quaint_twilight: (takaya)
quaint_twilight ([personal profile] quaint_twilight) wrote on July 4th, 2009 at 11:10 pm
Book 16 Chapter 14 迷宮に降る雪
Japanese to Chinese translation by Hinako. Chinese to English translation by me.

Basics of this chapter: Motoharu and company discuss Kihachi; Motoharu tries to help Kagetora remember


The mountains of Aso-gogagku in the distance resembled the appearance of a sleeping figure. Stretching from the east were the mountains known as Nekodake, Takadake, Nakadake, Kishimadake and Eboushidake. The precipitous and uneven rocks of Nekodake resembled a human nose, mouth and chin; the level top of Takadake was the chest; the smoking Nakadake lied at the position of the navel. The people of Aso used to call this recumbent figure the 'Nirvana statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha'. But the locals who knew of the severe side of the Aso volcano thought differently. That was not the 'Nirvana statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha' but the dormant appearance of Asura.


The snowfall was heavier than before. A vehicle stopped outside the cabin on the mountainside of Eboushidake. The roads were probably coated with layers of snow as the grooves of the tires were packed with white ice and slush. A young man in a suit got out of the driver's seat.
He was a follower of the Fire Sect - Enoki Masamichi.
He was the leader of the bird people. The young man, chosen from the members of the Fire Sect for his exceptional abilities, formed part of a special team within the sect which operated independently. Enoki had always been their leader.

"Sect Guardian."

Enoki was addressed in this way by his comrades, who streamed out of the small loghouse. Saeki Ryouko was the first to approach him and gave him an umbrella.

"Welcome back."

"The snowfall is getting heavy. We need tire chains on the drive wheels. ...Yasuo."

Enoki called out the youngest member among them.

"Could you affix the tire chains for the vehicle? I'm still not really good at it. No matter what I do, I can never install them properly. I think it would be better to leave the car with you."

"Understood!"

The one known as Yasuo replied formally, immediately wanting to prepare the tire chains. Enoki chuckled.

"You can do that later. I wish to make an announcement. You should come as well. ...Saeki, where is Motoharu-sama?"

"He's waiting inside the room."

"Let us go."

His comrades responded in the affirmative and followed behind Enoki. The group of self-proclaimed bird people of the Fire sect comprised nine members including Enoki as their leader. Their ages ranged from 18 to 31 years of age, making the average around 20 years of age. It was not too long ago when they first realized their identities as bird people but on every single one of their faces was the brimming look of confidence and pride of having been selected. They followed the 'Protestant Guardian' Enoki into the small cabin.

***

"The Head of Kihachi is missing?"

Upon hearing this, Kikkawa Motoharu questioned him further with a solemn expression.

"What happened? Isn't the Head of Kihachi in the Aso Shrine?"

They were assembled in a hall equipped with a large furnace. Enoki was seated on the sofa as he discussed the situation with Motoharu.

"According to our records, during the volcanic eruption in the sixth year of the Jōgan era (864AD) the Head of Kihachi was shifted from Shimomiya to the Aso Shrine as you mentioned. But our investigation has revealed that there is no such object in the Aso Shrine right now."

Under the pretense of conducting an academic survey, they had requested a university associate professor they were acquainted with to look into the shrine's treasures. From the information gathered from the shrine's caretakers, there was really nothing of the sort in that place.

"Could there be a mistake in the records?"

"We're talking about Ikebe's official documents here." Enoki's slender, lidded eyes glinted. "I don't believe a mistake is possible with records about Kihachi."

"Then where on earth is it?"

In the archives of Aso shrine, there was no mention of the head of Kihachi. Since there was no documented evidence, the aforementioned object must have been consecrated in secret. Enoki had taken his investigation one step further. By relying on the clues from this era, the offerings made in the 12th month of the sixth year of the Jōgan era, by scrutinizing every record pertaining to the shrine's treasures, he had found something similar to the object in question.

"You found it? Does it really exist?"

"Yes. 'The object of offering in the 12th month of Jōgan 6' is definitely a reference to a certain treasure. But 400 years ago, in the 15th year of the Tenshou era (1587), it was taken out from the shrine and given away as a token."

Motoharu's reaction was obvious. The 15th year of the Tenshou era was the year Hideyoshi carried out his conquest of Kyushu island.

"Do you know who it was offered to?"

