quaint_twilight: (kagetora)
quaint_twilight ([personal profile] quaint_twilight) wrote on December 25th, 2010 at 11:48 pm
Book 17 Chapter 21 血に生きる怨み
Japanese to Chinese translation by Hinako. Chinese to English translation by me.

Basics of this chapter: More on the Miike, Kihachi and Asara; background information on Ikeda Katsuya and the Fire sect; Takaya learns a little more of Kenshin's dastardly plans

T/N: I have decided after much deliberation to replace the term 'bird people' (you know, the flying warriors of the Fire sect...) with 'Birds' which I think is a more accurate translation of the text. Previous chapters have also been updated.

Edit #2: Apparently it's Himura not Himukai...


Hokage explained her inner fears like a young child.
Without paying heed to the tears tumbling out of her large, black eyes like pearls, she told Haruya everything.

"Lately, I can even hear Kihachi-sama's voice when I am asleep. When I'm conscious, I find myself unexpectedly speaking with him, no, I don't know if that's really me. In fact, just a moment ago, I was Asara and conversing with Kihachi-sama."

Tetsuya felt absolutely horrified. Hokage had been interacting with Kihachi all this time. Tetsuya could not imagine what it was like to be communicating with the dead.

"Whenever I speak with Kihachi-sama, the memories of Asara stored in my blood will reveal itself. Just now, I was talking about some past events with Kihachi-sama. The festival, what happened in this cave, the incident at Takachiho, the war. Ahh, I don't now what these memories are. This is not me!"

"So you have even recovered Asara's memories? Hokage."

Haruya asked her with a serious expression.

"Have you recovered all her memories of the past...!"

Hokage nodded strenuously. Chiaki was startled by this.

Memories of her ancestor recovered via the blood...

However, this was not completely unheard-of. Occasionally, there were cases of people remembering their previous lives, many of which were due to their ancestor's memories in their blood. The recovery of memories due to a certain moment was uncommon. In this sort of cases, the more closely related one was to one's ancestors, the clearer the memories.

Hokage's connection to Kihachi's soul probably explained how she could retrieve the memories in her blood. But the ancestral blood in her veins should be very diluted by now as Asara lived thousands of years ago. It should actually be extremely difficult to recover her memories.

Is this because of Kihachi's power?

"Asara's blood is becoming more berserk inside me."

Hokage was greatly shaken.

"Kihachi-sama told me to immediately extinguish Takeiwatatsu-no-Mikoto's bloodline, to crush the disgusting bloodline of Mikenu-no-Mikoto. Take revenge, retaliate against the Yamato people who invaded us!"

"!"

Chiaki and Tetsuya gulped. Hokage covered her face with her hands, rattled by the fierce emotions that kept surging up within her.

"Please help me, reikami! If this goes on, I will be engulfed by Asara's thoughts! I will become Asara and release Kihachi-sama from the seal! Please stop me! Otherwise, I might do something terrible!"

Hokage cried, grabbing onto Haruya tightly. Chiaki looked at Hokage's tiny shoulders trembling beneath Haruya's large hand. He asked Haruya,

"Asara's so-called wish...Miike-san..."

"..."

"Is it to take revenge against Mikenu-no-Mikoto?"

"..."

"The Miike clan's true goal is to exact revenge against Mikenu-no-Mikoto, isn't it?"

"The legendary Kihachi...," Haruya said slowly and solemnly. "Is refering to the indigenous people who lived in this Himura region."

Chiaki's eyes narrowed.
The ancient Himura - the Fire clan - was the tribe that came under the Yamato imperial rule after it was invaded and conquered. The so-called Kihachi legend was about the rebellion of this clan after being forced to submit to the Yamato people, who conquered them, and their subsequent defeat.

Mikeno-no-Mikoto and Takeiwatatsu-no-Mikoto were the Yamato invaders. The story about the descent of the grandson of the sun goddess was, in essence, a legend describing the move to dominate the various nations of Kyushu island undertaken by the Yamato royalty. The Yamato people had set out from Seto Nakai by ship, reached Himura and there began their invasion. Emperor Jinmu, said to be the grandson of Amaterasu who descended upon Takachiho in mythology, had attacked the North and established the capital state of Yamato there. However, he had also instructed Mikeno-no-Mikoto and Takeiwatatsu-no-Mikoto to invade Kyushu island, according to Haruya's explanation. In reality, a large part of the Japanese legends found the 'Kojiki' and 'Nihon-shoki' were stories fabricated to make the victor, the Yamato royalty, appear righteous and supreme. The legends of Takachiho and Aso were among those stories.

"In the legend, Mikenu-no-Mikoto rescued Asara from the evil Kihachi. But the truth was different. Kihachi was the real victim."

Haruya's tone was somber.

"Asara was a lady from the Fire clan who was forcefully taken away by the Yamato invader, Mikenu-no-Mikoto. The current story or legend is mostly a modified version to make this seem like a virtuous act. Details of the invasion in the Kihachi legend were in fact created by the Yamato's central regime to be passed down through the generations of their own people. A legend which vilified the indigenous people thereby making the invasion justified."

"Invaders..."

Chiaki finally understood. Mikeno-no-Mikoto and Takeiwatatsu-no-Mikoto were both relatives of Emperor Jinmu. They were symbolic figures of the Yamato royalty who had unified and stabilized Japan.

