There are those who don’t understand.
Monoyoshi meets Sengo just after they are done with their chores and the atmosphere freezes in an instant. The other passing swords react in confusion, unsure if they should stay in case a confrontation arises or leave because it’s something that shouldn’t become their problem. Only Tonbokiri stands behind Monoyoshi, same as Tadakatsu always was by Ieyasu’s back.
“I believe we have to address something, Sengo Muramasa. I’m aware that your master and Ieyasu-dono weren’t on good terms. I understand that you are still grieving Sanada Yukimura’s death but let me tell you that it was all done for the sake of an era of peace. It is easy to make someone a demon, but Ieyasu-dono had the best intentions in mind. I was with him for a long time and I could see his kind and benevolent nature. I believe the other swords have told you something similar, have they not?” Monoyoshi’s voice is warm but defensive, one of someone trying to show someone else what is hidden behind a veil.
“What is your intention, sword of the Tokugawa?” However, Sengo’s eyes flicker with anger, and his voice is cold and sharp as his blade.
“I’m just saying that it would be better to let it go. Your master’s fate was unfortunate but it was something that had to happen. However, history celebrates his chivalry, isn’t that good enough? Instead of being chained by something that happened long ago, if you could let go of your anger, we could all get along better. I’m sure many of the swords in the citadel will be your comrades in arms. Everyone cares about you.”
“Tell me, Monoyoshi Sadamune. Are you telling me this because you care about how I might feel or are you saying these words to ease your own guilt?”
Monoyoshi blinks in surprise and hesitates to talk for a second, needing to look at Tonbokiri who simply listens the exchange in silence. “Am I what…? I’m- O-of course I care about your feelings! But I can’t let others defile the image of my mas-”
“You have shown your priorities clearly, sword of the Tokugawa. There is no need to continue this talk. By your leave.” And before Monoyoshi can add something, Sengo leaves the room, leaving a chill current of air behind.
“You seem more chipper than usual, Yukimura,” Rinne’s voice interrupted Yukimura’s swing of his spear and Sengo smiled to himself.
She had been staring for a while now, visible in her teasing smile and bright eyes, but Yukimura had been too focused on his training to notice a thing. However, he wasn’t mad in the slightest, because Yukimura’s eyes widened and Sengo’s master definitely couldn’t hide his surprised joy and embarrassment to see her. They had missed each other in some errands she had gone to, saying she had to visit her family for a few days, but her timing had been so that she had missed the meeting of Yukimura’s other friends, Naoe Kanetsugu and Ishida Mitsunari.
“My apologies, I had heard you would be coming later, Rinne-dono…”
She laughed and it seemed to make Yukimura’s cheeks color slightly. “Well, I don’t know if I should take it as a compliment or not? That you have been paying attention if I’m here or not or if you hadn’t noticed my presence a few minutes ago.”
“I have definitely noticed your absen-! Ah, how long have you been watching…?”
“Long enough,” she said casually, but her cryptic expression didn’t help Yukimura at all.
“When Rinne-dono is around, I find it hard to concentrate…”
“So I’m now guilty of your airheadedness, how rude. In that case, I’ll see myself out.”
“T-that’s not what I meant, I-” Yukimura’s flustered expression, words struggling to come out as he tried to explain himself earning a laugh from Rinne.
“I do like that silly naïve side of you too.” But before Yukimura could add anything in his defense, Rinne had already left the training field.
“Master, Sengo and Monoyoshi argued!” A group of swords holler these words as they enter the study without notice. Only Monoyoshi enters calmly in the sea of chaos.
Aki drops her papers for a moment and looks at the pale faces of Atsushi, Maeda, and Hirano. One of them explains what happened and Aki lets out a frustrated sigh.
“Okay, this is getting tiresome. Have you not fucking realized a damn thing?”
“What do you mean, Master?”
“Let him hate Ieyasu,” Aki says and everyone doesn’t understand, only Mikazuki looks at her with a knowing glint in his eyes. “Hate doesn’t work that way, he won’t magically discard his feelings just because you swear on your memory that he was good all along.”
“But Master,” Monoyoshi, of course he of all swords, interrupts, looking at her not with anger but that desire to clear up his master’s name. “Master Ieyasu did all to end the war. It is because of him that an era of peace finally came to this land.”
Aki snorts and looks at him with a look almost alike to contempt, one which spells that Monoyoshi doesn’t have a clue of the meaning behind his words. “And your point is? If I were Sengo and you told me these same words, I’d have it very hard to not punch you in your face.”
Monoyoshi frowns but doesn’t back down, stance as if he’s expecting a right answer, one which he feels valid enough to even attempt to sully Ieyasu’s name.
