Volume 15 is the final and fifteenth volume of Shigurui that includes chapters 78-84.
The volume ends with an act that will forever change the survivor of the tournament.
Fujiki and Iraku are disturbed deeply by what they experienced as they separately head home. Both arrive at their respective houses and wash away the mud from the rain. Iraku ponders that there was no future in Suruga for him. Though his attendant advises the converse, and states that since a large number of daimyo of clans will be attending the tournament, the fame of his sword will spread throughout the realm in a single day. Irrespective of whether the Dainagon’s line was destroyed, his fame would remain intact. Iraku sees that his sword would be a stepping stone to ascend to Edo which was controlled by Shogun Iemitsu and Iku sees the same goal. Meanwhile, Fujiki acknowledges that the swordsman whose life had been suddenly cut short by Tadanaga, just like Fujiki, had surely an opponent to fight and a house to protect. Fujiki realises his own existence was fleeting, and might fly away in an instant. On this realisation, it occurs to Fujiki that even if the mud could be cleaned from his robes, the blood stains would not wash away. Fujiki embraces Mie. Mie thought “on that night, I will become your wife, please kill him”.
In Edo, the day before the tournament, in a room in the inner citadel of Chiyoda Castle, three high ranking officials of the Tokugawa Shogunate, sit in a triangle. Amongst them was Toshikatsu, Lord of Ooi, the most influential man in the Tokugawa Shogunate who was conspiring with Tadanaga. At the Estate of Doi, Toshiikatsu is doing his utmost to lead the Tokugawa Shogunate. Tadanaga had become too great a problem and had become a cause of great disorder in the realm. Toshiikatsu was using Tadanaga as a means to exterminate this source of unrest in one blow. In Sunpu, at the Okakura Estate, Iraku is listening to Iku explain Fujiki was abandoned as a child. Iraku was not aware of Fujiki’s past at this point.
A blind man visits Iraku, thanking him for being the first to light their hearts, where even the sun refused to shine. Iraku is angered when the man prostrates before him, and orders him to raise his head and tells him they were the same, whether Samurai or night hawk, the Suruga Dainagon or member of the Toudouza, it made no difference. These words wrung from the very depths of Iraku’s soul, which surprised even himself. Iraku had not risen in the world merely in order to satisfy his ambition, but in order to repudiate hierarchical society and the fixed class system.
On the day of the tournament, though Mie acknowledges her cottage was smaller than a closet, while clasping the seashell Fujiki had given her, the maiden felt that she had something far more precious that could not brought by any person no matter how grand. Outside the residence stands Fujiki, Inomata and Mie. A servant arrived from the Castle offering a Palanquin, but Fujiki politely declines, explaining he would prefer to walk on his feet to enjoy scent of the wind and the trees. What Fujiki expressed was exactly what Mie herself had been feeling in her heart. As they walks together, the servant sighs at what he thought were a beautiful couple. It is noted that the beauty of those who live with intention, far exceeded those who merely existed.
On the previous night, Sasahara Shuuza-Burou requests Fujiki and Mie to join him in a certain room within the estate where a painting hung of a mated pair of a black and a red carps swimming upstream in the distant yellow river. Sasahara explains they were crossing the rapids called the “Dragon Gate”. Through the rushing stream pummelled them to their very bones, the pair of carps swim with their hearts as one. When they have passed over the dragon gate, the two carp will transform into a single dragon and ascend to the heavens. Sasahara explains the carp were just like the two of them, the maiden and the swordsman blushed. The young people had exchanged a sacred vow that on the night of victory at the imperial tournament, they would consummate their marriage and join together as one. On the day of the tournament, the participating swordsmen are divided into eleven rounds. With flags displayed, the garden where the participants awaited their turns looked like a battleground. The plain white cotton partitions allotted to each participant might have been mistaken for a place of execution by Hara Kiri. The swordsman are divided into east and west, and placed in the eastern and western gardens, so that they might be spared facing their opponents before the match. At the eastern gate of Sunpu Castle, the young couple were like the carp before the dragon gate. It was not that they were born to fight, they were born to be bound together by this fight.
"Before the Jaws of Death"Edit
“If in one’s heart, he follows the path of sincerity, though he does not pray, would the gods protect him?”
Fujiki recalls during the assassination of the Funaki twins that Iraku vomited afterwards. Iraku was disgusted at being ordered by others to commit murder. Fujiki even felt some respect that his enemy resisted manipulation by anyone. Fujiki has a vision of Gonzaemon and Suzunosuke (the young Kogan-ryuu student Iraku had killed), who advised he must force Iraku to raise his blade upwards.
A number of daimyo sit in attendance. Many worry whether or not this exhibition was legal and considered Tadanaga had gone too far. As Mie hands Fujiki his sword, she has a vision of Fujiki’s face vertically sliced. Fujiki notices Mie’s change of expression, and though Mie lies that she had a vision of Fujiki emerging victorious; Fujiki gives Mie a look which Mie correctly read to mean that Fujiki was not going anywhere.
