The reputation of Shin’ou Issouryuu, a life-saving sword style based in the shogi town of Tendou had long past faded by this stage of the rebellion. Without outside influence, Shin’ou Issouryuu, whose philosophy on swords and swordsmanship were the antithesis to Kyotouryuu’s, would have never encountered Kyotouryuu, even if both schools had continued on for generations. It was a matter of historical fact that Shin’ou Issouryuu had not participated in the rebellion, that the pacifistic school had not struck a single blow in the bloody conflict, that it had remained a neutral party. In a manner opposite to, or rather identical to, how Kyotouryuu became the hero of the rebellion, Shin’ou Issouryuu became known as the neutral bystander of the rebellion. The reality was nearly the same as the historical fact. However, there was one occasion, one single occasion lasting only a moment, when Kyotouryuu and Shin’ou Issouryuu briefly encountered, met, and confronted each other. It happened once, and was brought about by outside influence.
“Hello there, Kiguchi. There’s something I’d like to ask of you. Would you mind listening? Aha, oh, you needn’t be so cold, it’s nothing bad. After all, I’ve never told a lie in my life.
“To get straight to the point, in a little while I plan to start this ridiculous rebellion that will send the entire country into turmoil. Lots and lots of people will die. The entire country will be laid to waste and all sorts of bonds be torn apart; it’ll be a war among wars. It won’t quite be a repeat of the Sengoku Period, but ideally I’d like to get close to that. How should I put it—it won’t be worth it unless I go all the way. To use a simple analogy, it’s like clearing land. You won’t get good soil unless you take a hoe to the ground and churn it up, will you? You won’t be able to grow good vegetables, now will you?
“Now then, I’m sure this is nothing but bad news to you, Kiguchi. Kiguchi, Kiguchi, Kiguchi. The eleventh head of Shin’ou Issouryuu, Kiguchi Zanki. Kiguchi Zanki the pacifist and peace dove. I’m fully aware of your views; there’s no need for you to tell me. I have no intention of forcing you into the war. None at all. See, not even this little. There’s no way I would want that. There would be no point in forcing you to join the war, especially considering who you are. I greatly respect your school’s skill with the sword, but I’m just as well aware that forcing your life-saving sword style into the war would only backfire. So I won’t waste my time preaching my ideals at you. The ideals of a young man like myself are worth nothing to you. Oh, this isn’t humility or modesty, I know very well what you think of me. You’re surprised by my mere existence. So I’ll skip over the details and offer you a suggestion, one single suggestion. It’s exactly what you’re thinking of.
“In the rebellion I plan to start, I’ll be absolutely massacring people. But if just once you join the war of your own volition, of your own free will and not because I want you to, this massive number of deaths will more than halve and the length of the war will be dramatically reduced. This is a definite fact.
“Proof? I haven’t got anything of the sort. In this age, it would be more suspicious if I did have proof. In the first place, there’s no proof that I’m about to start a war, and from your point of view I might as well be delusional. As such, you needn’t promise me anything, and I don’t mind if you forget our talk right away. But I do believe that one day you’ll remember my proposal. I believe that one day you’ll remember my baseless suggestion, and decide what it is you can do as a single pacifist, a practitioner of a life-saving sword, and a first-rate swordsman. How can you bring peace to the world as peacefully, quietly, and quickly as you can? Now then, this question is so easy you don’t even have to think about it.
“It’s like taking an exam with the answer key in front of you. All you have to do is imagine the world you want your dear granddaughter to live in.”
And so the stage was set. The stage was set for an encounter between Shin’ou Issouryuu and Kyotouryuu. The stage was set for a death match between the 11th head of Shin’ou Issouryuu, Kiguchi Zanki, and the 6th head of Kyotouryuu, Yasuri Mutsue. It was all according to his script.
“I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t stand in my way,” was the first thing that Yasuri Mutsue said to the wizened old man blocking her path.
“Even I feel guilty about hurting the elderly, you know? And it would be even worse if I killed you—it might ruin the reputation of the celebrity of the day, Kyotouryuu.”
“How odd,” said the old man in response, “that Kyotouryuu, whose central tenet is to kill indiscriminate of age or gender, would concern itself with the elderly. I can only see this as some kind of joke.”
“I could say the same,” Mutsue responded with a crooked and cynical smile, then pointed at the old man.
“I’m not just surprised, I’m straight-up shocked that the pacifist and antiwar Shin’ou Issouryuu, and its head at that, would take part in this ridiculous bloodbath, in Hida Takahito’s rebellion that’s been upending the peace of this country.”
The withered old man, the eleventh head of Shin’ou Issouryuu, Kiguichi Zanki only smiled craftily in response.
As soon as she saw his smile, Mutsue thought, Ah. This is bad. This isn’t the right role for me. It’s probably too heavy for me.
Mutsue was intimidated by a man well over seventy. He was only standing in her way. She should have been entirely capable of walking around him or turning back, but she felt immobile, as if she were rooted to the ground. No, instead of being rooted, it was as if swords were pinning her to the ground. It was absurd. It was absurd that she honestly would have preferred to fight Sabi Kokken. Kiguchi was still a considerable distance away, and the sword at his waist was not even metal, its wooden grain was clearly distinguishable.
A wooden sword, huh. Though I don’t even wield a sword, wooden or not, so I can’t mock him for that. Even a wooden sword can incapacitate someone in one blow, so it’s not that different from a real sword. For someone who wields it as a life-saving sword, at least.
“What’s the matter, child? Won’t you be going past me?” said Kiguchi, in provocation. No, he was not provoking Mutsue, but attempting to render her further immobile. They were weighted words.
