The day after the visit to Kujou Tadahisa.
Shin had been swinging 『Kakura』 since early morning, with his 【Limit】 completely removed.
His abilities were now completely unrestrained, but he was obviously careful not to damage the surroundings.
If he used his full strength it would be more difficult to control himself, but as long as he relaxed it was easy enough. His 【Limit】 had also been removed when he fought Barlux, Bayreuth’s guild master, after all.
Little by little, he put more strength into his swings, carefully monitoring any changes. He still couldn’t grasp it completely, but between understanding and not understanding how to control the blade, a small difference in power was born.
At that moment, he wasn’t thinking if, in the future, he would have had to hold back his strength at full release mode.
“Oh, is it time?”
Shin had told Yuzuha to check the time so he could put things in order and change before breakfast.
“Ehm, you may come out, you know?”
“…..so you noticed.”
Shin spoke towards the edge of the veranda, and an embarrassed Karin showed herself.
“I did all I could not to bother you…”
“That’s all right. I just noticed that you were there, you didn’t distract me.”
Just like the time before, Shin had noticed that Karin was close. And just like the time before, she had been careful not to bother him.
“I think it’s still early for breakfast though?”
“Yes, well, I was just curious to see what kind of training you did. After all, your match yesterday against sir Kankurou was truly impressive.”
“Oh, I see. I didn’t do anything special though…by the way, what did you think of my fighting style?”
Shin was concerned about it, so he took advantage of the opportunity to ask Karin’s opinion.
“What I think?”
“My sword arm, I mean. I have to admit, I have received some training in the art of the sword, but most of it is self-taught.”
As a player, Shin was more than powerful enough.
However, in a sword fight with no stats differences, he would not have matched Kankurou or Karin, who had spent much more time honing their technique.
The basis of Shin’s strength was not only his extensive experience in battles against monsters and other humans, but also the great variation of magic spells and skills at his disposal.
His job did not have any weapon limitations, so he could use many main weapons: swords, spears, bows, etc.
This is because he generally battled solo. He would quickly change weapons to strike the opponent’s weak points and conduct the fight in his favor.
Some think that mastering one type of weapon would make one stronger, but Shin did not choose that path.
To learn without being taught, and increase one’s ability by leaps and bounds…Shin had not been blessed by such an overwhelming form of talent.
In a way, it could be said that Shin’s sword was the fruit of his great talent in studying.
“….I think it would be presumptuous and arrogant of me to talk, but…well, something that concerned me was your body’s movements.”
“Yes. In the Saegusa style handed down in my family, we focus our whole body in each swing of the blade. A precise, flowing slash, under the full control of our will, is considered the apex of the Saegusa style. In comparison, your blade seems to waver, following your body’s movements. I suppose you probably did not make your body remember each technique’s form, but only fought in actual battles?”
“Amazing, that’s completely true.”
After being taught the sword, Shin spent little time training. Most of his technique had been honed on the battlefield. After all, since he was within a game, even if he didn’t perform the best, most ideal movements, as long as the system judged it effective he could cause damage.
Soon Shin’s movements became more refined, and he stopped caring about the techniques’ form.
“Sir Shin, your physical abilities are exceptional. Slight unsteadiness has never been a problem, I’m sure.”
“But from here on out, I can’t keep saying that, can I.”
In the current world, the old damage judgement system is gone. The slight unsteadiness that Karin pointed out would influence the damage inflicted.
“Here on out?”
“I can’t have my body be in control forever.”
He had no intention of defeating any master of the sword, but simply becoming able to fully handle his own power.
Since he felt he was not using his strength properly, Shin wanted to perfect his control over his power, now that he had the time.
“Well…if you would be satisfied with me, I could teach you some of the basics. You will stay in our house until your companions arrive, so I think it could be useful to you.”
“I would be more than grateful, but is it alright to teach an outsider?”
Shin cast doubt to Karin’s sudden proposal.
“I believe that you would not use my teachings for any wrong purpose. What sir Shin needs now is understanding and control of his physical abilities. I would not impart to you teachings concerning our school’s techniques, and doubt anyone would be outraged at just some private lessons. I teach the basics at other dojos too, after all.”
