If you were to describe Hida Takahito’s style of combat in one phrase, that is, if his bizarre actions could even be considered combat, that phrase would be suicide bombing. He carried so many explosives on his person that with a single misstep, or on a moment’s impulse, he could blow his entire surroundings to smithereens. He attacked his opponents with no regard for the consequences. These were not at all the actions of the lord of a state. But in reality, he only seemed to lacked regard as seen by bystanders, or in other words, from the perspective of the masses. Takahito himself had made calculations of the utmost precision. He was confident that this was the style of combat, the tactics, and the strategy best suited for himself. And so he laughed. He laughed as he fought and laughed as he killed.
It was Izumo, an autonomous region, the seat of the gods, now burnt to the ground and carpeted in soldiers, where the lord of Hida Castle and the mastermind of the rebellion unfolding across Japan, Hida Takahito, and the sixth head of Kyotouryuu, Yasuri Mutsue, were fighting to the death. They fought at extremely close quarters. From an unbelievably close range, Takahito set his bombs alight and attempted to blow up Mutsue. If they exploded at such a close range, he himself would not escape unscathed. But he was not at all concerned.
If you were to ask whether Takahito had predicted Mutsue would grunt like so while defending himself by launching the bombs into the distance, the answer would be an assured yes. That was how highly Takahito had appraised the strength of Mutsue, the swordless swordsman. In truth, this was not the first time that these two, Hida Takahito and Yasuri Mutsue had fought, that they had tested their strengths against each other. They had been fighting to the death, again and again, a countless number of times. By this point, they could almost feel a sense of solidarity. That was why Takahito repeatedly launched what could only be described as suicide attacks.
However, according to Maniwa Dokuhebi, or Head, who maintained his distance from their fight so as not to be caught in Takahito’s indiscriminate explosions and avoid hindering his master, “Even if Yasuri Mutsue were but a common, run-of-the-mill swordsman, my lord would still fight him in the same manner. In reality, when he brought down Ankoku Castle and laid out a carpet in Izumo, he has done the same thing. Indeed, my lord has simply resolved himself. He stakes his own life to kill anyone, no matter how insignificant,” was all there was to it; and that too was true. Even for his rebellion, had it been possible, Takahito would have chosen not to use any armies or schemes, and instead personally kill every member of the shogunate, one at a time.
“Well, wouldn’t that be nice. Ahaha. Man, you’ve gotten way better, Mutsue. You’re just brushing off my finishing moves.”
Unlike Takahito who laughed while fighting, Mutsue’s face remained stoic. The current Yasuri Mutsue, a muscled man, was a sword who did not easily show his emotions, but even so his expression demonstrated the intensity of their battle.
“You’re the same as ever. No, you’ve become more hideous than ever before. You are despicable.”
“Despicable? C’mon now, you’ve got me all wrong. I’m just doing whatever it takes to achieve my objective, but besides that I’m a nice and harmless guy.”
“So you say.”
“Don’t go badmouthing me! Ahahaha!”
Takahito burst into laughter, while Mutsue had not the faintest smile.
“I just got this great idea, Mutsue! How about you go betray the shogunate and team up with me? C’mon, let’s be friends. We could take down Japan in a snap. No wait, we could even take over the world. Alright, now we’re talking.”
“Unfortunately, I am unlike you and have no ambition. I am a blade. I am a sword. I am only a piece of metal that acts as my master wishes.”
“Then just let me be your owner! You don’t have to let that foul Tetsubi woman swing you around however she wants. I’ll definitely be able to make better use of you.”
Without a moment of hesitation, Mutsue bluntly declined Takahito’s unmistakably insincere offer.
“Swords may not choose who they cut, but they do choose their wielders. I’d rather let that foul Tetsubi woman do as she pleases with me than be wielded by the likes of you.”
“Ahahaha. So we both agree that Migiri’s foul. And here I only said that to rile you up.”
“On that subject, what has your pretty wife been doing?”
“Not much. She’s probably playing with my daughter in the castle. When I’m at home, I’m just a henpecked husband. And that’s another reason I’m here on the front lines. I can’t stand it at home.”
“So you say, you doting husband. Your words are filled with lies.”
“How rude. I’ve never told a lie in my whole life, y’know.”
Even as they conversed and exchanged small talk, their battle never eased up. Takahito tried to kill Mutsue and Mutsue tried to kill Takahito. They probed for nonexistent openings with constant, unrelenting vigilance.
