One day, everything changes.
Sengo is helping in the forge, being taught the basics as Aki and Mikazuki argue about what new sword would arrive, betting on the type already. Mikazuki goes for a tanto while she believes it’s a wakizashi because they already have too many of the little ones. It is then that the newest member materializes, and Sengo sees the rokumonsen adorning the shoulder pad, same as the ones in Sengo’s own headband. His heart feels like it stopped for an eternity and Sengo finds himself frozen in place.
“M-m-my name is Sanada Toushirou. I was Sanada Nobuyuki’s mamorigatana… I might not be able to do much, but… Please take care of me….”
The young tanto doesn’t even lift his face, too busy looking down and nervously playing with his hands, a gesture he keeps on doing even after all this time. When he lifts his face, however, Sengo can look at the sheer terror drawing itself in Sanada’s face, color draining as if he had seen a demon. Of all the swords, of anyone Sengo could have met, it had to be Sanada Toushirou and without even thinking, he mumbles some apology and leaves the forge with heavy desperate strides. He hears Aki’s voice asking something but Sengo doesn’t look back and eventually, Sengo surrounds himself in the silence of his room until the next day.
Sanada Toushirou was always at Nobuyuki’s side, as the omamori he was intended to be. He had yet to be used for protection, and he was secretly glad for that, even though the Sanada were going through harsh times after the fall of the Takeda. They had gathered far too many enemies, none that they could take on, the Oda, the Tokugawa, the Uesugi and the Hojo, and it was only due to constant changes of alliances that they had managed to get this far. He couldn’t understand why all this fighting had to be done, or why it had begun in the first place.
The only thing he could do was to look at his master’s tired face as he received news of what others did and pray that he would never have to be unsheathed.
“This is quite the new castle,” Rinne said in admiration, as she looked around the interiors of the visitor’s room.
Nobuyuki laughed, Sanada could tell it was far more genuine than the other times he had heard those words from other visitors. Ueda had been built by everyone in the Sanada clan and for a small clan who had to be at the mercy of larger powers, being able to have a castle to call their home was their pride and joy.
“The construction is very peculiar too. At first sight it looks like a new architecture statement, but the design is intricate. The corridors both connect and can act like a maze and the walls are thicker than in other castles.” Rinne’s words were spoken in a friendly manner but also as a matter of fact. “I take it you were in charge of such finer details, Nobuyuki?” She sipped her tea with a cheerful demeanor, one at odds with the sudden subject.
“As expected from the lion heart warrior,” Nobuyuki smiled, one of those polite gestures Sanada knew too well. But it wasn’t as guarded as with other people, at the very least Nobuyuki seemed to trust her enough, seeing she was allowed to enter the deeper part of Ueda. “You are probably aware of the situation of the Sanada, one which requires such a sturdy castle. Our daily lives consist of watching the mood of the larger clans. Others mock us for switching around our allies and enemies, calling us cowardly. However, this is to survive. It cannot be helped.”
Rinne nodded, seemingly unfazed as if she had assumed so already but her voice couldn’t hide her concern. “It must be rough, Nobuyuki. The other clans calling you cowards when they already are under someone’s wing. It’s almost hilarious, isn’t it? A sheltered leader mocking one fighting to ensure their survival. They must have quickly forgotten how they began in the first place. Not everyone is able to rise as Oda Nobunaga did.”
“One would be fooled if they thought of you as just a pleasant warrior, Hanamura-dono,” Nobuyuki spoke in an equally pleasant manner. “You are far sharper than you look.”
“Am I? I’m just a woman fighting for peace. There’s little I can do in the greater scheme of things, other than to ensure my own survival and of those who I love. I’m still disappointed I couldn’t meet your brother too. But I’m sure you would have changed the topic and asked about my well-being or how the battles were done.”
Nobuyuki put down his cup and let out a long sigh, needing time before speaking, face full of the worry Sanada was so used to seeing privately. There were no lies in her words, Nobuyuki would have dropped the subject entirely and politics wouldn’t have even be brought up had she arrived an hour earlier and met Yukimura on the way in.
“Yukimura only knows battle. As his older brother, I intend to take on all matters such as these. Purehearted Yukimura does not need to know of the filthy world of politics. I want him to live on as a pure warrior, unstained.”
She swirled her cup a few times before finishing its contents. “I personally think he’d benefit more if you let him on a thing or two but you are his brother and you make these calls. Just make sure this doesn’t come back to bite you later.”
“This doesn’t come to bite me later…?” Nobuyuki repeated her words and for once she looks unusually serious.
“Yukimura is a pure soul, I agree, and part of what makes him valuable is that chivalrous code he holds himself to. But it would help him and you too if you let him saw what he can and can’t do. The more you live and the more you see, the more your world expands and you can find something worth fighting, no, living for.”