"Yes. It was the feudal lord of Higo at that time..." Enoki stretched out his body. "The general by the name of Sasa Narimasa."

"What? Sasa... Sasa Narimasa-dono?!"

Enoki nodded.

"But that's about all I can glean from the records. As far as its present location is concerned, it remains unclear. Narimasa died a year after settling down. After that, its whereabouts..."

"You don't know..."

Motoharu felt powerless and sighed deeply. Enoki continued with supplementary information. The head of Kihachi could be in Narimasa's hands or, if the Aso family had unpublished data, its whereabouts might be detailed therein.

"Hmph. I see you have failed to find the important head of Kihachi. What a joke."

The tall, black-haired man standing behind Motoharu remarked.

"Kousaka-dono."

"For all the inspiring talk of liberating Kihachi's onryou, it would be meaningless if we don't have the essential head, wouldn't it? Nothing can be done even if we bring Princess Asara, isn't that right?"

Kousaka's arrogant manner displeased the followers of the Fire sect. The youth, Yasuo, could not tolerate his speaking tone and interjected,

"Our investigation is still ongoing! We will be able to find the honorable head of Kihachi-sama for you, there's no need for you to remind us about it!"

"As it should be. You were the ones who proposed this idea after all. ...You people want to resurrect Kihachi. We need the power to annihilate the Ootomo and the Oda. That's why we've formed an alliance. But we've already acquired the missing Princess Asara, furthermore the receptacle for Kihachi is ready."

Kousaka smiled maliciously.

"You want to revive the power of the Fire sect, don't you? Then please make haste in the search of that honorable head."

The members' fists were tightly clenched. Kousaka looked at them coldly, then sighed contemptuously and shifted his attention to the flames of the warm furnace.

"Sasa Narimasa indeed... Hmph, if I knew this earlier, I would've let him live a little longer."

Motoharu, who had been pondering deeply, suddenly lifted his head and looked at Enoki and the others.

"...That man might know something."

***

"The treasure from the Aso Shrine offered to Sasa-dono?" Kiyomasa looked at Enoki cautiously.

"Correct." Enoki nodded. After listening to what Motoharu had to say, he assumed that Kiyomasa might know of some information as he was Narimasa's successor. As a matter of fact, Kiyomasa himself did vigorously aid the defeated high priest of the Aso shrine for a brief period of time during the troubled era of the Sengoku Jidai. He did play a part in the restoration of the Aso clan and had also fervently repaired many small abandoned shrines and other structures.

The "Golden Snake Head" was something he had heard directly from one of Narimasa's surviving retainers...

"..." Kiyomasa did not immediately reply. He half-closed his eyes, carefully leaned back in his rocking chair and assumed a casual demeanor. That pair of eyes watched the expressions of Enoki and Saeki attentively.

"The archives for the 12th month of Jōgan 6 mention a treasure. As someone who succeeded Sasa Narimasa, you should know of this."

"Really..." Kiyomasa tilted his head a little, nonchalantly putting up a puzzled guise. "Most of Narimasa-dono's belongings are kept at his family temple, however I've never heard of an object of offering from the Aso clan. ...Is there such a thing?"

"If you dare lie..." Saeki Ryouko, standing behind Enoki, raised her forefinger and pointed towards the top of her left chest. "It won't do you any good."

She was indirectly referring to the luminous flame stone buried in his body, threatening to activate its combustive property again and cause so much pain he would wish he was dead. But as expected of one of the Seven Spears of Hideyoshi, he calmly continued to play the fool.

"When I say I don't know it, I don't know it. What else do you want me to say? Even if there was such an object, Taigou-dono probably confiscated it when Narimasa-dono decided to commit harakiri. Anyway, what's the deal with Aso-dono's offering? What kind of object is it?"

"It's a human skull." Enoki said in a low voice.

"A skull?"

"It was once the goshintai of Shimomiya. But even though it's a human skull, its shape is said to be exceedingly similar to the head of an orochi. It was said that the skull assumed the form of an orochi's head due to the excessive hatred when it was beheaded by Takewatatsu no Mikoto."

What?

Kiyomasa was speechless. He lifted his head.
He had never heard of this before.

Human? Wasn't it supposed to be the eight-headed orochi?

