After quelling the revolt in Hinomoto, Shin headed towards the Sacred Mountain Fuji to fulfill his promise with Mikazuki Munechika, one of the Five Supreme Blades.
Once outside Kujou territory, Shin’s party proceeded to their destination with a horse carriage. Running on foot would have been faster, but they didn’t have any particular reason to hurry.
They were traveling at a lower speed than when they had traveled to the Futaba and Shijou territories to suppress the revolt, but their carriage was still much faster than average.
“—–so why does this Supreme Blade lady, with a name that screams nothing but danger, want to talk to you?”
Filma asked Shin, who was sitting on the coachman’s seat.
In the game era, support characters could not fight the Five Supreme Blades, so not only Filma, but also Schnee and Shibaid didn’t know how powerful Munechika was.
However, hearing from Shin about her level and equipment, they could measure the level of danger she posed.
Above level 900 and equipped with Ancient-grade gear. Even for Schnee and the others, who possessed overwhelming strength by this world’s standards, she was not an opponent they could afford to face without preparation.
“I don’t know the reason why, to be honest. But she’s been around ever since before the “Dusk of the Majesty”, she could have something important to say, no?”
“Won’t there be any danger?”
“We talked and crossed swords in a match, but there was nothing particularly suspicious. Even if she was hungry for a serious battle, she was keeping herself under control.”
Shin answered Schnee’s question while remembering how Munechika had withdrawn her wooden sword before getting completely serious.
It could not be said that she did not desire to fight, but Munechika was not the type to only talk via battle.
Even if Karin and Kanade had visited her by themselves, she would have probably requested something else in exchange for the herb, or nothing at all.
“I’m asking just in case, but she isn’t going to say she fell for you like Karin did, right?”
“Come on, Filma, the arranged marriage thing was something Karin’s mother pushed by herself…”
“I heard that already. But her eyes were those of a maiden in love, you know? You aren’t going to tell me that you had no idea now, are you?”
“I kind of…noticed, yeah.”
Any normal person would have noticed if she expressed it that clearly. Shin was no exception, but at the same time he found it strange.
“Karin’s behavior changed after I refused the arranged marriage thing. I don’t really understand why that happened. Why do you act like you’re in love after you’ve been refused? Isn’t it the opposite usually?”
Shin couldn’t wrap his mind around it.
“I bet she didn’t realize her feelings until late. She had this “I live for the sword” aura and all.”
“…..I don’t get it after all.”
Shin knew how it felt to like someone, but he couldn’t understand Karin’s circumstances.
“Let’s stop talking about past things. So, what kind of person is this Munechika?”
“I don’t really know her well myself. The first time I met her was—-”
Shin talked about how he brought Karin and Kanade to the peak of Fuji and how he fought Munechika for the medicinal herb.
“She was strong.”
“Yes, as Yuzuha said, her sword arm was something else. I couldn’t win in a pure match of sword skills. If everything was allowed though, it would be different.”
Shin talked while remembering his match against Munechika. If he could use magic and skills, there was no way he could lose.
“Hmm, yes, an unshackled Shin would surely find a way to win, even if inferior in sword ability.”
“Shin never loses after all.”
In contrast to Shibaid’s rational analysis of Shin’s strength, Schnee retorted as if she found the very consideration of Shin losing preposterous. She looked so adamant that Tiera couldn’t help reacting.
“…ahem. We’re almost at Fuji.”
After coughing to change the subject, Schnee noted they had reached their destination.
Fuji stood imposingly before the horse carriage..
As always, a thick fog laid heavily all around the peak.
“I heard that the fog doesn’t disappear, but the woods appear to be pretty quiet.”
Tiera whispered after looking at the mists, then the forest.
“We’re close to the World Tree forest. I suppose mysterious forces are at work.”
Schnee answered Shin’s question while looking at the forest extending at the foot of Fuji, just like Tiera.
“I heard there are high-level monsters around here too, but is it true?”
“On average monsters are at level 500, the same as before. But the Eight-Headed Orochi on the peak is a whole other category. Level 833.”
Shibaid grumbled after hearing Shin’s reply.
“It might be lower than Munechika, but still it’s not an opponent we can underestimate.”