“If you ever are wronged by someone and have lost everything you love… If your life has been ruined and there’s no hope for the future, think back on your words and see if you can still say the same.” Aki’s eyes are cold, without anger at Monoyoshi but they speak volumes of a similar story, one which explains why she can see what they all are missing. One word, one action of betrayal can change everything and those who survive end up with scars in their hearts that will never heal and will always be a temptation to get back at the world.
Monoyoshi falls silent, his eyes are defiant, as he was the beloved sword of Ieyasu and he refuses to believe in that hatred.
“Because you belonged to the man who won it all at the end of the era, you can never understand the feelings of someone who lost everything due to him. In fact, many of you can’t even come close to understanding a glint of Sengo’s heart. How many of you shared roof with the Tokugawa for hundreds of years? Just because you lived in a place where he was loved and respected…You should remember well that for every person that loved Ieyasu, there were two or three that hated his guts.”
The last words are spoken with fatality, one which speaks of an unspoken but known future. They are sharp enough to make the swords of the Shinsengumi shiver, because the hatred of the Satsuma and Choushu was like a hidden blaze and decades later, it consumed everything under the banner of the Tokugawa. These swords are like children and adults, at times knowledgeable of the feelings of humans but sometimes naïve in their thinking. They can’t be blamed, however, because only those who have hated deeply before can even begin to understand the feelings of resentment of others.
Rinne tried to squeeze the water on her clothes, face full of flustered surprise, as she hadn’t expected to fall in the small, shallow river. However, before she could say anything, she felt Yukimura’s hand lifting her face, making her look at him. She was about to ask if something was going on, but no sound came from her lips as Yukimura’s own against hers muffled any sounds. He had to lean down to reach her, his arms brought her close to him.
Yukimura couldn’t sense a reply, worry that his love was unrequited was something Sengo often heard Yukimura muttering to himself. Hesitating, he parted, about to apologize for his outburst and his lack of consideration for her feelings, only to feel her body flinging to him with unexpected force, that Yukimura lost his balance and both fell on the river, Rinne on top of him. Her face was so close to his, red cheeks and vivid eyes, and in one breath, their lips met again.
Sengo is sitting on a veranda, as he looks at the small pond, hoping that the still waters are enough to distract his heart, without any avail. The swords have tried the opposite and some even try to make amends with Sengo by talking about the Tokugawa this and the Tokugawa that. Perhaps they think it helps but in truth, it doesn’t help at all and Sengo would rather forget about the Tokugawa by now, that they stop appearing in every corner and in every conversation because if they do, all the feelings come back and he is even more isolated from the world. He lets out a sigh as someone else sits next to him, Mutsunokami Yoshiyuki.
“Are you going to tell me about the greatness of the Tokugawa?” Sengo can no longer hide that exhausted tone in his voice, over and over hearing the same thing has worn his patience off.
“Me? Nah. I and they don’t mesh well. My master was the guy who brought them down. Some of the Shinsengumi swords are still bitter about it. We live together under this roof but we’re not beer pals or anything.”
Now Sengo arches an eyebrow in interest. “Then, what are you doing?”
Yoshiyuki is nonchalant about it, he just shrugs and lays down, head over his arms. “Well, Master is usually scary but doesn’t say things without a reason. I figure she wanted to tell us something.” Yoshiyuki shrugs and smiles bitterly. “It’s not like I can’t understand their feelings. It’s hard to say it but the Tokugawa reaped what they sowed. When I was with Ryoma, I could see the anger of those in Satsuma and Choushuu. It’s hard for them to understand not everyone liked them.”
Sengo can’t help but snort amused at Yoshiyuki’s presence and way of putting things through. “That’s an unusually keen insight.” And he means it, as every sword he’s come across is in one way or another blinded by love or nostalgia to see things as they are. Only a few were able to see the Tokugawa’s true nature and they were quickly subdued.
“Nah, I’m just saying what I saw with Ryoma but those guys never went out of the Tokugawa bubble. Anyway, ya’ have to take life as it goes, otherwise ya’ end up like them.”
The last line makes Sengo’s face darken and his only reply is silence, but Yoshiyuki doesn’t seem to take it personal.
“I just wanted to ask ya’ if ya’ needed an ear. I’m okay if ya’ don’t want to talk about them either.”
“What did Wakatsuki-dono say?” Sengo asks abruptly but Yoshiyuki doesn’t even flinch. Perhaps he was awaiting this question and the man just sighs.
“Ya’ probably know that already.”
Sengo didn’t reply, imagining that they were all asked to give him time to think and consider, maybe that Sengo would change his mind in time and-
“The Boss just told them to let ya’ be. That it was okay if ya’ held all that hatred, as long as no one got into fights, it was ok.”
