Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 18 - Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: The Heir to One’s Will

A week has passed since Ryoma’s nighttime meeting with Koichiro. The sun had just reached its peak, and it was around the time when people finished their lunches and prepared to delve into their afternoon work. Ryoma, who usually worked in his office at the estate, walked with Laura to the training field located in a corner of Sirius.

The training field was an area of exposed soil surrounded by plaster walls where only the most accomplished of the barony’s soldiers were allowed to train and further their skills. It was reserved for the soldiers’ use, so high-ranking officers like Robert and Signus rarely used it. Needless to say, Ryoma didn’t visit this place often either. He only came here during parades or other such ceremonial events, or otherwise to greet the soldiers.

When he and Laura reached the training field, Ryoma looked around curiously.

“Why come here?” he asked.

His surprise was understandable. Their preparations for the northern subjugation’s arrival were complete, so all that was left was to intercept the enemy army. Ryoma also had other work to keep in mind; as governor, he had loads of documents to review and approve every day.

I came outside for a change of pace, but...

Ever since he’d returned from his meeting with Myest, Ryoma had shut himself away in his office. He never ran out of work, but eventually his patience could only take so much, so when Laura asked that he follow her outside, he agreed. He was a bit suspicious of Laura’s explanation for wanting him to leave, but he’d listened to her out of an honest desire for a change of scenery. At this point, he couldn’t help but feel curious about what Laura was doing.

Rather than answer his question, Laura shook her head apologetically. “I’m sorry, Master Ryoma. You’ll see when we get there.”

At first, Ryoma wondered if there was some kind of ceremony planned, but given Laura’s reaction, that didn’t seem to be the case. Just then, Ryoma spotted a group gathered in a corner of the training field.

Hm? They don’t look like they’re training.

The group didn’t appear to be doing anything in particular, and since there was no cheering or jeering to be heard, they weren’t engaged in a fight of any kind. Ryoma looked to Laura, who seemed to know what was going on, but she just shook her head. This did seem to be the reason she’d brought him out here, though.

“So how did this happen?” Ryoma asked and looked around. There was an unexpected gathering of people there.

That’s Sara, and the redhead next to her must be Lione. Opposite them are Mike and the Crimson Lions...and Gennou...? What’s going on here?

Gathered were all the core members and senior officers of the Mikoshiba barony. What’s more, this was usually the time of day when they would be overseeing the soldiers’ training or handling paperwork. Still, considering that some people were missing, it was clear they hadn’t completely neglected their duties.

I’m guessing they left their work in the hands of others, but what’s this all about?

Ryoma wasn’t the kind of grumpy boss who complained about his subordinates slacking off while on the clock. If he were, Lione and her group—who were used to the much more relaxed lifestyle of mercenary work—would surely resign from their positions as his knights.

Ryoma only cared about results. They could slack all they wanted and he wouldn’t say a word so long as they produced the outcome he needed. That wasn’t to say he didn’t care about how they did things, but it only became relevant if they failed. In that regard, serving under Ryoma was relatively easy.

At the same time, Ryoma didn’t spoil his men so much that they should feel comfortable shirking work in front of him.

If they are just slacking off, I’d think they’d at least try to keep up appearances the moment I showed up.

None of them looked away from Ryoma in guilt when they noticed his presence. Quite the contrary, they stared at him with rapt attention. The expectation and curiosity in their gazes actually made Ryoma feel a bit ill at ease.

Well, judging by all this, whatever is going on isn’t anything too serious.

Just then, Ryoma’s gaze finally settled on the one person who was out of place compared to the rest of the group.

“What are you doing here, grandpa?” Ryoma asked Koichiro in exasperation.

Koichiro didn’t seem inclined to answer. He blatantly ignored his grandson and instead spoke to Laura encouragingly.

“Oh, it took you a while! Good work, Laura.”

Laura nodded and stood behind Ryoma. Ryoma still didn’t know what was going on, but it appeared that the smug, no-good old man crossing his arms before him had concocted this situation. Ryoma glanced at Laura, but she once again shook her head, silently telling him to ask Koichiro for the details.

Damn old man. And he’s treating Laura like she’s in on this!

Ryoma thought back to his talk with Koichiro the week prior. That night, Ryoma accepted his apology and swore to save Asuka, hoping this would be his way to repay his grandfather for raising him.

But that night was the only time he acted meek around me.

The following morning, Koichiro had returned to his usual flippant attitude. He’d slip away from his bedroom in the morning to train vigorously before dawn, and when he went to bathe afterward, he’d spend thirty minutes soaking in the bath in Ryoma’s estate. He’d eat breakfast at eight, demanding a fresh salad, freshly baked bread, and five pieces of ham or sausage to maintain his necessary protein intake. After breakfast, he’d play Go with Zheng, and come nightfall, he’d drink and make merry with Lione, Robert, and Signus.

He was replicating his lifestyle from Japan, which wasn’t bad in and of itself. Koichiro, who seemed despondent and regretful, was keeping his spirits up, and that was a relief, but that would only apply if they were still in Japan.

Of course, Ryoma was willing to play along with his grandfather’s whims to an extent. If he wanted to take a bath in the morning, Ryoma let him do as he pleased. This world didn’t have gas you could use to heat the water, though, so servants had to heat the water manually, which was taxing work.

I guess you could say it’s not my problem since I’m not the one boiling the water personally, but still.

