quaint_twilight: (prequel naoe)
quaint_twilight ([personal profile] quaint_twilight) wrote on March 30th, 2009 at 08:02 pm
Book 16 Chapter 13 ふたりのジュリア
Japanese to Chinese translation by Hinako. Chinese to English translation by me.

Basics of this chapter: Ayako speaks with Kaizaki and 'Kaizaki'; Irobe and Mikuriya


Kaizaki Makoto was badly shaken.
Something inconceivable had happened.
Upon waking from his dreams, he found himself in an unfamiliar place yet again. He thought he was dreaming but this feeling was very real. This was not his own room. This time, he was lying on a bed in what seemed like a hospital ward, why was he in this place? He looked at the clock immediately. This had happened so often that by now he automatically knew what to do next. Makoto gazed at the date on the clock. February the 20th.

"It has been 10 days...!"

This was no joking matter. He wanted to better ascertain his surroundings and looked for his glasses, but they were not beside him. No matter, he resorted to squinting (a common habit of shortsighted people) out the window. The view was exactly as he expected - a completely unfamiliar landscape.

'He' appeared again...

Kaizaki Makoto felt a burst of loathing.

Did the 'other' me appear again?

Dread and vexation both invaded his thoughts, so much that Kaizaki Makoto felt its weight on his shoulders. As usual, he had no memories whatsoever of this brief period of time. He should be at his own residence at Kayasaki. ...How many times has this happened already?

I must've done something baffling again.

Perhaps something so serious that he had to be sent to hospital.

"Ahhh..."

Makoto sighed hopelessly. There was no doubt of his abnormality now, this confirmed it.

Give me a break...

Makoto had this sudden urge to pray.
For the past few months, it seemed as though there was another Kaizaki Makoto nested within Makoto. Was this schizophrenia? While he was unconscious, he still moved as though there was another person in control. Without warning, he would often lose several days to several weeks worth of memories. However, all of his acquaintances would assert that he behaved normally during that stretch of time whenever he asked. He had heard of this phenomena before but he never expected to end up like this. For this reason, his interpersonal relationships at his company were in complete disorder. As he had recently gone through a slew of business problems, Makoto wondered if he was suffering from psychasthenia and would be better off seeking medical help, but...

Where is this place anyway...

He should first call for the doctor and inquire about the reasons for his hospitalization. The moment Makoto decided on this, the door opened and a tall woman entered. She looked like the extroverted type, a vivacious beauty, but Makoto did not recognize her. The woman gave Makoto a frightening look for reasons unknown to him.

"So you're finally awake. Kaizaki Makoto."

Suddenly, Makoto felt uneasy. ...Had he done something terrible to this woman?
Kadowaki Ayako's entire body was burning with murderous intention.

It was to be expected.
After Shimazu Iehisa's attack, Ayako had left the unconscious Kaizaki in the care of the doctor and pursued Iehisa's company but ultimately lost them in the chase. She knew that the military forces of Satsuma's Shimazu were currently engaged in an invasion at the periphery of Higo. Yashiro was under attack. Although it was guerrilla-style warfare, she never expected them to go so far as to enter the city of Kumamoto. This was truly unexpected. The Shimazu's military invasion involved the activation of the onryou from every single ancient battlefield within the perimeter and the casualties were slowly rising. The 'Ken En' dispatched by Kagetora had been accompanied by a large Uesugi army unit yet no decisive headways had been made, neither could they calm them.

If the Shimazu have entered Kumamoto, this city would become the stage for a tripartite confrontation between the Ootomo, the Oda and the Shimazu. The nervousness of the onryou at the periphery was intensifying with each passing day. The kekkai had disappeared thus the district would probably turn into an onryou battlefield if the Shimazu military decide to massacre their way into the city.
Ayako had not factored the Shimazu into the overall picture hence her current anxiety.

But one good did come from this situation. The two people who had accompanied Takaya to the hospital were indeed the missing followers of the Fire sect. Ayako had verified this by questioning the doctor and nurses with the help of a photograph.
The woman was Saeki Ryouko.
The man was Enoki Masamichi. --The young follower who the Sect Guardian Ikeda loved dearly.

Saeki Ryouko used to stay at Kurume. She had been seen flying away from the flames.
By the look of things, there was a 80% possibility that they were the ones responsible for taking away (the remains of) Kagetora. However the driver was a conundrum. He was certain that he had transported Takaya by car but could not remember the destination. When he had regained his senses, he had found himself driving an empty vehicle down the National Highway 57, near Tateno, towards Kumamoto city. Furthermore, not a single member of staff had personally seen them transporting his body out. The trail of clues ended here.

The National Highway 57.

Before that was Aso.

Even if it was really Aso, there're no more clues.