"That skull contains a highly-concentrated accumulation of grudge." Enoki told him coldly as he walked slowly towards him over the carpet. "That skull is saturated with Kihachi-sama's grudge - no, onryou. That power is capable of sinking Kyushu island. If we allow one who doesn't fathom its power to wield it irresponsibly, it could cause an irreversible disaster."

"What do you mean?"

"It isn't just one person's grudge that's concentrated in that skull."

Enoki stated with a menacing expression, his appearance completely different from before.

"Do you want me to tell you, Katou Kiyomasa? What lies concealed in that skull..."

"Sect Guardian...!"

Stopped by Saeki, Enoki was startled and halted his words. The exchange of looks between them was so deep it was impervious. Kiyomasa found this a somewhat curious affair and felt unceasingly nervous.

That's right...!

They were referring to the "human skull" that the Aso shrine had offered to Sasa Narimasa...

Could it be the "Golden Snake Head"?

The underground treasure of Kojou, which was now occupied by the Ootomo, was the very object Mikuriya and the others called the head of the orochi. With their current dominion of Kojou High, wasn't it obvious that they were targeting that "eight-headed orochi"? But what were they talking about here? This was something new to Kiyomasa. Wasn't the "Golden Snake Head" an orochi that used to reside in Aso's subterranean in the ancient times? Wasn't it the incarnation of Aso's volcanic lava?

What's going on here?

Who were these people anyway? They addressed Kihachi with the honorific of "-sama", saying that its head was beheaded by Takeiwatatsu no Mikoto. Kiyomasa had never heard of the "Golden Snake Head" regarded as a human skull. He had never heard of this matter before even though he was in contact with members of the Aso clan. Or could it be that not even the members of the Aso clan know about this?

Capable of sinking Kyushu island?

What sort of monster was this? And what was the story behind its beheading by the agriculture deity, Takeiwatatsu no Mikoto?

"..."

Kiyomasa took extra care not to let the other two notice his discomposure. It appeared that these people knew something that neither he, Sasa Narimasa nor the Otomo knew about.

What is their objective?

He could not guess what they were thinking. They were allied with the Mouri; modern people who could fly in the sky. Who were they? And what was Kikkawa Motoharu's true goal?

Alright...

Kiyomasa made up his mind without any change in his facial expression. He calmly stood up.

"Seems like this is some extraordinary object, but I know nothing about it. If you really want to know, you should head to Toyokuni Shrine and directly ask Taigou-dono."

"...Do you really not know anything?"

"Oh for crying out loud! Who do you think you're talking to? I have been sanctified at the Katou shrine, I am someone who possesses divinity. Would a deity tell lies!"

"..."

"Do not speak to me in that sort of tone. When you imprison a deity you should at least present him with the relevant offerings. What a brat without the slightest bit of courtesy. Also, that extraordinary stunt of flying in the sky... I can understand if you are female, but I've never heard of a male celestial maiden. Look, even my tea has gone cold with all this talking. Bring me another cup. You don't even have any refreshments!"

Enoki and Saeki looked at each other dumbfounded.

"Oh right, is there an onsen in this house? I haven't taken a bath since yesterday, I feel dirty. I very much prefer to be clean! I'm also a vegetarian so all three meals must not have any meat in it! My soup must have nameko mushroom!"

What is with the sudden impudence...

Perhaps Enoki was stupefied by Kiyomasa's willfulness, he gave Saeki a few directives and went out of the room by himself.
Saeki appeared disgusted with Kiyomasa's princely tirade and his incessant demands. She brought a coffee pot as he directed and poured him a new cup of coffee.
Kiyomasa quietly waited for her to fill his cup. It seemed like Saeki was not particularly vigilant of Kiyomasa perhaps due to the luminous flame stone buried in his body. She quietly filled his cup with coffee and coldly said, "Please have this."

Kiyomasa returned to his chair, picking up the cup slowly as he rudely scrutinized Saeki Ryouko. That overly insolent way in which he looked at her, as if he was examining her limbs, displeased Ryouko. She stared back at Kiyomasa ferociously. Then Kiyomasa deliberately smiled like a lecher and said.

"...You're still a virgin right?"

"Huh?" Ryouko was taken aback.

Kiyomasa paid even more attention to the look on her face.

"I thought you were whats-his-name Enoki's woman, but it doesn't seem like it. It's truly a pity for a beauty such as yourself. How about becoming my woman?"

"!"