Ryoma couldn’t help but wonder if Koichiro thought he was some kind of noble. He was being far too irresponsible and selfish, and Ryoma felt annoyed by that. More annoying still was that everyone else seemed to play along with Koichiro’s whims. Ryoma had tried to speak to the servants about it, but seeing them smile after accommodating the old man’s requests made it so Ryoma could only thank them. If the others were to utter even a single word of complaint, Ryoma would tell Koichiro off, but he’d remained hands off until now because they seemed to react to Koichiro favorably.

The old man has a strange way of being outgoing and popular.

Koichiro was, at his core, a good-humored man. One wouldn’t assume it based on his appearance and his demeanor, but he was a very sociable person, and as a result, his uninhibited behavior somehow bought him the affections of his onlookers. While Ryoma couldn’t quite piece together how the old man did it, this was still the reality playing out before his eyes.

After heaving a sigh, Ryoma addressed Koichiro. “So what’s this all about? I’m not going to criticize what you do with your time, grandpa, but I’m a busy man, so I’d appreciate it if you could make it quick.”

His words were laced with sarcasm and resignation, but given the situation, it was natural that Ryoma would be a bit prickly.

Koichiro, however, wasn’t so simple as to care about his grandson’s pointed attitude. He unapologetically explained, “Oh, it’s not much. Me and Signus over there are having a short spar to decide who’ll be paying for drinks tonight. I was hoping you could serve as referee.”

Ryoma cocked his head, puzzled, and directed a questioning gaze at Koichiro.

He wants me to be a referee on a bet? I see. No wonder there’s such a crowd here. I guess he does do this every night, but the problem is...

Ryoma wasn’t going to encourage them to gamble like this, but considering that many of the barony’s members were former mercenaries, he recognized that they needed some means of venting their excess energy. Instead, he had tacitly overlooked gambling on the condition that the only thing they could bet on was who footed the alcohol bill. He’d deemed that it would also be an effective way of stopping arguments that could end up escalating into bloody brawls, so this had become an unwritten rule.

Still, even though he condoned it, having the lord of the barony serve as the referee for their bet was absurd.

But if I say no, that’ll cause trouble in its own way.

His decision had pretty much been made for him when Laura brought him over. Even if Ryoma were to refuse, Koichiro wouldn’t simply accept it. He’d start arguing him down, for sure.

It’s probably easiest to just get it over with. Besides, I guess I have been working too hard recently.

As long as he thought of it as a change of pace, he could reasonably put up with Koichiro’s whims, so after sighing deeply, Ryoma agreed to be their referee.

The crowd around them cheered at Ryoma’s consent—most likely because they were going to bet on the winner of this match too. Plus, they were all seasoned warriors, when all was said and done. They were all curious to see other talented warriors duke it out.

Why Signus, though? Ryoma wondered. Normally, I’d expect Robert to engage in this kind of fun.

Signus was clad in his usual armor and holding his metal staff. Standing beside him was Robert, one hand holding a bottle of liquor and the other resting on his friend’s shoulder. Ryoma was a bit bewildered by this, but he couldn’t very well question it in this heated atmosphere. He merely sighed once again.

With a smile on his lips, Koichiro glanced at the gathered group, prompting everyone to take a few steps back and clear the area for them.

“Are you ready, then?” Koichiro called out.

“Ready whenever you are,” Signus said, holding up his iron staff.

Koichiro, on the other hand, didn’t unsheathe his katana, Kikka. He just stood there with his sword at his waist.

The two men were ten meters apart, and both would need to close some of that distance to enter each other’s attack range. As referee, Ryoma stood between the two of them, waiting for them to clash.

Signus is wearing armor, but grandpa is in his usual clothes. It doesn’t feel like he’s underestimating Signus...

Armor was a truly effective piece of defensive gear, worn by many on the battlefield. But this wasn’t a battlefield. True, metallic armor was weighty, which meant Koichiro had the better mobility without it, but Signus was a powerful warrior who’d mastered martial thaumaturgy. Even with heavy armor, he wouldn’t be encumbered to the point it became an overwhelming disadvantage.

Their weapons are different too.

Signus was known as one of Count Salzberg’s Twin Blades. When his staff whirred through the air, it always crushed his opponents. If Kikka were to take a direct hit from his staff, it would snap under the pressure, even though it was a fine blade strengthened with endowed thaumaturgy. Of course, all it would take to fix it would be to return it to its sheath and let it absorb some mana for a time, but it would break for the duration of the battle, meaning Koichiro would lose.

Grandpa would probably just keep on fighting bare-handed, but still.

If this were a true battle to the death, Signus would have no chance of winning, even if Koichiro really was bare-handed. For all his mixed feelings about the old man, Ryoma knew his teacher well enough to know that for certain.

The rules of this match stipulate that the first to lose their weapon loses the fight.

It was forbidden to kill one’s opponent or even gravely injure them, and since Ryoma would have been terribly disappointed to see lives lost over alcohol, these rules struck him as fair.

But they don’t look like they’re playing around.

Ryoma could feel their ghastly fighting spirit beating against his very skin. The crowd all swallowed anxiously, caught up in the atmosphere of the fight. Before long, Koichiro and Signus’s bloodlust reached its peak.

Ryoma swung his hand down and shouted, “Begin!”