She had called Kagetora unceasingly as instructed by Kaizaki but there was no response to indicate that the message had reached him, there was no reply from Kagetora. Trapped in an impossible situation, Ayako had returned, wondering if this man knew of any other information. But why would the followers of the Fire sect help Takaya? And why would they have to lie about being his family and take away his body (even though Ayako did not believe he was dead)?

"Who are those followers of the Fire sect?" Ayako interrogated Kaizaki Makoto with a dreadful look in her eyes. "If they are involved in the Yami Sengoku, which faction are they from? You said that Kagetora fought with Shimozura Rairyuu right? Then are the members of the Fire Sect who saved Kagetora your comrades? Or..."

"I'm really sorry... about that..." Seated on the bed, Makoto replied in a serious manner. "I don't understand what you're talking about. Seems like a lot of troublesome things occurred, but I... uh, don't even know who you...."

Ayako's eyebrow jolted, slanting upwards. "What did you say..."

"I'm really sorry. I know I've given you a lot of trouble. But I don't even know where this place is..."

"Can't you tell with one look! This is a hospital. You were knocked out by Shimazu's attack, weren't you? Beaten down until you lost consciousness, weren't you!"

"Shimazu? Did I fight with that guy?"

"?"

Ayako's eyes widened. His responses were strange. Makoto tried his best to remember but gave up after a while and sighed helplessly.

"Did I fight with someone when I wasn't around this time? ...Unbelievable."

"What are you saying!"

"I'm truly sorry, could you please tell me where this place is? Ah, I know this is a hospital. Please tell me the city and the prefecture... um, this might even be a town. Anyway, please tell me the name of this place."

Ayako stared at him, wide-eyed. She thought Kaizaki was playing the fool and almost wanted to reprimand him with a 'Why you...' but Kaizaki's expression was truly earnest.

"You, what on earth..."

"It's only natural that you should be angry but I'm really not joking. You... I don't know your name but you probably have some issue with the other me right."

"The... o-other you?"

"Mmm." Makato pressed both hands against his head. "I don't know if you will believe this but it's as if I'm ill. How should I put this, it seems as though I'm schizophrenic or something. When I'm asleep, some other consciousness would have control of my body, like another person has taken over."

"This... Do you think anyone will believe this!"

"How bothersome... What should I do..." Makoto frowned and thought for a while. "In that case, as evidence that this is true, could you call my personal doctor? He's very aware of my symptoms. Once you listen to his explanation, you should be able to believe me. He'll definitely tell you of my illness."

Makoto suggested. He took the writing pad beside the bed and wrote a few words on it.

"Eh?" Ayako was bewildered. His way of writing was somewhat different from the Kaizaki of yesterday.

He's left-handed...?

Yesterday, she was certain Kaizaki had used his right hand. Furthermore, the style of his handwriting was different. The characters he wrote were inclined towards the upper left and somewhat skewed, suggesting that he was nervous.

"Please call this doctor."

Ayako hastily compared the slip of paper he gave her with the memo Kaizaki had given her yesterday. They were completely different. Not just the handwriting, even the numbers were written differently. Kaizaki now wrote the numbers in a very fluid fashion. The handwriting on the two slips of paper clearly belonged to two distinctly different people.

What's going on...?

"Eh? Not again."

Makoto abruptly looked at his watch and murmured. His watch was on his left hand.

"This is really unbearable," he muttered, "I'm left-handed so I will usually wear my watch on the right, opposite to the usual. Seems like the other me is right-handed."

Makoto appeared frail and remarked, "Wearing it on the left makes me feel uneasy." He took off the watch. Come to think of it, his speaking manner was different as well. The Kaizaki Ayako knew spoke with more depth. He now spoke at a quicker pace, his manner was a little bureaucratic and there was no lingering timbre at the end of his sentences. But it was not forced as one would expect if he was indeed putting on a show.

"What's going on..." Ayako was puzzled. "Are you really schizophrenic?"

"Yes." Kaizaki nodded his head sullenly. "Could you please tell me where I am now? I would like to contact my personal doctor or my colleagues."

"We're at Kumamoto."

"Kumamoto?!" Makoto's voice leaped to a higher pitch. "Kumamoto... That Kumamoto?! The one on Kyushu island! How did... How did I come this far? What on earth is happening? Why have things turned out this way?"

"Do you really not remember anything?" Ayako became truly worried, she gazed at Kaizaki's face. "Not even about the Yami Sengoku?"

"Yami... Sengoku? What's that?"

Ayako sank into partial bewilderment as she looked at Kaizaki.

"Then you don't know me either? Not even Ougi Takaya?"

"Ougi... Takaya...?"

Kaizaki placed his hand beneath his mouth. He repeated the name in a low murmur.

"This name..."

"Do you know Kagetora!"

"Ougi Takaya..."

