He had known from the very beginning he would be the primary target of anyone interested in joining Jake’s party. The reason for this was manifold. Firstly, he was the only other human in the group and an earthling like Jake, which unintuitively made him stand out. Miyamoto also had what most would perceive as the most replaceable role in the group, as he was simply a swordsman. The Fallen King was a Unique Lifeform, and the Sylphian Hawk was clearly closely tied to the Chosen and had unknown powers, while he himself was just a man.

Seeing as no one would dare challenge a Unique Lifeform, and Sylphie wasn’t an appealing target either, they naturally scrutinized him. The only thing Miyamoto had was his status of being a Transcendent, and while that perhaps spoke to his talents, it wasn’t necessarily tied to combat power. A Transcendent skill was not one that could simply be used repeatedly to settle any and all conflicts, either, so it didn’t make him that much more threatening due to its unreliability.

Which once more reduced him to just a swordsman.

To make matters more complicated, he was also given the task of communicating with those who wanted to join not as a replacement but as the fifth party member. Sylphie could not – or simply didn’t want to – communicate using actual words, and the Fallen King was thoroughly disinterested in who would join outside of directly rejecting some individuals.

Alas, it was a responsibility he had to take on with Jake absent.

Shortly after Jake had disappeared, several individuals approached their group of three. The first ones to arrive all had cocky looks on their faces and radiated confidence. Miyamoto felt glad to see the talented young man and eight women all so full of vigor to prove themselves.

Sadly for them, he was also responsible for teaching them where they were lacking.

“Greetings, I am Ulgransir from the United Tribes,” a beastfolk woman was the first to introduce herself.

“Hello there, I am-“

Seven of the nine were polite, which made him think better of them. All were there not to join as the fifth member but were aiming for his spot, so he would, unfortunately, have to fight. He had anticipated this, and sizing them all up, he made a decision.

“It is a pleasure to meet all of you,” Miyamoto bowed towards them, and he saw one of the A-grades from the Order was already nearby. “Rather than delay the inevitable, we should get it over with. What say you all?”

“I like your thinking,” the one man said as he turned to the attendant. “Would you be willing to teleport us there?”

As he had been briefed on already by the Hall Master named Viridia, an arena of sorts was prepared as they all knew this would happen. One that would also show their battle for all to see.

The attendant looked at them all for confirmation, and after getting nods all around, the Sword Saint was teleported away together with the nine challengers. Sylphie and the Fallen King also chose to join him, but both went to the stands, with the hawk having decided the crown of thorns on top of the Fallen King’s head was an acceptable nest. The Unique Lifeform did not protest.

Miyamoto appeared standing in a sandy colosseum-like arena, and he couldn’t help but smile internally. He had never battled in a proper arena before, especially not with such a large audience. Everything was broadcasted into the main hall, and the Sword Saint hoped a display of strength would help scare off any annoyances. As the seconds passed, more and more C-grades teleported onto the stands, and Miyamoto had a feeling most were there to challenge him.

Lastly, the attendant from the Order teleported in.

“A lot of interest in joining our Chosen for his conquest of Nevermore, with such little room in the group. While there are no official rules regarding this, the human named the Sword Saint has agreed to take on challengers. Mind you that even if you win, it does not ensure any actual membership of his party. However, this is a chance to prove yourselves,” the attendant-turned-announcer said as he looked down at the nine. “Now, who of you wish to go-“

“Excuse me,” the Sword Saint interrupted with an amicable smile. “To not needlessly delay, would it be acceptable for all nine of them to just come at me together?”

The attendant frowned, and Miyamoto saw many unsatisfied expressions from the stands, with the nine people in front of him looking furious.

“Are you certain?” the attendant asked. “I will try to prevent deaths, but there are no guarantees.”

“I am certain,” the Sword Saint nodded stoically.

“Very well,” the attendant simply nodded and backed off.

The nine in front of him didn’t move. The woman who initially approached him looked angry as she stepped forward.

