A story about a man whose hatred was so strong it could burn away all the stars in the sky.
“Who do you hate the most?”
“I hate and curse this world, the one which let down my Master. Every day I wake up and remember what they all did. And I will never forget for as long as my soul exists. I will hate this world in the place of my Master.”
Sengo Muramasa goes to train by himself, the eyes of his comrades in his back, but he doesn’t respond to their stares. He got this habit from his only master, and he doesn’t care about what others think. He knows he is scary and unfriendly, he startled the young Toshirous so much that one of them almost cried. Ichigo Hitofuri, the patient older brother, rushed to apologize for his sibling, not before looking at Sengo for a long time without saying anything else.
It was apparent that Gokotai didn’t recognize Sengo, even if he and his master lived for several years in the Uesugi household. He can’t blame the sword, because few know that Sanada Yukimura had a Muramasa sword, he was more known for his love for wielding spears.
Sengo readies his bandana, adorned by the six coins of the Sanada just like Yukimura’s did, and begins his training in silence.
Whenever Sengo walks around the citadel, many fall in silence at his presence. He is known for the demonic bloodlust of the Muramasa blades and he is very aware that when he swings his sword, blood of the enemy rains in the battlefield. There are only few in the citadel not intimidated by him, one of which comes from the same family.
But Tonbokiri is a spear in the side of the East, wielded by Honda Tadakatsu and this means that Sengo and Tonbokiri can never get along. There’s tension whenever they cross paths, wordless exchanges as sharp as their blades. Tonbokiri accepts the situation, despite the surprised comments from other swords, those commanding or appealing to respect and peaceful cohabitation. However, Tonbokiri is a loyal spear and as brethren born from the same household, he tries to understand Sengo’s feelings, having seen those eyes far too many times to forget. Yet Sengo walks past him without a second glance, or a single sign of acknowledgement, restraint thickly imbued in his every move.
Most swords wonder when the inevitable confrontation will arise, even those unaware of the pasts binding these weapons together, because the tension is always existent, even if Tonbokiri shows no signs of desire to fight or respond with aggression. And somehow Sengo never raises his blade, and only the blood of the enemy rains.
“Sengo? He is like a dog.”
“A ha ha, if I recall correctly, I believe you weren’t allowed to have any pets.”
“I don’t need to have owned one to know how they work, asshole.”
“My my, in that case, do tell, why is our brilliant spear similar to a friendly canine? From what I’ve heard and seen, dogs are creatures eager to please.”
“You are just playing dumb, aren’t you? You know how they are, loyalty is their niche. You might not know this but there was a famous tale of a dog. Its owner had died and the dog went to the same station, waiting for him until it died years later.”
“So Sengo is the older modern version, is he not? With far more complex feelings than the dog you speak of, aged by centuries and embittered by the world.”
“You can laugh all you want,” Aki sits on the edge of the window and looks not at Mikazuki but at the sky behind her. “But there are emotions that can’t be discarded.”
“You should be careful he doesn’t bite your hand.”
“Hmmm? Well, you’d not allow that for starters, but… We both know he’d not do it anyway.”
Sengo is done with his training and looks at the sky, thoughts briefly interrupted by the chatter of nearby swords, all light and gentle, contrasting to what beats in his heart. There is a fire that he has never forgotten, one which keeps burning in his chest, so strong and vivid that aches, that scorches his throat and smolders the soul. It is the carefreeness of the mood that set his feelings alight, as they can never understand what has been done and the wrongs of this wretched world, even those accepted by ignorance. It is something unforgivable and Sengo’s eyes are fixed to the sky, hands trembling, gripping tightly his sword.
None of them can even begin to imagine the strength and oppression of hatred, of that feeling that refuses to let go, to forgive or to relent. Of seeing wrongs being done even to this day and unable to do a thing, only to increase the resentment as days go by. If only he didn’t care, but the thing is Sengo cares, he cares too much and he will never forgive what the Tokugawa has done, hailed as heroes while Sengo can only watch at the sky and imagine all his hatred is enough to burn away all the stars.
Because few remember the path of corpses laid down for the sake of ambition thinly disguised by unification and an era of peace. The sweet words laced with poison, the image of an understanding man hiding the face of a demon, patient enough to wait decades to make his treacherous move. And yet all of the swords love Tokugawa Ieyasu even if he was responsible for the loss of many of their masters, turning a blind eye to all of the questionable things he did that are hailed instead of condemned. All of this Sengo can never forgive nor forget and even if hundreds of years have passed, the ill-will, the deep hatred keeps being nurtured with every day.
