“General!” Atsushi enters the room and salutes like a soldier would do, which is amusing to Aki given her snort and obvious smirk and how ridiculous the short sword looks. “The expedition team has returned.”
“Well, I can tell that,” Aki says as she folds her arms, smirk not fading because his enthusiasm contrasts with the resigned sigh of Uguisumaru, punished to go on expeditions for slacking in his internal affairs chores and the solemn expression of Tonbokiri, who still remembers the grounds of the decisive battle and offered himself in spite of his subpar camouflage skills. There was a rumor, one the idiot Saniwa from the capital told Aki about, that the Retrograding Army was up to something around Sekigahara grounds. While she didn’t believe in it herself, seeing how the Army seemed to be a mess, she had sent someone to investigate.
“We went to Sekigahara, as you said, General!” Atsushi continues his report. “The Retrograding Army was indeed lurking around Sekigahara. I noticed suspicious activity coming from the Western Army camp and thanks to Tonbokiri’s directions, we made our way unnoticed!”
“The Retrograding Army was using Sekigahara as a stronghold, Master,” Tonbokiri continues with a nod. “It seems that they are not planning to launch their attack on those grounds, but they are preparing themselves for a surprise attack.”
Aki notices the tension in Uguisumaru’s face as she gives him cold eyes, his name casually not mentioned once, seemingly that he just tagged along.
“But Uguisumaru-dono did aid us,” Tonbokiri quickly added as if he noticed that Uguisumaru was in bigger trouble. “Neither Atsushi-dono nor I could find out where they were planning to strike. However, Uguisumaru was searching a nearby area and eavesdropped on between two soldiers.”
Uguisumaru’s shoulders relaxed but Aki’s glare doesn’t. She twitches her mouth as she rolls her eyes, since Tonbokiri is too nice and a good comrade to tell that Uguisumaru actually stumbled on that scene, probably after giving up on trying to decipher the maps the Retrograding Army had and wasn’t intentionally trying to find any information.
“So, Ugu managed to avoid punishment because he got lucky. Then?”
It is in that moment that the atmosphere grows quiet and tense and the three men look at each other before replying.
“Well, about that…” Tonbokiri says.
Nobuyuki had been looking up at the thick trunk of a sakura tree when the footsteps coming from behind made him turn around. There was a thoughtful longing look in Nobuyuki’s eyes, one matching his fading, ethereal voice. “I used to watch the cherry blossoms with Yukimura like this all the time. We would train our hearts out in the storms of petals.”
They were words faint and dreamlike, unbecoming of the battle to follow, as both were standing before Osaka Castle and what would be the Toyotomi’s last stand.“Yukimura kept his name, and I kept our clan… I wanted to become a trunk like this. A trunk to let Yukimura bloom like a flower… Yet if the flower fades and only the trunk remains… Is there any meaning to be found in such a thing?”
Before Nobuyuki could say a word, the palm of a hand hit him in the face.
“Are you going to accept things like this?! Are you not going to do something?”
Nobuyuki held his cheek, quickly warming only to find the vivid eyes of that woman, veil finally discarded.
“Yukimura is trying to live a life of justice… I have the duty of seeing it through the-"
“Cut out the bullshit!” Rinne’s voice hollered even though it was said in a low voice to avoid being heard, but with enough force to stop Nobuyuki in his tracks. For the first time he had seen the loyal brave warrior full of rage. “Are you going to say the same as others?! It’s your brother!”
“It is because Yukimura is my brother that I must do this myself. I’ve vowed to see this land to peace-”
“Everyone always says they want to end this age of family killing each other, of friends fighting… But who is actually doing that? You just keep doing the same, with some excuse that it will end the fighting somehow.”
“We fight because we want this era to end. Because we have to fight… I must see him through the end. The way his petals scatter…”
“Is that so…” Her words were as sharp and cold as her blade, Rinne looked at Nobuyuki with the most defiant gaze she ever had, one which made him doubt of the person in front of him. “If that is what you want to delude yourself with, to help you sleep at night, fine. But I warn you, Nobuyuki. Do not get in my way.” She pointed her blade at Nobuyuki’s neck with the fierceness of the thunder. “If you won’t help me, then stay away of this. I will not hand him to you, I won’t let you or anyone kill him.”
