As they did not have anything urgent to do, Shin and Karin followed Kankurou to the Toudou house’s dojo.
It was a separate compound, used only by Kankurou, Toshiro, and a few others.
In the same way as the Saegusa house, the dojos were separated between teaching use and personal use.
“Some wish to focus on personal training without being bothered by their surroundings. This dojo is also used sometimes for matches such as this.”
“….I suppose they don’t want to be seen.”
“Well, yes, that would be better.”
Shin and Toshiro then both wielded wooden swords.
As Kankurou had told Shin on their way to the dojo, Toshiro was close in level to the Hinomoto Brave Ten. The aura Shin felt emanating from Toshiro convinced him that it had to be the truth.
While they were talking, Shin regarded Toshiro as a guy he couldn’t help but like, but now the man before him was nothing but a proud swordsman.
“Here I come.”
With this short declaration, Toshiro stepped forward. Without any pre-emptive movements, he closed in on Shin as if sliding on the ground.
Toshiro’s sword arm might have seemed to be moving leisurely, but an instant later it was already penetrating Shin’s space.
Shin swung his sword in response to Toshiro’s strike. The clash of the two wooden swords produced a dull sound that echoed through the dojo.
Looking at the two fighters, Kankurou was deep in thought, his chin resting on his hand. He felt that Shin’s movements had become much sharper compared to when they fought a few days before.
(….he’s already changed so much?)
Even more so than Kankurou, Shin was surprised at his own movements.
Karin’s teachings resulted in Shin eliminating unnecessary motions from his movements.
They didn’t do any training for actual fighting, she had just observed him swinging his sword and re-enacting skills with his body movements.
“I see you have grown damn well already.”
“I’m surprised myself.”
Shin was so surprised by the results that he answered exactly what he was thinking.
Toshiro’s first strike was meant to be a test; the second and third strike that followed were much heavier and faster.
They might have been inferior to Kankurou’s, but most Chosen Ones would have had trouble parrying them.
Shin, however, deflected them all with ease.
It was also thanks to the speed boost granted by his high stats, but more than anything, his body felt really light.
He had not changed the 【Limit】 on his status, but he felt the distance linking each one of his strikes had shrunk. The speed of his swings had increased. Each strike’s weight had changed too.
“To think that it can all change this much.”
He might have felt the change more clearly thanks to his high stats.
Even so, the clear results showed that, he had to admit, his former movements were riddled with unnecessary motions.
The sound of the impact between the two men’s wooden swords grew progressively louder, the pause between clashes shorter.
(Slash downwards from the right, then slash up right away from the left…no, stop halfway and thrust forward!)
Shin dodged, parried, blocked the wooden blade attacking him.
The two blades clashed again, this time locked, grinding against each other.
Toshiro tried to push forward by pressing his weight into the sword, but, after a brief moment, suddenly retreated.
His rapid movements gave the illusion that the floor under Toshiro had slipped away. The distance he had retreated was the exact distance needed for the tip of his sword to reach Shin.
The blade formed an arc in mid-air and swung down, aimed towards Shin’s left side.
“Not so fast!”
Shin didn’t dodge or parry, but stepped in closer to Toshiro before his blow could land. He charged forward, with the intent of shoving Toshiro away.
Toshiro probably judged he couldn’t make it in time; he pulled back his sword at the same time as Shin’s tackle.
Shin accelerated his charge against the swing while Toshiro was retreating. Naturally, the former won.
Toshiro avoided the fate of losing balance and falling down, but because of that he couldn’t defend himself against Shin’s following attack.
Toshiro tried to twist his body to avoid Shin’s wooden sword aimed at his neck.
Shin, ready to intercept such struggle, brought down his sword on Toshiro’s neck, then stopped just as the blade touched it.
Toshiro regained his balance and questioned Shin.
Shin answered while looking not at Toshiro, but the dojo entrance.
“Someone is coming. Two people.”
“Hm, looks like it.”
Kankurou had also perceived it, and nodded at Shin’s words. Karin too felt the new presence, and turned to look in the same direction as Shin.
After a little while, two men appeared at the dojo’s entrance.
“Did we interrupt something?”
“Brother! Why are you here!”
Toshiro yelled to one of the two men, who looked apologetic.
According to 【Analyze】, his name was Yaejima Shiden, a young man in his late twenties.