No, someone probably would…thought Shin. Though to be trained by the 3rd seat of Hinomoto’s Brave Ten was something he hadn’t even hoped for, so he chose to not worry about small things.
“Well then, let us start training right after breakfast then.”
“Thank you very much.”
After breakfast, the two moved to the Saegusa dojo. The place Karin led Shin to was a quiet dojo: apparently the lessons for their students were held in another one.
Shin lowered his stats with 【Limit】 and had Karin point out where he was lacking. Probably because he had been self-taught for a long time, Shin had more weird quirks than he thought.
“You use many other weapons other than the katana, I think that is one reason too.”
Karin explained that using many weapons had created a hotbed for the birth of quirks in his fighting style.
Yuzuha yawned as she watched over the two.
One evening, a few days after Karin had started giving private lessons to Shin.
Sitting on the veranda outside the room assigned to him, Shin was listening to Schnee’s report.
“(….I see. So there weren’t any major troubles after that.)”
“(Yes. We could escort lady Hermie safe and sound. For safety, Wilhelm is with her, but I’m sure she will be alright unless something extraordinary happens.)”
Milt had been sent to attack the Summit Faction base, so only Wilhelm had remained to guard Hermie. He was the one she had opened her heart to the most during their travels, so excluding battle prowess, he was the best choice.
“(That’s reassuring. Nothing in particular is going on here at the moment, but I have a few concerns. Don’t let your guard down when you come, just in case.)”
“(I know. See you soon.)”
Shin cut the Mind Chat after Schnee’s last words, spoken with a cheerful tone. It also depended on the winds, but their arrival to Hinomoto would be about one week later.
Shin gazed at the sky, thinking that it would be nice to use this opportunity to do some sightseeing in Hinomoto. A beautiful full moon was hanging in the darkness.
“A garden in the moonlight…not bad at all.”
“It’s a beautiful moonlit night.”
Shin had talked to himself, but he heard someone answer. He had noticed it already, so he wasn’t surprised; it was Karin, wearing an indoor kimono. Her silky black hair gleamed in the moonlight.
“Father gave me some good sake, so I thought of bringing you some.”
Karin was carrying a tray with a bottle and small cups.
“I see. We have a beautiful moon out too, let’s enjoy some moonlight sake then.”
Shin was not a big drinker in the real world, so this was his first time to enjoy the tradition of drinking sake while gazing at the moon.
“Here you go.”
“Eh? Oh, thanks.”
Before Shin could take the bottle to pour himself a cup, Karin did it for him. There were two small cups, so she would probably drink too.
After she poured the sake for him, Shin did the same in return.
It was probably “THE NEW GATE’s” type of sake. Its sweet aroma reminded Shin of the Ginjo style of flavor.
Recalling how he had tried it at a gathering in university, Shin put the cup to his lips, feeling a faintly sweet aroma and a firm, clean taste. Shin was not an expert by any means, but thought it was really delicious.
The moonlit sky seemed to make the sake even more pleasant. Maybe it was also because a beautiful girl like Karin was pouring it too.
“Yes!? Ah, er, that’s right! The moon is really beautiful!”
Karin’s surprised reaction made Shin turn to look at her, but she was looking straight at the sky.
“No, nothing at all….”
She seemed really nervous. The graceful, elegant demeanor she had until a moment ago had gone away somewhere.
“Does it have anything to do with the two people behind the pillar?”
“…..so you had noticed.”
“Well, I think it would be harder not to…”
Shin had detected that, at the edge of the veranda just behind a corner, Kuyou and Kayo were hiding. Kuyou’s eyes emanated a faint killing intent. Anyone who had experience of battle would have realized.
“Did something happen?”
“……actually, mother told me to get to know you more.”
“Know me more?”
The sake served the purpose of facilitating conversation, probably.
“I wonder why, did I do anything disrespectful?”
“Not at all, actually….what I’d like to know is….what food you like, what things you like, what kind of….women you like.”
The last words left Karin’s lips in a whisper.
