Spectre of the Past
East Rukongai, Sabitsura District. Afternoon.
In a place far removed from the brilliant glory of the Seireitei and the martial power of the Gotei 13, there lived people. Or rather, their Souls. And where those Souls lived, without any form of authority imposed upon them, they did human things. They idled, stole, sang, raped, fought, philosophised. Without the false construct of order reigning in their base instincts, they embodied chaos in a way. They acted led with a medley of desires and emotions that together formed the incomprehensible abomination of a gestalt that was existence.
For thousands upon thousands of years they endured and struggled the horrors of reality. Without the lies and empty words of devious people to divert their attention toward idealised simulacra, they had to forever cope with the ruthlessness of existence for what it was, warts and all. That was the way millions of Souls suffered their afterlives in a sad mockery of Heaven, one much more closer to Purgatory in nature and function. Or, perhaps, the Limbo of Hell itself, as to persevere through the strife and woes of others with no respite was a form of the cruellest punishment imaginable on its own.
But even here, so far away from the festering heart of law and tyranny, ideals and corruption, order strove to maintain a modicum of presence. To keep the veil of false reality upon the hideous countenance of the world.
"This is boring as Hell, Koji-kun."
"They pay us to wade through the dirt and stench of those slums... but not enough! I'd rather hunt some Hollows than babysit a bunch of beggars and bandits."
Two Shinigami, Seated Officers of the Third Division, one outspoken and the other locked in stupor, travelled through the alleys of a decrepit village. They were surrounded by Souls, children, adult and elderly, of both sexes and various ethnicities. All of them poor, wearing tattered rags instead of clothing, and equally apathetic to everyone and everything around them. Even those two troopers casually walking through their miserable realm that blatantly insulted them with almost every utterance that escaped their throats. Or at least, one of them.
"I mean, since the time of those super-oh-so-mysterious disappearings of Souls there's like, nothing interesting happening here. The entire district could stop existing and nobody would notice. Heck, those guys over there wouldn't notice. It's that bad, Koji-kun."
"It's only a couple hours left, Ryota-kun", said the more languid of the two, looking somewhere in the distance. "We'll get back to the Barracks, get our pay, eat something and forget about this."
"Yeah, sure", his talkative companion chortled. "I'll never forget this stench, Koji-kun. It's like, invading my body or something. My soul stinks because..."
"Go to Hell with all those questions, you freak! Maybe you'll find your answers over there!", the Shinigami suddenly heard a raised voice from the distance.
There was suddenly a ruckus further along the alley. Several people gathered in the middle, standing around a solitary figure. Others observed from a distance, a shadow of curiosity in their glazed eyes. Something was happening and from the sound of it, something the two Shinigami were expected to investigate.
"Seems they can't decide how to share all this dirt between them", remarked Ryota with obvious sarcasm. "Come on, let's play heroes for a while."
Soon they stood beside the group, a few nondescript adults and a single man in the centre. A man who was tall, but not unusually so, broad-shouldered, but not hulking. A man in a simple, worn clothing, with a dark grey cloak and a hood obscuring most of his features at the time. But, from beneath, Ryota could see what appeared to be a kimono. Or rather, a shihakushō...
"Hey there, what's the problem?!", he exclaimed, assuming a stance proper for a man of justice.
His sidekick of sorts stood next to him, observing the group with a degree of attention that contrasted his previous lack of care.
"This man!", one of the Souls pointed at the cloaked figure. "He's insane! Babblin' about some chaos and other bollocks, askin' lotsa weird questions, only to suddenly ask 'bout some bloody dōjō or somethin'!"
Ryota and Koji looked at the mysterious man with narrowed eyes. They could sense a small amount of spiritual power in him. He appeared rather disconcerting, but sheer looks meant little in the realm of spirits, where it was spiritual power that decided upon who was truly frightening or not. He had only a fraction of any of the Seated Officer's power and no weapon on him in sight. Probably a random country bumpkin who could not quite endure the life in a high-numbered Rukongai district.
"Go away, we're gonna deal with this", announced Ryota.
"Yeah, deal with him! We've already got 'nuff problems to worry 'bout!"
The other Souls dispersed but did not really leave. Instead, they joined the gradually growing crowd assembling at the scene. Two Shinigami facing a mysterious wayfarer. Something interesting was about to happen, they knew it. A moment of entertainment, however dark, to make their afterlives a tiny bit easier to suffer.
"So, what's the matter, tough guy? What do you want to find out so much?", asked Ryota.
The cloaked figure turned to him in an oddly smooth motion. More like a swivel than natural body movement. The Shinigami winced.
"I ask of the truth, but hear only lies", replied the man in a quiet, but strong voice.
"Well, no shit! How about you tell me your name and what exactly are you doing in here?", insisted Ryota.
He could not see his interlocutor's face. That was annoying. He heard the whispers of onlookers. That was annoying. He smelled the stench of this place. That was also, in fact, annoying. But this was an opportunity to do something and leave only to never return here. At least until Lieutenant Akui would find another menial task for them to teach his indolent subordinates a lesson.
"I am a shadow of all the good and evil that befalls this miserable world", the man spoke. "They call me Tōsō for what I represent."
"Oh, goody!", snarled Ryota. "You know what, I'm a goddamn ghost with a sword that can kill monsters straight from your worst nightmares! Oh, yeah, and that's Koji."
"Yeah", replied Koji. "So, what are you looking for, Tōsō-san?"
There was a short pause. Not even a single gust of wind. Probably for the better, all things considered.
"Yeah, sure, it's like, right over there", Ryota waved his hand in the proper direction. "A few districts away from here. But you ain't going there, though. You're coming with us, Tōsō-san."
"And why would that be?"
The voice was still calm and somewhat monotone, but this time around there was a hint of something to it that made Ryota shudder. That was annoying. That man was annoying. Stupid missions were annoying, too. Even Koji appeared apprehensive for some reason. He usually did not bother to be afraid.
"Because you look like, suspicious as Hell", said Ryota, struggling to maintain the image of an illustrious Shinigami, the saviour of innocent Souls. "And why would you want to find Seireitou Kawahiru-sama? That's some shonky business right there."
"And none of your concern", Ryota could swear that he saw the man shrug, despite the cloak.
"Oh no, no, it is my concern", the Shinigami said whilst drawing his Zanpakutō. "You're coming with us, whether you want or not."
Koji brandished his sword as well, ready to assist his friend. He was still looking unsure, however.
"You are but pawns of a power you do not quite understand", the mysterious wayfarer said. "Stand in the path of the king, and you will perish."
"Oh, really!?", Ryota shouted at him. "Maybe if we'll cut you down to size you'll stop spouting bullshit!"
He was frustrated. And there was something wrong about that man. Something very wrong. He did not really understand that, but the sense of danger had been seeping into his mind ever since he laid his eyes upon him. He had to act, flee or fight. He and his companion chose to fight, and so they chose to die.
The two Shinigami slashed at the cloaked man, their blades reduced to blurs as they moved forward with high speed. But ere they could even approach him they bent and twisted like metal ribbons, only to suddenly shatter into pieces. They widened their eyes in deep shock and the man stood still, nary a motion on his part.
"Wha-?", Ryota uttered a part of a question forever unfinished, forever without an answer.
There was a loud, sickening sound. An organic sound, and nauseating crack. Soon the onlookers found themselves splattered with blood. They gazed in awe as the two Shinigami fell limply to the ground, their swords broken and their bodies numb. Literal holes had been punched through their chests, causing bursts of blood to paint the surroundings with crimson red. They died in an instant. And the mysterious wayfarer stood there still, not a single stain on his grey cloak.
Then he left, without a word. The crowd converged upon the bodies. Confused. Horrified. They could not comprehend what had just happened before their very eyes. But they were unworthy. If there was a man, anyone who could comprehend, it was the Grandmaster of Hakuda - Seireitou Kawahiru.
Even as those events spread an intense feeling of dread throughout the district, far off in the seventy-third district of Kabuki several hours following the aforementioned incident, the one being pursued by the mysterious Tōsō was having his own situation that was producing another form of dread...
Seireitou made his way down the moderately crowded road of Kabuki, an expression of irritation mixed with exhaustion and a tinge of annoyance composed his face as he trudged down the dirt path, his hands digging around in his robe's pockets but seemingly finding naught what he sought. "...I lost more than I expected, Saori's gonna kill me." came to his thoughts as a brief sigh escaped his lips. He was broke after numerous losses at the local gambling den; money designated for groceries that he was told to go fetch. Of course, one might wonder why a man of his prestige would opt to do the shopping but that would be something only understood by those who knew what sort of 'monsters' resided in the Senjukuha. The very thought of that rambunctious group would be enough to exhaust even the mightiest of warriors. And Seireitou was their ringleader of insanity.
He did, however, count his blessings; other times, he'd return home with only his boxers on as a result of his gambling losses. And of course, he'd return broke after visiting local pubs or even certain inappropriate areas of the red light district. Truly, he was the worst one to allow handling any semblance of the Senjukuha's budget... At least this time he managed to keep his clothes.
But that would not spare him from the wrath he would face. ...He didn't have to go home right away, after all. It was still light out, so perhaps he could put it off.
And with that decision, Seireitou continued down the road toward the edge of the district.
East Rukongai, Kabuki District. Evening.
Fate was a fickle bitch. To divine its countless whims was an all but impossible task. Only gods, or those few who rose to a comparable level, could discern many of the intertwined paths that led to future. But which ones actually led there? Which one spelled doom or success? That was difficult to tell. What was obvious, however, was that fate was random. People loved to believe the illusion of destiny and prophecies, patterns and cycles that determined the way history progressed. But that was just another layer of lies placed atop the decaying corpse of reality that had been forever concealing something greater, something pure.