The second Ryoma gave the signal, Signus moved. Holding his staff at his waist, he closed the distance with Koichiro at once, launching a preemptive attack.

So he’s trying to end the battle fast with a swift attack.



Ryoma could sense how, in the space of a single second, Signus had activated the Vishuddha Chakra, the fifth chakra located in his throat, filling his body with strength. Signus had likely felt the difference in skill between himself and Koichiro and chose to launch a quick, forceful attack since he knew that he stood no chance in a prolonged battle.

Signus picked up speed and swung his metal staff at Koichiro’s face. His attack wasn’t meant to kill, but even so, the blow was packed with all of Signus’s considerable strength just the same. The staff whirred audibly through the air. If it were to so much as brush against its target, it would slice through skin and shatter bone. And since Signus aimed for the head, if Koichiro didn’t dodge, a direct hit would instantly kill him.

Signus’s staff weighs over thirty kilograms, after all.

The bars used for weight lifting alone were roughly ten kilograms, and Signus’s staff weighed over three times that. One of the heroes of the Water Margin, Lu Zhishen, the Flowery Monk, had a blacksmith forge him a quarterstaff that weighed sixty-two kin. Kin was a unit of measurement used in the Ming Dynasty, the time the Water Margin was written, and equaled about six hundred grams, making it roughly the same weight as Signus’s staff.

Either way, most people couldn’t handle a staff of this weight. Body builders could possibly lift barbells that weighed forty kilograms, and some women could lift even twice that, but lifting such a weight and wielding something of this weight as a weapon were two different things.

As a weapon, one had to contend with the centrifugal force it produced, and to properly control it, one needed more than just technique. It required one to stand firmly with strength that exceeded normal human limits. Even in this world, few were capable of such a feat. Signus was one of those few.

Although Koichiro faced such a monster of a man, he too was a monster in his own right. As the staff howled through the air, hurtling toward him, Koichiro avoided it with a simple half step to the back. The way he dodged implied that he’d predicted exactly how Signus would charge at him.

Signus didn’t pull back his staff, instead sweeping it horizontally, a feat that was impossible for a person with average muscle strength. From there, Signus linked that swing to his next move. He stabbed, swept, pulled in, and swung down. Signus utilized the most dangerous aspect of a long weapon—its ability to exhibit its full strength even at medium range—to unleash a flurry of consecutive blows.

“Oooooh!” Signus howled like an animal.

The staff howled as well as it formed a barrier around his body. Any who would intrude upon this barrier would be subject to multiple hits that would shatter their bones. Signus was displaying the might of the man who’d survived countless battles to gain the title of one of Count Salzberg’s Twin Blades.

The crowd watched Signus’s relentless charge, unable to utter a word. Among all of them, Ryoma alone regarded Koichiro—who was seemingly on the defensive—with a sense of terror. He could see that his grandpa’s defensive stance was solely for show.

He’s reading Signus’s charge.

It was said that Musashi Miyamoto, the famous master of the two-sword school, was also a master of reading his opponent, always avoiding his enemy’s slashes by a mere centimeter. Regardless of the validity of that account, the logic behind it was simple.

However, as simple as reading an opponent and dodging them accordingly might sound, people were still susceptible to fear. Any person standing in the median of a highway would be struck by terror at the sight of a car speeding toward them. They might know that so long as they remained on the median, the car would never hit them, but their legs would still buckle in fear.

The same could be said of trains. A person could know perfectly well that, barring a situation where a train derailed, a train would never run over them as long as they weren’t on the tracks. Nevertheless, when a high-speed train passed people by, they would freeze on the spot because of the wind pressure.

That was a simple, instinctual fear, but it was possible for one to completely suppress it, much like Koichiro was doing right now. Because of this, the crowd watching the fight was starting to pick up on the truth of this match, little by little.

“Hey...something’s off about this.”

“You noticed it too, huh?”

Koichiro had hardly moved since the start of the battle. He merely took a step or two back whenever Signus approached him. This meant one simple thing: Koichiro perfectly grasped the range of Signus’s attack.

Grandpa, you monster...

Ryoma could also do what Koichiro was doing right now, but only when he was facing an opponent weaker than him. If he had to do it against an opponent on Signus’s level, he would be hard-pressed to pull it off. The difference between grandfather and grandson came down to age and experience. In terms of sheer muscle strength, Ryoma had the advantage over Koichiro, but in terms of technique, Koichiro had had much more time to perfect himself. If nothing else, Ryoma couldn’t possibly match him now.

I think it’s just about over...

The exchange had gone on for roughly five minutes, but it was approaching its ending. The intensity of the metallic staff’s swings was gradually dying down. Naturally, swinging a mass of nearly forty kilograms was taxing on Signus’s stamina.

It was at that point that Signus decided to change his attack pattern. The moment Koichiro dodged a sweep aimed at his legs, Signus swung the staff up from below, intending for this to be his final blow. But the next second, the staff went flying out of Signus’s hands. Suddenly, faster than anyone could see it, Kikka shone unsheathed as Koichiro gripped it in his hands. An instant later, Signus’s staff noisily hit the ground.

“Stop!” Ryoma said, raising his hand.

At that moment, Koichiro’s victory was decided.

That night, the pale moon shone down on the estate’s lawn, where Ryoma stood alone, lost in thought. He had taken his shirt off, and his naked upper half glistened with sweat. He was moving with slow, calculated movements, similar to those used in Tai Chi Chuan. But while those motions seemed simple, they were quite demanding.