In that moment, everything made sense. Hanamura Rinne had never intended to fight Yukimura. Instead, in a mad desire to save him, she had joined the enemy, turning her back on him, just on the hope that she could somehow prevent his fate.
“I’ve seen too many people die already,” she said as her eyes welled up but she refused to let the tears flow, voice forcefully steely. “I’ve seen too many sacrifice themselves, and I’m tired of everyone saying they have to kill those they love so that future generations don’t have to do it. I won’t let you kill him.”
“If you attempt to help him, you’ll be executed.”
“Then, in that case, this world will know my rage and I will curse the Tokugawa with my last breath.”
“The Retrograding Army is planning to ensure Sanada Yukimura’s survival,” Aki reveals the news to everyone gathered in the meeting room, without any sugar coating, perhaps because doing so would be a greater nightmare.
Truth be told, most of the swords aren’t actually affected by this event, since most of them belonged to Tokugawa henchmen but a lot of them are quicker to catch the why her words are far more serious than any other news so far. Except for the Shinsengumi and the Kotetsu siblings, all swords except for Tonbokiri, Monoyoshi, and Sanada are looking at Sengo, who stands as calmly as if he hadn’t heard the news. There’s a thick tension in the air, no one daring to say a thing or to even swallow or breathe because they all know.
Most of them don’t need an explanation, the Retrograding Army will ensure Yukimura survives the Summer Osaka Siege and what their mission entails. But no one wants to even say the obvious, that they will have to make sure Yukimura dies, the same fate that befell the Shinsengumi army and the decisions the Shinsengumi swords had to take.
But unlike the Shinsengumi, a group of friends who overcame their grief and despair, Sengo is alone, surrounded by people who do not remember their past and swords who he sees as traitors to his Master.
There is a moment of dread, and Aki sighs and smashes all tension, seemingly aware that there was no way to avoid this. “If there is someone who wants to suggest themselves to this campaign, let me know. As you know, any sword who was actually there and can help us with the layout of the castle and battlefield will be of greater help. Those on the Toyotomi side, don’t feel forced to come if you find it impossible to be there once more.” There is a defeated understanding nod from Ichigo, as he knows that he, Namazuo, and Honebami won’t be of much help and truth be told, would rather not be there and revive their own personal hell.
However, for the first time no one else dares to raise a hand. It’s out of fear and concern. Given Sengo’s hate, no one wants to be the sword that will indirectly cause Sanada Yukimura’s death once more. No one wants to reopen the dreadful wounds and hurt his comrade or incur his rage. But no one wants to force him to revive his nightmare and make him relive his pain, as many can relate to his grief.
Aki says nothing, though her face shows no anger and instead understanding concern. Her voice is softer now. “If you do want to volunteer, drop by the office. You can tell me or Mikazuki. Your participation will not be disclosed, if you are worried about that and I’ll beat down whoever makes some shit joke out of this. Dismissed.”
Her words don’t dispel the tension, lingering faintly as most of the swords leave, many of them giving Sengo one last look before going back to their duties. When everyone has left, only Sengo and Sanada remain in their places, Aki and Mikazuki figuring that would be the outcome.
Aki moves closer to Sengo and speaks in a low tone, not exactly friendly but not aloof either, “Sengo, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”
“Master Wakatsuki…” Sengo looks at her in the eye, gaze so serious and bitter, but he doesn’t elaborate further. It seems he’s torn between his duty, he’d be the one whose knowledge would be the most important since the Retrograding Army would be focusing on the Toyotomi camp and the other swords back then can’t remember anything. But at the same time, she understands that going there would mean seeing Yukimura dying once more.
“Think about it. I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want to. No one in this citadel goes to a battle they don’t want to, especially if it’s one that hits close home.”
With as much as a faint nod, Sengo leaves quietly, not looking once at Sanada, but even if Sengo is gone, Sanada can’t stay still, playing with his hands as he crouches even more than usual, refusing to look up to meet anyone’s eyes.
“Hmmm, what is the matter, Sanada-kun?” Mikazuki has noticed Sanada seems to try to say something. “Are you considering joining the expedition? Fear not, if Sengo decides to go there, you won’t be forced to be in the party if you wish to avoid any fights.”
