quaint_twilight: (kagetora)
quaint_twilight ([personal profile] quaint_twilight) wrote on December 9th, 2011 at 11:56 pm
Book 17 Chapter 23 英雄たちは太陽を食らう
Completed this several months back but didn't have a chance to post it.

Directly translated from the original Japanese text.

Basics of this chapter: Ayako vs the Shimazu; Nobunaga discusses his crazy intentions; conversations between Mitsuhide and Kagetora


Kadowaki Ayako was currently at Katou Kiyomasa's family temple - Honmyouji.

Honmyouji was situated in Hanzono, just north-east of Kumamoto castle. There was a long, stone stairway called the 'Munatsuki Gangi,' which led to the Jouchibyou - Katou Kiyomasa's resting place. It was a well known fact that this particular place shared the same altitude as the Kumamoto Castle Tower, providing one with a full view of the streets of Kumamoto city. Kiyomasa's body, clad in full armor and helmet, lay buried underneath Jouchibyou. In order to delay the process of decay, the sarcophagus had been filled with red paint so his original physical form very likely remained unchanged despite the passage of 400 years.



After his resurrection, Kiyomasa made this place the center of his kekkai, using the remains of his physical body as a cornerstone.

Following Kaizaki's directives, Ayako had come to this place to protect the kekkai.



It has really weakened.



Kiyomasa had set up the kekkai to hinder the invasion of enemy spirits. But the increasing power of the Golden Snake Head within the kekkai had activated the bound spirits and the spiritual energy generated had swelled to the point where the kekkai was in danger of collapse.



The Shimazu army was coming. If their attack could not be stopped, the city streets would turn into a battlefield. A repeat of the disaster that occurred in the Matsumoto incident had to be averted at all costs.



I have to do something, at least until Kagetora returns.



The problem was Shimazu Iehisa. An attack would be swift were he to somehow figure out the setup of the kekkai. In order to disperse the kekkai, Kiyomasa's remains must be destroyed.



Ayako began her work. First, she arranged an elaborate trap in the surrounding area. She buried many wooden tags all over to function as land mines. They were somewhat rough objects that could electrocute anybody unlucky enough to step on them and immobilize the victim. In this way, she could stop any intruders, giving her time to efficiently carry out the 'Diamond Blaze Diamond Net Technique' to reinforce the kekkai.

However this was only an temporary defense. How long would it last?

Ayako was tensed in anticipation for any enemy attack.



Kagetora...



She had not heard from him since then. Nor from Kaizaki either. Ayako was already near the limit of her patience. She wanted to inform Kagetora about Naoe as soon as possible. She did not know why he was pretending to be Kaizaki but, if she was not mistaken about Naoe's identity, Takaya's doubt at Enoshima would prove to be the truth. Perhaps Takaya felt guilty for projecting Naoe onto an unfamiliar man however the truth was the complete opposite. Takaya had unconsciously realized the true identity of Kaizaki.



Naoe is still alive, Kagetora.



Ayako projected her thoughts in the direction of Aso.



Even if you return to face reality, there is no need for you to despair!



Ayako clenched her fists anxiously. Then, at that moment,



"!"



Ayako's keen senses detected a strange change. Her traps were exploding and sent flying all over the place. The land mines in a few areas were rendered powerless all at once. Not knowing what was happening, she dashed towards the entrance but surprise stopped in her tracks.

Several men were making their way up the staircase; all of them carried a long-sword across their backs. Ayako had seen that face before.



"We meet again, woman."



Shimazu Iehisa...



It seemed like her traps had been discovered. Ayako stood her ground in the face of the enemy, concentrating her power just below her navel to form an incantation. Apparently, they had figured out the key point of the kekkai.



"Just when I thought I could finally put an end to Kiyomasa's 'Nue,' someone shows up trying to reinforce it. What an unwelcome nuisance."



"I knew you people would show up sooner or later. So I've been waiting, kenjutsu users."



"You seem very eager to die by our swords. Make a choice. If you step aside, we will excuse you. Otherwise, you will die."



The Shimazu swordsmen gradually closed the distance between them. Ayako drew out the sword she had prepared. She had learned sword-fighting before. At the end of the Edo era, during her lifetime as a woman, she had mastered the Hokushin Itto Ryu. Although she did not know Taisha Ryu, she had the skills to cope with a Jigen Ryu. The first strike. As long as she could evade this hit, there was a chance for her to win.



