“I say this well aware that it’d have me mistaken for a boastful and ill-tempered man, but being talented is a tremendous pain.”
There stood a castle painted a pitch black so dark that it seemed to consume every last bit of light in the world. As such, it was impossible to perceive it in its entirety. Its stalwart defenses rivaled those of Gekoku Castle in Inaba Desert. The castle, Ankoku Castle in Higo Province, was counted among the Three Great Castles of the era. The castle was so enormous it was nearly a fortress; it was the keystone of the island of Kyuushuu and presently the site of a battle. As stalwart as its defenses were, Ankoku Castle was now utterly overwhelmed by sheer numbers and on the verge of falling. At this point, any clever tricks employed in the construction of its walls were meaningless. Not a single person spared an upward glance for the castle’s splendid craftsmanship.
“To be frank, I, Hida Takahito, am a genius. I can guarantee that no one in history was as brilliant as me, and that no one with more wits than me will ever be born. I’m one of a kind. I’m so talented that even I’m baffled.”
It followed that there was no one to notice a scar-covered man sitting on the roof of Ankoku Castle’s keep, muttering and grinning to himself. Both those attacking and defending the castle were completely occupied with their immediate surroundings.
“Compared to me, everyone else is an idiot. It’d be an understatement to say that I’m exceptional. Even if you added up the intelligence of everyone in the world, it still wouldn’t be a tenth of mine. And if Shikizaki Kiki, that legendary swordsmith who they say ruled over the Sengoku Era, had been born in the same era as me, he definitely wouldn’t have become a legend.”
The scar-covered man, Hida Takahito, fixed his disinterested gaze on the conflict below him. Both scars and fresh wounds ran across Takahito’s body. They were not just scattered here and there, but were worn into him. Old scars covering every inch of his body were overlaid with fresh wounds covering every inch of his body. Of course, blood was gushing from his fresh wounds, but Takahito paid them no heed. It was as if he had no sense of pain, or his wounds had merely been painted on. He only watched the battle taking place below him and smirked.
Takahito had used his extraordinary intelligence to bring about this battle. But he was allied with neither faction, and had merely created—or more precisely, fabricated—a pretext for the battle. The combatants knew neither Hida Takahito’s face nor even his name. But regardless of whether or not they knew him, there was no mistaking that Takahito’s schemes had drove those who only a few months ago had been defending Higo together on good terms to brutally slaughter each other.
“Since it’s true, I don’t mind repeating that I’m a genius. But being a genius is a pain. It’s anguishing having to manage my precious talents. My talent is mine alone. It’s not something I inherited from my parents, and it’s not something I’ll pass on to my children. There’s no one else like me. I’m too unique, too special. Man, it’s such a burden.”
Takahito slumped down his shoulders as he called his talent a heavy load. He truly felt that his talent was a pain. He sat on a roof that might collapse within a half hour, watching the battle that was proceeding exactly as he expected, precisely as he planned, with neither the smallest anomaly nor the slightest deviation. He watched, lamenting the enormity of his intellect.
“And now even more people will die because of my talents. I wonder how many will die in this battle? And how many will die in the conflicts across Japan in total?”
Even before he had finished posing the question to himself, he had already calculated the answer. His answer was no estimate, it was accurate down to the very last individual.
“I really screwed up. I completely failed. If only I’d known that there were no limits to my intelligence, I wouldn’t have let myself get this far. Seriously, what were they all thinking? They should have just offed me when I was still a kid and didn’t know what to do with my talents. This is what they get for not killing me.”
By ‘this’, he was referring to his rebellion, which had interrupted over a hundred years of peace under the Yanari Shogunate. Hida Takahito had once been the lord of Oushuu. But now he was nothing more than an lawless rebel.
“My sympathies go out to the good folk of Japan for being swept up by my brilliance and not having a clue who or what they’re slaughtering each other for. I’m sure those men and women won’t have any idea of the truth when they die. I envy them. Nothing would be more wonderful than to die in ignorance. Well, I’d say that my sympathy and envy just about cancel out. Yeah.”
“It’s such a pain. What else could I have done?” Although everything had gone as he had planned, exactly as he had calculated, he muttered to himself as if he had failed. He muttered, nearly raving, as if he were regretting the irreversible. He repeated to himself, “What a pain, what a pain.”