“Aaah…I see, that’s what it is? She wants me to do a marriage interview?”
Why would Karin’s mother Kayo ask her daughter to gather that information? Shin had guessed the reason, but avoided saying it outright.
During his stay in the Saegusa house, Shin had had the chance to learn more about Hinomoto’s warrior families.
As it had been the case with Kayo, Hinomoto women tended to marry young, and it was not strange to give birth in their late teens.
For someone like Karin, who was female and part of the Brave Ten, it would be natural to have a fiance.
The Saegusa house however, placed a great focus on battle ability: Kuyou wouldn’t approve of a lacking candidate, but to find someone that he, 2nd seat in the Hinomoto Brave Ten, would accept was a difficult feat.
“Mother, well, she said that sir Shin would surely pass…….and father also seemed to accept….”
It seemed that thanks to his duel with Kankurou, Shin had satisfied their expectations. Judging from Karin’s words, Kayo was the main instigator behind it all.
“Did he really accept? The killing intent coming from him is getting gradually stronger…”
Kuyou’s killing intent was gradually growing as time passed. Even if he had accepted, his feelings as a father were a different thing.
“Well, you see…I am really sorry, but I already have a fiancee. I’m afraid I cannot accept that proposal.”
“Eh…..? Oh, I see. Of course! A man like you would surely have at least one fiancee!!”
After hearing Shin’s reply, Karin opened her eyes wide for an instant, then showed an exaggerated reaction.
She was partly surprised, partly relieved…mixed feelings swirled inside her, and for Shin it was difficult to read her expression for a while.
“I’m sorry for bringing up something so weird. It’s a beautiful night, and I almost ruined it.”
“Personally, I feel honored to have you serve me sake.”
“Oh, I’m glad to hear that.”
Karin bowed, then walked away in Kuyou and Kayo’s direction. Their presence disappeared too, probably thanks to Karin.
In the former world too, there existed the concept of marriages focused on households or bloodlines, but Shin had never had anything to do with such things.
If Karin had really fallen in love with him, it would be understandable for them to talk to Shin about marriage, now that he knew about the Saegusa house’s circumstances. Shin, however, had no recollection of any episodes that could have turned her “like” into “love”.
There were happenings that might have made her think of Shin that way, like when he performed CPR and a cardiac massage on her.
“It’s too early for a student like me to think about that…”
Shin’s original “status” was university student. Marriage wasn’t something too far off in the future, but still it didn’t feel realistic yet.
After leaving Shin, Karin shoved Kuyou and Kayo in their bedroom, then returned to her room.
Her body, which felt strangely heavier than usual, lying in the futon, she stared at the ceiling.
Shin’s battle prowess is extremely high. Outside Hinomoto, he could be a very successful adventurer.
Karin knew that Shin’s name was actually starting to become known.
Tadahisa had forbidden anyone to forcibly pull Shin to their side, but in case of mutual affection there would be no problem.
“I should be happy that a troublesome thing has been taken care of, and yet…”
Karin had always focused on swinging her sword, without caring to practice bridal duties. She had left Hinomoto as an adventurer, so she could cook and sew to an extent, but Karin had never considered the possibility of marriage.
….at least, that’s how it was supposed to be.
She wouldn’t stop sighing after going back to her room.
Maintaining one’s condition was also a warrior’s duty. Yet after talking with Shin, she found herself unable to.
She knew what this feeling was.
The identity of the weariness enveloping her body. It was “loss”.
A sensation felt after losing something of importance. A sensation similar to powerlessness.
That was strange, though. She hadn’t lost anything.
Shin’s words were looping inside Karin’s mind.
Looking at Shin, it was clear enough that those words had not been directed at her. Despite that, she was almost comically surprised by them.
Her face still felt flushed.
At the same time, she could feel a clenching pain, deep in her chest.
Karin knew this sensation too.
“Am I….attracted to sir Shin…?”
She had seen him for the first time on the ship they had boarded to return to their homeland. She understood he was a man of great ability, but he was still just another passenger.
As they talked, she simply had the impression that he probably wasn’t a bad person.
She was surprised at his strength during the battle against the Gale Serpents.