“We are here for individual duels, not to gang up on you. Do not disrespect us,” she said in a severe tone.

“I did not mean to disrespect you,” the Sword Saint shook his head. “But I shall honor your request for a one-on-one duel if you so desire.”

The beastfolk woman sneered as the eight others backed away and were all teleported onto the stands. She crouched over a bit as her bestial features were amplified, and two fang-like daggers appeared in her hands. Energy revolved as she disappeared from where she had been standing, kicking up a cloud of dust.

A speedy one.

Miyamoto moved his hand to the handle of his sword and drew.

The woman appeared behind him, and he spun around. The Sword Saint had wanted to end it in one strike but found himself pleasantly surprised when she managed to raise her arm and block it with her bracers. She was still sent tumbling but rapidly stabilized and engaged once more.

They exchanged several blows as the Sword Saint chose to focus on defense. The woman was incredibly fast, and her striking power was acceptable.

Reminds me a bit of Jake… but…

He decided to attack. Rather than simply block, he deflected one of her daggers and swept his sword up toward her neck. Just before his blade hit, the beastfolk woman suddenly sped up significantly, and Miyamoto felt the concept of time. A defensive skill of some kind, also similar to the one Jake had used. Albeit not truly comparable.

The Sword Saint’s sword vibrated, and the beast woman lost the speed she had just gained. In the next moment, she was teleported away, and the announcer spoke.

“Winner: the Sword Saint.”

His opponent now stood on the other side of the arena with wide eyes and a small slit on the side of her neck with blood running down and soaking her fur.

“You have incredible speed, and your offensive capabilities are impressive. However, you rely too much on your natural talent and overpowering your opponent through sheer aggression,” the Sword Saint smiled and gave advice. “Moreover, the mental attacks you use continuously can be worked on. It seems you are trying to mix concepts too much, and an opponent with a steady mind will not find themselves faltering. Finally, you are used to fighting beasts, are you not? Your style is designed for it, and rather than mimic bestial tenacity, consider looking into more formal combat training. These are just my thoughts, and it is your choice if you wish to take them to heart.”

One could argue it was condescending of him to take up a teaching role towards a young talent of a large faction, but the Sword Saint had a hard time holding himself back. The woman was clearly talented and had the foundation, and if she had formal training, she could have put up a good fight.

The beast woman looked lost for a few seconds as she felt the wound on her neck. After considering for a few seconds, she nodded. “I shall take your words into account.”

Satisfied with her response, Miyamoto turned his head to those waiting in the stands. “Next, please.”

A mage entered the arena.

Seven seconds later, she left again to have her hands reattached.

Next was a scalekin warrior in full plate armor and a shield.

This was the longest fight so far by quite a bit, but after a bit over two minutes, he, too, was taken away after a relentless barrage of stabs embedded him in a wall. Miyamoto had to also use the concept of rain during that bout, making it clear he was the most interesting so far.

After that, he finally got a group of five to enter together. Within the next nine minutes, they were teleported away one after another, ending with the Sword Saint once more standing alone within the grand arena, the only signs of battle on his form the slightly frayed ends of his robe.

Miyamoto did have to admit… putting him in the arena perhaps wasn’t the fairest. He was not a monster hunter or specialized in dungeons. He had struggled against massive opponents in many instances, and he was not as experienced in fighting monsters as most others.

He instead specialized in fighting other humanoids. Be it scalekin or human, they had the same movement patterns, the same basic strategies, and the same fundamentals. To him, these young geniuses were ultimately not skilled enough to pose a challenge. If powerful beasts had also wanted to participate in this event, perhaps things would have been different, but alas, only the enlightened races had shown up wanting to join.

The Sword Saint looked at the stands and put his hand on his sheathed sword as he regarded them. “Who next will join this old man in exchanging some pointers?”

The attendant in charge of these duels teleported away yet another unfortunate soul who believed they had found an opening or perhaps simply hoped the human had gotten tired from the many previous fights. Barely any fights lasted a minute, and as an A-grade, the attendant could easily see why.

