“(Schnee here. I have arrived at the town ruled by the Kujou. But, where are you at Shin?)”
At noon the day after Shin taught Araki about infusing magic power when forging, Shin received a Mind Chat from Schnee.
“(I will explain the situation and come meet you. Please wait near the castle gates.)”
Shin thought that they would need more time, so he was a little surprised. He explained the situation to Karin, who was coaching him as usual, and headed to the gates.
Once he passed the gate, Shin found Schnee, wearing the equipment she had used in Falnido. As soon as she noticed Shin’s presence, she ran up to him smiling.
Her tail, provided by the transformation set, swayed left and right.
“You arrived quite fast. Where are the others?”
Schnee was waiting beside the gate by herself. The other members were not present.
“I came ahead of others. You would get involved in all sorts of unnecessary troubles on your own, after all. Filma and the others agreed too.”
She had come by crossing the sea with 【Water Passage】. The wind and waves meant nothing to her.
Shin was a little hurt at this lack of trust.
“…looks like I need to reconfirm what everyone thinks of me.”
Yuzuha’s cry sounded like she was saying “That’s not how it is?” to Shin.
Truthfully, he had climbed Mt. Fuji and his identity had been found out by Kankurou, so the situation could not be called exactly peaceful, so Shin could not completely deny Schnee’s words.
“You are Saegusa Karin, yes?”
“Yes, your name is lady Yuki, is that right?”
The two women had barely met before, but they remembered their respective names and faces.
They seemed to be talking in a friendly way, but there was a certain tense atmosphere between them.
From Schnee’s conversation with Shin, Karin had instinctively perceived that the woman harbored some affection towards the man.
Schnee, on the other hand, found that Karin’s expression while looking at Shin was different from before, and now contained a sort of affection.
“You have taken good care of Shin. Now that we are reunited, we will stay at an inn in town.”
“There is no need for concern. Since you came all this way, please stay at my residence until your other companions arrive.”
Schnee was trying to take Shin out of the Saegusa house, while Karin was trying to keep him in.
Shin was unsure about what to do with the two women and the figurative sparks darting from their eyes.
He knew that a careless intervention would have made him the new target of their battle, but he couldn’t leave things like that.
Shin pleaded to Yuzuha for help, but her refusal came instantly. She knew how dangerous the situation was.
“H-hey, Yuki. Even if I were to leave the residence, I think we should at least thank the master of the residence, don’t you agree? Even after that, it would not be too late to leave, right?”
Shin gathered his courage and spoke to Schnee.
It didn’t have to be decided then and there whether he would leave the residence or not.
“….that’s true. Understood.”
Schnee nodded, then they returned to the Saegusa house.
Kuyou would not be back until late at night, so Kayo welcomed them in his place.
“Oh my, what a beautiful lady. Being Shin’s companion, I imagined you would be his lover.”
“It is true that she is my fiancee, but there are other companions coming. She is Yuki, she just arrived before them.”
“My name is Yuki, pleased to meet you.”
“I am Kayo, wife of the head of the Saegusa family. If your other companions are not here yet, please stay in our house.”
Schnee had greeted Kayo politely, and was invited to stay in their residence together with Shin.
“It would not do to impose for such a long—-”
“My daughter’s life has been saved by him, this is barely enough to express my gratitude.”
Kayo’s words were spoken with a completely innocent tone: it was difficult to think that she was the same person that tried to make a couple out of Karin and Shin.
Her feelings of gratitude towards Shin were genuine. Shin too, through his experience staying in the Saegusa house, had no reason to doubt that. Kayo would sometimes show a humorous side, but deep down she was an honorable person, who would not leave debts of gratitude unpaid.
“…..understood. Allow me to be your guest.”
“I am glad to hear that.”
After a brief exchange, Schnee agreed: the two companions and their fox would stay in the Saegusa residence together.
The situation evolved that very night.
“The inheritance ritual?”
“Yes, it was supposed to be postponed, but we have decided to hold it 10 days from now.”
At dinner, Kuyou mentioned that a formal match would be held to decide the inheritor of the divine katana 『Black Moon』. The Hinomoto Brave Ten would gather at the Kujou residence and engage in battle until one victor remained.
