~Stranger's POV~

It had been a year since I had left Muramasa's place and I was just randomly wandering around Japan. I was on the outskirts of Kuju, Kumamoto on my way back from the southernmost point of this stupid country. I was the only one on the descending road, but that made sense. It was the rainy season and the looming clouds had already given a heavy downpour today, but had ceased for the time being. All sane travelers were in warm rooms bunkering down for the night.

Damn. I'm so bored! I shouldn't have even bothered coming south. There is absolutely no one to fight. Might as well head back north. Maybe Kyoto will have… My musings were halted as Tenro started humming at my hip.

I touched its hilt to stop it, but the sword didn't even slow down its movements. In fact, with each step I took down the road, it grew even more fervent.

"Shut up, you damn sword. I'm your master and you'll listen to me!" I yelled, drawing it from its sheath. It shook even harder making me lose my grip. Suddenly, I was face to face with the tip of my sword as it flew at me. I was only barely able to dodge having my head cut off. Instead, I got a shallow cut on the cheek that streamed blood.

I walked towards the nodaichi, cussing all the way. It had skewered itself a few feet away in a huge tree. When I went to pull it out, I saw there was a small deer path beside it, almost unnoticeable in the thick foliage.

"Is that where you want to go?" I asked, pulling it out of the tree with two hands. Tenro vibrated even harder. "Well guess what? Too fucking bad. I'm not going to take orders from a sword of all things." I started to sheath it again, but it wouldn't go in to its metal enclosure. It was like trying to get two magnets of the same polarity to touch.

Finally, I gave up and turned to the deer path. It wasn't like I had anything better to do anyway. This time, the quiver it gave seemed almost out of happiness. I kept walking up the path. Each time there was a fork, Tenro gravitated towards the one it wanted me to take.

My cursing grew louder and more violent as we went deeper and deeper into the woods, traveling uphill. The trees loomed like giants above us, blocking out the rain that was probably falling again. My hands were numb from the constant vibrations that grew harder the farther we went and blood was still streaming from the wound on my face. As I put a hand up to wipe it away, I noticed that the smell of blood wasn't just my own. The ever familiar aroma of burning flesh and smoke reached my nose.

As if knowing I had finally perceived it, the sword shook uncontrollably. Then I saw the opening a few feet ahead of me and the smells grew stronger. Tenro rocketed straight out of my hands. Running to see where it landed, I came into a small clearing.

The damn sword had landed point first into the ground by the corpse of a woman. She was on her side, long grey hair covering her face. The wind picked up and blew a smell downwind towards me. The powerful scent almost knocked me over.

I took a step closer and saw through the misty rain that the woman was the source of the horrid aroma. She had landed straight into a fire, which had been quenched by the water spraying from the heavens.

Ugh. This is what I came here for? A dead body. Stupid sword. I walked up to my weapon and pulled it out of the ground. When I turned on my heel to head back, an iron grip seized my ankle.

In a flash, I pointed the Tenro down, just inches from the throat of the woman. The left side of her face was practically melted off, the muscles of the jaw and bone exposed. The eye on that same side twitched in all directions, clouded and unseeing. The right side of her face was pale from loss of blood. A sharp grey eye locked onto me.

The woman tried to say something, her right hand still tight on my ankle. Seeing that there was practically no way she would survive, I raised my sword over my head, prepared to give a mercy stroke.

"Prepare yourself." I swung down, aiming at her exposed throat. But I was stopped midway by a resistance like a magnet. Just like before. I glared at the defiant blade humming in my hands, as if scolding me for trying to put an end to her suffering.

I shook the hand off my ankle and murmured, "Be that way…" Seeing that the rain was starting to get even harder, I headed for the trees, Tenro clasped firmly in both hands.

"I'll kill you." A hoarse voice almost whispered from behind me. I turned once more as the woman started crawling towards me like a slug, fingers clawing at the dirt inch by inch. She emitted a massive killing aura that would have sent chills up my spine if she didn't look so useless. "I'll kill you, Shuusuke Mibu, if it is the last thing I do. I swear it." Then she blacked out.

The name Mibu caught my attention. Hmm. She knows of that retched clan's existence, so she can't be an ordinary woman. I wonder…

I went to sheathe Tenro again and met the same resistance. With a growl, I said, "It is obvious you want me to save this woman. I can't carry her with one arm without killing her faster than she already is. So shut the hell up." At that, it released what seemed like a purr and willingly let me sheathe it.

I leaned down and saw a deep wound right in the center of her back. Blood covered her blue kimono, staining the ground around her. As gently as I could, I turned her over on her back and picked her up, right hand around her shoulders. Her burned half was pressed up against me. She felt like the flames continued to smolder inside of her. But my hand was gripped around her unburned side. Blood loss made it feel like ice.

Slowly, more carefully then I had ever done, I walked towards the path that led to another path on the opposite side of the clearing.