“Lord Kankurou!! I will deal with him!!”
Karin was wielding a katana of the Ancient grade, like『Black Moon』: 『Hakuramaru』.
『Black Moon』, crafted as a test blade when creating 『True Moon』, was a weapon with high specs. However, 『Hakuramaru』 had been upgraded by Shin and possessed abilities high enough to match it.
“This weight!? Just what is going on!?”
“Do you think I would answer?”
Karin chose to mock the growling Juugo.
The weight of Karin’s slashes was growing not only thanks to the status boosts provided by 『Hakuramaru』.
The status boosts were also provided by another card that Shin had given her, the Morning Star Hairpin. It was an Ancient-grade item which boosted STR, VIT, and DEX.
After hearing the rumors concerning the Ichinose, Shin had made Karin get used to the item while receiving her training, so she wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the status boost.
Karin stepped back for a moment, then used her speed to go back on the offensive.
『Black Moon』 and 『Hakuramaru』 clashed again, scattering sparks all around.
“A katana that does not suffer damage even if struck by the divine katana. So you did not leave Hinomoto simply to go looking for herbs!”
Karin did not answer Juugo’s frustrated shouts. Wondering if he expected her to deliberately divulge where the blade had come from, she added power to her grip.
Every time the two blades crossed, sparks danced around the two warriors.
The tournament’s arena was already nearly destroyed by the long-range slashes Juugo would sometimes unleash. The ground was carved, the buildings cleaved from front to back.
The soldiers who had rushed to the location because of the commotion could only stand and watch the formidable exchange of blows.
The people around them had prioritized their safety, so no one wounded was present, but there was no one that could join in Karin and Juugo’s battle. Their physical abilities were not sufficient, but more than that, they had no weapons capable of matching them.
It did not mean, however, that everybody simply stood there wringing their hands.
Amidst the clanging sounds of the crossing blades, clear voices resounded. At the same time, a shadow writhed at Juugo’s feet, and a chain of light reached down from the air.
The binding spells had been cast by Kayo and Haruna. Hinomoto favored direct combat strategies, but magic was not in disuse.
Juugo, locked in battle with Karin, had reacted to the spells, but could not avoid them completely and was affected by the binding.
One chain of light and three shadow bindings were clinging to Juugo’s body. Two of the shadow bindings already showed cracks.
The light chain was almost shaken off.
『Black Moon』did not have any particular special features, in fact it was almost featureless, but being an Ancient-grade weapon, it could somewhat influence magic skills in its natural state.
“That was not something to try here, was it.”
Karin slipped in close to the restrained Juugo.
Focusing on the binding chains had created a decisive opening.
『Hakuramaru』’s blade cut through Juugo’s abdomen in a rising diagonal slash. The cut sliced across his chest, above his heart, and through his shoulder.
The samurai job usually does not possess DEF bonuses.
Generally, average defense gear is mere paper before Ancient-grade weapons, but the participants to the formal matches wore nothing but formal wear.
Even for a Returned Ancestor, one slash would prove fatal.
Juugo fell down backwards, screaming in pain. The spraying blood doused Karin and the arena.
The sound he whispered as he drew his last breath failed to form into words, remaining just vibrations in the air.
『Black Moon』 fell from Juugo’s now powerless hands. The conclusion had arrived suddenly and unexpectedly.
That too was one of the possible ways for a battle between masters to end though.
Considering the weapon’s power, it was impressive that the beastman’s abdomen had not been sliced in half.
“Sir Juugo. Was this world so unbearable for you to live in?”
Kankurou whispered while picking up 『Black Moon』 and returning it to the sheath.
No answer would, however, return.
(The flames of war, once again…)
Juugo’s last thoughts, who failed to form into words, had reached Kankurou.
“In any case, what caused sir Juugo’s incredible strength?”
“That is a forbidden medicine that shaves away one’s own lifeforce. However, I do not know the reason behind his power before using it. Maybe he knew of a reinforcement method unknown to us.”
Kankurou answered Toshiro’s doubts about Juugo’s strength. It was another question they could not know the answer to now.
“Rather, lady Karin, that—-”
“Report!!! A messenger just came in saying that a large battalion of Ichinose soldiers has invaded our domain!!”
