Masashi began the ride to Hokkaido after three days of resting at home.
The air outside New Chitose Airport wasn’t hot and humid like he thought. It was rather refreshing.
Hokkaido was more comfortable than Tokyo. The average day temperature was around 20C even during the hottest months of July and August.
It was already 4pm after settling in a hotel. Masashi stood in front of the windows and looked down at the city.
The next day, he went to the address ReiLi gave him, and finally found the Nagakawa house after asking around.
Masashi doubted he might have gotten the wrong place, since it was dojou. However, the house plates read Yagyu Dojou confirmed this was Nagakawa’s home since he belonged to the Yagyuu faction.
A teenage boy in kendo uniform opened the door.
“How can I help you?”
“I am looking for Nagakawa Kenichi-san.”
“My apologies, Kenichi san is not here.”
“What about Kenji-san?”
“He’s not here either.”
“Who’s in charge currently?”
“The master of this dojou is Minoru Watanabe-san.”
“Is he Nagakawa Kyuujirou’s disciple?”
The boy was unhappy that he called Nagakawa Kyuujirou by name. “Minoru-sensei was Nagakawa-san’s first student. What else do you need?”
“Good, I want to see him.”
“Minoru-sensei probably doesn’t have time to see you right now. Please come back next time.”
“Go tell him that Nagakawa Kyuujirou’s old friend sent someone to find him and he will see me.”
“You really know Nagakawa-san?” The boy doubted.
“Just relay these words to Minoru Watanabe.” Masashi was getting impatient.
The boy hesitated for a bit then went back in.
After a while, a middle age man came back with the boy.
“You are the first student of Nagakawa Kyuujirou, Minoru Watanabe?” Masashi studied him carefully.
Watanabe frowned. “I am. How can I help you?”
“I… My shishou is an old friend of Nagakawa. He left an item at my shishou and I am here to return it to the descendants of Nagakawa.”
“Can I have the name of your shishou?”
“What!? Your shishou is Rei Yin senpai?” Watanabe was shocked.
“Please come in.” Watanabe immediately invited Masashi into the dojou.
The boy looked in surprise since he had never seen his sensei giving so much respect.
In the parlor, Watanabe prepared tea for Masashi.
This large man actually had good tea making technique. “Your technique is almost at the level of your master.”
“Sensei once said that the art of sword is the art of tea. However, I still don’t understand what he meant to this day.”
“That’s because you treat the art of sword as one to kill. Is the art of tea really just to prepare a cup of tea?” Masashi said calmly.
Watanabe was shocked and felt enlightened. “Thank you for your teaching. I will never forget.”
A girl in white uniform walked in.
“Watanabe nii-san. Are you looking for me?”
“Rumi, come over.”
Watanabe said to Masashi. “Hirota-san. This is sensei’s granddaughter, Nagakawa Rumi, and also the heir to this dojou.”
Then he said to the girl. “Rumi, this is Rei Yin senpai’s disciple, Hirota Masashi-san.”
“The disciple of Rei Yin senpai?” She looked at Masashi in surprise.
“Hello, can you take me to your grandfather’s spirit tablet?” Masashi looked at the descendant of his old friend gently.
“Please, please this way.”
Masashi stared at the portrait quietly in this large room.
“Can you let me sit here alone for a while?”
Watanabe and Rumi silently left the room.
“Nagakawa, do you still remember me? I am Rei Yin.” He said to the portrait.
“You probably won’t believe it but I am really Rei Yin. Thought I am called Hirota Masashi now.”
“It’s funny right? But I can’t help it either.”
“We were both acting without consideration back then. Even though I found that you changed your name to Nagakawa, but knowing that you did so to avoid me, I didn’t come see you again.”
“Anyway, it’s been so many years and you are gone now, let the past be the past. Do you still remember the ‘Nine Souls’ you left to me? I am here to return it to your family today. You probably want to see it also after parting for so long.” Masashi opened the box he was carrying. He placed the katana in front of the spirit tablet.
“Old friend, sometimes I envy that you can leave so peacefully. Perhaps the next time I see you will be several hundred years later.” Masashi smiled bitterly.
“I have seen your disciple and granddaughter, you have people that can inherit you. Do you still remember Hei? That brat that I had to give a beating frequently. He has grown to an adult but is still stupid. Changan is still wearing a white shirt year round and rarely says anything. Hoho, I seem to been getting old, talking like a housewife. But who else can I say these words to?”
“There’s something I wanted to tell you but never did so back then.”
He paused then said in a low voice. “Sorry, but if time rewinds, I will still do the same thing. I still feel that I owe you. If there is a second life, then you can give me a beating next time you see me.”
“Nagakawa Rumi, come over here.” Masashi said in a serious tone.
“This is the katana your grandfather left to my shishou back then, ‘Nine Souls’. Since Nagakawa is not here anymore, I am handing it over to you. Please take good care of it.”
Rumi opened the box and stared at the katana.
Masashi walked over to Watanabe and handed him a piece of paper. “This is my contact information. Let me know if you have any problem. I will do what I can to help.”
“Hirota-san. I have a request.” Rumi suddenly said.
“I wish to have a match with you. Grandfather said that he could never surpass Rei Yin senpai in his life. I want to have a match with Rei Yin senpai’s disciple in his place.”
“Ok.” Masashi nodded.
“Please follow me.” Rumi brought him to the training lobby.
The students emptied the place since it was rare to see an outsider competing.