“Really though, what should I have done?”
“You should have done as you saw fit, my lord. You have always done what is right.” spoke a man from behind Takahito. He had been standing there the entire time, just behind Takahito, but had concealed himself so effectively that Takahito was completely unaware of his presence until he spoke.
With no sign of surprise, Takahito said, “You were here? I guess you would be, Head.”
The man called Head replied, “Yes, I would be. I have a duty to guard you. A duty to protect what you refer to as your genius intellect from the world.”
The man had a strange figure. Or rather, it was more bizarre than strange, and more monstrous than bizarre. He was a well-built ninja dressed in a a sleeveless kimono. Chains were draped across his body. To those in the know, he wore the mark of the Maniwa Ninja Corps, but the man had long discarded that affiliation, as well as the name Maniwa Dokuhebi. Now he was only known as Head, and served as Hida Takahito’s strategist. However, he was a strategist only in name, and in reality watched over and guarded Takahito, who had a tendency to blindly plunge himself into battle.
Head’s simple name came from the fact that he possessed no head, but instead had a large sword sprouting out of his neck. He had neither eyes, nose, ears, nor mouth, but only a broad, 4-foot-long sword. Not even Takahito’s wits could tell him how Head could see or hear the outside world. Once he understood that he could not understand, he ceased thinking about it. He only knew how Head could speak without a mouth. It was because his sword vibrated at high frequencies, generating sound.
“My lord, yet again you have not asked me what I am doing here. As a ninja who is fond of making my appearance from behind, it saddens me.”
“I mean, I’ve just accepted that you’re that kind of person. That’s right, you must be miserable too, being stuck serving a genius like me.”
“It was of my own will that I left the Maniwa Ninja Corps to serve you, and I do not regret my decision. Nevertheless, my lord, I must ask you instead: what are you doing here?”
“Why are you here? You should be in Oushuu, in the besieged Hida Castle. The princess has been searching for you.”
“Besieged, huh? I wonder how you guys can call that patchy mess a siege with a straight face. I can’t believe the shogunate hasn’t broken through by now. Maybe they’re bigger idiots than I even imagined. It’d really be something if there was a level of idiocy even my genius couldn’t comprehend. Well, anyways.”
Takahito turned towards Head. He grinned, just as he had while watching the battle.
“Ankoku Castle was just about to fall, so I came to watch, like usual. I won’t be able to see all the battles, but I can at least see the important ones. I’m responsible for them, after all.”
“Responsible, you say?”
Head gave an exaggerated shrug. As he possessed a sword in place of a head, he had no face. But if he did possess one, it would have surely had an expression of irritated exasperation.
“If you are aware of your status, then I would ask that you abstain from such reckless actions. Please refrain from acting alone.”
“Even if I weren’t a genius, I’d know that I’ll never be alone as long as you guys are around.”
“Even were I not a ninja, I would know that it would be a trifle for you to slip away from us. No, I will trouble you no more on this matter. You should be free as you are, for that is why we follow you. But even so…” said Head, turning to watch the battle surrounding the castle, as Takahito had. His eyes held no emotion as he gazed at a stunning amount of people dying. For that matter, he had no eyes.
“I beg of you not to take part in battle directly. Intelligent as you may be, you have no ability for combat.”
“That’s not a nice thing to say. You wound me.”
Takahito grimaced in response to his subordinate’s blunt remarks.
“Wound you? When you’re already covered in physical wounds? You should know that if your cuts are not treated immediately, you will die from blood loss.”
“I’ll die? That’d be great,” said Takahito as he raised his arms.
This was a gesture of neither surrender nor celebration, but a silent request for Head to dress his wounds. Head in turn silently responded by dressing Takahito’s wounds. He reached into his bag and took out the medical supplies he had prepared beforehand with practiced motions, as if this was a common occurrence.
“Which side were you on this time?”
“I wasn’t really on a particular side. I just walked around and slashed at anyone who was attacking me. Actually though, I didn’t end up slashing anyone and just got slashed up.”
“I shall ask you once more, what is the purpose of your actions? Is this a part of one of your strategies?”
