The inheritance ceremony.
As the name suggests, this ceremony seeks to determine the person fit to inherit the relics passed from generation to generation in Hinomoto.
This time, the relic to be inherited is the divine katana 『Black Moon』, a national treasure of Hinomoto.
The challengers are the valiant warriors whose names are included in the Hinomoto Brave Ten.
Excluding the 1st seat and current owner of the katana, Kankurou, and those-such as Kuyou- who declined to participate to give the opportunity to the new generations, the participants are 6.
The 3rd seat, Saegusa Karin.
The 4th seat, Yaejima Shiden.
The 5th seat, Kujou Akitaka.
The 6th seat, Ichinose Juugo.
Lastly, the twin sibling swordsmen: the 7th seat Shijou Tsugumasa and the 9th seat Tsuguho.
“The formal matches will start now. Show your prowess in battle and prove your worth as rightful successor of the divine katana!”
The participants silently nodded to Kujou Tadahisa’s words.
The first round was 3rd seat Saegusa Karin VS 9th seat Shijou Tsuguho.
With black hair tied behind their head and a sharp piercing look, the two female warriors even shared a similar physique. Without a word, they headed to the center of the arena, then took their respective stances.
Both used the “Seigan” stance, holding their swords at waist height, the blade pointed at the opponent’s eyes.
Their aura, one with their weapon, exuded a certain refinement that would cause all spectators to feel chills down their spines.
As the signal of the start of the battle was sounded, the two duelists’ silhouettes blurred, the arcs drawn by their wooden blades in mid-air crossing each other.
Both contestants performed one single swing.
They now stood in the opponent’s starting point, as if they had switched places, their backs facing each other.
A few seconds pass, then the wooden sword fell from Tsuguho’s hand.
“Match finished! The winner is Saegusa Karin!”
The battle was decided in an instant.
Tsuguho’s strike had barely scraped Karin’s shoulder, while Karin’s strike had cleanly hit Tsuguho’s right arm.
3rd seat and 9th seat. They were respectively in the higher and lower positions in the hierarchy.
Even if they were both part of the Hinomoto Brave Ten, the difference in ability was evident.
“I could not reach you, after all.”
“You have improved again.”
Karin expressed praise for the dejected Tsuguho. The Tsuguho Karin knew wouldn’t have been able to touch her shoulder.
“No, I still have much to learn. I will keep improving and temper myself again.”
Because of her youth and straightforward personality, Tsuguho showed both frustration and peace of mind at the result.
The two bowed to each other and left the arena.
The 2nd round was 5th seat Kujou Akitaka versus 7th seat Shijou Tsugumasa.
They were both young, but in Tsugumasa’s case it was more evident.
Compared to Akitaka’s virile looks and well-built physique, Tsugumasa appeared very young and physically lacking.
Even without considering their difference in ability, Tsugumasa appeared childish before his opponent.
However, the two swordsmen were unconcerned about being young. Beyond the impression given by their appearances, the clashing of their swords’ auras was stinging the spectators’ skin.
“The rumored genius swordsman, huh. This is our first bout face to face, isn’t it?”
“I have often heard rumors about you too. I am eager to see how much my blade can match yours.”
After a brief exchange, they took their stances.
Akitaka used an upper stance, while Tsugumasa a lower one.
Just like the first round, their blades also pierced the air at the same time as the start signal. The difference was the loud clashing sound produced by the wooden swords, which repeated 3 times.
Each fighter had drawn three arcs in mid-air. Akitaka and Tsugumasa’s wooden swords were grinding against each other, sending wooden fragments dancing around.
“To be so skilled at such a young age. I’m looking forward to your future.”
“Well, thank you very much!”
In contrast to Akitaka’s confident tone, Tsugumasa raised his voice loudly while charging at him again.
Akitaka parried each and every attack coming from Tsugumasa, attacks different than what was taught at the dojo.
Even though he was constantly attacking, Tsugumasa’s expression gradually contorted. It was the result of both duelists understanding the extent of their respective abilities during the first exchange.
Tsugumasa’s sword arm was fast, its patterns difficult to read. Despite being just over 16 years old, his sword arm was worthy of being called genius: Akitaka acknowledged it too.
However, it was not enough.
He might have been able to match an ordinary soldier or a swordsman with some skill, but to reach Akitaka, strictly trained as the Kujou family’s first-born son, Tsugumasa needed experience in actual combat —especially against opponents stronger than himself, which he severely lacked.
The connecting point between two slashes.
Akitaka did not miss the small gap in Tsugumasa’s barrage created by his impatience.