"Asara really did exist. She was a shrine maiden of Himura. The Fire clan worshipped the sun and considered fire as a form of power granted by the sun thus held it in extremely high regard. Asara was the shrine maiden who carried out the Fire spells. It was said that Fire shrine maiden who held the highest position was also the monarch who governed the Fire nation. Asara was the one who waited on the queen. She and Kihachi loved each other but the invader snatched her away by brute force and forced her to become his wife."

Or maybe Asara was offered to the enemy as sign of surrender in the war.

"Although Kihachi was sorrowful, he stubbornly persisted in his rebellion. It was said that he was a brave, young man of the Fire clan. But in the face of the overwhelming military strength of the invaders, Kihachi was killed. We, the Miike, are the descendants of the child born of a grieving Asara and the invader."

The child's name was Himura Tsuyoshi.

By then, Kihachi had become an onryou, roaming around Himura for a period of time before wrecking havoc in the Aso region by damaging the crops with frost and so forth, causing many difficulties for the residents. Takeiwatatsu-no-Mikoto had volunteered to expel the onryou. He excavated Kihachi's head from his old resting place and sealed the onryou inside it. Then he built the Shimomiya where offerings could be made to Kihachi.

At this point, the one who had requested to be granted the position of being the first chief priest of the shrine was the child of Asara and Mikenu-no-Mikoto - Himura Tsuyoshi. His mother had entrusted a mission to him. Asara had endured humiliation for a long time. Although she appeared to be obedient to Mikenu-no-Mikoto, in her heart she harbored a deep hatred. She died after giving birth to Himura Tsuyoshi. However, just a step away from death's door, she had concentrated her entire will on the child in her womb and continuously repeated a 'certain wish.' And that was,

    "One day, I shall be reincarnated, resurrect Kihachi-sama, and take back this land from the hands of the Yamato people. Until that time, you are to protect Asara's bloodline and guard Kihachi-sama's revered head. I will definitely be reincarnated as one of your descendants."


"This is... Asara's wish?"

"Yes. Himura Tsuyoshi heard his mother's wish, broke through his dead mother's stomach and was born. Himura Tsuyoshi became the guardian of Takachiho's Shimomiya with this enmity against his father in his heart."

This was the origin of the Miike family.
The Miike family hid the fact that they carried the dying wish of the invaded clan and served the needs of the Aso family, who regarded Takeiwatatsu-no-Mikoto as one of their ancestors, and had continued to do so for close to 1600 years.

"So everything done so far has been for the sake of resurrecting Kihachi's soul?" Tetsuya muttered in disbelief. "In order to take back the lost land from the hands of the Yamato people?"

"..."

As a member of the Miike family, Tetsuya had only heard that Kihachi was the head of the Fire clan. Nobody knew that the Miike family's mission was to resurrect Kihachi's onryou. Had Hokage realized this from the memories in Asara's blood? She held Haruya tightly without moving.

"That, that sort of nonsense... Who would believe that! Have we been doing those stupid things all along just because of some cryptic legend! Did Father die because of this!"

"Tetsuya."

"Nobody wants to listen to this crap! Hokage, let's go back! Come, we're going back!"

Tetsuya bellowed, ferociously pulling Hokage's hand.

"Tetsu...!"

"We're going back! Going back to your home. From tomorrow onwards, you can return to a normal life! Let's go home!"

"If you want to return, you can, but what of Inaba Akemi?"

Chiaki's one sentence stopped Tetsuya in his tracks, quashing his resolve. Hokage was greatly surprised.

"Inaba Akemi? What happened to Akemi? Don't tell me something happened to Akemi...!"

"She was kidnapped and is now being held hostage by a group of bad eggs who want Kihachi's power. They're demanding you as a ransom for her release."

"...!"

Haruya called out to Chiaki as if to stop him from saying more. Chiaki ignored him and grabbed Hokage's hand from Tetsuya's grasp.

"If you don't go, Inaba will be killed. This is why we've come to get you."

"No, sensei! You can't let Hokage go!"

"This is to save your friend's life."

Chiaki lowered his tone and drew close to Hokage's face.

"Be brave and go."

Hokage's face was extremely grim but she nodded carefully as she was intimidated by Chiaki's forcefulness. Tetsuya wanted to complain but Chiaki stopped him with a sharp glance.

"You want to save Inaba, don't you?"

Tetsuya was disgruntled, fuming behind gritted teeth. Then he flung his head back, pulled Hokage's hand and marched out of the cave.

"Tetsu...!"

After the two were gone, Chiaki turned back to Haruya.

"Are you still going to say everything will be fine despite how serious this matter is?"

Haruya lowered his eyes, shaking his head a little.

"Initially, I had no intention of telling you about it. Not to that child, nor to you."

"Then why..."

"I felt that, one day, I will have to tell Tetsuya as he is the son of my dead younger brother."

The candle flames reflected in the mirror hung above the altar quivered from the wind. Haruya gazed at the swaying light and said.

"According to the legend, the robber Kihachi and Asara used to live in this cavern. There are several places in Takachiho that are mentioned in the stories about Kihachi but a good portion of them are fabrications. This place is no different. It was, in fact, not the home of a robber but rather the hideout of Kihachi, who was the chief of the anti-government guerrilla band, and his comrades. It was their secret hideaway when they were fighting against Mikenu-no-Mikoto. This is what is told in the Miike family. Perhaps it is difficult for the people of today to imagine that there was once an ethnic struggle in Japan."