“We’re not going to fight, so I think it will be all right. When I visited Fuji last time it wasn’t belligerent either.”
Some heads looked at Shin with curiosity, others were even sleeping: it looked like each head had a distinct personality. It was a powerful monster, but as Shin had only seen such behavior, to him it seemed more cute than dangerous.
“Anyway, let’s start climbing. We don’t have to worry about the monsters with the members we have here, but don’t let your guard down.”
“Well then, I’ll take the lead going up.”
Schnee was walking in the lead, with Shin and the others behind her. Looking at the party from above, Tiera was in the center, Shin on the right, Filma on the left and Shibaid took up the rear. Yuzuha was riding on Shin’s left shoulder.
With Kagerou around, there was no need to focus on protecting Tiera, but they assumed that formation naturally.
Tiera equipped a bow as main weapon. Taking a formation focused on rear support had become almost second nature for Shin’s party.
“We’re entering the mists.”
The group penetrated the area hidden by the fog, their formation unbroken.
Differently from when Shin had come with Karin and Kanade, they didn’t move stealthily this time; but thanks to Schnee’s precise guidance, they passed the fog area without encountering any monsters.
Maybe because it had sensed the approach of Shin’s party, after emerging from the mist they found Orochi’s heads awaiting them.
Tiera couldn’t hide her surprise at the monster’s towering figure. Just like last time, Eight-Headed Orochi was looking at Shin’s group with curiosity.
Maybe because they were many, or because it had felt their high levels, this time all 8 heads were fixated on them.
“It’s true, I feel no intimidation or hostility from it.”
“Hmm, I suppose we do not need to be wary.”
Schnee and Shibaid relaxed their stances after looking at Orochi.
“Rather, I’m more concerned about over there.”
Differently from Schnee and the others, Filma was looking towards the interior of the small shrine.
A few moments after her comment, something sparkled from within the shrine.
“You came earlier than expected, Shin.”
“I said I would not make you wait.”
The source of the light was the armor Munechika was clad in. She was walking towards the party, holding her helmet with her left hand.
“There is no need to act so formal, considering our relationship.”
Munechika laid a hand on Shin’s shoulder, her face coming closer to his. Surprisingly close.
“Well…I only remember we crossed swords once, that’s it.”
Shin had no idea why she would act so intimate with him, and squeezed out a response despite his confusion. He had recently assisted her in defeating the demon foxes, but he didn’t think that was enough to cause her to act so affectionately.
“Ah, now that I think about it I had not talked about it yet. “You made me fall a lot, I won’t let you say that I won by chance”…you said things like these before our last match, right? After you left, I thought about those words. It took me a few days, but I clearly remembered.”
“Could it be that you recalled the memories from the game era?”
It was something from more than 500 years before. It wasn’t something one would normally remember.
“It would probably be impossible without some trigger. I did not think I could recall them so clearly either.”
Munechika explained how she had not recalled just by looking at him during their match. Shin’s words were what acted as trigger.
“That day, I said that I wanted to talk to you again…maybe because I had unconsciously remembered.”
“How much do you know of me?”
“I didn’t know a lot about you personally from the start. But I remember how burning hot your blade was when we fought, you know?”
The hand resting on Shin’s shoulder moved towards his face.
“There are people other than you that defeated me. But no one challenged me as many times as you did. The more I remembered, the more my chest felt hot and…well, isn’t this quite uncouth of you?”
Munechika’s last words, directed at the person who had suddenly appeared before her, were spoken as her shoulders dropped.
The person cutting in the progressively decreasing distance between Shin and Munechika was Schnee.
“My apologies, but it will be a problem if you come any closer to Shin.”
“A problem, hmm. Don’t you mean to say that you’d be envious?”.
Munechika’s taunting words were met by a sharper look from Schnee.
“Okay, okay, stop, stop I say! Schnee, you calm down too, she’s not serious anyway. Munechika, enough with the jokes!”
“Hehe, you know how it is. I had just put a hand on your shoulder, but I felt such a fearful look from over there…of course I would want to tease a little. And now your formal tone disappeared too, right?”
“Give me a break…”
Shin sighed, his hands on Schnee’s shoulders to calm her. He wholeheartedly wished for them to stop making the mood dangerous.