It wasn’t stats or powerful skills the human won with. He was clearly top-tier in both of these categories, but they were secondary. Especially in duels like this, where no one truly went all-out, and the use of powerful skills was discouraged, he reigned supreme. Even when the opponent used strong skills, they ultimately couldn’t touch the swordsman.

Despite only being C-grade, the man touched on high-level concepts far above one his grade should be capable of. His movements were immaculate, practiced, and disciplined. What was even odder was the feeling the attendant got when he looked at him.

An air of ancientness always hung around him, matching his appearance. By all accounts, he was a young talent, having reached C-grade in less than a century and a half, making many of the “youngsters” he dueled older than him.

Peculiar, the attendant thought.

But not unexpected. For the Chosen of the Malefic Viper to have deemed him worthy of entering Nevermore with him only made this level of monstrous talent and power expected.

I don’t know if I should be disappointed or happy, Jake thought as he also took a look at the livestream of the “young ones” dueling in the colosseum. On the one hand, it was nice to see the old man was indeed an absolute monster and could whop all these young geniuses with relative ease, but on the other hand, why did they all suck so much? Well, he did kind of know the reason.

These were not actually the best of the best. They were just the good ones from all these factions. The best of the best would go with parties formed only from internal members, and while many of them were close to top-tier, it was ultimately too big of a risk to send them with Jake.

While Nevermore did not have the highest death rate, it was still significant. For a few people to die and for party members to be replaced during a dive wasn’t out of the question, and as the odd one out in Jake’s party, the chances of them dying would be the highest. It was also only expected for Jake to treat his friends and associates better.

Still, he found it disappointing. A few support types even entered the arena for the old man to test them, and while a few of them looked decent, Jake didn’t see anyone he thought impressive. Then again, his view of healers was significantly skewed by the one healer he had ever fought with being a borderline immortal Bloodline Patriarch with an arcane affinity and healing skills off the charts.

On the topic of Eron, Jake had, of course, wanted him to join if they could reach some agreement, but he simply had no way to track down the guy or even know what he was up to. It was even possible he had already gone to Nevermore, and if the guy had done it under an alias and wanted to hide his identity, they had no way to find out. Considering the god hiding Eron could hide him even from Villy was proof it wasn’t some weak god. Didn’t mean they had to be Primordial-tier, just good at hiding people.

Villy did say someone impressive would show up later, Jake remembered the god had promised. With the private meeting taking place, Jake wasn’t sure if there would even still be that after-after party and, if it was a thing, that he would participate. Villy had briefly mentioned before Jake went back to the large hall that it was possible they would just do a private meeting with this special guest.

This idea was further strengthened by Villy not returning to the hall but going to meet privately with some other deities.

Jake’s return to the hall was soon noticed, and he found himself approached by several inquisitive individuals, but luckily he had Viridia to act as shield and advisor, so he avoided saying anything dumb or looking too ignorant. His identity as an individual from the new universe and his fast progress also worked as a good excuse for why Jake didn’t know many common sense things, and if all else failed, he could always fall back on the good old “I am a Chosen, why should I care about such minor matters?” farce.

Time passed by, and soon enough, the Sword Saint and the others returned. After a quick talk with the old man, they at least had a few potential support types who could potentially join, but it wasn’t looking good. Jake wasn’t enthusiastic about any of them, and the King clearly wasn’t either, as he found them all subpar. Sylphie only liked one of them, but that was because she had long, frizzled hair, which the hawk argued would make an acceptable nest in case of emergencies.

As he was discussing if they wanted one of the people judged by the Sword Saint, Viridia spoke to him.

“A special guest will arrive shortly,” Viridia informed Jake privately in a severe tone. “I was unaware one such as him would appear, so I did not warn you properly beforehand, so please be careful.”

“Alright,” Jake said, wondering if another Primordial had appeared. That would be something. “Who is it?”

“Nature’s Attendant.”

Jake slowly nodded to himself.

Yeah, I have no idea who that is…