The next morning.
Shin was swinging 『Kakura』 in the garden in front of the room assigned to him.
The reason was that he had painfully learned the limits of his technique during the battle against Munechika.
“I know that I can’t compare to a master, but…”
Shin was aware that he did not possess a natural talent for the sword. Even so, he could improve with effort. Imagining an enemy standing in front of him, he was sometimes dodging, sometimes swinging down 『Kakura』 in slow motion. It was a training method he learned from the person that taught him the sword.
This training’s movements might be slow, but they placed a burden on the body. He had lowered his stats on purpose, so『Kakura』 weighed heavily on his whole body.
Sweat dripped down Shin’s cheeks.
“….I focused too much.”
Shin noticed that Karin’s presence was close, stabbed 『Kakura』 in the ground, and took a deep breath. The shirt he was wearing as a training suit was drenched in sweat.
“I apologize for disturbing your training.”
“No, I had lost track of time, so it’s good that you came.”
Karin looked apologetic, but Shin replied that there was nothing to worry about.
She had come to call him because the meal was ready.
Shin wiped his sweat, changed and had his meal; as he finished, someone knocked at the Saegusa gate.
“I see, so that’s how it is.”
The visitor was a messenger from the Kujou house.
Shin, led by Karin, went to the main compound of the Kujou house, castle Kujou. Yuzuha was left at the Saegusa residence.
In the residence where he was led to, Shin found Kanade, Kuyou, and Kankurou waiting.
Kanade had pleaded for Shin to stay because she was grateful to him, but also because she knew he would have been summoned for an inspection.
Kanade herself explained so when she went to meet Shin along with their guide.
Some time later, a man appeared and sat on the seat reserved for the person with the highest standing. The man had shaved hair, thick eyebrows, and a katana scar in the middle of his face. His physique was not bulky, but well trained.
The man was the head of the Kujou house, Kujou Tadahisa.
“Raise your heads everyone.”
All the guests present had bowed their heads when the man appeared, and now raised them back. Shin had followed the others’ example as well, and calmly raised his head again.
“Your name is Shin, yes?”
The deep voice addressing Shin echoed.
“First of all, I must give you my thanks. I am grateful for everything you have done from the bottom of my heart.”
Seeing Tadahisa thank and bow his head, Shin and all vassals present-except Kankuro- were restless.
For the head of the house to bow his head to a stranger was something normally unthinkable.
“Thanks to the medicine, concocted with the herb we could obtain through your assistance, my daughter has dramatically recovered from her illness. The doctor says that as long as she recovers her strength, she will be able to return to her normal lifestyle.”
Tadahisa’s words now caused a new type of restlessness among those present. The vassals had not been informed yet, apparently.
Kanade’s sister must have been really loved by her subordinates; some vassals could not resist and broke out in tears.
“Sir Shin, I wish to express my gratitude to you somehow. Is there anything you wish?”
“No, I do not wish for anything in particular. If I had to ask for something, it would be for a roof to use until my comrades arrive here.”
“Hm, exactly as I heard from Kanade, you truly have no material desires.”
“I had planned to part ways as soon as we arrived in this land after all. As you may have heard, a person dear to me died because of an illness. I helped just because of that, you do not need to worry about me.”
The conversation between Tadahisa and Shin caused whispers among the vassals.
Shin talked while recalling the historical dramas he had seen. He thought he might have said something disrespectful, but could not think of anything in particular.
“If so, you may continue to lodge in the Saegusa residence. Kuyou, Karin, I entrust him to you.”
Kuyou and Karin lowered their heads after receiving Tadahisa’s order. They were not surprised, probably because it had already been decided who would have taken care of Shin.
“Personally, I would gladly welcome you to serve in my household though. I have heard of your prowess with the sword. You and your companions as well. What do you think?”
“Sir, my physical abilities are all I have, there are many much more skilled than me with the sword. I have no intention of serving anyone.”
No matter how promising the conditions might be, entering into someone’s service was not an option for Shin. He stated his refusal clearly.
“Then, could I ask for the chance to match my strength against yours?”