A soldier had come shouting in the arena, as to interrupt Kankurou’s question.
“Ichinose soldiers? Is this true?”
“Yes! We have confirmed the presence of an estimated 5000 soldiers and several 3-mel tall large beasts. The beasts appear to be monsters, but they do not seem to be attacking the Ichinose troops.”
Tadahisa had interrogated the soldier, whose words in reply left all present with troubled expressions.
The country of Hinomoto typically had few Tamers, and even fewer could control large monsters as the ones reported.
Furthermore, the Ichinose house was known for valuing individual strength. They would focus on improving themselves rather than learning to tame monsters.
Because of this, they could not help but doubt the report stating that there were monsters among the troops.
“Truly bizarre. Are those troops really from the Ichinose?”
Kuyou expressed his doubts that the described troops really belonged to the Ichinose house. No one else had said it, but everyone had thought the same question.
“Are there any known characteristics about the monsters?”
“Yes, their bodies are colored differently, but their appearance is unmistakably that of the demon fox species. The number of tails is different for each unit, usually 4 or 5.”
“I see, that’s pretty clear.”
After hearing about the monsters’ characteristics, Kankurou seemed to have reached a conclusion.
“Kankurou, do you know anything?”
“Yes. During the past unification wars, there was one member of the demon fox species who tried to take control of Hinomoto. It happened more than 100 years ago, so I suppose few remember it anymore.”
“The disaster-bringing demon foxes spoken about in the chronicles…I thought they were extinct.”
Tadahisa replied to Kankurou’s words.
Among everyone present, only Kankurou was alive at the time, but those events had been reported in chronicles.
“It could be a survivor, or someone with a different goal. The mastermind then had 7 tails, with 6-tailed foxes at its service.”
“How much difference does it make?”
“Against the beasts mentioned in the report, the Brave Ten would be enough. Against a 6-tailed one, at least 3 would be necessary. Against a 7-tailed one, I and 6 other people on my same level could maybe win. In the past battle against one of those, 4 of us died.”
Kankurou’s words caused everyone present to swallow their breath.
4 people out of 6 died, 4 people as strong as Kankurou, whose ability was unmatched in Hinomoto. It meant clearly that even if the Brave Ten fought all together, they would not stand a chance.
“Is there a possibility that such powerful beasts are being kept out of battle for now?”
“I could not rule it out. In the previous conflict, we were attacked from the front, but if they know that, they could be using a feint to strike from the rear. But this is also just a guess.”
“Is that so. In any case, we must do something. Everybody—-”
“Report!!! We received an emergency report of a large army of monsters approaching the Futaba and Shijou domains!!”
Tadahisa’s orders were interrupted by another soldier who rushed into the arena.
A shiver of unease ran through everyone present.
“3 locations attacked at the same time…are the monsters demon foxes?”
“The reports tell of 6-tailed demon foxes leading large numbers of monsters. There is one fox per group, apparently.”
“Kuyou. You said that the demon fox woman who was with Juugo disappeared, yes?”
Tadahisa had already been informed of Tamamo’s disappearance.
“The name is different, but a demon fox capable of transforming into a human…is likely connected to the past disasters. The units leading the monsters are probably high-ranked ones, close to the mastermind. If they knew that we would gather here, they might have chosen to strike this location.”
The 6-tailed monster that, as Kankurou said, 3 of the Brave Ten would be necessary to fight. The possible presence of a 7-tailed monster loomed in everyone’s minds.
“Would it be impossible to stop a 6-tailed beast without the Brave Ten?”
“I would not say impossible. But considering that together with the 6-tails, other monsters are also present…”
There is no telling of how much damage and casualties there would be.
“….there is no other way out. The Brave Ten will have to be split.”
Even if concerned with the possible existence of a 7-tails, Tadahisa chose not to abandon the other domains.
To the Shijou domain would go the 10th seat, Futaba Akara, Kujou Akitaka and Shiden of the great clan of the west, the Yaejima.
To the Futaba domain, the Shijou house’s Tsugumasa and Tsuguho with Karin.
“What shall we do if a 7-tails appears?”
“Survive as long as you can. I will not allow you to die in vain.”
