Mune’s hopes of getting to know more of Sengo were quickly dashed. Nagahei prevented him from entering the forge one day, informing him that the mysterious man had requested it. The owner said that he did not want to, but customer orders were building up quickly, and he could not have anything in the forge distracting his apprentices.
With no access to the forge, he knew that the avenues for finding out more about Sengo were narrowing. The other apprentices knew little more than that he worked with them, and Nagahei had advised that he wished to respect the privacy of one of his most able workers. Mune spent the day surveying the layout of the forge district, with more time allocated to what surrounded Nagahei’s shop. The original builder must not have trusted their staff, as the only way to exit was to walk out the front door.
As the sun lowered and dusk began to colour the city orange, Mune stood in a side alley that faced Nagahei’s shop. He made sure that he stood out of view, so he did not draw attention. The apprentices he had toured the temple district with left as darkness fell, looking weary from the hard days labour. Around an hour after that, Nagahei stepped out. He turned and yelled something back into the shop.
A large amount of time passed, and the forge district had become silent. Mune had begun to doze, but was brought back to attention by a metallic rattle. He saw a cloaked figure locking up Nagahei’s shop, noting with interest that the person wore what looked like a metal gauntlets. The person turned to the street, looking around as if they had a feeling they were being watched. Moving deeper into the shadows, Mune waited until the figure moved away from the forge.
Keeping pace with the cloaked person, but trailing back far enough for the sound of his boots on the ground to not give him away, Mune kept his eyes focused on his target. The path taken was full of loops and side-tracks, and alternating between busy areas and quiet ones. Despite this, Mune managed to keep track. Reaching the South Gate, the guards let the cloaked person pass easily. When he tried to do the same, the guards stopped and queried why he was leaving the city at such a late hour.
“I have been waiting months for the sword I commissioned Nagahei to create. He told me that his most prized apprentice was on the job.” He pointed after the cloaked figure. “I paid handsomely, and yet his apprentice does not put in the extra time to prepare my weapon. If I get called up for duty without a weapon, my master will be furious.”
The guards looked at each other, as if trying to decide on the merit of his story. After a quick warning to be careful, they let Mune through. Surveying the lands surrounding the city in starlight seemed fruitless, until he noticed a small patch of orange light in the distance. With nothing else to guide him, he made his way towards it.
As he got closer to the source of the light, he saw that it was a small village. Keeping behind trees, he saw that it was made up of ten modest huts, with the only movement due to the flicker of the flames in its centre. He quietly moved out from the trees and headed towards it. As he stood in the clearing between village and the trees, he looked around for any movement. Sensing nothing, he moved closer.
As he reached the first house, a figure stepped from it. Wearing dark trousers and a long-sleeved white shirt with a hood, they held a sword in their gauntleted right hand. A dry and rough voice came from underneath the hood.
“If I had wanted you to follow me, I would have invited you.”
Mune sized up the person, seeing them for the first time without a cloak or shrouded in darkness. “You are Sengo, I presume?”
The figure nodded. “I am.”
“I only had one question for you about that sword, so to have Nagahei keep me out of the forge was unnecessary.”
“I go there to work, not to socialise. Yasugawa is a hard customer to please, and the pace I keep is out of necessity. That it means I do not speak to the other apprentices is a side effect.”
Mune nodded to the weapon that Sengo held. “Then answer me now. Where did you get that sword?”
“I found it when I assisted in clearing the debris of Honno-ji. It was lying next to the charred remains of a severed hand, near the remains of Daimyo Nobuoda. I took it before anyone else got the chance.”
“I knew the person who wielded that weapon. I have fought against that sword, and its importance to the family who have passed it down generations. As you stole it, I only wish to return it to them.”
Sengo laughed. “It is not stealing. It belonged to no-one when I found it, since whoever wielded it must have died in the fire.”
Mune pulled his sword from its casing. “You have one last chance to hand it over willingly, before I am forced to take it from you.”
The figure assumed a starting pose. “You will have to cut my hand off to take it.”
Mune moved in quickly, trying to keep his emotion in check against Sengo. He noted that the hooded fighter had excellent technique, though he seemed to be out of practice. Mune easily pressed his advantage, but Sengo had just enough ability to avoid being overpowered. Mune struck the man’s sword hand many times, trying to make him drop it without causing a mortal wound. His sword rang against the gauntlet, but the hand never released.
Sengo never attempted offence, only trying to defend Mune’s strikes. Some faces peered out of the doors of other houses in the village, though they did not venture out. The pair pushed into the centre of the village, with Mune pressing as hard as he could against his adversary. Wearying quickly, Sengo tried to keep his footing as he was forced backwards. Mune landed a hard strike, sending his adversary’s sword hand out of position. He struck again, and to his shock, the gauntlet flew off Sengo’s arm, never releasing the sword.
As the gauntlet and sword landed on the ground, Mune turned back to the defenceless Sengo. The defeated fighter’s head was lowered, and his shoulders were shaking. After putting away his sword, Mune pulled the hood away. Small patches of hair stood amongst burned skin. He lifted Sengo’s head, and looked upon a face that seemed made of melted red and black wax. Despite this, Mune looked into the man’s eyes, and recognised them through the tears. He gripped the crying figure in a tight embrace.
“Gods, Mura! What happened to you?”
– X –