"Interesting. A real sword to determine the winner?"



Iehisa's eyes reflected the spirit of a kenjutsu master. As he approached, poised on his toes, he raised his shining, turquoise sword. His weapon was radiant.



"Then attack me with your full strength!"



The trio came shrieking with fighting vigor. Feeling suppressed for a second, Ayako's steps slowed. The three men charged like a storm. They were too fast...!

A swift blast of wind howled past her ear. She had dodged the first strike but she could not completely evade the second. A sharp sound rang out as sparks burst out from the crossed blades. Ayako had used her sword to parry the strike but the fierce power of the Taisha Ryu had cut her bare sword cleanly into two.



"!"



Then the third blow flashed before her eyes. What was this monstrous speed...!



Clang...!



The incantation Ayako released clashed directly with the enemy's sword with a sound of shattering rocks, throwing the two of them apart. Iehisa continued to slash at Ayako, who had tumbled backwards.



"Die---!"



Ayako immediately defended herself with an incantation. Taking advantage of the moment where the enemy was thrown off balance, she took out a small ocarina, deeply inhaled and blew firmly into it. The shrill sound emitted by the instrument brought forth a strong wind pressure that hit Iehisa squarely in the abdomen.



"Ngh...!"



A scale-like Fuuten character of "Bai" flew out from the spiritual flute, casting Iehisa and the others into the air. One of them rolled down the stone stairway; another was thrown against the temple bell and subsequently collapsed to the ground. However, Iehisa magnificently found his balance mid-air in spite of the tumble and recovered his footing once he touched the ground.



"...How dare you!"



Slice!



Ayako's body was cut up by a whirlwind. As Ayako's vision blurred from the pain, Iehisa lunged at her with a succession of strikes. Numerous blows sliced at Ayako's hair and cheeks even though she was shielding her body,.



"What... are you trying to do!"



"Die!"



Iehisa leaped high above Ayako's head and swung down his sword with great force. Ayako tried to use the wind to blow him back but the flute was promptly knocked out of her grip by Iehisa's incantation. She found herself in Iehisa's shadow.



His sword came swinging down on her forehead...!



And Ayako just barely parried the blow with a goshinha. But she was also hit by something unexpected. The blow was accompanied by a high voltage of electric current that ran through her body. A cry of pain escaped her throat before Ayako passed out.

Iehisa had given her an electric shock.



"Not as amazing as what the rumors say."



Iehisa snorted and stood up as his subordinates struggled to where he was. He walked towards the front of the Jouchibyou. The remains of Kiyomasa, which was supporting the kekkai, was buried beneath this mausoleum. Upon conducting a spiritual visualization, a golden radiance burning like a heat haze could be seen around the mausoleum. This was proof that the remains still possessed power.



"Hmph... This sword shall slice the mausoleum in two with one decisive stroke."



Iehisa brought his breathing down to its regular pace then positioned himself in a stance where he held his sword at eye level. As a bluish-white blaze formed on his sword, Iehisa concentrated his spiritual power. The bluish-white blaze instantly extended like a bridge. A tremendous, destructive power accumulated inside the weapon as the sword underwent a transformation. Occasionally, an electric current would be emitted, like a flash of lightning, coiled around the blade like a snake.



"Ha...!"



He swung the sword up towards the sky and it extended. The mausoleum was about to be smashed into two...!



"Disappear...!"



In that moment, something unusual occurred. The flames from the Jouchibyou suddenly blew more intensely, swallowing Iehisa's sword.



"What...! Uwah!"



Iehisa's body was wrapped in flames. He turned about violently due to the overbearing heat.



"Iehisa-sama! ...Oh!"



His retainer turned to stone. In front of the main entrance, a high school student dressed in the usual type of Japanese school uniform for boys comprising a long jacket with stand-up collar and loose trousers was standing there. The student, with bandages around his head and chest, was watching him with arms folded across his chest.



"You are 10000 years too early to be attacking my body."



"Bastard, don't tell me you are...!"



"Exactly."



Another emerged behind the senior high school student. He was a tall man with tanned complexion. On that clean-cut chiseled face was a pair of dazzling eyes. The man stood erect in front of the student with a fearless, sneering expression.



