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7

Kamakura, Yoritomo’s mansion.

It was a pleasant night with a spring breeze.

Next to Yoritomo, who was asleep in the bedroom, Masako sat, looking down on his sleeping face. But there was not the slightest trace of wifely affection in her gaze.

A lukewarm breeze blew from nowhere in particular, and the oil lamp flickered.

“...En?” Masako said without raising her head.

CORRECT. SHALL I TAKE WHAT I WAS PROMISED?

“Hmph. You’ve got nerve asking that after you failed.”

THE PROMISE I MADE WITH YOU WAS TO POSESS SOMEONE WITH A WEAK HEART AND LEAD THEM ASTRAY. I SAID NOTHING ABOUT WHETHER YOSHITSUNE WOULD LIVE OR DIE

“… Well, never mind. My promise was that I would give you all of Japan. Do not be hasty, En. You will have it soon enough, so until then...”

She gestured to the sleeping Yoritomo with the palm of her hand, and grinned.

MUAHAHA…! YOU ARE A FRIGHTENING WOMAN INDEED! IT IS A SHAME THAT YOU ARE MERELY A MONONOFU VERY WELL. I WILL ENJOY TAKING OVER JAPAN

En transformed himself into a black mist, and slid into Yoritomo’s open mouth as he slept. The moment he did, Yoritomo made an anguished face, and moaned.

“Uuh… Ugggh… Help me…!”

Masako watched his agony with cold eyes, and then softly whispered in his ear.

“My lord… If you are weak-hearted, you will be possessed by Enma...”

Not yet…

Masako stood, her face as expressionless as a Noh mask.

Yoshitsune, your Hell begins here.

She glanced at Yoritomo, who was moaning in his sleep, then spun around and slowly stepped into the darkness, leaving the bedroom.

8

The trees were shining with the green of new leaves, and the water that flowed from the mountains breathed new life into the creatures that lived in the lake.

At the edge of the lake where Yoshitsune was sitting, about a dozen fishes were gathered, nibbling at the aquatic plants as if they were playing.

One month had passed since the battle of Dan-no-Ura.

One year had passed since he first met Dennai and the others.

We met here, spoke here, drank together here, and vowed to create a new future together.

There was a hollow in Yoshitsune’s heart that he could not fill, but this time, he did not lose himself like before.

I think your precious friends would be hoping for you to live life with a smile.”

He reflected on Dennai’s words once again.

If he lost his focus for even a moment, tears would begin to well up in his eyes, but he held them back with effort. He had a feeling that if he cried, Noritsune would scold him with a, “You’re crying again.”

Yoshitsune recalled a conversation he had had with Noritsune long ago. When they were having secret meetings by the lake for the peace negotiations, sometimes the two of them would be left alone together.

“I’m… scared, to be honest. Of my friends dying in battle, or of dying myself.”

Staring at the beautiful moon reflected on the surface of the lake, Noritsune had suddenly opened up. He was probably fairly drunk. Perhaps the alcohol had influenced him to speak his true feelings. Yoshitsune was inwardly surprised at Noritsune’s behavior, but answered, “… I’m afraid of that too.” Noritsune gave a mocking laugh.

“No. You’re not afraid. You’ll throw your life away for someone else at any moment… But the people around you are also willing to throw their lives away for you.

Yoshitsune guess he was talking about Benkei and the others, and smiled.

“They’re just good warriors.”

“Ha! Well, maybe that’s true of Benkei… Because prophetic dreams are my power, I’ve always been afraid of dreaming that someone would die. But even so, when I dream that someone other than me dies, part of me is relieved. Like, ‘Ah, this time it wasn’t me’.”

The hint of self-deprecation in Noritsune’s smile deepened.

“Nori...”

“But, there was something I thought for the first time when I met you. If I died fighting this guy, well, maybe I could accept that-”

“Don’t be so ridiculous! I’m not going to fight you.” Yoshitsune cut him off sharply. But Noritsune didn’t seem to mind, and gulping down his cup of sake, continued cheerfully.

“If I get a warning of my own death, I can’t just go along with it and die. I want to die fighting with my own strength until the very end. That’s the reason I’ve been able to keep myself together until now.”

“...”

Yoshitsune was speechless, and Noritsune added with an unconcerned expression, “Well, when the time comes, no matter who wins or loses, let’s not have any hard feelings about it!”

“In the next world, in the next world we will meet again, above the clouds dyed in purple...”1

Yoshitsune had recited, looking up at the moon. Noritsune had laughed at him and said, “What a terrible poem,” but now the feelings he put into that poem became even stronger.

No matter how many times we are reborn, we will meet again like this, and go to the next world together.

The faces of the friends that had passed on before Yoshitsune appeared in his mind one after another.

“We will surely meet again. Definitely,” he said to each of them in turn.

Suddenly, ripples spread across the surface of the lake, though there was no wind. Yoshitsune sensed a faint presence, and looked up. Before his eyes, a mirage was shimmering. It was Kage.

It has been a long time, Yoshitsune.

“Kage, I’m sorry about Hiyori. I couldn’t...”

Hiyori is here. Do not worry. Yoshitsune, my spirit is becoming weaker. Listen closely… Your brother, Yoritomo has been possessed by En. Sooner or later, he will aim to take your life.

Yoshitsune was unable to speak. En, who has stolen so many people who were dear to me one after another, is trying to take another one from me? Why does he haunt me so persistently?

His entire body was shaking with fierce anger.

“How can I… save my brother?”

Do not think of saving your brother. The weak-hearted are already the avatars of En. If you do not kill Yoritomo, then you will be killed. And turmoil will visit the world once again.

Yoshitsune was not swayed by Kage’s words.

“Kage, I’ve come to understand something. What you need to win a battle is not strength or supernatural powers, it’s will. The strength to proceed without hesitation. So I will never give up. I’ll save my brother, and send En to his grave forever, so that he can never rise again.”

Hm… It seems that you have changed somewhat, Yoshitsune. But do not forget. Eventually assassins will be sent to Kyoto to collect your head. Your brother, or the country. It all depends on your decision. Don’t… forget… that…

At that point, Kage’s voice vanished.

Yoshitsune sat there in thought for a while, then stood up forcefully, as if he had let go of something, and looked up at the blue and distant sky.

A sharp flash of golden light ran through his eyes.

I’ll do it.

I’ll struggle until the very end, until there is no more war in this world.

I will create the era that so many of my friends dreamed of and staked their lives on.

As if it was watching over Yoshitsune as he slowly left the forest, a small fish from the lake leapt high into the air. Its beautiful scales reflected the sunlight, and glimmered with great strength.

---

1This is a quote from the Gikeiki, a 15th century retelling of Minamoto no Yoshitsune’s life. In that version of the story, the poem is a response from Yoshitsune to Benkei.

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