"..."

"But such a battle existed, this bloody past is a fact. The people of Japan have almost completely forgotten about their ethnicity. And in turn, they also forget the way for different ethnic groups to coexist. Ignorance and thoughtlessness will lead to unnecessary inequality on this land. I believe Japan is still immature as a nation."

"Miike-san... you..."

"The key to understanding the pain of a different populace is right here. It must be because everyone has forgotten the past hence that invasion half a century ago."

Haruya asserted. He closed his eyes, as though he wanted to sense the pain of his forbears saturated in the cave.

"What are you going to do?"

Chiaki asked gravely after a long silence, looking at Haruya's face, illuminated by the flames.

"The Miike family's mission to resurrect Kihachi has gone on for 1600 years. Now that Asara has appeared, don't you guys have to immediately carry out that task?"

"..."

"I won't be surprised if you have taken measures considering that the Miike family exists in order to honor Asara's dying wish. Don't you guys want to liberate Kihachi's spirit and cleanse the people of the Fire clan of their grudge? Aren't you going to take revenge against the Yamato people?"

Inheriting the position of reikami meant bearing the burden of honoring the behest of Fire clan and completing the mission appointed 1600 years ago.
Asara had appeared. Now was the time to complete their task, wasn't it?
Haruya listened to Chiaki's questions and calmly looked up.

"That is true. This is the mission of the Miike reikami. One that he must carry out but..."

"..."

"Asara has appeared before, a few times in the past."

"What?"

This was true. Asara was supposed to be reincarnated through the generations. But it was not really the reincarnation of Asara herself. It was more appropriately described as the female born with the 'blood most responsive to Kihachi.' The so-called Hitaki Shinji was a ceremony to determine if any of the girls born into the Miike family had this ability to be Asara. Such girls have emerged several times in the past.

"The girls were like Hokage, able to communicate with Kihachi and retrieve memories from their blood. But not one of their respective reikamis used them to liberate Kihachi."

"Why?"

"...The reason will be clear when I become involved."

Haruya, who was gazing at the cave wall, slowly turned towards Chiaki.

"Do you think that I, as one person, have enough reason to carry out this task?"

"Miike-san..."

Haruya lowered his eyes painfully and walked past Chiaki towards the exit. His expression was of one who had been forced to make a choice.
Chiaki's face was solemn as he watched Haruya leave.


Once they left the cavern, the four of them returned to the place where they had parked the car. It was already daylight. Then Chiaki saw someone standing beside the car.

"Reikami,"

The person addressed him in this way. Haruya knew this youth; it seemed like she was the lady they had met earlier at the house. In her hands was a huge, slender Kiri box.

"What you requested for is inside."

"Thank you, good work."

Haruya accepted the box.
Takachiho had grave mounds in which Kihachi's hands and feet were buried. The people assigned with the task of protecting these 'mounds' were known as 'mound guardians.' These guardians were the Miike descendants who lived in Takachiho.
Haruya placed the large Kiri box into the trunk of the car.

What is that?

Judging from its shape, it probably contained something blade-like. The youth gave a specially prepared kagura bell to Hokage.

"Miss Hokage. Please take care of yourself."

It was a night kagura bell often used in Takachiho to summon spirits. Hokage delicately accepted it, then held it close to her chest and nodded.

The four of them got into the car and left Takachiho bathed in the morning sun.

***

It was now midday.
Aso had been rather cold in the morning but now there was sunlight shining through the breaks in the clouds. Perhaps that reduced the cold a little though one still needed an overcoat to stay outdoors. There were still ice needles in the sections of the village streets hidden from the sun.
Although the foothills had not reached the extent of seeing snow accumulation, the hilly area was still covered in a near complete patch of white.
The mountain region of the Aso-gogaku said to resemble the Buddha's plate was also beautifully adorned with snow. The west sky was still mostly blotted with black clouds but the outline of the Aso-gogaku could be distinctly seen. The spiral of smoke from Nakadake was visible from this place at the foothills of the north outer mountains. The tower of smoke was much taller than the last two days.

"The mountains are echoing..."

Sensing that someone had entered, the man spoke.

"They recognize us perhaps. The people of the Fire clan are crying out. Their cries are the reason for Aso's eruptions. Standing here, I can feel the reality of these words."

The one who entered, Saeki Ryouko, looked at the mountain range as well. Enoki Masamichi gazed into the air.

"Speaking of which, Sect Guardian used to mention this more often the older he got. This Aso situation. Yakeyama in spring, the removal of the kagami at the Aso shrine, the Oden festival... Also, the flow of volcanic ash from Nakadake's eruption. I was told that in spring, the paddy fields will transform into a stretch of golden yellow, undulating like a wave whenever the wind blows, just like the sea."

Enoki said, closing his eyes. Ikeda Katsuya used to tell him everyday about the land in which he grew up, especially his memories of his childhood. Enoki had only seen such things in photographs or on film. The aged Katsuya always had eyes like that of a youngster whenever he talked about these things.

"It's unbelievable. I now have a certain fondness for Aso because of these old memories that Sect Guardian used to tell me. For someone like me who only knows of the roof of a factory and its foul atmosphere, the land of Aso which sect guardian used to speak of sounds like a distant paradise."