"This man is almost annoyingly stubborn by nature. If you destroy his corpse, you'll just get yourself cursed for 50000 years."



Who is he?



Ayako groaned as she raised her upper body. The senior high school student who claimed that the body was his, could he be...



"Damn you, Kiyomasa! Did you come here seeking your own death!"



"I came here to see to your death."



"What...?"



"That's enough, Kiyomasa. All this squabbling is just a waste of time," said the man in jeans. He took several gulps from the cola can in his hand. Iehisa could not believe his ears. Who was this man ordering Kiyomasa around like a subordinate?



"Coming to Kumamoto turned out to be a good warm-up exercise. Exactly what I wanted. I've been looking forward to the day where I can finally use my powers so badly. Let me have this prey."



The man swung his arms in circles as he spoke, as though he was really getting ready to exercise. He took one more gulp of the cola and roughly wiped his mouth with his arm. A cruel smile was etched on his lips. Everyone was uniformly terrified and overwhelmed from just that one look. He was no ordinary person. Who was he? His eyes carried such intensity, who was he...!



"Could it be... Could that man be...!"



"Now, you there, the first of the small fry. Give me your best shot."



A magnificent golden blaze ignited around the man's entire body. The retainers raised their swords as fear gripped them. They could not even think of escape.



"Damn you... Damn you, damn you, damn you!"



The retainers yelled hysterically as they leaped forward. However, the man only grinned maliciously.



There was a heavy, booming sound.



The two retainers were knocked down. Ayako held her breath. Their hearts had already stopped. With one smile, two people were killed.



"Asao! ...Miyauchi!"



Iehisa's wrath was apparent as he glared at his opponent. Iehisa already knew this man's true identity. There was only one such person in this world. In the Yami Sengoku, there was only one individual who could be Kiyomasa's master!



"So you have finally come to Kumamoto, Oda Nobunaga!"



Iehisa growled like a wild beast.



"But I will not let you have Kyushu! We Satsuma warriors will protect this land even if we have to sacrifice our bodies!"



"Ho! Sacrifice your bodies as you wish! Sacrifice as much as you like until you're past the point of no regrets!"



His fighting spirit surged and with all of his power, Iehisa attacked. However, Nobunaga caught that one strike, which Iehisa had put all his heart and soul into, with the palm of his hand.



"What!"



"Haargh!"



A fierce blast of energy shot out from that palm.

Iehisa was hit squarely in the face by that blast. He flew backwards into the air in a curved trajectory. And that was the end of him. When his body landed on the ground, Iehisa no longer moved.

Nobunaga looked at the lifeless body rather casually before taking another gulp from his cola drink.



"Ahh...Ahh..."



Ayako was speechless from overwhelming fear. She had just seen it, the moment his soul was smashed. It was really crushed into smithereens like glass. That meant not just death. The soul was shattered. It was complete extinguishment.

It was the... Hakonha.



Then Nobunaga noticed Ayako, who was unable to speak due to shock. He was unbelievably nonchalant for someone who had just unleashed such a terrible power. With a crunching sound, Nobunaga crushed the can in his hand. That sound brought Ayako back to her senses and she realized that Nobunaga's attention was directly focused on her. She felt paralyzed. This was a more dangerous situation than a case of a frog finding itself the prey of a snake.



"Ho. We've something interesting here."



"Ah..Ah...Ah..."



"The manservant of that annoying tiger brat. What was her name again?"



Ayako felt herself trembling from the very core of her body. No matter how much she tried to endure it, she could not stop her teeth from chattering. Without realizing it, there were tears welling up in her eyes. Reading her fear, Nobunaga smiled with deep gratification. This was a man who took pleasure in the sight of frightened prey. He would habitually assert that there was nothing that made him feel happier than the sight of fear in his opponent. Nobunaga stretched his fingertips and lifted Ayako's chin.



"Nice woman, I'll take good care of you."



He summoned his subordinates and ordered them to take Ayako away. With insufficient energy to put a resistance, Ayako was easily captured.



"My Lord, do you know that woman?"



"She's one of the Uesugi Yashashuu. Kakizaki Haruie."



"The Uesugi... That means she is Kagetora-dono's subordinate."



"Yeah. You were with Kagetora, weren't you?"



Kiyomasa's shoulders jumped. It was not guilt he was feeling in particular but he felt as if his heart was being examined bit by bit from Nobunaga's interrogation.



