Kyotou Yasuri – Chapter 1

Let us speak of Yasuri Mutsue, the sixth head of Kyotouryuu. The unorthodox killing art of Kyotouryuu, whose practitioners were swordsmen who wielded not swords but their bodies in place of them, was itself shrouded in darkness, but the darkness surrounding its sixth sword was yet deeper. After he became renowned as the hero of the rebellion, Yasuri Mutsue was spoken of in so many rumors that any discussion of him would only be treading over old ground.

However, all such rumors were false. There were some who called him a flippant dandy1. Some called him a ruthless murderer. Some called him a humorless soldier. Some called him a foolhardy beast. There were even some who claimed that Yasuri Mutsue was a woman or child—there was so little common ground on his true form, it was as if he was some kind of unidentified creature. Nearly all information on his appearance, personality, and even style of combat was disparate and divergent. Some said that he was strong, and others that he was weak. Some said that he was frightening, and others said that he was kind. It was almost as if everyone saw him in a different way; his true self was impossible to determine. Indeed, for every opinion on Yasuri Mutsue, without fail, the exact opposite opinion also circulated. Like matter and antimatter, for any person who claimed to know something about Yasuri Mutsue, it was an absolute certainty that there would be some other person with a contrary view.

Following the founder  and first head of Kyotouryuu who had rampaged through the Sengoku Era, Yasuri Kazune, each successive head of Kyotouryuu was enigmatic due to a lack of information—all except for the sixth, Yasuri Mutsue, who was enigmatic due to an excess of information. There was simply too much available information. He was told of and talked of so much that, paradoxically, the end result was identical to not being told of or talked of at all. No, it was even worse. He was told of so haphazardly and talked of so unreliably that it was no different from a forgery and fabrication of his identity. If Yasuri Itsumiki, the fifth head of Kyotouryuu, who had perished young and while still in training, had been alive, he may have been puzzled by these state of affairs, but it was only a manifestation of an abnormality characteristic to Kyotouryuu. Even the Tetsubi family, the rear guard of the Six Noble Families serving the Owari Shogunate’s Yanari family, who retained Yasuri Mutsue, had in reality very little understanding of him.

In the words of Migiri, Yasuri Mutsue’s wife and the daughter of the Tetsubi family, who at least nominally and by appearances, was his wielder, “That Mutsue guy is just too sharp of a sword. Know what I mean? He’s been polished so much that he shines like a ornamental mirror instead of a blade. Anyone who confronts Mutsue, swordsman or not, doesn’t see him, but their own image reflected in the mirrored sword that Yasuri Mutsue is. That’s why Yasuri Mutsue looks and appears different to different people. For every thousand people, there exist a thousand Yasuri Mutsue. It sure gives me the creeps.”

While her explanation did have some persuasive power, it was still far from the truth. It was only a deception or a mere excuse. It was her wholehearted bluff about Yasuri Mutsue, who was her husband and the father of her two children, yet could not be contained into a single form. She had likely heard the legend of Higaki Rinne the sage, and twisted the story to fit him. Still, the reasons for her bluff were not unreasonable. At the very least, she could not be condemned for it. In fact, it was only natural to make empty bluffs about the empty sword of Kyotouryuu. For there were none who could perceive Yasuri Mutsue in a true sense. The issue lay with Yasuri Mutsue, who did not permit such an absence of preconceptions. He himself was an unfathomable enigma. Not even the two children born to Yasuri Mutsue and Migiri, Yasuri Shichika and Yasuri Nanami, understood their father in the slightest.

He was not the strongest swordsman of Kyotouryuu. He was not the most famous swordsman of Kyotouryuu, nor was he the swordsman who had fought the most, triumphed the most, or killed the most. It would be impossible to claim so. However, it was a definite fact that Yasuri Mutsue was the most enigmatic swordsman of Kyotouryuu.

That is why we shall speak of him. We shall speak of the sixth head of Kyotouryuu, Yasuri Mutsue. To explore the truth of this sword, or at least something approaching it. As truthfully as possible, drawing a clear distinction between fact and fiction. We shall speak of him through his battle with the only person in his life he had acknowledged as an enemy, Hida Takahito, lord of Oushuu. At the very least, we shall unveil, to the light of day, his intangibility and indeterminacy, not as the subjective thing described by Migiri, but as reality.

