The despicable revolt instigated by Hida Takahito, lord of Oushuu, interrupted a time of peace and rained down devastation upon all in Japan. Regardless of status and age, nobody was left unscathed—all of Japan had become a battlefield where people killed each other. Even the autonomous region of Izumo, the seat of the gods, was no exception. On the contrary, as it was independent from the shogunate and received no aid or support from the gods, the holy land was afflicted with the greatest casualties. In the end, Izumo would obtain the dishonorable distinction of the region with the most war orphans. The result being as it was, the process was even worse. It was beyond description. During the war, the entirety of Izumo could only be compared to Hell.
“Huff… huff… huff… huff. Hack, huff… hack, huff. Huff… huff… huff… huff. Huff… huff… huff, hack.”
A single girl walked unsteadily through that hellish landscape. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that she staggered, rather than walked. Judging from her ragged breathing, she was likely exhausted—but even if she were in good condition, it would be impossible for her to walk evenly over the corpses sprawled out endlessly beneath her.
“Huff, hack… huff, huff… Huff, huff… huff, huff. Huff… huff, huff… huff. Huff… huff… huff, huff.”
Even so, the girl did her best not to tread on the corpses as she made her way forward unsteadily, wobbling forward in pursuit of a futile endeavor. From the outside, it was impossible to judge how much of her movements were conscious.
The girl paused and raised her head. She raised her head and looked over her surroundings. There were only corpses as far as she could see. Scorched corpses stretched to the distant horizon. The scene could best be expressed as a carpet of burnt flesh blanketing the earth. No, that was no expression, but unmistakable reality. She knew without having to check that not one of the soldiers was alive.
She stumbled over a corpse. To be precise, the corpses were all jumbled together into a single mass. She stumbled and then collapsed. Her fall was cushioned by a corpse to her front, and the girl appeared to be uninjured. But her spirit, which had just barely held itself together, shattered into pieces and the girl ceased movement.
“Huk… huck… huck. Hahuk, hyuk… Augh!”
As she lay still, her tears came flooding out. She was crying not out of pain or grief, but out of frustration. She cried, loudly and without interruption.
“Whassa matter kiddo? Whatcha cryin’ for?” asked someone just above the girl, out of the blue. “Here you are at a heart-thumpin’ battlefield, somethin’ the matter? Gettin’ me worried here.”
The girl looked up reflexively. She saw a skinny stick of a man. Despite his long limbs and height, he seemed almost weightless. In fact, he looked so weak he could snap in a strong gust. The man, who looked out of place in a battlefield without any armor or weapons, hovered over the girl. The girl quickly got up, and scrambled down the carpet of bodies, away from the spindly man.
“—ah, wah! Aah! Agh!”
“Hm? No worries, ain’t nothin’ to be ‘fraid of. I’m a friend to little girls,” he said brashly as he approached the girl with no concern for her fear or terror.
The girl continued crawling away, but she was immediately outpaced by the spindly man’s long stride.
“Kahahaha! Aincha a cute lil’ thing. I just wanna take ya home and adopt ya. Maybe ya’d get along with Nanami and Shichika.”
He reached out and picked her up from under her arms like a doll, then raised her up high.
The girl looked at the spindly man as if she was seeing a monster, and stiffened, unable to put up a struggle. She had no idea what the spindly man was talking about. In her terror, her tears had stopped and she had difficulty even breathing.
“Oh yeah, missy. While I’m at it, mind if I ask ya something? Y’see, I’m lookin’ for someone. He oughtta be ’round these parts.”
The spindly man still paid no heed to the girl’s change in demeanor, and carried on speaking at his own convenience.
As she was being held up, the girl asked, “Looking for…someone?” straining to catch his meaning. Although he had done nothing to threaten her, she was convinced that if she could not answer his question satisfactorily, she would be killed or meet an even worse fate. The spindly man was unarmed and carrying the girl gently, but she felt as if she was pierced by a frozen blade.