He had black hair mixed with white, red eyes, and was around the same height as Shin, about 180 cemels. In contrast to his soft speech and gentle expressions, both his arms and legs were very thick; to Shin they looked like bundles of steel.
His job was samurai and his level, quite high, was 238.
“I thought that you would be here Toshiro. I have sir Tadahisa’s permission to move within the castle compound. Lord Kankurou, I am glad to see you too. Lady Karin, I see you have returned from the search for Lady Haruna’s medicine.”
“I am glad to see you in good health, sir Shiden.”
“It has been a long time.”
Kankurou and Karin each answered the man’s greetings. Obviously enough, the three all knew each other.
“Sir Kanezuka, I trust you are well too.”
After greeting Shiden, Kankurou spoke to Kanezuka Araki.
He was a man between his late thirties or early forties. He seemed to be of rather short stature, maybe because he was standing next to Shiden.
His job was blacksmith, as manifested by the very developed muscles on his arms. His level was 166. His grey hair was cut short, his black eyes fixed on Kankurou’s 『Black Moon』.
“This man is sir Shin, correct?”
“That’s me, but why do you know my name?”
Shiden looked at Shin and inquired about his identity. His expression was very serious as he did so.
“I have been informed that you have assisted in the search for the medicinal herbs to cure lady Haruna’s illness. Oh, I have yet to introduce myself, have I. I am the first-born of the Yaejima house, Yaejima Shiden.”
“Er, as you already know, my name is Shin.”
He was apparently aware of Shin’s status as guest, and had been informed about what Shin looked like.
“What brings you here today then? As sir Shiden came in person, I can imagine what the matter might be though.”
“I think many are aware of the whispers that there are suspicious movements in the west. I would like to say that they are all groundless rumors…but I received a report that the Ichinose house, one of our vassals, is making suspicious moves. I came to inform sir Tadahisa that our Yaejima house, along with 3 other houses, are investigating this matter at the moment.”
After Shiden finished talking, Toshiro interjected.
“The Ichinose house!?”
“Yes, that house always sought to unify Hinomoto. But would they move only by themselves, I wonder?”
Kankurou, after pondering for a moment, voiced his doubts.
“Our investigation being still underway, I cannot say anything yet. However—”
“Ehm, excuse me!”
Shiden and Kankurou were continuing to discuss the matter, ignoring the surprised Toshiro, when Shin interrupted them.
“Is anything wrong?”
“Sirs, please, you know you can’t talk of such delicate matters with an outsider like me around!”
Kankurou looked at Shin as if he had a question mark over his head, without the slightest concern on his expression.
“I have heard from sir Tadahisa and lady Haruna that you are a man worthy of trust, sir Shin. You have no intention of talking about this to anyone, correct?”
“That’s true, but…”
Shin regarded this excessive trust with suspicion.
“Sir Kankurou says that you are someone that can be trusted. I have no reasons to doubt you. Moreover, sir Shin is someone even sir Kankurou said he cannot win against…I would never want such a person to think of us as enemies. I know sir Kankurou’s strength very well after all.”
Both the eastern and western families trusted Kankurou’s word apparently. The reason for this trust came from Shiden’s own experience. No one would want to turn a powerful warrior into an enemy for no reason after all.
“I see that you have crossed swords with Toshiro too. How did my brother fare?”
“He was quite strong, I think. I wonder if it is wise to trust so easily though.”
“I have heard the sound of your swords clashing. Your sword swings straight and true. Sir Kankurou’s words and the sound of those sword clashes, as a samurai myself I cannot mistrust you.”
Shin was somewhat at a loss for words.
He had heard that masters could communicate without words, through their fists or their blades.
During his battle against Girard, Shin had understood his feelings. But that time, his mental state was in a kind of extreme condition, and he managed to do it because he knew his opponent very well.
To understand someone he never met before only through the sound of sword clashes was something utterly impossible for Shin.
“You are trusted, isn’t that enough?”
“Well, it is better than to be suspected.”
Araki spoke to the speechless Shin. His expression told him to “stop sweating the small stuff.”
“By the way, I haven’t introduced myself yet, right. I’m Kanezuka Araki, a blacksmith. Today I came here to admire sir Kankurou’s 『Black Moon』.”
“Yes, here you are.”