The battle was even, or so it seemed at first glance, but upon closer observation it was clear that Takahito was at a slight advantage. But that was not because Takahito was more capable than Mutsue. First and foremost, Takahito was unsuited for battle. Under normal circumstances, he was weaker than the average infant. He had in fact lost to his young daughter in play fights. However, he compensated for his weakness with firepower. But even then, he would stand no chance against Kyotouryuu, which was famed as the strongest sword style. He would lose a hundred battles out of a hundred, and stood no chance even in a hundred years. And yet, in spite of that, there was a reason their clash had lasted more than a quarter-hour.
It was the girl that Mutsue had been carrying under his arm, who had finally cried out. She had been stifling her voice so as not to distract Mutsue, but could no longer hold it in.
“Really though, I’m not lying or anything, I’m seriously impressed. I bet you’re the only one who could block my attacks while protecting a girl. You’re such a nice guy, Mutsue.”
“To repeat myself,” With the girl occupying one of Mutsue’s arms and throwing off his balance, he fended off Takahito’s bombs with his remaining limbs. He said in a voice filled with disgust, “Your vile personality that would exploit corpses, girls, or anything available, has become more hideous than ever before.”
“But this is nothing special. Besides, I’m not forcing you to do anything. If that girl’s in your way, then just toss her already. It’s just that I promise I’ll go and blow her up the instant you do.”
“People like you…” said Mutsue with the same stern expression, his voice overflowing with emotion that should not have belonged to a sword and particularly not his current self, “…are scum, Hida Takahito.”
“You offer me the highest praises.”
If you were to describe Hida Takahito’s fighting style in one phrase, it would be suicide bombing. If you were to use two phrases, the other would be merciless. Because he put his own life at stake, he held no qualms against sacrificing others. He had given away all of his mercy to his daughter.
From afar, a pair of eyes was watching over the fight that could not be called a fight. They did not belong to Head, Takahito’s strategist. In the first place, as he had a sword in place of a head, Head had no eyes. Secondly, those eyes were far more distant than Head’s position. It was a staggeringly distant distance. Despite standing at a range at which nothing should be distinguishable to the human eye, a woman was intently watching Takahito and Mutsue’s fight. She did not conceal herself, but stood in the open. It was only natural. Takahito, Mutsue, and even the ninja Head should not have been able to see her where she stood.
“Hm, hm, I see, meow. It’s just amazing, meow. I got here late so I thought they might’ve already finished, but at that rate they could keep fighting for another two thousand years, meow. This isn’t just a fight to the death or a showdown, those two are fighting out the whole war by themselves, meow. Putting aside Takahito for a bit, I just can’t help but be jealous of Yasuri Mutsue as a fellow swordsman, meow.
She was more of a girl than a woman, and a rather young girl at that—or at least, judging by her appearance. Considering her youthful features, the pattern on her single-layered kimono that dragged on the ground, and her innocent expression, she seemed no more than five years of age. However, appearances can be deceiving. She was in fact not a girl, young or not, but a woman. She was over thirty years old, and had even given birth. Her name was Sabi Kokken. She served under the Owari shogunate, and currently the Yanari family itself as a swordsman and an assassin. She was considered the equal of the shogunate’s eleven personal guards combined, and was even called a master of the sword. She was also known as the strongest swordsman in history, or simply as a god of death.
“The Yasuri, the Yasuri, Kyotou Yasuri… Even if he’s the latest work of old man Shikizaki Kiki, he was still supposed to be incomplete, meow. So how has he gotten so far, meow? Hm… Maybe that rebel’s been pulling him up, meow.”
She rambled to herself without lowering her voice. She spoke loud and clear, as if to show that she had no concern for being overheard.
“That unbelievably outrageous guy, Hida-cat, and his goal to restore the falsification of history is the opposite of that denying girl’s, but depending on the circumstances we might be able to use him to our advantage, meow. Her group’s plan won’t necessarily go the way they want, and it still needs a lot of fine tuning, meow. Hm… Maybe I should just let Hida-cat murder the shogun, meow.”
It would be unthinkable for a retainer of the Shogunate to make such a remark, and she could have been beheaded for that alone. But Kokken said it brazenly as she watched the course of the battle.
“Except Hida-cat probably won’t go that far. I can’t tell if he’s set his sights low or he’s just a realist who only does what he needs to, but either way, being too smart is something else, meow. Normally, this is something that the Yasuri family or Sabi family should be doing, meow. Now then.“
As she continued her surveillance, Sabi Kokken crouched down. She had not grown tired of standing. If she so desired, she could have stood there for one or two years, without moving a muscle. So then why did she crouch down? It was to pick up a perfectly ordinary tree branch by her feet.