“Well, I have to say she’s pretty different from what I expected.”
“Indeed, this is not what Shin’s words suggested.”
Witnessing the scene, Filma and Shibaid were puzzled.
They had confirmed her level and were positive that she had to be really strong. But the feeling of intimidation often associated with powerful warriors was nowhere to be found, hence their comments.
“Ehm, Shin? I think you should have taken your hands off by now.”
“Hm? Ah, aah! I’m sorry!”
Shin looked in front of himself after hearing Tiera’s remark, only to find Schnee frozen in place, completely red.
“….that’s not, a problem.”
Maybe embarrassed to be seen blushing like that, Schnee mumbled while keeping her head down.
“Haha, you folks are never boring to look at.”
“And whose fault is it? Well, let me hear the rest of the story.”
“Apologies, it had been a while since I had so much fun. Let us get to the point, Shin. I believe I know both your original fighting power and personality. As such, there is something I wish to ask of you.”
Munechika was smiling at the start, but as she approached the heart of the topic her expression turned completely serious.
“Is that something my companions can hear too?”
“Yes, not a problem. After all, as you command an Element Tail, you are not completely unrelated to this.”
Munechika spoke while looking at Yuzuha. Hearing that it was something related to Element Tails, Shin imagined it was related to Ley lines.
“Come. There is something I wish to show you.”
Following Munechika, who had turned around, the group entered the shrine.
After about 5 minutes, a red light entered their field of sight.
“This is Fuji’s original master, Kagutsuchi.”
Looking at the source of the light, everyone became speechless.
The red light came from a phoenix-shaped red crystal.
The crystallized Kagutsuchi, wings spread as if protecting something, emitted a red light that brightly illuminated the room.
“What’s going on here?”
“In the past, miasma seeped in the Ley lines. In order to restore balance to the Ley lines, it turned like this. Despite the appearance, Kagutsuchi isn’t dead. You can come out now! These people aren’t dangerous!”
Munechika shouted towards the crystal. Shin was wondering what she was doing, when something moved from the shadows behind the crystal.
A small creature the size of a fist jumped down from the crystal, flapping earnestly its small wings, and landed on Munechika’s head.
“Bad! Land on my shoulder, not my head, how many times have I told you?”
Spreading its wings declaring its presence on Munechika’s head was a little bird with red plumage.
It was a bit big for a baby bird, but it was like a slightly larger chick painted red, very fluffy-looking.
““Welcome, o fellow Element Tail” is what it said. 2 times.”
To Shin’s party it only sounded like it was crying, but according to Yuzuha the two “Pii” had said the same thing.
“You understand what it says?”
“More or less.”
Yuzuha explained that maybe because they both can influence Ley lines, they can also communicate.
“It might look like this now, but this is Kagutsuchi. At least, a part of it.”
“It can do something like that?”
“It retains little strength, though. It can just communicate, that’s it.”
The baby Kagutsuchi poked Munechika with its rounded beak. Munechika didn’t look like she was hurt in the least.
“I know. More than that, what happened to Tsunetsugu and Mitsuyo? We should talk to them too.”
It appeared that Munechika also understood Kagutsuchi’s speech.
The names mentioned by Munechika, Tsunetsugu and Mitsuyo, were the names of Supreme Blades like her.
“There are others from the Five Supreme Blades?”
“Only two, though.I’ll explain. —–Here they are.”
2 silhouettes appeared from the corridor next to the crystallized Kagutsuchi.
The first was an old man probably over 60 years old, judging from his appearance.
His slicked back hair was a silvery grey. He was observing Shin’s party while stroking his unkempt beard, but did not show a single opening. He wore samurai-like protective gear on his shoulders, legs and around his waist.
The other sword was a young girl in her late teens who, like Munechika, wore armor on her whole body, helmet excluded.
She was not very tall and looked rather thin as well. Her twin pigtails and pretty features made her seem very cute, but her sharp, cold stare destroyed this impression.
Despite looking young, she seemed eager to fight; her yellow-bordered black armor had a design different from Munechika’s.
“Hoho, we just came because of Kagutsuchi’s call, who knew we had guests too.”
“Munechika? You allowed people here without our permission?”