"Why didn't you kill him? At the very least, shouldn't you have read his mind? It would've been easy for you to read Kagetora's heart with your ability."



"I... That man does not let down his guard so..."



"Hmph. I guess that's true. A guy who never lets his guard down. I know of this excellent skill he has of fooling others into underestimating him. Thanks to his cunning ways you have no idea how much pain he has caused to my retainers."



Nobunaga folded his arms as he looked in the direction of Aso.



"Heh. That nostalgic stage is drawing closer. All the actors have been assembled on that stage. Kagetora has also joined the cast as though we were truly fated to meet again. Let us revisit that old battle once more."



Nobunaga declared, his eyes narrowing.



"Of course, that guy will be the one to die this time round."



"My Lord..."



"Ha.... Ha Ha Ha! Even so, something interesting has cropped up this time. Kenshin is joining the war? This is so funny I'm about to fart! That senile old man, what with his overflowing self-righteousness wants to compete against me, the Sixth Demon King. Very interesting. Don't you think so, Kiyomasa!"



Nobunaga had already heard about the real situation of the Golden Snake Head from Kiyomasa.



"So we have the Kihachi clan. It's just a skull packed with the onryou of the ancient Hyuuga race, how thrilling. In other words, a can of onryou fools. Spirits grow more powerful with age. By now, they must have accumulated plenty of energy. The Ootomo fools don't even know this much, evident from their Yamata no Orochi nonsense. They're real jokesters."



"The Shimazu army is drawing near Kumamoto. We have to strengthen the kekkai without delay."



"There is no need Kiyomasa," Nobunaga retorted. "There is no need for the kekkai."



"No need...? Do you mean to say we should remove the kekkai?"



"Let those Shimazu fools enter Kumamoto. All will be well, even if our army doesn't interfere."



"Do you intend to let them fight against the Ootomo?"



"Correct. Let those fellows who want to fight have their war. We should let them cancel each other out to our convenience. We shall be the spectators watching from above. Send out some spies. Let them go at each other until they run out of steam from exhaustion."



Kiyomasa was astonished. Nobunaga was serious about his intention to draw the Shimazu in.



"But in this way, Kumamoto will become a battlefield."



"Are you displeased, Kiyomasa?"



Startled, Kiyomasa's face stiffened. Nobunaga was looking down on him menacingly.



"You are my retainer. In other words, Kumamoto is the property of Nobunaga. Do you have any objections?"



Kiyomasa could not answer. Seeing that, Nobunaga smiled with a sense of gratification.



"You reported that Kihachi's head is in Kojou."



"Yes. Although I believe it must be destroyed as soon as possible, Kojou is currently under the control of the Ootomo. It is most difficult to make a move."



"It's not that difficult."



Nobunaga smirked as he gazed in the direction of Kumamoto castle.



"My child, we shall head to that Kojou High school right now. ...Heh, just you wait. I'll show you an incredible turn of events."



"Wha...?"



Kiyomasa doubted his ears again. What was this incredible turn of events about?



"Don't look so serious. We both know things will work out even if we don't lift a finger. With little effort, everything will fall into place. We shall put that so-called Kihachi's head to the test and see if it can really sink Kyushu."



What kind of a man is he...



Kiyomasa was dumbfounded. Nobunaga probably already decided on this the moment he heard the information from Kiyomasa. He was regarding Kihachi's head as a useful tool rather than thinking of destroy it.



"Please, no! That... That is too dangerous!"



"Dangerous?"



"The Takeda, Kikkawa and the Ootomo just do not know of the true horror. That thing must not be allowed to be turned into a weapon of any sort. If that clan of onryou were to be released by any chance and Kyushu were to really sink...!"



"Interesting. Don't you want to see how it'll sink?"



"!"



"The sight of this giant island sinking is not something you'll see everyday. If it were possible, don't you want this one opportunity to see it really sink? It'll be a historic event. If it really happens, I wonder what will become of Japan."



Kiyomasa was greatly confused. He did not know what on earth this man was thinking. He could not be serious about this? Did he really mean what he said?



"If Kyushu sinks, an enormous number of people will die. Those who die and become onryou I shall control. If that happens, neither Kenshin nor Shingen nor any of the Yami Sengoku generals will be anything special. I want to make all of them yield to me as my servants! Make all of them my servants and then invade other countries!"