As Fujiki enters from the west, the gaze of the spectators fall on the one armed swordsman, who consider him deficient and inferior. This was the same way Fujiki’s parents looked at him when he was a child. However, that above all drove him to mercilessly destroy his opponent and that was why he had grown into a demon on the field. From the east came Iraku, again, his blindness and crippled foot dismay the spectators. Fujiki did not look at Iraku but the sound of his dragging foot which foretold of an even more highly developed swordsman. Mie and Iku watch from their respective tents. It is noted that as everything in this world is but a sham, death is in the only sincerity (a reply poem in the Hagakure to the poem quoted from Sugawara No Michizane).
The pair take their respective stances. Iraku in particular begins leaning on his sword, using the cleft of his foot to hold the blade. All who were gathered in that place including Tadanaga are mesmerised by Iraku’s bizarre stance. Fujiki considers Iraku a monster. This power of attraction itself, was a part of Iraku’s deadly technique. The Samurai beheld the tournament with bated breath. Now continuing from the first chapter, Fujiki raises his sword above his head, mimicking the way Mie raised her sword above her head to strike Fujiki the night she ran away.
Fujiki commences his attack, and in the same way Mie threw her sword when Fujiki attempted to subdue her, he throws his sword away towards Iku. Iraku begins to strike, but sensing he is in mortal danger, misses Fujiki. Fujiki’s sword meanwhile lands square next to Iku’s knees. With Iraku distracted, Fujiki draws his short sword and strikes Iraku, who manages to block the attack. Both men appear to recall their match together when they first duelled with wooden swords. Iku, horrified, watches Fujiki using the monstrous strength of his back muscles and his Tsubazemari, (the technique of locking with an opponent’s sword guard and pushing), to overpower Iraku and clefts his breast bone, splitting his heart like a gourd. Iraku envisions his mother, and clasps Fujiki’s head tenderly, envisioning himself not blind, and smiles as Fujiki pushes his sword down further, reaching all the way into his spine. As Iraku lies dead, Fujiki calls his name while Mie watches in tears from afar. At the moment of Fujiki’s victory, the evil spirit lurking in the depths of Mie’s heart vanishes without a trace.
The one armed swordsman had flings away his sword, unable to support its weight, while the blind swordsman, had failed to strike his opponent, thus was the heroic match of secret sword techniques, recorded in the secret annals of the Dainagon. Iku, who is referred to as Bosatsu, a Buddhist term for one who has reached enlightenment and transcended earthly concerns, takes her own life, slicing her own neck against the sword Fujiki threw away, but still embedded in the ground.
Saegusa, Lord of Izu who sits next to Tadanaga, appears visibly shaken on listening to what appears to be an order from Tadanaga. He stands and congratulates Fujiki on how admirably he had defeated Iraku. Saegusa states Iraku, a mere member of the Toudouza, had the effrontery to sully the sacred duelling ground, and for that reason their Lord Tadanaga had already decided to subject him to To-uchi before long (the practice of a feudal Lord personally executing a vassal who had insulted or betrayed him). He orders Fujiki to cut off Iraku’s head immediately, and to stick it on a pike. Fujiki, amazed, could hardly believe his ears, for such an insult to Iraku is unwarranted. It was pride, and for Fujiki, Iraku was pried itself. Saegusa, sweating, and apprehensive of disappointing Tadanaga, yells that it was the way of the Samurai to take the head of a defeated enemy on the battleground and not to hesitate. Saegusa questions whether Fujiki was a Samurai and that he must carry out the duty of a Samurai. Fujiki ponders the statement of Samurai, and thinks back to Kogan, and his childhood, a puppet demon taking orders. Saegusa continues shouting, but Fujiki does not attend to his words. That word Samurai alone reverberates throughout his body. Fujiki thought of the seashell, while all in attendance await Fujiki’s decision with baited breath. Fujiki proceeds.
If one aimed at the juncture between the base of the skull and the spine, decapitation was not that difficult, but Fujiki could muster no more strength than a baby. He grows pale and trembles with the strain, as he can only hack with his sword as if he was sawing wood. He feels nauseated, as if his own cells one after another were being annihilated. Mie watches onwards, observing Fujiki obey and it was not lost on her that Fujiki was behaving in the same way he did when he held her arm down to allow Iraku to rape her. Fujiki eventually displays Iraku’s severed and bloodied head to the Lords and to Tadanaga’s approval. Saegusa states Fujiki will be provided employment at Sunpu, and for this great debt he must offer his life to his Lord. Fujiki prostrates, but vomits while doing so. Departing the tournament grounds towards his tent where Mie awaits, Fujiki looks like a different person from when he entered, all had been stolen from him. All that remains is the pledge with the maiden. As Fujiki steps closer, he discovers Mie committed suicide. She had sliced her own throat.