Even the greatest product of the distinguished Sabi lineage, Sabi Kokken, a master swordsman among master swordsmen who was famed as the strongest person in the world and even the strongest in history, was not without flaws. Perfection is nothing but a word and an abstract concept. As such, while the legendary swordsmith Shikizaki Kiki strove for completion and finality beyond that, he made no attempts to achieve perfection. He knew better than anyone else that it would only led to an abyss.
“You have cut yourself off and give up somewhere. It’s like reading a book. Reading a book that never ends would just be hell. I don’t want to create that kind of neverending duty or unending obligation. So really, my swords aren’t for cutting, but for being cut off.”
These were the words of Shikizaki Kiki. He asserted that while something could be finished, it could not be perfected. Sabi Kokken in particular had a clearly fatal flaw of being unable to hold herself back. She was utterly incapable of suppressing or repressing her strength. She had no stoppers. Of course, she did attempt to restrain herself. She expended her utmost efforts attempting to rein in her power, and her intentions were honest. But even then, she was utterly incapable of restraining her power. It was just as impossible as stepping on an ant without killing it.
She was so talented that she was considered a lethal weapon. In the same way that no single human could halt the rotation of the earth, Sabi Kokken could not hold back her own strength. It was a preposterous tale. But still, it was a compelling tale. She had such overwhelming power that even the Owari Shogunate struggled to rein her in and she was fully capable of destroying the country—but during peacetime she was not even too valuable to be useful, but only too dangerous to be useful. If not for Hida Takahito’s rebellion, she would have never made an appearance in history. So as not to dull the spirits of those children aspiring to take up the sword, all mention of her would be struck out from the history books.
The reason Kokken’s name still remained, that her existence remained, was not because she had just blew off Yasuri Mutsue’s arm from an extremely long range, from the edge of the Inaba desert to its center. This was work concealed in darkness as deep as an abyss. It was a clandestine assassination job in the style of the Maniwa Corps. Her legitimate activities during the rebellion were yet to follow in Oushuu, the heart of the rebellion. But for her, the present was the most fulfilling part of the rebellion, as well as the moment she had lived for. This was because she would soon be facing an opponent that she would have no need to hold back against. It would unfold as so…
She was startled. Sabi Kokken had been startled. She had adjusted her aim to make sure that with her second blow she would hit Yasuri Mutsue’s head, then swung down her stick as a sword. The shock wave produced by the half-foot long stick should have raced down the desert and annihilated Yasuri Mutsue before he had a chance to block it. This was not at all difficult for Kokken. Her only concern was that with her lack of control, she might catch the denying girl next to him in the blast, but she only thought nonchalantly, Well, if I do, then that’s that, meow. There’s no point in worrying about it, meow.
She was unconcerned until the moment she launched her attack. She was the same even soon after. But then, Sabi Kokken was surprised. She was surprised that her attack was struck down before her very eyes, and by a single girl. And not just a girl, but a rather young girl. She was unlike Kokken, who despite her young appearance was over thirty. The girl genuinely appeared to be seven years of age. She was even younger than the denying girl.
“Hah… now what?” she said, lethargically, or rather, simply listlessly. With movements too slow to be called relaxed, she turned towards Sabi Kokken.
“I didn’t mean to do anything. My hands just moved on their own. I only wanted to see Dad become a hero from up close. I strained my weak constitution running away from home, and had an awful time following him around. I got lost and when I ran into you, ah… my hands moved on their own. Or should I say sword instead of hands? It doesn’t really matter.”
“Who’re you, meow?”
Kokken spoke, without thinking, to the girl who was muttering to herself. It was exceedingly rare for her to speak without thinking, and a sign had yet to recover from her surprise. Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it shock. The reason being…
“You’re the first person who’s blocked my sword, meow. Even the rest of the Sabi family are as helpless as windchimes against my attacks, meow. So how…”
The girl tilted her head.
“What a strange thing to say. Isn’t that a stick you’re holding?”
“In my hands, a stick is no different from the sword of a legendary hero. That’s the Sabi family’s ability.”
“That’s right!” she agreed, and brandished her stick. A sword with the ability to turn any object into a sword: that was Zentou Sabi.
The girl nodded blankly; it was unclear whether or not she understood. Or perhaps she held no interest in Kokken in the first place. Judging by her demeanor, her disinterest extended to everything in the world. But if that were the case, that raised the question of why she would she block a blow meant to kill Yasuri Mutsue.
“My name is Yasuri Nanami.”
She suddenly introduced herself.
“I’m the eldest daughter of the Yasuri family, Yasuri Nanami. Which makes me the daughter of Yasuri Mutsue, the man you attacked. Probably, that is.”
“Probably? That’s a vague way to put it, meow,” said Kokken, puzzled.
“Never mind,” said the girl. “I wasn’t thinking anything like ‘if only I wasn’t actually born into the Yasuri family and was just picked up from somewhere and wasn’t related to Dad I could love who I want.’ Not at all.”
“I see. I think I get the picture, meow,” said Kokken, attempting to change the topic. Despite appearing five years old and younger than Nanami, she was an adult.
“You see, I have a brother who’s three years younger than me, and he’s absolutely adorable. So I definitely don’t have any complicated worries like ‘I’m so glad he’s my little brother, but maybe it would be better if he wasn’t my brother, no wait, I do want him to be my brother.'”
In contrast, at seven years of age, Nanami had yet to learn how to rein in her emotions, and her thoughts, or rather her feelings, came spilling out.
“Alright, moving on,” said Kokken, completely ignoring what Nanami said. She was quite the adult. “Hm, the Yasuri family, meow. This is quite the surprise, meow. But now it makes sense, meow. You see, our families, Sabi and Yasuri, are basically polar opposites, meow.”