Enoki remarked, "Strange, isn't it?" He laughed at himself.

"My impression of the Fire clan is that they used to lead similar lives as the people of Aso that Sect Guardian used to describe."

Ryouko thought about what Enoki must be feeling and felt a tinge of sorrow.
Enoki was born in Kitakyushu. It was one of the few iron-manufacturing towns in northern Kyushu but after a rapid growth period, the amount of steel manufactured decreased slowly and it eventually lost its former bustling atmosphere.

Although Enoki was young, he had experienced hardship. His parents had a small-scale factory but due to poor management, they had incurred a large amount of debt and covertly abandoned their factory like how one would slip away under the cover of night. After that, it seemed like his parents had died in an accident but the truth was that one had forced the other to commit suicide. Painfully alone and helpless, Enoki had to quit his high school studies and began work in a factory in order to survive and to settle the debts. Knowing what he had to go through, Ryouko could understand his yearning for the Aso described by Ikeda.

Suddenly, Enoki smiled.
Ryouko looked at him, asking, "What is it?"

Enoki pointed to a strange building on the other side of the rural district. The structure was made of red brick and looked like a golden pagoda.

"That's Aso's wonderful golden pagoda, I heard it was built by someone who struck a fortune because of a rat. That's a torii beside it, right? Looks like it belonged to a religious group which was formed to evade taxes. I wonder which deity it honors?"

It was now no longer in use, left deserted like ruins.

"Is that a remnant of the war in Japan?"

Enoki mocked. Then he looked at Ryouko, drawing his mind back to the situation at hand.

"How are the casualties?"

"My deepest apologies for our lack of strength."

Half of the Birds were seriously wounded from the battle against Katou Kiyomasa.
At the end of the fierce battle, Kiyomasa had escaped again and his whereabouts were still unknown. Then they had met up with Motoharu and were now gathered together in the Kokuzo shrine.

"The luminous flame stone is being used to treat the injured. However their mental spirits have suffered a more severe blow..."

This was the first time they had participated in such an intense battle. Three members of the Birds had requested to withdraw due to fright. Seeing that Ryouko's expression had grown gloomy, Enoki nodded for lack of a better option. In order to accomplish Ikeda Katsuya's will, that was to resurrect the Fire Kingdom, the Birds had sworn their lives to the task.

The Birds had started as young members of the study group opened by Enoki.
Enoki joined the sect when he met Ikeda Katsuya after his parents passed away and naturally he became the leader of the group of young people because of his passion.
Katsuya considered him to be the one to succeed his position of sect guardian and had given him special teachings.
Katsuya had enthusiastically narrated to Enoki the history of Kihachi and the Fire clan in the same way it was passed down from generation to generation in the Miike family.
Enoki had accepted Katsuya's teachings. Apart from his solo task of carrying out external missionary work, he had also conducted a research into the Fire clan under the name of the study group of young followers that he had. These youths under his leadership were slowly trained into a group of people who fervently worshipped the the Fire clan. The Birds were members of this group, the warriors of the organization.
Ryouko was one of them.

"How should they be punished? They cannot be allowed to just withdraw..."

"I guess not."

"Especially after all the trouble taken to awaken their flying abilities with the bird technique. The blood of the Fire clan runs deep in their veins, they are high grade warriors."

Truly unacceptable. Ryouko remarked. The Birds were the youngest descendants of Aso's Miike clan gathered by Ikeda Katsuya when he established the Fire sect. It was said that the Miike have always encouraged marriages between close relatives in order to preserve the purity of their blood, making it understandable as to how this flying ability was so easily awakened.

"Pity... that they have such purity in their blood."

Enoki himself only had a weak flying ability. He required the assistance of Ryouko just to barely fly.

"We have a limited number of warriors. They are not allowed to withdraw."

"Do you want me to persuade them?"

"I'll go. They're probably frightened because it was their first time in battle. We are the only ones who can achieve Sect Guardian Ikeda's will."

"Sect Guardian Ikeda's will..."

Ryouko recalled Ikeda's gentle appearance and felt a momentary anguish in her chest.

Although the young people of the Birds had a strong connection with Enoki, they only had nothing more than a few words of conversation with the sect guardian Ikeda. Only Ryouko had grown up admiring Ikeda like a grandfather.

Ikeda used to smile whenever he saw the enthusiasm of the young people of the Fire sect:

--I once had the feelings of those youngsters too.

Ikeda once had the same experience of joining a sect when he was young as these youths did in joining the Fire sect. They said that Ikeda Katsuya was only 14 or 15 years old when he rebelled against the Miike family and left home. In Tokyo, Katsuya was influenced by a friend and began to participate in a socialist movement, during which he went through a brief period of being overzealous in his activities. But when the Manchurian incident occurred, nationalism came to the forefront in Japan, and extreme ideologies were suppressed. Beliefs and believers would become more fierce when subjected to suppression and for a time, Katsuya was trapped in this chaos. However, after the leaders of the Communist party began to release statements with varying ideas while in prison, the young Katsuya began to lose confidence in his own actions. Finally, when he was reported to the political police, he declared that his previous ideologies were wrong and devoted himself to something completely different from his previous belief.

--That was a big decision.