“Your words don’t sound like those of a young maiden in love visiting the man she’s interested in.”
“Just because my words right now don’t sound love struck, it doesn’t mean they don’t have my best intentions nor they make invalid what I’m trying to tell you. It’d be a loss if your brother’s life got wasted pointlessly.”
“Well, that wasn’t awkward.”
“Hmmm? Perhaps our fiendish canine didn’t expect this frail Toushirou kitten.”
“With so many of them, how the fuck were we supposed to know that Sanada would appear?”
“A ha ha ha, well I did guess right though, where is my rew-” Mikazuki begins only to be interrupted by Aki pinching his lips as she sits on his lap.
“Sometimes I don’t know if I’m lucky or unlucky, we just have more people involved in past feuds.”
“A ha ha ha,” Mikazuki laughs as his lips are freed and pulls her close. “Well, having both Monoyoshi and Tonbokiri from the East and now Ichigo and Sengo of the West is certainly a difficult scenario. But perhaps it was just fate that Sanada arrived here as well?”
She rests her head against his shoulder. “Maybe this isn’t just about the Tokugawa…”
“What do you mean? Sengo has made his dislike of that household, and of their leader, quite clear.”
“Stop playing the dumb senile part, you fucker. If I recall correctly didn’t the Sanada split? Yukimura sided with the West and Nobuyuki with the East? Even worse, Nobuyuki fought for the Tokugawa in the Siege of Osaka. That’s sure to make family reunions awkward.”
Sanada Toushirou is greeted by his brothers, all asking him how he has been and telling him this and that about their citadel. Sanada hasn’t seen many of them, being kept most of his life in the Sanada household until he faded from history. The other swords joke that he is closer to Gokotai, both frail and quiet, but it’s not that Sanada is shy, well, he is, but he can’t freely talk about his past and finds it hard to express himself.
He knows Sengo quite well, spending a lifetime by his side but never speaking one word to each other. Sengo has pretended he’s been alone, cutting all his ties with them, and Sanada has never found the courage to talk to him. He can see it in Sengo’s eyes, still burning with hatred and despair, grief never-ending and every time he sees him in the citadel, he tries to say a word. But Sengo looks at him with a dismissive gaze and Sanada loses all his courage.
He thinks he should have said something back then, to try to ease Sengo’s anger and sadness. But Sanada couldn’t, all words of encouragement feeling fake and full of lies and the one time he tried, Sengo was still too hurt, the wound was too fresh for Sanada’s words to make a difference.
He sees that Ichigo has found it hard to interact with Sengo as well, despite being in the same side. Perhaps it is because Ichigo eventually found his way with the Tokugawa, loss of memories playing a part in this, and Sengo did not. But maybe it was for the best.
Sanada Toushirou could only watch helpless as Ieyasu proclaimed that Yukimura was to be executed after his involvement in the stalling in Ueda Castle. There was a fatality in his words the young tanto had never heard before and it was such that he could feel Nobuyuki’s spirit being cut in half.
“Yukimura’s actions were deplorable; I accept that. But I beg of you to take my honor… No, my life in place of his.” Nobuyuki hung his head, bowing as much as he could, trying to hide the desperation in his voice, begging to save his brother and for a second, Sanada worried about the life of his master.
But there was no sound of relenting, as Ieyasu’s words were decisive and left no room for appeal or intervention. He had long decided to end Yukimura’s life. “Nobuyuki… You know as well as I that I can’t do that.” His words were mere polite discourse to hide the inevitable fate.
Sanada turned to see the other warriors, Tadakatsu stepped forward, looking overwhelmingly serious, an appearance Sanada had never seen in the man. “Nobuyuki may only be my daughter’s husband, but he is as important to me as a son. If you cannot respect his wishes, then I am prepared to fight for it.” At those words, Ieyasu’s face drained of color. If his words had been those of a ruler, Tadakatsu’s proclamation was that of a god. It was so surprising that even Nobuyuki gave a grateful look to his father-in-law, one telling Tadakatsu’s support was one thing he’d never be able to repay in a lifetime.
“Please, consider it a request from me as well.” Rinne’s voice resounded even if her tone was no louder than any of the men gathered. Sanada thought for a second he had sensed something in her voice, but the woman standing next to Tadakatsu bowed deeply, a flight flash in her eyes.
“You too, Rinne-dono?” The surprise in Ieyasu’s voice couldn’t be hidden nor the sudden hesitation as he had two of his most valuable retainers asking for something… “I can’t ignore a request from you, after all you have done for me.”
When Ieyasu, after moments of thought, proclaimed Yukimura was to be exiled to Mount Koya, Sanada Toushirou could have sworn that Rinne’s eyes glittered for a moment.
