady Kanade speaks thus, then…”
Toshiro seemed dissatisfied with Kanade’s answer, but presented no objections. But, it could be said that in exchange for that, he glared at Shin sharply.
“If so, I would say we simply part ways here. My work is finished here, these gentlemen are surely more than suitable to guard you. If something is going on, it is not the best time to let someone suspicious in after all.”
He did not have to receive rewards or something similar either. It was not necessary to let him into the residence no matter what.
“After all you have done for us, to just send you back empty-handed would be more than ungrateful for us. At the very least, I wish you to spend the night here.”
“I shall lead him to the residence assigned to the Saegusa family. I understand well Toshiro’s concern. I will be responsible for sir Shin’s actions.”
“Hg, lady Karin, you do not need to go as far as guarding this man, I could do that-”
Toshiro objected at Karin’s intentions of taking responsibility for Shin.
“Toshiro, I doubt it is wise to continue raising objections. Lady Karin is one of Hinomoto’s Brave Ten, I am sure there is no need for concern.”
”That is true, but…”
Karin apparently held a title Shin was not aware of. The name suggested it was given to the most accomplished warriors of Hinomoto.
“Let us be on our way then. Sir Shin, I thank you for your assistance in this endeavor.”
Kankurou gave a slight bow and headed towards the castle alongside Kanade.
After a while, Shin and Karin went to the castle town and entered the castle’s perimeter.
In the same way as Toshiro, the gate guards were not pleased with allowing Shin inside, but thanks to Karin’s intervention there was no commotion.
“It’s really huge.”
“There are many facilities within the castle after all.”
The Kujou castle was surrounded by moats, with the main castle compound at its center. The castle perimeter contained training facilities, a smithy, and many residences.
Its large size was the most remarkable feature. It was much larger than the Japanese-style castles Shin knew.
It looked like the castle contained a town, separated from the castle town, outside its walls. Around the main compound, there was another set of walls and gates.
The two walked down paths impossible to navigate without a guide, then arrived in front of one of the largest residences.
The gate guard hurriedly came towards them, but thanks to Karin they could pass without a hitch.
The guard seemed more surprised at Karin’s sudden return than Shin’s presence though.
“I apologize for the disturbance.”
“Please don’t, the guards seemed overjoyed too. They must love you and respect you.”
“That’s right! Our lady is kind to everybody, all the vassals love her.”
Shin’s words were answered with pride by Midou Chiyo, a woman serving the Saegusa house. She was Karin’s caretaker, and undoubtedly the happiest person to see Karin return.
“Enough about me, where is father?”
“He is already waiting inside the residence.”
“Thank you. Sir Shin, I ask you to join me for a brief introduction.”
Shin and Karin entered the residence, led by Chiyo.
“Our lady Karin and sir Shin have arrived.”
Chiyo announced their arrival in front of the room’s sliding doors.
After hearing the response Chiyo opened the doors, showing a man sitting cross-legged in the center of the room and a woman at his side.
The man had a large and muscular physique, which clearly showed through his kimono. A man shaped like a rugged boulder, or so Shin thought. The woman was sitting next to him with a proper posture, smiling gently. She was of short stature herself, but next to the man she looked even smaller.
“Father, mother, I have returned.”
“Welcome back. I have heard what happened to a degree. It appears you found what you were looking for.”
“Yes, now we only have to wait for the medicine to be made.”
The man Karin called father exchanged brief words with her, then turned towards Shin.
“I apologize for the wait. I am the 3rd head of the Saegusa house, Saegusa Kuyou. This is my wife, Kayo.”
“My name is Shin. This is Yuzuha, we are bound by a contract.”
Shin sat in proper posture next to Karin and introduced himself. Yuzuha was sitting on a cushion next to him.
“I was told you lent your aid to our daughter and lady Kanade in their search. Also that you attempted to leave without accepting any reward. You are aware of what lady Kanade was searching for, weren’t you?”
“Only that it was an ingredient for her lady sister’s medicine.”