As the conversation between the two had died down, Kankurou suddenly joined in. His expression was as peaceful as always, but his aura suggested he was trying to find out more about Shin.
“Oh, now this is unusual, for Kankurou to spontaneously speak in a situation like this.”
“I am aware of my lack of manners. There is, however, something that drew my interest.”
“Hmm, sir Shin, what do you say? I shall prepare a separate reward for this.”
“….there is no need for rewards. If I am allowed to speak my mind frankly, there is something that drew my interest as well, and wished to ask for a match myself.”
This match had no particular merit for Shin. But even so, he accepted Kankurou’s plea.
Shin himself was interested in something about the man.
“How should we set the victory conditions?”
“Both have said to be interested in something about the other. I say we continue until that something is grasped.”
After changing locations to the soldiers’ training area, Shin and Kankurou faced against each other, surrounded by soldiers and vassals.
Considering that they were both Chosen Ones, the spectators to their match gathered at the edges of the training area.
As he had done before the battle with Munechika, Shin set his 【Limit】 to II.
“Shall we take the first move?”
Kankurou took the initiative. With a step as light as if he were simply going on a walk, he reduced the distance between himself and Shin in an instant. He was wielding a special wooden sword made for Chosen Ones.
Kankurou’s swing was parried by Shin with the same wooden sword – after which, he took a step back.
“As good as expected.”
Saying so, Kankurou changed the arc his wooden sword was drawing in the air into a thrust and aimed it at Shin.
The wooden sword, attacking again without the slightest delay, gave Shin the impression that it had a will of its own.
“I have taken the first strike, but I shall let you have the first question.”
Kankurou spoke to Shin in a calm tone that hardly matched their ferocious sword clashes.
“I will go straight to the point then. How did you acquire the katana at your waist?”
“Oh my, you must be a connoisseur to pick this up. I have received this from the former lord, its name is…”
“『Black Moon』, isn’t it? The stronger version of 『Ripple Blade』, with all capacity points used in enlarging the attack range.”
“!!! So you really found out…!”
As Shin talked about the sword in detail, the speed of Kankurou’s swing increased. His smile now was different than the usual, he seemed to be enjoying the situation.
From the speed of his swings and the impact created from their skirmish, Shin thought that Kankurou was the person with stats closest to his among all the people he had met until now. At the very least, his stats were much higher than Rionne’s.
They were still lower than Munechika, the boss of Mt. Fuji, but other than his technique, his experience in fighting other humans was incredibly rich. Shin had not felt much difficulty in fighting Munechika, but against Kankurou he felt it vividly.
Shin had heard from Karin that Kankurou was a powerful warrior born before the “Dusk of the Majesty”. He had undoubtedly experienced many battlefields.
“To think that you would know so much. Nowadays, such details are known only by me and the former lord…no, now that I think about it, there was someone else too.”
Kankurou spoke while knowingly adding pauses between his words.
“The Dark Blacksmith…the man that forged my beloved blade would naturally know such things.”
The words hinting at Shin’s real identity were spoken at the same time of a more powerful clash of the two men’s swords, and did not reach anyone else’s ears.
As their swords were still locked, Kankurou asked Shin.
“Well, sir Shin. May I ask something too?”
“What is it?”
“Have you ever heard of the name Jinkurou?”
“….yes, I have. As a samurai myself, we went along rather well.”
Jinkurou was the name of the guild master of a Japanese-style guild during the game era, “Kachou Fuugetsu”. As they were both samurai, he and Shin were well acquainted.
More than anything, he was the person Shin had given 『Black Moon』 to. He would never forget him.
After hearing all that, Shin remembered Kankurou.
As Schnee was Shin’s main support character, Kankurou was the first name to come up when mentioning Jinkurou’s support characters.
Kankurou’s species was High Lord. He had survived the age of natural catastrophes and was a living witness of its history, the same as Schnee.
“I was under the command of that person. Thus sir Shin, I know very well who you are. I remembered your face, yes, but considering the disappearance of Tsuki no Hokora, sir Girard’s death, sir Shibaid’s departure from the empire…it could not be just someone acting like you.”
