“Sounds like it’s been tough, in more ways than one.”
“Yes, well, it was tough for sure.”
Shin’s party managed to exit the dungeon with barely any monster encounters and returned to the Black Priestess Shrine guild house.
Having learned of Kotone’s return, many priestesses gathered in the guild house.
Shin’s party, on the other hand, was in the guildmaster’s room, reporting in detail what had happened in the dungeon.
“It looks like Kotone managed to maintain her consciousness thanks to Onimaru. On the physical side too, abnormal incident like mutated or missing body parts did not occur either.”
“I’m having her checked here too, just in case. I was worried because she was imprisoned for 5 years, but thankfully the doctor said that there’s nothing wrong with her.”
There were many methods of healing in the world, but Arts such as 【Heal】 or 【Cure】 or Potions were not present everywhere. Black Priestess Shrine members also possessed medical techniques not relying on such methods.
Suzune had accompanied Kotone to take her tests, so she was not in the room either.
“Well, I’d like you to tell me the reason not to dispel Onimaru’s bind.”
After the report about Kotone ended, Shin asked this question to Mitsuyo.
In the dungeon, the purification had been completed and Shin thought that Onimaru Kunitsuna would now be alright; yet for some reason Mitsuyo said to wait before releasing the bind, and the katana was still restrained.
“I guess there’s no helping it. If possible, I actually wanted to bring it back like this.”
“No, if there are any problems I’m not going to force you, you know.”
“I don’t mean to say that you or the others did anything wrong. As we are both Supreme Blades, we can communicate through our consciousness, and I’ve already verified that Kunitsuna retains it.”
“So, what’s stopping you?”
“….I’ll let Kunitsuna answer that.”
Mitsuyo didn’t want to answer herself, apparently, so she handed Onimaru, still affected by 【Elemental Bind】, back to Shin.
There was nothing dangerous behind it though, or so Mitsuyo said.
“….okay, I’m removing the bind then.”
Mitsuyo’s behavior gave Shin a bad feeling about it, but there was no reason to keep the katana bound.
Once freed, Onimaru flashed and assumed human form. It was a female type, like Munechika and Mitsuyo.
Her appearance was about 20 years old. Her eyes were still closed, so they couldn’t tell what color they were, but her shoulder-length hair had a beautiful black luster that did not lose to Munechika’s.
Onimaru was what one would call a traditional Japanese beauty. Within her black hair, two of her bangs -one on the left and one on the right of her face- were bright red. Looking at them, Shin pictured an Oni’s horns.
She was wearing a hakama, but her shoulders and torso were also protected by pieces of armor, forming a rather unusual combination. 『Onimaru Kunitsuna』 was firmly equipped at her waist.
Once she opened her eyes, red pupils -different from any other Supreme Blade- looked straight at Shin.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance. I am one of the Five Supreme Blades, Onimaru Kunitsuna. Allow me to offer you my gratitude for everything you have done for me.”
Kunitsuna then politely bowed her head.
Shin had been prepared for anything to happen, so he felt slightly disoriented.
“I would also like to inquire something. Who matched blades with lady Kotone among you? Other than Mitsuyo.”
“That would be me.”
“Aah! So it was really you, sir!!”
Shin replied, and Kunitsuna walked closer to him, a full smile on her lips. Mitsuyo had stepped in between them, but Kunitsuna dodged her instantly. Shin was surprised by the agility of her movements, but then Kunitsuna took his hands in hers, placed them on her chest and said something he couldn’t have predicted.
“I beg of you, please become my master!”
Shin needed a few seconds before he could grasp the meaning of Kunitsuna’s request.
As Shin and the others were frozen in place by Kunitsuna’s words, Mitsuyo -who had expected them- gave her a light whack over the head. As Kunitsuna’s grip on Shin’s hands weakened, he took the opportunity to step away from her.
“Mitsuyo, please explain what’s going on.”
“Exactly what you heard. Basically she wants you to become her…Onimaru Kunitsuna’s wielder.”
Shin asked Mitsuyo, not Kunitsuna, for an explanation, and Mitsuyo obliged with a sigh.
As he heard her reply, Shin finally understood why Mitsuyo didn’t want to remove Kunitsuna’s bind.
“No one has ever been so rough with me…”
“What are you talking about now!?!”