The battle against the Hojo in Oshi Castle had come to an end, one which was far from Mitsunari’s original plans. However, it wasn’t the way the battle had been won which casted a shadow on Mitsunari’s face.
“What’s the matter, Mitsunari?” Kanetsugu asked. “You aren’t the type to curse not having the chance to gain glory in battle.”
“Of course I’m not. We Toyotomi won. That is all that matters.”
“Then, what’s the problem? The Toyotomi will now rule the land. Isn’t that enough for now?”
Despite’s Kanetsugu’s reassuring words, Mitsunari’s expression didn’t change, and in fact, grew more somber. “This is no time to celebrate. Our greatest foe yet still remains.” His words were followed by a lingering dreadful silence between the warriors. Only Yukimura dared to speak.
And, as if it was something she had always known, with an expression which told that it was something she kept in silence until the moment it was brought up, Rinne looked at Mitsunari and spoke calmly but with decision, “You mean Ieyasu, don’t you?”
“Indeed.” The fatality in Mitsunari’s words was sharp and cold, reflected in the conflicted faces of Kanetsugu and Yukimura. “As long as he remains, there will be no true peace.”
“Ieyasu-dono?” Yukimura couldn’t hide the surprise in his voice, perhaps never entertained the thought of the complexity of war to which Rinne gave him a concerned look. “What are you saying, Mitsunari-dono?!”
“Ieyasu is not a man to bend the knee forever. Though he follows Hideyoshi-sama for now… I don’t want to entertain the thought, but should something befall Hideyoshi-sama, that man’s ambition will show itself. …Though I wish these fears will stay unfounded…”
“Agreed. To protect the Toyotomi, I will do my utmost… That shall not change.” Yukimura reassured Mitsunari, but it seemed only Sengo noticed the dark look in Rinne’s eyes.
“This world doesn’t reward virtue or good nature.”
“A ha ha ha, that is a depressing way of seeing the world.”
“You’ve lived plenty already to know what I’m talking about. Whether it was when you were born or right now… Not a single fucking thing has changed, has it? Getting ahead, using whatever means are necessary is thought of cunning and desirable.”
“Because this world doesn’t forgive, no good deed goes unpunished and it is pointless to do good and expect the world to change. That is what you are trying to say? In that case, why do you do it?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do.”
“A ha ha ha, of course you’d say so. And I assume you can understand our canine’s feelings?”
“Who knows? You know I didn’t have anyone. It’s not like him who had it all but lost everything. Perhaps he hates the world more than any of us because he spent all of his time by himself and only had one master? Or because the ones who took everything from him are in essence everything his master was not. Between the innocent and chivalrous Yukimura and the cunning and secretly ambitious Ieyasu, the difference is as clear as day and night.”
“I see where you were going with your depressing musings. Perhaps all of his anger comes from the fact that Sanada Yukimura was a man of ideals and good nature and he got betrayed by the world?”
“Unfortunately, being good sucks. It almost makes you wonder why bother with it. Many religions go through the belief that good outcomes wait for those virtuous but most of the times they face hardship harsh enough to question their world.”
“But some people will stand up against all the evils of the world nonetheless. Rest assured that you will not be alone, my beloved Aki.”
Aki raises an eyebrow at Mikazuki and then snorts, with a faint smile on her face. “At the very least I am not alone. Hopefully Sengo will find someone he can hate the world together with. Everything is easier when you have at least one person to rely on.”
“Are you going to keep walking a different path from Nobuyuki?”
Rinne’s straightforward question was something neither Yukimura nor Sengo expected, as she looked at him with clear piercing eyes, ones even sharper than Yukimura’s spear.
Yukimura had avoided the death penalty but had been sent to Mount Koya for the rest of his life and Rinne had visited shortly after he had settled. She sat in front of him, uncaring or unfazed by the meager conditions the brave warrior’s lodge had.
“We’re brothers. We just have to follow the paths we believe in,” Yukimura spoke after some heavy silence, one product of unexpected reflection. “My legacy is the Sanada name, and his is the Sanada clan. That’s what both of us want.”
Rinne’s gaze grew stronger, and Sengo knew she wasn’t buying Yukimura’s words. Even to him, they lacked Yukimura’s decision and determination, spouted as if they were wishful thinking that they would become a reality. However, she said nothing of the sort, but her tight lips were proof she hadn’t been convinced by Yukimura’s speech.
“Besides…” If Yukimura had been aware of her reaction, there were no signs of it. Though, unbeknown to him, his own voice softened. “I can’t forget about the Toyotomi clan. They might be all split up now, but I still wonder if I could bring them back together. I want to make it happen someday.”