Thinking of Kankurou’s expression when he first saw Shin, it was clear that he had figured out his identity from the start.
“Lord Jinkurou gave me this before passing away. Sir Shin, why have you returned?”
“I haven’t exactly returned…to be honest, I would also like to know the reason why I am here.”
Shin knocked away Kankurou’s diagonal slash and answered with a sigh.
“Is that so. It could be that there is something you yourself do not know, sir Shin”
“Something, you say?”
“Yes, did you know, sir? The people that served those once called players forget those they served after a certain time passes.”
Shin’s sword arm slightly trembled after hearing Kankurou’s words. He forcibly parried it thanks to his stat advantage, but could not deny to be shaken.
“What does that mean?”
“Memories, they grow fainter and fainter. Or rather, I should say that one does not focus on them anymore. The memories do not fade away, but the loyalty, affection, everything previously felt becomes of little to no importance. I too must say I am subject to this. I would have never thought of serving the Kujou house in the period following Lord Jinkurou’s departure.”
Kankurou spoke matter-of-factly, but with a tinge of sadness.
The sound of their clashing swords became slightly fainter.
“Why did you tell me all this?”
“I had the chance of meeting lady Schnee around 50 years ago. I thought she would be in the same situation as me. Her feelings towards you, however, seemed unchanged. Wondering about it, I went to meet others that were in your service, sir Girard and sir Shibaid. But the result was the same.”
No one had lost their feelings towards Shin….as he spoke about this, Kankurou’s eyes gleamed with jealousy.
“In my travels outside Hinomoto, I had the chance of meeting others who served “Rokuten”. Their lifestyles might have been different, but all of them were invariably loyal to their masters. That might be tied to the reason why you returned, sir Shin.”
“Sir Shin. Please, do reward their loyalty. That is all I wanted to say.”
As he stated these words, Kankurou stopped swinging his sword.
Shin followed suit and stopped his sword arm as well. This unexpected truth had left his expression sour.
“Let us conclude the match here.“
“Yes, let us. You have really surprised me though. I had never heard of any of this before.”
“I doubt anyone would realize it, without being aware as I was….but rather than that, I shall keep your identity hidden for now. Revealing it could cause unneeded trouble. You have no intention of openly stating it, do you? ”
“Yes, it would be a great help if you did so.”
Shin headed towards Tadahisa while talking with Kankurou. He was feeling conflicted within.
They received words of praise from Tadahisa for their battle, then Shin left the Kujou house.
Karin, who was walking next to him, spoke first.
“Sir Shin, during the battle you were talking about something with sir Kankurou, weren’t you?”
“Yes, well…I thought I had seen the katana at his waist somewhere before. But I was wrong.”
“What katana did you think it was?”
“The 『Ripple Blade』, a katana with the effect of extending the range of its slashes. Sir Kankurou said that it was its enhanced version. I was really surprised…what did he say its name was? Maybe 『Black Moon』?”
Shin had no intention of talking about his conversation with Kankurou, so he decided to talk about his katana while avoiding the subject.
“They say that no other katana in Hinomoto can surpass it. It is indeed a sword among swords, some even call it a divine blade. Lord Kankurou said that the legendary Dark Blacksmith forged it, but because of that, there have also been troubles.”
“Trouble you say? Yesterday I heard about some succession problem, is that related maybe?”
“Lord Kankurou said that he should soon hand it down to the next generation…they say that the greatest sword arm in Hinomoto will inherit it. Of course, lord Kankurou excluded.”
Karin added that the title “Hinomoto’s Brave Ten” is given to the best katana users of Hinomoto. Shin had heard this term from Kankurou before.
Among those awarded with the title, their position was designed with the term 1st seat, 2nd seat, and so forth. Currently, Kankurou was the 1st seat, while Karin was 3rd seat.
“Hinomoto’s Brave Ten” was a title given to those excelling in the use of the katana, so there were lower members of the Brave Ten that were more powerful than their superiors, if total fighting prowess was considered.
The separation between higher and lower members was around seat 5. But even among them, Kankurou was a special case.