Sengo could see the smile on his master’s face, as he and Nobuyuki walked towards the lone warrior after the battle had ended and their spirits were calming down. It was no lie that Master Yukimura was always eager to meet warriors he deemed worthy and this young woman had proved her worth in the battlefield.
“Watching you fight was a marvel of swordsmanship! Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Yukimura Sanada.”
“And I, his brother Nobuyuki. To know your name would be an honor.”
The woman in front of them was petite, barely reaching Yukimura’s shoulders. She seemed startled for a second, eyeing curiously both brothers before replying with a smile. “My name is Hanamura Rinne, pleased to meet you, Sanada brothers.”
“An inspiring name, that is. It reminds me of a lion, powerful and proud. We’re fellow comrades now, yes?? With you and us on the same side, we’ll be unstoppable,” Yukimura replied, adding a warm smile of his own. However, he had to blink for a moment as Rinne tried to suppress a laugh. “What is the matter?”
“Nothing, I just find your idea of a powerful lion rolling on flowers rather… not powerful nor proud.”
Sengo shared his master’s confusion for a second until he realized that, guessing how her name was written, when taken apart, the kanji could mean either flower or round. It seemed to have occurred to Nobuyuki who had a similar playful smile as well before interrupting them.
“We should go, Yukimura. We’ve wasted enough of their time. Farewell, lion heart.”
Both siblings vowed before Rinne, Yukimura looking at her for moments before turning away. There was an odd feeling in Master Yukimura’s face, so before he left, Sengo memorized the features of this woman, long brown hair and vivid warm blue eyes with a matching smile, with some sense of anticipation that this wouldn’t be the last time they would see her.
“Yo Sengo,” Aki casually greets as she enters the living room, ignoring the sudden still air. It is rare for Sengo to be in the same room as anyone, he spends most of the time in solitude and the other swords have unconsciously begun to avoid him. “You are on field duty with the demons, and Greenie and Blondie. I know you have been here less than all of them, but surely you can set an example on how to work well and not being incompetent lazy fucks.” Only few swords can look at their master and wonder if she’s gone insane, as everyone knows about Sengo and expect him to rebel in a burst of rage.
Sengo turns to her and most swords avoid looking at him in the eye, worrying they should become the targets after he is done attacking Master. Sengo is taller than her, needing to look down to meet her eyes. However, he doesn’t do that, instead he bows down respectfully and with a respectful soft tone, one unexpected of a demon, he replies, “Understood, Wakatsuki-dono.” There is no trace of a smile when he looks up but his eyes have softened and the redness in them no longer feels like dread.
It is a rare sight, one that makes the other swords look at each other in a mix of disbelief and shock. Aki sighs and folds her arms, loudly saying to no one but everyone in the room, “Hey dumbasses, just because he looks scary doesn’t mean he’s out for your blood.”
Aizen and Kanesan can’t avoid making that face which gives them away but there is tension in the stiff smiles of the rest, like the faithful Maeda and Hirano, the quizzical eyes of Horikawa and the quiet stare of Ichigo.
“If you are so worried about what he can do, maybe you can actually read a book or something on how to be less stupid.”
Sengo had learned that Hanamura Rinne had a knack for teasing comments, always delivered with a smile. He had also seen that these comments managed somehow to make his Master smile as well, sometimes coupled with a flush in his face like the one he was wearing right now. He was grateful however, the Takeda had been wiped not long ago in the battle of Nagashino and the Sanada brothers had gathered in Kai to determine their move, always holding the future of their clan on their shoulders. Yukimura himself had been looking for Kunoichi to ask her to work under the Sanada, reassuring her that her previous tasks done in the Takeda wouldn’t be taken against her.
When Kunoichi hesitated, Rinne intervened with an innocently yet somehow playful smile, “All right, I’ll be your ninja!”
Her words earned her startled looks, one unsurprising since Sengo had realized that Kunoichi’s attachment to Master Yukimura was beyond that of a mere servant. However, he was shocked for a second to see that faint blush in Yukimura’s face, one which persisted even when Rinne apologized and said she was joking. And it didn’t fade in the slightest when she just had to add that it wouldn’t be a bad idea since Yukimura would be a good boss and would take good care of her.
Long after Kunoichi had accepted the offer and had gone to prepare to move from Kai, Yukimura stopped Rinne who was leaving as well.