The possibility of a 7-tails appearing in the Kujou domain, the most prosperous in Hinomoto, was not low.
Even so, Tadahisa spoke without hesitation.
Even if the 7-tails appeared and the Kujou domain ravaged, every house’s bloodline would still survive. For the Yaejima, Toshiro would stay.
“All of you, to your duties!! Give it your all!”
After Tadahisa’s order, all reinforcements headed to the domains they had been assigned to.
The ones who remained made preparations to attack the approaching Ichinose Army, composed of soldiers and monsters.
“Lady Karin. Could that katana be…”
“It is as you imagine, sir.”
“I see, there is one more thing I must thank him for then.”
He did not say the name outright, but Kankurou had realized who had given 『Hakuramaru』 to Karin.
“Karin. I am going to send people too, but if you see sir Shin on the way, please ask them to lend us a hand. If they helped us, we could even take down a 7-tails.”
Karin nodded to Kuyou, then ran off.
Tsuguho and Tsugumasa followed after her, taking replacements for their broken katana from the Kujou armory.
“Lady Karin, who is this Sir Shin that Sir Kuyou spoke about?”
Tsuguho asked about the name she heard in Kuyou and Karin’s conversation, completely new to her.
“He helped us during our search for the medicine to cure lady Haruna. He’s someone Sir Kankurou says to be stronger than himself. His companions are very skilled warriors as well. If we could obtain their assistance, as father said, even a 7-tails would not be a threat.”
“Such a person is in the city now!? Please do tell me what he looks like. I will go look for him too. If he helped us, the casualties would surely decrease.”
Tsugumasa’s expression lightened up after hearing Karin’s confident words. In the west, only Shiden knew of Shin at this point.
“We cannot spend too much time looking for him though.”
“Father said that he would send people from the Saegusa house to look for him. Our first priority is the reinforcements to the Futaba domain. Let’s just look around us carefully as we go.”
After these words of caution to Tsuguho, Karin raised her running speed.
Running on the rooftops, they cross the main avenue in a huge leap.
Karin said to look for Shin only if they could, but her eyes darted everywhere to find him.
While the inheritance ceremony was being held, Shin and Schnee were looking at the results posted in the main avenue.
“The higher ranked seats won in the first two matches, I see. In the third…Ichinose won, hmm.”
Looking at the results, Shin thought that something might have happened. The results for the 4th match, posted shortly later, reinforced his suspicions.
Because Juugo had defeated two superior Brave Ten members in a row, Shiden and Akitaka.
“Yeah, as far as I’ve been told, the two that lost to that Ichinose Juugo are both ranked higher than him. His opponents should have been stronger.”
Shin answered Filma’s question about Juugo, who he had seen in town before.
“I see, that’s intriguing for sure.”
“Maybe he took some kind of boosting device? Here you go.”
“Thanks. I think Kankurou would notice something like that though. But seeing that the matches are continuing, I suppose they didn’t find any trace of foul play.”
Shin took the dango offered by Schnee and waited for the results of the next match.
Most matches until now had been brief, so he expected the next results to come soon too.
Shibaid and Tiera were also looking at the result postings, while munching on dango.
“I expected it all to last longer, but it’s been surprisingly quick.”
“It depends, but… Ichinose’s movements were probably different than what his opponents expected. Kuyou also said that there’s a clear difference in level between them, so I guess they got caught by surprise?”
Shin tried to put together a plausible explanation. If the cause was Juugo’s real ability, then the items he had entrusted would not be needed.
“It’s taking longer this time.”
“….that’s true. It’s already been a while, though.”
Shibaid talked while looking in the direction of the arena, as the results from the 4th match onwards did not arrive.
20 minutes had passed already. The other people around them seemed to be thinking the same thing: voices of expectation and curiosity about the results reached Shin’s ears.
Shin checked the map and saw two light dots repeatedly getting closer and farther from each other. The battle seemed to be still going on.
Shin looked away from the map after confirming just that.
“Oh, the results are out…!? Ichinose won, huh.”
Many in the surrounding crowd expressed their disappointment at the result. As they lived in Kujou territory, they probably wished for Karin’s victory.
“That doesn’t look like a good sign.”