“That’s right—opposite, and opposed, meow,” said Kokken.
“The Sabi family can turn anything into a sword, and the Yasuri family doesn’t need swords, meow. They say that Shikizaki Kiki couldn’t decide until the end which of the two to make into an Ultimate Deviant Blade, meow. That’s why the Yasuri and the Sabi are destined to face each other. Meow,“ said Kokken as she readied her sword. She raised it in an overhead stance.
“Now that I think about it, I’ve mostly been fighting at an extremely long range since it’s more efficient, so it’s been quite a long time since I fought someone this close up, meow. Heh. Nanami-cat, I’m looking forward to this, meow.”
“Huh? Oh, pardon me, I wasn’t listening,” Nanami said, snapping out of a daze. “I was having a daydream.”
“I have a feeling you’re going to grow up to be a terrible adult, meow.”
Kokken’s expression grew stern. This was the sincerity she possessed as a swordsman. She let her resolve to cut down her opponent, whether she be a child or unarmed, show on her face.
“As an adult, I ought to discipline you. Meow!”
“Discipline? Mom does that every day, which is another reason I followed Dad on his trip. Oh, dearie me,” she said, for no apparent reason.
Something about her personality seems too slack. That was Kokken’s evaluation of Nanami.
“You’re so unsteady, I can’t tell if you’re here or not or even if you’re alive or dead, meow. It’s like someone cobbled together a bunch of random parts and happened to get you, meow.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere.”
“The way you think what I said was flattery is exactly what I mean by a slack personality! …meow,” she said right after swinging her stick. Or rather, it was a sword that she had swung. In an instant, her swing closed the distance between them, and descended onto Nanami’s shoulder. The scientifically dubious existence of a shock wave did not even bear consideration. The stick itself split Nanami into two—or at least, it should have.
Nanami neither dodged nor blocked the attack, but instead completely ignored it as she struck Kokken’s abdomen with her finger. Kokken was humiliated. It was as if Nanami had not acknowledged her slash as a threat or even as an act of combat, and considered it worthy of no more than a single finger in afterthought.
She may as well have said, “That’s just a stick.”
No, she actually did say it. She smiled sinisterly, more heinously than a human, much less a child, should be capable of smiling. Then she, she dealt a blow to Kokken’s chest using the greatest sword style Kyotouryuu, whose swordless practitioners wielded their bodies as swords. This was the first time anyone had hit Kokken, and as a result…
“O-ow. I must have jammed my finger,” said Nanami as she took a step back. She appeared to landed the blow, but due to the headwind it was difficult to tell. But Kokken was surprised enough to drop her stick. This was also the first time she had been surprised twice in the same day.
“W-what was that, meow?”
She said, again without thinking. She felt compelled to ask.
“You… what the hell was that?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was saying Kyotouryuu and Dandelion, but I haven’t actually learned it. Dad hasn’t taught me any Kyotouryuu, so this is just me copying him. I didn’t mean to do that,“ she said, nonchalantly and lazily.
“I only poked you with my finger.”
“It’s only a copy for now, but someday I’d like to make it my own. Though I think I’d have to go through some kind of hardship like being stranded on a desert island before I can. There’s no need to worry, er, what was your name? Sabake?”
“Kekkon, was it?”
“Alright, I’ll remember that. Oh, I forgot.”
“You don’t have to remember my name, just answer my question, meow! Nanami-cat, are you telling me that you haven’t been taught Kyotouryuu, learned any sword style, studied, or trained at all…”
Kokken took a deep breath to muster her resolve, and asked, “and you blocked my strike, ignored my blow, and landed a hit on me, meow?”
“Is that supposed to be difficult somehow?”
Nanami answered her question with a question. She had no conviction in her voice.
“I think it would be harder to just stand there.”
Kokken laughed. She laughed heartily. As her laughter died down, she picked up her stick and held it in a lowered stance.
“I’ll stop talking weird. Let’s have a serious fight. This will probably be the first and last time I can give it my all,” said Sabi Kokken.
In response, Nanami said as slackly as ever, so listlessly that she might as well have been dead.
“Well, then, let’s have a good fight. Um, would it sound cool if I said ‘I’ll turn you into rust on my blade’?”
“Yes, let’s have a good fight. Though I don’t think this will be a very fruitful battle.”
Sabi Kokken bowed her head, and Yasuri Nanami bowed her head in return.
“Zentouryuu: Kanzen Touitsu!
“Kyotouryuu: Kyouka Suigetsu… or something.”1
Sabi Kokken’s flaw of being unable to hold back was simultaneously a flaw of being unable to use her full strength. In her encounter with Yasuri Nanami, this flaw of hers was completely nullified. She had no need to hold herself back, and could not spare any effort for fear of her life. The two strongest prodigies thus began their battle, but unfortunately there were no records of the event itself. It would have been too damaging to the education of children. That their battle lasted for roughly half a year and was more intense than the rebellion itself was not a lesson meant to be passed on to future generations. The only certainty was that both the shogunate’s ace was sealed and that Yasuri Mutsue’s strongest defender was sealed. They had canceled each other out. And as for how much of this development and conclusion was a part of Hida Takahito’s plans…
“…so that’s how I think it’ll end up, Head. I’m sure that denying girl would do something like that. Of course, that’s only supposing Left Arm, Right Leg, and Left Leg lose to Mutsue.”
“I doubt that those three would be so easily defeated. But I suppose we can assume they have succeeded in stalling for time.”
“Yeah. Alright, let’s go see Migiri. Right Arm, what’s she up to?”
“She is speaking with the princess. They seem to be getting along quite well.”
1Kanzen Touitsu (完全刀一) means Perfect Swordification and Kyouka Suigetsu (鏡花水月) means Flower in the Mirror, Moon in the Water, or more figuratively, transcendental beauty.