“I’ll answer you once more, there is no purpose to it. Well, if I had to say…oh that’s it,” Takahito said diffidently as he was being bandaged.“It’s because I don’t want to forget that I’m fighting.”
“Yeah. I’m way above everyone else, but I don’t want to get full of myself because of that. I don’t want to lose sight of what I’m really doing. Since I’m a genius, I want be on the same footing as everyone else.”
There was no trace of seriousness or sincerity in his casual tone. He may as well have been telling a joke. Yet those were the honest thoughts of Takahito the rebel. Unbelievably, he had never told a single lie in his entire life. He never spoken a falsehood, not even as a part of politics or schemes. That was how Hida Takahito lived his life. In times of need he would use his wisdom to scheme, but never would he deceive. It could be said that his anomalous way of life was only possible because he was a genius. For who else could tell no lies?
“When you get cut it hurts. Your skin splits apart and blood comes gushing out. You might die. You can’t wage a war if you forget that. No wait, maybe you can. Normally, you’d have to forget that to wage war. But it’s different for me since I’m a genius. I remember everything; there’s nothing that I’ve forgotten. I know what it is I’m doing, why I’m doing it, that many people have already died because of my rebellion, and that even more will die as it continues. By the time I complete my objective, Japan’s population will have more than halved. And then the survivors will shoulder serious mental wounds. They’ll have their lives, but their parents might die, or their siblings might die, or their friends might die, or their lovers might die. They’ll have to bear their scars for the rest of their lives, and some will never recover. There’ll be orphans too. This rebellion won’t make anyone happy.”
“What about you?”
“Me? As far as I can tell, this rebellion will make me the most unhappy,” answered Takahito. “After all, there’s nothing worse than making people unhappy.”
“That all sounds rather cynical, but I find it difficult to understand your views.”
“Of course it’s hard for you, you’re not as smart as me. Well, you’re just barely clever enough to act as my strategist, but you’re still confined by common sense.”
“When you overthrow the current shogunate, the people will surely rejoice. You will rule the country just as well as you have Oushuu—no, your plans will be even more magnificent and bring happiness to all. Granted, your rebellion will take many lives, but those are necessary sacrifices.”
“Necessary sacrifices, huh? That’s a nice little phrase,” Takahito laughed. “A nice and convenient phrase.”
“Sacrificing the present for the future is a natural choice for the wise.”
“Actually, I’m sacrificing the future for the present.”
“Well, either way. I just can’t stand it. I could have done without all this wisdom. Having to make sacrifices is just so terribly terribly terribly terrible. I’d rather be an idiot if I could just be happy. I’d spend my days in oblivious bliss. I’d let everyone else take care of the important stuff, and just get ordered around by others, completely at their beck and call. In the mean time, I’d start up this heartwarming family drama with some adorable children. But instead I have to deal with this bloody mess. I was even born into a time of peace and everything.”
With a grin on his face, Takahito truly lamented. The reason Takahito, who had quickly risen into prominence as lord of Oushuu, had thrown the country into war after more than a hundred years of peace was shrouded in mystery, even to later generations. Not even his lieutenant or daughter knew why Takahito, a man more renowned than any in the Six Noble Families surrounding the Yanari shogun family, would start a rebellion. Yet his reason was simple and clear. It was neither ambition nor righteousness. There was simply ‘no one else to do it’.
“It’s just bad timing. In this primitive era with no information technology, the only way to spread a message across the country is through war. My only option was to start a rebellion. I can only destroy the country to save it. If only I had been born three hundred years later, I could have gotten across to the entire world just by tweeting away1.”
“Do you mean to say that you were born in the wrong era?”
As Head attempted to show basic comprehension of his master’s nonsensical declarations, Takahito replied, “What’re you talking about? You sure are stupid.”
“I wasn’t born in the wrong era. There’s no way a genius like me would do that wrong. Seriously though, there’s something broken about my talents; they keep shooting up whenever I take my eyes off them for a second. That’s why. That’s why even if I can’t see the whole rebellion that I started, I’m traveling across Japan to make sure I don’t miss the critical parts,” said Takahito as he casually stood up and pressed a nearby roof tile with his foot.
“I won’t leave the important stuff to my subordinates—I’ll do all of it by myself.”