It seemed like Makoto was attempting to verify knowledge of this name. He reiterated the name, carefully.

"Ougi... Takaya... I don't know who he is..., but somehow... I feel like I've repeatedly called out this name before..."

"What do you mean? Why?"

As he repeated the name, Makoto eventually hesitated. All of a sudden, he appeared uneasy and asked in a pleading manner,

"Who is that? Do you know who he is? Could that be the name of the 'other me'?"

"N-no, that's not it..."

"I've always felt like my chest..."

A cramped feeling, as though something was knotted up tightly. Were these the lingering feelings of his 'other self'?

"Ougi... Takaya..."

He repeated the name deeply, struggling to figure out the significance of this name. Ayako watched his face as she waited for an answer, but Kaizaki could not grasp onto anything substantial.

"I wonder what sort of relationship I have with this Ougi Takaya?"

"..."

Ayako felt a burst of horror within her.

This man is really weird.

No, he had been abnormal from the start, considering his actions when they first met him on the rocky terrain of Enoshima. Yes, there was something weird about this man to begin with. Ayako had felt that something was amiss with this man, especially with his connection to Takaya.
Kaizaki was also the one who had imprisoned Takaya and the latter's demeanor was notably strange after that incident. At that time, when Ayako teased Takaya about the mark on his neck bearing a resemblance to a hickey, Takaya had glared at her with unquestionable fury. The assistance he had provided in Takaya's rescue had incited suspicion. From then on, it became a taboo to mention Kaizaki's name in front of Takaya. Whenever he became the subject of a discussion, Takaya would overreact. Then, he would always have a pained expression that vanished into the depths of his being.

Why...

And then there was yesterday. He was obviously allied with the Ootomo, why did he speak as if he was helping Takaya...

"Who are you exactly..."

Ayako looked guarded. Kaizaki honestly did not understand a single thing. Knowing that he was truly ignorant made his character all the more puzzling. Ayako reflected on the way Kaizaki had called Takaya's name; she knew of one other person who always addressed him in this way. Furthermore, Takaya had cried back then when Kaizaki covered him with his overcoat.

Don't tell me...

Was it all a coincidence? No, it couldn't be, something was not right. But if so, everything would make sense.

I'm probably just over-analyzing this.

Because they had run a thorough search and found no information on him. He was so weak during that time. This was not possible unless a miracle had happened. Furthermore, Kaizaki's schizophrenia was not a result of any sort of possession. There was only one soul in this body. And if this soul was indeed him, she should be able to identify it immediately.

Just a resemblance perhaps?

She was surprised that the Satomi would exploit an individual who was a schizophrenic, wasn't it extremely unusual?
Ayako recalled a particular anomaly in Yagami's report of the Enoshima event.
The suspicious disappearance of Satomi Yoshitaka. The remnants of the air around the area where Yoshitaka collapsed had all the typical features of the aftermath of an exorcism. Meaning that, back then...

Kaizaki was not at Enoshima...!

"Could it be..."

Ayako groaned. Kaizaki suddenly lifted his head.

"Could it be what?"

"Kaizaki. If you're schizophrenic, then do the switch here. Call your other self out!"

"That's impossible for me... I can't switch myself."

"Call the other one out! If you're really schizophrenic, call your other self out now!"

Ayako suddenly grabbed his shirt, Makoto jumped in fright.

"Please don't be harsh on me! I can't!"

"I want to be sure! Kaizaki Makoto! Who on earth are you...!"

"Don't be... harsh...!"

"You! Don't tell me you're...!"

Kaizaki's body jolted. Ayako was taken by surprise when Kaizaki's fist suddenly struck her abdomen.

"Nngh..."

Ayako groaned, crumpling onto the bed. The expression on Kaizaki's face was now that of a different person. The other Kaizaki had emerged.

"Sorry..." Kaizaki apologized to Ayako in a deep voice. "You stay at Kumamoto. The Honmyouji kekkai that Kiyomasa installed is about to crumble."

"Kai...zaki..."

"Apparently, Iehisa has made his move. The Shimazu's troops will be arriving soon. If the kekkai is destroyed, I do not know what will become of Kumamoto. The city streets will turn into an onryou battlefield."

"You... why... are..."

Kaizaki's eyes grew gentle, he bent towards Ayako, then placed his large hand softly on her head. Kaizaki said calmly.

"I know where he is. He did not die. I will bring him back."

With this, Kaizaki nimbly stood up. He put on the overcoat hanging on the clothes rack, wore the watch on his left hand again and hurried out of the room. Ayako painfully shut her eyes. A small teardrop seeped out.

..Na...oe...?

His footsteps disappeared down the corridor.

***

Kaizaki flagged down a taxi on the main road and hastily told the driver of his destination.

"Please take me to Tateno station as quickly as possible."

