Surrounded by ten guards, the two smiths were marched into Edo Castle.
Mune, Mura and the night guard who collected them arrived at Mura’s shop, which was engulfed in flame and billowing dark smoke. Ten people were standing out front, cheering as they watched the inferno. Another set of night guards had already arrived, and were able to stop them turning on Mura. They turned out to be the disgruntled relatives of those who had killed others or themselves with one of his blades, finally earning a measure of redemption for their loved ones.
Mura bowed his head, asking forgiveness for what he had done. The vengeful relatives did not want to hear his apology, claiming he knew nothing of the suffering that they were enduring. At these words, he pulled back the deep hood of his cloak. The ladies in the group screamed at the sight of Mura’s face, the orange glow of the fire adding to the nightmarish charring and burns.
He addressed those in the group still able to hear. “I know much of suffering, as I have lived with this for the past two decades.” He reached out his right arm, and used his left to pull away the metal gauntlet, showing the half of a forearm that remained. “I found my refuge in smithing, but I made a mistake in how I went about my work. My pain and suffering found a way into my blades, and that is what caused your family members to do what they did.”
The people looked upon Mura’s disfigured face and destroyed arm, the anger in their features softening to looks of pity or a measure of understanding.
Mura raised his intact arm towards his friend. “This is Mune, the creator of Hizashi, the blade of Hidetoyo and now Yasugawa.” He turned to face him. “Please, will you replace their swords with one of your creations? Their pain will continue as long as they have them.”
Mune nodded. “I shall do so proudly.”
Mura gave his friend a thankful smile, and then turned back to the grieving families. “Give me your swords. I will see that they are properly destroyed, so none will suffer as you and your families have.”
The family members stepped forward and handed the sheathed blades to the guards, who had stepped in front of Mura to ensure no one had a sudden change of heart. The families then walked away from the burning shop, supporting each other as they did so. The guards took possession of a sword each, with Mura warning them to not remove them from their casings. They walked out of the forge district, towards the centre of the city and their audience with the future Shogun.
After a long walk through the castle grounds and ascending its levels, the guards and the smiths arrived at the audience hall. The room was decorated with amazing pieces of art, from ancient armours to ornate wall paintings and amazingly detailed murals. At the far end, Yasugawa sat on his throne, the dais a measure above the floor. As the group moved towards him, Mura saw that the monk Kaizuiten stood at his shoulder.
Mura leaned over to his friend. “Well, I found have to work hard to find him after all.”
Mune looked to him in alarm. “In the presence of Yasugawa, and these guards, you would engage him? That is certain death.”
“It is what the scroll said must be done.”
Yasugawa arose from his throne, clad in a flowing and elaborate silk robe. He looked upon the group, saving an angry cold glare for Mura’s cloaked face. “Thank you for bringing them to me, guards. That will be all.” The guards all bowed, then turned and left the room.
His gaze fixed again on Mura. “I had heard the stories of your blades. People who wielded them became crazy with bloodlust, going as far as murder or suicide to satisfy a previously unknown desire to spill it. I thought the stories fanciful, until this afternoon.” He raised one of his sleeves, showing a long row of horizontal cuts running up his forearm. “I was training today, and decided to only use Sutaraito. I normally train with both Hizashi and Sutaraito, but I did not today for some reason. I was overcome with the desire, and it took every piece of my willpower to not kill my sparring partner. Before I knew what I was doing, I was gashing my arm at every possible sign of a vein or artery.”
Mura knelt and bowed his head. “I humbly apologise, my lord. I did not know what I was creating with my blades. They were beautiful and strong, but the emotion you have experienced somehow went from me into them.”
The soon to be Shogun looked upon him with confusion. “How could such anger and pain be in you? What happened to cause it?”
The kneeling smith raised his head, and looked to the monk behind the throne, standing as if he was a statue. “The monk known as Kaizuiten to most is the cause. I will always know him as Mitsaki, the man who destroyed my life as a warrior. He tricked me into helping him kill Nobuoda, then severed my sword hand and left me to burn with Honno-ji.”