With no regard for Mitsuyo’s rebuke, Kunitsuna looked straight at Shin. To Shin, her eyes appeared to be almost sparkling.
“Well, that’s an interesting girl if I ever saw one.”
“Indeed. If her body is a weapon, however, to seek the most able wielder is certainly not a problem.”
“You two over there, don’t talk like this doesn’t concern you. If we’re talking about wielders, you two are perfectly good candidates too.”
Shin scoffed and replied to the honestly impressed Shibaid and Filma. In regards to ability, all of Shin’s support characters, Schnee included, possessed more than enough to qualify.
Incidentally, Schnee was whispering “there’s no way Shin will accept”.
“Lady Kunitsuna, I am truly sorry, but I have decided that the weapon I wield is 『True Moon』. Thus I cannot be your wielder.”
“Is…that so. That’s a sh—-”
“Good, Kunitsuna’s nonsense is now over, so let’s get on with the discussion.”
Mitsuyo interrupted the disappointed Kunitsuna and urged the group to resume their talks. It was a fairly crude treatment, but probably as they had communicated earlier too, this result had been predicted.
“You’re cruel, Mitsuyo.”
“I told you this would have happened. So, what are we going to do next?”
“Next, hmm. Well, we did everything we had to.”
Shin continued saying that they could go straight back to Fuji, but Kuchinashi stopped him.
“If so, won’t you join our celebrations?”
“There have been casualties among us, but Onimaru was finally recovered from the dungeon and Kotone returned safe and sound. Furthermore, our greatest concern, the miasma, has disappeared. We had to borrow your strength, but it is a great result for us. Everyone didn’t show it, but ever since Kotone’s group failed their mission, the mood had been pretty quite dark, or rather hopeless, I’d say. So, to wipe it away completely, I thought of organizing a celebration.”
If the valiant warriors who had lent a hand to this success were absent from the celebration, the festive mood would be partly tarnished. Kuchinashi thus requested the presence of Shin’s party in the celebrations.
“Personally, I’d like to avoid having my name and face became more well known.”
“I heard what happened in Balmel. To be brutally honest, I doubt there’s any meaning in hiding now. On the contrary, if they knew that “that famous” Shin had done it, everyone would just nod and accept it.”
“Did it really spread that much? Trying to avoid all possible trouble, I haven’t visited the adventurer’s guild once after leaving Balmel.”
Kuchinashi’s argument about it being too late was reasonable too.
On the other hand, going around defeating small fry and clearing miasma-infested dungeons was very different. Shin knew that it was impossible to keep people from talking, but he still wanted to make an effort to lay low.
“Half truth, half exaggerated rumors, though. But even the exaggerated rumors mention things that you could do easily Shin. After all, people of the right trade could track you down right away anyway.”
“Nothing I can do about that, I guess. A number of people saw us head north, so if they gather information they’d easily start thinking that we’re suspicious, too.”
Their movements had not been perfectly concealed by any means, so Shin decided to accept the situation, as sooner or later he’d be discovered anyway.
“I understand. Don’t hide anything and openly say that I did it then. We’ll probably be involved in all sorts of things from now on too anyway, so it’s just a matter of time.”
“Okay, you’ll be at the center then Shin.”
It will be unavoidable for the party members to receive attention too, but Kuchinashi promised to make sure the information spread with Shin at its center.
“Then, about our gratitude, I mean the reward…”
“Reward? We never talked about that, did we? We came of our own will, and you also let us enter into the normally inaccessible Black Priestess Shrine territory too.”
Shin’s group wished to recover Onimaru. Kuchinashi and her followers wished to save Kotone.
The method to accomplish their objectives was the same, so they cooperated.
Shin and Kuchinashi had a friendly relationship, so it was just a matter of form, but since their agreement had been such, Shin was puzzled.
“That won’t do, though. You saved one of our precious comrades, but we let you go without any reward…that would be dishonorable. There are those who know that we tried and failed to clear the dungeon. We need to at least a put on “performance” to show that we paid you adequately for your work. Something we both agreed upon, based on a formal contract. Of course, I will keep the fact that we know each other hidden.”
“If that piece of information spreads too, some people could come here, hoping to reach and use you through me.”
Black Priestess Shrine was not governing their territory through their strength alone; they had been entrusted with it through a pact with the Kujou house. Even so, they still had frictions with neighboring territories and could not disregard the diplomatic relations with them, sighed Kuchinashi.