Ikeda had said so when he reflected on his past.

--I was too young, I wanted one 'absolute truth' to guide me.

Then the war began.
When Japan became a nation at war, Katsuya volunteered to be a navy soldier for his country.
The invasion. The fierce battles. The news of surrender that came one after another. The signs of defeat for Japan. The air raids on the country.
Katsuya had to endure all of that as one of the soldiers fighting for his country.

--At the naval battle at Kagoshima, I personally saw the sinking of the battleship 'Yamato.'

Katsuya often mentioned the events of that time. Katsuya had seen the end of that monumental, unsinkable battleship. He had seen its descent into the grease-covered sea. He used to say that he could still see the shape of the 'Yamato' as though that scene had been branded into his eyes.
Then the war ended.
Katsuya returned to Tokyo as a survivor to find the land barren as if it had been devastated by a wildfire.
That in which he once believed in, was lost.

What do I put my faith in now?

In order to find a base to stand on, the young man wandered. What he ultimately found was his own ancestors, the people of the Fire clan.

"Sect Guardian has returned to his blood roots," said Enoki. "He must have seen the descent of the Yamato people during the sinking of the 'Yamato.' Sect Guardian probably saw a vision of the defeat of the Yamato people who suppressed the Fire clan."

"..."

"When everything in Japan fell into ruin, Sect Guardian dreamt of establishing a nation to revive the Fire clan."

Ikeda Katsuya had once returned to the Miike to share his ideas with his father, who was the reikami at that time, wanting to persuade him to let the Miike family be the flag carrier of the Fire clan. But Katsuya did not fully understand the enormity of what he was suggesting.

--Immediately abandon that sort of foolish idea.

Disappointed, Katsuya then decided to establish his own 'Miike.'
With the youngest descendants of the family as his comrades, Katsuya set up the Fire sect.

But the truth was not as simple as that. At that time, finding food to eat was difficult enough let alone maintaining a sect. The pace of Japan was gradually changing. With new a democratic government, social organizations were also transforming at a rapid rate. His comrades took advantage of the flexibility that came with the changes in society. The Japan-US safety treaty matured quickly. As the Showa era underwent intense changes, Katsuya led the Fire sect while keeping most of his thoughts to himself. He had not told his followers about the ethnic group related to the Fire sect neither had he proactively carry out any missionary activities. Thus the Fire sect became a harmless household religion and Katsuya was known as an honorable religious sect founder in the cities and towns. Over time, he lost sight of the original reason for establishing the sect, which was to do battle.

Until ten years ago when Sect Guardian met Miike Hideya.

Enoki had heard that Katsuya became acquainted with Hideya, who had then just assumed his post as reikami, when he attended the funeral of his eldest brother. It seemed the two of them were fated to meet and thereafter continued to be in close contact with each other.

Then a year passed. Hideya died a premature death.
In that same year, Ikeda Katsuya decided to let Enoki succeed him. The lighting of an 'inextinguishable goshinka' inside the holy shrine also began nine years ago. That was also the time when he acquired the contents of the Miike documents. That was also the moment Enoki rallied his young followers and began to advocate the 'resurrection of Kihachi-sama.'

The young followers did not really understand their own crazed interest in the 'Worship the Fire clan' campaign led by Enoki. Their study group was responsible for decoding the Miike documents, which were made into negatives, the type that was used in cameras for photos. This secret assembly became the centripetal force that drew Enoki and the others closer to each other. From their decodings, they found the incantations for the bird technique and the crystallization method to create luminous flame stones. They went through training and practice in order to perfect these techniques. Then they also realized that Asara was needed for the resurrection of Kihachi. This was discovered barely a year ago. Surprisingly, Asara had already emerged five years ago.

In order to acquire Asara - Miike Hokage, Enoki and the others had attempted a kidnapping but was not successful. This was because Miike Haruya, Hideya's successor, had found out about their plot. Since then, Hokage's whereabouts were concealed and they could not find her no matter where they looked.

Not long after, Ikeda Katsuya's illness grew worse, the young followers felt the difficulty of resurrecting Kihachi and were close to giving up. But in an almost dramatic turn of events, they encountered a certain individual.

They met Kikkawa Motoharu.
It was at Moji. As the Shimazu's guest general, Motoharu was responsible for leading the Mouri army in northern Kyushu island into battle against the Ootomo. The followers who were drawn into the crossfire managed to save the Mouri commander with their power. Thus they became acquainted with Motoharu. Although they were absolutely amazed by the environment of the Yami Sengoku, they were probably aware of the potential power they could acquire to resurrect Kihachi.
A month later,
Sect Guardian Ikeda died.
Enoki had accompanied Ikeda by his sick bed until his death. Ikeda had no last words.
He had only said to Enoki, "I leave everything to you."
The Birds decided to act.


"They want something that can guide their way of existence."

Enoki had the young people of the Birds in mind as he said this to Ryouko.

"They are still too young."

"Young..."

"Too young. If they did not have a 'special something,' they would feel uneasy. In order for them to feel content, they have probably come to depend on the superior quality found in their blood. This might explain why they have such a deep commitment to the Kihachi campaign. They hope that someone can tell them who they really are."

"..."

"After the war, the Japanese people acquired much freedom. Such that they can freely choose whatever they think is the correct truth. But maybe that sort of freedom merely allows one to choose whatever they want to believe in."