“Because it involves Yasutsuna and Kunitsuna. And suppress that killing intent a little, Mitsuyo. If they were dangerous, whether I was here or not, Kagutsuchi wouldn’t have come out, would it?”
Right after her appearance, the young girl created a tense mood. Shin’s 【Analyze】 displayed her name as Oodenta Mitsuyo.
The old man who appeared with the girl was Juzumaru Tsunetsugu.
Mitsuyo’s level was 908, Tsunetsugu’s 941. Both their names came from the swords they were based on.
“Look at the Element Tail on this man——on Shin’s shoulder. No Element Tail would ever follow someone who disrupted the flow of the Ley lines. They are the people I talked about before, that we could request to help us. Further, in regards to Shin, this is not your first time meeting him. Mitsuyo, you even lost to him once. Try to remember.”
Munechika had already talked about Shin’s party to them, apparently. She looked at the Element Tail as Munechika said and, with a growl-like grumble, suppressed her killing intent.
Munechika’s last words, however, prompted her to look at Shin even more sharply.
“As they do not have impure thoughts, they might indeed be worthy of trust. Kagutsuchi said the same too, so I’ll believe that. But there is one thing that I cannot just accept. I have lost!? What exactly do you mean!?”
“Do not raise your voice, Mitsuyo. Good grief, the only one among us who did not lose is Tsunetsugu.”
“An old man like me? It is true that I can count the times I lost on the fingers of one hand…hmm. Young man, try to show me your killing intent.”
Shin was dumbfounded at the sudden request to release his killing intent.
“You see, this old man here is bad at remembering names and faces.”
“I see, I understand then. Here I go.”
Shin looked at Tsunetsugu with some killing intent. Other than Tsunetsugu’s reaction, Mitsuyo too opened her eyes wide.
“Hoho, I see, I see. I felt this killing intent a very long time ago. I did not lose, but I did not win either. I don’t remember killing you.”
“That’s because I felt I couldn’t match you and ran away right away.”
In the battles against the anthropomorphized swords, if moving was possible fleeing was possible too, as the swords could not leave a specified battle range.
Losing to a weapon and dying would naturally mean to receive a penalty for dying, so many players fled rather than risk it. Few managed to flee successfully, though.
“Kahah! That was some mighty fine running!”
In the game era, Shin had managed to obtain four of the Five Supreme Blades.
He had obtained 『Mikazuki Munechika』shortly before the event ended, and time ran out on 『Juzumaru Tsunetsugu』. The 『Juzumaru Tsunetsugu』Shin now carried was something he had obtained in a revival event.
Judging from the three swords’ conversation, they did not have memories of the revival event.
“What! You say you defeated me, and you didn’t defeat Tsunetsugu!? Beat us all properly!!”
“Don’t be ridiculous! I barely managed to take Munechika down before time ran out. I could have fought a few times, but there wasn’t enough time.”
Mitsuyo, dissatisfied that the person who had defeated her didn’t defeat Tsunetsugu, a Supreme Blade like her, complained to Shin.
Shin had attempted to study his attack patterns, like when fighting a boss, but he didn’t have enough time to carry it out.
Considering his stats and equipment at the time, even if he had plenty of time it would have probably been difficult. Shin did not yet possess his current power.
“So, did you remember? Mitsuyo.”
“Hngh, well, I think we fought before…”
Mitsuyo nodded while mumbling something. She did not mention having lost, but frustration was clearly visible on her expression.
“But! Maybe that happened in the past, but it doesn’t mean he must be strong now too. It happened 500 years ago, after all.”
“I made sure to check that by crossing swords with him. His sharpness increased and I didn’t feel impurities that would lead him to be contaminated by miasma. If anything strange had happened to Shin, I doubt they would just sit by and do nothing too.”
Munechika answered Mitsuyo’s remark by looking over towards Shin’s group.
What her eyes found were a slightly blushing Schnee, silently observing Filma and Shibaid, then Tiera, who was intently trying to keep up with the conversation.
“Ehm, so in the end, what is it that you want us to do? You said I’m not unrelated?”
“Yes, I’m sorry. It’s my fault that we were not exactly of the same page on my side.”