On that day, no different from others, there was an important event to occur. Just a random date. No set time of the day. No war or other major conflict serving as a background or cause. A continuing period of relative peace and renovation, as Soul Society had been gradually recovering from the devastation of the Quincy Blood War a few years ago. Just a random day when two unusual individuals were about to cross paths. One of them a living legend, the other half-forgotten myth. Both of them relics of an age long gone by, but persisting until those modern days. After about a thousand years they were soon to reunite, in the most of unexpected and perhaps unwelcome of ways.
But fate did not care. It wanted them to clash, irrespective of wishes or opinions.
It was evening. Kabuki was more of a town than a village than the lower-numbered Sabitsura. Equally, if not more lawless, however, and a hive of scum and villainy. A city of night life, where people did things under the guise of darkness and red light. And among the crowd of Souls dwelling there there was a single one that stood out from the rest. A tall, cloaked man moving forward at a steady pace, as if the surrounding crowd did not exist. Twisting between them without touching or drawing attention of a single person on his way toward his goal. There was another unusual man in the area, and such personages tended to attract each other with suspicious frequency.
"Excuse me, sir", Tōsō did not as much approach the silver-haired man but seemed to emerge from the crowd with little to no warning, suddenly popping into existence. "Do you have a moment to talk about very serious matters? Perhaps, at another, more suitable place", he added shortly, standing in Seireitou's way.
Without warning, Seireitou reacted like a schoolgirl being snuck up upon by a spider, taking a step back from the stranger and even waving his arms around in a frantic flailing manner; his face riddled with a comic expression. Upon getting a momentary glance of the guy who came up to him, his face settled down into a stoic deadpan look. "...Oh, my mistake. I thought you were a bill collector. You really shouldn't sneak up on people." he answered, trying to play off the embarrassing incident like a mature adult; playing the part by crossing his arms and nodding his head with a judging demeanor. "Anyways, I've told your lot that I'm not interested in any of your boy scout pastries. What? You think your pastries are special or something? You think you're Norihiko Terai-kun? Eh?" he accused, going off on one of his usual tirades.
Tōsō had considered many possible responses to his sudden appearance, up to and including being punched straight into his face with no warning. But what had actually transpired was... one of the less likely to occur, so to speak. Nevertheless, he had not properly thought out all pertinent factors. As far as the silver-haired man was concerned, he himself was a random ragged wayfarer with a trace of spiritual power and a vague topic to talk about in private. Little to no different from the numerous ragged wayfarers that clogged the alleys of this corrupt town. If he wanted to engage in a proper conversation, he had to elaborate first.
And while he was a quick-thinking individual, it still had taken a few seconds of awkward silence before he decided to speak.
"That's... not what I meant", he said. "I wanted to discuss with you, Seireitou Kawahiru-ue, a topic relevant to your title. People call me Tōsō, but you might remember me by another name", he added, reaching unhurriedly to his hood.
With those words he revealed his face. The face of a warrior who had endured the suffering and woes of the entire world and still lived. Of a medium dark complexion, with a square-shaped face and sharp features, he looked a seasoned warrior. The burn scar that forever sealed his right eye shut and streaks of grey interspersed across his short, spiky black hair only added to the impression. He fixed the gaze of his single grey eye onto his interlocutor, hoping to perceive recognition in his own eyes. He had understood from all the fables, legends and rumours that the Legendary Grandmaster was an eccentric person, but perhaps he could infer his own identity from similar stories... or the time they had served together as the founding Captains of Gotei 13, a thousand years ago.
When the face of the stranger came into view, Seireitou's eyes had slowly widened, taking in the full sight. It was like a bolt of lightning struck him and raced down his spine, carrying with it memories of the past and the horrors that he viewed alongside this very individual. All the trials, tribulations, dangers, and conflicts... The memories had risen to the surface, and with it...
"Ohh... Togashi-kun! It's been a long time. How are your father and mother doing? As I recall, you were still working toward your dream of opening up a ramen stand. Did that ever take off?" he asked with an almost cheerful demeanor, raising his index finger to his chin almost as if in contemplation and his other hand holding up his arm; maintaining an expression of inquiry. One might think he was intentionally mistaking Tōsō for someone else, but in truth, the well-known master was not the best at remembering faces. Even as a child, he often irritated his best friend with his inability to remember his name to full accuracy back during their first interactions.
While Tōsō's usual face expression blurred the line between a stern death glare and overwhelming boredom, for a while there was a hint of disappointment to it. Not for long, though. He was so much detached from reality, deliberately and involuntarily, that he had lost his touch long ago. For him to expect that even a fellow founding Captain would remember him, after a full millenium of living his own, eventful life, was naive at best. Ever since he thought of the possibility of finding a formidable ally in his quest to bring about the end of this miserable world he was in a stupor greater than usual. He had to regain clear judgement and rational thinking.
There was also another issue. He was apprehensive to hear his real name from the mouth of somebody else. Now, he had little choice but to speak himself. Real name. The one he associated with a dead man, no better a label than "tool" or "pawn". But at the same time one of the relics of his past identity, a way to bring back memories of the person the silver-haired man used to know, long ago. To convince him to his cause Tōsō had to establish a connection, a sense of familiarity, and that was currently his only way of doing so.
"I'm afraid you are mistaken", he said slowly. "My name is... Kentarō Akiyama. The founding Captain of the Third Division of Gotei 13. We used to be colleagues. But who I am is not that important", he added abruptly with increased enthusiasm. "What I represent is important. An opportunity. An amazing opportunity. But first, I need to know more about you, Kawahiru-ue. Will you answer my questions, sincerely?", the gaze of his single eye intensified.
"Akiyama..." muttered Seireitou, staring upwards for a moment before snapping his fingers and expressing a grin. "Ah, of course! It certainly has been a while. But you're..." The silver-haired man took a brief look at the state of the man before him. "...significantly more gloomy." Of course, he spent little time pondering that and his ears piqued a bit once he heard that Tōsō had questions to ask. The playfulness was replaced with an innocent sense of seriousness. "Questions? Hmm..." he mused for an instant.
Within that same moment, it was as if an entire scene had shifted. Everything stood where it was, the people walking along the district's roads continued on their merry way, and Tōsō still remained where he was, but Seireitou was not. He originally stood facing Tōsō, but now? Now he stood shoulder to shoulder with the man. And in doing so, the silver-haired man's right arm snaked its way around Tōsō's shoulders. Perhaps what was so strange about this motion was that it was entirely natural in its action. His arm was no different than the subtle breeze of the air itself rolling against a person's body. Seireitou's entire movement, if it could even be called motion by orthodox means, was as natural as the world moving around them. It was all conducted within the same instant, and in doing so, Seireitou's arm had pulled Tōsō into a one-armed sort of friendly embrace during that moment, as his face maintained its joyful grin. "Sure, but how about at a tavern? I could use a drink, Akiyama-san."
The dark-haired wayfarer stood still, stiff like a flexed muscle. His body reacted to Kawahiru's exceedingly swift motion, but he did not. Caught up in the shadow of excitement that the aforementioned opportunity had caused Tōsō dropped his guard for a split-second. He was far too durable to fall to any single strike, and his body responded immediately. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter was that if the eccentric Seireitou had truly wished to attack, he would have been able to deliver the first blow with impunity. Some of the stiffness faded away, but Tōsō was far from relaxed now.
That was a fateful day. Probably as momentous as the one from over a thousand years ago, back when he destroyed all of his remaining chains and shackles. When dealing with such an unusual person, Tōsō had to stay vigilant. That and preferably humour his whims for the time being. He hoped he would be able to explain his point of view and persuade the Legendary Grandmaster to join his cause. If the price was to weather the invasion of his personal space and then a stay at the heart of human darkness, he was willing to comply. He was going to accomplish his mission no matter the cost, after all.
"I shall accompany you, then, Kawahiru-ue", he said calmly, trying not to show his discomfort.
Agreement of Disagreement
Roughly a quarter of an hour passed before Seireitou could find one of his favorite taverns in the neighborhood where the two Hakudaka had met. He accompanied Tōsō into the bar as if they were old friends planning to catch up over a glass of sake. In truth, Seireitou did scarcely retrieve tidbits of past encounters with Akiyama during the time they both served as Captains, but to be fair, it was an era in the history of the silver-haired master that he often selected not to return to, especially in self-reflection.
As they took a seat at one of the wooden tables against the wall, a considerable distance put between the majority of customers that happened to be in that day, drinking their own cares away, one of the women that seemed to work there approached the table with a rather large bottle of sake and two stone cups, placing it down on their table. From the looks of her, dressed in a colorful summer kimono with a good deal of her cleavage on display, she was perhaps a courtesan or even prostitute that worked in this shady place of drink. She remained only for a moment though, giving a polite bow as she left the table, leaving the two men alone as they faced one another from opposite ends of the rectangular table.
Without pause, Seireitou placed the two cups in front of himself and Tōsō respectively, before pouring a fair portion into Tōsō's cup and then into his own. "So, you mentioned questions, eh?" he asked while he poured.
The dark-haired man was patient. He had to be. He had to be patient when learning countless stances and strikes, struggling to control his spiritual power, or when waiting for another order to follow without question. He had to be patient if he wanted to change the world. That was no easy task. Thus, he did not speak a word while his companion was looking for a proper place to occupy. Thus, he blurted the response the moment Kawahiru inquired about the topic of their would-be conversation.
"Yes", he said, averting his stare from the cup and fixing it onto Seireitou instead. "You are the Legendary Hakuda Grandmaster. To become a person of such prestige and prowess had to be a tremendous ordeal. Surely, you know full well the feelings of sorrow, suffering and betrayal", he uttered in a solemn tone. "So, tell me. Why do you draw satisfaction from empty words? A title that is no better than a temporary label for someone who remains atop the mountain of corpses for the time being... Why do you surround yourself with lackeys? And tantalise them with the false possibility of ever approaching your level... Why, as someone who has endured so much, achieved so much, do you delve deeper into this farce? Why don't you tear off this veil of lies? Why don't you raise your fist against this pitiful existence and shatter it to pieces to create anew?", his voice gained in power ever so slightly. "Tell me, Kawahiru-ue, I must know your reasons."