“Indeed. The results are yet to come, but if Lady Haruna were to be healed, we would owe you a great debt. But even if it were not so, to save others from peril for nothing…that spirit is something I admire. You are welcome to stay in our residence not just one day, but for a brief period if you please.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Father, sir Shin has saved mine and lady Kanade’s life, and—”
“I am coming in!!”
The brief greeting between Shin and Kuyou ended, and just as Karin was about to explain in detail what happened, suddenly Kanade opened the sliding doors and came inside.
“….lady Kanade. I thought you headed to the residence?”
“I gave the Dead Snake Grass to the concocter. There is nothing more for me to do. I wanted to tell my sister that we have all ingredients for the medicine, but we cannot be sure until we see it is really effective…father is busy in some meeting, so I came here first.”
“Lady Kanade. I understand your worry, but please do calm down.”
Kuyou said that she was not acting properly for a Kujou lady, but Kanade pouted and retorted.
“I cannot help this. At least between us, please forgive my behavior.”
Kanade’s worry wouldn’t disappear unless the medicine showed to be effective and her sister healed after all.
Kuyou understood her feelings and did not reproach her further.
“Anyway, what were you talking about?”
“I was going to ask about sir Shin. There was a bit of a commotion before you entered the castle it seems.”
“I have learned the reason why the atmosphere within the castle is not good. It is no wonder that Shin would be viewed with suspicion.”
Kanade had heard from Kankurou what happened as they headed together to the castle.
“Father, Milady, I still have not heard about that. Could you please inform me?”
“Hmm, I see.”
“Ehm, I apologize for interrupting, but is it alright for me to listen to such circumstances?”
Shin interjected while Kuyou was speaking. He felt that it was not something for an outsider to hear.
“That is quite all right, it is nothing more than a rumor after all. People speak about this throughout the castle town. It is but a rumor concerning suspicious movements of the Yaejima house, rulers of the west. Originally we have fought for the rule over Hinomoto: no matter the credibility of the rumor, or lack thereof, people cannot help but be worried. However, as far as I know, the current head of the Yaejima family is close friends with lord Kujou Tadahisa, head of the Kujou family and lady Kanade’s father. I very much doubt that the rumor is true.”
“If something was going on, it could be the Ichinose.”
After Kuyou spoke, Kayo participated in the conversation for the first time.
“That family has always been very concerned with the changes in balance of power between east and west, until a while ago they were talking about the unification of Hinomoto after all. About the succession matter too, they even went as far as saying that since Karin isn’t here, she should be removed, you know? Truly, nothing but disrespectful!”
“Mother, please calm down. But I understand, so that’s what happened.”
Karin calmed down the irritated Kayo and nodded in understanding of the situation.
Apparently Toshiro had suspected Shin of being sent by the Ichinose.
“Well, it’s not like they’ve done anything yet. There are nothing but rumors at the moment, so we are gathering information. By the way, I personally am more interested in Shin, can you tell me more about your journey?”
“Of course. We met for the first time on a ship, while we were heading back to Hinomoto.”
Kayo changed the subject, expressing high interest in Shin.
As he was thinking about how to respond, Kanade anticipated him by narrating how they first met.
“—-then he saved us when we fell into the sea…by the way, what was the thing he did that time?”
“What thing, exactly?”
“Karin, he was kissing you and fondling your breasts, was he not?”
“W-what!? Sir Shin!! What did you do to me while I was unconscious!?”
Kanade’s words caused Karin to spring up and cover her chest with her arms. She quickly moved away from him towards the wall, using a cushion as protection.
“Ooh, do let us know more.”
“Yes, that is indeed very interesting.”
At the same time, Kuyou unleashed a powerful aura of intimidation, while Kayo’s smile completely left her lips. Shin’s expression became stiff under the influence of a pressure ignoring levels and stats.
“No no no it’s not what it seems! I acted like that as I feared that lady Karin’s breath and pulse had stopped! I assure you I was not thinking of anything improper!! Lady Kanade, please do not use words that could be misunderstood!!”