“He is famous for episodes of bravery such as charging by himself into an enemy battalion and cutting down 1000 enemies for example. From his silhouette wielding the black-sheathed white katana 『Black Moon』, some call him the ‘White Haired Sword Demon’.”
“White Haired Sword Demon, huh…”
Once one becomes famous, such nicknames cannot be avoided apparently.
Shin, whose nickname of “Dark Blacksmith” had spread far and wide, could understand.
“Who is the favored candidate at present?”
“The 2nd to 4th seats are evenly matched for now. As defeating someone carrying a seat would let you make your name known, I have been challenged several times.”
Karin looked at the sky, as if she was remembering a distant memory, and sighed. It was a rather troublesome situation for her it seems.
As the news of her return to Hinomoto spread, such duels would probably increase once again.
As the two arrived at the Saegusa house while talking, something flew towards Shin.
“Whoa there, what’s wrong Yuzuha?”
What had flown toward Shin’s chest was Yuzuha in fox mode. Her fur was wet for some reason.
“Oh my, that’s no good little Yuzuha. I have to wash you—-oh, lady Karin, Lord Shin. Welcome back.”
Chiyo came out of the residence after Yuzuha, carrying a brush.
“What were you doing Chiyo? This poor thing is all scared.”
“My, I was just giving it a bath.”
“What are those suspicious hand movements…?”
Chiyo replied, surprised and hurt to be accused, but Karin looked with worry and voiced her concern.
The fingers of the hand not holding the brush were repeatedly bending then extending again, at very high speed.
Shin also agreed that hands didn’t move like that when giving baths.
“(The hands, the haaaands!)”
“Calm down Yuzuha. Well, I’ll do the rest. These things should be done by the one she is bound to via the contract after all.”
Shin made his proposal while calming down the almost weeping Yuzuha. He felt things could turn ugly if he let Chiyo handle it.
“Chiyo…why do you look so desperate.”
Chiyo looked thoroughly disappointed, and Karin talked to her with a tired sigh. Judging from Karin’s expression, Shin imagined that similar episodes had happened before too, and laughed wryly.
While Shin and the others were engaged in this small commotion, in the Kujou residence all vassals except Karin were assembled.
“Thus, Kankurou. I trust you will explain why you requested a duel with that man.”
Tadahisa’s aura was not as peaceful as when he met Shin, but was instead strongly intimidating.
In a way, Tadahisa’s daughter Haruna owed her life to Shin, and Kankurou had challenged him to a duel in that situation. Anyone other than Kankurou would have been thrown out of the residence.
“Yes. There was something I absolutely had to confirm. I am deeply thankful for your permission.”
Kankurou replied to Tadahisa in his usual calm and collected tone.
He had made such a proposal out of confidence; Shin would not be angry over something like that, as Kankurou well knew.
“Both his appearance and aura closely resembled a friend of my late Lord Jinkurou, so I suspected he might be that very friend…and I was right.”
“A friend of your former lord…judging from how he fought, that is not surprising.”
Tadahisa included, all vassals present nodded.
Many of those who witnessed the battle watched Shin with a bitter expression as he not only parried, but even easily beat back Kankurou’s attacks.
Even among the experienced ranks of the Kujou house, few could take Kankurou from the front in training. The speed at which Shin and Kankurou crossed swords exceeded their abilities.
“He is quite a unique young man, at that level of skirmish it is still possible to talk. This and another reason, a more important one.”
“And what would that be?”
“That young man will definitely serve no one. If anyone among those present here was thinking of putting him in his service, it is not advisable to use coercion. In the worst case, all of Hinomoto could crumble.”
Kankurou’s words caused surprise in all present, because of how great the consequences could be. Some of them looked jaded, thinking that it was some bad joke.
Even if his sword arm was on par with Kankurou, it was overly exaggerated to put him above the whole country of Hinomoto others thought.
“….I do not think you would joke in a situation like this.”
“Lord Tadahisa, you have met Schnee Raizar and Girard Estaria in the past, yes?”
“I have, before becoming head of the clan.”
“You do know how powerful they are, do you not?”
“I have been witness to a battle where Schnee Raizar participated. Her annihilation of a swarm of monsters by herself was truly impressive, even terrifying. I do believe her power surpasses human ability. It is certainly not folly to think that she could take down an entire country.”
