To say that the day arrived suddenly would be a misstatement. In the future, Yasuri Mutsue’s assault on Meikyuu Castle and his following assassination of Hida Takahito would commonly be described as an event that came like a bolt in the blue, but as previously stated, it was in actuality a cumulation of meticulous plans made by multiple parties, refined through various exchanges—as such, even to the end nothing about it was abrupt or sudden.
It then followed that Hida Takahito, who on that day was not at the front lines as usual but in the keep of Meikyuu Castle, enjoying a bottle of sake, knew what would happen to himself on that day. He did not predict it, but knew it. That may have been why he had the bottle.
“It’s not like I thought I could get through this without dying, but it feels different now that it’s about to happen. I guess I just can’t get by without a drink,” muttered the lord of Oushuu, Hida Takahito.
However, at the time there had been no disturbance to the castle. At the very least, he had received no reports of the sort. But he understood. Because he possessed the finest wits in the world, he understood. He had enough forewarning.
“Oh man. I knew it was coming, but still, why’d this have to happen? I really don’t want to die. And I especially don’t want to get killed.”
“Then why not flee?” said a voice, interrupting his grumbling. It was a woman who had spoken. Despite her gorgeous looks, she wore an oddly austere kimono. The garment was so coarse it seemed more like a piece of cloth than a kimono.
“Oh, if it isn’t you, Yuru.”
“Yes, it is I, Yuru.”
“My dear wife, Yuru.”
You don’t have to tell me who I am, I wouldn’t forget my place.”
“Oh? I barely ever see you, so I thought you might have went off somewhere.”
“You make it sound like you wish I did. You’re hurting my feelings,” she said as she walked over and sat by Takahito’s side. She gracefully plucked the sake bottle from his grasp and held it to her lips.
“I never knew you were so bold.”
“I love sake.”
“Oh, really? That’s news to me.”
“So there’s something even a famous genius like you doesn’t know.”
“Being a genius isn’t the same thing as being knowledgeable.”
“But shouldn’t you at least know about your wife?”
“I can’t argue with that.”
“And your daughter.”
“I can’t argue with that.”
“Haha,” laughed Takahito weakly. He seemed not to mind the chiding.
“So what’s my daughter doing?”
“She’s playing without a care in the world. In the basement with Migiri, that is.”
“So Migiri’s become Princess Yousha’s playmate.”
“After all’s said and done, she is a mother.”
“Oh yeah. She does have a daughter and a son, doesn’t she? With the way she looks, even a genius like me would forget.”
“It isn’t as if you look like a parent either.”
“Well, yeah. I don’t act like one at all. My daughter might even think I’m just some mysterious old guy lurking in the castle.”
“C’mon, you should have denied that one.”
“Just like you, I’ve never told a lie. Either way, denial is that girl’s specialty.”
Takahito slumped his shoulders, then attempted and failed to take back his bottle. Yuru beamed, and Takahito slumped even deeper.
“Hm? What is it?”
“Why don’t you flee?”
“Where would I go?”
“You could go anywhere you wanted. If you only cared about saving yourself, that is.”
“C’mon, do I look that cold-blooded? Do I look scheming enough to abandon everybody who’s been fighting for me and only save my own skin?”
“You do indeed.”
“Oh, yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m not that nice of a person. And everyone says that I have the most awful personality.”
“It’s a shame you can’t pass that off as a misunderstanding.”
“Not really. I definitely am a schemer.”
“So then why are you not fleeing?”
“Hm… I’m not sure how to put it. I don’t even know if you would get it…”
“That’s a rude thing to say to your dear wife.”
“But it’s true. You might not get it. But since you asked, I’ll tell you. You’re my dear wife after all.”
“What empty words.”
“It’s because when I die and my rebellion fails, this story will finally end. Or maybe it’ll start,” said Takahito.
His expression was in a way serene. He had in fact run out of options and could do nothing but wait, so he had no choice but to accept the outcome. And yet he himself did not recognize that reality.
“There was so much that I wanted to do. I had all these opportunities,” he said, in a tone that was not serene but regretful.
“Or at least it feels like it. I don’t mean much by it. Either way, my actions were restricted from the start by a script that’s already been written.”
“Script? What a strange idea. Even a man like you has already had his actions decided for him? All this time I had been assuming that you would be the sort of person writing the scripts,” said Yuru. Despite her teasing tone, she appeared to be serious. Her expression was the very image of sincerity.
“Yeah, I guess,” replied Takahito. His expression was not particularly serious. “I’ve had all my actions decided for me.”
“But you know, I’m a lousy actor. Even if I try and follow the script to the letter, I still can’t do exactly what the writer wants. I hope my bad acting will leave a mark on the world.”
“You want your bad acting to be passed down?”
“Yeah, though that might not be such a good idea. But still, traditions are the sort of thing that get passed down whether you like it or not. It’s like how Princess Yousha is a lot like you.”
“She takes after you more.”
“She doesn’t think of you as a mysterious old man in the least. She respects you as her father.”
“She might not be very clever, but she still thinks of herself as your daughter. She’s the daughter of the Hida Takahito, lord of Oushuu.”