Kankurou nodded, took 『Black Moon』 from his waist and handed it to Araki.
Araki sat down on a corner of the dojo and, using a cloth to be sure not to touch it directly, stared intently at 『Black Moon』’s blade.
The user limitation had been removed apparently.
“What is he doing?”
“I am collaborating with sir Kanezuka in order for him to forge a divine blade like 『Black Moon』. I suppose you have heard that I am looking for someone to inherit 『Black Moon』, yes?”
“Only in passing. I know that lady Karin, my host, is a candidate too.”
“At present, 『Black Moon』 is the only katana bearing the “divine blade” moniker. I do not know who will inherit it, but there have been squabbles about it…if it will be kept by the eastern or western forces. Of course, it will be the side the inheritor belongs to, but many worry that it could tilt the balance between the two forces.”
It might be just one blade, but it was not to be underestimated.
The stat bonuses given from the katana to the owner were high, but the long-range attacks it could unleash, paired with high stats, could easily surpass average skills in power.
“Thus I thought that having another divine blade could be a solution, but apparently even for sir Kanezuka, Hinomoto’s finest blacksmith, forging an Ancient-grade katana is no easy feat.”
He observed 『Black Moon』 to find hints, researched documents and oral traditions and continued to forge, through a process of trial and error.
“Do you know what the materials are? It’s quite difficult to obtain them.”
“We have some of the materials left by lord Jinkurou. We don’t know, however, how more than half of them should be used. I am a complete novice in the blacksmith profession after all.”
Shin whispered to Kankurou, who he thought would be knowledgeable in the art of forging. Shin thought that it would have been a very difficult, if not impossible, feat; as expected, success seemed very far.
“Personally, I hoped we could receive some words of advice…”
Kankurou, who knew of Shin’s real identity, hoped that Shin, a blacksmith himself, could offer some advice.
Looking at Araki’s bloodshot eyes, Shin had already understood that he was close to a dead-end.
“If I just said something out of the blue, would he believe me? He looks like a hardcore artisan type, I doubt he’d pay any mind to a youngster like me.”
“Those of relatively high social status already know that you are a Returned Ancestor, what the Adventurers’ Guild calls Chosen Ones. Because of this, I think he will listen to you, at least a little. Even the tiniest hint would suffice.”
Kankurou wasn’t ordering Shin to show all his skills and knowledge as a blacksmith.
It would be far too easy if it was possible to forge an Ancient-grade weapon only after hearing some advice.
Looking at Araki, desperately trying to draw the tiniest bit of information from 『Black Moon』, Shin felt solidarity as a blacksmith. Thus he decided to give him some help.
“I might be able to say something if I saw him forging. Blacksmithing techniques vary greatly from school to school, and the methods I know are influenced by one’s ability. I would at least be able to understand if there are techniques that could be used in this case.”
“Let us do just that then.”
Kankurou went closer to Araki and explained the situation. Araki looked at Shin first with surprise, then with a glare so sharp Shin felt like he could be sniped down any moment. After staring at Shin for several moments, Araki gave a small nod.
“…..you’re knowledgeable about blacksmithing?”
Toshiro, who had been excluded by the recent developments, asked Shin.
“I don’t think I can do anything special, but I might be of some help.”
Shin’s techniques were instinctive, born from his experience during the game era. It was difficult for him to explain crafting processes with words, so he decided to think after looking at Araki’s forging first.
Shin was capable of forging strong weapons not only because of his technique, but also because of his magic powers, so he wasn’t absolutely sure he could be of help.
“Our match ends here then.”
“Is that alright with you?”
“I couldn’t care less about what that man said about balance or whatever. But sir Kanezuka is betting his own life on the order he received. Holding you back here would mean being in his way. Who could do something so uncouth?”
He was more reasonable than expected. Despite his frustration, he managed to keep his feelings under control.
Shin’s opinion of Toshiro changed yet again.
“What will you do now brother?”
“Return to the Yaejima house of course. I have duly delivered father’s message to sir Tadahisa and could also observe your growth. I could say that my objectives are fulfilled.”
Shiden, saying that his duties were over, went towards the castle town with the Kujou soldiers waiting outside the dojo.
Shin’s group of 5 moved to the smithy.