The moment Ryouko widened her eyes in anger, a sharp pain burst in Kiyomasa's left chest. The luminous flame stone erupted unexpectedly.

"Ow...!" When his body jolted, he dropped the coffee cup in his hand. The steaming liquid splashed onto Kiyomasa's knee. "Ah... it's burning! Burning!"

Kiyomasa leaped up due to the scalding injury, jumping all over the place as he cried out in pain. Ryouko was frightened by his reaction and hastily grabbed a towel.

"A-Are you okay!"

She touched him, wanting to dry Kiyomasa's clothes. At that instance,

"!"

Kiyomasa gripped Ryouko's right hand tightly. Ryouko jumped in fright and looked up directly into Kiyomasa's eyes. Kiyomasa widened his eyes like a demon, staring down at her as if he wanted to break through her. He was like a different person; his crushing presence scared Ryouko and froze her movements.

"Ah..." Her right hand was firmly locked in Kiyomasa's grasp.

A few seconds passed.

"..."

Ryouko immediately came back to her senses. Realizing that Kiyomasa was gripping her hand, she slapped him fiercely.

"!"

Kiyomasa released her hand as a result of the blow. Ryouko pushed him backwards with all of her strength and flew into a rage.

"Have you no shame!"

She scolded him indignantly, flung the towel at Kiyomasa and ran out of the room in a frenetic manner. Kiyomasa did not even seem aware of his swollen cheek, but appeared startled, still seated on the floor as she fled through the door. Kiyomasa had contact telepathy. In that few seconds of contact, the large amount of information he managed to extract from Saeki Ryouko far exceeded Kiyomasa's expectations. He had acquired secret details that alarmed him.

How can that be...!

Kiyomasa gasped.
The shocking sea of information that invaded his brain like a furious wave caused Kiyomasa's heart to pound at a speedy rate. The Ootomo and Sasa were probably unaware of this matter. In fact, not even the keepers of the human skull, the Aso clan, knew about this...!
He was left speechless by the facts that far surpassed his presumptions.

How did it end up this way...

Kiyomasa's face was a pale-white. He felt like shouting out, clenching his fists from the shock.

How can there be such a thing!

He had to inform Nobunaga-kou as soon as possible. The true identity of the "Golden Snake Head" was definitely not something as simple as an eight-headed orochi. If the Shimazu were to acquire this object, the situation could turn ugly! Not only Kyushu island but the whole of Japan could...! Could be destroyed...!

I can't let them do this!

Kiyomasa exclaimed in his heart.

I have to report this to Nobunaga-kou as soon as possible!

***

The burning firewood in the warm furnace crackled in the scarlet flames. The flames swayed briefly, causing the shadow of the table on the wall in the room to sway in similar fashion. The fires of the furnace illuminated Takaya's face. Takaya was seated upright in his bed. He could now sit up thanks to the restorative powers of the luminous flame stone. But Takaya's appearance was still strange. He had the same gaze all this while, deeply pondering over something. Takaya's still hand covered his face. Only his eyes, which could be seen between his fingers, flickered.

What is this...!

His eyes widened. Breathing heavily, Takaya groaned in his heart.

What is the meaning of this uneasiness...

Takaya gnashed his teeth, struggling with his inner thoughts. There was a monster obstructing his memories. It was not that Takaya could not remember the events of Hagi, he simply could not approach that place. Takaya desperately considered his condition.
He had never noticed this. Nor did he feel abnormal. Was this something he unconsciously wanted himself to ignore? Why...

I'm scared...!

The more he wanted to remember, the more he was pressured by intense apprehension. Breathing was difficult; sweat seeped out onto his skin. Takaya's efforts to repress his fear was pushing him near breaking point. He felt like screaming madly and escaping, but strove to confront it head on.

--Naoe was shot.
--Burned down Hagi city with the power of fire dragons...

That...matter...

He held his head tightly and shut his eyes, painfully shaking his head over and over again.

I don't know...at all...!

The scar on Rairyuu's face appeared. Was it caused by his own flames? Did he destroy Hagi city? Shot? I don't know.
The more he tried to remember, the more he was suffocated by this oppressive feeling which hindered his breathing. Naoe should have been with him all this while. After that, there was Itsukushima, they had always been fighting together...

Where?

A chill ran down his spine.

Where was Naoe at that time?