Seireitou had no response for a moment or so. Maintaining the same expression as before, he faced Tōsō and bore the brunt of the weight his words carried. His words were not entirely wrong. To consider how many of those had actually managed to reach the level of skill within the martial arts that Seireitou and Tōsō had achieved, the number could be counted on one's own fingers. Taking into account just how many are out there, having spent their lifetime hoping to reach even a modicum of that precipice that the aforementioned Grandmasters had, it would be considered a cruel joke for one of these Grandmasters to take up the role of a teacher. In fact, regardless of the craft, a Grandmaster of a craft within the Zankensoki actually serving as a teacher was almost unheard-of. But even so, Seireitou showed no conflict in his thoughts when facing Tōsō.
Reaching out for his cup, he held it up toward his face. "You really need to learn how to relax, Akiyama-san. Drink up, down the hatch." he mused, downing the entirety of his sake before placing it down, releasing a sigh of relief after consuming the alcoholic drink. He rose his head and looked Tōsō dead in the eye, though his demeanor was still as calm as ever. "I can tell you've seen your share of hell. And of course, your reasons for believing that this world, that praises superficial aspects while those who work hard are often left to the curb, should be crushed. I've shared that same thought... many a time." he answered, closing his eyes in contemplation as brief windows to the past appeared in his thoughts; the darkness that filled Seireitou each time he watched a loved one die. "But there is nothing to be gained from that path. It's a lonely path, and while it might be dignified, might be justified, and can be understood, it leads to nothing. Absolutely nothing. This world, after all..." Seireitou perked up a bit and grinned widely with a straight-on look toward Tōsō. "...has way too many interesting people in it. It's much more fun watching people grow, because no matter what hardships they face, people have the freedom to resist and change. And I would very much like to see where it leads." he continued, completing his answer.
Tōsō devoted some time to consider his old colleague's words. That made sense. He understood now. Even though Seireitou Kawahiru had experienced a fair share of horrific events, he was so much younger than him. He had already been soured by the world, made aware of its inherent flaws, but he had yet to cross the precipice of despair. Still, he clung to that illusion, hoping against hope that people will change, that the world will change for the better on their own. But Tōsō knew that would not happen.
He had been observing the world for a thousand years. In spite of his modest attempts to guide people toward its inevitable end, they preferred the simulacrum presented before their eyes. The best he could achieve was to indirectly start misguided cults, raving madmen that preached his words but had none of his understanding. There was no change for the better. New conflicts, new villains, new issues. No progress. Only superficial mutations of the hideous abomination that was existence. But it did not have to be that way. Tōsō and Kawahiru had the power to enforce a change. Together. Even if the latter was hesitant to let go of his old life, the former was determined to change his mind. Very determined.
"I see...", he mused. "Do you know what was the last thing this eye had seen?", he pointed at the vertical blade-burn scar that crossed his right eye. "My best friend, lashing out at me in a last desperate attempt to kill me. Do you know what the remaining one has seen? The mutilated body of my beloved, a noble, powerful woman, slumped in a pile of nameless corpses. I have seen a lot."
His expression became even more stern as he leant forward. His grey eye evoked the smoke and ashes of hopes and dreams incinerated in the fires of reality.
"People won't change. They don't want to change. I know that. We lead tedious, senseless, insignificant lives. So we concoct stories and legends to feel as if we were a part of something greater, something meaningful. We want to blame all the misery in the world on some single enemy we can fight, instead of a complex network of interrelated forces beyond anyone's control. Beyond anyone's control... but mine. For I have seen the truth."
He moved slightly closer to Kawahiru, bashing the table with his right fist. That was not supposed to be a display of strength, but self-control, for someone of his stature not to erase a portion of the city with one motion a bit too forceful.
"I have seen the end of the world. People struggle against chaos and writhe in the agony of false order. But I have embraced chaos. Everyone can. Cast away self-imposed suffering and sorrow to find salvation in pure unity. No more lies, no more restraints. You and I!", exclaimed Tōsō, standing up abruptly. "Together, we can destroy this mockery of life and bring about eternal bliss. So, why don't you join me?"
Shutting his eyes, Seireitou let the words spoken by the man before him sink in.
"My best friend, lashing out at me..."
"...my beloved, a noble, powerful woman, slumped in a pile of corpses..."
"People struggle against chaos and writhe in the agony of false order."
The silver-haired man crossed his arms against his chest, his eyes remained closed, as he spoke up to address Tōsō. "People are beings that carry their weakness as they live. That may be a character flaw, part of their physical appearance, or the environment they were born into." he started, memories of his time training with his own master, his best friend, and the losses he faced when his first fiancee was executed, his only wife brutally slain by his own hands as part of his past enemy's trickery. "Everyone lives carrying a self they can't reach a compromise with and suffers because of it. That's just how it is. There's no escaping that. However..."
Seireitou gripped his hands in contemplation near his face and clenched against his knuckles. A swirling river of memories flowed through him in a brief moment of thought, and as they faded, he let out a faint chuckle. "You can also suffer by resisting. One does not only suffer because of their weakness. They can also face their weakness and suffer while trying to resist and change it. People do have that freedom." he explained, before finally opening his eyes once more and glaring at Tōsō with an intensity unseen in him throughout this entire meeting.
"...So take your offer and shove it up your ass."
The time seemed to stop for a while. Then, Tōsō became visibly more gloomy. All of his mild enthusiasm faded away into nothingness. With downcast eye he stared upon his reflection in the cup of ale. The countenance of a dead man, a corpse that refused to rot and kept walking through sheer force of will. Kawahiru was indeed like him. Like the person he was a full thousand years ago, rather. Disillusioned, experienced, but restrained with bonds and clinging desperately to the lies presented to him for the modicum of joy they provided. It took a revelation to open his own single remaining eye. A revelation he could share with the exceptional man in front of him.
Words were fleeting and unreliable. Rarely did they convey the intended message properly. What good was Tōsō's offer without evidence? Rambling of a shell-shocked madman. But they were both warriors. Warriors spoke with actions, not words. He knew the language that his colleague would comprehend easily. All he had to do was to show him everything he had seen. Persuade him. Make him understand.
"You don't realise the futility of such an approach yet", spoke Tōsō as he slowly lifted his head. "But I can show you. The truth. The end of our perpetual ordeal. The power that comes from acceptance. The power of pure... unadulterated... chaos!", he yelled.
If his sudden outbreak did not draw the attention of everyone else occupying the bar, what followed certainly did. Normally, he did everything he could to impose limits upon his extraordinary might. So that he would not cause earthquakes with every step and shatter buildings with a gentle tap. So that his power would not eradicate all the lost Souls that surrounded him. But in the inevitable confrontation there was no room for any limits. Thus, his spiritual power skyrocketed. In a matter of moments it rose from nigh-nonexistence past the level of a Lieutenant and then a veteran Captain, only to go further, further, until it settled on a magnitude that would prompt said veteran Captain to cower in fear. Exorbitant.
Spiritual energy coursed through his body, invigorating muscles and tendons. Already monstrous, his unaided physical fitness improved severalfold in the blink of an eye. Even though he simply stood there, straightened, with his usual stern expression, his body appeared to enlarge a few inches. So great was the power he unleashed that it began seeping into the environment. There were no tremors, no shockwaves, not even a feeling of oppressive weight. So profound was his power that it influenced the very fabric of reality. Tables, chairs, floor, people lost their coherency, as if they were not objects of solid matter. Serpentine currents of chaos radiated from Tōsō's body, twisting everything and everyone save for the silver-haired man beyond recognition, mangling their shapes, forms and locations, changing the sense of up and down and merging various things in the most random and horrific of ways.
"Follow this glorious path with me... or perish!"
Standing in the middle of that new, bizarre realm, Tōsō assumed equally peculiar posture. Or rather, his body seemed to fall into place with inhuman smoothness. He leant backward, his legs bent slightly, and lifted his arms in an inward guard. Instead of clenching his fists, his fingers imitated a gesture of holding a cup. For it was an obvious decision to dispense with basic and advanced Hakuda techniques in a confrontation with the Legendary Grandmaster of said art. In that confrontation, Tōsō would use his very own Yugamiken from the onset. That was a bizarre and awkward fighting style, said to have inspired zui quan through mysterious diffusion of knowledge long theorised to take place between the spiritual and physical worlds. An expression of his true, erratic self.
He was ready, and more determined than ever.
Once the empowering of spiritual force began within Tōsō, Seireitou immediately took notice as the world around him began to devolve into some sort of distorted mess. What was this, Kidō? Sure, to the untrained eye, this was surely the work of magic. But Seireitou knew instantly that this was a feat of the individual. The will of the man before him was taking root and materializing. This was none other than the work of Hakuda.
As he observed the events transpiring before him, he whistled briefly before forming a light smile. "You've certainly got balls coming here to fight me on my own terms like this. Few have ever mastered Hakuda to such an extent. That being said..." he spoke with his calm tone. One may question why Seireitou alone was unaffected while others, both the living and the inanimate, were being torn to shreds by this distortion effect, and of course onlookers could suggest many a reason. But perhaps the key reason was simply that Seireitou, as a Grandmaster of Hakuda, mastered the art of stance to a degree that he could quite literally root himself into reality. Even if it was being distorted, like a wild river coursing downhill during a storm, a true master of the martial arts would find a way to stabilize and balance themselves amidst the chaos. And for a master of this level, the feat itself was such a natural act that it did not seem as though Seireitou had done anything.