I didn’t think there’d be that big of a gap between them. My gramps really is a monster.

As Ryoma traced the movements passed down to him by his grandfather, he thought back to the events that transpired earlier that afternoon. The battle had ended as Ryoma had predicted it would.

Signus Galveria was one of the strongest generals in the Mikoshiba barony. He was equal to Robert, and in terms of sheer martial prowess, he was a match for Ryoma himself. But Ryoma knew his grandfather’s abilities, as well as the difference in Koichiro and Signus’s skills, so he’d expected Signus to lose.

In this world, few people actually devoted themselves to systematically learning martial arts. After all, there was no shortage of places to acquire real combat experience in this war-torn environment.

It was similar to how modern society learned to drive cars. One had to have a license to drive, so everyone attended driving classes before getting one. However, driving classes weren’t compulsory; they were simply the most efficient way of learning how to drive. That was why the system allowed people to take the driving exams even if they didn’t take classes. But it was obvious to all that without properly studying the material, one would never pass. In practice, only five percent of those that took the driving exam without having taken classes beforehand actually passed, making it an inefficient method.

Martial arts were much the same. In this world, one had many chances to gain combat experience, so most people didn’t believe it was necessary to acquire techniques from someone else. Once they learned the basics of how to swing a sword or thrust a spear, all that remained was to plunge into the action and learn the rest as they went along.

Indeed, if one was only trying to build up numbers, teaching just the basics and leaving the soldiers to acquire experience on their own was the quickest, most efficient way. Be that as it may, this method lowered the quality of each individual soldier and limited how far they’d be able to grow.

The only method to overcome this issue was to gain experience through tradition. The Mikoshiba family had studied martial arts for generations, and Ryoma was the successor to that legacy. Therefore, no matter how talented Signus was, he couldn’t match someone who practiced the traditional arts.

Well-polished techniques, huh?

Watching Koichiro effortlessly avoid Signus’s ruthless flurry while hardly moving from his initial position was something completely different. Koichiro had overwhelmed Signus, who was using martial thaumaturgy, with nothing but his natural physical prowess. When Ryoma—who believed himself to be his grandfather’s equal by now—saw this, he felt nothing short of humiliation.

But the question is, why did he want to show me that fight?

At the end of the fight, Signus and Koichiro had smiled at each other, praised each other’s skills, and sipped from the bottle of ale Robert gave them. They’d made it clear that there was no bad blood between them. Yet it just didn’t seem possible that they held a match this intense over something as trifling as drinks. The part about them going on a drinking bout tonight probably wasn’t a complete lie, but Ryoma had to assume that Koichiro, at least, had other reasons in mind. The fact that Sara and Laura hadn’t stopped Koichiro or reported this to Ryoma was the most suspicious part.

I can’t imagine grandpa getting them to side with him. I can’t imagine grandpa going out of his way to do something unnecessary in the first place. 

Koichiro had a taste for sarcasm and a flair for theatrics, yes, but at the same time, he didn’t do things for no reason.

Just then, Ryoma sensed a gaze directed at him from the shadows of the garden’s trees, but he ignored it and continued his movements. He could tell who it was by their presence. Ryoma then thrust out his fist, focusing all the strength in his body to one point.

“Hah!” he yelled as he unleashed his force like a projectile.

This was similar to what the Chinese art of Kenpo called Hakkei. Ryoma felt the force in his body whirring up from his abdomen, moving up in a spiral through his shoulder and into his fist. He then heard clapping coming from the darkness.

“Spectacular force. Your discipline and practice are clear to the eye.”

“Thank you, Zheng,” Ryoma said, unsurprised.

Zheng stepped out of the darkness. “I take it I didn’t startle you much?” he asked, a brow raised.

“Well, more or less. But...”

Zheng was, as always, clad in a tailcoat—the very image of a butler. The outfit suited his slender, muscular body well and formed a picturesque image when paired with his calm demeanor. His overall image was so immaculately maintained one could sob in appreciation.

Personally, I feel like maids have more impact, though.

Normally, one wouldn’t care if this was a man or a woman, but when all was said and done, Ryoma was a young man. If he had to pick between a man and a woman, he’d always pick the latter, so if someone from the Organization had to show up here, he’d greatly prefer to see Veronica in a maid’s outfit.

Ryoma continued to entertain that thought, but what Zheng said next pulled him back into reality.

“Were those moves the Mikoshiba mortal arts Koichiro created by mixing different martial arts?” Zhen asked, bowing.

It was a very unassuming question, but Ryoma instantly grimaced. “Did Grandpa tell you that name?”

“Yes.” Zheng nodded, to which Ryoma clicked his tongue.




The Mikoshiba mortal arts—that was the name Koichiro had given to the fighting style he’d taught Ryoma. It was a martial art that mixed elements from Chinese osteopathy; medicinal apothecary; murder arts, which employed swords and spears; and even more mundane fields like horseback riding and swimming. But the name “mortal arts” was really just a name; Zheng’s knowing it shouldn’t have bothered Ryoma this much. Most people with little interest in martial arts, or even martial arts in Japan, wouldn’t care. In fact, no style by that name was known in the modern world.

