Chapter 124: Negotiations, Introspective and Trust
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_________ POV Narration _________ 

"What is this about exactly, Yuu?" The Strawman's clone took the honorifics out of the picture, deciding to get straight to the point with the current leader of the Grass Village.

There were no amicable feelings in that room, just cold and dead silence. 

"Hah, you haven't changed a bit..."

Yuu seemed to have expected that, he clapped his hands and smiled at his former subordinate's mannerisms.

"Get to the point, you have exactly 60 seconds that I am granting out of courtesy," Saburo spoke out in the exact same manner. 

"Hmph, fine." The Grass Leader huffed before leaning into the table, interlocking his fingers and resting his chin on them.

"I want you to help me and my associates with intel to help take down the Dark Brotherhood, your current employer.

In exchange, the Grass Village and many other villages would be willing to support your ventures for an extended period of time..." 

Yuu smiled deviously as he watched Saburo's clone with great expectation.

"... How much support are we talking about here, and what is that period of time?" Saburo responded with the same cold tone, only taking a pause at first to think about the offer for a second. 

"Well, as much support as I was providing you before at the very least, financially speaking you would also receive a bulk sum from the other parties involved in this, I can arrange that.

The period of time we can leave as undetermined, 

But this all depends on the quality of intel that you can provide us..." 

The clone shifted for a second, bringing a hand up and scratching its chin for a few seconds.

In the end, the Strawman just sighed and shrugged.

"Fine, sounds like a good offer... Now give me more details of the overall situation. I need to know what I'm dealing with if we are to strike any deal..." 

The Strawman ended up agreeing with the terms, finding them satisfactory after a few seconds of inward deliberation.

However, he didn't agree to the deal itself yet, instead, he immediately requested more information, which Yuu didn't seem to be too appreciative of.

"Hmph, don't worry your head over that. Everything is already planned. You just need to give us your knowledge of the Dark Brotherhood." 

"Are you an idiot or do you take me for one? Tell me what assurance you have to take on the Dark Brotherhood, if not, stop wasting my time with this foolishness." Saburo coldly replied to the Grass Village Leader, scoffing in disdain as he spoke. 

The deal sounded nice on paper, that was great and all. But at the end of the day, it was Yuu who needed to convince Saburo, to impress him in some way to get him to agree to the deal.

Just claiming that he'd get support wasn't going to cut it by the look of things. 

"... Tsk, fine. Peel your ears properly. The Dark Brotherhood is well and truly doomed..." 

Meanwhile, inside the Dark Brotherhood Compound, things were still ramping up.

Tensions were high as Tosho wrapped his head around the implications of Saburo leaving at such a crucial time. 

"What are we going to do, Master?" That was his first question.

Of course, he could think of plenty of ways for them to fight back in their current situation, but Ken's opinion and words were what mattered at the end of the day.

In the first place, they had no idea what they were dealing with. And if Saburo had truly decided to cross them, they were at a severe disadvantage.

Saburo, as the Second Blade, knew just about everything when it came to the way that the Dark Brotherhood functioned, from its structure to its actual power and even the seals that were placed in and around the compound.

Hell, he was even well aware of the method of transportation that the Dark Brotherhood was using, the Summoning and Reverse Summoning Contracts. 

He had a lot of knowledge, and it could easily be used against them.

Ken was also well aware of that, but he seemed a lot less worried than Tosho.

"There's no real reason to panic for now. We have no inherent reason to believe Saburo would betray our deal.

We only really have speculation and worries. We don't even know if these people who are looking into us are planning something big or just scouting us out of curiosity." 

Ken slowly scratched his chin as he stood up and started pacing the room. 

It was true that they only had speculation, and they couldn't possibly draw a proper conclusion from just the appearance of the spy.

However, Ken knew that the reveal of his age attracted a lot of bad attention. People who were afraid of his potential and even his current influence.

Plenty wanted to get rid of him before he grew even further. Those were expected reactions. 

It was a safe bet to assume that anyone who looked into him was looking for trouble.

After all, it was always best to assume and prepare for the worst in all possible situations.

It was something that Ken had made sure to hammer in as one of the Dark Brotherhood's core principles.

To always be prepared for the worst of the worst, to make anything else feel like nothing more than a slight breeze. 

'One must build the sturdiest of walls even for what appears to be the smallest breeze.'

There were many ways to put it, but it was just one of the many ways that Ken made sure no one would start looking down on their opponents out in the field, no matter how much stronger they were. 

That core principle was also present in Tosho, who was Ken's very first student. 

This was also why he immediately thought of the worst when Saburo's absence came into question.

"Still, he has never been trustworthy, and he is always looking out only for himself... Who's to say he hasn't found a better offer with our current enemies?" 

The Blind Monster could only smile at that.

Tosho was clearly also driven by his dislike and distrust of Saburo. Ken couldn't really blame him, the Second Blade hardly pretended to be friendly with Tosho, not that pretending would've even helped much. 