“Since I’m only here to watch, I really shouldn’t be sticking my nose in, meow. For that denier, it doesn’t matter whether Hida-cat or Yasuri-cat wins, meow. But she doesn’t know that I’ve got my own feelings about Yasuri-cat as a sword, meow. I’d hate it if our fated duel as Shikizaki swords passed on to the next generation, meow. I won’t get much of a better chance, meow. I can come up with an excuse later, so I might as well just side with Hida-cat and send Yasuri-cat to the next world, meow.”
As she spoke the unspeakable without a thought for where her loyalties lay, whose plans she acted by, who she betrayed, or who she was allied with, Kokken raised the stick into an overhead stance with a fluid motion.
Although Sabi Kokken was famed as a master of the sword, she did not wear a sword outside of tournaments and other formal occasions. She had no need to carry one otherwise. Any long and thin object, be it a stick or a roll of paper, became a sword in her hands.
“Hida-cat should manage to survive, meow. Well, if he dies, that’s that, and then the country will be at peace again, which is fine by me, meow. After all, I want my dear son to have a nice and peaceful life, meow.”
Then, without pausing in her monologue, without concentrating, and without hesitating she casually brought down the stick, her sword.
It was no special move or secret technique. It was nothing more than a simple swing. It was the same basic swing that was taught in every swordsmanship dojo. But Kokken’s destructive power and range were dramatic and enormous.
A gale almost like a typhoon swept through the battle between Hida Takahito and Yasuri Mutsue, even reaching Head. It was a large-scale disaster. The earth cleaved and the heavens parted. The carpet of soldiers was torn off the ground. Not a single blade of grass was left standing in the wake of the massive destruction that Sabi Kokken’s single swing had wrought. It was beyond comparison to Hida Takahito’s firepower. It was purely destructive power. This provided an explanation to Sabi Kokken’s cavalier attitude. She could freely inflict such destruction with no regard for range or weapon—it followed that affiliation, reputation, and of course allies meant nothing to her.
And so Izumo, the seat of gods, having been razed to the ground by the mastermind of the rebellion, was now thoroughly devastated by a god of death who feared no gods. Due to a mere whim and near happenstance, the first battle of the rebellion between Hida Takahito and Yasuri Mutsue was forced into a a complete draw. On a more fundamental level, if they had been hit by that extraordinarily powerful strike, their very survival was in question.
“That was close. What even happened? Was that Kokken from the Sabi family? She really is reckless. That self-proclaimed failure is just ridiculous.”
A pale woman sluggishly rose from what was no longer a battlefield, but only a bare crater the size of a lake. The pale woman, Yasuri Mutsue, began surveying her surroundings, but soon realized the futility of the act and paused in dumbfounded shock.
“What was that? Did you save me, then?” said Yasuri Mutsue as she lowered her gaze to the girl under her arm.
The girl had fainted from Sabi Kokken’s swing, but like Yasuri Mutsue, she was completely unharmed. Her hand was clutching a stick.
“That’s right, she did say something about Sentouryuu. That allows you to take the swords of others and use them as your own; it’s the greatest disarming technique. Whether it’s a stick, a rolled up piece of paper, or even the sword of the master swordsman Sabi Kokken—a sword is a sword, huh? I thought I was the one saving her, but she ended up saving me. All this time I thought she was just a burden, talk about irony,” Mutsue quietly contemplated as she laid the girl down.
“She probably fainted from the shock wave, and then did that unconsciously. If she survives this war, I’m sure she’ll become a force to be reckoned with. With that in mind, I should kill her for Shichika and Nanami’s sake, but I couldn’t call myself human if I did that. Even if we’re swords, and not human.”
Yasuri Mutsue muttered, and then pursued Hida Takahito, who had presumably survived and escaped with the help of Head. She left the girl there, her business concluded. They moved on to the next stage.
“Wow, Mutsue really is strong. It was like I was fighting him one on six. At that rate, I would’ve lost.”
“My lord, had you predicted Sabi Kokken’s interruption?”
“No way. If I could plan out that far, then it’d all be a piece of cake. There are always things I can’t predict. I had to play along with Kokken’s whims. Still, it was all worth it for being able to observe Mutsue up close. I still don’t get him at all, but at least I know that he’s still bound by Migiri.”
“Next time, I won’t use some random girl; I’m going to take that sword’s owner, Yasuri Migiri, as my hostage.”
Kokken(黒鍵)- black keys
Hakuhei(白兵)- unsheathed sword. The individual characters mean white and soldier/military, respectively.
Zentouryuu(全刀流)- all sword style