It’s not like Sengo hates Sanada Toushirou. It’s more that Sengo hates everything Sanada represents. The sight of the rokumonsen on Sanada’s clothes, the ghostly image of Nobuyuki beside him is too painful and brings back memories marred with anger and betrayal. Sengo spent his lifetime with Yukimura and the moments he remembers when the siblings were together are bitter and hard to recall. There’s resentment that won’t go away because Sanada reminds him of that household and that brother, the same that turned on Yukimura and let him die. Sanada couldn’t have done anything but Sengo has difficulty telling himself that because not even the brother or Yukimura’s lover did anything for him and they could have done something, anything to spare his life. And so, with everyone else gone with the passing of time, only Sanada remains and Sengo can’t do anything with these feelings of despair other than cutting the air as he trains, trying to pretend Sanada doesn’t exist in the citadel.
“You can’t be serious…” Rinne’s face grew darker, the reflection of the candle’s fire deepening the dread in her expression.
“The Toyotomi are planning to rebel. All ronin are being gathered in Osaka Castle. I’ve planned on how to escape, it’s not far from here.” Yukimura’s words were soft and if it wasn’t for the serious look in his eyes, Rinne would have thought he was just randomly musing nonsense.
“You don’t have to go…”
“It is the last thing I can do for the Toyotomi and I’ve inherited the Sanada spirit. There’s no other way, I must go to Osaka. Please understand, Rinne-”
“What am I supposed to do? Cheer you on as you go to your death?” Rinne slammed her hands against her table making the cups fall and the remaining liquid spilling on the table. She was shaking.
“There is hope… We could-”
“There is no way the Toyotomi can win. It’s a fight against Ieyasu and now that it means the entire land. If you go there, you will die.”
Yukimura closed his eyes for a moment, serene and silent. When he opened them, he looked at the small window, as if he could see beyond the clouds in the sky. “It is my duty and my belief as a warrior. If you cou-”
“I’m not going with you.” Rinne interrupted him, lips pressed into a thin line. “I won’t help you achieve a pointless death.”
For the first time, Sengo could see a trace of disappointment and sadness in Yukimura’s face as he gave her a long look which lasted an eternity. “In that case, the next time we meet, it will be as enemies and I will not hold back.”
Rinne’s eyes widened frozen in her seat, unable to say anything. Yukimura closed his eyes in pained stoicism as she gathered her things and left, without a word. Yukimura didn’t move to see her off, only Sengo did. The sword didn’t know what to think of this fate, one where everyone seemed to turn against his master and those who didn’t had died long ago. He couldn’t understand Rinne’s attempts, and if he saw brightness down her cheeks, he couldn’t tell if it was the light of the moonlight or something else.
“So, you came.” Yukimura looked up to meet Rinne’s eyes as his hand gripped tightly his spear, Sengo covering his back. Yukimura had decided the battle was lost and charged against the Tokugawa camp, hoping to at least take Ieyasu’s head. But Ieyasu had left the battlefield and instead this woman was in front of him. Sengo could hear the sound of Nobuyuki’s horse not far, soon he would arrive, as if to put an end to this charade. Sengo knew what all this meant, the last moments of Yukimura in this earth, betrayed by his brother and this woman, the one pointing her sword at him.
“Warriors need no words. Prepare yourself!” Yukimura’s voice hollered as he raised his spear against the only woman Sanada Yukimura ever loved, the one who would take his life now as she had taken his heart long ago. Sengo’s heart burned with anger and hatred, as their swords clashed and he could do nothing to stop them, Yukimura’s body covered in wounds and already exhausted, managing to get this far through his sheer will. In another time, in another battle, perhaps the battle would be different. Come to think about it, these two hadn’t faced each other in the past and there was no way to know back then who would emerge victorious. But now, it was a matter of time and Sengo could only look as hot tears left his eyes, hopeless that he could only stare at his master’s brilliant end.
Yukimura held his chest, stumbling forward as he dropped his spear, metal clanging which cut deep into Sengo’s soul. The tsukumogami didn’t move, the image of Yukimura falling unceremoniously to the ground burning in his eyes, unmoving. He saw himself being carried, Yukimura’s spear also been hold by the enemy’s hand, raised as if both were to touch the sky, the woman not looking once at the fallen man in front of her.
“Sanada Yukimura has been killed in battle!”
There is a time Sanada tries to talk to Sengo, once after dinner and every sword has gone to their rooms to sleep. It’s the winter season and soon only a few lights are scattered through the cold darkness. Sengo stays quietly in front of the small sword, but Sanada can’t find the words.
“Sengo, I…” Sanada tries his hardest but the words all die in his mouth and everything feels like a lie, one so prolongued that Sengo is restraining a sigh and instead he just quietly talks.