“Don’t you mean mean the daughter of Hida Takahito, insurgent against the legitimate government? Right, I’ll turn your question back on you, Yuru.”
“Why don’t you flee?” said Takahito. His expression was once again, not serious.
“When I said I thought you might not be in the castle anymore, I wasn’t joking. You could run away with Princess Yousha, and maybe Migiri too. I can see the end coming, so you can too, right? There’s no point in going down with a sinking ship. Why are you here drinking when you could be running away? You might still make it,” he said. He sounded as if he was only wondering. But given who he was, he likely had a good idea of what she would say. Perhaps he chose to ask the question because he wanted to hear her answer from her lips.
“I thought I told you that I wouldn’t forget my place. Even on the verge of death,” replied Yuru, as she took a drink of sake.
“I am your wife. I won’t leave you behind,” she answered. “Even if I’ll die because of you, I forgive you.”
“I see. That’d be love, then.”
“Yes. That’s love.”
“You’re welcome. And Princess Yousha is your daughter. Though I’m sure she hasn’t the faintest idea of what’s happening.”
“Ah, yeah. I should probably go talk to her.”
Just as he was getting up, there was a loud sound from outside the castle. Or rather, the sound had already encroached into the castle.
“So you’re here, Mutsue. You’re as unrefined as ever,” said Takahito, gleefully. Yuru, who rarely saw him so happy, looked on in delight.
Having been hindered by Kiguchi Zanki for a considerable amount of time, Yasuri Mutsue judged that it would be impossible to break through or even slip past Zanki, and withdrew for a moment. Even after withdrawing, he had not forgotten the objective that Yasuri Migiri required of him as a sword. As his objective was not to defeat Zanki, withdrawing was the natural choice. He was simply a sword and had no will of his own. Zanki did not give chase. He would not go beyond what was necessary. By no means had he allied himself with Takahito. He freely chose not to pursue Mutsue.
On his way to Meikyuu Castle, Mutsue ultimately routed around the town of Tendou and the entire province of Dewa to avoid Zanki. It was an astonishingly roundabout detour. That was how much of a threat Kiguchi Zanki posed to him. Or perhaps it was that Zanki commanded such irreproachable respect as a fellow swordsman, even to Mutsue, who possessed no will of his own. It was irreproachable respect.
After being delayed by several months and having managed to make his way past various obstacles, the sixth head of Kyotouryuu, Yasuri Mutsue, arrived at Hida Castle in Oushuu. He had finally reached the starting line. He began an assault on the castle with forces numbering only six, or rather one.
“So you’ve come, Kyotouryuu,” said a strange figure, who had been waiting outside the castle gate, as if he had foreseen Mutsue’s presence at that very hour and exact place.
It was impossible to describe him as anything but strange. He lacked a head, and instead a sword sprouted from his shoulders.
“You’re Head, aren’t you? Hida Takahito’s lieutenant, Head? Oh boy. So you’re my final opponent?” said Mutsue.
“Saving the best for last, are we?”
“No. Your final opponent is none other than my lord, Takahito. I am only a checkpoint.”
“Checkpoint, huh. You’re a bit much for that, aren’t you? You’d be a match for Sabi Kokken or Kiguchi Zanki. I don’t even want to meet a ninja on the level of a Maniwa head, much less fight one.”
“So you disdain me. You could say that it’s part of my job to be disdained.”
“Won’t you let me through?”
“Who are you asking?”
“I’m asking you. Even if I don’t kill him, Hida Takahito will probably end up dead, no matter what happens with his rebellion. He fights like he doesn’t care about the consequences. The only reason he can do that is because he’s desperate and hopeless. I’m worried about the aftermath more than anything.”
“That goes without saying. My lord lives only for the present. He has no concern for the future’s history.”
“Most people are just plain terrified of those kind of destructive trailblazers.”
“That may be so.”
Although Head joined in the badmouthing even without a mouth, he showed unwavering resolve as he readied himself.
“By the way…are you the only one here?”
“Yes. I work for Takahito in the shadows. I act independently from the army.”
“Shadows, huh? So was it you who kidnapped Migiri?”
“No, that was Right Arm’s doing. Takahito’s right arm, that is. He now guards the same Yasuri Migiri. Though he will be no checkpoint to you.”
“Hey, isn’t that a terrible thing to say about your comrade?”
“Don’t misunderstand me. Right Arm’s skills are comparable to my own. His skills are several levels above those of Left Arm, Left Leg, and Right Leg, who you have killed. However—”
“I believe that you intend to kill Lord Takahito before rescuing Yasuri Migiri. You are, after all, a sword. As such, Right Arm will be no checkpoint to you. You will kill me, and you will go to Takahito. But you go no further. Once you meet Takahito, you will have no future,” said Head before charging forth with the sword he had for a head.
Despite what he had said, he showed no hesitation or willingness to be killed as he brought down a broad slash. Mutsue moved to defend herself.
“Ha! I don’t even have a present,” she said, and with a boom that resounded all the way to the castle keep, she unveiled a Kyotouryuu technique. She unveiled her florid technique. The technique, one unfit for an assassination, became the beginning of a flowery castle assault that would earn her the title of hero of the rebellion.
Next: the final chapter.
Yuru– forgiveness, lily, slack, gentle