Akitaka’s wooden sword blew Tsugumasa’s away. Tsugumasa’s weapon spun in mid-air, then landed behind him.
“Match finished!! The winner is Kujou Akitaka!”
Kankurou announced the winner.
The two duelists assumed a proper stance and bowed silently.
“Good fighting style. Let us battle again one day.”
After nodding at each other, Akitaka and Tsugumasa left the field.
The 3rd round was the 4th seat, Yaejima Shiden, versus the 6th, Ichinose Juugo.
Different from Karin and Tsuguho or Akitaka and Tsugumasa, this time the spectators felt prickled by the turbulent aura coming from the contestants.
While they both held wooden swords, the tension hanging in the atmosphere was as if they were using real swords.
“You’re even more intense than usual.”
“I might be a servant of the Yaejima, but today I fight as a swordsman. I will not hold anything back!”
“That’s all right. I too would hate to make people think that I didn’t give it my all.”
As in response to the murderous intent emanated by Juugo’s sword, the aura of Shiden’s blade grew sharper and sharper as well.
Differently from the two previous duels, which contained a certain pure aura, the current contestants seemed to be participating in a duel to the death.
They both took upper stances, sharing also the trait of holding the sword slightly bent to the right.
The signal of the start of the duel echoed throughout the surroundings.
The beginning of this match is very different from the two previous bouts.
There was no clash of swords, thought to start as soon as the signal was sounded: the two contestants did not move an inch. They both stared at each other, their bodies moving ever so slightly, searching for something in their opponent.
The Yaejima house, rulers of the west, and the Ichinose studied schools of swordplay which shared the same roots. Because of this, they could both predict what the opponent’s moves would be.
The wooden sword’s angle, leg motions, the position of the center of gravity, how to use space in battle…everything.
They could predict the opponent’s strike from looking at their movements, thus mentally preparing how to counter.
If the tip of Juugo’s sword was slightly lowered, Shiden took half a step backwards.
If Shiden stepped in range, Juugo lowered his center of gravity.
Though it was not visible to the eye, the small, almost imperceptible movements comprised a formidable series of exchanges taking place between the two of them.
Those gathered for this ceremony were warriors capable of such feats.
“The contestants with the least difference in rank. Will sir Juugo match sir Shiden though I wonder?”
“Now, Tsugumasa. Don’t speak out of line.”
Shiden’s strength was known throughout Hinomoto. His title of 4th seat in the Brave Ten was not for show.
Juugo was the 6th seat, but the fact that there was a large power gap between the seats smaller and bigger than 5 was also well known.
“Hmph, as I thought, I am not one to play reading battles.”
“Saying that means that you could lose winning battles, you know?”
“None of—–your business!!”
It wasn’t clear if he had talked before moving, or vice versa. That’s how quickly Juugo had stepped in, close to Shiden.
The movement itself reminded of the 1st round of Karin versus Tsuguho, but the speed was definitely higher.
Shiden, who had sparred against Juugo in the past, was taken aback by his opponent’s speed. He blocked the swinging sword with his, but was pushed back.
Juugo was a bear-type beastman, and the wooden sword he wielded was thicker, in accordance with his build. However, it simply added mass and could not fill the gap in their muscular strength.
Juugo’s swing, however, had enough power to cause Shiden’s feet to sink into the ground for blocking it.
“Gh…! How heavy…!”
“…so this is all you can do.”
His voice now filled with self-assurance, Juugo withdrew his sword and, at the same time, moved behind Shiden’s back. Before Shiden could react, the tip of Juugo’s sword had been thrust at his neck.
“Match finished!! The winner is Ichinose Juugo!”
The inferior in rank bested the superior.
It was not something unheard of, but those that knew of Juugo’s abilities were astonished of the performance he showed in the battle.
Bear-type beastmen generally focused on power rather than speed. Even considering that Juugo was a Returned Ancestor, the speed at which he had moved behind Shiden’s back had been excessively fast.
“Hmm, it does not look like you used status boosting herbs or magic.”
Considering the possibility of foul play, Kankurou viewed him with 【Analyze】, but there was no sign of boosted stats.
Thanks to the game’s system still existing, any status boosts via herbs or other methods would be discovered immediately.
“I never neglect my training. That produced results, I suppose.”
“Well, there is nothing I can say to that.”
Kankurou knew, however, that there were things that his 【Analyze VIII】 could not display, based on the target’s status.
They had performed tests to prevent illegal activities, but despite the suspicion aroused by Juugo’s exceptional increase in ability, there was no concrete proof to denounce it.