And so for the first time in quite some time, or even at all:

To a time before the flowery narrative of battle and swords; the drama of blades, action, and history that is Katanagatari.

“A sword’s at its strongest when it’s sittin’ in its sheath—if y’ask me, anyways.”

The underground armory of Owari Castle overflowed with countless weapons. These various weapons had been collected by the Yanari shogun family from every corner of Japan and were meticulously ordered and displayed, almost like a museum. They were the results of Shogun Kyuu’s sword hunt. Naturally, these weapons included nearly a thousand of the Deviant Blades created by the legendary swordsmith Shikizaki Kiki, which emanated an unnerving and imposing aura.

A man strolled through the armory with no concern, purposefully clacking his steps. He was a skinny twig of a man. He bore a close resemblance to a walking stick. Despite his long limbs and height, he seemed to weigh nothing. He looked so weak that he might snap apart in a strong gust. Yet despite his frail body, he was undaunted by the countless weapons. It was as if he meant to say that he was keener than any of the weapons stored there. It may have been true. After all, he was the master of the armory.

“I’m not gettin’ philosophical here, I mean on a practical and basic level. Y’know, before ya draw a sword outta its sheath, it’s got infinite possibilities. Same as how ya can’t tell if a cat in a box’s dead or alive. Reality ain’t but an illusion. So once ya draw a sword, the trick’s outta the bag. They all say Kyotouryuu’s cloaked in darkness and the strongest sword style. I say it’s only the strongest cuz it’s cloaked in darkness. If ya take it out into the light, it’d barely count as a sword style. The strongest ain’t meant to fight,” concluded the spindly man.

He was delivering a monologue to himself. As the Master of the Armory was an honorary position as well as a sinecure, allowing for plentiful free time, he had only intended it to be a monologue. But while it was the monologue it ought to have been…

“Hey, don’t ya think so?” called out the spindly man to his rear.

“No, I don’t,” came a reply from behind.

“A sword is only a sword because it cuts, isn’t it? You can’t call something a sword if you can’t even see its edge. A sword doesn’t even need a sheath. That just gets in the way. Swords are meant to be drawn.”

It was a rotund man who had spoken. His body was as round as a circle, and he was no longer even obese. His silhouette from the front, back, and above was the same identical circle. He followed the spindly man at the same pace, with movements that were indistinguishable between walking or rolling.

The rotund man said to the spindly man, “A sword that isn’t used just rusts, you know. Just like the Sabi family2. I don’t care about the style or the family name, but I’d hate for that to happen to me.”

“And I’m saying there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. I wouldn’t hate it, I’d love it. So what iffa sword’s rusty or corroded or broken—ya can’t tell once it’s sheathed.”

“And is that really alright?”

“Sure is. If ya can’t tell if ya got somethin’ or not, then it don’t matter either way. If ya don’t got it, just make like ya do and it’s the same thing. So what if reality’s a big sham? Same as how Kyotouryuu calls itself a sword style when it don’t use swords.”

“Give me a break. You’re such a contrarian. This is exactly what makes you dull. Well, that means it hurts even more when you do cut someone, but you should just cut down people all the time and get stronger like me. Swords get sharper the more people they kill. Hey, what do you think?” said the rotund man, casting his gaze upwards.

He had directed the question to the man sprawled asleep atop the pointed tips of a rack of weapons. Clearly, it would be inconceivable for a man who could sleep while being pierced by blades to be so easily awoken. Yet, upon closer inspection, it was evident that the blades did not pierce or even penetrate his flesh. They were fended off by his skin, which was as hard as iron. His muscles were polished to the extreme and as thick as armor. Otherwise, it would be impossible to accomplish something so absurd as sleeping on a bed of blades. Even so, his conduct was unfitting for a master of the armory. The rotund man seemed to be upset by his lack of response, and kicked over the weapons he was lying on. The muscular man immediately woke.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“You can’t be sleeping during work,” he said, citing a noble cause, but it was flimsy justification given that he had knocked over the very weapons he was meant to guard.

“What about this is work? The only work for a sword is to kill,” said the muscular man in a dull tone. It was as if he saw nothing of value in the world, and was confident that it could all be dismissed as trivial.

“There’s no point in thinking or giving your actions meaning, the way you two do. Swords don’t have wills of their own, and they aren’t meant to. You’re only wasting your time thinking about that nonsense.”