The severe uneasiness closed in. What happened to him after Hagi? He endured his fear and desperately asked himself. What happened before the battle at the Suigun castle? Where did he go? How did he move?

I don't know!

Takaya bit his lip, shaking his head incessantly.

I... can't remember!

--You have the strength to see it.

Is 'this' what I have to face no matter what?

Takaya panted, removing his hand from his face.

Is this what you were referring to? Kaizaki!

He bit his lips so hard it was bleeding. The taste of blood filled his mouth, startling him. Takaya wiped away the blood but the instant he looked at his fingers, his body jolted.

"Ahh...Ahh..."

The blood he saw merged with the 'monster'. His fear increased, crushing his heart. Takaya's entire body tensed. He clutched the bed sheets, breathing heavily as though he wanted to cry out for help.

No! I have to see this...

He struggled to open his eyes.

I have to see this!

The answer he wanted should be in front of him. Even if he could not see it, he should be able to sense it by intuition. He must not divert his eyes. Takaya's eyes were full of fighting spirit, staring into empty space as he trembled.

Don't escape!

Under the agonizing stress that could drive one mad, amongst this tumult that made one suicidal, was the answer that he had to grasp at all costs. He must not retreat. He must see this. Takaya clenched his teeth, fighting by himself. This was a battle where no one could help him.

***

How many hours have passed?
It continued to snow in the forest. The sky appeared rather dark outside the window. The flames of the furnace were reflected in the glass window. The fire quivered slightly, coloring Takaya's face a tangerine red. Someone was gazing at him from the room entrance. It was Kikkawa Motoharu. He had been standing there for some time. Motoharu had been observing Takaya.

An astonishing expression...

He had been thinking too much, such that he appeared haggard. He looked like a psychasthenia patient who was taking things too hard. His pensive eyes seemed carved into his face. However there was a strange, burning radiance in the depths of his pupils. It seemed like he could kill with just his eyes alone if someone approached at random.
This expression was not human, Motoharu thought. Describing it as a reversion to primal resolve would be an understatement. It was a demonic aura that intimidated people - he still felt that this was not enough to describe the look on his face.
Takaya suddenly noticed Motoharu's presence and lifted his head.
He was filled with murderous spirit.

Truly astonishing...

He felt that he was simply demon wearing the form and structure of a human being. Motoharu took a deep breath, as though bolstering himself for what was to come. Then he walked in.

"Your school uniform has been washed." Motoharu said, placing the school uniform, which had just been sent back from the laundry, by the side. Takaya was on guard, with a kind of nervousness that was suffocating. Takaya stared intensely at Motoharu as though he would bite at any moment. He was a completely different person from the day he awoken. His eyes were far more intimidating than the time Motoharu saw him at Hagi. Even a hungry beast had a much less intense expression than his.

Even if he rips my throat out, there's nothing I can do about it.
Motoharu resigned himself to this notion and sat on the chair.

"How are you feeling? A little better?"

"..."

Takaya did not answer. But the look in his eyes said more than words from his mouth could ever express.

"Don't look at me with those kind of eyes. I am not your enemy. I only came to see how you are faring. How's your injury?"

Takaya was silent. He was like an injured tiger. His guarded appearance was proof that their conversation earlier had pushed him over his limits. He had probably been struggling with the abnormality within himself all this while. For this reason, his nerves... to say that it had been flipped inside-out would be an understatement. His uncertainty showed that he was obviously threatened by the prospect of having all of his words and deeds negated.

Motoharu was slowly beginning to understand Kagetora's personality. In the past, he would have taken Kagetora's threatening stance at face value, be overwhelmed by his compelling force and would have probably cowered in fear...
But Kagetora's true feelings were always opposite to his actions. This extreme hostility was all the more an indication of his uneasiness and unbearable fear within himself.

"..."

Motoharu felt like he could understand Naoe's feelings and sighed a little.

"I wish to speak with you again."

The tension in Takaya eyes did not let up. Motoharu endured his gaze and continued.

"During that time, we were probably not calm enough when we came face to face. Furthermore, I did not understand you completely as a person. If I had said anything superfluous, I apologize."

Motoharu said with an honest intonation, looking at Takaya.

"Can we talk about that time?"

"..."