Nonetheless, for a martial artist, sharing the name of one’s art was a deplorable act. In Ryoma’s opinion, martial artists were meant to hide the name of their style. Of course, Ryoma was just being cautious of unnecessarily giving his opponents information, and most traditional martial artists seeking to ensure that their style was passed down felt the same.

In the Edo period, each clan had their own style, called a goryuu. Knowledge of each clan’s goryuu was not taught to anyone who practiced other schools, even if they were members of the same clan. This was one example of how they rigorously upheld the passing down of one’s art, because others learning their techniques could lead to their death.

And Zheng’s from the Organization, after all.

Ryoma wasn’t going to imply that Zheng was a villain of some sort, but he was still a member of the Organization, and Ryoma couldn’t take risks when he wasn’t sure where he stood with the group. Still, he couldn’t very well kill Zheng to silence him at this point.

In the end, the sole heir of the Mikoshiba mortal arts was Koichiro, and if he chose to reveal its name to Zheng, Ryoma was in no position to criticize his choice—even though he was the next in line to inherit the art.

“I suppose that’s fine. At least in this world, knowing about it won’t amount to much,” Ryoma said.

It wasn’t a problem in the immediate sense that Zheng knew the name of the art. The style had only been passed down in the Mikoshiba family and improved upon by Koichiro, so only members of the Mikoshiba family knew of it.

What’s more, Koichiro’s improvements made it unrecognizable from its earlier incarnations. Even if the basics were written down somewhere, they were quite different from what Ryoma had learned from Koichiro. Some techniques had been removed altogether, while others might have the same name as old ones but had been improved beyond recognition. In that regard, no one was familiar with this school of martial arts, so even if an outsider were to hear of the Mikoshiba mortal arts, it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

But still... I can’t say I like it.

While it wasn’t problematic if the information got out, there was no point in intentionally spreading it either. If Ryoma could help it, he’d prefer to keep its existence hidden. Both before and after he was summoned to this world, he’d tried to keep the Mikoshiba style secret, even from people who were as close to him as family, like Sara and Laura. In his eyes, this was the right thing to do as a warrior, so hearing that name come from the lips of someone he wasn’t close to made him feel ill at ease.

A tense silence hung between the two. Zheng apparently hadn’t expected Ryoma to react like this.

Ryoma sighed and said, “Never mind. So, can I help you? I’m assuming you came here for a reason.”

This was what Zheng was hoping to hear. “Yes,” he replied, smiling. “I was hoping to test my skills against you, Baron Ryoma Mikoshiba.” He then covered his left fist with his right hand and bowed his head.

The moment Zheng said this, the atmosphere around Ryoma sharpened like a blade. “I’d like to ask for your reasons before I reply.”

Ryoma’s voice was calm, but behind it was an iron will that made Zheng swallow nervously. Even so, Zheng continued, feeling that he couldn’t allow himself to be overwhelmed by a boy ten years his junior.

“I wish to test the mettle of the man Koichiro Mikoshiba, our Organization’s hero, raised under his personal care.”

With that said, he began to approach Ryoma, despite the fact that Ryoma was standing there defenseless. It seemed he wasn’t going to respect Ryoma’s opinion on the matter. In the blink of an eye, Zheng closed the distance between them and stomped on the ground before thrusting his right fist at Ryoma.

It was a perfect surprise attack, and even without martial thaumaturgy reinforcing it, Zheng’s iron fist was more than capable of killing a man. However, even that blow, delivered with sheer force and amplified with his leg acting as a pivot, Ryoma easily deflected with his left hand. He then brushed it off and changed its trajectory from left to right.

“Throwing an attack like that all of a sudden is dangerous. And from the way you stomped on the ground, I’m guessing this is Bajiquan?”

Despite his words, Ryoma’s tone implied that he didn’t feel he was in any immediate danger. He remained upright, his posture unchanged.

Zheng moved away from Ryoma to fix his stance. “Unfazed even after that? Then how about this?!”

Before he’d even finished speaking, Zheng pounced at Ryoma again. It was a feint of sorts—a trifling trick—but such tricks could change everything in a battle. Unlike his first blow, which was a straightforward punch typical of Bajiquan, Zheng closed the distance this time in a curve. He then turned, moving his punch in a wide trajectory and swinging his right palm down at Ryoma.

If Zheng’s first attack was a straight punch, his second was more of an arm swing. It was as if his hand were a sword that lashed out like a whip. Ryoma countered it by raising his left hand, blocking it with his forearm. He was trying to block the attack in order to follow up with a joint lock, but that was what Zheng was banking on. The instant his right palm made contact with Ryoma, Zheng folded his left arm and thrust his right elbow out as if he were bashing his entire body into Ryoma.

If this attack had hit, it would have resulted in instant death, but Ryoma spread his legs and swiftly dodged it. He couldn’t completely avoid it, though, and a splash of red flew through the air. Zheng’s elbow had managed to skim the skin along Ryoma’s flank, and from there, he would have continued his flurry of attacks with flowing motions if Ryoma hadn’t acted swiftly.

As Ryoma watched Zheng once again move away from him, he ran his fingers over his stomach, confirming that blood was dripping from the wound. Feeling the liquid sticking to his finger, he realized it was just a graze, and his mind filled with relief.

First he went for a Bajiquan thrusting punch. Then he went for a Piguaquan thrust, allowing me to block it, and an elbow thrust. I think it’s called Rimon Chochu?