In response, the rotund man shrugged his round mass and muttered, “You’re as hard as ever.” He seemed to be unbothered by the denouncement, and was even amused.

“Maybe that’s why you’re a sword that doesn’t get cut by swords. I know I say it all the time, but that’s a really ninjalike technique. Y’know, like the Maniwa Ninja. You get what I’m saying?”

“I don’t, and have no need to.” The muscular man shook his head in response to the rotund man’s taunts. As he lay on the ground, he said, “I don’t care about understanding.”

“You’re saying you don’t care about it?” interjected a voice with no prelude, out of nowhere.

The three men turned to find a tall woman and a small boy. It was the woman who had spoken. “Putting aside whether they want to or not, is there even a single person who can do something as outrageous as understand. Hm?” she continued.

Although she was unmistakably beautiful, the large stretches of skin exposed by her clothes lacked flush and were pale and translucent. In fact, she was nearly blue. It was as if blue ink coursed through her veins in place of blood. Yet she had a strange air to her and somehow did not seem sickly in the least.

“Let’s take the leader of this Owari Shogunate sitting way up above this armory. The eighth of his line, was it? I don’t remember exactly. Do you think he understands his lofty position? I’m sure he doesn’t. Just like everyone else, he did one thing at a time and before he knew it, he ended up where he is now. He has no idea why he’s there. I’m the same. We’re the same as sheltered kids,” the pale woman said sardonically and then glanced to her side.

“You think so too, don’t you?” she said, asking the child by her side for his opinion.

There was no mistaking the child’s young age, but he replied with an oddly mature tone, “Certainly, I more or less agree with you.”

His strangely weathered voice was no affectation. He seemed almost like a child who had lived a thousand years, and had an unusually menace to him. Despite appearing to be less than half her age, he was speaking down to the pale woman.

“But you’re too talkative. I can’t fathom why you have this need to beat a dead horse. He might be a contrarian, at least he has some self-awareness. If you keep mocking reality, all you’ll meet is despair,” he rebuked.

“Alright,” agreed the woman perfunctorily.

Understanding, eh? I ain’t thought about it much, but if ya call havin’ no complaints being satisfied, then I’m pretty satisfied. Master of the Armory ain’t so bad a job. When I’m holed up here I don’t gotta deal with people. A hermit’s the life for me.”

“That’s no different from being sheathed. You’re about the only one here who could stand that. Go ahead and keep that life to yourself. Don’t you all have some desire to test your tempered bodies, even if it isn’t as much as me? Don’t you, you, and you?”

“I have no desires.”

“That sounds quite undesirable. Either way, I’m not human, so I’ve never had a bit of desire, understanding, satisfaction, purpose, or soul.”

“Exactly. Being talkative has its advantages: at least you say what needs to be said. But even so, you ought to at least have the desire to test your strength, to test your steel.”

“In times as peaceful as these, I don’t think I’ll ever get a chance.”

“You’re wrong.” Amidst the aimless and inane conversation, or rather, monologue between the spindly man, the rotund man, the muscular man, pale woman, and the millenarian boy, meant only to kill time, a voice smoothly slipped in. It signaled the end of the monologue.

“Everyone, rejoice. The time has come to test our steel.”

It was a spotted dog lurking in the shadows of the racks who had spoken. It was almost too huge, too enormous to be called a dog. The fangs peeking out of its open mouth seemed sharp enough to crush a human skull with a single bite. Each fang resembled a sword.

“Huh? Whadd’ya mean? Ya sure popped outta nowhere, when didya get here? Scared me good. Aincha supposed to be on break today?”

“Break time is over. It’s over for me, you, you, you, you, and you. That’s why I said to rejoice. Our long monologue has ended. Kyotouryuu will see the light of day for the second time since its birth in the Sengoku Era. Orders from Migiri.” The spotted dog understood and spoke human language as if it was only natural. The other five listened to the beast intently, without interrupting. They listened intently, as if they had long awaited his words.

“The great lord in the north, Hida Takahito, has turned against the Shogunate. It was some time ago, actually. Now the country is going to pieces like it hasn’t for centuries. The entire country is breaking out into war. It’s almost another Sengoku Era.”