“Thank you, Hanamura-dono,” Yukimura said as he bowed deeply, faint smile on his face.
“Hmmm?” She played along, waiting some seconds before continuing. “I didn’t do anything worth thanks. I do mean you’d be a good boss.” Her face had traces of an impish smile but it also held something else Sengo had a hard time deciphering. “You don’t look like the type but try to take it easy sometimes. You can worry all you want but if you fall sick, you won’t be able to protect your family when it counts the most. Laughing once in a while might help.” And just like that, and with a small wave, Rinne walked down the road, with Yukimura’s eyes not leaving her figure until she disappeared in between the trees.
There are no words to describe his feelings, as strong as a flame which burns everything away. Despair and hatred of seeing everyone loving someone he hates as if he stands on the edge of a river and looks from afar. Sengo knows all of these swords loved Ieyasu and he can only keep his voice to himself as he can never and will never see the kind man he is said to have been.
This is the worst kind of betrayal because they haven’t betrayed him yet their actions are like a knife plunged in his heart which can only grow with righteous anger. He wants to scream at the top of his lungs, chilling lonely air freezing from inside. A betrayal that is not, he can’t help but resent even if he knows they aren’t at fault. And so he will keep his distance, because they are innocent but he believes they are also blind to keep hailing someone who should be scorned and hated.
He will carry all this hate by himself because none of them can even understand how he feels and they never will. It is not fair to lash at them but it is also not fair when their mindless innocent words try to assure him that Ieyasu was a good person, that Nobuyuki loved his brother, that Yukimura’s friends loved him and wished him the best, that that woman didn’t betray him. These words hurt the most because they don’t care about Sengo’s feelings and it is all for the sake of the Tokugawa. The wretched family which brought its own downfall because of the hatred it inspired to many.
Whenever Yukimura went, Sengo followed diligently. This included his travel to the Shikoku Expedition Army, as now he had been sent under orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Sengo had lost track of the many days Yukimura had already spent under that household, always clearly aware that he was a hostage, nothing more than a bargain chip for the sake of the Sanada clan’s protection.
“Ah, Rinne-dono… It has been quite some time.”
“Well, isn’t this a surprise?” Rinne replied with a bright smile, probably one unsuited for a talk before an important battle. “I didn’t expect to find you here on the other side of the land.”
“I came under Lord Hideyoshi’s orders. I must mention my gratefulness – though as a hostage I may be, he treats me like an officer,” Yukimura replied, his face matching his words, surprisingly favorable and positive considering his situation. Sengo couldn’t share his master’s feelings, always worried about what could happen to him. Maybe Rinne shared Sengo’s thoughts because the sword believed to have seen her smile fading for a moment, and a deep thoughtful glint in her eyes.
“He’s just making use of the resources he can. If you’re grateful, prove it on the battlefield,” Ishida Mitsunari said as he appeared from behind them. His words did nothing to alleviate Sengo’s worry.
However, Rinne just shook her head. “You can do it, Yukimura.” She offered him an encouraging pat on his shoulder, looking comically since he was taller than her.
“Thank you for the vote of confidence. I’ll put my all into my service!” Yukimura nodded with vigor and for a moment, Sengo saw that particular smile of his, only reserved for when he talked to her, especially since Rinne encouraging him had given him an extra push to not dwell on his situation.
Mitsunari took this less positively, immediately chiding Yukimura for getting worked up, perhaps because he had misjudged the extent of Yukimura’s reaction. Hideyoshi’s advisor was aware of Yukimura’s worth as a warrior and he had recommended him for his abilities. He hadn’t expected Yukimura would question his worth, though. But many were aware that Mitsunari wasn’t skilled with words and after that reprimand, he left Rinne and Yukimura alone.
“I’m glad that I’m getting to know people. Lord Hideyoshi’s clan is truly a welcoming one. The house of Lord Hideyoshi truly is warm. And, ah, I don’t mean that it gets a lot of sun,” Yukimura whispered, making Rinne muffle a short laugh with his last words. “It must be the personality of the lord and his wife. They treat their vassals with the warmth one treats family with. All I’ve known is war, but here… I just might forget all about it.”
“And I’m glad to hear you are learning more about the world, Yukimura. Despite what Mitsunari says, sometimes having a positive attitude will help you through rough times.” Those were Rinne’s last words, poking gently at Yukimura’s cheek before she left to her battle position.
“Tell me, Mikazuki-dono. How could you live with the man who caused the downfall of your master?”