But Ken didn't have that same prejudice against Saburo.

"You are completely right... In all but one aspect, Saburo is very trustworthy." 

Tosho was visibly confused by his master's words, he could only blurt out.

"H-how come?" 

At that point, the smile on Ken's face widened, his sharp teeth shining in the flickering light of the oil lamp on his desk.

"You see, we treat trust very differently, you and I. You consider trust to be a sign of devotion, of closeness. I mostly agree with that, it is one's usual definition of trust after all...

However, I see it a bit differently.

To me, having trust in someone can also mean having almost absolute certainty that they will do what I think they will, or what I want them to do." 

The Blind Assassin continued strolling through the room at a leisurely pace, his voice quiet enough to sound like a whisper in the wind, but just barely loud enough for Tosho to hear it.

Understanding flashed into Tosho's eyes, but Ken still continued.

"Saburo is, as you've outlined, opportunistic. Selfish and incapable of forming human connections.

He doesn't care for good, he doesn't care for bad, he doesn't care of either you or me... He only cares about what he wants, his goals and means to achieve them."

Ken turned around and placed his hand on one of the walls, he gripped it lightly, his fingers slightly digging into it. 

The wall glowed slightly, and the wallpaper moved, shifting and flipping around to reveal... A large blackboard.

On it were countless crude but frighteningly detailed drawings, interconnected, countless threads stretched across that board. 

Each portrait had listed many attributes, writing so small that Tosho could barely see it with his naked eyes.

The First Blade could only wonder... When exactly had Ken even managed to put such a thing together? 

A collection of every person of interest for their Dark Brotherhood, their assets, everything they owned... It just felt surreal.

Tosho had periods where he didn't always watch over Ken, but he never could have guessed what the Blind Monster was doing with his free time...

Where did he get such free time anyway? He was training most of the time! 

"I'm sure you are curious about a few things... But it's been quite some time since I've felt the need for sleep. Having that much time in the day makes one much more productive."

It was only then that everything clicked for Tosho. 

Ken always, without exception, spent his nights in his office. He had a room, an official master bedroom within the same building. But it was simply collecting dust. 

'H-how long has it been... How long has he been awake?' 

Tosho's eyes widened as he came to that question. But Ken didn't let him dwell on it for too long, immediately continuing with his previous speech. 

"I don't trust people easily... But my 'eyes' never deceive me."

Ken then pointed to Saburo's portrait, there were many traits laid out there.

Words that Tosho didn't really know either. It was as if parts of the board were written in different languages. 

"Saburo is without a doubt always going to do what benefits him more. Therefore I made sure to give him all of the benefits and freedom that he requested at all times, with almost no restrictions." 

Ken smiled as his fingers lightly dragged over the writing underneath Saburo's drawing. 

"As things stand, even if he sometimes seems frustrated and unwilling to do things for me, he won't ever do something as stupid as to try his luck elsewhere...

There is no other village or faction that would support him to such an extent. And he knows it." 

Tosho seemed genuinely surprised at the way Ken described the Second Blade's character. It genuinely felt as if his Master had thought of everything, that his 'eyes' truly could see all. 

But as the one that was originally meant to act as Ken's eyes... He still had trouble 'seeing' it. He understood Ken's point, but he couldn't bring himself to ever place his trust in someone like Saburo. 

Someone who could turn at the flip of a hat. The pinnacle of inauthenticity. 

"I know that this is hard for you to grasp right now. But in essence, Saburo will never betray us over some empty promises. He knows that his current arrangement is the best it could possibly be.

He is smart but also predictable. I've met many of his kind, and I've danced with them plenty of times to know their moves." 

Ken ended up just shaking his head as he felt that his words weren't quite reaching Tosho. 

"You'll have to take my word for it. But right now we need to focus on the outside threat. Something that Saburo will likely have more information on. You can call the others for now..."

Ken then walked over to another side of the room and pulled on a small scroll from his bookcase.

Tosho heard a small click before he looked at the blackboard shifting back into a regular empty wall, showing only a painting or two, empty decour. 

Ken shook his head as he went back to his desk and sat down, slowly reaching for one of the drawers and putting his mask back on.

It couldn't be helped that Tosho was overwhelmed, it was a lot to take in all at once. 

Still, Ken also trusted Tosho... And he knew that no matter what, Tosho would trust his words and judgement above all else. 

The First Blade blinked a few times, before nodding and sighing. 

'The more years I spend by his side, the more I realise... Just how much I can still learn from him...'

"I understand... In that case, I will go call Akira and Saburo in. We will proceed as you wish." 

As he left the room, the First Blade couldn't help but wonder... 

'Does Lord Ken actually 'Trust' anyone...?' 

__________________________________________________________________

Hope you liked the chapter! 

Finally managed to write one out! Might upload another one tomorrow cuz I have some inspiration now for the ongoing arc

Story Shoutout: The Final Desperation

Discord, again: https://discord.gg/xQTK8caFEQ

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