For a tournament battle there would be one competitor without an opponent, so Kankurou would participate and allow his opponent to pass if they had shown a sufficient degree of ability. Kuyou also added that several candidates had already expressed that they would not participate.
Kankurou’s species was one of long life expectancy, but most Hinomoto citizens were the opposite. They must have thought that even if they inherited 『Black Moon』, they would not fight with it for long.
Kuyou, though, hoped Karin would do her best in the tournament.
Kuyou was the 2nd seat of the Brave Ten. He might not match Kankurou in ability, but his sword arm was not to be underestimated.
His advanced age, however, meant that he was long past his physical peak. Thinking about the future, he decided to leave room for the younger generations.
“Tomorrow the notice will reach all the territories. It’ll be like a festival.”
When events like this are held, all sorts of kiosks and stalls are set up, creating a festival-like atmosphere. It’s one type of entertainment.
Ordinary people can’t watch the formal matches. The battles’ results are announced immediately, and they say that some people bet on predictions of the results.
As it can serve as stress release for the citizens, many lords turn a blind eye.
“It’s a bit of a shame that we can’t see it though.”
“Hmm, so would you come too, sir Shin? I could reserve seats for you.”
“No, I would prefer not to stand out, so allow me to decline.”
Receiving special treatments would not be an advantage for him. He knew that because of his match against Kankurou, he was already talked about.
“Hmm. If you came, I’m sure that Karin would truly give her all though.”
“F-father!? What are you saying!?”
Karin’s face grew bright red after Kuyou’s words. Maybe because he now knew that Shin wasn’t interested, Kuyou teased Karin from time to time. It was never in bad humour though, just a kind of communication between father and daughter.
To see that reaction from Karin after refusing her put Shin in a tight spot though.
The next day, news about the formal matches had already spread throughout the castle town, and part of the town was already in a festive mood.
Spectators from the houses serving the Kujou already started gathering.
Shin proposed to go walk around the castle town because of the occasion, and Schnee agreed to accompany him.
Karin wanted to join them too, but Kuyou brought her to the dojo to practice for the formal matches.
Shin changed and waited at the gate for about 15 minutes, when Schnee arrived.
“….Kimono and animal ears combination. Fantastic.”
“(Schnee, so pretty!)”
Shin let out a mumbled comment, charmed by the sight of Schnee in a kimono. Yuzuha cried in agreement.
Schnee looked at him, slightly puzzled. Her dog ears shook.
She was wearing a brilliant blue kimono with a design of scattered white petals which stressed its elegance.
As they walked side by side, her hair tied behind her head would sometimes show her pale neck, a sensual glimpse inside her neat appearance.
“No, nothing. The kimono looks very nice on you, and…well, I-I was charmed, that’s all.”
“…oh, thank you.”
Schnee smiled, her cheeks slightly flushed. Needless to say Shin was charmed again.
“Now that I think about it, I haven’t been to the castle town since the day I first arrived here.”
While walking through the town, Shin was surprised at how bustling it was. The first time he came, he barely had time to look around, since they went straight inside the castle walls.
“I didn’t want people looking at me suspiciously, and I used all the free time I had for training.”
The Saegusa residence was located inside the Kujou castle walls. The mood inside was not so light as to allow him to take walks at leisure.
He knew there was someone watching over them, but Shin decided to use this opportunity to look around a typical Hinomoto town.
He knew that wearing adventurer clothes would have made him stand out, so he changed into something fitting of Hinomoto.
Shin was wearing a traditional garb, deep green in color. It was a very common attire in Hinomoto. The color combination was pretty somber, so Schnee’s brilliant elegance stood out even more next to him.
“Well, let’s make the best of this opportunity and enjoy the festival.”
The festival meant a great number of stalls. The two walked around at leisure, stopping at Hinomoto’s characteristic stalls.
The people around them looked bright and cheerful. Shin didn’t know how far the rumours of the west’s suspicious movements had spread, but the people were in a truly festive mood, as if they wanted to dispel those ominous whispers.
“(By the way, do you know anything about the Five Supreme Blades?)”
Shin recalled his encounter on top of Mt. Fuji and inquired to Schnee via Mind Chat. Looking at a stand selling swords had reminded him of Munechika.