"Sect Guardian, what are you talking about?"

"I believe if man has too much freedom, he will die. The more freedom he has, the more he will crave for principles and religion due to unease, and the more he will worship someone who can grant him these things. In order to survive in the wilderness of true liberty, people have to learn to be independent in their choices. This is quite a difficult ability to learn. It's very painful. On the other hand, it's very easy and less stressful to simply be guided by a 'proper existence.' We are all like that, if you notice, you will find that we are all looking for a mother who suits us. Perhaps we are so desperately looking for that mother that we become overly neglectful in fostering our own efforts."

"Are you talking about me?"

Ryouko felt like he was criticizing her higher education record.

"Are you criticizing me?"

"Does it sound like you're being criticized?"

Ryouko was silent. People who have passed higher education would sometimes have an ambivalence about their academic qualifications. Perhaps this was a strange mentality to have but she felt herself lacking in tenacity and survival strength in the presence of individuals who were less highly educated. Ryouko felt inferior, thinking that she was lacking in everything save for her academic background.

"I was not trying to criticize you or anyone," Enoki stated. Then he asked in a business-like manner,

"How is the situation with the Miike family? Has Miike Haruya promised to hand over Asara?"

"Yes. He must be greatly shaken."

Miike Haruya...

Despite Asara's emergence, he had not carried out his mission. That was proof that the resolve of the Miike family was dead. But the followers of the Fire sect were still here. They were here for Asara and would carry out the mission in Haruya's stead. Haruya should gratefully hand over Asara to the Fire sect.

"This is grandfather's dying wish. I will see this fulfilled at all costs."

Enoki thought of Katsuya.
He will let the elders of this Showa era--
Who are still searching for a place of true liberty despite repeated setbacks,
Listen to Kihachi's voice.

***

Uesugi Kenshin has joined the battle of the Yami Sengoku...!
This shocking information reached the Ikkoushuu this early morning. In Aso, the first person to receive this news was Rairen, who was now in the Kokuzo shrine. By the time Akechi Mitsuhide returned, there was chaos in the shrine.

"I heard the new Uesugi and Ootomo Sourin have just officially concluded their alliance. But the shocking revelation is the new Uesugi general, they say it is the dead Naoe Nobutsuna."

"Naoe Nobutsuna..!" Mitsuhide's eyes widened in shock. "But wasn't he purified at Hagi..."

"He wasn't purified, Mitsuhide-dono."

Someone from behind spoke, interrupting the conversation between the two people in the worship hall. Turning around, they saw Kikkawa Motoharu standing there. After gunning down Kotarou at Eboushidake, he had met with Enoki and his company, then hurried to this place. Besides Mitsuhide, Rairen was startled by Motoharu's words as well.

"Did you just say he wasn't purified? Kikkawa-dono. Don't tell me you knew about this from the start...!"

"I saw Naoe just now."

Motoharu was rather calm.

"Naoe Nobutsuna has come to Aso. He lives because of Kenshin's assistance and escaped purification. Naoe is still alive."

"How can this be..."

Rairen was speechless. There was an ominous look on Mitsuhide's face.

"So the lies used to deceive Uesugi-dono have become a reality?"

"What does Kenshin intend to do with Kagetora-dono if he has appointed another general? We know Kagetora-dono has not heard about this at all, does Kenshin want to abandon him?" Rairen asked.

Motoharu replied with a downcast voice.

"With not a word to Kagetora-dono about this, not to mention the deed was done without his permission, no doubt something has happened."

"I don't think it is as simple as that," Mitsuhide remarked. "Anyone with the objective of dominating the Yami Sengoku should not abandon a powerful figure like Kagetora-dono. If he has really abandoned him, then why? This matter needs some serious consideration. Whatever it is, Kenshin would not be so foolish as to leave his abandoned chess piece unattended. He will definitely try to erase it. That is what I would do if I were him."

"Are you saying that... Kagetora-dono will be killed?"

"As long as he can still fight. Of course, if he were unable to fight then it would be a different story. But seeing that he has gone to the extent of abandoning the general and reorganizing his army, it seems like Kenshin has made some major decisions."

"It can't be that Kagetora-dono will become incapable of battle in the future."

"No... Right now, there's absolutely no use for this sort of speculation. Kenshin has made a decision extremely out of the ordinary. We should proceed with extreme caution."

"Also, the movements of the Ootomo...," Rairen added in an urgent manner. "According to Iehisa-dono's investigation, it is now confirmed that the Ootomo is responsible for the suspicious spiritual activity in old Kumamoto city. The students are being brainwashed, ordinary people being used as foot soldiers. There's a high possibility that Kihachi's head is causing the spiritual magnetism."

"Kihachi's head! Is it in Kumamoto city? Have they found it?"

"We were planning to verify that but the Ootomo's defensive strength is giving us difficulties in the investigation. The Shimazu are currently in the north, ready and prepared to invade the city at any time."

"Although Kiyomasa escaped..."

Motoharu looked bitter, lightly biting against his lip.

"He was severely wounded. Now that the Oda commander is weakened, Kumamoto should be easier to take. As long as the kekkai is weakened, the Ootomo can be expelled with the Shimazu's military force. If Kihachi's head is inside the city, we should move as soon as possible."