Too careless...

The synchronization was difficult to manage while he was inside the kekkai. Kaizaki sighed, not resigned to his predicament. He was actually knocked unconscious by Shimazu Iehisa...

Haruie is vaguely aware now.

But no matter. Now that Takaya could not act, it was likely that the old Uesugi would not function as smoothly. He was the only one who could give them instructions. Nevertheless, there would eventually come a day where he would have to tell them everything.

...What sort of answer would you give me then? Haruie.

The synchronization was briefly broken as Kaizaki had been concentrating his spirit on sending a wave of thought to Takaya. Takaya had responded to his call thus a gohou douji was sent to locate him. But a kekkai restricted its movements and it could not get close.

Damn it...!

Kaizaki gnashed his teeth in anger. No matter what sort of power he obtained, however he flaunted whatever principles he had, wanting to stand on an equal position as him, wasn't he still incapable of protecting Takaya as usual? What was the worth of these powerless hands? If he could not rescue him in this real world, didn't that point to his uselessness? Even if he was crushed, even if they hated each other, during that time when he could protect him by using his own body as a shield, didn't it make him feel infinitely happy?

N-no, it's not that...!

He was not wrong and at the same time he wanted to save Takaya. Kaizaki said to himself. He reminded himself over and over again. He should be able to do it. No, he must do it.

If not, I don't deserve to be reborn.

Once he closed his eyes, he could see Takaya crying out in grief. Kaizaki anxiously bit the joint of his finger pressed against his mouth to endure this repulsive premonition.

Not now, Takaya-san...

If I carry out a spiritual trace under these unstable conditions, you will really collapse. Even though his words could not be communicated, Takaya's unease and uncertainty were transmitted back continuously. Takaya was now in intense turmoil, so intense that it could be relayed back over so far a distance.

I cannot conduct a spiritual trace now.

--I want to rise with my own power.

But Takaya did not understand that this dangerous intent would be accompanied by ruin.

I cannot let you fight alone.

He did not even know what he could do for Takaya but his mind was set on heading to Takaya's side. Kaizaki had come to this decision as though spurred by a newfound motivation.

There's no need for anymore excuses.

No contrived excuse could grant him as much strength as the thought of personally going to his side. Even if he could not be of any use in the battle he [Takaya] chose to fight, at the very least he wanted to be with him and hold his hand firmly. Even if he had to bear the pain by himself, he should still be able to embrace his [Takaya] body closely forever.

What can I do in order to become your strength?

He could not be a mere spectator watching from a distance. Even if this suffering was a consequence of his own actions, he could not blame Takaya.

I was rescued by you.

And this strong will to live again,

Is also something that you granted me with.

Kaizaki whispered in his heart, clenching his fist lightly. In his heart, he remembered the warmth of his skin that lingered in his hands.

--Naoe...

In that short night, he had been redeemed immeasurably. That night, Kagetora had saved him from the many 'wrongdoings' that he had inflicted upon others in the past. Until now, he had never realized how much his own yearning made him [Takaya] feel uneasy and terrified.
What can I do to remove your distress? But was he truly capable of asserting 'there is nothing for you to be afraid of'?

From the bottom of my heart... I want you.

Be it your 'weakness' of never turning back due to fear of loss, or your 'cunning' desire for perpetual worship, I want all of it. He would pray as he held Takaya tightly in his embrace, yearning to claim even the vile, incurable aspect of this individual as his own with a blazing force.

Sever it, surely it can be turned into something else.

Kenshin had given him another opportunity to come back to life. Thus he had to act as accordingly to fulfill Kenshin's orders.

But...
The strength to live once again was given by Kagetora.
The one who gave him the power to stand again when he had stumbled en route was none other than Kagetora.

You told me that the ideal way of existence was not for me alone but for the both of us.
He did not not believe in anything, he did not expect anything... but constantly reminded himself of Kagetora's words.
Those words had given this heart, on the verge of demise, one last iota of strength...


--Someone like you, can't be trusted...

He wanted to remove Kagetora's pain, literally strip away the numerous layers of defenses around his heart. But however close he got to the inner depths of his being, the very core of Kagetora always thought in this way, and thus rejected Naoe. This was the very affliction which he should have alleviated and yet, because of his 'incorrigible ego' (his hatred of someone superior to him, his petty inferiority complex due to his defeat, his delusions of being harmed because he felt threatened), he could not close the divide between them.
Despite violently rejecting himself, he was always the person crying out the most intensely, 'hoping for rescue', when Kagetora was there.

I... know this very well.

Kaizaki closed his eyes painfully, clenching his fist on his knee.

I can definitely change.

If the abandonment this 'incorrigible ego' meant the 'death of the self', then he would not consider this as an abandonment. I want to change it to become someone with the strength to save you.