“Th-that’s not it…” Sanada’s hands are clutched tightly and he needs some breath to look up to them. “Th-there is something I have to tell you….!”
Aki raises an eyebrow and comes closer, hands on her hips as if urging him to spew whatever he has to say.
“The truth is—”
Sanada Toushirou crept behind Nobuyuki, hiding in the shadows of the night. He held his sword tightly, even more than ever. The fighting was already over but he was aware that his master was in more danger than ever, any mistake, any sound could prove the undoing of Nobuyuki and so Sanada had to be prepared. There was a restless silence, most people were sleeping already scattered through the plain fields forcing Nobuyuki to hide behind trees, only the moonlight being the one guiding Nobuyuki and Sanada as they made their way through.
It was a roundabout way but soon he reached the other set of houses where the rest of the high ranking warriors stayed, too far from his own lodge. The lights were out but as he got closer he could see dimness in the cracks of one of the doors and Nobuyuki carefully knocked on it.
For a moment there was no answer, except for a blurred “Who is it?” to which Nobuyuki replied with his name. Then, the door opened just barely enough for a man to slip in and in an instant, Nobuyuki faded from the outside. Sanada whimpered in vain as he saw Nobuyuki being pushed by a man, one neither of them had seen before but brusque enough to treat Nobuyuki unruly, guiding both to the end of the house, where several candles faintly lit the room. Sanada was vaguely aware of what they were going to do but he couldn’t freeze in shock as he saw Yukimura’s sleeping figure surrounded by two other people. It wasn’t the same for Nobuyuki, whose knees gave away and he let himself fall on the floor needing some time to recover.
“Did someone follow you?” The rude man asked, to which Nobuyuki could only shake his head faintly, still unable to believe his eyes.
“Ho-how is he…?”
“He’s hurt but he’ll survive,” a second man replied, moving to make room for Nobuyuki and the rude man to sit. “Rinne’s been taking care of him since she got here. Your brother won’t die any time soon, it seems.”
Nobuyuki’s lips quivered as he brought a hand to his eyes, breath increasing as he let out a strained sigh of relief. Perhaps he needed to see the man in person to really believe Yukimura had been saved somehow and it wasn’t a lie. It was then when Sanada saw Rinne kneeling next to Yukimura, with a damp cloth in hand, slowly rubbing his face. Most of Yukimura’s body was bandaged, and his face was covered in tiny cuts and one bruise which seemed to cover part of his cheek. He slept soundly though, as if the fight from ago hadn’t happened, as if everything was a lie.
“It’s too risky to move him, there are still many people around. We have to- Ah… Hanamura Daigo, Rinne’s brother.” The second man brusquely added, and now that Sanada had a better look at him, he was fairly similar to Rinne, both sharing brown hair and blue eyes though his were far more jaded and melancholic than hers. Perhaps he would understand Nobuyuki’s worry as an older brother, Sanada thought. Then, Daigo shot a look at the rude man, which made him arch an eyebrow and huff annoyed.
“…What? Are you fucking…. Ugh, fine. Komatsuzaki Ren,” the rude man grumbled as he rested his chin on his hand.
“Sanada Nobuyuki,” Nobuyuki nodded in courtesy.
“Yeah, yeah we know,” Ren added with another huff. “Rinne told us all about you and your moron bro-”
“Ren!” Rinne snarked as she stepped into the conversation. “You have to be nic-”
A rasp cough and a painful groan interrupted them as an injured Yukimura tried to intuitively get up. “What… where…?”
“Yukimura,” Rinne cooed in a gentle voice as she hurried to stop him from moving. “Shush, you’ve been hurt and you’ll open your wounds.”
“The battle… What about…”
A deadly silence engulfed the room, Yukimura looking at Rinne who didn’t turn away but didn’t answer either. There was a grave tension in the air, one which then was reflected in Yukimura’s frowning expression. Nobuyuki hesitated to say anything and Daigo simply gave his sister a thoughtful look.
“The Toyotomi lost. It’s over.”