The matches continued: the remaining three contestants would fight until one was left standing.
Because of her high rank in the hierarchy, Karin was treated as seed.
The 4th match was Akitaka and Juugo. But exactly as it happened to Shiden, Akitaka could not adapt to Juugo’s movements and suffered defeat. There was a clear difference between the Juugo of the past and present.
Juugo, after all, was one of Hinomoto’s Brave Ten. Even without this mysterious increase in power, he was a warrior of considerable power.
The formal tournament reached the final match.
Karin and Juugo faced each other.
After the signal for starting hostilities, Juugo moved first. He swung down his sword with the power that had overwhelmed Akitaka.
Karin reacted by striking the side of Juugo’s blade with hers, to deviate it from its course. She could not parry the full power of the swing, however, and slightly lost her balance.
Juugo followed with another attack, a storm of air-rending blows which Karin withstood with her solid guard.
Watching Akitaka’s match made her understand that she was at a disadvantage in terms of strength and choose a strategy of looking for an opening.
“What’s wrong, daughter of the Saegusa. Staying on the defense will not make you win.”
“I have no intention of losing, so no need for concern.”
Juugo talked to Karin during his barrage of attacks, but she replied without changing her expression. It could be said that she was forcing herself, but she kept a poker face, not wanting to show any weakness.
“Heh, impertinent little girl.”
As the words left his mouth, Juugo’s silhouette disappeared. Karin however, could react to his strike coming from behind.
“I have seen this already.”
The speed was unthinkable for the past Juugo. But in terms of speed, Karin still had a chance of winning.
She parried the swinging blade while spinning and thrust her blade at Juugo’s stomach while moving to his side.
“As expected from the 3rd seat, I should say.”
Karin’s strike was supposed to have struck its target, but Juugo had parried it while jumping to the side.
He was superior to Karin in both speed and power. It was now clear to everyone watching.
From then, the match became -while not overwhelmingly one sided- a clearly unbalanced one.
Karin withstood Juugo’s fierce attacks and used any openings to counter.
Juugo dodged her counters and resumed his storm-like barrages of slashes and thrusts.
The match continued for 20 minutes, when finally, Karin’s wooden sword was broken by Juugo, who thrust his at her neck, ending the match.
“—-match finished! The winner is Ichinose Juugo!”
The two contestants bowed to each other and left the arena.
The winner was now decided, leaving only the conferment of the divine katana.
Ichinose Juugo was the head of the Ichinose family, recently subject of suspicious rumors; his victories in the matches, however, meant that he was to receive the divine katana.
“Ichinose Juugo, I confer to you the divine katana. Come forward.”
『Black Moon』 would be presented by its current wielder, Kankurou.
Juugo accepted the katana with both hands and…
….proceeded to unsheathe 『Black Moon』, then and there.
『Black Moon』 was swung down and unleashed a red slash.
The long range slash created by the Katana-type martial skill 【Infiltrator Blade】, powered by 『Black Moon』’s effects, turned into a crimson killing blade.
The target of the slash was the head of the Kujou house, Kujou Tadahisa.
While all stood frozen by the unexpected happening, a shadow leapt between Juugo and Tadahisa to stop the flying slash.
“You could parry that?”
“Well well, now I would have never expected you to take such a direct approach here.”
Kankurou spoke to Juugo with a jaded expression, holding his short sword in a backhand grip.
“There is no better opportunity. With that blade you could only stop me one more time. Do not stand in my way.”
“I’m afraid I cannot comply. Allow me a question instead, how did you think you could escape this place, after everything you did?”
“As I am now, that much is nothing.”
Juugo put something in his mouth after talking. The next instant, a white, bright aura rises from his body.
“Sir Juugo. That cannot be…!?”
“So you know of this. You must also know that you cannot stop it then!!”
Juugo’s 『Black Moon』 turned into a blur. A red slash appeared in midair, causing severe damage to all who were charging towards him, weapon in hand.
Akitaka and Shiden suffered wounds on their arms, their katana broken. The same had happened to Tsuguho and Tsugumasa.
Kuyou and the other Brave Ten who had avoided the slash hesitated to attack, as they knew of 『Black Moon』’s abilities.
In such a situation, Karin charged in to attack from behind, a step after the others.
Her speed was much higher than what she had shown during the match.
『Black Moon』’s dark blade clashed against the white blade of Karin’s katana.
Even when clashing against 『Black Moon』, which could slice even Legend-grade weapons in two, Karin’s katana did not suffer even a single scratch.
“This can’t be!?”