Takaya was still extremely cautious to Motoharu's every word. His lips were pursed together firmly and his assertive eyes caused one's heart to ache. Motoharu was silent for a while. Then he said,

"I lost my younger brother, Takakage, in that battle as well as my nephew, Terumoto. My retainers have also disappeared in that Sea of Aki. Perhaps you can say that the Mouri was wiped out in that naval battle."

Those who were originally dead to begin with have returned to the place where they ought to have gone. That was all. Perhaps you would say that...

"But I still think, wouldn't it have been great if I could live together with my brother once again, however short a period of time."

"..."

"I am certain that the bonds between the Two Rivers of the Mouri have never disappeared."

Motoharu said, thinking back on his last years.

The Two Rivers of the Mouri never had a smooth relationship after the death of their father, Motonari. Takakage had always been an outstanding individual among the brothers, excelling both as a politician and a military strategist. Nearly all of the Mouri's valuable military had been established by Takakage. There was also very little to criticize when it came to his personal principles. ...Thus his father Motonari had very high expectations and deep trust in Takakage, ultimately sending their nephew, Terumoto, to be under Takakage's tutelage.
He was an exceptional person, no matter the field, and always garnered everyone's attention.
During the age of Toyotomi's regime, he had been selected to join the Council of Five Elders. Henceforth, even though they were known as the Two Rivers of the Mouri, Takakage's and Motoharu's paths had diverged. Takakage had conformed to the trend of the times by actively becoming intimate with Hideyoshi, and under Hideyoshi, succeeded in consolidating his power. But Motoharu had been dissatisfied with fighting under Hideyoshi's flag and chose to live in seclusion after letting his son take over the family's assets.

Motoharu was aware of the dark emotions in his heart. He knew very early on that his father favored Takakage much more than him and had confidence in Takakage. Whenever he was with Takakage, he would always unconsciously shrink away.
Resigning himself to his fate, Motoharu felt that he was more suited to work behind the scenes, and wanted himself to accept the reality of the situation. But the disparity between the brothers had become so great that Motoharu felt he could no longer fight alongside him.

"After Father's death, the Two Rivers of the Mouri was just an empty reputation..."

Takaya listened to Motoharu in silence. Motoharu smiled.

"I know it. Takakage had not committed any wrong. It was I who felt inferior, awkward, and distanced myself from him. Takakage was only expressing his own strength and lived. Takakage was not wrong."

"..."

"He wasn't in the wrong, ...that's why it's unbearable for me."

Motoharu said, closing his eyes.
Takaya was silent.

But Motoharu certainly did not hate Takakage. The fact that he had loathed Kagetora from the very bottom of his heart when he lost Takakage at the Suigun castle after their resurrection in the Yami Sengoku was proof of this. Although it only lasted for a short period of time, they could finally accomplish a mission together as the Two Rivers of the Mouri, something which once ceased to exist in the past. The link in their hearts had never been completely severed. They could be sure of this. Motoharu now felt that resurrection was not a completely meaningless affair.

"Therefore," Motoharu continued. "I feel that I can understand Naoe's feelings for you."

That threatening glare in Takaya's eyes weakened a little. Apart from Naoe, Tomo-hime had also shared the same feelings. Their sense of inferiority was not born out of hatred for the other party. No... it was because the other party was an important attachment hence that intolerable feeling.

"The feelings that Tomo-hime had, simply broke the limits of her tolerance by chance. As for Naoe, it was a dispute between two types of feelings that by the end, it had become too pure."

Then tragedy struck, forcing both of them to an impasse that could not be overcome.
And what about himself...?

"..."

Takaya kept glancing at Motoharu, who was now silent. Takaya had not said anything. It suddenly occurred to Motoharu that perhaps Takaya could not understand the sort of intolerable feeling that he had just described. Once he thought about it, his younger brother Takakage's face appeared on Takaya's, bringing about this inconceivable feeling of affection for him.

"I... Kagetora-dono." Motoharu looked at Takaya directly. "Perhaps I'm being a little arrogant by saying this, but I have unknowingly put myself in Naoe's shoes. I think his attitude is a result of a distention of those feelings, I sensed this whenever I looked at him. I also wanted to see how far both of you could go."