Ren’s words, out of nowhere and without any hint of emotion, sliced through the tension for a moment, just to increase the dread. Yukimura forced himself up, ignoring Rinne’s pleas and attempts to stop him and stared fiercely at Ren not before realizing Nobuyuki was in the room as well.
“What did you say….?”
Ren groaned in exasperation, unable to restrain an annoyed frown. “Osaka Castle was set on fire, you know Hideyori committed suicide. What the fuck did you expect?”
The last words seemed to ring in Yukimura’s ears as Sanada saw the man’s face unusually pale and stern, gaze darkening. But if Ren thought about Yukimura’s feelings, or if he actually cared, there was no way to tell and the man didn’t relent. “You knew there was no way you could win this, don’t act so surprised to hear you lost. It’s a fucking miracle you are still in this world, so I would be more amazed about that if I were you.”
“…Why am I here?”
Ren let out a sharp sigh and shook his head, perhaps in disbelief at Yukimura’s reaction. Maybe it was because no one else knew how to tell Yukimura what had happened and he was just fed up of beating around the bush. “Why else, you moron? Your brother and Rinne didn’t want you to die. I can’t fucking believe I have to explain this shit. Rinne, you said he was an airhead, not a goddamned idiot.”
Yukimura seemed to ignore Ren’s remark and instead looked at Nobuyuki for the first time. Sanada could feel the tension in his master’s shoulders, never once either had seen such a hard look in Yukimura’s eyes. “Where are my weapons?” Yukimura’s voice was low, unnaturally so and lacking that passion of his, almost empty of anything.
“They are in Lord Ieyasu’s lodge,” Nobuyuki’s voice was calm, never betraying the despair the man was feeling at the moment. “They are the trophies of the Tokugawa, proof of your death.”
Yukimura closed his eyes, in thought for a moment, one where no one else tried to say add anything or explain themselves. Perhaps they all knew that trying to reason right now would be a risky move, as Yukimura was known for being too stubborn for his own good. “Are you carrying your Toushirou blade?” Yukimura’s words made Sanada turn, almost as if the man was talking to him and not to Nobuyuki.
“Hand it over so that I can finish what you prevented me in the battlefield.”
In that moment, Ren stood up abruptly and in a flash followed by the flicker of candles, he was grabbing Yukimura’s collar so fast and unexpected that no one could even stop him. “What the fuck are you saying, you fucking coward?! The Toyotomi are gone so now you want to die, after the fucking hell everyone has gone through.”
“This fucking idiot,” Ren growled as he pointed at Rinne, “has been watching your back for fucking years, going as far as bowing her head to that goddamned tanuki all so that you spit in her face about dying with the Toyotomi? Your fucking brother asked to be killed in your place after your stunt in Ueda. Are you fucking shitting me?!”
“Ren.” Daigo’s voice was calm but there was a deadly tone in that word which made Ren free Yukimura, shoving him aside.
But Yukimura didn’t react and with an impassive voice, he said, “I didn’t ask any of them to save me.”
Sanada could feel the despair in Nobuyuki’s heart, as his shoulders slumped, having heard the thing he had feared the most, the one thing Nobuyuki had prayed to not happen. He was certain, Yukimura had been so insistent on dying, so much that even Nobuyuki had given up on reasoning with him but deep inside he had hold out the hope that maybe Yukimura would change his mind and soon they would be waking up from that nightmare. But Yukimura wasn’t known for being thoughtful, he was better known for being stubborn.
“I have said this before. I am a warrior who can only wield his spear and I have inherited the Sanada spirit and the name. I have to prove my way to life to the world and scat-” A loud hit to his cheek, one which resounded in the room, cut him short. Yukimura instinctively brought his hand to his cheek, quickly heating up as he turned to see Rinne’s furious glare.
“You idiot! After all this time, you’ve learned nothing!” Her voice was strained with anger, one which made her tremble and watered her eyes. “You didn’t learn from the Chosokabe, from Mitsunari, not even from the people who have just died in this pointless battle… You’ve refused to open your eyes to the world, to see how things were changing… You said… You said you knew nothing, but you never bothered to learn anything! How long are you going to hide yourself behind the Sanada name and the warrior spirit?! How long are you going to keep on spewing that bullshit that you hardly believe? You couldn’t even realize the world, the reality you live in and to this day you still don’t even know your place in the world. You never thought about a land of peace, not even in exile and you never bothered to find one.”