“If you have nothing else to say, I’ll excuse myself.”
“W-wait…” Sanada tries to reach Sengo’s hand but the sword is so far away. There is so much he can’t say and so little he can, and Sanada is frustrated by this, wondering that if he can open his heart, hundreds of years after the events, maybe nothing will happen but someone will find solace. “Yu-Yukimura-san wasn’t betrayed…” Sanada can only muster those words but they are enough to lit the fire in Sengo’s eyes and heart, Sengo’s gaze so piercing and deadly that Sanada feels as if he’s seen a demon.
Sengo’s hand clutches into a fist, nails digging through his flesh with enough strength that red drops fall on the wooden floor, but the man says nothing. The vein in his neck trembles, so noticeable that Sanada immediately regrets opening his mouth and he has no courage to say anything after Sengo disappears in the darkness. Sanada sees him not for days and when they meet when their paths come across, it is as if Sengo has seen no one and Sanada grows smaller and quieter.
Sengo could only scowl at the sight of Tokugawa Ieyasu, seeing his own form lying as if he were a winning trophy, another remainder of what had been. Sanada Nobuyuki was in that room, sitting as if nothing had happened, as if he hadn’t betrayed Yukimura and left him to die, having arrived too late to be him who had given Yukimura the final blow. The only thing Sengo could do was to look at these two men as a fire that scorched the soul threatened to burn him, rage so deep and unable to do anything. Sengo was a tsukumogami and this helplessness, this inability to even avenge his fallen master killed him from the inside.
“This was all for the sake of a land of peace,” Ieyasu’s words finally broke the silence and Sengo could only laugh in rage. Only Monoyoshi Sadamune, always at Ieyasu’s side, could listen to him but at this point, Sengo didn’t care. “Future generations will remember Yukimura’s valiant charge and will know him as the best warrior of the land.”
Nobuyuki didn’t react, his face was serene, as if nothing was wrong. “Lord Ieyasu, I long decided that I would fight for your sake. For the sake of this long awaited peace, I had resolved to fight, even if it would be against Yukimura…” Nobuyuki stopped and took a deep breath. “As his brother, it was my duty to see his life scatter as petals. And so I will remain as the trunk of the Sanada clan.”
Ieyasu closed his eyes, deep in thought for a moment. There was no sign of despair in Nobuyuki’s face, just traces of resignation and Sengo’s heart ached as everyone had just decided to turn on Yukimura and accepted his end. The fact that he and Yukimura’s spear were here just added insult to the injury and Sengo wished he would be melted in the fire of the burning Osaka, as anything would be acceptable instead of staying with the Tokugawa. He had seen that Ichigo Hitofuri and Namazuo Toushirou had been brought, scarred by the fire, but Tokugawa Ieyasu had desired to own these blades. If he were to stay… Then maybe his anger would allow him to make true that curse of the Muramasa blades, if he could only make a wish now that everything was lost.
“Nobuyuki.” Ieyasu’s words were soft and anyone would believe he was just a kind man forced to commit the unthinkable, unable to see the ambition and greed under that mask. “Take Yukimura’s spear and sword. Perhaps he would have preferred both stayed in the Sanada household.”
Nobuyuki couldn’t hide his surprise and when he held Sengo’s sword, the solemn resignation broke through the cracks as he bowed deeply, perhaps to hide his tears.
“Thank you, Lord Ieyasu.”
But to Sengo, that would only mean he would have to spend his remaining life under the house of a traitor as the hatred would corrode him for centuries.
“Well, things have turned out for the…”
“A ha ha ha, you could say that. You could also say it is a complicated situation.”
“Complicated situation is putting it lightly, last time I saw Sanada, the kid seemed like he wanted to cry. I asked him what was wrong and I think he talked to Sengo or something but it backfired somehow.”
“Hmmm, given his rather peculiar awkwardness at communication, I wouldn’t be so surprised.”
“Give me a fucking break, you know what I mean. After their talk, several swords have told me that Sengo looks in a worse mood somehow and Sanada barely articulates two words if he’s in the same room.”
Mikazuki looks up to meet Aki’s eyes, and caresses her cheek even if she doesn’t move and stays on top of him. “You will have to talk to them, then, my beloved Aki. Unless something extraordinary happens, without any sort of intervention the conflict will go nowhere.”
Aki huffs, lies on him and buries her face in his neck.
“This will be a nightmare to deal with.”
“But you managed to make the Shinsengumi swords and Yoshiyuki to get along, don’t you?”
“I beat Nagasone in an arm wrestling match and the rest bonded because of their idiot stunt with that fucking vase.”
“Well, maybe in this case, the dog and the kitten need an extraordinary life-threatening punishment from you so that they make up.”
She bites his neck lightly in response and Mikazuki laughs pleasantly.