Mutsunokami Yoshiyuki was the first to step out of the forge, and was excited at the prospect of being alive again - properly this time, to see the world that his former master would have wanted to see.
He was every bit as cheery as Sakamoto Ryouma, and livened up the whole Citadel with his antics and barking laugh. He was content to serve under a new master, the Saniwa who chose him and gave him form, and there was never a boring day that passed, for every day new swords joined them - Yagen Toushirou, who was the second to arrive and also emerged from the forge; Gokotai, whom they found on sortie and brought back to the Citadel along with his five tiger cubs; Tonbokiri, who came to them from the government for whom the Saniwa worked for; even Horikawa Kunihiro, who arrived at around the same time as his brother Yamanbagiri and would not stop asking about a “Kane-san".
Idly Mutsunokami wondered who this was. For Horikawa to go on and on about him, he must be a pretty interesting guy. Before long, Mutsunokami found himself wanting to meet this "Kane-san" as well.
So he did the only thing he could think of to satisfy his curiosity. He asked.
"Master, who's that Kane-san guy that Horikawa keeps harping on about?"
To his surprise, the Saniwa smiled, almost shyly, looking embarrassed. "Ah. He's an uchigatana who also served the same master as Horikawa did - Hijikata Toushizou of the Shinsengumi. His name is Izuminokami Kanesada."
Mutsunokami wrinkled his nose. "That's a hell of a mouthful."
The Saniwa rapped him sharply on the head with her pen. "Hey, coming from the man whose name is only one syllable shorter.”
He grinned bashfully, and the Saniwa went on: "In fact, I've actually been waiting for him to arrive for quite some time. Horikawa isn't the only one who's looking forward to his arrival."
Mutsunokami opened his mouth to reply, then closed it. He didn't quite know what to think of that.
On the night after a particularly tough sortie, Mutsunokami was sitting in his room writing up a report for the Saniwa when there was a shuffling noise outside and a soft voice sounded: "Mutsunokami-san?"
"That you, Horikawa?" Mutsunokami called, not taking his eyes away from his writing. "Come on in.”
The shoji door slid open and Horikawa entered the room, bringing with him a tray of tea and cups. He knelt by the desk as Mutsunokami finished the word he was writing and put down the pen, picking up the paper to examine it above the light of the candle by the desk.
"Is that the report for today's sortie?" Horikawa inquired. "Toba, where the Edo period ended, was it?"
Mutsunokami grunted, both as an acknowledgment and as thanks while the shorter sword began to pour out the tea. "Mm. At least we brought that one sword back...what was his name again? The wakizashi?"
They both fell silent for a moment, thinking back to the afternoon's activities when the Saniwa had been so spooked by Nikkari's eccentricity that she brandished an umbrella at him when he cheerfully explained the meaning behind his name and offered to kill any spirits inhabiting the Citadel.
"He, ah, means well, I suppose," Horikawa remarked, chuckling.
Mutsunokami coughed, but his smile was pleasant. "I'm not too worried. He'll fit right in, probably telling ghost stories to the tantous this very moment." His gaze fell to the plate that Horikawa had just put down in front of him and his expression brightened. "Ohh, more daifuku? I thought there weren't any left after dinner, I swear I saw Tonbokiri inhale them all!"
"These are different. The Saniwa made them for everybody.”
"She did, eh?" Mutsunokami picked one up, noting how it felt colder in his fingers, and when he popped it into his mouth he nearly passed out. "Shit, it's cold!”
Horikawa burst into laughter. "It's ice cream daifuku. Like normal daifuku, but instead of red bean paste, it's a kind of frozen food that's made with milk and cream. Master is really fond of it, and wanted for share them with us, since most of us never had anything like this.”
"Man, the future is full of new things, isn't it?" Mutsunokami split the second daifuku between his fingers, surveying the substance inside that melted as he spoke. "A box that can keep food as cold as ice, a camera that gives ya yer pictures right away, and great metal birds that can carry people to other countries faster than any ship!"
"You're more surprised about refrigerators and planes than a machine that can send us back to the past?" Horikawa teased.
Mutsunokami shrugged, a bashful smile on his face. "That's the world Ryouma wanted to see. I guess I was born with the same thought. Seeing all these new things, experiencing them for myself that Ryouma would have wanted...I couldn't ask for anything more. Plus, I get to meet all of ya! All of that is thanks to our Master, right?"
