Interlude: The Heretic (Part II)

Fangxiang Clan might be sacrificed for the reconciliation of two races—upon hearing Sofia’s speculation, Kazuma’s habitual frown deepened even further.

He judged it to be entirely plausible.

More precisely, Kazuma had harbored this fear even before Sofia pointed it out. He had been acting to avoid the worst-case scenario.

However, the enemy, known as the Mythical Creatures, was too formidable. Any post-war actions were inevitably small, and no concrete results had been achieved yet.

There was also the option of contacting the Kijin tribe through Jin, a warrior of the Phantom Blade Style, but this had remained only a thought and had not been put into action.

The higher-ups of Kazuma and the Nanashi style practitioners were no fools. Their eyes were undoubtedly on the Mitsurugi family as well. Kazuma wanted to avoid alerting Fangxiang Clan to Jin’s existence as much as possible.

Additionally, he didn’t want to burden his brother with the Mitsurugi family’s affairs any further.

Nevertheless, Sofia’s remark precisely targeted Kazuma’s apprehension. Naturally, her pointing it out wasn’t the end of it.

Kazuma narrowed his eyes slightly and looked at the priest in front of him.

“You speak as if you’re hiding something. Did you put others to sleep to talk to me one-on-one? I won’t ask you to bare your heart, but such roundabout talk is killing the mood.”

“Fair enough. Then let me be straightforward,” Sofia replied.

Taking a breath, she then spoke.

“Let’s expel the Kijin tribe from the continent, Lord Kazuma. Not just the Kijin, but also Fangxiang Clan, a thorn in your side. Let’s drive them out and immortalize the Mitsurugi family name. Although unworthy, I shall assist you in this endeavor.”

Sofia bowed deeply, like a loyal subject.

However, as one might expect, Kazuma did not respond with joy.

“That’s the fantasy of a fool. If you think I would entertain such nonsense, you underestimate me.”

“If you don’t decide now, the Mitsurugi family will soon face the doom of extinction. Whether it’s brought by the Kijin or our own kin, I do not know, but either way, Lord Kazuma and your subordinates’ fate will come to an end. I trust you understand this.”

“It’s not a foregone conclusion.”

Contrasting with Sofia’s increasingly heated words, Kazuma replied in a markedly cold voice.

In the heart of the Mitsurugi family head, doubts about the priestess in front of him swelled with each passing second, growing too large to ignore. With suspicion and caution residing in his sharp eyes, Kazuma continued speaking.

“Unlike the silent Mythical Creatures, humans and Kijin can use words. Even if there are past grievances, they can be overcome through discussion. Just like Jin and Lady Atori, people from different races can come together.”

Kazuma hadn’t intended to speak those words, nor had his brother specifically mentioned anything about Atori.

It was just that their mutual affection was obvious to anyone, and he had mentioned it offhandedly.

—The response came back with an intensity beyond imagination.

Sofia’s slender body radiated an appalling amount of magical power, a torrent of force inconceivable for a mere human. Exposed to it, Kazuma had almost instinctively drawn the sword at his waist.

Phantom Blade Style: Flying Strike. The first sword technique Kazuma had learned from Jin.

The step forward, the unsheathing, the slash – all took less time than a blink.

Kazuma’s attack was at the human limit, and anyone less than a master would not even realize they had been attacked.

Sofia stopped that masterful flash. Not by dodging, but by stepping forward instead of back, and deflecting Kazuma’s Sasayuki blade with her bare hand.

Kazuma, swallowing his astonishment, tried to pull back his sword, but it wouldn’t budge.

Sofia smiled lightly, as if forgetting her intense emotion moments before.

“Admirable effort. But futile. If Jin-sama is a genius who hears one thing and understands ten, you’re a commoner who hears one and understands one. Even if it’s a sword technique devised by Jin-sama, it won’t reach me as long as you’re the wielder. Even if you bring out your Soul Equipment, the result will be the same.”


Kazuma, without responding to her words, exerted more force, but still, the sword did not move.

He thought of using his Soul Equipment, but his was nowhere near Jin’s level. He was well aware of the gap between himself and his brother, no need for others to point it out.

Then, Sofia continued.

“Yes, you’re not on par with Jin-sama as a swordsman. But you, who hears one and knows one, are a man of effort, capable of repeating it ten times to reach ten — at least, that’s what Jin-sama said. One day, you will reach the same realm as Atori and himself. Seeing your swordplay today, I have reached the same conclusion.”

“Then I should cut off this source of trouble here and now.”

“That is not possible. You can learn the sword that Jin-sama uses intuitively as a theory and pass it on to others. As a swordsman, you may not match Jin-sama, but as a master of the sword, you surpass him. In that sense, you are a genius on par with Jin-sama. And I need that talent.”

As soon as she finished speaking, Sofia released her hand from the sword.