Had Ryoma failed to dodge it, Zheng’s elbow would have stabbed into his defenseless flank, shattering his ribs and damaging his liver and kidneys. At worst, it would have killed him on the spot.

That was really close. It’s a good thing I figured it out at the last second.

Ryoma knew of Bajiquan thrusting fists solely because Kocihiro had told him of them. He could barely recall or memorize the names of the techniques, but had it not been for that superficial information, he likely wouldn’t have dodged Zheng’s attack.

“You said that you just want to test my mettle, but you’re employing some pretty dangerous moves,” Ryoma muttered with a sarcastic smile.

If the elbow thrust had led into a flurry of attacks, Ryoma would have been in a precarious position. Even without martial thaumaturgy to reinforce them, Zheng Motoku’s fists were deadly weapons. His techniques were honed and backed by decades upon centuries of uninterrupted history. His every movement and attack were refined by unmatched proficiency in the art.

Martial arts were kept hidden and esoteric to begin with. They stressed one’s nature and talent, which set them apart from modern martial arts, which could be acquired by anyone who paid money to learn them. Of course, this wasn’t to say martial artists were wrong to expect payment; even they needed to put food on the table. If one made a business of their arts, it only made sense to take in as many students as possible. Still, most such students didn’t learn the true essence of the art.

On the other hand, there was a reason this knowledge was kept secret. They were, after all, methods for taking lives. They did have the benefits of self-defense and body sculpting, but those were merely by-products of the technique’s real function. For this reason, martial arts schools didn’t recklessly pass their style on to others. When they did decide to take an apprentice under their wing, they imparted all they knew to them. Once fully admitted into the school, a disciple was considered family and would often move into their teacher’s home.

Ryoma had dodged Zheng’s attacks twice over, which was more than enough to test his abilities.

“What do you think?” Zheng asked proudly. “That is the power of the same Bajiquan that produced the God Spear.”

“So your Bajiquan is the same as Li Shuwen’s? No wonder, then,” Ryoma answered.

That explanation made everything click into place. Li Shuwen was born in Changzhou of the Hebei province at the end of the Qing Dynasty. He became known as a famous martial artist whose skill at Bajiquan was so great that it was said he needed only one punch to kill his opponent. His skill with the Liuhe Daqiang spear made him renowned as God Spear Li.

To that end, the term “God Spear” took on a special meaning for practitioners of Bajiquan, and this was why Ryoma immediately understood the implication behind Zheng’s words.

“But then you mixed in Piguaquan in that second attack,” Ryoma noted, to which Zheng smirked.

“So you recognized that. I always thought Piguaquan wasn’t well-known in Japan. I see. You’re very knowledgeable for your age. Perhaps I shouldn’t have expected any less from Koichiro’s grandchild.”

Ryoma shrugged. “Well, I just looked it up online once.”

Chinese martial arts had a vast number of branches and styles. Learning about every single one, even on a general level, would be incredibly taxing. Zheng had used Piguaquan, which centered on long-range attacks, to close the distance and finish him off with one blow. That combination was the most simple and effective approach, which was why Ryoma knew how to dodge it.

Zheng shook his head. “Being too modest can come across as sarcasm,” he said. “My Piguaquan and Bajiquan aren’t so unpolished that one could block them based on simple hearsay.”

The most used tactics were only so common because they had the highest ratio of success. Even from Ryoma’s perspective, Zheng was a master martial artist who had accumulated a startling amount of experience. The fact that he’d avoided an attack from Zheng with nothing but a single cut on his skin was proof of Ryoma’s abilities.

Zheng changed his posture, preparing to launch a third attack. Ryoma, as always, remained in the same position. Their gazes clashed, and sparks flew between them. Zheng slowly edged forward, closing the distance again.

Now... What do I do?

Zheng’s right leg was thrust forward—the most orthodox of Bajiquan stances, which kept the median line hidden.

He’ll probably go for a straight punch to my center of mass...

The most advanced techniques were rooted in the most basic moves. Li Shuwen was a martial artist who, through his overwhelming degree of mastery and discipline, had embodied the concept of a one-blow kill. And Zheng, as heir to that legacy, was also capable of killing with a single blow. That didn’t mean he’d always stick to throwing straightforward punches, though.

I’d have it much easier if all I wanted was to kill him.

Since Ryoma didn’t know if Zheng was on his side or not, it made it difficult to act. If Zheng was clearly an enemy, Ryoma would just have to kill him; if Zheng was on his side, he’d spare him. Knowing where Zheng’s loyalty lay would make it easier to know how to approach him, but not knowing if he was friend or foe made things tricky.

Also, the fact that Zheng was so close with Koichiro made it all the harder for Ryoma to decide how to handle him. Besides, Zheng hadn’t used martial thaumaturgy to reinforce his body, so for that reason, they could still call this a mere practice match.

This is like a bad joke...

Be he friend or foe, so long as Zheng’s fighting spirit remained intact, Ryoma would have to fight back against him, if only in self-defense. This left Ryoma with just one option.

No way around it...

Ryoma decided to make an all-or-nothing gamble, but suddenly, Zheng, who was slowly inching toward him, suddenly changed his stance. He broke his posture and took a wide step forward. He stomped against the ground, and the next instant, closed the distance to Ryoma straight ahead, like an arrow loosed from a bow—with his right fist thrust forward.

I knew it. He went for a Kappo!