Change this ego into the power to save you.

He had chosen this sort of love.
This love was definitely possible.
Because in order to achieve it, he had come back to life.

I won't let you fight alone.

Please, let it not be too late. Kaizaki prayed as he gazed out the window.


The trees along Sugiki disappeared. The national highway leading towards the outer volcanic rim of Aso stretched endlessly. The vehicle continued along the straight route. To the right was a deep ravine. He had once traveled down this road, a long time ago.

About 30 years ago.
They had hid in these very mountains of Aso in order to evade the Oda and protect Minako.
Before that final battle, Naoe had left the frontline under Kagetora's orders to escort Minako in an escape to a place out of the enemy's reach. Kagetora himself knew that Minako's presence would place him in a lethal disadvantage in battle. He had said 'I cannot involve her' and ordered Naoe to protect her.
Nagahide had violently protested against the reduction the Yashashuu's manpower by one but Kagetora had stubbornly refused to heed his words. Because of this, Nagahide wanted to murder Minako, regardless of the consequences, but was discovered by Kagetora and stopped. This particular dispute between them could be the reason for the subsequent lack of news on Nagahide's whereabouts for a long time.
Nagahide was not the only one whose relationship with Kagetora had soured.
Kagetora and Naoe had been cold towards each other for some time.

--I shall leave Minako in your care.

That day, Kagetora had summoned Naoe and told him so.

--I can trust you.

Kagetora had given these orders with those same eyes that always expressed a 'lack of trust' in him. Since then, Naoe had always been guessing at Kagetora's real intentions. Did those words carry a literal meaning, or had he taken their military efficiency into account before reaching this decision, or was it something completely of malice? Was there no other implied meaning? It felt like a trap. Perhaps it was really a trap. On the soil of Aso, he had taken Kagetora's beloved woman and... done something cruel. Naoe had yet to atone for this sin.


It was snowing on Aso. The forest bordering the volcanic crater was coated in a layer of snow, but the roads did not seem adversely affected by the weather.

"Things don't look too good this evening."

The taxi driver remarked after listening to the weather forecast.

"If it starts snowing in the city, transport is going to be a hassle. If there's a pileup of snow, there'll be a massive traffic jam down here. At least, not everyone is on the road..."

Kaizaki looked out the window at the thick ash clouds.

Snow...

It was snowing as well, on that day.

The car turned right off the national highway into a narrow slope that led down to the bottom of a valley. Tateno, the entrance through the Aso volcanic rim, was also utilized by the northern Aso JR Houhihon line and the diverging line of the south-south Aso railway track. The taxi stopped at Tateno station. Parked in front of the station was a 4WD, which appeared to be waiting for Kaizaki.

"Kaizaki-sama...!"

A man wearing a short coat got out and waved in his direction. It was Hakkai. As the cold snowflakes swirled down, Kaizaki got out of the taxi.

***

The rays of light pierced through the cracks in the clouds. With nary a hint of turbulence, the steady sea flickered with a silver radiance. It resembled a lake. On the other side of the Ariake sea, shaped like a big river, were the immense shapes of the mountains.

"It is a little misty today."

Irobe Katsunaga said to the young lady as he walked out of the ferryboat to the quay wall.

"That is the Shimabara Peninsula. The small mountain in front is Mayuyama, the higher mountain in the background is the Unzen Fugendake. I was told that Shimabara city was established in front of it."

It was a 30-minute drive from Kumamoto city. Irobe had come to the new harbor of Kumamoto. At the pier, the ferry leaving for Shimabara was about to embark. It took an hour to reach the Shimabara harbor on the opposite bank by ferry. The distance was about 20 kilometers hence it was much closer than Aso.
The ferry station was only completed recently. The triangular roof of the waiting quarters was rather appealing. Although there was still some time left before embarkation, a group of passengers hurried towards the pier. Irobe watched them, then gazed at the sea once again.
In the distant, a swirl of smoke rose from the peak of Fugendake. The thickening mist mingled with the ash drizzle in the dusk, making it difficult to distinguish the rising smoke from the clouds.

"It seems like the activity of Fugendake has calmed somewhat, but apparently we shouldn't let our guard down. Can you see that region, the area where the surface of the mountain appears dark brown? I heard it used to be covered in greenery, but now all of it has been burnt by the lava."

"..."

The results of disaster damage were obvious from this stretch of land that cut into the sea. It was said that the amount of smoke emitted had decreased substantially since the days when Fugendake's volcanic activity was at its highest. Depending on the direction of the wind, occasionally the city of Kumamoto would experience a rain of volcanic ash.
Irobe turned towards the young lady. She was a senior high school student of small stature, dressed in a sailor-style uniform.
Mikuriya Juri.
Mikuriya's arms were wrapped around her chest as she observed Fugendake, then she said.