He had already talked to Schnee about his battle with Munechika, but had forgot to ask her if she knew anything.
“(I’m afraid I have never heard of that name. If they appeared in town they would certainly cause a big commotion, so, like the Munechika you met, maybe they dwell in uninhabited locations? Their usual stance is to wait for those coming to challenge them after all.)”
“(Now that you mention it, that’s true. She looked like she was protecting something, and there might also be a reason why Kagutsuchi wasn’t there anymore.)”
Shin nodded, thinking that Schnee might have had a point. There was also the possibility that Kagutsuchi was inside the small shrine on the peak, after all.
As Schnee had answered, anthropomorphized blades such as them did not go around searching for challengers.
It was a theory based on the game era, thus they couldn’t be completely sure, but if there weren’t any rumors about them in 500 years, it was likely to be as Schnee said, or so Shin thought.
“Well, no need to think about that. Oh, sir, you have some nice goods here.”
Thinking that it was not a topic to bring up while enjoying a festival, Shin changed the subject by talking to the owner of the stall they happened to be in front of.
The 40-something man, wearing work robes, sold all sorts of accessories.
Schnee was a bit confused by Shin suddenly striking a conversation to the store owner, but Shin signaled to her to wait a moment.
“Oh! You have a good eye, young man! I made all of these with my hands, carefully picking what materials to use! They’re a wee bit more expensive than the other shops around here, but the quality’s guaranteed!”
As the man had said with a tone full of confidence, the accessories here were of higher quality than the similar ones sold in the nearby stalls.
Shin picked one of the displayed items.
“Let’s see…I’ll take this.”
“You really have keen eyes to go and pick that one. But it’s a bit more expensive than the others, you know?”
“That’s all right. I think this one fits my companion best.”
Saying this, Shin looked at Schnee. The stall owner followed his eyes and nodded as in agreement.
“Haha!! I see! For that beauty over there, this one fits the most indeed! Okay then, normally I’d ask 5 gold jul, but I’ll let you have it for 4.”
“Is that alright?”
“Accessories like this can end up standing out even more than the one who wears them, but your companion is not inferior in terms of presence! She’s fitting to wear it. I like her!”
The stall owner was rather pleased.
Shin thanked him and paid, then turned again towards Schnee.
“And so, will you wear this?”
“Ehm, is it really ok for me to?”
“Honestly, you’re not allowed to refuse. Please do!”
Schnee couldn’t hide her surprise at the sudden present, but she was certainly happy.
What Shin had chosen for her was a two-pronged hairpin with a transparent blue pearl as decoration. From the base of the pearl hung a flower-like ornament made in silver.
Schnee removed the simple pin she was using to hold her hair and replaced it with Shin’s present.
“How…how do I look?”
Schnee’s was slightly embarrassed as she asked her question.
“Just wonderful, If I say myself, miss.”
“I didn’t think it would have looked so beautiful myself.”
The words popping up in Shin’s mind were all too simple: “it looks good” and “pretty”.
Those who had witnessed their purchase at the stall looked at the two with celebration (20%), envy (50%), and jealousy (30%) in their eyes. The two quickly left the scene and mingled among the crowd.
“I didn’t think so many people would be looking at us. I was focused and didn’t notice.”
When Schnee replaced her pin, they heard voices from the crowd and realized they were the center of attention.
“(Shin, charmed. Focus, scattered.)”
“The stand owner was rather loud, too. I suppose he meant to attract customers too.”
“I see. Using you to promote himself…he’s got guts! But good choice!”
“(We lost Shin.)”
Shin spoke with conviction, but Schnee wasn’t sure if he was angry or complimenting her. To her it seemed obvious that they would attract attention.
Yuzuha was kind of annoyed at this Shin, though.
He pretended not to hear Yuzuha’s last comment.
Accepting that they couldn’t avoid the fact that Schnee attracted people’s attention, they resumed their walk. As they were passing through a large avenue, they heard a commotion from the front.
They looked beyond the crowd with a skill and found a large horse carriage slowly proceeding in the middle of the street. In Hinomoto, horse carriages were probably the main means of transport.
Among the voices they heard, some were mentioning the name “Ichinose”.