The three of them had their respective intentions in their minds as they nodded in acknowledgement of each other's ideas.

"Attack Kumamoto."

War was imminent.

***

Further down from the Kokuzo shrine was a house Mitsuhide used as his living quarters. This was one of the multi-storied military bases built in Aso for holding discussions on strategies and plans for the invasion of Kyushu island. A minimum of one soldier was stationed there at all times.

Ougi Takaya was resting in one of the rooms.
It was a Japanese-styled room, about the size of 10 tatami mats. There was a bed in the middle of the room. Takaya was wearing a wafuku. He was seated on the bed in a kneeling position.

Having failed to escape, Takaya was captured by Mitsuhide and now under house arrest at the place where he was 'betrayed.' It was by sheer luck that Mitsuhide found him. Takaya's body was now very frail. Mitsuhide had to borrow the Ikkoushuu's power, which temporarily placed him through a curing spell, before the Fire sect followers buried another luminous flame stone into his body. With this, Takaya's health recovered a little but they had no method to alleviate the fatigue of his mind.

"You must recover," Saeki Ryouko said after diagnosing and treating Takaya. "There's no use in worrying about other things in your present condition. After all, injuries will weaken a person. Don't think about anything for now, just rest well."

Still, wasn't Kousaka exploiting this current moment of Takaya's weakness...

"Whether you want to personally ascertain the truth or whatever it is, wait until you are fully healed before doing so. Are you listening?"

Takaya had been quiet throughout.
Ryouko removed her stethoscope and closed the front lapels of his wafuku. She had heard of the situation Takaya was currently in. This patient was clearly exhausted in both body and mind but she knew it was impossible for him to not think of anything. And yet his heart was completely closed, barring anyone from delving in. She felt that even if someone were to console him, their words would only sound empty to him.
The look on his face did not seem resolute, neither was it vacant. He was simply staring ahead, eyes open without sleeping.
Ryouko courteously bowed to Takaya and withdrew from the room.

Motoharu was standing outside the room, looking at Takaya through the fusuma door left slightly open. Ryouko wanted to inform Motoharu of Takaya's condition but there was something about the atmosphere that discouraged conversation thus she briefly saluted him and left.

What an unpredictable person...

Kikkawa Motoharu gazed at Takaya, thinking in this way.
They met again when Mitsuhide brought him back but Takaya seemed different. Takaya made one worry if he had become handicapped from excessive shock; he had become a strange creature after his reckless escape.

Naoe is still alive.

The person in front of him was the one person who should be informed of this fact. But Naoe was not just alive. This was no deluded rant, nor empty words seeking to blackmail, it was a fact that Naoe had become the general and enemy of Takaya.

If this is the path you have chosen, I have no right to interfere. Naoe.

For a long time, there was something in Naoe's heart that he had to overcome at all costs. If this was Naoe's solution after a long period of meditation, so be it. Motoharu approved of Naoe as a man. He could only accept his decision. But in Motoharu's heart, he still wondered, was there no other way? --Perhaps Naoe would find him meddlesome to question this.

He should not intervene into their future, neither did he have the intention of doing so. However, there was still a gloomy feeling in Motoharu's chest that he could not dispel. This was because Kagetora was still in this prolonged 'false reality.'

It seemed like Kagetora was going to awaken. He was so close. Once Kagetora recognizes his unusual state, he will end this long dream. The fake Naoe was no longer on this earth. But Kagetora's false understanding of the reality of this world had yet to change.

Someone should show him the 'mirror,' like how Don Quixote discovered the reality of his aged and feeble self because of the Knight of the Mirrors. Let Kagetora see himself living in vain hope, let him be aware. Otherwise, should Naoe and Kagetora battle each other, it would be unfair but more than that, Naoe certainly would not want this.

This may be just my own wish.

As a friend who acknowledged Naoe, he hoped for truth to be confronted with truth. That was all.

Am I wrong? Naoe.

What was Kagetora thinking now?
If Kagetora also believed that this was the method Naoe had chosen to surpass him,
the victor would have to fight against the insurgent.

***

Not long after, Takaya released a gohou douji. He wanted to gather information about Kenshin, Naoe, and the Byakuime matter by himself. However, he found no satisfactory answer. Takaya also tried to call out to Kenshin but as one would expect, there was no reply.

After a while, Mitsuhide returned. When Mitsuhide entered the room, Takaya was in his pajamas sitting on the bedspread, looking out the framed window.

"How are you feeling? Kagetora-dono."

"... I can't die it seems," Takaya replied without any expression. "What do you guys intend to do to me?"

"Do to you..."

"I heard about your plans to use me as an onryou receptacle. You only brought me here to be used as an instrument, didn't you?"

"Did someone say that?" Mitsuhide shook his head. "We will not do that for you are of the same social status as we are. We cannot treat you like an instrument. Even if we need a receptacle, we will not do something so inhuman to you. Please trust us."

"I guess that's true," Takaya muttered. "Nothing can be accomplished even if you use this ragged body."

"...Kagetora-dono."

Takaya's face remained without emotion; he could not read any of his feelings. He was not purposefully hiding his own heart yet Mitsuhide could not figure out what Takaya was thinking at all.

He was not disheartened to the point of abandoning himself to despair, nor was he harboring any grudge or anger, and to describe him as emotionally paralyzed was not quite right either. ..It was past the boundary of comprehension.