"The land of Shimabara will contribute to our Catholic cause. Irobe-dono."

She pointed at the left side of the island.

"That is the group of islands known as Amakusa. After the arrival of the missionary 'Friar Almeyda', Amakusa could well be deemed as the representative city of Japan's Catholics. Almeyda-sama and our lord Ootomo Sourin had a deep relationship, moreover, he visited Usuki several times. At that time, a school was founded. It was truly a Catholic city not just in name but in reality. ...Until the official ban of this religion."

Mikuriya Juri explained, the smile disappeared from her lips. The mad storm that suppressed the Catholics had spread to Shimabara and Amakusa. Followers had been dismembered in punishment as an example to others, questioned via torture... The cruelty of it all was truly unspeakable. They had been hung, or burnt at stake, or drowned. Apparently, a few had been locked inside a jailhouse, and there had been children who died with their stomachs full of maggots that ate their way out. The martyrs had met their ends with the firm belief that death was the only way they could reach the kingdom of heaven.
Due to the relentless crackdown and cruel methods, thousands had abandoned their faith during that period.

"A human being would not have committed those acts." Mikuriya uttered in a serious tone. "The people who did that were demons."

"..."

Whatever suffering she had endured was unknown. There was a vacant look in Mikuriya's face as she pursed her lips together, the expression of an old woman with hidden bitterness. It differed greatly from her usual look, surprising Irobe
Of course, Irobe knew of that era. He had personally witnessed the many deaths of the Catholics by limb dismemberment. As the rumors spread by word of mouth, an overwhelming majority had found it brutal and inhumane.

"Lady Julia..."

Called in this way, Mikuriya suddenly came back to her senses. She closed her eyes and sighed deeply. Then she took out a cluster of ancient coins from her pocket and showed them to Irobe. The coins were connected together by a strand of thread that ran through their centers.

"This is?"

"Something known as a 'money buddha'. You use it like this."

She said, holding up the six coins by the thread in front of Irobe for a demonstration. The six coins were pulled together into a cross shape.

"A rosary..."

"Members of the underground Catholic society have this. Usually, it will look like a bunch of ordinary coins, only during prayer does one straighten it."

The Catholics who escaped the suppression had hid underground and managed to preserve their faith in this way. The mark of the cross could be found carved onto the knifes they had wielded to protect themselves, on other small items, walls and pillars, all used secretly in their worship. The Virgin Mary was also among the carved images. By braving those difficult times with various methods, the Catholics successfully maintained their faith in secret.

Amakusa harbored many of the underground hideouts of the Catholics as well. From the time of the ban until the advent of the Meiji era, these hideouts continued to serve their purpose through the subsequent generations. It was said that in the absence of a Catholic priest at one point, a mentor known as Mizukata had performed the baptisms and carried out the ceremonies by himself. However, with the passing of time, the words of prayer had degenerated into an incomprehensible chant and the Catholic church turned into an aberrant but customary religion which was completely different from the original system.

"..."

Lost in thought, Mikuriya quietly clasped the six-piece 'money buddha' in her palms. An announcement signaling that the ferry was about to embark was broadcast around the harbor. A whistle sounded. Apparently, the entire crew was already onboard the vessel. As they waited for the sound of the whistle to fade away, listening to the the waves beating up the shore, Mikuriya said to Irobe.

"I believe you may be aware that I am the second wife of Sourin-sama. I used to be the chief maid of his legal wife, Lady Elizabeth. Sourin-sama divorced her because Lady Elizabeth very stubbornly refused to convert to Catholicism."

"I heard she was born to Nadahachiman's Nada family of Shinto priests."

"Yes. The lady was associated with the Shinto priests devoted to the God of War Hachiman, thus becoming a Catholic would have been impossible."

The name Elizabeth was bestowed upon her by the Christian organization after her death. She was regarded as an evil wife.

"But I can understand her. The lady was the wife of a general during the Sengoku Jidai. She could not possibly betray her own faith in the God of War Hachiman."

Thus I was looked upon as the woman who snatched away another's husband, and for this reason suffered hatred...

Mikuriya Juri sighed deeply as she watched the peppery smoke rising from Fugendake across the sea. The ferry slowly glided past them.

"Where is the general Naoe-dono at the moment?"

"He is at Nikkou. I, Irobe Katsunaga, shall be handling the entirety of this assignment."

"I see. I did not expect him to require the head of Ryuuzouji Takanobu as a gift for our alliance. Truly startling. What brilliant leadership. Thanks to you, the Ootomo could easily enter Saga."

"In this way, Higo will be isolated from the other forces of the Oda. If Kiyomasa disappears, Higo should fall smoothly into our hands."

"Yes, if all goes according to plan. Please look over there."