When Yukimura finished, Rinne let out a long sigh and held his hand. For the first time, Sengo had seen a sorrowful look in her eyes as she muttered to himself, “That is so like you, you idiot…” If she was able to see something Yukimura wasn’t, Sengo didn’t know. But he wouldn’t be able to forget how she had given him a long lasting look before she had to go back.
The sentiment of justice is not an easy one. In fact, one would argue it’s one of the most destructive feelings humans can feel. It is not that it’s inherently harmful, but with a sense of justice comes deep seated anger. Sooner or later, they who fight for something just and fair will realize that this world is shrouded in injustice and such terrible state of things will bring anger. Anger at those who let injustice happen, anger at oneself for the limits of what can someone do. There is also the fury of life’s unfairness in which the just and kind are always screwed by the wicked and shrewd.
But it’s not also that the just and the kind are screwed, but the wicked and shroud are carried as the real heroes, praised and encouraged to act and go on. This world would cheer on them, made them as examples and ideals to follow, the same as how the Tokugawa continue to be praised instead of denounced and despised.
“Hey Sengo,” Aki calls to him when Sengo is carrying the clean folded blankets inside the citadel. He is by himself as always but Sengo has never minded. He has been by himself for a long time already.
“Make sure you don’t burn yourself.” She slaps his shoulder gently and turns to leave. Sengo stays there for a moment, confused at her words, but he can’t deny that there’s some part of him inside that seems to have understood her message, not quite clearly, but the ghost of her intention. He nods though she is already gone and Sengo goes back to his duties.
Because Yukimura Sanada died alone, betrayed by those he loved, clinging only to his beliefs, noble and pure.
And Sengo Muramasa will curse and hate this world in his place.
Sengo looked from afar and watched as a young cladded woman greeted quietly the passing men, making her way over the hill where Yukimura stayed. Everyone was now acquainted to her and it was a wide known secret of her frequent visits, yet no one said a word if any of the Tokugawa soldiers came around and asked if there were news. Her presence was like that of a silent ghost, yet all the villagers had come to note that whenever she stayed, Yukimura’s demeanor brightened, almost a reminiscent of how he had acted before Sekigahara happened. It was only when she was around that Yukimura smiled and Sengo was grateful that even to this day, Rinne visited him as much as she could, long after the only allowed visit back at the beginning of Yukimura’s exile.
Sengo couldn’t deny his suspicion when she sided with the East but Yukimura never made a comment about it and his faithful sword could only watch as the two embraced and kissed each other the moment she stepped in, desperately holding each other as if it was the last time they would meet again. As long as Yukimura stayed quiet, he would be allowed to live but such a life of exile had struck his master in his core and Yukimura seemed to only look forward to the time she could come here, but Sengo knew it wasn’t possible and one day Tokugawa Ieyasu might find about it.
It was a well-kept secret, hidden under the moonlight with faint smiles and holding each other in the darkness, even when they became enemies and she aided in the raids. Yukimura was never a resentful person, but Sengo wondered where her heart truly laid. Even so, he couldn’t deny the tender look she would give Yukimura when she woke beside him, and ran her fingers through his hair or when she buried her face in his chest and refused to let go. Perhaps she had been sent as a spy from the Tokugawa, perhaps it was all a lie, same with how the brothers parted ways, but at times Sengo couldn’t really tell the emotion in her eyes when she had to go back and held onto Yukimura for what seemed a lifetime.
Sengo is kneeling once more, surprised to have been summoned by her out of nowhere, when he’s avoided most of the swords and thus, most fights. He dares not ask anything but instead she asks him how he feels and Sengo avoids looking at her, because no one can understand-
“You want to tell everyone to fuck themselves, that you hate the world and hate them for not being indignant at how things go and how they all follow along. It’s hard to not blur the line between hating the sin and not the sinner, but you can’t hate them either because you know it’s wrong. It goes against your code and because of this, the rage will never end.”
Sengo’s eyes widen and he can help but stare in surprise but Aki doesn’t hesitate and just continues.
“You know all of them are people and you can’t bring yourself to hurt or snap at them even if they freely hurt you with their innocent words. It really sucks, you know, doing and living what you feel is right. There’s no reward in the end.”
“How can you…”
“You do it or you don’t. I do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Sengo can’t find any words and he looks to the ground, eyes closed as he thinks deeply about her words, how similarly familiar are in spirit to some heard in the past.
“Life was never fair anyway. Live your ideals. Expect disappointment. If you are ok with living like this, alone, for a cause without reward-”
“If this is the life you lead, one of rightfulness even against the odds, one without a reward… In that case, my blade will never leave your side, my second Master.”