He looked down at the table for a moment, watching as it too was being disfigured, and with it, the rest of the sake bottle. "Hey now... That's a waste of some fine sake." Despite his calm nature, Seireitou knew this man was no lightweight, and as such, it wasn't in his best interest to let his guard down. He would have to take this seriously. Seireitou took only a momentary glance at the posture taken by Tōsō; he too reached the same conclusion that it bore some similarities to the art of suiken. It was only natural, for the man who had mastered all martial arts to be able to recognize a style or associate a similar style to it. Nevetherless, this man was clearly using something beyond mere physical stance.
"Very well. I'll meet you head-on!" he roared. The motion was sudden yet flowing, with a speed that rivaled thought itself, as Seireitou's right fist thrust outwards into a jab and went flying for Tōsō. The strength behind even a jab from the Shiroyasha was enough to bend space in the wake of its motion, making it a perfect opponent for the state of the distorted world around them.
A smirk appeared on Tōsō's otherwise stiff face. An expression that was about as natural or pleasant to behold as a fracture in the surface of granite. He was quick to note the sheer skill behind that single strike, so remarkable that it was able to distort space... just as he was. Sometimes he wondered if he could accomplish such feats with his prowess alone. Probably. He never had to, though, because for him that was an inherent quality of his fighting style. One of the many ways he channelled the power of primordial chaos to improve his performance to a degree that defied reason.
Seireitou's jab extended toward him in an unusual motion. So he swayed to the side, as if he were drunk, to barely evade the abrupt attack. It passed less than an inch away from his head, so close that it almost scraped his cheek. But he already swung the centre of his balance forward to retaliate immediately. First, there was a one-two punch done with two of his fingers extended on each hand. Ostensibly, a basic if lightning-fast attack, but when Yugamiken was at play, nothing was simple. Similarly to Kawahiru's strike, his arms seemed to sink into the fabric of reality. Apparently mangled, they moved toward their target with speed and from angles that would be normally impossible.
And right afterward, whether his opponent would block or dodge, Tōsō followed up with a roundhouse kick. His body was twisting, shifting, in ways and with adroitness that should have been physically unfeasible. Be that as it may, all Grandmasters were known to laugh at the notion of impossible and exhibit feats that were as astonishing as they were perplexing to observe. Because when they fought, they were not swordsmen, warriors or mages, but personifications of their chosen art.
It was no small feat to dodge the strike of the Shiroyasha, especially at so close a range, but he was not foolish enough to believe Tōsō would be unable to do so. With his right fist dodged, momentum had built up in that forward lunge. As one who had achieved perfect mastery over his own body, shifting even momentum developed by one part of his body to other parts of his body was nothing difficult. A simple shift of the hips, in so elegant and swift a motion, befitting a true master, and the momentum built up by the right fist was transferred to the left.
But the left hand had no intention of striking at Tōsō. As Seireitou felt the one-two strikes approaching, his left hand was held out flat, his palm facing toward Tōsō. With the force built up by the momentum of his first space-bending strike, all Seireitou did was draw a circle in the air in front of him. Space bent and curved in the path of his hand's motion, until a distorted disc of space stood between Seireitou and Tōsō. With the same strength used to deliver a strike, a makeshift shield created from bending the space between them was forged.
When the strikes from Tōsō came flying toward him, they would collide with the disc of spatial distortion he created in that moment. The two distortions would clash into one another, reconciling in an outwards eruption of explosive force as both Seireitou and Tōsō would be pushed back and thus some distance would be obtained; enough that Seireitou would not be there to receive Tōsō's upcoming roundhouse kick. Once the distance was garnered, Seireitou opted to reciprocate with his own one-two strike. With his right and then left, he delivered a fierce thrust of one jab and then another, two simultaneous bursts of force erupted forth and bent space in their wake as they went tunneling for Tōsō.
As peculiar as that feeling was, Tōsō could not help but retain the unnerving smile plastered on his face. To witness spatial distortions emerging from Hakuda prowess being used against him... He could not ignore those attacks. If he had been fighting any Hakuda master, he could walk through his assault unfazed and destroy him with a single powerful strike. But there was nothing ordinary about his opponent. Every action demanded appropriate reaction, lest he would suffer the severe consequences of recklessness.
But no imitation could outclass the genuine thing, just as the finest swimmer could not outclass a fish in the water. For Tōsō was the herald of chaos, the mouth of madness incarnate. For him, those distortions may have as well not existed at all. That was the result of basking in their primordial source for as long as he lived, but also the crowning achievement of the arduous training he had undergone to wield that power effectively. Regardless, he was not eager to reveal that advantage so early. Kawahiru was bound to notice, sooner rather than later, anyway. In the meantime, Tōsō decided to stack every advantage he could muster, because the fight would not end quickly no matter what.
Speaking of advantages, once Yugamiken was active, the primordial chaos was now allowed to peek into the realm of reality. Its influence was subtle, but profound. The Four Shards of Madness. They would pose a minor yet annoying inconvenience to the Legendary Grandmaster, inevitably. In fact, one of them was about to take effect. When Tōsō lifted his arms in a guard, the distortions caused by his movement cancelled out those procured by the opponent. Once they were undone, physical bodies were all that was left. Ostensibly. Seireitou's jabs collided with Tōsō's wrists. And just as they caused a shadow of pain being felt by the latter, a fleeting connection was established between the former and the ruinous powers. A connection that channeled the chaotic energies in the form of a brief paroxysm, one to peel off skin, contort muscles and strain the bones.
After blocking the attack and ensuring the enemy would share his pain, it was time to respond. Immediately, swiftly. Tōsō inclined forward, seemingly in an uncoordinated motion, as if he were to literally fall flat on his face. But then his body leapt into the air in a twisting manoeuvre. Suddenly, he was spinning vertically toward Kawahiru with immense speed, like a human buzzsaw, with his legs extended to stand in for the blades. A buzzsaw of hardened flesh and disruptive properties as the fabric of reality was warped around him, changing an otherwise straightforward attack into one not exactly predictable.
A sudden shock ran through Seireitou's body, one that momentarily confused even him. "What the...?" But he wasn't fooled. One of the greatest masters of Hakuda, an absolute authority within the Soul Society for the martial arts, would not be incapable of recognizing the wavelength and intensity of his own strikes' force. He knew, from the moment he felt it radiate through his body, that it perfectly matched the two jabs he sent toward Tōsō. Which only meant one thing: somehow, for some currently unknown reason, Tōsō was able to make Seireitou feel the force behind his own attacks. "So that's how it is, huh?"
Almost immediately, Seireitou shifted into a different ready stance. His left hand, curled up into a fist, remained stationary at his hip with the curled fingers pointing upwards, while his right hand was held out in front of him. This stance was taken the moment Tōsō began his circular buzzsaw-like charge. The next motion was a one-two action, just like before, but instead of two jabs, it would be two different actions; performed at nearly simultaneous instances. The first motion was not really a motion in the conventional sense. This was the silver-haired master's Shukuchi technique, which he had performed before when snaking his hand around Tōsō's shoulders during their initial encounter. It is the personified concept of maneuvering the maai, allowing him to instantaneously shift his position without any actual physical movement occurring. He shifted himself off to the side, now facing the direction adjacent to where Tōsō's charge was heading; a 90-degree change in position, in other words, if one were to use Tōsō's path of movement as a sort of center point.
In the same instant he changed positions, Seireitou thrust his right foot out toward Tōsō in the form of a side kick. In the same vein as his jab, an enormous burst of air erupted forth, bending the space as before due to the pressure of air being delivered by the kick's force. The goal was to strike at Tōsō's side, in order to disrupt the rhythm of his buzzsaw charge. An endeavour in which he succeeded, at least partially.
Tōsō noted as Kawahiru shifted away from his previous position, not that surprised that however peculiar it was, his opponent had managed to evade the manoeuvre. That was a Hakuda technique no doubt, quite familiar at that. Toying with the notion of distance through a supreme martial artist's will. What followed was another powerful, but simple attack, not unlike the earlier ones. Once again, he had to react quickly. For someone of lesser proficiency it could seem impossible to alter one's trajectory in the midst of such a ferocious motion as he was performing. Not that it stopped him. While Seireitou's side kick was approaching him, Tōsō carefully tweaked the pace of his rotations. Thus, rather than receive a direct hit, he ended up briefly standing on and then rebounding from his opponent's leg.
He landed upon the floor, twisted into serpentine shapes with the previous exertion of his will. Then, he performed an attack of his own. Despite standing a few metres away from Kawahiru and facing him side-on at best, he lifted both of his arms, bent slightly in the elbows. Subsequently, he moved them inward all of a sudden, in a shearing motion... However, he did not merely strike the air in front of him. Rather, both of his arms sunk into the plane of reality. With Yugamiken, he reached toward his opponent without actually doing so, distorting his double strike so much that his hands emerged from two different directions right beside Kawahiru and proceeded onward with substantial impetus. A strong, rapid strike after which Tōsō immediately turned toward the enemy to physically face him, in preparation for another move.
Seireitou was impressed with how fluidly Tōsō handled himself in that maneuver, though he wouldn't spend a great deal focusing upon that. After all, they were opponents, and this was a battle where the slightest misstep could lead to severe consequences. Though Seireitou was still not entirely used to the behavior of this sphere of influence set up by Tōsō, it was clear that this was a manifestation of the challenger's Hakuda skills, and as such, it was to be understood that everything within this space was within Tōsō's grasp. Therefore, it was not unexpected that Tōsō would use that to attack from afar. It was just a thought in the back of the silver-haired master's head as he maintained his focus so as not to be caught off-guard.
As the two strikes came at him, from both sides, a swift movement back was all that was necessary to dodge the dual strike, but the purpose of this was not only to dodge but to preform the next step of the maneuver. With a sudden spin of his hips, his left kick swung in a circular motion all the way around, sending off an immense wave of physical force that moved like a slicing wind, hopefully hitting the two arms that Tōsō tried to attack him with but even if that wouldn't happen, the degree of the slashing force from his spin kick would undoubtedly encompass the entire span of the area in front of Seireitou. Even so, he wasn't completely done, for he used the momentum of his spin kick to deliver a subsequent right-handed punch outwards straight for Tōsō; its force rippling forward like a drill with an intent to smash apart all that lay before it.