Kanezuka Araki was the chief blacksmith of the Kanezuka school; they would use his personal facility this time. It was equipped with the highest quality furnace and tools.
They arrived at a smithy equipped with a single furnace. It was not very wide, and apparently had been built with the sole purpose of forging the divine katana.
Araki told his disciples to not get close and beckoned Shin to enter.
The other 3 were told to wait outside. The smithy is a territory with the sole purpose of passing down blacksmithing techniques. When forging weapons, only the blacksmith and those in the same field were allowed inside.
“I will forge trying to create the divine katana. When I finish, tell me what you thought.”
After saying only that, Araki started swinging his hammer.
Shin was looking at him silently, and realized that Araki used next to no magic power when swinging his hammer.
As he had expected, the magic power contained in the katana came only from the materials and the slight quantity present in the surrounding atmosphere, the moment the hammer hit the materials.
The speed at which the mass of iron changed shape was also much slower than that of Shin. Araki appeared to be using skills, but they weren’t at the level of Shin’s, who could make ingots change their shape at will.
Looking at the way the man crafted, Shin estimated that Araki’s crafting level was around VII. If he could use the same techniques as Shin, he could easily create Mythology-grade weapons.
Shin, however, had heard that Araki’s masterpiece was a Legend-grade weapon. The reason was the way he forged. If one focused only on the ability to strike iron, the stats of the produced weapon can only go so high.
Shin didn’t know if the Legend-grade weapon Araki had forged was Higher or Lower, but to forge that sword without using magic, as Araki did, would have been impossible, at least in the game era.
(Either he’s a genius, or it’s a product of his life-long focus on blacksmithing and techniques…possibly both.)
Some use the expression “to breathe life in one’s work”, but in Araki’s case saying “to pour one’s own lifeblood in one’s work” would have been more accurate.
The energy and aura he infused in every swing of the hammer was so powerful, one would think that he was shaving away his own lifespan to do so. “To work as if possessed,” an expression that fit him perfectly.
After the whole process ended, what remained was only to polish the blade.
He would leave this work to an expert polisher.
After the polishing was completed, a katana with a beautiful blade was born.
Its appearance was average, but its grade was middle Unique. For Shin, to be able to forge such a blade from imperfect materials made him understand how Araki forged a Legend-grade weapon.
Araki spoke with a sour expression.
He was aiming at forging a blade on par with the Lower Legend-grade katana 『Black Moon』. Considering this, he had not only failed to reach the peak, but didn’t even come close to the foot of the mountain. Araki’s expression remained sour not only because of the katana’s quality.
“What do you have then?”
“A few things concerned me. I would like to ask you a few questions first, if that’s possible.”
“As long as you won’t ask me to teach you my secret techniques, say anything you want.”
“I will, then. First, why don’t you pour magic in the katana?”
Araki’s eyes became slits after hearing Shin’s question.
“If a blacksmith pours magic power into the katana, its sturdiness and sharpness increase. As far as I know, there is no other way to forge a katana of Legend grade and above.”
“Just honing one’s skill of striking metal is not enough, you say?”
“Yes. It is also not enough to simply pour in magic power. It’s difficult to put in words, but one must first pour magic in the hammer, then pour it into the katana as the hammer strikes it. That’s a very general way to explain the process. To be perfectly honest, being able to forge a Legend-grade katana in this situation makes you, sir Kanezuka, truly exceptional.”
Without a certain level of blacksmithing skills, of course, one could not forge good weapons, no matter how they poured their magic.
But if one considered only the ability in manipulating magic power, Pixies and Elves would have been more apt at blacksmithing.
“….that is probably a technique that was lost before being handed down. I hear that when Hinomoto was still engulfed in the flames of war, there were many more skilled blacksmiths than today. There were also weapons with much higher quality than the present ones as well.”
Many techniques had been lost during the war apparently.
Blacksmithing techniques never left their respective schools after all. If a whole school disappeared during the war, their techniques refined through the generations would vanish alongside them.
“I would never have thought to hear about one of the lost secret techniques…I swear on the honor of the Kanezuka that I will speak of this to no one.”
“Sir, I have no intention of keeping techniques hidden; as long as you do not mention that you heard it from me, that is enough. It’s a technique that existed in the past, so someone, somewhere, could revive it at any time, or rather, it could be still alive somewhere.”