No, not wanted to see...
Rather, he felt that even if their end was an unsightly one, he could not divert his attention. In fact, Motoharu believed that Kagetora's actions at Hagi city were more than just repulsive. It was simply something very extraordinary.
He had said that Naoe's everything belonged to him.
Motoharu remembered that very clearly. He had said that everything of that man was his. Only he had the right to determine his life and death. Naoe's memories... and his history. No one apart from him was allowed to touch Naoe. He only wanted what was true of that man. Kagetora had shouted with the eyes of a madman.
And Motoharu had felt that he was really mad. It was not something as simple as a wish to dominate him. It was a monster of a desire to dominate. It was unbearable to have personally witnessed that scene. What had frightened Motoharu was the way they were so explicit in their attachment to each other, with no effort made to hide it.

One should not pursue another to this extent. One should not seek such things from another so fiercely, endlessly, wanting others to pursue him alone...
Most people had similar desires, big or small, but they would never actually seek for it. Because they knew that it was dangerous. To begin with, it was ultimately a desire that could never be fulfilled. Not only would it destroy oneself, it would also reduce one's relationships with other people to nothing. They would use their rationale to regulate this desire, skilfully prevent it from intensifying, constantly deceiving themselves and others in order to live on. Only mature adults could proficiently accomplish this.

"But please do not misunderstand me. I am not trying to blame you."

Motoharu calmly assured Takaya, who was still quiet.

"I was intimidated by you. After that, I remembered what Naoe said, and I admit that I had made a mistake. There's nothing unusual about you, just that you are too sincere. You treat yourself and others too earnestly, that's why you cannot easily become close with another or allow compromise. I believe this is a very strong quality. It would be easy to put the blame on you but looking at the clarity in which you dealt with such feelings, without a tinge of fear, I was intimidated by your staunchness."

"..."

"Or perhaps the exceptional timespan of 400 years has made you like this. But Kagetora-dono..."

Motoharu said, gazing directly into Takaya's eyes.

"Within the colossal fires you brought forth that destroyed Hagi city, I saw the kind of hell that can plague a person's heart."

Takaya had a pained expression. Motoharu looked straight at him. That anxiety appeared on Takaya's face again. Motoharu watched over him quietly.
Takaya lowered his eyes a little, then...

"Do you think... I'm trying to break away?"

He finally spoke.
Motoharu stared at him.

"If what you say is true, then am I running away from reality?"

"Kagetora-dono."

"Is that it? Kikkawa Motoharu."

Motoharu seemed trapped in a dilemma and could not say anything. Takaya stared at Motoharu sharply. In response to that overly serious look, Motoharu had to brace himself again. He did not avoid his eyes and calmly nodded. Takaya frowned.

"... Then, what about Naoe?"

"..."

"What happened to Naoe?"

Motoharu's expression was extremely solemn. Takaya painfully waited for an answer. Motoharu said strictly,

"Isn't that something you should remember? Kagetora-dono."

"!"

Takaya lifted his head as though he had been hit. Motoharu relaxed his tense lips as he looked at Takaya. Then he slowly extended his hands. His thick, honest hands cupped Takaya's cheeks in a fatherly manner. Takaya stared at him.

"Listen carefully. Kagetora-dono." Motoharu looked into Takaya's eyes and said. "Naoe died. On that night."

"..."

Takaya did not blink. He stared at Motoharu without moving. Motoharu was not blaming him, he was merely telling him.

"You should be vaguely aware of it. The reason why you can't remember what happened at Hagi. The reason why your heart feels so uneasy."

Had he hit it on the mark? Takaya's face stiffened.

"You have been thinking all this while, haven't you? That's why you appear so haggard."

Motoharu had seen through it.
Seen through the fact that Takaya had started to doubt himself.
Right now, Takaya was having suspicions about himself. Could he really trust this normal self? Or was he lying to himself on some fundamental level?
Why did he feel uneasy?
After coming to this place, Takaya had begun to ponder. After meeting with Motoharu again, a strange feeling had caused him nervousness. Takaya wanted to know the cause and had been pondering over it. His thoughts had went round in circles when he met Kaizaki, and now he was experiencing something similar, so much that he was now utterly fatigued from his contemplation. Motoharu noticed Takaya's predicament.

"You feel very unhappy stuck in the maze right?" Motoharu said softly. "The answer has always been in front of you, but you've been rejecting it, isn't that the reason why you can't leave the maze?"

Takaya slowly shook his head. "Naoe... has been with me."

"That is because you have regarded a completely different person as Naoe. ...Due to the impact of losing Naoe."