In the meantime, Tōsō had been closely watching his opponent's performance. Noting his strength, swiftness and perseverance. Analysing his skill and reactions. While the sheer fact of deploying Yugamiken would spell the death of a Hakuda Master, clearly that was insufficient to even strain the Legendary Grandmaster. That was not a problem, though, for Tōsō had expected nothing less of Seireitou. He had encountered many enemies during his one thousand year exile, a few Shinigami Captains among them. None of them was a challenge, and they never returned to Seireitei to reveal that the former Captain of the Third Division still lived. But this was very different. Tōsō welcomed the challenge because he knew that to overpower Kawahiru was to steer the entire world in the right direction. And that was an endeavour worthy of the most strenuous effort.
Ready to face the opponent, he observed the powerful kick warp space in front of him, reaching toward him like the skeletal hand of death. But, however impressive, that was a strike. As a Hakuda Grandmaster, he could block virtually any strike if he wished so. This time he lifted both of his arms in a guard, braced himself, but that was not the end. Rather than rely upon the passive properties of his fighting style, he consciously tapped into the power of primordial chaos. As such, a red-violet aura, wild, flickering, outlined his hands. Two potent sources of fundamental distortions clashed with one another in a ground-shaking struggle. Impossible ripples travelled across the surface of reality, a large portion of the mangled tavern was destroyed around Tōsō, but the dark-haired man himself was barely fazed, merely pushed back an inch. Once again he felt a shadow of pain when struck, a feeling he had not experienced since a millenium.
But that was just defence. He had to react, this time with appropriate force. So he moved. He willed himself to move, and the entirety of his being was motivated to change location, faster than the eye could see. Tōsō launched himself toward Kawahiru and threw a rapid punch. Not an ordinary punch, though, for his ability caused the actualy physical movement to become completely harmless, while a not-so-harmless copy of the strike manifested from the opposite direction. Time and again, circling about and jumping around the enemy with tremendous speed, showering him with distorted punches... until suddenly, Tōsō landed on the ground and unleashed a genuine barrage of strikes. Multiple one-handed jabs, so fast that spacetime around them was bent, drawing everything inward, causing the strikes to overlap or anticipate one another as they sent powerful ripples across the area, threatening to tear apart everything in their path on a molecular level.
Ready as he usually was, Seireitou picked up on the incoming barrage of distorted strikes. After the last attempt, it was clear that Tōsō knew how to use this distorted world to its fullest in order to supplement his Hakuda, and as such, more of those same attacks just like the last one were sure to come. However, rather than attempt to determine at what angle they would come at or which direction exactly, a fix-all decision was instead reached. Maintaining his stance, with his left fist held at his hip, he spun his body around in a rapid swirling motion, while holding out his right leg. Spinning at such a high speed, Seireitou was producing a cyclone of force that surrounded his being and reached quite high, climbing through whatever remained of the tavern's rooftop. If anything, this further displayed his mastery of the body, as he managed not only to hold his balance with zero difficulty but was capable of maintaining this continuous spin kick for hours, days if need be. But there would be no need for that.
Just as he witnessed Tōsō altering his tactics to a more straightforward assault, Seireitou ceased his spinning, but there was another purpose to this spin: to gather momentum. The sheer degree of potential energy he built up in that spin culminated as he shifted that momentum onto his right fist, and as Tōsō came charging in, he thrust his own fist out. However, this strike was notably different than his previous strikes. A martial artist's bread and butter is the ability to alter the degree to which force is expressed in their movements. And Seireitou is one such individual to have mastered this principle to its pinnacle. As he thrust his fist out, the tremendous force built up in his body was sent outwards, but rather than crushing forward and shattering space as his previous strikes had done, this one was far more subtle. An intense series of waves erupted from his fist, vibrational waves that resulted from his strike that fanned outwards as they collided with Tōsō's multitude of punches.
He was not sure if it would deal any damage to Tōsō or not, but that was moot. His goal was solely to create an opening by disrupting the rhythm of Tōsō's strikes, creating that brief window of vulnerability, and when that would be created, the next action was instantaneous. A simple retract and extend, as he pulled his fist back and launched it out toward Tōsō. A strike just as the others, one meant to smash him apart similar to all his previous strikes, but this one was unique for one reason: it was the Ikkotsu. Should it hit, the crashing strike was a specialized form of punch that worked to attack the framework of his opponent — the proverbial skeleton of his very spiritual existence — and there would be fatal consequences even for this man if the attack made full contact.
Tōsō knew that some strikes could be ignored, so weak that he could as well carry on with his own assault and destroy the astonished opponent. But that was not a fight where he could ignore any strikes. Some strikes could be blocked, with his extremely tough body and distorting properties of his fighting style rendering them a shadow of their intended selves, one that was diminished and hurt the very assailant at the same time. But that was not a strike he should block. He recognised the Ikkotsu, and he recognised Kawahiru's talent. That was a deadly combination, and in such cases, the most sensible decision was to evade.
With his own onslaught successfully defended from, Tōsō reacted immediately. Again, he let his will motivate his body and mould his spiritual pressure, twist the fabric of reality once more, so that he would manoeuvre with the swiftness of a seasoned Hohō master. Greater even, for in this case he opted to put additional effort in the motion, or rather, any noticeable effort. Not only to ensure he would fully move away from the oncoming strike's path, but also to approach the enemy faster than before.
Action and reaction. Basic moves of an advanced art were still not enough to overwhelm such an opponent. So, Tōsō intended to resort to higher-grade techniques in due time. Now beside Seireitou, he launched another volley of jabs. But it was different this time. First, he used both of his hands to perform the barrage, functionally doubling the move's volume and power which, considering the effectiveness of the one-handed version, was quite a change. Second, both of his hands were coated with crackling, red-violet spiritual energy, the essence of chaos, to directly enhance the disruptive influence as well. Another factor to multiply the power of the earlier barrage with. Each jab strong, fast, carefully aimed, not to mention distorted in spacetime to twist about defences, overlap with or precede strikes that should have actually come first.
That alone could be deemed a viable attack at that point in time. A convincing escalated offence. In fact, little more than a ruse. In the midst of that chaotic volley of jabs Tōsō flexed the muscles of his left, main arm, invigorated them with a surge of spiritual energy, enveloped with distortions. And then he performed his own variant of the Ikkotsu, a similar but distinct technique named Bōkyaku - oblivion. His hand extended toward the opponent, literally punching a hole through reality with the accompanying exertion. Burst forth from the initial barrage all of a sudden and carried on, carving into the ground and destroying a part of the tavern. Moved even further, shaking the ground, engraving a mark of death and devastation through the town. Yet that was a mere side effect, for the brunt of the attack was focused upon Seireitou Kawahiru.
With the next series of blows, Seireitou knew this would be no pushover like the last strikes. A simple spin kick would not be enough to dispel them. Rather than a simple means of evading or blocking, Seireitou opted to face Tōsō head-on like a true martial artist. Of course, even saying that much, it would not be as if he were a brawler attacking blindly. As the first medley of distorted strikes, coated with that ominous red energy, came for him, Seireitou molded his own spiritual force toward his body and an intense yet subtle aura flickered around him like a mist.
The first few strikes were handled by simply dodging them at the last moment, allowing them to pass him over, but for the others, Seireitou readied his own fists for battle. With a fierce kiai, his fists began to clash with Tōsō's own powerful attacks. Whether they were straight forward or distorted like the previous ones, the Shiroyasha maneuvered expertly to swift move out of the way when needed, and other times, his fists met the challenger's own knuckles straight up. As Seireitou punched, his other hand returned to his hips, and vice-versa, for a particular reason. After all, a martial artist of his level did not need to maintain any fighting stance; it was superfluous. Whenever the two Hakudaka clashed, a tremendous sonic boom escaped from their collision, with a sound as intense as a thunder clap. One after another, these sonic booms began to influence even the distorted world, further influencing the chaos with a new layer of chaos. Strangely enough, this meant in some places, one source of chaos would cancel out another part of the distortion, creating inconsistencies in the world born from Tōsō's will. Perhaps right now, they were not anything for him to worry about, nor for Seireitou to actually wield as an advantage, but what could be certain was that the crafty Shiroyasha had something up his sleeve.
Then came the Bōkyaku. Seireitou knew it was different from the other strikes if only for the fact that the behavior of Tōsō's power seemed to shift ever so slightly but it was still noticeable. But it would not deter him. Rather, it was time to implement another form of his striking methods. His spiritual power flared briefly, as his right hand was shaped as a knifehand, and with a swift rotation of the arm, he thrust out his fingertips straight for Tōsō's Bōkyaku. This strike was peculiar in that it was a piercing move rather than one devoted to crushing. As the arm twisted to thrust his fingertip strike outward, minute cracks of space formed all throughout his arm for a moment, signifying the high level of strength being applied. This strike was nearing the power of a seikentsuki from the Shiroyasha, and as it formed this drill-like distorting effect, it clashed with the Bōkyaku. But what was unexpected was that no explosion was born from the collision. Nothing at all. In fact, that was the goal. The two opposing distortions collided with one another in a way that was meant to cancel each other out. The opposing contradicting waves smashed into one another and due to their intentionally opposite force, they canceled out as subtly as a flame being smothered.
But Seireitou aimed to use this momentary lapse in order to create a follow-up move. After all, his fingertips were against the fist of Tōsō, in direct contact as a result of their canceled-out collision. And at such a close range, what could even this skilled warrior hope to do if Seireitou chose to curl his hand into a fist right then and there. That was exactly what the Shiroyasha intended to do. All it required was for Seireitou to curl the same hand that he used to make the thrust and form a fist instead, which would make both of the two Hakudaka tap knuckles as a result. But this would not be an innocent fist bump. Not at all, for what this signified was the second move that followed the thrust.