“I agr….bingo. Something’s coming.”
“It’ll reach your perception field in a minute or so, Schnee. It’s monsters and a large crowd of people. Seems like we can’t take it easy anymore, folks.”
Shin talked while looking towards the opposite direction of the results’ postings board.
As he had predicted, after about 1 minute an army-like group entered Schnee’s perception field.
At the same time, they heard the sounds of something crumbling and a cloud of dust arose from the arena.
“Kuu! Kuu kuu!!”
“Yuzuha? What’s wrong?”
As to sound the alarm to the already alert group, Yuzuha started barking all of a sudden.
After they calmed her down, Yuzuha said that a powerful force was drawing closer to Mt. Fuji.
“(Something bad!! There!!)”
“(Something bad? A demon?)”
“(No. But the presence is nasty!!)”
Yuzuha talked frantically while beating on Shin’s shoulders.
Yuzuha’s unusual behavior made Shin think that she had perceived a special opponent, so he looked towards the direction she mentioned. He could not detect anything in his range, but Yuzuha seemed absolutely sure that there was something.
“The Kujou soldiers are on the move. Perfect, someone that should know what’s going on is coming. I’ll be right back.”
Karin was not by herself, so Shin told Schnee and the others to wait and jumped on a roof. He was looking towards Karin, hastily moving on the rooftops like him.
Two other people were following her.
“You seem in a rush, did something happen?”
Karin was relieved at seeing Shin.
He already had an idea of what could have happened from the sounds and clouds of dust coming from the arena, but seeing that 『Hakuramaru』 was dangling at Karin’s waist, his suspicion became certain.
“I am really glad I could meet you. There is something I must ask you.”
Karin talked about the reports she had heard in the arena.
“I see, the Ichinose. Tamamo was not there, right?”
“Yes, if possible I would like to request you and your companions’ assistance…”
“No problem for me, but let me talk about it with my companions first. There’s something that concerns me. I will catch up with you later.”
The Futaba domain Karin mentioned was close to Mt. Fuji. Shin was concerned about the monster forces drawing closer to it, but he could not put Yuzuha’s words aside.
The direction was the same, so Shin decided to solve Yuzuha’s concern, then join Karin’s reinforcements.
“I heard what happened. Listen up, everyone.”
Shin reported what he heard to Schnee and the others. He used 【Silent Domain】 to soundproof the area around them, so the surrounding crowd did not hear anything.
“Monsters, is it. Could the “bad thing” Yuzuha talked about be the now disappeared Tamamo?”
“Could be. I’m going there. I would like to ask you all to go to each domain as reinforcements.”
“I will go to the Futaba domain. Once things have been taken care of, I will come to Mt. Fuji.”
Schnee chose the location close to Shin’s, without hesitation. As she boasted the highest speed in the group, she could act faster than anyone else regarding the matter of Yuzuha’s worry, the most unpredictable element.
“I shall stay here. It is shameful to say, but I am the slowest among us.”
As Shibaid expressed his intention of staying, Filma made her decision.
“Okay, I’m going to the Shijou territory with Tiera then. If we physically reinforce Kagerou’s legs, we’ll arrive there quickly.”
Shibaid also had concerns. He mentioned the reason for staying behind is his slow movement speed. However, with Filma’s cooperation they avoid getting Tiera involved in a war between humans.
If the Ichinose soldiers had started their march on their own free will, a different kind of battle than the simple survival against monsters would take place.
It was also different than fighting thieves or bandits. It would be true war, a bloodbath, multitudes of people killing each other.
Shibaid and Filma thought that Tiera, who had only experience fighting monsters, should not be exposed to a war between thousands of people just yet.
“Things might turn harsh here, but will you be alright, Shibaid?”
“I have experienced this type of battle plenty of times. I do not know if they come of their own will or are being manipulated, but if it’s the latter I will save as many as possible. I despise this way of doing things, after all. If they come at me with intent to do battle, however, I will have to react accordingly.”
Shibaid’s statement implied that he would not hesitate to cut his opponents down, would their actions demand it.
“That is perfectly fine. Everybody, we’re off!”
With Shin’s words as a signal, the party of four (plus one fox) set on their respective tracks.