Zheng rapidly closed in on Ryoma. It was as if he were sliding along ice. This was Kappo; by stomping from a great distance, he used that momentum to close the distance rapidly.

This Bajiquan technique would catch most opponents by surprise. What’s more, Kappo wasn’t solely a method for closing in on an opponent either. The true meaning of Kappo was to apply more body weight to the strike. It wasn’t so much a punch as it was a body slam using one’s fist.

Because of this, trying to block it with one’s arm was dangerous. If Ryoma were to do so, Zheng would simply fold his arm like he did with his elbow thrust earlier and proceed to bash into Ryoma with his back or shoulder. If Ryoma were to take a body blow after such a charge, even his large form would be sent flying.

Ryoma, however, saw through Zheng’s plan. The Mikoshiba mortal arts techniques, which had been etched into Ryoma’s mind so much they were basically an instinct, allowed him to evade Zheng’s fist.

It wasn’t a simple dodge, of course. As he slipped past Zheng’s flank, Ryoma sent a blow at his opponent’s jaw, his fist scooping up from under Zheng’s outstretched arm. Taking advantage of his momentum, he delivered an unexpected counter that momentarily befuddled Zheng’s senses. He then used his hand to grab Zheng by the jaw as he swept his opponent’s legs.

Zheng’s body flew through the air, and after a second of weightlessness, his head hit the ground, propelled by the force of Ryoma’s brute strength. The impact caused a moan to escape from Zheng’s lips.

Ryoma’s counterattack didn’t end there, though. He chose being certain and decisive over being cautious.

“You’re lucky there wasn’t a stone where your head landed, Zheng.”

As soon as he heard those words through his muddled consciousness, Zheng’s mind went dark.

Confirming that Zheng was unconscious, Ryoma, who was pressing his knee against Zheng’s carotid artery, let go of him and got to his feet. He looked down at Zheng’s limp form and called out to the dark.

“ long are you going to keep watching, Miss Kozlova?”

He was speaking to someone who’d been hiding in the darkness and watching them spar. He’d pressed his knee against Zheng’s neck because he’d noticed her presence.

“Excuse me...? You noticed me, did you?” The woman revealed herself, her silver hair glinting in the moonlight.

“Well, vaguely.” Ryoma cracked a wry smile at the young, alluring woman that appeared before him.

Veronica inclined her head. “Vaguely?”

As a matter of fact, Ryoma had sensed a presence in the darkness, but he hadn’t been able to tell who it was.

But judging by the situation...

Ryoma shrugged. “I mean, I assume grandpa had you watch. Watch over Zheng.”

Veronica smiled, and that alone proved that Ryoma was mostly right on the money.

Zheng and Veronica were members of the Organization, but ever since they’d come to Ryoma’s side alongside Koichiro, they hadn’t made any moves. They hadn’t displayed any visible enmity toward Ryoma either. Whenever he passed them by in his estate, they merely bowed their heads respectfully. However, Ryoma did sense some animosity and envy in Zheng’s eyes, which had led to his actions tonight. Normally, one might expect Zheng would launch an attack out of a personal grudge or jealousy, but Ryoma had a hard time believing that was why Zheng had done this.

He was taught Li’s style of Bajiquan, including the secret arts of it, like the Fierce Tiger Climbs Mountain...

Bajiquan also had a trump card in the Ba Da Zhao technique. Any of those were dangerous moves that could, if performed correctly, easily kill a person.

But he didn’t use any of them on me.

If Zheng had seriously wanted to kill Ryoma, there was no reason he wouldn’t have used those techniques.

And if he was a pupil of Li’s style of Bajiquan, he’d be versed in using the spear.

There were no limitations on carrying weapons in this world, so there was no reason to fuss over killing an opponent bare-handed.

But Zheng did have a will to fight. You can tell that much from these footprints.

Zheng’s stomps had left visible marks on the flagstones—a show of how serious he was. It was clear he hadn’t been holding back against Ryoma. He likely wouldn’t have minded if Ryoma had died.

But still, I didn’t feel any bloodlust from Zheng.

Zheng’s fighting will was true and genuine, but there was no bloodlust in it. The whole thing had felt similar to a sports match. A boxer hit their opponent mercilessly and seriously, showing no restraint, but that didn’t mean they sought to kill their opponents. Nonetheless, unfortunate accidents could happen. This was much the same, and that fact led Ryoma to one conclusion.

“He did all this just to test me. Is that why? I have no idea why he’d go that far, though.”

Veronica nodded. “Yes, Sir Koichiro said he wants us to help you,” she explained.

Ryoma couldn’t help but smile sardonically to himself. Her words made him realize Koichiro’s intent.

I see. Hm... And that explains the incident today...

Earlier that day, Koichiro had challenged Signus to a duel to show off his skills and power to Ryoma. Indeed, with Queen Lupis’s northern subjugation fast approaching, involving new allies when he wasn’t familiar with how skilled they were wasn’t advisable. But if Ryoma’s attitude remained vague and undefined as it had been until now, Koichiro and his two attendants’ positions would have remained unclear, and it could’ve caused friction among Ryoma’s other subordinates. In order to resolve this, Koichiro had come up with that match at noon.

Not surprising. I pretty much did the same thing once before.

Back during the civil war, Ryoma had killed a famous assassin known as the Black Spider to gain the trust of the mercenaries. Koichiro’s match with Signus was much the same.