It would be not be strange if someone like Kankurou, formerly serving a Player, could use it.
Shin also felt that Araki’s seriousness and focus were not inferior to theirs.
“It would be hard for me to explain in detail with words, so I think it will be faster if you just watch me. May I borrow your tools?”
“….use anything you need.”
Practice more than theory, watch and learn. Techniques such as those could not be explained fully just through verbal explanations and theory.
That is why Shin decided to show his craft.
He only performed several strikes, using the “Tamahagane” steel he found in the smithy. Before it could be called complete Shin heated it into the furnace, hammered it and gradually formed the katana’s shape.
He was infusing his magic power in the hammer, so after every strike sparks of different colors burst from the Tamahagane.
Araki stared at Shin’s movements, not missing the slightest motion. The aura he emitted was as if he was swinging the hammer together with Shin.
“….I’ve finished. Now it only needs to be polished.”
The blade had been completed, at unnatural speed. Shin could have completed it to the point that it didn’t need polishing, but that would go beyond simply being a capable blacksmith, so he didn’t go that far.
Through the work of the same polisher who had handled the katana that Araki forged before, Shin’s katana gained its shine. It was a middle Unique-grade, the same as the katana that Araki had just forged.
“You forged this on purpose…?”
“No, that’s just a coincidence. But it’s better for us. I would like you to see what’s different between them, but would it be alright if the katana you forged before became unusable?”
“….that is fine. Let me see just how worthy it is.”
Shin took his newly forged katana and held it still, with the blade pointing upwards.
He told Araki to stand back, then swung the katana that Araki had forged onto the blade he had made.
Araki looked wide-eyed at the result.
The katana Araki had forged, which Shin held firmly in hand, had been cut off in the middle. The katana Shin was holding still, on the other hand, did not have the slightest cut.
“To be of the same grade, and yet be so different…”
“Sir Kanezuka, you arrived to this level without using magic. I am sure you can forge much superior katanas. The weapons called “Magic Swords” are called such because magic envelops their blades.”
After saying so, Shin handed the blade he had held still to Araki. As Shin had said, its blade was covered in faint magic power.
According to the game rules, Unique-grade weapons could not really be called “Magic Sword” or “Magic Katana”. It was probably because Shin had forged it, that the katana now in Araki’s hands had specs worthy of the “Magic” moniker.
“A true Magic Katana, huh…it is true that both the katana I forged once and 『Black Moon』 have magic power shrouding their blades. I felt something different than just a Magic Katana from 『Black Moon』 though.”
“I think that the materials might be the reason. I used Tamahagane as the material this time, so only the katana’s specs as a weapon increased. But I have heard that different materials can add all sorts of effects. I don’t know what that means in detail though.”
“That’s more than enough. Young man…no, sir Shin, I owe you very much. If you need my help in anything, just say the word.”
“First of all, as I said before, I would like you to keep the source of all this information a secret. Other than that, there is nothing I need at the moment.”
He had been seen by several Kanezuka disciples, so he knew of the possibility that they would guess that the information came from him.
He didn’t think that Araki would blabber about Shin being the source, but he wanted to be sure.
“You may pass this technique to anyone you deem worthy, sir Kanezuka. It is not something I obtained on my own after all.”
“Is that really alright?”
“Even if I hid it, someone might be spying, and it was a technique commonly used in the past after all. I just hope that the katana built this way will be used to protect others.”
Katanas were nothing more than tools. Depending on the user, they could become blades of protection or of slaughter.
Shin gave some more pieces of advice to Araki, who said he would forge another blade, then left the Kanezuka residence.
He returned with Karin and Toshiro. Kankurou had been called by Araki and stayed back in the Kanezuka residence.
“….did you teach him something?”
“I told him about some techniques I know. The divine katana’s creation will progress a bit, I think.”
Toshiro inquired about what had happened in the Kanezuka residence while they were going back to the Saegusa house.
“Uhm, I have heard that such techniques are kept secret though.”
“I do not belong to any particular school or tradition, so I do not have any intention of keeping techniques for myself. Though, I would not spread them to just anyone.”
Karin still flushed slightly when talking to Shin, but he tried to talk with her as normally as he did before.
“I have never seen sir Kanezuka make that expression before though. It must have been quite an impressive technique.”