Yasugawa turned to the monk, whose colour had suddenly drained from his face. “Is this true? I told you I only wanted Nobuoda dead.”
Mitsaki bowed his head. “It is. I took advantage of an opportunity. He brought a group of men with him, saying he had orders to kill Nobuoda. We had common cause, and I tried to ensure the death would not be traced back to you.”
Mune listened in disbelief to Yasugawa’s words. “You were trying to assassinate Nobuoda?”
The old warrior nodded. “And it seems another had the same idea, if they sent this person to Kyoto all those years ago. Nobuoda ruled by force and brutality, earning enough lifelong enemies that he would never have been able to unify Japan. He had to be removed. From there, Hidetoyo stepped in and finished the unification. All I had to do was be patient to achieve what neither of them could: become Shogun.”
Mura looked up in shock. “So I helped put your plan in motion all those years ago?”
Yasugawa nodded. “You did. As a favour, I shall not kill you for what your swords tried ot make me do.”
“I wish only to undo the destructiveness of Sutaraito, my lord.”
The Shogun-to-be looked at Mura in surprise. “That can be done? As it is my favourite sword, I will allow you to do so. What is needed?”
A small glint of triumph showed in Mura’s eyes as he removed his hood and stared at the monk. “My injuries have caused the emotion in the blade. I must do two things. Firstly, the cause of the emotion must be destroyed. Mitsaki must die by Sutaraito.”
Yasugawa visibly reeled at seeing Mura’s face. He picked up the cursed blade in its casing from beside his throne, and held it out to the monk. “You heard what must be done. I give you the same choice that you gave Nobuoda: Die by his hand, or by your own.”
The monk looked to Mura’s ruined features, seeing the rage behind his eyes. He took the cased blade from Yasugawa, removed the blade and plunged it into his stomach. He twisted it as he lowered, staring at Mura the whole time. When he reached the floor, his eyes were already devoid of life.
Yasugawa looked at the fallen monk. “That is a shame, as he was a good advisor to me.” He turned to look at Mura. “You said there were two things that needed to be done?”
Mura nodded. “May I have the blade?”
The older man nodded. Careful to avoid the pooling blood, he knelt and removed Mitsaki’s hands from the blade. Pulling it out, he cleaned it on the dead man’s robe. He stepped down from the dais and held the hilt out to Mura. “The feeling I got this afternoon seems to have subsided, but there is still an unsettled feeling holding it.”
Mura took the blade, and gave it an almost loving gaze. “Once I complete the last step, the sword will be free of the curse it holds. It will only cleanse this blade; the others will still be cursed. They must be destroyed.”
Mune looked at his friend. “You did not tell me what the second step was. The fire and summons stopped you.”
The scarred smith looked to his friend, a sad look in his eye. “The scroll said that two things must be destroyed to remove the curse. The cause, and the creator.”
Before Mune could move, Mura had raised the blade in his left hand and swung it back into his own neck. Sutaraito cut clean through, Mura’s head rolling away as his body collapsed to the floor. Mune howled in anguish, sinking to his knees as his eyes locked on the grisly scene.
Yasugawa looked upon Mura’s decapitated body with a shocked expression. “That was the most honourable thing I believe I have seen; a smith taking responsibility for the pain caused by his own creation.” He moved over to Mune, placing a hand on his sobbing shoulders. “Do not grieve for him; be proud of him.”
Mune looked up, tears rolling down his face. “I always was. He always found a way to be stronger, when life tried to drag him down. Instead of choosing self-pity, he sought his chance to improve himself.”
The old man nodded. “Always remember that. Do not remember this scene. I must do the right thing and stop people using his weapons, should they fall victim to the curses. He will lose the respect of everyone, but know in your heart that he was not what people will believe him to be. Sutaraito will always be partnered with Hizashi, I swear it.”
Mune removed the starlit blade from his dead friend’s grasp, cleaned the blood off it and presented it to Yasugawa. “Thank you.”
– X –