Just then, explosions occurred all over Ankoku Castle. They were not simultaneous. Gunpowder bombs had detonated one after another, interspersed by intervals too brief to be called instants. They went off one after another. Indeed. They went off in order, destroying first the weakest and then the strongest parts, using mechanical principles to bring down the so-called impenetrable Ankoku castle down with less a dozen bombs. It went without saying that it was Takahito who had had planted these bombs. In the distant future, this would become a commonplace technique for demolishing large buildings, but it was yet an era where no one else in the world had thought of the idea.He had thought of everything before anyone, anyone at all. His abilities were equal to, even surpassing, those of a fortuneteller or prophet. For he was a genius.
The wreckage of the castle fell on the combatants before they had a chance to flee, burying and then annihilating both sides. Not a single beam was left standing. With a single footstep, one of Japan’s Three Great Castles had been completely and utterly erased from the world. It was thoroughly destroyed, without a thought given to minimizing damages.
“Hm, not bad.”
“Did everything go according to your plans, just as usual?”
Takahito, having survived the precipitous descent by being carried by Head, who as a ninja could land as easily as hopscotch, shook his head sheepishly.
“But still, battles are scary. Even though everything went off without a hitch, killing so many people feels pretty bad. I knew you would catch me, but I still had a risk of falling to my death. There was the danger of getting blown up by my own bombs, too.”
“Do you mean to say that your intelligence makes you more aware of your chances of failure?”
As Head ran on top of debris and crushed flesh, he gave his understanding of the matter.
“You’re way off the mark,” replied Takahito.
“I’m saying that if you can’t feel what you’re doing, it turns into a game. It’s my philosophy that people who don’t stand on the front lines and fight don’t deserve to call themselves leaders. You should keep that in mind. Ninjas always seem to have trouble with that sort of thing. It’s probably on purpose, but they don’t seem to understand what it is they’re doing. You’d better tell that to your men too: Right Arm, Left Arm, Right Leg, and Left Leg.”
“They are not my men. They are your men.”
“Ha! I hear they’ve been going around calling themselves the Takahito Elite Four. Man, they’re so lame. I really worry about those poor saps. I’m not afraid of my enemies, but I’m scared to have allies like that.”
“It looks like you now have an enemy to be afraid of.”
Takahito and Head’s conversation was suddenly interrupted by a pure and innocent voice—one that was utterly out of place in a battlefield, especially one where a castle had only just collapsed and killed a great number of people. They turned towards the source of the voice. It was a young girl with blonde hair and blue eyes holding a temari ball. Despite her clearly foreign features, the girl’s Japanese clothing suited her well. Her very presence raised the questions of “What are you doing here?” and “Just where were you in this bloodbath?”, but Takahito merely asked “An enemy to be afraid of?”
Evidently, he had anticipated her arrival just as he had with Head, or perhaps even to a greater extent.
“Do I really have an enemy like that? Are you talking about yourself or something? I’ll admit that an inscrutable and denying girl like you whose thoughts I don’t even want to think about is pretty scary.”
“I don’t mean myself. I don’t fight people. I don’t even care what happens with your rebellion. So I’m not your enemy.”
Despite her age, the blonde-haired and blue-eyed girl spoke in an oddly adult manner. She shrugged and continued.
“Hida Takahito, your enemy is that Kyotouryuu man retained by the Tetsubi family.”
“Huh. Kyotouryuu? You’re saying Mutsue is my enemy? Now? After all this time?” said Takahito. “That sounds like a huge pain.”
Although Takahito was still grinning, his grin had become harsh.
Hida Takahito. The man was an unparalleled genius, and in what later generations would call the supreme folly of the greatest schemer of all time, he had never told a lie. He never lied, not even to his subordinates or his lieutenant. Though he claimed to excel, he never claimed to be correct. Perhaps his excess of genius had given him foresight of his inevitable failure and loss. For he had promised the success of his rebellion to no one, not even to his wife or daughter.
Ankoku Castle– darkness castle
This has the same pronunciation as 下克上, a phrase that means subordinates overthrowing their superiors.
Koku(酷)- severe, harsh
Hida(飛騨)- the name of an old Japanese province
to(等)- rank, equal
Togame(とがめ)- blame, criticism, cross in eye