“….is that so? I couldn’t tell, to be honest. I just meant to give him some advice, but then I saw him swing his hammer so intensely…as a blacksmith myself, I couldn’t stop at just a word or two.”
Shin could have given a plausible explanation, but chose not to.
For someone who had seriously trained in the art of blacksmithing, the techniques that Shin acquired through the game would seem like cheating. That was partly why Shin respected the blacksmith Kanezuka Araki, who had reached that level of skill while being a normal person.
“What are you, anyway?”
“Just an adventurer and a busybody, nothing more.”
“I, I think he’s a good man…”
Karin’s comment following Shin’s words made Toshiro’s teeth grind. He must have realized that Karin looked quite different from the usual.
“Then, can I ask something too?”
“Sir Toshiro, you belong to the Yaejima house, correct? I have heard that the Yaejima are a great clan ruling over west Hinomoto. If so, why do you stay alongside Kankurou, a servant of the Kujou house?”
Shin felt this after hearing about the two forces ruling over Hinomoto.
Shin, who had studied Japanese history in school, for a second thought that he might have been a hostage, but Toshiro seemed far too free to be one.
“I am one of sir Kankurou’s disciples. He’s a man who imparts his teachings without care for social status, and lord Tadahisa gave his approval as well.”
However, if the Yaejima house did something to stir conflict in Hinomoto, Toshiro’s life would be forfeit.
“I believe that neither my father nor my brother would ever do something so foolish. But if it ever happened, I would simply offer my life.”
Toshiro spoke every word with conviction, without turning away his eyes.
If they were planning something, having him go on a rampage within the Kujou house would be an ingenious plan.
In case of real danger, one might suddenly hold on to dear life.
Shin, however, did not think Toshiro capable of any such things. That could be said of everyone following Kankurou, too.
In Hinomoto, there was a trust that went beyond reason. That’s what Shin felt looking at Toshiro.
After Shin left, in the smithy where now the furnace did not burn anymore, Araki and Kankurou were talking.
“Did sir Shin say anything helpful for crafting a divine katana?”
“Yes, I can tell you because I feel you know already…but he imparted to me one of the techniques that had been lost in history.”
Thanks to his experience as a support character, Kankurou knew of such techniques, even without detailed explanations from Araki.
“With this, I will probably get closer to the divine katana, however…”
“Is there any problem?”
Kankurou noticed that Araki’s expression looked even more bitter than usual.
The blacksmith’s reply arrived in a feeble tone.
“The divine katana is not something I can forge. Not only me, but no other blacksmith in Hinomoto could I fear.”
“And for what reason would that be?”
“Probably…no, definitely, sir Shin knows techniques we do not possess. And not only one or two…sir Shin would surely be able to forge a blade on par with 『Black Moon』. I heard he’s a samurai, but I know that he is not a man on the side of those who “use” weapons. He’s someone who “makes” them.”
Araki, thanks to a life spent crafting weapons, understood.
During the game era, in fact, Shin’s nickname was “Dark Blacksmith”. The other Rokuten members also had aliases such as “Red Alchemist”, “White Cook”, and “Golden Merchant”.
They all came from the fact that, like Shin, their true nature was that of “creators”.
“Even among Returned Ancestors, only very special individuals could manage it. He might think he was only forging something simple, but his craft was so refined that I clearly understood how I could never compare with him.”
“Is that so. In that case, we can not postpone the inheritance ritual any more than this.”
“Yes. Discounting the miraculous birth of a Returned Ancestor extremely specialized in blacksmithing, I conclude that the divine katana could not be forged even 100 years from now. It would be pointless to delay the inheritance further.”
Araki gave his conclusion with an expression void of spirit, as if what possessed him had now left him emptied.
Then, without thinking, his hand grabbed his hammer.
“Oh, even if you reached the conclusion, you temper swords again?”
Kankurou spoke to Araki as if to a young warrior focused on his harsh training.
“Because I could catch a glimpse of the peak. Even if I know that I will never be able to reach it, I cannot stop climbing…that’s what a blacksmith is. Haha, to think that I would become a challenger again even at this age…I would have never expected it, that’s for sure.”
Araki lit the fire in the furnace, with a completely serene expression on his face.
“Well well, looks like I need to thank sir Shin again.”
After this, the sound of hammered iron echoed from the smithy for a while.