“Well, if Munechika says there are no problems, then I believe so too. Mitsuyo, you should stop sulking.”
Next to the apologizing Munechika, Tsunetsugu nodded in acceptance. At the same time, however, he added an unnecessary comment, met by an angry shout by Mitsuyo.
“Hnngh….I get it. Go on.”
Because of baby Kagutsuchi’s reproach, Mitsuyo reluctantly urged Munechika to continue talking.
“I’ll continue, then. What I wished to request to Shin and his group was to help us look for two of our fellow Supreme Blades.”
“All 5 swords…no, 5 people…aren’t here?”
Shin had not expressed it in words, but was wondering why only 2 of them, Mitsuyo and Tsunetsugu, had come out.
The answer was, because they were not there in the first place.
“I think that your Element Tail probably knows. It happened roughly 500 years ago, when the crust shifted. In that period, miasma suddenly seeped into the Ley lines.”
Munechika explained that the demons probably did something when the Ley lines were in a state of chaos.
“Great multitudes of monsters appeared, peculiar areas formed too, maybe?”
“Exactly. We were dragged in it too.”
The contamination of Ley lines and corruption of Sacred Places via the miasma was also an event in the game era. In the game it was sufficient to defeat the monsters and demons causing the phenomenon, but in this world things would not be that simple.
The territory around Fuji repeatedly moved up and down because of the crust shifts, causing the Five Supreme Blades, normally always apart from each other, to gather in one place.
Munechika continued by recounting how, thanks to Kagutsuchi’s power, they managed to restore balance to the Ley lines, but then the incident happened.
“The Ley lines were supposed to have calmed down, when suddenly thick miasma entered them. To restore them again, Kagutsuchi took this current form, but Yasutsuna and Kunitsuna were swallowed by the miasma and disappeared.”
“That’s incredible…it’s true that Yuzuha also suffered because of the miasma, but…”
“Kuu, maybe it happened, all around the world.”
Yuzuha, who like Kagutsuchi used her powers to suppress the crust shifts, talked with some restlessness in her voice.
“In that case, however, I can’t just accept it easily. Do you have any clues?”
“We didn’t exactly do nothing all this time. We Five Supreme Blades can sense each other’s presence. It took a while because of the miasma, but we have found the general location they should be in.”
Munechika answered Shin’s doubts. That information was more than what he expected.
“Let me ask just for confirmation, but it wasn’t possible for one of you to go meet them, or rather, bring them back?”
“We wouldn’t be asking you if we could!!”
“Easy, Mitsuyo. Don’t start biting at any chance you get. I understand what the boy means, though. We cannot, however, move beyond a determined radius. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you boy?”
“….I see, that’s why you said that the Supreme Blades, which would normally never be together, have gathered.”
The Five Supreme Blades not being able to move beyond a certain radius was one of the event’s rules. Unrelated to the developers’ intentions, this had been applied to the current world too, as Shin understood from Tsunetsugu’s words.
“Fuji is also different from the game era. We are bound to the land. Because of that, we cannot go look for Yasutsuna and Kunitsuna. But because we are bound to the land, we could gather together because of the land’s movements. If we had been suddenly released from such bonds, we probably would not have come all the way to the region ruled by Kagutsuchi. In that case, no one could have protected this place: Fuji would have become a den of monsters. Whether it was fortune or misfortune, in the end, I cannot say.”
Tsunetsugu spoke while fiddling with his unkempt beard.
“Can’t say, that is true.”
“Well in any case, we can only do what we can now. Apologies for cutting in. Munechika, continue.”
“Yes, so…we have more or less traced Yasutsuna and Kunitsuna’s location. We would like to ask you to go pick them up.”
“I see. I understand that it’s something you can’t ask to the people here.”
The Five Supreme Blades were opponents that even Schnee and the others would have a rough time facing one-on-one.
Now that Shin had renewed their equipment and they had powered up they might be able to go toe to toe with them, but for Shin’s former support characters, as they were in the past, it would be a very dangerous battle.
At the same time, for the denizens of the current world it was a nearly impossible request.
Even former players that could get on par with them were limited in numbers.
“I would cooperate if we know the location, what do you think everybody?”
“I’ll follow you, Shin.”
“What Schnee said.”