Inside the carriage was a large bear beast, a female beast next to him, with a human man sitting across from them.
“Schnee, can you see?”
Shin asked his companion. Schnee felt that Shin’s mood had changed and looked towards the carriage, understanding what he meant to say.
“Yes, it appears it was true that something is going on.”
Yuzuha, the only one incapable of using【Through Sight】, couldn’t follow.
“Ichinose Juugo, Rokuhara Kai, no problem here. But that Tamamo is different. She’s not human.”
Yuzuha reacted before Schnee could. Still in fox mode, she spoke not via Mind Chat but through her voice.
“Do you know her?”
“….I think, I’ve heard the name.”
Yuzuha tried to remember, but then whimpered as she ultimately couldn’t.
“Well, we know that things probably won’t end peacefully.”
Tamamo’s species was White Tail. Like Yuzuha, it had a human form, but it was without a doubt a monster.
As far as they could see, however, the other passengers of the carriage -Juugo and Kai-had no status ailments.
“They’re not being controlled…I suppose?”
“Certainly doesn’t look like it, they’re not affected with 【Charm】.”
Seeing a monster mingling among humans was a bad sign, but they couldn’t do anything at the moment.
Shin knew that certain monsters, like Yuzuha, coexisted peacefully with humans.
“We can’t confirm anything now, so I’ll talk with Karin later. There are more important things to do now.”
Shin talked while looking away from Juugo, and Schnee nodded in response.
On Shin’s map, there was a symbol heading in a straight line to the Kujou main compound, ignoring people and buildings. It was a neutral green color, but the fact that it was hiding its presence was terribly suspicious.
“At first glance, it does not seem too fearsome, but what should we do?”
“Let’s go after it. It would be great if it was just a spy, but for it to come right after seeing that White Tail…I have a bad feeling about this. I’m sorry to say this during the festival.”
“We looked around a bit, and you gave me a present. It’s enough.”
Schnee understood that it could be troublesome later to ignore it, so she had no objections. Thanks to the present, her mood was perfectly happy too.
From the symbol’s movements, they predicted that it was moving on the rooftops: Shin and Schnee then went to a solitary alley and used 【Hiding】 to conceal themselves.
They didn’t change their clothes, but Schnee replaced the hairpin with the original one.
As they followed the symbol, they saw a group clad in very similar clothing as the ninja squad that had attacked Shin before. Ninja clothing often have similar designs, so at first glance it isn’t possible to distinguish them.
“Hm? This isn’t the way to the main compound.”
Shin was following the ninja group, but realized that they were not heading towards the main compound. The most important building in that direction was the residence where Haruna was resting.
“Their target is lady Haruna!?”
The first ninja group had targeted Kanade and Karin. It would not be strange if they targeted Haruna, a daughter of the Kujou house like Kanade.
Shin’s prediction was correct: the ninja group drew their weapons and a 3-cemel wide spherical object, then penetrated the residence without a sound.
“Don’t let even one run away. We’re hunting them down.”
One of the group pointed a blade at Ei, who happened to be passing.
Before the weapon could strike her however, Shin appeared behind the attacker and struck him down, burying him underground.
At the same time, he released an aura of crushing intimidation towards the other invaders, to oppose their infiltration of the residence.
“W-what!? S-sir Shin!?!”
“I will explain later. I’ll go crush the attackers, please gather everyone in the residence and protect lady Haruna!”
“!! Understood!! Intruders here in the residence!! Come out, men!!!”
Ei was wide-eyed in her astonishment, but quickly grasped the situation and loudly called for help.
They probably had a fixed protocol for emergency situations: less than 30 seconds after Ei’s call, armored men came out in a rush.
“No need to capture them alive—cut them down!”
As soon as the commander-looking man spoke, the men around him assumed the look of warring demons.
Shin thought that they might have had a difficult time against the enemies’ smokescreens, which had the effect of causing poison and paralysis, but the residence’s soldiers dealt with them without trouble.
Some men matched the intruders’ blades within the smokescreens, then countered and sliced the enemies’ necks.
Others launched their spears to pierce the intruders’ torsos.
Others would face intruders, protected by their ninja blades and gauntlets, and cleave them in half, protective gear and all: the difference in fighting power was overwhelming.