“This is your kendo armor and bamboo sword.”
Masashi took the sword but not the armor.
“I don’t wear this kind of things.”
The audiences were enraged.
“Who’s this brat, acting so full of himself.”
“Let me give him a lesson.”
“All of you shut up.” Watanabe shouted.
Masashi said to Rumi who was biting her lips. “I am not looking down at you, but I am just not used to wearing this thing. It will obstruct my actions if I have to wear it.”
“Even though it’s just a bamboo sword, but you will still get injured if you get hit.” Rumi calmed down after hearing his explanation.
“Give it a try first, ok?” Masashi smiled.
Rumi clenched her teeth. “To be fair, I also won’t wear armors then.”
“I couldn’t use any force if you don’t wear armors. What’s the point of the match then.” Masashi frowned.
Everyone felt that Masashi suddenly changed. He was exerting an indescribable pressure.
Rumi looked at Watanabe and saw him nodded.
“Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.” She bowed and went into a stance.
Masashi nodded and stood there casually.
This person was giving her a profound feeling. If it wasn’t for that face, she couldn’t believe he was a high school student.
After a long standoff, Rumi finally moved.
When the sword was inches away from his head, she got nervous. Maybe he couldn’t dodge?
Then suddenly, she felt an impact on her chest then flew backward.
“Ah!” Everyone cried in disbelief.
No one saw how he swung the sword. Everything just happened in an instant.
Watanabe helped Rumi up. She was also in disbelief when she took of her helmet.
“Are you alright? Do you want to try again?” Masashi looked at her.
“Yes, of course.” Rumi looked excited.
“Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.” She immediately stabbed at his throat.
Masashi casually blocked the sword then countered from a weird angle.
Pah! The sword dropped from Rumi’s hand.
She stared at her right hand that got hit and said. “I lost.”
“Pick up your sword.” Masashi said calmly.
“Yes.” Rumi started another round of attacks.
The students were engrossed as the match went on.
They had never seen this kind of kendo. Every hit looked so casual yet the movements were so smooth and aimed at critical spots.
No matter how much Rumi tried to defend, she would get hit within two or three attacks.
Masashi’s attacks were not fast like the first one. It was like he was instructing Rumi.
After a long time, Rumi could no longer hold it and dropped to the floor in one knee.
“Do you want to continue?” Masashi helped her up.
She took off the helmet with her shaking hands and said. “Thank you for your guidance.”
“Very good, you live up as Nagakawa’s granddaughter.” Masashi smiled.
“That’s too flattering.” Rumi blushed.
“I am saying the truth. It’s not easy to reach this level with your age.”
Everyone felt a shiver. Then what about you?
However, Rumi felt happy hearing that.
“Anyone else want to try?” Masashi suddenly felt interested.
But no one said anything. Even though Rumi was still young, she was trained by the old Nagakawa from a young age. No one other than Watanabe could match her in this dojou.
Noticing that Watanabe wanted to say something, Masashi gestured him to stop.
After coming out of the lobby, he said. “If you want a match, we will have it tonight.”
Watanabe knew his intention. He didn’t want to have a match in front of the students, since losing will drop his reputation.
He looked at Masashi gratefully. He knew that he had no chance in winning.
After dinner, the three of them came back to the lobby.
All the students left and the servants were also sent away.
“Hirota-san. Are you sure you don’t need armors?” Watanabe asked again.
“My reason is the same as in the afternoon. It’s not looking down at my opponent. Let us get started.”
Watanabe didn’t insist. He bowed and held the sword with a serious expression.
Rumi was also looking at the two of them in excitement. She didn’t want to miss anything.
Watanabe felt that Masashi changed. It was like he couldn’t sense his existence.
This was a strange feeling. He could see Masashi standing there but couldn’t sense anything human in front.
Is he a spirit? Watanabe thought.
There was no use waiting. He shouted then charged at Masashi.
The sword approached him in slow motion in Masashi’s eyes. He could see every detail of his opponent, the breathing, compression of muscles, enlargement of the pupils…
Wu-dao was something to keep him sane in his endless life.
Masashi himself didn’t know how strong he became after a thousand years of accumulation.
He never fought to his full extent because there was no opponent.
In some sense, it was unfair for him to have any match, unless the other person is in the same condition as him.
At this stage of wu-dao, breakthrough in the mental states was more important than the physical body. He merged himself with the environment so Watanabe couldn’t sense his existence. He could grasp everything happening around him at this state.
When the sword was only a few inches away, Masashi moved.
Watanabe felt that he saw a flash of light then he flew back.
For a moment, he was in disbelief. Rumi was also shocked and finally knew how she was defeated in the first round.
It was too fast. She couldn’t see anything. The sword was like there the whole time and Watanabe ran up to it himself.
This kind of technique was beyond human knowledge. Rumi finally understood what his grandfather said by unable to surpass.
“Hirota-san, I lost.” Watanabe said respectfully.
“Not trying anymore?”
“There’s no need. I am thankful that you showed me kendo can reach such a level. There’s no regret in my life.”
“Don’t talk like you are an old man. You’re still in your forties.” Masashi smiled bitterly. It seemed like he went overboard.
“I can’t imagine Rei Yin senpai’s state when you are already so powerful.”
“What state can he be in, that old man died ten years ago.”
“What? Rei Yin senpai had already left?”
“I never told you?”
Watanabe and Rumi shook their heads.
“Oh, sorry. I accidentally forgot.”