Nobunaga laughed at the top of his voice. It was mania. No matter how much of it was due to the fundamental nature of an onryou, there was truly no other onshou who had thoughts of this terrible extent.



What... What on earth is this man...



"The one who can control the runaway horse is the supreme ruler with the necessary courage. Let us manage the onryou of the Hyuuga. Then we'll establish the power to transform this nation from her very roots. Follow me, Kiyomasa. I will show you an unbelievable vision."



Kiyomasa did not have the nerve to say anything. Nobunaga had the gaze of a military man as he looked at the foot of Kumamoto castle.



"Let me be witness to what could be deemed as the greatest war in Kyushu. I shall watch it from here, you Satsuma warriors."



***



Meanwhile, in Aso's Kokuzou Shrine, the scene was one of chaos due to the amount of information dropping in one after another. Among them, news of the Kaga uprising had the greatest impact.

Even Mitsuhide was shocked. A rebellion was occurring in the territory of the Ikkoushuu. Traitors responsible for this rebellion had emerged in a place believed to have the strongest following of disciples. The momentum of the rebellion was greater than expected. Reports that fueled the speculation that Kenshin was the one who had incited this uprising also came flying in, instantly aggravating the situation. Kennyo hurriedly appointed Rairen as Kaga's commanding officer and immediately summoned him from Aso.



"I must leave for Kaga. Akechi-dono, I shall leave the rest to you," said Rairen.



Then he hastily proceeded to Kumamoto airport with his followers.

But that was not the end of the situation. Similar uprisings were sprouting out everywhere.

In the domains of Touhoku's Date, Kai's Takeda, Shikoku's Chousokabe and even Northern Kyushu's Mouri, incidents of spirits beginning to rebel violently in their respective territories were occurring. Caught unaware and unprepared, the various generals were stunned and upset by the growing flames of rebellion and dispatched their soldiers in a frenzied manner.



"It seems like the Uesugi's Byakuime in various places were responsible for instigating this."



"So it was really Kenshin...!"



"Apparently, Toyama and Niigata have already been toppled."



"Their consolidated military strength is several times that of the Oda."



Mitsuhide's retainers argued excitedly all at the same time. Kagetora was also present. Naturally, every single detail of the information reached his ears.

However, Takaya's expression remained unchanged.



When almost all of the proceedings had come to an end, it was near the end of the sunset. Mitsuhide came to Takaya's room.



The first thing that came out of Mitsuhide's mouth was a question to Takaya.



"You were not the one who ordered the Byakuime to incite the uprisings, right?"



Takaya quietly looked at Mitsuhide. Takaya had given no such order.

Even though Mitsuhide knew the answer, he still asked, possibly to verify his own thoughts on the matter.



"What do you think of the new Uesugi?"



"...What do you expect me to think?"



"Do you mean to say that Takemata's testimony alone is not enough to convince you?"



Takaya was silent.

Then he slowly shook his head.



"I have not confirmed it with my own eyes."



"And when you do so, will you then be convinced?"



Takaya was silent again.

Mitsuhide gazed at Takaya's expressionless face and slowly relaxed his shoulders.



"If you seek confirmation, you may do so until you feel satisfied. It would also help us verify our information. That said, there is something I wish to ask you. If you are discharged from the Uesugi, will your powers be taken away? For example, will your exorcism power be lost?"



"I don't think so," Takaya replied indifferently. "Although Kenshin-kou was the one who granted the chance, Bishamonten was the one who bestowed this power. As long as the person in question doesn't lose his devoted heart, not even Kenshin-kou should be able to take away this power once it is acquired."



"So this cannot be used as a test of your current status. What about the Sword of Bishamonten?"



Mitsuhide knew about that sword.



"I heard it is a spiritual sword that only the supreme commander can wield. If the general has been discharged, the Sword of Bishamonten can no longer be used by him, am I correct?"



"I doubt that can be used as a way to confirm my position."



The sword was Bishamonten's energy - the incarnation of exorcism power. Once the he knew how to bring forth that energy, it could never be taken away as long as Takaya did not lose his own spiritual power.



"In other words, even if a Yashashuu is discharged, that person will still have the power of exorcism. Such a person would make quite a dangerous enemy."



Takaya nodded.