The saving grace was that, as Black Priestess Shrine’s role could not be performed by anyone else, they weren’t normally bothered by their neighbors.
It was the burden due to being the host of many priestesses, as Kuchinashi hinted.
“Well, for the reward, just something formal is fine. But don’t go using us for your diplomacy now.”
“I know that. I’m not that ungrateful.”
Afterward, they talked about the formal reward and the group’s lodging, then Shin’s group left the room.
Kuchinashi was apparently sure that they wouldn’t fail the mission; a few hours before the banquet, Shin knew that she had prepared two rewards: one in case Kotone had been saved and another one in case only purification had been possible.
The hectic preparations continued; being the main event, Shin and Shibaid were forced to wear elegant kimono, to their extreme displeasure. Then, their female companions appeared.
“Oooh…as expected, priestess robes look good with black hair.”
They were wearing white and red, traditional priestess robes, different from the Black Priestess Shrine’s typical uniforms.The first to appear dressed in this outfit was Tiera.
Her golden eyes and the silver streaks in her hair were unusual elements considering the attire, but her long black hair perfectly fit the priestess robes.
Her lightly flushed cheeks, maybe out of embarrassment from being the center of attention, added even more charm to the whole, at least according to Shin.
“Don’t stare so much now.”
“I didn’t mean to. But it looks good on you, you can’t blame me for looking a bit, no?”
“Well, that’s fine…I’m just the opening act for master and the others, anyway.”
While fiddling with the silver tips of her hair, Tiera looked towards the door she had come from.
The next ones to come out were Kotone and Filma.
The black-haired, black-eyed Kotone was exactly what Shin pictured from the word priestess. Her delicate gestures, combined with the robe, gave a perfectly graceful impression.
On the other hand, Filma’s stance was almost too proud; she almost looked like a foreigner doing cosplay.
“How do I look? Not too bad, right?”
Used to Filma’s usual armor and its high skin exposure, Shin and Shibaid thought that the priestess robe and its low ratio of exposed skin made Filma look more seductive.
“Hmm, as they say, beauties are beauties no matter what they wear, but this is a prime example indeed. I get an impression pretty different than the usual.”
“Your usual colors are red and purple, so the red hakama looks really good on you. And like Shibaid said, there’s a curious gap…”
Kotone inquired as well.
“If I may ask too, what do you think of me?”
“Honestly speaking, I’d be hard pressed to find words other than “it looks good on you”…you are exactly what I picture when I imagine a priestess, you see.”
A beautiful black-haired, black-eyed priestess. The impact of her coy look was incommensurable.
“We’re here too, if you care.”
“….Mitsuyo and Kunitsuna, why are you wearing priestess clothes too? Well, no, you look good, of course…”
Shin’s attention had been occupied by Filma and Kotone, when Mitsuyo and Kunitsuna, also wearing priestess robes, called to him from behind.
They normally wore armor, but picturing different clothes in mind could let them change to a degree, they said. Because of the occasion, they decided to wear priestess robes too.
Maybe affected by the colors of their armor, the sleeves of Mitsuyo’s robe had black and golden patterns, while Kunitsuna’s were red and black.
“We thought to entice lord Shin with our charms…but I see we have many fierce rivals.”
“Shut up. And that’s not how it is anyway.”
Kunitsuna held her hand to her cheeks, looking troubled, while Mitsuyo pouted and looked away. The Five Supreme Blades were truly a trove of strong personalities.
“Hey, Shin. The main event is starting.”
Filma called for Shin’s attention. As he turned back, Schnee appeared too.
Schnee had also changed from her usual clothing to a priestess robe; she came walking calmly into the room, her silver hair flowing while following her movements.
Like Tiera and the others, she had applied some make-up after taking a bath, making her smile, a normal sight for Shin, even more bright than usual.
A single word escaped Shin’s mouth.
He could have talked forever, just piling up words of praise. But he felt that it would be all unneeded.
That’s how much he had been charmed by her.
“I knew it…that’s how it always ends.”
Along with Tiera’s dejected words, Shin feels a jolt hitting his legs. Back from his charmed trance, Shin looked at his feet and found Yuzuha, in her usual priestess robe, puffing her cheeks. She was still kicking Shin with her thin legs.
“Yuzuha, ignored, no good!”
