Chapter 10: Doubt

“I cannot overlook the fact that an incident occurred on this day when the elite of the Green Woods Eight Banners gathered together. The enemy knew that the defense of Shuuto would be temporarily weakened. It must have been due to someone’s betrayal.”

As he spoke with a stern tone, shaking his long blond hair, I shrugged my shoulders in response.

“You mean I’m the traitor? That’s a different thing to say. It was the Mitsurugi family who invited me on this date. It was also the Mitsurugi family who decided to gather the upper-ranking warriors here. My will had nothing to do with it.”

That was not so much a defense as a simple statement of fact.

Not only that, but it was also the Mitsurugi family who decided to conduct the trial, who changed the opponent from a Dragan tooth warrior to a earth spider, and who even let the warriors of the Eight Banners watch my fight.

All of these things were decided by the Mitsurugi family.

I can’t be blamed for their responsibility. I told him implicitly.

When Ragna heard this, he continued his words without flinching.

“You knew that the eight flags would gather on your mother’s death anniversary, which hasn’t changed since you were exiled. In other words, you knew that the defense of Shuuto would weaken today. Knowing this, you took this as an opportunity to take action, didn’t you? If you had a month’s time, it would be easy to gather your troops.”

What Ragna said was nothing but a far-fetched logic.

But on the other hand, it was also a sufficient logic to detain an outsider without any backing. Well, in the latter case, it was more of a sophistry than a logic.

As if he had guessed my inner thoughts, Ragna uttered the following words.

“As a simple fact, the day you returned to the island, an enemy that bears a grudge against the Mitsurugi family made their move. Something that hasn’t happened for years, even decades, occurred the day you came back. The implications of this fact are significant. As a warrior of the Green Woods and the heir to the Mitsurugi family, I will now detain you. If you refuse to comply, I will consider it as an admission of involvement in the attack.”

Ragna, with his piercing blue eyes, stared intently at me, and it was clear that he was serious about capturing me.

Was he really considering me the mastermind behind this, or did he simply want to detain me because I was suspicious? It couldn’t be that he was just trying to harass me based on personal feelings.

Perhaps Ragna’s thought process was, “I don’t want outsiders roaming around during this critical situation.” That in itself was a perfectly reasonable notion. After all, I had made a show of displaying my indifference towards the Mitsurugi family during our exchange in the grand hall. It was only natural that he would think it unwise to leave someone like me unchecked.

Indeed, there might be a possibility that I am truly in league with the enemy. If I were in Ragna’s position, I would probably lock someone like me up until the matter was resolved.

Well, that being said, I have absolutely no intention of following their demands.

I solemnly asked my brother, who was preparing his soul equipment,

“I see. So you’re saying, heir-apparent, that all the warriors present here—His Excellency the Sword Saint, the two peerless individuals, Sir Gozu Sima, Sir Gilmore Berch, and of course yourself, the heir-apparent—have all been helplessly caught in my scheme, and you are all incompetent for allowing a disgraceful hole to be opened in the symbol of Mitsurugi’s 300-year reign, Shuuto City?”

Without showing any ridicule, I asked with a serious expression, causing Ragna’s face to distort as if it were making a cracking noise.

“…Sora, you”

“Excuse me, I went too far. But please understand my feelings as someone who was accused without any evidence. If I may add, I would like you to stop blaming me for your own responsibility for being caught off guard and disgraced by not taking proper measures, being accustomed to the custom of the eight flags gathering on my mother’s death anniversary. The Phantom Blade Style is a sword of exorcism and protection of the people. The act of the heir who forces a crime by wielding his soul equipment is not something that a warrior with the aspiration of protecting the country and saving the world should do.”

With that said, I changed my expression for the first time here.

I twisted my cheek as if to mock him, lifted the corner of my mouth as if to sneer, and at the same time narrowed my eyes gently as if to speak to my young brother.

“What are you so afraid of, Ragna?”

The next moment, Ragna’s figure disappeared from my sight.

At the same time, I slightly tilted my head.

It was a hair’s breadth, no, not even half a hair’s breadth difference. A golden sword blade thrust out from behind, just barely grazing the space where my head had been moments before.

There was no murderous intent in the sword, and even if I hadn’t moved my head, I probably wouldn’t have died. However, there’s no doubt that my head would have been sliced quite roughly.

Before the sword could be withdrawn, I grabbed the blade to seal my opponent’s movements. The golden blade tore through my Kei defense, and my hand became soaked in blood, but I continued to grip it tightly without concern.

Then, a low, suppressed voice came from behind me.

“――Do you think I’m afraid of someone like you?”

“That’s right. That’s why you drew your soul equipment.”

“Silence! I drew my soul equipment to teach you a lesson for your arrogance since a while ago!”

“By drawing your soul equipment, you admit that you can’t teach me a lesson without it. Come to think of it, you also brought out your soul equipment five years ago. I thought it was out of triumph, but… could it be that you’ve been scared all this time? Worried that I might return someday?”

“I told you to be silent!”

As Ragna shouted, a burning heat was transmitted from the sword blade I was gripping.

Anticipating what would happen next, tension ran through my body.

“Reap, H――”

“Alright, that’s enough.”

It was at that moment when Ragna tried to draw his soul equipment.

A soft voice cut in between me and Ragna.

The voice was cool and refreshing like the wind running through the grassland, and it belonged to Ayaka Azurite.

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