“Hida Takahito,” said the spindly man. “Hida Takahito, this seriously bad guy who’s crazy smart, oughtta been through these parts. Ya see a scrawny guy covered in scars?”
As soon as she heard his name, she suddenly began flailing—blindly, haphazardly and strongly enough to dislodge the spindly man’s grip.
“H-h-h-help. Help. Help! Help, help, help! Help, help! Help! Help! Help!”
In response, the spindly man quickly and calmly let go of her. His actions suggested that it was only because she started moving. Naturally, upon being released, the girl fell to the ground. She landed, squashing the corpses underneath her. She continued flailing, as if she was throwing a fit.
“Help. Help, help. Help, help, help!”
She repeated, ranting, and then seemed to run out of energy.
“Help, dad,” she said.
“Your dad?” said the spindly man, tilting his head.
“My dad was the colonel of the second regiment of the Three Holy Regiments.”
Several hours later, after the girl had been provided with food and water, her body cleaned of blood and flesh, and her clothes changed, she finally began speaking.
“This autonomous region, the dominion of Izumo, is protected by soldiers who fight for the gods. My dad was one of them.”
“Oh, he was? So you’re a proper little lady,” replied the spindly man.
Or rather, it was no longer the spindly man who stood before her. The spindly man had changed places with a beautiful woman with unusually pale skin. Although the girl had never let him out of her sight, she was unsure if they had truly switched. But she felt a strange certainty that the spindly man and the pale woman were the same person.
“The second regiment of the Three Holy Regiments—that’s the one with Sentouryuu, right? Like us, they don’t carry swords, so I’ve at least heard of them. They’re strong, really strong. Really really strong.” smirked the pale woman, and scornfully scanned over the carpet of corpses.
“So you’re telling me that these dead guys are the oh-so-powerful second regiment of the Three Holy Regiments?”
After hearing the pale woman’s inconsiderate remarks, the girl began to tremble. She was quivering. But the pale woman was not bothered by her reaction.
“So they got annihilated,” she continued. “And not just the second regiment. From the looks of it, I’d say the first and third regiments got annihilated too.
“What happened?” she asked. “Well, I can pretty much guess. Hida Takahito passed by, didn’t he? After storming Ankoku Castle in Kyushuu, he’d have to pass through here to get to Hida Castle. The only way he could he could sneak past the shogunate was to go through this autonomous territory. That’s how the battle started. Am I right?”
Despite the pale woman’s confidence, the girl slowly shook her head.
“There was no battle.”
The pale woman’s stared back in surprise, and the girl said, “It’s just like you said. He only passed by.”
“All he did was pass by. He only walked through here. My dad’s regiment couldn’t even put up a fight.”
“What? Aw, c’mon.”
“You couldn’t call that a battle. It was just a…”
“Massacre,” she said. “That’s why I’m frustrated. What we thought was strength wasn’t strong at all. We— my dad’s regiment wasn’t even weak. They couldn’t even lose a battle. Do you call stepping on an ant a battle? No, you don’t. He—they only passed by here. There were only two of them.”
That word piqued the attention of the pale woman. Or rather, it was a huge spotted dog whose attention had been piqued. The fangs peeking out of its open mouth seemed sharp enough to crush a human skull with a single bite. Each fang was almost like a blade.
A spindly man, a pale woman, and now a spotted dog. It was one after another.
“Two, huh. One of them’s Hida Takahito, but what did the other one look like?”
“I don’t know.”
The girl was bewildered for a moment by the sight of a talking dog, but possibly judging that there was no use in mentioning the matter, she only mechanically answered the question.
“I didn’t see them myself. I only came out from hiding after they left. I’m supposed to be the successor to Sentouryuu, but I just hid underground in the dojo like a coward.”
“Hmph. You’d have to be a coward to be a swordsman,” said the spotted dog flatly. “You’re more of a swordsman than anyone in the second regiment, when all they did was fight a hopeless fight and die. Well, that’s just my opinion, not that it’s true.”