Takaya still shook his head.

"...Kagetora-dono."

"No... Naoe has always been with me. Always been with me for the past two years."

"And because of this," Motoharu drew nearer to Takaya's face, "you've suffered hurt when you shouldn't have."

A single teardrop slid out of Takaya's widened eyes.

"N...No..."

"Didn't you want to know the truth? Don't you wish to escape from the maze? Kagetora-dono."

"No...!" Takaya could not bear it and shouted. "This sort of answer is not the way out. I didn't run away from reality! Even if he has lost interest in me, he still accepts me as I am...! I won't listen to you!"

"I know you don't wish to acknowledge this, but if so your nightmare will never end! Do you still not understand your sin! If you will never show your injury or pain because of the real Naoe, wouldn't Naoe be the one most saddened by this matter! The actions of the fake would be considered as the truth by you, can you imagine how Naoe would feel about this? There's no situation more frustrating than what you have subjected yourself to. If I were Naoe, I would've died with my eyes open! I don't believe you have allowed yourself to go mad because of some calculated action, but as long as you continue to do this you will be betraying Naoe!"

"Shut up!"

"Listen carefully, Kagetora-dono! All of this was brought about by your dependent heart. Your loneliness is something that you have to bear as a living being. It's a fundamental aspect of all living beings. You cannot run from it. Trying all sorts of methods to avoid it is childish!"

"Don't say anymore!"

"Kagetora-dono!"

"You always say things with no backing to confuse me! It was the same during that time! Naoe never wanted to join your side! Not only that, he died..."

Motoharu gasped in shock. Takaya abruptly stiffened; his fingers slowly pressed against his lips.

"D-Died in... my... arms--..."

"Kagetora-dono...!"

Takaya whispered the words in a hoarse voice, his eyes had widened so much that his eyelids were about to tear open. The image of that sea of flames grew clearer. Slowly, he remembered that scene. It was indeed this particular memory. Takaya remembered. It was a memory of "that time".

"Ahhhhhhh... Ahhhhhhhhhhh!"

"Kagetora-dono!"

"Ahhhhhh!"

"Don't fool yourself anymore! Kagetora-dono!"

"!"

Hearing a sharp voice from behind, Motoharu turned back reflexively. A man had entered at an unknown point of time and was leaning against the wall, looking at them. Motoharu called out his name.

"Kousaka-dono!"

"Kousaka...!" Once he mentioned the name, Takaya's face stiffened. "You..."

"Long time no see, Kagetora-dono."

Kousaka Danjou said in a low voice, his red lips curling a little. Takaya came back to his senses, once again taking on a guarded appearance.

"You're still alive...!"

"Sorry for not living up to your expectations. In order to see Kagetora-dono's beautiful countenance, I've returned from the realm of the dead. Can't you at least show a little appreciation for my efforts?"

Takaya stared at him fiercely. Kousaka returned his glare with a sweet-tempered expression, and said.

"..Hmph. Still a timid little tiger I see. But that was very naughty of you, Motoharu-dono. You shouldn't tell lies to Kagetora-dono."

"Tell lies?" Motoharu asked in surprise. Kousaka smiled slightly and nodded.

"Yes. Motoharu-dono should really be more considerate of others, telling lies is never a good thing. I never expected you to lie about Naoe dying and such."

"Wh...!" Takaya was startled and looked at Kousaka. "What did you..."

"Everything that Motoharu-dono has said is false, Kagetora-dono. Don't be taken in."

Motoharu did not understand the real intention behind Kousaka's words. He wanted to refute but was stopped by the sharp look in Kousaka's eyes.

"Motoharu-dono. A clumsy white lie cannot be used to comfort someone. You've taken Kagetora-dono's feelings into account, so I guess it's to be expected that you would want to tell him that Naoe is dead. But at this point in time, it would be unfortunate if we don't tell him the truth. We should be frank and tell him the facts of the situation. Motoharu-dono."

"K..ousaka-dono...?"

Kousaka ignored Motoharu, who was in a state of confusion, and gazed back at an uncertain Takaya. Kousaka walked towards him slowly, then he said in a pitying manner,

"You... have been betrayed by Naoe, Kagetora-dono."
 
( Read comments )
Post a comment in response:
From:
Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
User
Account name:
Password:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
Subject:
HTML doesn't work in the subject.

Message:

 
Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.