“Hmm, if miasma is involved I couldn’t leave it alone.”
“I too think it’s better to accept it.”
The whole party answered positively to Shin’s question, albeit with different reasons.
Kagerou would follow Tiera, so everyone agreed naturally.
“It’s decided then. The closest one first…no, which one should be picked up the soonest?”
Shin changed his question halfway through.
If they were corrupted by miasma, it was better to prioritize whichever was tainted more.
“That I do not know. I was thinking of having you go toward the closest one.”
Munechika stated again that all they could tell was the general distance and direction.
“That can’t be helped. Where is the closer one, then?”
“Closer, well, it’s in the depths of the dungeon below this very mountain. I suppose that saying “secret dungeon” will make it easy for you to understand.”
Munechika’s words took Shin by surprise. He had heard rumors of a hidden dungeon beneath Fuji, but no one had actually ever gone there or even seen it.
There was also the possibility that whoever found it had hidden it.
“You were a player, so you should know that much, no?”
“So the rumors were true. But then you could go save—-oh, I see. The dungeon is considered a different area.”
“Correct. It lies at our very feet, yet we could do nothing…that was truly vexating.”
Just like Munechika as she spoke these words, Mitsuyo and Tsunetsugu’s expressions became clouded too. Their pain of not being able to go save their companions was clear even if they didn’t put it in words.
“Got it. The depths of the dungeon, then?”
“Yes. As long as my and Kagutsuchi’s perceptions are not wrong, Yasutsuna is somewhere in the lower floors of the dungeon. The hidden dungeon too, however, is affected by the miasma. It could be hidden somewhere, so if you go to the deepest part but still find nothing, we will have to think about what else to do.”
The Fuji dungeon was originally under Kagutsuchi’s control, so it knew of its internal structure, albeit not completely.
However, they could not discard the possibility that it had been warped by the miasma: thus even Kagutsuchi’s usually energetic “pii!” cries now sounded like a feeble “pii…”.
“Roger. This time, we’ll have to explore as if we wanted to map the whole dungeon. If we use detection-type skills, it might take some time but it’s possible, after all.”
“I apologize for burdening you with this. If I could go personally, I would be able to detect a more precise position.”
Munechika stated that if they could get closer to the target, the precision of their detection would increase too. If only they could bring Munechika, who was bound to the present location, with them… thinking this, a question popped up in Shin’s mind.
“Say, Munechika. Your original form is the sword 『Mikazuki Munechika』, right?”
“That it is. The sword I carry is, while very similar to it, a fake. Even so, its stats and effects are the same. If I release my human form, the real sword appears. That’s my original form”
“Pretty much as I expected. Then I ask, can the one I have take human form?”
Shin took an item from the item box. The item was one of the Five Supreme Blades, 『Mikazuki Munechika』.
“Why do you have something like that!?”
“Why of course, 500 years ago you won against me. There’s nothing strange in you having it.”
“Yes, I’m going to say something a bit weird, but I was thinking if this couldn’t be used as a substitute.”
If Munechika and the 『Mikazuki Munechika』 in Shin’s possession were one and the same, Shin thought that maybe the latter could enter the dungeon in place of Munechika, who couldn’t move from Fuji.
If the consciousness dwelling within this 『Mikazuki Munechika』 also wished to save her companions, that is.
“I see. It is true that if I am bound to a master, I can go where the master goes. But my master now is Kagutsuchi, so I cannot come alongside you, Shin. Further, I cannot perceive any aura from the 『Mikazuki Munechika』 you hold. Even if it is the same sword as I am, the moment it became the possession of a player, it probably completely became just a weapon.”
“I see…if you could come with us, we would be able to move with more precision, is what I thought.”
“Wait, though. That line of thinking could hold some truth.”
“It could? What do you mean?”
Shin was about to put 『Mikazuki Munechika』 back in the item box, as it didn’t look like it could be of use, but Munechika stopped him. She was looking at 『Mikazuki Munechika』, now in card form.
“Can you let me have that for a moment? There is something I wish to try.”
Munechika received the item card from Shin and materialized the blade. She then closed her eyes to focus.
“…hmm, as I thought. Rejoice, Shin. It appears I can accompany you.”