Mitsuhide observed Takaya. He unknowingly felt he could grasp the situation a little.

"...Kagetora-dono. I have someone I would like you to meet."

Takaya only lifted his eyes to look at Mitsuhide.

"He was the Uesugi commander posted at Saga. We did not kill him but held him captive. I believe you know him. ...In order to prevent him from performing any purification, we have spiritually bound him."

"..."

"The tenacity of an Uesugi commander is truly admirable. No matter how much we tortured him, he did not say a word of Kenshin or the new Uesugi. But how will he behave in your presence?"

How would the commander who followed Kenshin respond in front of Kagetora? Mitsuhide suggested, "I hope you will see him."
Takaya agreed.
His response was soft.

***

After a while, a man was brought in by a retainer. He was a young man who looked more than 20 years in age and had a bony face. Around his neck was the spiritual cangue used to bind him.
The man was brought in front of Takaya, on his knees. Then the two of them were left alone in the room.
The man kept staring at the tatami mat, unwilling to face the person in front of him. Takaya gazed at the man for a while without a word. ...Yes, he knew this man.

"Raise your head," Takaya said in a calm tone. "Raise your head. Takemata Yoshitsuna."

He lifted his head in shock when his name was called out. Takemata Yoshitsuna used to be one of the Uesugi commanders of Uozu castle in Toyama. After his death in the seige of Uozu, he joined the military force of the Uesugi and had served under Kagetora for the past 400 years. He had moved from Uozu to Saga to carry out many tasks in Kyushu island under Kagetora's instructions. Takaya had assumed he was killed together with Saga's Byakuime but...

Takaya looked at Takemata quietly. Takemata could not tear away from his gaze, as though his eyes had been captured by Takaya's.

"Kagetora...sama..."

"Were you the one who killed Ryuuzouji?" Takaya asked. "Are you under Naoe's orders to help the Ootomo?"

Takaya saw tears gradually well up in Takemata's eyes. The moment Takaya looked at him, Takemata could no longer control himself.

"I deserve death!"

He exclaimed hopelessly like something had burst inside him. Takemata rubbed his head intensely against the tatami mat as he wept.

"I deserve death! I deserve death! I deserve death--!"

Takemata cried out continuously as though he was not going to stop until his throat dried out. His agonizing wails made one wonder if he had gone mad. Seeing this reaction, Ougi Takaya knew that what Mitsuhide and the others had told him was the truth.
He knew now that his days as the master were over.
Takemata's tears were proof of his guilty feelings. He probably felt that he could no longer escape the moment he was brought before Takaya. Takaya quietly observed his behavior. For a long time, the room was filled with the sound of Takemata's sobs and whimpers. After some time, when Takemata's tears had nearly been drained, Takaya calmly asked him.

"Can you tell me? Takemata."

"..."

"How is Father... going to deal with me?"

Amidst his sobs, Takemata replied that he did not know.

"We do not know anything about Kenshin-kou's plans either... Kenshin-kou ordered us to just obey..."

"When were these instructions handed out?"

"From...From a long time ago... Sometime... after the Itsukushima incident..."

Takaya was startled; his jaw clenched.

"After... Itsukushima..."

"Kenshin-kou appeared directly in front of us. It has been 400 years since that last happened... so I thought it was something serious. Kenshin-kou gave us his orders, said that very soon we were going to have a new general, and that his commands are to be regarded as the most important."

"..."

Takaya's eyes narrowed painfully.

"Why..."

Why would Father... He wanted to say this out loud but could not do so.
He was silent for a moment. Then Takaya... spoke again.

"Does Father really intend to join the Yami Sengoku..."

"..."

"What is Naoe going to do to me?"

Takemata's shoulders jolted.

"Does he see me as a sacrificed piece? Has he been Kenshin-kou's faithful servant, laying down the groundwork to dominate the Yami Sengoku while using me as an onshou shield for the past two years?"

"I..."

"What does Kenshin-kou intend to do after expelling me from my position as the general?"

Takemata desperately bit his lips to remain silent.

"Answer me, Takemata."

Although calm, Takaya's voice had a forcefulness that allowed no excuses. Takemata shut his eyes, shaking his head.

"I...I do not really know either. I only heard from Hakkai-dono..."

"Hakkai? Even Hakkai is alive?"

Takemata nodded. He said Hakkai had been serving under Kenshin ever since the Itsukushima battle and was apparently working together with Naoe. He was also the current 'Ken En' leader of the new Uesugi. Takaya felt startled but did not show it out. He forced himself to remain calm and asked,

"What... did Hakkai say? Tell it to me straight."

"But..."

"It's okay, Takemata, just tell me."

Tears streamed out of Takemata's eyes. With distress written on his face, he looked extremely pained for a moment but finally gave in and repeated what Hakkai had told him.

"Hakkai-dono said, 'One day, Naoe-sama will have to exorcise Kagetora-sama.'"

Takaya gasped. Those words were like a fatal strike, piercing deep into his chest.
They were going to obliterate Kagetora.

"..."

Takaya's fists were clenched so tightly that they were white and trembling.
With a hoarse voice, as if his throat was being twisted, he muttered,

"Really..."

Takemata prostrated himself against the floor. Takaya closed his eyes and calmly raised his head upwards.


Merry X'mas to everyone! :)
 
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