"Ikkotsu." Seireitou spoke with a calm tone under his breath as he curled his hand into the fist. That crushing force, if this maneuver worked as intended, would travel up Tōsō's arm like a snake crawling up a sugarcane, and inflict some heavy damage. Given the circumstances, this was a very likely scenario. Tōsō perceived the strike and, unable to evade it at that rate, proceeded to deploy the swiftest countermeasure he could muster in this situation.
The energy of primordial chaos surged through his left arm yet again. Then, the force of his opponent's strike travelled through the limb, and the two powers collided within. Tōsō was unable to negate the strike, not in this case. But his energy distorted the enormous impetus so that his arm, rather than being completely crushed, emerged somewhat mangled in the aftermath. For the first time he felt genuine pain in this battle. That was good. For when his opponent chose to make direct contact, he also chose to experience a portion of his own force resonate through his own arm. More than that, the very energy Tōsō had used to decrease the horrendous impact of the earlier strike was imparted upon Kawahiru as well, insidious, disruptive energy.
That marked the end of the warm up. The test was now complete. Tōsō had been observing his enemy closely, analysing his technique, reflexes, reactions, spiritual pressure. Estimating his skill and power. Discerning patterns. Preparing for the inevitable. Now, with a considerable, if brief, exertion of tremendous willpower, he commanded his disfigured arm to restore itself back to working condition, which it did. He would need it, and even during that process he had been already bracing himself to unleash what was basically his most powerful combination attack. In his current state, at least. For that, he clenched his fists.
First strike. Yamata no Orochi, the Eight-Forked Serpent, multiplied a single punch into eight, all of them slightly weaker than the original, but greater in number and twisted across the dimension of space to strike at Kawahiru from different side each, all at the same time. But before that could happen, he performed the second strike, with his healed left arm. Eight punches were now sixty-four, saturating the area with ethereal fists and spatial distortions. Then, the third strike. Sixty-four punches were now five hundred twelve, drowning and bending inward the entire fabric of reality around Seireitou and, presumably, the Hakudaka himself, in a frightening volley of metaphysical attacks. Even though with every stage the punches were diminished in pure strength, they remained threatening. But that was of little consequence anyway. They were all merely a setup for what was to follow.
Four meant death.
"HAAAH!", Tōsō bellowed abruptly.
Bōkyaku. The real Bōkyaku. Tōsō did not require a proper posture. All that was necessary was an appropriate state of the mind. So he clenched his body, mind and soul, turned his entire being into a fist of colossal destructive potential. Just that alone was enough to increase the attack power of the move a full order of magnitude. But that was not the end. No, to overwhelm someone as masterful as the prodigious Seireitou Kawahiru, Tōsō had to go further, further, surpass his previous performance several levels outright. The gate to primordial chaos within his body became partially open. His left arm was enveloped completely with a red-violet, violent aura crackling with excess energy.
The real Bōkyaku. It was said that Ikkotsu could destroy a single bone of any entity unfortunate enough to suffer a direct hit. Bōkyaku could destroy a portion of reality. That was neither an exaggeration, nor a metaphor. While Seireitou was being showered with a hail of five hundred twelve simultaneous strikes emerging from every conceivable angle, Tōsō extended his left arm toward him. The strike occurred, and with it, a part of reality was sent to oblivion. The spacetime was strained, distorted, pierced through, until it collapsed. The floor, the tavern, the streets and buildings outside, even the oblivious Souls that were walking them, sunk into that abysmal hole punched in the universe itself. A large part of the city vanished, literally eradicated, leaving a giant crater in its place.
Tōsō took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. He beheld the results of his manoeuvre, ever vigilant. He did not expect that to be the end of the battle. However, he was fairly curious about what he had managed to accomplish.
The Next Realm
"...It's time to stop playing games." the Shiroyasha spoke, almost as if he had taken an entire shift in personality.
It mattered not how many hundreds of fists Tōsō tried to perform using his distortion world. A Hakudaka who has reached the level that Seireitou was at could become the literal embodiment of an army. A single strike could become a hundred, a hundred a thousand, and a thousand a million. By merely holding his hand, the Shiroyasha's reiatsu spiked upwards, his body coated with a fierce upsurge of spiritual power as it was flung outwards in the direction where he gestured. Almost as if it were drawn into being, hundreds of fists were born from his personal energy, white translucent fists erupted forth and collided with the five hundred or so strikes that Tōsō delivered. After all, to Seireitou, the one who had mastered Hakuda to its pinnacle and beyond, his reiatsu was no different and no less personal than any limb of his own body. He could use it as he pleased.
But then came the Bōkyaku. One that was significant stronger than its previous use. All of space around Seireitou began to collapse upon itself as the strike neared him. However, the Shiroyasha was not deterred. Pulling his hand back, while keeping his left hand steady at his hip, he twisted a fingertip thrust straight for the Bōkyaku once again. But just as the Bōkyaku was different, so too was this piercing blow. It was coated with an intertwining layer of reiatsu, almost as a knit-together net that wrapped around his hand as he thrust it outwards. The fierce strength behind these two attacks was so great that they were incapable of even colliding with one another; space itself was bent in such utterly twisted ways that it formed a sort of barrier that made it impossible for the two Hakudaka to interact. And then came the eruption that obliterated the huge portion of the Rukon district where they were fighting.
Silence reigned down as space slowly restored itself and only debris remained, with Seireitou standing atop part of the debris and looking outwards toward Tōsō; the two were distanced quite a ways from one another. There was no telling how many people were caught in the wake of that clash and ripped to shreds by the spatial rends. They couldn't even be buried because there'd be no trace of their bodies left. The very thought of it infuriated the Shiroyasha, as he glared toward his challenger.
"Is this what you hoped for, Akiyama?" Seireitou questioned, dropping the honorific in his annoyance. "These lands are a part of my teaching grounds. I refuse to allow them to fall to anymore wanton destruction." he further explained, a faint trace of white reiatsu surrounded his body. It adorned his person like a subtle flame which hummed gently from his core.
"I understand now", the dark-haired man replied. "The things you speak of, the way you act..."
From his own experience he knew full well that words were a faulty carrier for meaning. Prone to twisting facts and misinterpretation, deliberate or not. So naturally he had to see for himself, experience the man that was Seireitou Kawahiru in a battle, the best form of dialogue two fellow Hakuda specialists could have. It was blatantly obvious now. During this duel so far, Tōsō had confirmed several things. First, Kawahiru deserved his title for sure, a warrior of prodigious skill and power. Second, Tōsō had indeed met his equal. The rest was a matter the two should discuss, if briefly, with those faulty yet sometimes indispensable words he so despised.
"It comes as no surprise that someone of your prowess has grown content with his life. Just as you evade my strikes, you dodge the responsibility for the burden of your experience. Why would you want to change the world that respects and reveres you so much? Why would you abandon lackeys and followers so devoted to you? You sully the memory of your fallen loved ones, friends and mentors with self-aggrandisement and a nauseatingly passive attitude. Rather than shape the world into a better place, you choose to utterly waste your talent in a school. You choose to watch as people endure a vicious cycle of eternal suffering and woe, an endless struggle, a futile ordeal with no ultimate purpose, no respite, no chance for genuine salvation", whilst he was speaking, Tōsō lifted his left fist, the arm bulging with flexed muscles and exposed veins, and a frown contorting his face.
"Just like the untold millions of innocent Souls, you resist the change for the better. But unlike them, you are powerful, and choose to be powerless. You are not fooled by the veil of lies, you have seen through it. Yet you decided to put it upon your face again and forget the horrible experience. Nothing left but to endure several hundred, several thousand years more and die. Like any other person."
With those words, Tōsō bent his left arm and placed the fist on his chest. With that simple gesture the gate was now open. Yugamekyō. The portal that led to the primordial chaos, a window to stare into the abyss of primal madness. Primeval energy surged through his muscles, invigorating his body, mind and soul. His spiritual power spiked again, significantly so, delving deeper into the realm of divine power, encroaching upon a territory that no mere mortal should be able to tread. So overflowing with energy he was that a portion began visibly bleeding into the environment, slithering tendrils of red-violet chaos, reaching outward erratically, crackling with electricity. And while his previous exertion had a considerable impact on his surroundings, so had this one but, instead of a single impact, the effect was constant, grasping at and mangling the fabric of reality with mindless fury, distorting spacetime around Tōsō.
That was Yugamekyō, his personal variant of the modern Shunkō. So similar and so unlike the latter at the same time. Because where the two both embodied the natures of their respective wielders, the users of Shunkō reached outward to dominate the energy present around them, whereas Tōsō reached inward, to the source of his own nigh-limitless power, to a completely different realm from time before time, to seek additional strength. The primordial chaos had now a point of entry into the current world, and Tōsō was its conduit and a focal point.
Tōsō lifted his right leg and moved it forward, then stomped on the ground. A motion that was effortless, but seemed to shake the very foundations of the world, cause powerful tremors as if said world shuddered in the wake of such power, of the source behind it, cracked apart in sheer terror. He assumed a fighting posture, his legs bent in knees, his arms coiled inward, his body slanted forward and stare fixed at Kawahiru. Now, he was ready to fight at full capacity.
"You may try to ignore change, try to run or resist, but you cannot escape. You cannot succeed. I have seen the end of that pointless struggle. That is why I herald the inescapable change, destroy obstacles and help bring about the salvation everyone deserves. That is why I shall tear off the veil of lies from your face, together with it if need be, so that you may see the folly of your own approach", he addressed his opponent.