And Zheng attacked me tonight to test my skills. From what grandpa tells me, they’re both ranked quite high in the Organization...

Given Zheng’s position, he couldn’t easily make the decision to help Ryoma, even if Koichiro had asked him to, so he had to test Ryoma. By challenging him as a warrior, fist to fist, he would then sense what Ryoma was capable of.

“Well, did I pass your test?” Ryoma asked.

Veronica smiled and nodded. “Yes. I’m sure Zheng will be satisfied too.”

Some time later...

“Where am I...?” Zheng groaned and opened his eyes, realizing he was looking up at a canopied bed. He sat up, but then froze when he heard a woman’s voice.

“You don’t have to get up. Sleep.”


Zheng turned to look in the direction of the voice. After confirming that it was indeed her, he did as she said and lay back on the bed.

Veronica, who was seated on a nearby chair, snapped the book she was reading shut and placed it on a table.

“I didn’t think you’d lose like that,” she said with a smile. “And I don’t think it’s your fault at all. That man, Ryoma Mikoshiba, really is a monster.”

Her voice was full of surprise and joy. Zheng simply held his tongue and looked up at the canopy. He didn’t deny her words, however, mostly because he felt the same way.

A bystander might have thought that Ryoma and Zheng’s fight was by no means one-sided. After all, Zheng was always on the offensive, which gave the impression that he had the upper hand. But that wasn’t the truth.

I couldn’t do anything. That much is fact.

It wasn’t a duel to the death, so in that regard, Zheng hadn’t been giving it his all. If he’d really wanted to kill Ryoma, he’d have brought forth his favored spear. The same could be said of Ryoma, though.

If he’d been serious about the fight, I wouldn’t have gotten away with just a concussion.

Zheng had seen the fist Ryoma made before he called out to him. The Mikoshiba mortal arts, which could be considered an offshoot of Japanese martial arts, incorporated elements of Chinese martial arts as well. It likely included ways of thinking similar to Zheng’s, but the level of proficiency Ryoma had exhibited was such that no one could say he was merely aping Chinese martial arts.

The amount of force and focus behind Ryoma’s punch was enough to make even Zheng, a master of Bajiquan, pause in shock. If all that focused force were to strike the human body, it would easily kill its target.

But he never used that punch.

This, more than anything, proved that Ryoma had no desire to kill Zheng.

“Sir Koichiro did raise him,” Zheng responded. “I suppose it stands to reason.”

Zheng had mixed feelings about Ryoma. Zheng had originally served as the butler to Liu Daijin, one of the Organization’s elders. This had doubled as an apprenticeship, as Liu had tempered him into his successor as one of the next elders. At the same time, Liu had taught Zheng, and he’d told his apprentice many tales of Koichiro Mikoshiba and his exploits. Every time he’d heard those stories, Zheng had grown to admire Koichiro. When Koichiro had once again been called into this world and revealed himself to Liu Daijin, Zheng’s admiration had turned to deep respect and affection.

I still owe a great debt of gratitude to Liu, but even so, as a warrior, Koichiro Mikoshiba is...

Zheng truly respected Koichiro, so when Liu ordered him to go on this journey and act as Koichiro’s aide instead of his own, Zheng had accepted without a second thought. He had spent a long time traveling with Koichiro and watching over Asuka Kiryuu, so he’d formed a relationship of master and servant with Koichiro, which had gone on to develop into a cross-generational friendship.

When Zheng learned that Koichiro had a pupil in Ryoma, his heart had been beset by envy, and that emotion had gradually swelled. He was jealous that Ryoma had a superior warrior for a teacher.

Zheng’s tutelage under Liu Daijin had taught him the importance of having a good instructor. Many people in the Organization wanted to become Liu Daijin’s pupil, but only Zheng had been granted that honor.

Learning martial arts was difficult, and finding a good master to train under was even harder. For this reason, Zheng envied Ryoma for his training with Koichiro, a teacher whom Liu himself had acknowledged as more skilled than him.

Since Zheng and Koichiro were currently living under Ryoma’s roof, he had to restrain those emotions, but the human heart didn’t always conform to logic. The more Zheng tried to tell himself this shouldn’t concern him, the more his heart shook. He also had his position as leader in the Organization to consider. Even if Ryoma’s grandfather was a hero who’d set the foundation of what the Organization was today, Zheng couldn’t look the other way if Ryoma were to oppose them.

Caught between his personal feelings and his duties as a member of the Organization, Zheng was conflicted about what he was to do. When Koichiro proposed that he test Ryoma’s skill, Zheng had agreed right away.

Sir Koichiro probably noticed...

That night, Zheng Motoku learned of Ryoma Mikoshiba’s prowess, and through fighting him, caught a glimpse of the future Ryoma envisioned.

Ryoma Mikoshiba... He’s the heir to Koichiro’s will, which means that cooperating with him would be in the Organization’s favor.

Perhaps sensing Zheng’s thoughts, Veronica rose from her chair, leaned over Zheng, and kissed him on the forehead.

“What are you doing?” Zheng asked her suspiciously.

“I thought I’d comfort a sweet boy, is all,” Veronica said playfully. “Take your time and come to your own conclusions, Zheng. Though, I think I know what you’ll decide in the end...”

With that, Veronica left the room, praying that her beloved came to terms with his feelings. As she walked away, she also swore that she would help with the war to come.

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