Then, after diving into the sea to follow Kanade, when she regained consciousness the first thing she saw was Shin’s back.
“It was really big…”
Karin could faintly remember when he was carrying her. Shin was of rather lean build, but his back was bigger and larger than she thought, and she didn’t feel uneasy at all when leaning against him.
Then, he helped them look for the medicinal herb for Lady Haruna; on top of Mt. Fuji, he stood fearlessly before a giant 8-headed snake monster, and won the herb with his sword.
Karin remembered the burning sensation in her chest as she watched Shin face the female warrior clad in platinum armor.
However, she thought that it was a sensation born from watching two powerful warriors engage in battle…
“To fall in love while watching him cross swords in battle…there’s something wrong with me.”
She was starting to worry about her sensitivity. She had been focused on the sword all her life, that’s true, but even so that was too violent a beginning.
Something else that could have triggered it all…
She came up with something else.
The decisive episode that made her think about Shin.
Karin lightly passed her fingers on her lips.
Shin had desperately explained that he had done that to save her, and Karin did not doubt his words.
But it was still true that she had been kissed. And according to Kanade, he had touched her breasts too.
She knew she was more developed than other people her age. She also knew that when she was out adventuring with Kanade, men would often gaze at her chest.
She felt nothing but disgust then, but in Shin’s case the disgust disappeared.
Rather, she even…
“Aaaah!! What am I thinking about!?!”
Karin couldn’t help but raise her voice.
Her heartbeat was getting annoyingly noisy. Her thoughts refused to be put in order.
The more she tried not to think about it, the more Shin’s silhouette occupied her mind.
The slightly silly expression he had when they first met.
The brave expression he showed when he blew away the Gale Serpent’s head.
His kind expression when he was worrying about her.
His serious expression while he swung the sword.
“To realize it after being turned down…there really is something wrong with me…”
She would barely sleep that night.
3 days after Karin talked about marriage to Shin, a letter was delivered to the Saegusa house.
Chiyo, who had received it, said it had come from the Kujou.
“It’s for me?”
“Yes, lady Haruna expressed the wish to meet you. The sender is lady Kanade.”
I am aware of the rudeness of my request. But could you make it possible to meet my sister once…was the content of the letter.
Considering Kanade’s personality, she would rather show up personally to talk about it, but as she had been absent from Hinomoto for a long time, she likely had been caught by a servant on her way out.
“Lady Haruna is a very reasonable person. She surely would not think well of requesting the person she owes her life to to come visit her. But just ending things with a thank-you letter isn’t something that she’d accept either.”
Shin had already received a letter of gratitude for the assistance he had lent.
It was rich in old-fashioned expressions and hard to read, but her feelings of gratitude were clearly expressed.
“I have already been thanked by lord Tadahisa too, I don’t think she should concern herself with it though…”
“She’s also unusually stubborn you see. Sir Shin, wouldn’t you give lady Haruna a chance to express her thanks?”
“Well, I don’t have much to do until my comrades arrive after all. If she will be relieved, then it’s fine for me. To be honest, I’m the one feeling nervous though…”
Kuyou wrote the letter of acceptance and handed it to the waiting messenger.
They would go visit lady Haruna the following day.
“Ehm, I think it is best to review the visit protocol…”
As they were walking towards the Kujou residence, Shin talked to Karin, but received an awkward reply.
The day after their marriage conversation, Karin was too restless and they couldn’t continue their usual training.
Now, after a few days had passed, she seemed more calm.
By the way, Yuzuha had stayed back at the residence.
As they arrived to the residence where Haruna was said to be, they showed the gate guard the proof of passage they had received with the reply to their letter.
The proof of passage had half of a seal; combined with the other half, which the gate guard had, it matched perfectly and emitted a faint glow. In order to avoid counterfeiting, a magical defense mechanism had been placed on it as well.
As they were waiting for someone to guide them into the residence, Kanade herself appeared.
“I thank you for coming. Come in, this way.”
“Lady Kanade. The noble daughter of the Kujou house should not behave like that in public!!”