Her words kept on flowing and by now Yukimura couldn’t hold her gaze, looking to his side, face with a hard-to-read expression that Sanada could just guess to be between surprise and bitterness. The other people in the room made no attempt to dissuade her, the only one who at first was going to say something was Nobuyuki himself, maybe to protect Yukimura from the truth once more but there was no way back, he wouldn’t be able to stop Rinne this time.
“Do you think you are unnecessary? Have you thought about everyone who loves you? Have you even thought that after the war was over people would be needed to rebuild everything that was destroyed? Did you even think that you have to carry the burden of the lives you’ve taken and go on? You’ve talked about honor and righteousness in the past but where is that in your actions?! To leave this world without doing or facing what you’ve done, only wanting to die in blaze, do you think that’s even going to work? Your death against adversity, against all the odds is nothing more than a self-righteous silly pointless tragedy. You can’t change anything by dying. You change things, no matter how little, by living and showing that to others.”
By now Rinne was holding Yukimura’s clothes, the man forced to look at her in the eye, even if hers were brimming with tears that she refused to drop.
“All this time, all these years I hoped you would be able to see and figure your place in this world, one outside of battle but you never did, you couldn’t even see the Toyotomi were crumbling apart. You hoped of reuniting what was lost and instead of living their legacy through you just decide to die instead. It was you and your brother who got you to this point! He shielded you away from the truth, keeping you innocent but unaware of the world around you, and you never bothered to see beyond your spear. Do you value yourself so little that your only worth is by dying and not living!? Do you even understand how painful it is to see someone you love lose themselves to meaningless cause, thinking death is the only answer and unable to see their worth? You are nothing but an ignorant child, Yukimura, one who didn’t even think through the consequences of what he did and who can’t even understand any-!” Daigo’s hand on her shoulder cut her short, Rinne realizing that perhaps she had said too much. Without finishing her sentence, she let go of him and tried to compose herself, a hand going over her eyes. “I-I need some air, excuse me.” Her mouth tightly shut as if preventing herself from saying anything else, she disappeared in the darkness without looking at anyone, not even to Yukimura’s silent figure. Even when she left, there was a lingering bitterness, one where no one could find the right words to say, if anything could be said already.
Sanada always stayed by Nobuyuki’s side, fully aware that Nobuyuki was at loss, Rinne’s words hitting him right through his heart, faintly reminiscent of that conversation of long ago. He knew they were the truth, if somehow Nobuyuki had done things differently, maybe Yukimura would not refuse to live, maybe he-
“When you die, there’s nothing else that can be done.” Daigo’s voice was quiet and serene, despite the gruffness of his voice. “It is only because you are alive you can choose what you can make best of your life. Even when at this age, despite your mistakes in the past, you can still do something.” The man looked at Nobuyuki, without adding anything else, but Nobuyuki’s eyes glinted in realization. He closed his eyes and bowed his head, unable to stop the tears from flowing
“Yukimura, please… Please keep on living.”
“…What did you…”
Sengo’s voice is devoid of any strength and comes out as nothing but a mere whisper. He’s no longer in seiza position, the shock too much that he lost his balance and is now on fours, hands shaking as he struggles to look up at Aki.
“This is not… How?!”
Aki frowns and runs her hand across her face, expression of confusion but also of annoyance because they have gotten unexpectedly in a greater mess. “The fuck I know how this happened. Your friend knows all the details and it seems to be a fucking trainwreck, but he made one thing very clear, Yukimura didn’t die in Osaka.”
Sengo’s eyes are wide open, body trembles as his sight begins to blur because of water, head hanging low and faint drops falling on the tatami floor.
“A ha ha ha, Master is so mean, Master should be more considerate about this miracle happening before our eyes, hundreds of years behind.”
Aki folds her hands and huffs, “It’s not like I’m not happy for Sengo but this gets us in more trouble.” Aki turns to Mikazuki and in a serious tone says, “We can celebrate this later, but I need you to bring these swords immediately. We have no time to lose.”
Because few know that Sanada Yukimura didn’t die in Osaka Castle, he was more known for his final charge into the Tokugawa camp.