All the more so if... that person was the former general.



"What do you intend to do?"



"..."



After a long silence, Takaya calmly lifted his eyes.



"It's easy to find out if I'm no longer the general. I'll be able to tell from the response of our subordinates if I were to give orders that are the exact opposite of the new general."



"Are you going to send out the command to attack Naoe and his confederates?"



"Simply declaring war... will be self-destructive."



Mitsuhide was astounded and remarked that this was somewhat timid of him.



"Do you not know of your own formidable battle strength?"



"You people don't know of the true strength of the Uesugi. When there is a new general, it means that the authority to mobilize the Meikai Uesugi army has also changed."



"Mobilize? The Meikai Uesugi... what is that about?"



Mitsuhide's mouth was agape in astonishment. He asked Takaya what he meant.



"The Uesugi soldiers on the surface right now don't even make up half of the entire Uesugi force. They are basically the ones who were with us at the very beginning when we became kanshousha. There are also those of the deceased, connected with Echigo, who are asleep in the Meikai."



"By Meikai, are you referring to the underworld?"



"Not that world. However, they're not of this world either. There is a dimension in the boundary between the two worlds. In that place, the sleeping dead are not purified. Time does not pass in that place so I guess, technically speaking, they're not really asleep."



Kagetora and the others regarded the beings in that place as 'sleeping.' There was only one person who could summon them from the Meikai. And that was the supreme commander of the Meikai Uesugi army.



This was the first time Mitsuhide heard of such a military force of the Uesugi. If the surface Uesugi army was just a fraction of their army, just how powerful was their entire force?



Easily multiple times the strength of ours...



"If I have been discharged as the general, I should be stripped of the authority to mobilize them. So if I can't summon them, it would prove my loss of authority, wouldn't it?"



Mitsuhide looked at the way Takaya stated these facts without any show of emotion and thought about how he felt.



Takaya did not know why he had been discarded. Even if one were to consider the pros and cons of omitting a battle ace of Kagetora's level from the Uesugi, the reason for Kagetora's expulsion was still unclear.



"You have been told that the new Uesugi intends to obliterate you. You heard it from Takemata himself. What do you plan to do? Fight?"



"...I will protect myself, at the very least."



Takaya said as he stood up slowly. Mitsuhide was startled and asked,



"Where are you going?"



"You've my gratitude for nursing me back to health. However, I've no intention of mingling with you guys. From now on, I will not be allied with anyone."



"Are you planning to return to your comrades?"



"Comrades? What comrades are you referring to?"



Nagahide, even Haruie could no longer be trusted. They might have communicated with Kenshin. They might have just been pretending around him.



"Wait, Kagetora-dono."



Mitsuhide said in a sharp voice.



"Will you not please lend us your power?"



Takaya stopped in his tracks.



"We desire the power to defeat the Oda. Will you not please lend us that power of yours?"



"..."



"If you would lend us your strength, we have the provisions to shield you from the Uesugi. If you stay, it would reassure us. No, not only that."



Mitsuhide said with a strong resolution.



"I wish for you to become our leader."



"What..."



This was truly surprising. Takaya wondered about their resources but Mitsuhide's face was serious.



"If I had the ability, I would have put an end to this Yami Sengoku. Although I was the one who constructed the anti-Oda alliance, I find it extremely difficult to fulfill the expectations of each and every general. However, our opponent is such that he cannot be defeated if we do not combine our forces. I desire a unifying force for this alliance. A being who can bring the hearts of the onshou together as one."



"...They have you, don't they?"



"It is impossible with my disposition. I know that I am not suited for this."



Mitsuhide stated plainly then looked at Takaya with eager eyes.



"But you are qualified. You have the strength to fight against Oda Nobunaga-kou on even ground. Furthermore, you are the former supreme commander of the Uesugi. You have sufficient reason to fight against Kenshin so you will have a persuasive advantage. A being who can transcend the strengths and weaknesses of the individual armies is necessary for this alliance. We currently do not have a powerful leader to hold the onshou of the alliance together. Since you are not dominated by any interest, it is easy for others to have trust in you. Kagetora-dono, become the torch-bearer of the anti-Oda alliance. I also wish to discuss the source of the Yami Sengoku with you."



"The source...?"