It was quite the spectacle, this form assumed by his adversary. Seireitou observed the red cackling of electrical force surround Tōsō's being, he could sense the surge of power that was brought to the forefront by this action, but remained undeterred. He faced his opponent with a steely resolve as he listened to Tōsō's declaration of his nihilistic ideals. Every word that his opponent spoke filled him with an undying rage. There was very little that could ever truly set off the Shiroyasha, ironic given his reputation, and this was one of those hot buttons. But the silver-haired master showed no such outward expressions of anger. He was far more in control of himself than that. His reiatsu, even in the presence of Tōsō's tremendous presence, continued to radiate gently from his core like a humming flame.
The pinnacle of control and guidance attributed to the Shiroyasha was demonstrated when Tōsō's power expanded in order to once more establish dominance. Whenever those chaotic energies tried to approach Seireitou themselves, it was as if they were repulsed by an unseen force. "Martial arts was born out of the very instinct of humanity. A need to defend themselves, to ensure survival. They transcend language and culture, belonging to no one nation but to all of us. They provided a means for people to connect with one another. Martial artists are able to communicate simply by the exchange of fists alone. Despite the innate fragility of mortals, they are capable of standing back up in times of hardship, and strive to fight in order to change themselves. You dare stand before me and trivialize their efforts?" he answered, the very gravel underneath his person started to smash apart and rend at the seams under the weight of his spiritual pressure.
"You dare to speak, with the sound of such defeat in your voice... while holding the title of martial artist?! You've lost your way. You're... unsightly." Seireitou spat, with pure venom in his voice as his reiatsu flared outwards, almost as if it were taking on the shape of fox tails; numbering nine as they flicked about behind him. It was the Kitsune heritage that the Shiroyasha possessed, briefly showing itself to the surface, before those spiritual tails dissipated and swirled back inwards toward Seireitou's body.
With the mere motion of raising his hand, so began the onslaught.
Hundreds of spiritual fists erupted forth from his person as they sped toward Tōsō, carrying tremendous force in each, as Seireitou vanished from his spot. Almost at the same instant he began the first onslaught, he appeared above Tōsō, and with the same action, another barrage of fists descended onto his opponent. But yet again, he vanished just as the fists materialized and took form. Now he stood in the direction of Tōsō's backside, but he acquired a considerable distance from him. He spun his body around and held his leg out for two consecutive spins, sending off a refined shockwave of force with the slicing power of a swordmaster's blade, along with another that corresponded to that second kick. But with that same momentum, he spun around his knifehand-formed right hand in order to hide within those two tremendous slashes a third strike. Unlike the two sets of fist barrages, which were broad in their range due to multiplicity, these waves were massive and widespread. The Shiroyasha took things up to the next level.
Tōsō did understand the message that Kawahiru conveyed. In fact, he did remember holding the same views defiantly, watching the futile struggle of the masses for years, decades, centuries. In the end, they did not accomplish anything. Or, perhaps, that was not exactly the truth. They did change, the world changed... but that was not a change for the better. Just different. Different kinds of evil, different form of suffering supplanted the old ones. Each spin about the vicious cycle was slightly different but, ultimately, it did not lead anywhere but toward eternity of anguish.
More than that, he could understand why the silver-haired prodigy told he himself had lost his way. After all, he seemed a misguided villain, a fallen hero, a single man against the entire world. But that was not entirely true. Tōsō had abandoned his possessions, status, name, identity. He had sacrificed them to become a pure force of change. No longer restrained by arbitrary rules or a skewed moral system, he was able to, and determined to, do whatever it would take to bring salvation. Everything. People could insult him, disregard him, attack him viciously verbally and physically, but he was forever striving to save them. In the land of the blind he was the one-eyed man, their shadow king, leading his stubborn people toward the end of their torment.
But words failed him. Maybe, his actions could serve as evidence to prove the rightness of his cause. Volleys of fists rained down upon him in a shower of comprehensive devastation. Each barrage was sufficient to destroy a masterful combatant within an instant, without leaving a trace. But people used to call him a Grandmaster. And while he no longer respected such controversial titles, he did believe he had the power to change the world, single-handedly if need be. So that was the time to display that power. No basic moves would be enough, whether of Hakuda as a whole or even his own Yugamiken, his own, personal fighting style built upon the legacy of hundreds various martial arts from across the ages. He had to forgo "techniques", forgo any form of limits, and counter Kawahiru's pure embodiment of Hakuda with his own.
Attack demanded a defence to rise in its way, lest he would perish there and then. So that Tōsō lifted his arms in a guard and defended himself. Just as Seireitou did not need to make physical contact to drown him with strikes, he did not need to block them directly. The body was just a physical vessel for his mind and martial spirit, the nucleus of the much greater being that was the man once known as Kentarō Akiyama. His arms moved, and the fabric of reality around him was saturated with spatiotemporal ripples. Ones that acted as a physical ward, intercepted the first salvo as if he were capable of magic - an amusing thought, given the nature and hardships imposed upon him by his single talent. No, that was a display of Hakuda prowess, nothing else. Then, there was another barrage. That time Tōsō took a more active approach.
He extended his arms forward. Afterward, they were distorted beyond recognition as he made the effort to parry the numerous strikes crashing down upon him. Both the attack and the defence were excellent examples of outstanding Hakuda proficiency but, at heart, there were two martial artists fighting, one on the offence, the other defending. The projected fists collided with projected guard, and Tōsō kept distorting their course, deflecting them harmlessly to the sides. Quickly he realised those two basic volleys were little more than a distraction, to keep him occupied while the silver-haired man had been preparing a more effective attack. Stronger, more sophisticated... and with a hidden aspect.
Be that as it may, Tōsō did not perceive his enemy's action only with his single eye. Nor did he limit himself to the sum of his ordinary and spiritual senses. He was a Hakuda Grandmaster, and gazed upon his opponent through the prism of his martial spirit. A mind's eye, so to speak. Thus, he could perceive the true nature of the strike approaching him rapidly, enough to let him know that it demanded a more decisive response. A higher level. The chaos energy was bleeding from its primeval source, coursing through his muscles, enveloping his entire body with an eldritch shroud. So he moulded that energy into a form of armour, and crackling blades extended from his hands as they assumed the shape of knives. Subsequently, he swung both arms to the sides with enormous speed and, at the same time, lifted his leg in a powerful front kick. Somewhat mirroring the actions of his enemy in the process. Shrieking distortions were loosed onward only to clash with those of Seireitou's make. The reality protested, pouted its lips and moaned deafeningly when the two shockwaves were wrapped about each other only to subside in the aftermath.
Defence, and offence. Without wasting even a fraction of a second, Tōsō launched his own onslaught. His body, mind and soul, the shroud of his energised spiritual pressure and the distortions his sheer presence manifested, all were engaged in the act, as they should be. Time seemed to slow, so much so that particles of dust in the air became suspended in their transient locations, as if absolutely motionless. That was the effect of Tōsō hightening his perception to an unbelievable degree, motivating his body to function faster, faster. Then, there was the assault. Hundreds upon hundreds of jabs of two-fold nature whilst he twisted his way about the enemy, the centre of his attention. With every step that defied time and space, causing his body to deform outlandishly, as if it were made from liquid or gas rather than solid matter, there was a volley of thrusts: some of them piercing, physical strikes that punched through the spatial plane as they approached their intended target, some of them disruptive, media for the distorting energies of primordial chaos, designed to ignore physical defences altogether and strike at the silver-haired man's soul, introduce disarray in the flow of his energy and enfeeble the metaphysical aspect of his being.
With each contorted step, another barrage. But that was not the highlight of that chaotic programme. Just the first phase. An attempt to soften the target up for the upcoming one. Tōsō continued his eerie dance around Kawahiru, but the volleys of pinpoint strikes abruptly gave way to exponentially more powerful blows. His muscles flexed, the energy spiked. Time struggled to keep up with his speed as he began to unleash one punch after another. Or, that was the easiest way to refer to them. For each punch was in fact a dozen, overlapping so immaculately that they were extended toward the enemy in the form of a single, exceedingly destructive strike, sending ripples through realspace, quaking the area with the thunder of hundreds of cannonballs. Strike after strike, every one of them dwarfing the earlier Bōkyaku in magnitude and speed.
Yet, that was still not the end. In the midst of those percussive punches Tōsō weaved in a different one. Extending his index finger from the clenched fist, he sallied forward. The momentum behind that motion caused the fabric of reality to wrap itself about the finger. A twister of sorts burst forth in the direction of the Legendary Grandmaster, mangling time and space at its approach, threatening to draw everything around within the physical grinder of nigh-inescapable doom, rip apart every single molecule and cast them into nothingness.
These were truly tremendous feats that Tōsō was conducting. The sheer volume of power being manifested by his Hakuda was impressive, to say the least, but to Seireitou, he found himself slightly disappointed. As the barrage of fists came for him, he held his hands upwards in an almost defensive manner as his reiatsu began to respond to his motions. When his hand moved to divert the strike off with the least amount of effort necessary, so too did his reiatsu respond by momentarily taking on the form of a hand performing the same gesture. The speed this was being conducted would look like sparks of lightning to an onlooker, as Seireitou repeatedly backed away from the charging Tōsō, not merely blocking but diverting his powerful strikes.
Seireitou's disappointment came from how Tōsō's Hakuda came across to him. One of staggering might, but one that lacks understanding of the weak. It felt closer to the solitary art of Kidō, one that abandons weakness and immerses one in the strong. But the art of Hakuda was a modest one. It was given to the weak so that they could understand the strong. So they could fight the strong. A true master of the martial arts can only be one that embraces strength and weakness. That was, after all, what Seireitou sought to prove. Even as the strength began to concentrate, space and time slowing down and bending to the whim of Tōsō's strikes, it mattered not how much power he mustered. No longer was the Shiroyasha opposing force with force, but he was directing the forces coming toward him. The fatal flaw that came from Tōsō's chaotic energies was that Seireitou's opponent was not chaos but the man named Tōsō. Regardless of how unpredictable chaos itself is as an existence, Tōsō was a mortal being, the same as Seireitou, and thus, it was through the duration of their previous clashes that the Shiroyasha became accustomed to the nature and behavior of his opponent.