Shin tried desperately to defend himself from the damage caused by Kanade’s explosive words.
Shin explained how the kiss was to re-start Karin’s stopped breathing and he wasn’t fondling her breasts, but using cardiac massage to make her heart beat again, recalling the limited knowledge he could muster.
That’s how terrifying Kuyou and Kayo’s atmosphere appeared to Shin. This was what they called “irrational fear”, probably.
“Hmm, so it was all to save my daughter, is that so?”
“Exactly. These actions are to be performed as quickly as possible. I am not a true expert, but I thought that there was no time to think about that. I assure you, I absolutely assure you that I had nothing improper in mind.”
“I vouch for him as well. I woke up first, and remember how Shin was desperately trying to help Karin.”
Shin told Kanade “Say that first, will you!?” in his mind, but he refrained from voicing his thoughts in front of Kuyou and his consort.
“In that case, I must give my thanks to sir Shin then. If it weren’t for you, both my daughter and lady Kanade would have drowned in that storm.”
“I am just glad the circumstances are clear now.”
Shin, freed from the parents’ intimidating aura, wiped cold sweat from his forehead. Their presence was even more overwhelming than a boss monster.
Karin, who had moved away from Shin, sat back next to him after hearing his explanation. Her face was bright red.
After that they talked about how they climbed Mt. Fuji and arrived back at the castle, when Chiyo came in to announce that Kanade’s entourage had arrived to pick her up.
“The meeting is finally over then. I shall go now. I will see you tomorrow.”
Kanade said so and returned to the castle. She had arrived suddenly, dropped a powerful bomb and caused a commotion, so after her departure the residence felt extremely quiet.
“Well, we have talked long enough. Let us offer you a meal.”
After dinner, Shin was informed that the bath was ready, so he went to the bathroom as instructed.
After Shin left for the bath, Kuyou, Kayo and Karin remained in the residence to talk.
“In any case, was there really a person like the one Lady Kanade described on top of Mt. Fuji?”
“Yes. I believe that if they did not just match their skills, but fought to the end, only sir Shin would have survived. He called the giant snake “Eight-Headed Orochi”, but I do not know the woman’s identity. To be honest, I am not sure if she was human or not.”
The tone of the conversation was now completely serious. Kuyou himself could not neglect to ask about important information such as what the Mt. Fuji mists were hiding after all.
“The monster legends say devoured entire countries, and a girl who tamed it…if they will not leave the mists, I assume it will be wise for us not to bother them either. I think lord Tadahisa will summon you tomorrow: be sure to let him know as well.”
Kuyou, in the role of head of the house, gave Karin specific orders.
Even now there were people attempting to enter the mists, albeit few. If, by chance, they reached the peak and instigated those dwelling on it, there was the possibility to cause massive damage and casualties.
Kuyou was sure that Tadahisa would understand the risk after hearing about the journey from Kanade, but he opted for added safety.
“Are the difficult topics finally over?”
“They are. Today was quite a surprising day though.”
“That’s true. To think that Karin would bring a man in the house! And that they even kissed already.”
“M-mother! Please do not bring that up again!”
Karin hurriedly tried to put a stop to the return of that embarrassing topic.
“But isn’t it very important? With you away from Hinomoto, I had to refuse all invitations of marriage interviews. Isn’t it time to think about settling down? So, what do you think of sir Shin? He seems polite, and is quite able with the sword too, isn’t he? I don’t think he would be a bad marriage prospect.”
“Hmgh!! That is all too sudden to talk about!!”
“T-that’s right! We barely know each other too!”
Both father and daughter objected to Kayo’s sudden marriage talk.
Kuyou was simply against the idea, but Karin’s words seemed to suggest that things could be different if they came to know each other better.
“You don’t seem to be totally opposed to it, are you. I see we need to know more about sir Shin.”
“Mother! I beg of you, please do not do anything weird!”
“Kayo! M-marriage! It’s too early!”
Such conversations continued in the residence while Shin was in the bath.