"Kagetora-dono," Mitsuhide paused, as if to allow himself to calm down. Then he started afresh. "Have you ever had any doubts? Why do you think, in these 400 years, have the onshou only started to cause disturbances now? Why did the Yami Sengoku start again in this era? I wish to show you the origin of all of this, Kagetora-dono."



Takaya wrinkled his brow as he listened to his words.



"I think the Yami Sengoku was caused by an unnatural power."



"Unnatural... power?"



"Yes. And the perpetrator... was it Uesugi Kenshin or Oda Nobunaga? My guess is that it was either one of them."



Takaya was shocked. Something which he had never thought about was suddenly thrust at him.



"How can it be..."



"I have had this feeling since the beginning that something or someone planned this war. After 400 years, the people buried in the earth have risen at the same time and started to fight. Isn't this unnatural in itself? It seems likely that there was some motive for all of this in the very beginning. That some huge power was involved to induce the awakening..."



"Are you saying that... the Yami Sengoku was deliberately caused by someone for some unknown purpose?"



"There is no proof," Mitsuhide discussed in an intelligent tone. "However, if this were true, there is no other person I can think of besides Uesugi Kenshin and Oda Nobunaga who would be capable of doing this. I do not know the objective. However, I cannot ignore the fact that a large number of spirits is being used for this pointless war. This sort of situation must be put to an end. I wish for a comrade with whom to find the answers."



"Is this what the anti-Oda alliance is about?"



"I have not told the others about this matter."



Mitsuhide told Takaya that he was the first person to hear about it and strengthened his tone.



"When Kenshin joined the war, this became an anti-Kenshin alliance as well. I had only one reason for establishing this alliance. To find out what caused the Yami Sengoku and to erase the source of it. I believe that is the easiest way to end the Yami Sengoku. I want a powerful individual to hold the alliance together. I wish for you to take up this position."



What do you think, Kagetora-dono, Mitsuhide requested.



Mitsuhide's tone did not have any childish impetus to it but a sense of rationality throughout.



Takaya only glared at Mitsuhide, remaining silent.

After a long, as if never-ending, silence Takaya broke his pause.



"Do I seem that easy a person to simply go along with your plans just because of what you said?"



"Kagetora-dono."



"As I said before, I will not ally myself with anyone. That intention has not changed."



"Is it because of your sense of duty to Kenshin? Overzealous loyalty is only foolish."



"It's not that," Takaya replied plainly. "If I am discharged as the supreme commander, I will sever all connections with the Uesugi and the Yami Sengoku. Doing so will allow me to return to a normal life. I want to return to the life of Ougi Takaya."



"Even if you return to your previous livelihood, Naoe will still target your life. Even if you wish to sever all ties, as long as you are Uesugi Kagetora, the circumstances around you will not allow it. That being the case, Kagetora-dono, shouldn't you utilize your powers to actively put an end to the Yami Sengoku?"



"You overestimate me."



Takaya smiled bitterly.



"Find somebody else. Uesugi Kagetora doesn't have the sort of power that you hope for."



"Kagetora-dono."



"If I really had that sort power, I wouldn't have been discarded now, would I?"



Saying that, Takaya started to make his way out of the room however Mitsuhide made another sharp comeback.



"Then are you going to leave Kumamoto to its fate as well? Are you saying that you will do nothing even if many innocent people die because of the Ootomo and the Uesugi?"



Takaya stopped.



"We have a prisoner on our base as well. Will you do nothing too, regardless of what happens?"



"Prisoner?"



"A girl who was wearing the exact same school badge as the one attached to Kagetora-dono's uniform. If you leave, I will kill her. Is that fine with you?"



The expression in Takaya's eyes sharpened. The school and grade badges were usually attached to the stand-up collar. If it was exactly the same, that would mean she was a second-year student of Kojou High school. Seeing a reaction in Takaya, Mitsuhide sensed that his words had an effect and said in a slightly calmed voice.



"If you are not convinced, I can let you see her. Will you still say that you will leave?"



Takaya slowly turned and looked directly at Mitsuhide. It seemed like he had abandoned the thought of leaving.



"Let me see her."



***



It was completely dark when they headed out. Mitsuhide took Takaya to the stone hut where Inaba Akemi was being confined.



Takaya was shocked to find that the young woman asleep in the sarcophagus was Inaba Akemi. The red iron oxide resulting from the burning of the yellow soil of Aso had put Akemi into a deep sleep.