After coming back from the dungeon, Shin had been busy talking with Kuchinashi and preparing for the celebrations, thus he had found no time for Yuzuha; she thought he had forgotten his promise.
Her growth should have increased her mental age too, but now Yuzuha was back to being a little girl. Maybe she was only acting more mature.
“I worked hard, here! Praise!”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, so stop sticking to my face! I can’t see in front!”
Yuzuha, still in human form, jumped on Shin’s head, covering his face.
It was a surprise attack using her over level-600 physical abilities to the fullest. Being still under the effect of Schnee’s charm, Shin couldn’t have avoided it.
When Shin managed to get Yuzuha off him, his hair had become a mess.
“—then, this happens?”
“You had her stay back a lot lately, after all. You could treat her specially at least today.”
Schnee smiled at them.
The celebrations’ banquet hall was already crowded with priestesses.
Shin and the group were led to the main guests’ seats; Yuzuha, still in human form, took position on his lap.
She grinned proudly while holding his arms, laughed and talked excitedly. After growing up, her expressionless face had apparently vanished completely.
“So lovely, may I pet you?”
“Kuu, you may! Shin pet too!”
Her tone was smug, but the fox ears on her head twitched happily. Their movements clearly showed how she wanted to be petted quickly, making Yuzuha even more adorable.
In the main guest seats, Shin was sitting in the seat of honor, with Schnee, Tiera, Mitsuyo, Kunitsuna, Filma and Shibaid sitting on the left side. Kagerou was next to Tiera.
On the opposite right side sat Kotone, Suzune and Kuchinashi.
The priestesses’ eyes were concentrated on Shin’s group: the mysterious fox girl being cuddled on Shin’s lap, between two beauties such as Schnee and Kotone, attracted the most attention.
“Now, let us begin!!”
Kuchinashi’s words brought total silence into the hall. She had used a Wind spell to carry her voice throughout the venue.
The eyes of all present went from Shin to Kuchinashi.
“I am sure many of you already know about Kotone’s return. She was saved from the dungeon we have had trouble clearing, Cadaver Realm. Now I will introduce to you the adventurers who saved Kotone and cleared the dungeon.”
Kuchinashi’s hand pointed towards Shin and his companions.
As they previously discussed, the members who actually went into the dungeon -Shin, Schnee, Tiera and Mitsuyo- stood up. As they did, thunderous applause filled the hall.
Shin was surprised by the intensity of the cheering; he did not expect for the response to be so big.
“Everyone already knows about your feats in the battles in Balmel.”
“Is that so.”
It wasn’t exactly a “set-up”, but Kuchinashi had apparently already given some information to the priestesses. Shin felt that it had spread all too fast though.
In addition, the words “That’s the Slashing Hammer…” that sometimes reached his ears enhanced his bad feeling.
“Ehm, I keep hearing the words “Slashing Hammer”…what does that mean?”
“You don’t know? It’s Shin’s “new” nickname. He slashes monsters apart with dull weapons, so people started referring to him as “Shin the Slashing Hammer”.”
Shin felt a dull blow in his gut, knowing how this nickname had spread without his knowledge. What kind of name is Slashing Hammer… he couldn’t help but sigh to himself.
“Tonight we celebrate Kotone’s return, the conquest of the dungeon and these brave adventurers!!”
Kuchinashi spoke again after the applause died down.
There was no toast; after another brief applause, all participants freely started to enjoy food and beverages.
“Here you are.”
Noticing that Shin’s glass was empty, Kotone raised a bottle of Sake to offer him.
Schnee too was paying attention to serving him, but as Shin held his glass with his right hand, Kotone was closer.
“You even have my sister serve you…!?”
“Don’t say it like I’m forcing her to!!”
Shin didn’t know how others saw it, but Kotone had served him out of her own free will.
“Shin, feed me, feed me!”
Completely unaware of Kotone and Schnee’s small war and Suzune’s pestering, Yuzuha kept ordering what she wanted to eat.
Shin felt bad about leaving Yuzuha back often lately, so he prioritized feeding Yuzuha over eating himself.
“Can’t help it. Here, say aah!”
Shin used a pair of chopsticks and brought Yuzuha’s order to her mouth. Yuzuha took a big bite and showed a large smile.
Shin had younger siblings in the real world; he laughed wryly at Yuzuha’s spoiled attitude, but followed her orders to the letter.