Sengo has been summoned again and this time he dares to ask a question, looking at Mikazuki with those vivid burning eyes. Mikazuki turns to Aki, who shrugs and sighs casually. “Answer him, I won’t get jealous if you suddenly confess your secret feelings for your past masters.”
Mikazuki’s eyebrows rise in an amused arch and he is quiet for a second. “…There are things one cannot do anything about, such that one has to take them at face value. For us, the tsukumogami, changing owners was a matter of life, one we had no influence whatsoever. But perhaps it is because I have lived far longer than you that I have learned to take life as it goes.”
“Does that include your current Master?” Sengo’s eyes are defiant and they pierce Mikazuki’s soul.
Mikazuki’s face is the same as ever but there’s a dark shade in his eyes, one faint cold cloud. He talks with the same serenity as always, as he casually drinks a cup of tea. “If our Master were betrayed, that is what you mean.”
“Won’t you rage at the world then? For always having it against your Master, no matter what she does?”
“A ha ha ha,” Mikazuki laughs and puts the cup away. “Before that happened, the world would have gone through me.”
Long after the battle in Shikoku was over, with Hideyoshi’s forces victorious, Yukimura had been sent to Osaka Castle. Sengo was following Yukimura’s mindless stroll, one he had been doing for a while now in the gardens. Yukimura was hardly attentive to his surroundings after battle and even less in this state, and Sengo’s condition as a tsukumogami prevented him from warning his master. Before Yukimura could react, he crashed into a petite idle figure, making her lose balance though she didn’t fall.
“Ah, Rinne-dono!” Yukimura blurted out and helped her steady, cringing when she rubbed her head. She had been hit by Yukimura’s armor, though it should be minor as no blood came out. “My apologies, I didn’t realize you were…”
“How cold, Yukimura,” Rinne said as she turned away. “You sound so surprised about seeing me when we would be seeing each other more frequently now that you’ve been assigned here.”
“Ah, I didn’t mean to…! I-uh…”
Rinne laughed as she poked Yukimura’s forehead. “I’m just kidding. Though perhaps it’s rude of me since you seem to have a lot in your mind right now, even more than usual.”
The faint half worried, half flustered expression faded from Yukimura’s face and he couldn’t stop himself from looking away as he fell silent.
“Would you like to talk about it?”
Yukimura wasn’t able to say anything, even less when she held his hand in between his. She didn’t frown or grimaced when he avoided her eyes. Instead, she smiled softly as she said, “In that case, at least let me offer you some tea.”
Yukimura didn’t let go of her hand, as she guided him to a place they could drink in silence, far from the view of those passing by, hidden between many trees.
“I know this isn’t much,” she said, interrupting his thoughts and bringing him back to reality as she put a cup in his hands, “…but I find that some tea helps me relax, even more if I’m in a place by myself. I like seeing the trees, they remind me of home and I find that even if I sit for a while, my heart soothes a little.” She took a cup in her hands and sipped slowly, as the steam faded in the air.
“Rinne-dono, what do you think of our last battle…?”
Rinne lifted her face and met his unusually deep and confused stare, one which told he carried some burden for a long time and he probably wasn’t aware of it.
“What do I think of it…?”
Yukimura set his cup aside and looked at the tree’s branches above them, almost as if they hid the words he was looking for. “The Chosokabe didn’t falter, even when they were facing an army far greater than theirs. I was impressed by their courage and loyalty, one of a true warrior… But Kanbei-dono and Takakage-dono said they had died in vain. If they hadn’t fought…”
“Pointless bloodshed would have been avoided.”
“Is that how you feel as well, Rinne-dono?”
“Truth is… I don’t like fighting. I’d have wanted for a different outcome, one where those men didn’t have to die. But there’s a limit. I know you admire them for their bravery but you should also learn from their sacrifice. There are things you can and you can’t do. It’s important for you to figure out which you can do. If you do, if you learn from their mistakes and rights, then their deaths won’t be meaningless.”
Yukimura didn’t move when she sat next to him and rested her head against his shoulder but there were traces of a faint smile. “I didn’t realize you disliked fighting… Your strength is unparalleled and you are a worthy opponent and companion in battle.”
She turned to him, blinking rapidly and then burst out laughing. “Well, that came out of nowhere! But…” She leaned closer to him, and her voice grew softer. “I’m fighting to protect those I love, even if I don’t like this. My goal isn’t something big like peace, because I feel that one way or another, peace will come eventually. You should focus on the after, Yukimura. “