“From what I heard…” she said, furrowing her brow at the spotted dog’s incomprehensible remarks.
“From what I heard he’s a monster with no head on his shoulders, just a sword,” she said, relaying a baseless rumor.
However, it said “Hm, so it was Maniwa Dokuhebi. No wait, he’s calling himself Head these days,” taking that baseless rumor at face value and digesting it.
Then the spotted dog said,“Hey, girl,” looking up at last. Their eyes met, and the girl flinched.
“In exchange for telling me about Hida Takahito, I’ll give you two pieces of advice.”
“First off, your father is definitely dead. I guarantee it. You’re wasting your time wandering around here. If you don’t want to die like a dog, then go home straight away.”
The girl was unmoved by its sharp words. She said, as if she had long ago known that, “My home burned down. I…don’t have anywhere go.”
“That so? Then you’ll just have to live on by yourself,” it said, in a tone that verged between encouraging and dismissive.
“In that case,” the spotted dog moved on to its second piece of advice, “Sentouryuu heir, it’s not safe to be standing there, so you’d better get away.”
In the next instant, there was an explosion beneath the girl’s feet.
“Hm, it didn’t work? That didn’t get him? Since he noticed right before, I’ll bet he dodged.”
The carpet of corpses lifted up, and a man emerged from underneath. He was bare-chested and covered in scars. Who could it be? It was, of all people, the subject of the previous conversation, the former lord of Oushuu who had defeated the Three Holy Regiments and ought to have already passed through Izumo, and who should not have been acting on his own, Hida Takahito.
“How’d it go? I can’t tell with all the corpses spraying up in the air, but it didn’t get him, did it? If only Mutsue got blown into smithereens.”
“Unfortunately not,” said a ninja who wore chains draped over a sleeveless kimono that had appeared next to him, from out of nowhere. He had a sword in place of a head, and it was impossible to discern how he could speak.
“It would appear that he dodged at the last moment. While carrying the girl, at that.”
“That so? What a shame.”
Takahito snapped his fingers, but he seemed to have expected the outcome, and drew his sword as he turned towards the cloud of dust.
“And here I went through all that effort to lay down a carpet of corpses. I even left out a cute little girl that would remind Mutsue of his kids to wander around as bait. And it still didn’t work, geez.”
The smoke finally cleared, and a small but aged child that seemed a hundred or even a thousand years old emerged, carrying the girl under his arm, her new clothes stained red by the blast. The millenarian boy threw a piercing glare at Takahito.
“Hahaha! So this is the kind of person you are today, Mutsue? It’s like you’re a different person every time I meet you.”
“Your ambushes are as skillful as ever. It seems that you already knew that we were sent to target you, Takahito.”
“I happen to have a very denying and knowledgeable friend. She was kind enough to tell me. Don’t worry, I won’t pass by you. I’ll be sure to have a good and proper battle with you.”
“So you say, after setting landmines in a battlefield.”
“Hahaha! What are you talking about? That’s no big deal between us. I didn’t actually think I’d kill you with that. It was just a wild gamble to pass the time.”
“And just how many did you kill for that wild gamble?”
“Eleven thousand eight hundred forty-seven people. About half as many sacrifices as I’d hoped for.”
“I see. When you put it like that, it really isn’t very many,” said the millenarian boy as he laid down the girl. He then entered a stance.
“Kyotouryuu, first stance: Lily.”
“I am the sixth head of Kyotouryuu, Yasuri Mutsue. Here I come.”
“I am the lord of Hida Castle, Hida Takahito. Ready to fight.”
As acting on a prearranged cue, the two simultaneously gave their names and simultaneously went into motion. The rebellion’s long confrontation between Yasuri Mutsue and Hida Takahito thus began, with only a single war orphan as an audience.
Sentouryuu(千刀流)- Thousand sword Style