“My, how cute.”
Looking at Yuzuha fed by Shin, Kotone squirmed.
“Then, I suppose I shall do it to Shin.”
Shin’s chopsticks were busy with feeding Yuzuha. Seeing this, Schnee quickly used hers to pick food from a plate and carry it to Shin’s mouth.
“Here, say aah.”
Schnee started it herself, but couldn’t help blushing a little.
Shin noticed it and became nervous. The food she had brought him, though, was very delicious.
“My my, there’s no space to fit in between those three, is there.”
“She might be a monster, but she looks just like a child.”
Looking at Shin and those around him, Filma and Shibaid laughed and drank merrily.
Since they didn’t participate in the dungeon mission, they wondered whether they should participate in the celebrations, but Kuchinashi overwhelmed their objections, saying that it was always a party.
“Won’t you go to lord Shin’s side?”
“Me? Well, even if I went…”
The question to Filma had been asked by Kunitsuna, who was looking at Shin too. He had refused to become her wielder, but as her savior, she addressed him with “lord”.
In reaction to her question, Filma tilted her glass in her hands, a troubled expression on her face.
“Schnee and I, we have a different stance towards Shin…we feel different things.”
“Is that so? I thought that conquering the strong and being served by the beautiful was a gentleman’s way of life. It appears that lady Schnee and lady Tiera fancy lord Shin.”
“Ahaha, anyone would see Schnee does.”
Tiera took another swig, laughing heartily.
“For Tiera, it looks too early for you to say so, though.”
“Women are more sensitive about this stuff…right?”
“Mitsuyo and Munechika are a bit dull, though. Their way of thinking is more similar to a man’s.”
“Hey, Kunitsuna, don’t just insult so casually!”
Mitsuyo, sitting beside Kunitsuna, couldn’t let those words go without reacting. I know that much too, her pouting lips expressed.
“Hmm, as they say in Hinomoto, three women together make a ruckus…I see it’s true even with weapons.”
Looking at Kunitsuna and Filma teasing Mitsuyo, Shibaid whispered this to himself and poured himself another glass.
“My, you won’t ask about my feelings, Shibaid?”
“You are a High Lord, but your heart is similar to a Type Cat’s. Even if I asked, you would not say what you really feel. We are companions under the same master, I do not need to be a woman to understand.”
“Hmph, so that’s what you say to me, huh.”
Shibaid’s words and look seemed to see through Filma; this time it was her lips’ turn to pout.
“There is no need for reservation between us, is there. Lady Kunitsuna, you do not need to hold anything back with Filma. She’s not the type to be concerned by things like that, so speak to her freely.”
“I shall do as you say, then.”
“Do let me add one thing, though. I heard you asked Shin to become your master, but I tell you that asking us will give you the same result. Because we have received our weapons from Shin.”
Shibaid had heard about it from Schnee, so he made sure Kunitsuna let go such thoughts. As Shin had said, Shibaid and the others had more than enough ability to wield Kunitsuna.
“Oh my, did you find out I was aiming at you? Lord Shin has unfathomable prowess, but the same can be said for you all. It might be a strange thing to say but, lady Schnee included, I feel that you all exceed the limits of strength an individual can hope to attain.”
“That’s all part of serving a High Human. I wouldn’t lose to any average warrior.”
“Truly. Were the master to give the order, the servant needs to be able to overthrow even a divine beast.”
Despite her playful tone, Kunitsuna’s speech was serious; Filma and Shibaid gave their answers, each with a slightly different atmosphere.
Only Mitsuyo, who had stayed with them for a certain time and was following their exchange, noticed this small change.
“Kunitsuna, enough with your jokes.”
“I know. I won’t go any further. I apologize, I am afraid I overstepped my bounds.”
“Don’t worry. It happened a lot in the past.”
In the period when the High Human’s abilities were still unknown, the number of reckless players who had faced Shin to test his strength was not small.
As Shibaid and Filma were with him during such battles too, they were sensible to the gaze of who wanted to estimate their strength.
In Kunitsuna’s case, they felt how she was also wary of them, so they released some of the pressure they were keeping suppressed.
“We’re here to celebrate. Let’s enjoy the rest of the banquet.”
They all nodded to Shibaid’s words.
Forgetting about time passing, all present enjoyed the party.