Maybe because of Haruna’s presence, it appeared that seasoned veterans had been stationed there.
Some of the intruders with higher levels had been defeated by Shin and Schnee, so the attack by this mysterious group was quelled in an instant.
“We thank you for your assistance.”
“I have had the honor of meeting lady Haruna once. I could not stand by and ignore these people’s foul plans. I must ask though, would you not have wanted to capture at least one alive?”
“Preserving lady Haruna’s wellbeing is of higher priority. In Hinomoto, no assassins that knew their sender’s identity would ever operate like this.”
Some would even allow themselves to be captured, then use skills to explode within enemy lines. Even if captured, they wouldn’t leak information and could cause damage and casualties, so they were always cut down on the spot.
After Shin and Schnee explained why they were tracking the attackers, Karin arrived. She had apparently rushed there as fast as she could, so her breathing was slightly ragged.
“She’s completely safe and sound.”
Shin felt that this information had arrived too quickly, but chose not to say anything.
Because even after the battle ended, the man he thought to be the commander of the residence’s soldiers kept his eyes on Shin, without letting his guard down one second.
Shin had explained that their presence was a coincidence, but the commander was still wary of them.
It certainly wasn’t pleasant to be doubted, but for men in charge of security as they were, keeping the stance of never letting one’s guard down was important.
“What about the intruders?”
“We have dealt all of them. We could not find anything to determine where they came from.”
They had already checked if there was any information to be extracted from the corpses. They only used equipment and tools that could be found pretty much anywhere.
Shin heard that it was not possible to find out where the ninjas had come from by using the 【Listen】 skill. He talked about what happened to Karin, then Shin, Schnee, and Karin returned to the Saegusa house.
According to Kuyou, despite the attack on Haruna’s residence the inheritance ceremony would be held without delays.
“I think they will increase security though.”
Few ruffians would think of targeting the Kujou, but still few was not zero. It was an unavoidable fate for such a large clan.
No matter the era, there are always those dissatisfied with the people governing.
In Hinomoto there existed an organization specialized in assassinations, which would target anyone upon request.
Shin heard about such criminal groups in the mainland too, so he wasn’t surprised.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, he asked about Ichinose Juugo.
“Sir Juugo, huh. You have heard that the Ichinose family holds the ideal of an unified Hinomoto, yes?”
“Yes, I’ve heard it mentioned…”
“After the Kujou and the Yaejima divided the country under their respective rule, for a while the Ichinose showed intentions of becoming independent. The Yaejima and other houses of the west restrained them, but it looks like the current head is planning something. We have received reports that soldiers in the Ichinose domain are on the move. They might be planning to do something during the inheritance ceremony.”
“And it will be held even if you know that?”
“Expert warriors from all over Hinomoto will gather for the inheritance ceremony. Average soldiers wouldn’t hold a candle to them. Even if something happened, it wouldn’t even become a battle.”
In the past, during a similar ceremony, someone had similarly planned dirty deeds. According to Kuyou, the plot had been squashed immediately.
They were not acting out of arrogance, but excessive security would be a burden. They had no proof that the Ichinose were really plotting something after all.
Just in case, Shin decided to tell them about Tamamo.
“Hmm, I never heard that sir Juugo had a female partner.”
“Really. I only saw this with a skill, so I have no actual proof of her presence, but I am sure that I did not see wrong. I thought that it would be better for you to know.”
“I am grateful for your advice. I will try to look into this too.”
Kuyou did not doubt Shin’s words.
“Oh, on a different subject, is 『Black Moon』usable by anyone? I heard that certain high-grade weapons choose who can equip them, so this was on my mind.”
“You are truly knowledgeable. I heard that once there was such a limitation, but not anymore.”
Having stats higher than a certain level or ignoring the decrease in the weapon’s power due to insufficient stats would allow anyone to wield it.
After talking with Kuyou, Shin gave four cards to Karin, who was walking beside Schnee.
“Sir Shin? These are…”
“Please keep them with you, just in case. After what happened today, I have a bad feeling.”
“…..understood. I will definitely return them to you.”
Karin checked the cards’ illustrations, then held them against her chest while nodding. Her cheeks were slightly flushed.