"Why did you kidnap her?"



"To force the Miike family to act," replied Mitsuhide. "The Miike family have Princess Asara. Princess Asara can communicate with Kihachi's will. She is also the one being who can release the spirits of the Kihachi clan as well as control them. Kihachi's head is the nuclear weapon of the Yami Sengoku. The one who possesses it will be able to threaten the enemy and have a powerful deterrent to the enemy's offensive. In the present circumstances, its utilization is of secondary importance. However, in order to use it, a controller known as Asara is necessary. If we do not have this then it would be meaningless. We know that Asara is the youngest daughter of the Miike family. Her older brother is probably a student of Kojou High School."



"Miike... You mean Miike Tetsuya?!"



"Do you know him?"



Takaya was startled. Miike Tetsuya, though seemingly ordinary, was the only student who did not have any spirits attached to him back then. Just from his appearance, Takaya never expected this human to be related to the Yami Sengoku.



"Apparently, Kihachi's head is located in the ruins of Sassa Narimasa's castle."



Takaya's shoulders shook slightly from Mitsuhide's words.



"In other words, Kojou High School. You and Kiyomasa knew about that, right?"



"If you're referring to the Golden Snake Head then yes."



"Golden Snake Head..."



"It was called the head of the Yamata-no-Orochi. The object the Ootomo excavated."



"So it is true. The Ootomo have set their eyes on this as well."



"But I don't know if they're aware about Kihachi. As I see it, the Ootomo regard Miike Tetsuya as nothing more than a problem child."



"What careless people. In any case, it will be dangerous if the item falls into their hands. Did you hear that they have occupied Kojou High?"



"Occupied? The Ootomo?"



"It seems like the students have been trained into castle soldiers to hold fort. Apparently, they were brainwashed but it is not known how they did it."



It must be the jyako, Takaya thought. The jyako that Mikuriya planted inside the students have hatched. As a result, the students were now capable of supernatural powers. The essential members for battle have been transformed into castle soldiers.



"We must head to Kumamoto and recapture it. I do not think the Shimazu army alone will be enough to handle this situation. The arrival of reinforcements from the new Uesugi also poses another problem. Kagetora-dono."



Mitsuhide said in a low voice.



"I hope you will come with us. I wish to fight exorcism power with exorcism power. No, you must come with us. Otherwise, the hostage's life will be forfeit."



"Weren't you going to exchange her for Asara?"



"I have decided not to return the hostage until you promise to help us."



Takaya was silent. Although he used threatening words, Mitsuhide's face did not have any sort of menacing expression.



"I hope you will consider it."



After he said this, Mitsuhide left Takaya, who could not give him an immediate answer, and walked out of the stone hut. The glow of the light bulb went off. Takaya looked at Inaba Akemi for a while. The stone hut was now illuminated by the moonlight in place of the electric light.



What should I do, he pondered.



Thinking about it is useless...



He decided that there was no choice but to follow their instructions. Just when he was about to leave Inaba, who so still as if she were dead, there was a momentary bulge in the nape of her neck. Takaya caught it from the corner of his eye. Something had wriggled beneath her skin.



Then, it wriggled a second time, and a third.



"..."



For a brief period, Takaya stood there looking over his shoulder. Then he turned and left the stone hut.





There was a familiar man waiting for Takaya down the slope leading from the stone hut. He was Kikkawa Motoharu. Takaya stopped, his eyes narrowing slightly as he looked at the other man quietly.



"I have to leave for Kokura," Motoharu started. "Uprisings have occurred. Although I feel that this is not the time to leave this place... it cannot be helped."



"..."



Takaya did not say anything and proceeded to walk past Motoharu. Then Motoharu threw in another sentence.



"Naoe died at Hagi."



Takaya stopped in alarm.



"Because the shock was too great, you hypnotized yourself."



"..."



"Last night, you remembered. You have realized that you are under hypnosis. I hope that you will once again recover your old memories."



Takaya did not turn around. He listened with his back towards Motoharu. Motoharu said a little more strongly.



"A miracle has happened."



Takaya did not move, his back still towards Motoharu.



"..."



After a brief silence, Takaya said softly.



"Thank you..."



Takaya walked away.

He did not know what Takaya's reaction was.

Motoharu remained silent as there was nothing else that he could do.
 
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