“Kyotouryuu is renowned as a mighty force equal to an army, is it not? They’re all calling you a hero. You may have been right when you called yourself a celebrity. I doubt a hero such as yourself would want to tell your grandchildren about being held up by an old man. You shouldn’t have any trouble defeating a single pacifist. I am merely standing here.”
Yasuri Mutsue knew how difficult it was to merely stand there. That was why she could not move.
“Hero, huh? That word sounds pretty hollow with you around, even for Kyotouryuu. I might be an ignorant fool who knows of nothing but swords, but even I’ve heard of how skilled the eighth head of Shin’ou Issouryuu with a sword.”
“I am the eleventh. The reputation of the eighth is simply the former glory of Shin’ou Issouryuu. As of now, it is a school without even a proper successor, one on the verge of extinction.”
“I could say the same,” said Yasuri Mutsue, and sighed in exaggerated resignation as she entered a stance.
Mutsue, Yasuri Mutsue, charged forth. Not just Yasuri Mutsue, but multiple Yasuri Mutsue—six Yasuri Mutsue charged forth.
They charged in from six different directions and six different sides—the pale woman, the spotted dog, the millenarian child, the rotund man, the muscled man, the spindly man each charged forth and unleashed their Kyotouryuu in the manner of quick-draw.
“So this is the famous Kyotouryuu.”
Kiguchi Zanki, the eleventh Kiguchi Zanki laughed at the sight. He laughed and laughed.
In the next instant, the six Yasuri Mutsues’ fields of sight swam. The heavens and earth, the sky and ground whirled. The fact that all six of their Kyotouryuu techniques had been deflected by a single swing of his wooden sword, and that they been thrown into the air, was only something they understood well after being tossed up up, blown away, and thrown onto the ground.
At a loss for words, she immediately regained her footing, but Kiguchi made no attempt to pursue her, and only stood in place without moving. As a matter of fact, even when he blocked her attack, he had not moved his feet. He had blocked Mutsue’s six techniques, her six branches, while only moving his upper body.
“What strange martial arts. Or is that swordsmanship? For a moment, I thought there were seven of you.”
“It was six,” said Mutsue as she fell into a different stance. It was Kyotouryuu’s seventh stance, Iris. She supposed that Kiguchi refused to move his legs, and decided to use her full range of movement. It was not spite nor pride, but possibly confidence or her principles that brought her to the decision. If her opponent chose not to use all of his strength, then she would simply take full advantage of that.
“Hmph. So you do have some will to fight, Kyotouryuu.”
“I’ve had it since the start.”
“Have no fear. I shan’t kill you. Shin’ou Issouryuu is a life-saving sword, after all. I am simply standing here.”
“This is just like some kind of Badger Formation.”1
Mutsue tried to use her opponent’s home of Tendou, the shogi village, to make a remark about shogi—but she had not been trained in the game, and could not be sure if her simile was appropriate.
Migiri would probably know, she thought. While she had a terrible personality, Migiri had recieved a well-rounded education, and should at least know the basics of shogi. She might even be playing a game with Hida Takahito in Meikyuu Castle. It was a plausible conjecture, but even so it was an unbearable conjecture. She glared harshly at Kiguchi, venting her anger out at him.
“What is it? Your eyes look like those of a wild bear.”
“You said something about a life-saving sword, didn’t you?”
“I did. And I said that I shan’t kill you. “
“Then why are you siding with Hida Takahito? He’s a mass murderer. Even you must have heard of how many people he’s killed in this war. The cause and source of all of all the dead, of the killed, of all this bloodshed and carnage, these lost lives, is none other than Hida Takahito. Won’t allying with him tarnish your school?”
“Unfortunately,” Kiguchi calmly responded without pause to Mutsue’s attempt at provocation. “We do not share that school of thought. We see no purpose in finding the cause or source of massacres. The only time to find a cause or source is in one-sided killings. You say that Hida Takahito is a mass murderer, yet why are your hands stained in blood?”
“If I told you it was self defense,” said Mutsue with a bitter laugh, “you wouldn’t believe me, would you?”
“I do think you have some nerve to say that.”
“It’s kill or be killed. Wouldn’t you say that killing someone before they can kill you is a kind of self defense?
“Save your excuses for a sage. We are swordsmen. We can only converse through our swords,” said Kiguchi as he gripped the wooden sword at his waist. It was a passive stance. Perhaps if Mutsue did not lay her hands, her sword, on him and only held his stance, Kiguchi too would not move. In fact, that was quite likely. In other words, his goal was…
“Are you here to stall me?”
Just like the Maniwa Poison Squad, those three ninja who called now themselves part of the Takahito Elite Four; or even like the mysterious denying girl that appeared in the desert–even as she held the seventh stance, Iris, the sensation of swords pinning her to the ground was no illusion. Was the old man only standing there to stall for time? If so, just how many hours, how many days, years, and decades, had they been fixed to the spot?
“No,” said Kiguchi, slowly shaking his head. “All that I want is a world where my granddaughter might have a peaceful life playing shogi.”
As Yasuri Mutsue confronted Kiguchi Zanki in Dewa and was being stopped in his six sets of tracks, Hida Takahito had left Meikyuu Castle for a second time. He had slipped past Head and went on his own to meet a certain person. It did not bear mentioning that this person was Higaki Rinne the sage, wielder of Seitou Hakari.
At last, Takahito’s plan to falsify the history of Japan approached its climax.
1In other words, an anaguma castle, a specific defensive formation in shogi where you move your king to the corner and protect it with two layers of your pieces. It’s commonly used in professional games.
guchi(口)- mouth, a common character in surnames
Shin’ou Issouryuu(心王一鞘流)- Heart king one sheath style. (I’m not sure what it means)