The next instant, a severe chill ran down Shin’s spine. What he saw after slowly turning around was Schnee smiling and looking at them.
“(Just in case! Just in case, okay!? I don’t have any weird intentions!!)”
“(Oh my, I haven’t said anything, though?)”
Schnee’s smile was terrifying. As they say, eyes can speak as clearly as the mouth…but in Schnee’s case it was not only her eyes: her Mind Chat, expression, and presence all showed how bad her mood was.
Shin, almost panicking, shook his head left and right and explained himself frantically. He could have given the cards to Karin in secret, but the situation would have turned even worse, or so he instinctively felt.
While looking at the three, Yuzuha cried as if saying “there we go again…”.
5 days after Schnee’s arrival.
Shibaid, Filma, Tiera, and Kagerou also arrived at Shin’s location.
As they had now become a large group, they thought of moving to an inn in town, but after Kayo’s plea, it was decided that they would all stay at the Saegusa house.
They planned to stay in town until the inheritance ceremony was held, so that time limit was the condition. They could not impose on the Saegusa forever after all.
“So that’s what happened! Aah, we sent Schnee first for nothing!”
“What do you mean?”
“You were always traveling as 3 people or more, right? So I thought to let you two stay by yourselves for a while. I should have told Schnee to take it more seriously.”
Filma sighed, looking disappointed. She had no intention of hiding her plan apparently.
“It was Filma that proposed I come here first, to be clear.”
“Just what do you have in mind!?”
“I heard that she waited 500 years. Is it bad for Schnee to have a good time once in awhile? Or do you have some other maiden in mind?”
“I don’t, but the situation here is complex and… but if we really were by ourselves, I cannot say that nothing would have happened…”
“Oh, you don’t deny that?”
All party members knew of Schnee’s affection towards Shin. If they had stayed in an inn by themselves, the chances of something happening between them was not zero.
Shin had expressed his plans to return to his original world, but it was not something he wanted to achieve no matter what.
Only the gods would know if he would be able to dodge Schnee’s approach.
“I think I know the kind of person I am. I couldn’t say that I would never go with the flow in such situations”
Shin was not insecure or undecided, but his will wasn’t unshakable steel either.
“Oh, now that’s a good thing to know.”
“You’re planning something again, you’ve got it written all over your face…”
“Definitely not a wholesome plan.”
“She never learns, does she.”
“Hey!! Shibaid, you too!?”
Shibaid spoke through a sigh, probably tired of their conversation.
“So, when will that inheritance ceremony thing start?”
Shin had already informed Shibaid and the others of the inheritance ceremony. Also because the divine katana Shin had crafted was the final reward, Shibaid was interested in the outcome.
“5 days from now. I’m sorry to say this after you just arrived, but some trouble happened. A battle might break out.”
“Eh, what? I heard that Hinomoto’s a peaceful place though?”
Tiera was surprised to hear the word battle. She had heard about how safe and peaceful Hinomoto usually was.
Shin explained about the circumstances.
“I just don’t understand. Why are they so fixated on uniting the country?”
“Who knows. Even if they did so through military power, it’s not like governing it would become any easier. What do you think Shibaid?”
It was not exactly like Japan’s Warring States period, but as Hinomoto was now in a similar situation, Shin asked for Shibaid’s opinion, who had participated in the founding of the Empire.
“Without understanding the head of the Ichinose family, I cannot say anything. Such things change depending on who is leading the various groups. In the era after the natural disasters wrecked the land, many countries were founded, but each underwent a different fate.”
According to Shibaid, several countries had tried invading others hoping to unify the continent under their rule.
The areas where monsters spawned and the natural barriers formed by mountains, however, led to the current situation. Despite this, some countries still haven’t given up their ambitions apparently.
Some countries governed while thinking of their citizens’ well-being, others had become military states, so it was not possible to give one single answer.
“Well, I have just heard that the Ichinose are acting suspiciously, but I don’t know anything decisive. It would be great if nothing happened, but please stay alert.”
Both Filma and Tiera nodded to Shin’s words.
In the end, the identity of Haruna’s attackers was a complete mystery.
Shin, however, did not think that Juugo, Kai, and the monster Tamamo would simply sit back and do nothing.