A lady in her 40s, who arrived right after Kanade, reprimanded her. She was Kanade’s tutor and her name was “Ei”.
“I apologize for my rudeness. I shall accompany you inside. Only several days have passed since our lady Haruna rose from her sickbed, thus I pray you not to tire her too much.”
Ei bowed deeply to them, and Shin nodded in reply. Her illness might have been cured, but Haruna had been sick in bed for a long period, naturally they did not want to be a burden to her.
After they walked for awhile, Ei stopped in front a room with a veranda. Kanade, who had gone back before them, was already inside.
Ei kneeled on the floor and called to who was beyond the sliding doors.
“Lady Haruna. Lord Shin and Lady Karin have arrived.”
“Let them inside.”
After Haruna’s reply, Ei opened the sliding doors. Shin and Karin were encouraged to go inside and complied.
“Let me thank you for coming all the way here to visit me.”
Alongside Kanade, in the room there was another young woman, adorned in a gorgeous kimono.
Shin’s attention was caught by the woman’s captivating waist-length black hair and her eyes, black like polished obsidian gems.
Her facial features were very Japanese-like, with a reserved kind of elegance typical of traditional Japanese beauty.
“Don’t just stand around like that, have a seat. You shouldn’t make my sister wait.”
“You have even less restraint than usual I see.”
There was no doubt that the young lady before them was Haruna.
As Shin sat on the cushion prepared for him, Haruna adjusted her posture, then deeply lowered her head to him.
“I wish to give you my deepest gratitude for saving my sister and her friend’s lives. Thanks to you, the illness afflicting me has been cured as well. I shall never forget the debt of gratitude I owe you for the rest of my life.”
“Raise your head, please. I simply followed my heart. Your feelings of gratitude have already reached me very well.”
Shin felt a bit uneasy, doubting that it was proper for the daughter of the family’s head to bow like that to a mere adventurer.
He appreciated her gesture of thanks, of course, but being treated so formally had the inverse effect of making him nervous.
Being born and raised in modern times, Shin found Haruna’s reactions exaggerated.
“I also wish I could show my gratitude to you somehow…”
“No, please, you really should not concern yourself with that. Er…oh, yes! Seeing Lady Haruna smile would be more than sufficient!”
“I do not know how you normally are, of course, but your expression now is, how should I say…stiff, lady Haruna. I do not need things or glory, nothing like that, but if possible, I would like to see a more cheerful expression from you.”
Shin went with an idea that had suddenly come to mind, but while talking he was almost annoyed with himself at that totally out of character request.
He knew that when he would recall his actions and words later, he would want to kick himself.
“I say, I also love my sister’s smile very much.”
Saying so, Kanade hugged Haruna.
“I do not know how valuable my smile can be, but I shall not refuse such a request. I have not had much to smile about after being bedridden, so I hope it is not too awkward.”
While caressing Kanade’s head, who had jumped on her lap, Haruna replied to Shin. Her words gave him a small relief.
Haruna’s expression as she cuddled Kanade appeared as if illuminated by sunlight.
“….lending my help has been worth it.”
Thanks to the warmth he felt from looking at Haruna cuddling Kanade, Shin’s uneasiness was gone too.
After explaining briefly what had happened in their travels, they excused themselves from Haruna’s quarters. The tutor Ei had reminded them not to stay too long after all.
Karin had not spoken much, but apparently she had already met and talked with Haruna, whom she counted as a close friend.
“I have been steadily recovering, but everyone’s such a worrywart.”
“I heard you have been bedridden for a long time, so it can’t be helped.”
After consoling the disappointed-looking Haruna, Shin stood up. Haruna didn’t want to see them go yet, but there was nothing else they could do; A presence was clearly sending a “It’s time to let the lady rest—” message from outside towards Shin, probably Ei.
“I shall take my leave then. Please take care not to push yourself too much, as you just recovered.”
Realizing again how loved she had to be by those around her, Shin bid farewell to Haruna.
“Will it be possible to meet again? I am eager to know more about the world outside Hinomoto.”
“I am imposing in the Saegusa house until my companions arrive, so it will be possible until then. Although I fear the vassals will be opposed to the household’s lady meeting a mere adventurer like me.”