Mikuriya said, pointing towards the Ariake sea.
Irobe gazed in that direction. Amongst the great waves in the distance, in the direction which the ferry had proceeded along, an object resembling a ball of fire could be seen. Irobe concentrated on it intently.

"Shiranui? In such broad daylight, do shiranui even appear in places other than Yatsushirokai?"

"That is not your usual shiranui. Please look carefully. That is the Shimazu's ship."

"The Shimazu's ship?"

Irobe was startled, he looked at Mikuriya. Mikuriya nodded.

"The Shimazu army which seized Yashiro has arrived intending to attack Kumamoto from both sides by exploiting the two-way water and land transport system. Do you see the flag with a cross in the center of a circle? Looks like a scout ship."

He could tell that she had long been aware of this situation. Mikuriya was extremely solemn, staring at the sea disapprovingly. Irobe finally realized it.

I see...

He now understood the reason why Mikuriya had specifically invited him to this place. As the commanding officer of Kumamoto, she was fulfilling her duty by informing the Uesugi envoy, Irobe, of the movements of the Shimazu's navy. She could be considered as an excellent general. He had been told that during a war, her face would have the very calm expression of a military counselor. Irobe grew earnest.

"How does the Ootomo intend to respond?"

"The Ootomo's navy have yet to arrive. They are currently engaged in battle against Chousokabe, who came to the Sea of Genkai, and cannot leave. ...Although all of the land routes up to Saga are under our control, we still hope for naval support to cover the sea routes."

Mikuriya explained, looked directly at Irobe.

"We would like to request naval reinforcements from the Uesugi."

"A navy..."

"Yes. It does not matter if this requires some time. Can you relay my request?"

"...I will do my best. But judging from the situation, it will only be a matter of time before the Shimazu navy enters the Ariake sea."

"We will restrict the Shimazu's movements to the outer perimeter." Mikuriya said confidently. "We shall make use of the Amakusa Gokyo to cut off the channel, preventing them from entering Shimabara bay."

The Amakusa Gokyo was a great bridge linking Kyushu island with the Amakusa archipelago. It was known as the 'Pearl Line', allowing one to cross over to Amakusa by land. It was a great bridge of symbolic significance to Amakusa.

"Then we will utilize the Amakusa Seto great bridge for Hondo Seto. And finally, at Shimabara, the Hayasaki Seto in Amakusa will be blocked with a wall. With this, the Shimazu's ship would not be able to enter Shimabara bay."

"Wall? But who is going to set that up? As I understand, the Ootomo's army have yet to enter Amakusa."

"I have my fellow comrades here."

For a brief moment, Irobe could not understand Mikuriya's words, but as he came to a sudden realization, his eyes widened in surprise.

"Could it be... Mobilizing the onryou who died in Amakusa during the Shimabara rebellion...!"

"I want to resurrect all of the onryou of Hara castle."

Mikuriya gazed at the Shimabara peninsula on the other side of the sea with an idealistic expression. She continued.

"Do you know what can intensely solidify the spirit between men and release power? Irobe-dono. It is faith. During the Sengoku Jidai, the fetters of parent and child, or master and vassal, all amounted to nothing. Only faith can effectively unite people. Those who met their unfortunate ends during that rebellion are my fellow comrades. This yoke is much stronger than the taking of hostages or the formation of alliances for mutual benefit."

"...Lady Julia..."

Mikuriya gripped the rosary tightly with her small hands.

"Amakusa's Shimabara rebellion was an uprising sparked by sufferings of the Catholic peasants due to their suppression and persecution. Led by Amakusa Shirou-sama, many stood up to fight as a significant percentage of the population of the fiefdom were staunch Catholics. After three months of battle to defend the city, everyone died. Of course, their only hope for salvation was by entering the Kingdom of Heaven. But their spirits still remain on that land. Is it because of their extreme remorse, their extreme pain? They cannot go to the Kingdom of Heaven."

"..."

"The spirits of these martyrs are all over Kyushu island. They believe that they cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven even in death due to inadequacies in the strength of their conviction. They are desperately calling out the Lord's name from beneath the earth but cannot go to Heaven."

Mikuriya looked directly at Irobe.

"I want to set up a kingdom for them at Aso. Then call their Catholic souls to Aso. The 'Golden Snake Head' can summon their souls. As long as we have it, we can even call forth earth-bound spirits. I want to beckon the dead stranded in hopelessness on the land, encourage them and give them a place to pray again. Together we can repent, pray, devote ourselves to religion, and this time they can definitely enter Heaven."

Irobe quietly looked at Mikuriya Juri clutching onto the rosary, as she spoke in a passionate tone. Irobe finally understood the purpose of her Catholic kingdom. A place which could serve as a stepping stone for the grieving and indignant dead to the Kingdom of Heaven - was this the utopia Mikuriya spoke of? The kingdom of Aso. The establishment of a kekkai on the slopes of the Aso crater to turn it into a kingdom.