Maybe because he was recalling that past episode, Tadahisa’s already strict expression had become even more bitter. He had been witness to Schnee destroying a whole swarm of monsters without receiving a single wound.
“Sir Shin’s power is on the same level…no, even superior to theirs. I might have some advantage over him with the use of the sword, if he fought with all his means there would be no way of stopping him. If he fought seriously, simply stalling him for a few minutes would be a great success.”
“You would go so far?”
“Without a doubt. Lord Tadahisa, you know of the High Human legends, yes? The vast majority of those legends as they are narrated today is true. As they say, the world before the Dusk was populated with warriors so powerful it was uncomparable to the world now. In the same way, sir Shin cannot be contained in our current parameters and common sense. Lost skills, hidden arts…I doubt he knows only 10 or 20 of those. Fortunately, his personality would not let him draw the sword unless something really serious happened; as long as we treat him normally, there is no concern of provoking his anger.”
The words of Kankurou, the man considered Hinomoto’s strongest even before the Dusk, were nothing to laugh at. His expression did not contain the slightest hint that he could have been joking.
For a while, no one spoke a word.
No one could take the situation lightly after hearing such serious words from the 1st seat of Hinomoto’s Brave Ten.
Shin was not to be touched. This conclusion was already set in stone.
At the same time that Shin’s party arrived in Kujou territory, in a certain residence, two men and one woman were talking.
The higher seats were occupied by a large Type Bear and a beautiful woman emanating a certain decadent atmosphere.
The other man, clad in black robes, was kneeling before them, his head down.
“So you failed. They shouldn’t have had high defenses against magic though…did they have some countermeasure?”
“No, but a man was traveling with them as well. It appears that he detected the danger.”
The man clad in black reported on what had happened.
“Who was that?”
“An adventurer called Shin. He is becoming more known recently for greatly damaging a swarm of monsters that attacked a city in the mainland. He is a Returned Ancestor, without a doubt. ”
Rumors of Shin’s feats in Balmel were spreading wider than he thought. Information regarding powerful ones spread without their knowledge, as always.
“I tried observing him while blending into crowds, but he is surely dangerous. His appearance is that of a good-natured man, but the stench of blood lays heavy upon him. He is closer to us.”
The man in ninja clothes slightly trembled as he spoke. His unique senses as an inhabitant of underground society had made him feel how dangerous Shin can be via his smell.
“Oh my, the great Kai, the Rokuhara’s number one man, fears some adventurer?”
The woman next to the man sitting in the higher seat spoke in his place. As she slightly turned her neck sideways, her long white hair and animal ears rustled.
Behind the woman, six white furred tails, extending from her behind, were moving gently.
“If I am allowed to stake my life on the line, I shall take him.”
“Do not fret, it is still not the right time to use your life. If we cannot eliminate the successors of the Kujou house, it is all meaningless.”
With a chilling tone, the man sitting on the higher seat curbed the words of the man called Kai.
His body, 2 times larger than the average Type Bear, and the scars carved on it, reinforced his intimidating aura even more.
Kai bowed even more deeply after hearing his words.
“Tamamo. Can’t your techniques do anything? If they enter the castle, we cannot act easily.”
“Lord Juugo, I will gladly lend you my power.”
Tamamo showed a bewitching smile while leaning coyly towards the man. Her smile had charming properties, and was influencing both Juugo’s and Kai’s thoughts, little by little.
If she hadn’t, they would never think that her 6-tailed appearance, impossible for a Type Fox, was normal.
“Heh, after the death of their precious daughter, the Kujou house won’t be able to keep their peace. The sister is not long to this world either, right?”
“Yes, the illness will surely claim Kujou Haruna’s life very soon. I would have loved to eliminate the first born brother too, but regretfully there are no chances of getting close to him.”
“Let’s start from the closest targets. Hinomoto cannot stand divided forever.”
Juugo’s eyes began to sparkle with something resembling madness.
Tamamo and Kai both noticed, but said nothing.
Sparks of fire began to smolder within Hinomoto…