“It will be wise to do it without creating any unpleasant rumors, by having someone else with you during the visit, I think.”
The Kujou house was the ruler of east Hinomoto. If people started rumoring that its first-born daughter was intimate with an unknown adventurer, Haruna’s reputation was more at risk than Shin.
Karin thus suggested that they avoided meeting by themselves.
“I understand, but it is truly regretful.”
“Alas, it is how Shin and Karin said. Now that you have recovered, the storm of marriage proposals will start again too.”
Shin thought that Kanade’s prediction was surely on the spot.
Her household and appearance were excellent, talking to her showed a person with a serene personality, clearly quite intelligent too. With so many excellent conditions all together, there will surely be multitudes of men willing to marry her.
As she had just recovered, it was likely that no such topic had been mentioned to her, but sooner or later they surely would. It wasn’t something Shin could do anything about.
“Well then, if there will be the chance, let us meet again.”
“Thank you again for coming.”
“Yes, come again!”
Ei, who was waiting outside Haruna’s quarters, led them back to the entrance gate.
“Thank you very much for sparing your precious time for Lady Haruna today.”
“Not at all, a mere adventurer like me was unworthy of such honor.”
Normally, an attendant would accompany guests from the small gate in the hedges surrounding the residence until the large gate at the entrance of the Kujou estate, but this time Karin assumed that role.
Even if it was a person they owe great gratitude to, they wouldn’t let strangers walk on their own around the main compound after all.
While thinking about this, Shin realized that since he had entered the Kujou domain, every time he left the Saegusa residence he was accompanied by someone.
“Well, I guess that’s obvious.”
He whispered this to himself and looked towards the large gate, when he saw someone other than the guard before it.
“It’s been a while, sir Shin.”
“Sir Kankurou…you have business with lady Haruna as well?”
Kankurou, who was dressed the same way as when he fought Shin, shook his head.
“No, I simply had some free time, so I was taking a walk, and I perceived your presence. I do not have very much time, but would you join me for some conversation?”
“No problem for me, but what about you Karin?”
“That is fine for me too. I see sir Toshiro is here too, what about you?”
“I do not have any pressing duties either.”
In the direction, Karin looked at stood Yaejima Toshiro. He was not wearing armor, but only grey and deep green formal wear.
“However, if time allows it, I would like to ask sir Shin for a match.”
Ever since they first met, when Shin was with Karin and Kanade, he hadn’t felt any amity coming from Toshiro. What he felt almost made him feel like he was considered an enemy instead.
He was slightly surprised, then, to be challenged to a duel in such a direct manner.
“I have heard the rumors. You are receiving lady Karin’s teachings in the way of the sword, yes?”
“There are such rumors?”
Shin raised his eyebrows at Toshiro’s words.
Karin was the Saegusa family’s first-born daughter and the 3rd seat of the Hinomoto Brave Ten. If word of her teaching a stranger the art of the sword spread, it would definitely cause a commotion. Shin would have hated to return Karin’s favor with trouble.
“I don’t think I spoke about it with anyone though.”
“I have not heard a word of it either. By the way, Toshiro, recently you seem to strangely disappear rather often, don’t you?”
After hearing Karin and especially Kankurou’s comments, Shin casted a suspicious glance at Kankurou, thinking that he might have been spying on them.
“I just heard it from lady Chiyo! I was told not to say it to anyone else, nor have I any intention to!! I am just all too env-ahem!!!”
The more they talked, the more Shin’s opinion of Toshiro changed.
Karin looked puzzled at Toshiro, she didn’t seem to have noticed his affection for her yet.
“In any case!! I shall put you to the test and see how much your skills have grown!!”
“My apologies. Toshiro is infatuated with lady Karin, and you see…”
“Oh, yes, I kind of realized it too.”
“T-that has nothing to do with this!!!”
Toshiro yelled at Kankurou and Shin’s whispered conversation.
Karin, who had not heard the conversation, looked even more confused.
Shin thought that maybe, this Yaejima Toshiro wasn’t a bad person.