"Even us Shinsengumi swords?" Horikawa asked with a wry expression.
Mutsunokami stuck his tongue out at him. "Hey, quarrelling with ya old-fashioned guys is a pasttime, too. Speaking of that," he added casually, remembering his conversation with the Saniwa earlier. "Aren't we missing a few swords from the Shinsengumi? Er - I was talking to the Master and she mentioned trying to forge someone.”
"Ah, Kane-san?" Horikawa brightened, his cyan eyes shining. "Was Master asking about him? Oh, actually, she could have been referring to Nagasone-san as well... since only Yamatonokami-san and Kashuu-san have joined us..."
"I'm pretty sure she was talking about, er, Izuminokami.”
"He's my partner." Horikawa's expression had softened, his speech quickening the way it did whenever he talked about "Kane-san". "I'm sort of like his assistant. We had the same former master, after all.”
Mutsunokami leaned forward, his report forgotten. "What's he like?”
"Well, he's strong." Horikawa sat back proudly. "Our master used him constantly for quite a while. Though...I haven't seen him since we separated at Hakodate, when my former master sent Kane-san away to his hometown, and only brought me to the battle." Horikawa looked away, suddenly distant. "That was where Hijikata-san died. I remembered feeling the pain that he felt...when he got hit by that bullet. I wonder if Kane-san felt it too, even though he must have been far away by the time it happened.”
Mutsunokami fell silent. He felt as though he was intruding on some sensitive memory, something that he didn't really have the right to know about. But he let Horikawa keep talking.
"Later on, there was some kind of...disarmament policy, or something like that. I remembered being taken away and...dumped into the ocean." Horikawa gave Mutsunokami a humorless smile. "It wasn't cold, just strange. But I remember feeling afraid...I was so scared. I didn't want to be alone down there. And I didn't want to leave Kane-san alone, either.”
"The ocean..." Mutsunokami echoed, and his gaze slid over to the open window, where the ocean was visible beyond the trees, its waves calm beneath the silver moon. “Then..."
"Afraid of the ocean, yeah." Horikawa's smile looked forced. "I don't want those unpleasant memories to come back, you know?”
Mutsunokami knew how it felt to be alone. He was the first sword, after all, and even though Yagen Toushirou, the second sword and the Citadel's first tantou, came along quite quickly, there was a period of time where Mutsunokami waited, alone. The Master would be busy and he'd roam the empty hallways of the Citadel, trying to amuse himself at the koi pond, counting the types of flowers on the grass hills behind them, standing at the beach with the waves lapping his bare feet until the sun went down. His only companion had been the deafening silence.
"We all have our unpleasant memories," Mutsunokami found himself saying, and his hand moved subconsciously to the side of his abdomen, above his hip, feeling the scar on his skin that he had been born with in this human body, a reminder of when Ryouma died, a bloody hand reaching for a sword in a broken scabbard. "But, well...being human now means we can share both our happiness and our sorrow, right? And our pain, whether it's an injury or it's in our hearts, we don't have to bear it alone.”
There was a pause and Mutsunokami was suddenly aware that Horikawa was staring at him, a little open-mouthed. "What?" he asked, defensively.
"Nothing, it's just...I didn't think you were the poetic type, Mutsunokami-san.”
"Wha...what part of that was poetic, huh?" Flustered all of a sudden, Mutsunokami grabbed the rapidly cooling cup of tea on the table, intending to down it in one go to diffuse the tension, only to knock it over in his haste, making it spill across the table and on top of his completed report. "Wait, shit!"
"Mutsunokami-san!" Horikawa yelped, sounding exasperated. "Jeez, you're just like Kane-san.”
"How would ya know if I'm like him or not? He's not even here yet, and all ya told me was that he's strong." Mutsunokami gazed sadly at the ruined paper, the ink words spreading in pools. "I'll have to redo that, ugh."
"I'll get some towels to clean it up for you." Horikawa stood up, and gave Mutsunokami a stern look. "In the meantime, you can finish your daifuku before it all melts, otherwise I'll never hear the end of it from Master. And don't even think about slacking and doing the report tomorrow instead.”
Horikawa left the room in a hurry, and Mutsunokami sat glumly at his desk, watching the spilt tea spread slowly across the desktop, the image of the moon reflected on the liquid's surface.
"I'm like him, huh...guess I'll find out when I meet him. If I ever meet him.”