"...I see."

From Mikuriya's words, it seemed like the sole objective of her undertaking was to grant the souls of her comrades with a chance at purification.

No...

Irobe looked at the 'money buddha' in Mikuriya's hands and felt that there was more to this than what was presented on the surface. She appeared to have some deep-seated attachment. Why did she carry a 'money buddha'?

"Lady Julia's former name was indeed Lady Odai, wasn't it?"

"Yes." Mikuriya looked over. "Julia is my baptismal name. Is it of any concern?"

Irobe gently shook his head.

"No... This is merely a coincidence but do you know of a lady very similar to yourself, named Odai, who was christened as Julia?"

"What? I did not know that. Who would that be?"

"The adopted daughter of Konishi Yukinaga-kou. When Yukinaga-kou sent his troops to Korea, she was an orphan who was brought back to become his daughter, and received a Catholic baptism. After that, Lady Odai went to Ieyasu-kou."

"Oh?" Mikuriya's eyes widened. "Ieyasu-kou's..."

"Mmm. But I heard that after the ban of the religion, she did not relinquish her faith and was thus banished to Kouzushima. Even now, there is a festival at Kouzushima still celebrated in her memory."

"..."

A shadow suddenly clouded Mikuriya's eyes. Then she slowly lowered her head.

"I see. That lady did not relinquish her faith."

"Is there anything wrong?"

"No, just that the names are similar... it is somewhat..."

Mikuriya uttered, gripping the 'money buddha' tightly. From her reaction, Irobe saw through everything.

I see. She...

"The eggs of the hebimiko buried in the students of Kojou High will hatch in the next two days."

Mikuriya's face had returned to her usual expression as the student council president.

"I have implemented the hypnosis. It shall start with the sequential gathering of the fighters hosting the breeding hebimiko at the institution. The training to be conducted by the 'Iron Student Council' is perfect and without blemish. The troops needed for the complete control of this outstanding city will be completed soon."

The aforementioned students had already started to gather at the school yesterday night. The assembly consisted of over two hundred students in uniform.
Among them was Koganezawa Kyouko.
The group of students were under such perfect control that even Mikuriya, who had given a speech, felt pleased. The uniform of Kojou High thus became their battle attire.

"As we speak, Yokoteno Gorou should be giving out directives inside the school. We can at last reap the benefits from six months of toil. The 'Golden Snake Head' seems to be mimicking our progress by the way it keeps increasing in power. All that is left is to wait for the completely excavation of the physical artifact. I am the master of the serpent. As long as I can control it, not even a large-scale invasion by the Shimazu will be of any threat."

"..."

"The construction of the 'Destroyed Kingdom' has also gone smoothly. Please take look at this."

Mikuriya's attendant handed a newspaper to Irobe. It was today's morning paper. On one side was a special report with a bold headline about a certain accident in a cement-producing factory in Fukuoka. It occurred yesterday. A sudden explosion in the factory's equipment had left many of the factory workers with serious injuries.

"This is..."

"The cement factory where the accident happened is located at the foothills of Kawaradake. Kawaradake castle used to be the Ootomo's major crossroad."

"Kawaradake castle..."

It was known as the first major crossroad of Buzen. The Ootomo, the Mouri, the Shimazu and other clans had all once fought fiercely for control of this castle. It used to be the battlefield of an intense war. Kawaradake was composed of Ichinotake, Ninotake and Sannotake, and was famous in the past for being a copper mine where many bronze mirrors and other relics had been unearthed. Ichinotake was now a mining field for the lime used in the production of cement, which had reduced half of the mountain to plains. One could no longer see the former beauty of its geographical features. The bare, white rock surface was now exposed, the flat mining side resembled a precipice in its strange, towering appearance.

"Kawaradake used to be a battlefield. The land is soaked with the grudge of the many warriors who died with remorse. If we use the rocks here, which contain large capacities of antipathy, or this copper for the manufacture of a gigantic cannon, what will it be like?"

"So the 'Destroyed Kingdom' is a large cannon...!"

"Correct." Mikuriya smiled. "Seems like the activated grudge exploded in the cement factory. Tachibana Dousetsu-dono is presently on standby at the Kawara shrine, overseeing the construction of the cannon. With the Yamato serpent and the 'Destroyed Kingdom', the Ootomo will be the strongest. The Shimazu and the Oda will be no match for us. Let us strike back at them."

Mikuriya said very confidently, lifting her head resolutely at the horizontal stretch of the Shimabara peninsula on the other side of the sea.
Irobe looked up from the newspaper with a nervous expression.
The whistling of the ferry across the Ariake sea echoed softly.
 
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