Immediately, Kazuma leapt back, putting distance between himself and Sofia. Beads of sweat like pearls formed on his forehead, indicating the intense strain he had undergone in that brief moment.

On the other hand, Sofia showed no signs of fatigue and passionately detailed her plan.

“Although Jin-sama has passed away—no, precisely because he has passed, we must pass on what he created to the end of time. You, Lord Kazuma, are the only one who can do this. From now on, under the pretext of rescuing the Kijin warriors, including Atori, I will lead the remaining Kijin warriors on the continent to another world. By confining the main Soul Equipment users there, what will remain are only the unskilled, women, children, and the elderly, unable to use Soul Equipment. They can be easily crushed by human forces.”

“Such a massacre won’t gain the approval of the people.”

“There are those among humans who fear the power of the Kijin. If there is a reason, no one will actively oppose it. How about this? The Mythical Creatures are the Demon gods worshipped by the Kijin. The root cause of this great turmoil was actually the Kijin, and you brilliantly sealed the Demon god. Then, you will sweep the Kijin, the root cause, from the continent and etch an immortal name in history.”

“What if I say I can’t join such a plot?”

“Then I have no choice. I will start killing these people lying here one by one.”

Saying so, Sofia glanced at the fallen subordinates of the Mitsurugi family.

“If that’s not enough, I will kill those left on the continent. If you still don’t comply, I will kill your remaining family. Until you agree. Even if everyone is killed and your opinion doesn’t change, then I have no choice. I’ll kill you too and find another suitable candidate. Whispering in their ear that they will be made a hero who saved the world, there will be plenty who will agree.”

“Wasn’t it to pass on what Jin created to posterity?”

“If possible, I will do so. If not, I’ll give up. That’s all.”

Sofia’s torrent of words did not stop, as she continued to speak at length.

What is a dragon? What is the Light God religion? What kind of existence has she become? How will she alter the continent’s history?

As he listened, Kazuma concentrated all his nerves to find an opening in Sofia, but found almost none. Instead, he was barely enduring, nearly crushed by the swelling magical power of Sofia, which felt like the pressure of the highest level of Mythical Creatures. He had to admit that she was not an opponent he could match at the moment.

Even if he challenged her prepared to die, he would only be crushed. This would also mean the death of his subordinates. Those left on the continent would likely be slaughtered too, as Sofia herself had explicitly stated.

As a result, the Mitsurugi family, which Jin had risked his life to protect, and the sword techniques he had devised at the risk of his life, would be lost.

—That was something he could not allow. As the head of the family, as a brother, he absolutely could not allow that.

Kazuma clenched his fist until it bled.

If Kazuma Mitsurugi were to accept Sofia’s proposal, his name would be forever tainted with eternal disgrace.

Cowardice for valuing his life. Dishonor for stealing the achievements of others. Betrayal for striking an ally from behind. Atrocities for trampling on innocent lives. The list could go on endlessly.

Yet, publicly, he would be hailed as a hero who saved the world. For someone with a sense of shame, it would be unbearable, a daily hell. He would never again experience the joy of being human.

But without it, the Mitsurigi family would vanish from the earth.

Kazuma, clenching his back teeth, looked at Sofia, who continued speaking with a somewhat ecstatic expression.

Sofia plotted to make Kazuma a hero while also trying to lead the Kijin race to another realm.

If it was simply about destroying the Kijin, such an elaborate scheme would be unnecessary. The Kijin’s main forces had fought as warriors against the dragon. The number of remaining Soul Equipment users was small, and with Sofia’s current power, she could easily crush them head-on.

There were other ways, like gathering the Kijin under the guise of a victory celebration and poisoning them. There should be no hesitation in using poison now.

Yet, Sofia wasn’t doing that. Instead, she was trying to gather the Kijin in one place. To Kazuma, it seemed like Sofia was creating a conflict between the Mitsurugi family and the Kijin.

What was the reason for deliberately causing conflict between the Mitsurugi family, which Jin had tried to protect, and the Kijin, which Atori had tried to protect?

If the consciousness of the dragon, said to be sealed by Atori, had transferred to Sofia, she might be seeking revenge against Atori for sealing her. This was a distinct possibility.

But if there was more to it…

If Sofia’s reaction when he mentioned Jin and Atori was due to her own emotions…

In that case, the scheming of the conflict between the Mitsurugi family and the Kijin would be Sofia’s own doing. Sofia’s mind would be deviating from a path of sanity.

—Could Jin’s death also be…

For a moment, Kazuma considered this possibility, but then shook his head, dismissing the doubt.

If he knew the answer, there would be no other path but to fight Sofia. Having resolved to fall into heresy, he shouldn’t have thought about it.

What he should think about was how to pass on Jin’s rebellious blade to posterity. That should have been his only concern…

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