“Oh? So we might as well be Urashima Tarou3. I can’t believe Migiri kept that from us for so long. And? What are her orders?”

Upon hearing what the spotted dog said, the millenarian boy smiled wryly and posed a question. The dog returned a wolfish smile and answered “She says that as the Tetsubi family’s treasured sword, we shall unleash the legendary Kyotouryuu upon the world, return with the head of the villain Hida Takahito, and subdue the rebellion. She’s so demanding, even for a princess.”






The five each reacted in their own way, and then fell into rank and walked forth. They had already abandoned the post of Master of the Armory. Even the spindly man, who seemed to have been satisfied with it, did so without complaint. The spotted dog joined their ranks. Their stride and bearing all differed, but oddly enough they all walked at the exact same pace.

“Hida Takahito, huh? Ain’t he grown big for his britches, pickin’ a fight with the country. Well, I always reckoned he’d start somethin’.”

“If Tetsubi, the Owari Shogunate’s final bastion and last line of defense is on the move, the shogun must be really cornered.”

“There’s no point in thinking about it. You don’t need your emotions to cut him down. It doesn’t even matter if he’s a former ally.”

“No, wait, we should think about it. Takahito is a real schemer. Even if you or me fought him in a straight fight, we’d get the tables turned on us.”

“That’s true. I heard he has this powerful Elite Four bunch, too4. And he’s got a spymaster for a strategist. I haven’t heard any news about them, but if he’s gone into action then there’s no way they haven’t.”

They monologued in conversation as they made their way past the weapons. Theyhe, he, he, she, he, and it: the five and the animal, or rather the six. Their appearances and personalities all differed, but they all shared the same roots. They were one as six, six as one, equals with none superior or inferior, neither leader nor follower, not a group but a whole. That was their, or his, peculiar identity. These six branches grew from the trunk of Kyotouryuu, a sword school born in the Sengoku Era and shrouded in darkness, practiced by swordsmen who wielded not swords but their bodies in place of them, as well as the strongest of all.

“Alright, let’s go save the country,” said one of them. But it was as if they had all said it. The six left the armory with the door unlocked and announced their name to the outside world.

“The sixth head of Kyotouryuuu, Yasuri Mutsue, goes forth.”

“The sixth head of Kyotouryuuu, Yasuri Mutsue, goes forth.”

“The sixth head of Kyotouryuuu, Yasuri Mutsue, goes forth.”

“The sixth head of Kyotouryuuu, Yasuri Mutsue, goes forth.”

“The sixth head of Kyotouryuuu, Yasuri Mutsue, goes forth.”

“The sixth head of Kyotouryuuu, Yasuri Mutsue, goes forth.”

The sixth head of Kyotouryuu, Yasuri Mutsue, who later became known as the hero of the rebellion, was also the only one in the history of the inherited sword school of Kyotouryuu to wield six swords.

Next Chapter

Translation Notes

1To be specific, a kabukimono, a kind of gangster from feudal Japan. Kabukimono wore gaudy clothing and had a strange style of speech. They formed gangs and had a reputation for being rude and violent.

2Sabi(錆) means rust.

3Urashima Tarou is like the Japanese version of Rip van Winkle. In the folk tale, Urashima Tarou is a fisherman who visits an underwater palace for what seems like a few days, but after he leaves he finds out that hundreds of years have passed.

4Elite Four (also translated as Four Heavenly Kings) is a common name for four important people in a particular field. You might have seen it as a name for a group of miniboss characters from series like Pokemon and Kill La Kill. The original meaning is the Buddhist gods of the cardinal directions.

In Japanese, the 6 Yasuri Mutsue each use different first-person pronouns, which are:
The spindly man: boku
The rotund man: ore
The muscular man: watashi
The pale woman: atashi
The millenarian boy: sessha
The spotted dog: washi
There are multiple first-person pronouns in the Japanese language, each with their own connotations. People use different pronouns depending on how they want to present themselves. Only a few are commonly used in normal conversation, but many more are used in fiction. For more information see Wikipedia.

Name Meanings

Yasuri Family

Yasuri(鑢)- file, rasp
Kyotouryuu(虚刀流)- null sword style

Kazune(一根)- one root
Itsumiki(五幹)- five trunks
Mutsue(六枝)- six branches
Shichika(七花)- seven flowers
Nanami(七実)- seven fruits

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