On the rooftop of a building, drenched black by the rain that had carried through from the evening, two men stood opposed without so much as an umbrella.
A man in black, a man in white. The one in black was a tall, firmly built young man. He hung his black overcoat directly over his bare skin. Age-wise, he looked to be in his early twenties. The long hair that grew to his hips had reached a glistening damp, yet his broad shoulders that would never have him mistaken as a woman exuded a peculiar sensuality. An intrepid beauty in his visage that would turn the head of anyone he walked passed was now clad in a sharp, cold murderous intent.
In contrast, the white adorned a man built like a rock. While he was not tall by traditional convention, not an inch of his body was spared from his muscles that swelled to an armor-esque degree. Through the ferocious fighting spirit dwelling within, that brought to mind a large, carnivorous beast, his brawny body pushing up through his clothing must have been one tempered through real combat.
With a few meters open between the two sides, neither showed the slightest twitch. For more than the past few minutes, they had stood frozen like this.
The petty yells of street thugs resonated from the night shopping district below. Those threatening complaints to intimidate another, when heard from a roof shrouded in true bloodlust, failed to reach the level of a child’s quarrel. Evidently, both sides had taken up their weapon to murder the other, after all. What caught the eye was by no means a small firearm, nor a knife nor any other household blade.
A katana and an axe.
The man in black with a long-sword, seemingly taller than he was; the white-dressed man poised with a thick, sturdy axe in each hand. It was easy to imagine from their stalwart stances that they had both reached a considerable mastery of their craft.
While these were anachronistic props straight out of a medieval battlefield, that didn’t give the leisure to blow the atmosphere away with a laugh. Each one of these three weapons were an article an average joe would struggle to properly lift up. The force unleashed from these masses of heavy metal could more than easily destroy the human form.
“Nngg…!” At the end of this drawn-on staring contest, the man in white groaned. Deep resentment spat out from his mouth topped by a mustache. “Maryuin, I shall slay thee here and now… I must finish things once and for all!”
The black-dressed man called Maryuin made no attempt to respond. He glared unerringly at his foe without moving a muscle. The hilt of his longsword gripped in two hands, he maintained its point held at shoulder height before him, its blade level to the ground. When a blade reached this length, its weight became considerable. The simple fact he could hold a stance with it outstretched spoke volumes to his abnormal physical prowess—albeit, from a strength standpoint, he would have to raise the white flag to his white-clad foe.
“As a holy knight in service to the Divine Dragon Astaloy! Nay… as a single patriot with love for his country, I shall… lay you to rest!” Without expecting an answer, the man continued his one-sided dialogue.
His body swelled a size larger. His was building up his power. The twin axes he had crossed in front of his chest rubbed to a dull grating sound.
“Accursed traitor! Take this, Magic Beast’s Roaring Fang!”
Alongside his scream, the man’s lower body bent as he released the power he had stored.
The step he took in spread cracks along the concrete floor. Hefty leg-strength accelerated his slow-looking bulk off like a bullet. Charging the greatest power he could muster, with his axes crossed, this was a grand-scale technique to pulverize his opponent defenses and all. A means to stop such a charge full-on didn’t exist in any branch of martial arts. Either avoid it, or prevent it before it could be unleashed. A special move like a waterfall. But holy knight’s foe, even with a whirlwind of killing intent right before him, Maryuin’s face showed not the slightest sign of fluster.
Muttering, “Hidden sword, Nanashiki,” he lowered his hips. The blade of his sword let off a faint flash. And—
“…Inconceivable,” the man soundlessly mouthed.
A few seconds later, the one to fall was the man in white. He fell onto his back, the stagnant rainclouds above filling his field of vision. He felt no pain. Strangely enough, his prior tensions and the force of his charge, like a memory from years past, grew distant from his five senses. Even if he was struck down, if he received a counterattack exceeding his charge, it was inconceivable that he felt no impact.
Why, he thought as he searched out his old foe. His head wouldn’t move. His sensations had died out in their entirety. Moving only his eyes, he directed a glance at the man standing nearby. At his feet lay a body all dressed in white.
In that instant, he understood everything. That the sensations themselves had been severed in one stroke. Meaning—
“He took my head.”
The man who had become nothing more than a head thought. Maryuin’s abnormally long katana was made to sever a foe while cleanly evading a charge. To think, come so far, he had forgotten the special traits of the swordsman who had once accompanied him across the battlefield. What a farce that at the same time, even his anger was fading away. Did his will to fight and his desires lie not in his head but his limbs? Most surprising was Maryuin’s technique. The cut was so clean, he could still think after his head was severed—what a reliable swordsman. Whenever they fought together, he had always played second fiddle. At the bar, he would share a laugh with the brat who was ten years his junior, but inside, he always directed a deep-seated respect.
“… That’s right. You always were the… stronger one.” He smiled. As if to say there were no grudges to be had in loss, he directed gentle eyes at his bitter foe.
“Maryuin, why did you betray us?”
The man mouthed, upon which he abruptly went still. With its oxygen cut off, the brain had died.
The emotionless eyes of the man called Maryuin surveyed the empty husk. Raindrops seeped through his bangs, falling past the sides of his eyes. As if he was shedding a flood of tears.
“Holy knight Balzac… I make no apologies. But one day, once it’s all over, the time will come for me to join you.”
An immense amount of blood discharged onto the rooftop. Only the blood sticking to the blade was washed clean by the rain. Without swinging off the excess liquid, Maryuin returned the sword blade to its sheath, his black overcoat trailing as he turned.
“Until the day I… kill the Divine Dragon Astaroy. Until then, farewell, old friend.”
Once the victor had left, the remaining husk spontaneously burst into frames. A blue flame. Without raising smoke, it burned through flesh and bone. So as not to leave a single drop of blood. This was the Oath of the Flame. A magical pact of the ‘Mirror World,’ any knight setting off was obligated to make. No trace of the loser would remain. It was for this reason that only a small few would come to know of the harsh wars that unfolded right underneath the reality of modern Japanese society—
– Excerpt from the Legend of Maryuin, Volume 9