For Tōsō to employ chaos, he would have to give those chaotic energies a path when being turned into an offense. Seireitou knew now that this would be the time to invoke aiki. As the two exchanged blows, Tōsō's onslaught against Seireitou's redirection, the effects of aiki were slowly starting to present themselves. These energies that Tōsō manifested were personal and intimate to him, no different than a part of his body, and thus, just as the martial artists of the human world practice throwing and pinning their opponents so as to achieve control in the fight, Seireitou's presence tinging with the conscious effect of aiki was slowly starting to impose balance onto where there was distortion.
It would serve to become a battle of wills between Seireitou and Tōsō. With another step back, he covered more of a distance as he rose his hand. A barrage of his spiritual fists came into view as they collided with the fearsome tornado of force. "What's the matter, Akiyama? With such weak attacks, you're going to prove your way is right?" the silver-haired man instigated, purposely trying to taunt his opponent.
"Weakness... is subjective, I suppose, Kawahiru-ue", replied Tōsō calmly, underscoring the ferocity of their duel.
Through his stance, through his actions and words, through the glimpses he was offered at the opponent's heart, he could understand what the silver-haired man wanted to say. He knew weakness well. Remembered how it felt. For he was born with tremendous strength that entailed a dozen crippling weaknesses. They did not vanish on their own. No, they were obstacles he had to overcome through his own arduous training, step by step, circumvent them, find his personal way toward the pinnacle of skill. He remembered the weakness of others. The nameless masses of innocent people who depended on the extraordinary few to protect them, guide them, teach them, lead them toward a brighter future. Was not his purpose to forever help them walk along the only true path?
To impress the man in front of him was childish, naive. To destroy him was bold and misguided. They were the two fighting there and then, but the battle itself had never been about any of them. Whoever his commanders were, whichever banner and supposed moral alignment he chose, there was the one underlying ideal between Tōsō's actions: to help the weak. He had sacrificed everything for their sake. Was that not the purpose of any genuine martial artist? Was that not what the very Legendary Grandmaster of Hakuda told him during this skirmish? Yes... he had almost lost sight of his actual goal. But there it was again, the light at the end of the tunnel. All he had to do now was to walk toward that light and call to everyone else to follow him - toward the ultimate end, the paradise they desired. Help them.
There was a slight shift in his presence. To his stance, to the signature of his spiritual pressure, to the flickering aura that was enveloping his body. The intent behind the strikes was at least as essential for a genuine Hakuda master as their sheer force. Thus, it came as no surprise that his previous moves had been unable to reach the opponent. Kawahiru fought for his ideals, a stellar example for a martial artist. Tōsō was now fighting for his own precious ideals as well. Finally, they were equalised on the metaphysical aspect. The dark-haired man felt the presence of order bracing itself against his chaos. That was good. How could he properly focus his might if there was no proper resistance offered to it? The eternal struggle between order and disorder, the first struggling to reinforce its domination, the latter struggling to regain what had been taken away from it. And two exceptional men who personified these two polar opposite aspects, clashing with each other.
Now, that was the fight he had been looking for.
"I am grateful to you for sharing your strength and wisdom with me, Kawahiru-ue", spoke Tōsō as he was preparing to resume their duel. "I hope I will not disappoint you and the people I strive to save."
His mind was crystal clear, his resolve as unwavering as ever. So, he was ready to strike with unrestricted potential. First, he strengthened the foothold the primordial chaos had set up in this reality, answered to the challenge of the order present before him. Then, he proceeded further, attempting to vanquish the realspace and its arbitrary laws around him, for he was not inclined to adhere to the rules of a world he did not respect. With that he moved, but did not move at the same time. Physics struggled to process this phenomenon, for his existence to occupy several locations at the same time was an impossibility, but he did not care what others considered impossible. As a result, four-dimensional afterimages of his self manifested around Kawahiru.
The man once known as Kentarō Akiyama, multiplied, performed his strike. They were Bōkyaku, eight of them, each one crashing down upon Seireitou from a different direction, with equally gargantuan power each. The space that the prodigious Hakudaka was occupying collapsed on itself, unable to resist such tremendous distortions, emanations of will to overcome the opposition. Then, followed untold amounts of piercing and disrupting strikes, so grand their influence that, if momentarily, they restored a portion of the primordial chaos within their area of effect, and led that chaos toward Kawahiru, perforating the fabric of universe or alternately sending ripples through it for the same fate to befall the man in the epicentre of this madness. Subsequently, all Tōsō formed a knife-hand and slashed, the shroud of Yugamekyō empowering the motion, to cut the opponent to dimensional ribbons. And, at the end, there was a release of pure force, his fury, his indignation, his resolve, the desire to win against the entirety of existence so that he could save it from stagnation and decay - an immense shockwave, for lack of a better term, that threatened to utterly crush Kawahiru, for no half-hearted response would suffice against one that came from the very heart of Tōsō.
There was no comparison between the magnitude of this assault and the previous one, despite their ostensible similarity. The strength of the onslaught was all but incalculable. But there was much more to it than raw, brute force. In fact, one could say that was the less important aspect of Tōsō's strike. For the intent to destroy a single man was replaced with the intent to save countless. Source of infinite strength to heroes since the dawn of time, pure and fallen alike, as they chose to stand in the way of all that was evil, stubborn, defiant, dauntless, so that they could overcome everything no matter the odds and bring about salvation. At that moment, Tōsō was no longer the wreckage of a naive fool or a misguided renegade, but the epitome of a martial artist, not even a man, but a force of change incarnate.
The Shiroyasha couldn't help but smile a bit. In some small way, even if it was just a tiny splinter driven into a brick, his paradigm got through to Tōsō. As a teacher of the martial arts, that was enough for him. But even so, this was no time to appreciate the lesson learned, for this man before him was an opponent. As a martial artist, it was his duty to respond to Tōsō's spirit with his own. It was time for him to show the truth of his martial arts. Truly, the power exhibited by Tōsō was to be feared. Each and every time these two behemoths of the arts came to blows, the level of force indefinitely increased. But it mattered not. At this level, power meant nothing. What mattered is what the martial arts know as "Ki". For a long time, the idea of Ki was different to ascertain, nigh impossible to explain, for in truth, the idea of Ki is not something as simple as referring to spiritual energy. Many understood the term to mean "existence". Its name carried other meanings, such as "breath", "flow of energy", and so on, but the duty of a martial artist was to define the nature of Ki on their own.
As the Bōkyaku attacks began to form, a collapsing force threatening to crush Seireitou with unimaginable force, the martial arts master simply took his stance. With a calm and quiet composure, he held his palms out flat, with the fingertips pointing to the sides as he began to make a turning motion. Making a subtle side step each time his feet came together, he traced out the form of a circle, almost as if his hands were guiding something. In truth, that is exactly what was happening. The Shiroyasha opted to face his opponent's destruction with his own bonding. Where his opponent tore apart, he would bring together. That was the concept known as aiki. A ring where the forces sought to overtake Seireitou formed as he swirled his body around. Of course, it was no easy task, even for the Hakuda Grandmaster of Soul Society. He was dealing with reality-threatening forces at work, but even so, he was familiar with them on the basis of his opponent's willpower. Although there was a noticeable strain, it made no dent in his effort, motioning through the use of aiki like the wind curving around the trees.
Making a sudden jump and subsequent upwards twirl, he somersaulted until he was upside down and facing downwards as Tōsō. Slashing both of his hands outwards, just as the next volley of strikes were coming and forming, the force of those collected Bōkyaku collided with a fierce uproar as reality itself screeched under the weight of the clash. Massive sparks of white and red ruptured the air before them, streaks of similar colors shined out from the clash before fading away as suddenly as they came, as this reality-defying collision was reconciled by nature itself as a surge of eruptive force that once more pushed the two existences, Seireitou and Tōsō, away from one another.
Facing toward his opponent, Seireitou let out a gentle breath, relaxing his body as he stood tall. "Your attitude has changed, Akiyama-san. It would seem in the time we have been fighting one another, you have grown a tad less gloomy. You're starting to see it... The truth of Hakuda. But this isn't the level I need you to be at." Raising his hands off to the side, almost as if he were gesturing acceptance, with his palms overturned, a loud clamor began to sound throughout the area. Quickly, however, it reduced to a humming, as streaks of mystical white energy tinted with a glimmer of blue light began to course inwards from all directions. The streaks gathered at the point where Seireitou stood, swirling around him in a dance of light. "As I am sure you are aware, Hakuda possesses within its existence... four realms. At the start, we have been facing each other on the first precipice of kiai. And while you have made an attempt to transcend this stage, and face me on the precipice of kiroku, I am afraid you have still only scratched the surface." he declared, the energy swirled around him calmly and in a serene manner.
It needed no explanation for where this strange source of power was coming from. The second realm of Hakuda, known to few as kiroku, referred to the power of existence itself. Seireitou knew from long ago that the core of martial arts was born of experience. Where those who practiced magic studied relentlessly, and those who practiced the sword drilled themselves constantly, the martial artists were ones who learned as they lived. Every experience they made became a lesson to them. And that was kiroku, the manifested power of those experiences. The land where these two were fighting was filled with those very experiences. If Tōsō were to attempt to analyze the streaks of power conglomerating toward Seireitou, he would be bombarded with images of various experiences: the many times Seireitou gambled in this district, the times he drank, whether to ease a personal pain or to celebrate joyous times with friends, both old and new, when he would be confronted by wayward criminals and misguided souls who knew not what they were in need of; they were endless. Each experience made its mark onto the Hakudaka. The feelings of rage, of happiness, of sadness, of friendship, of camaraderie, and of antagonism. The emptiness from which Tōsō drew strength would find its match, if not its superior, in the limitless power obtained from experiences and connections forged; bonds created and broken. This... was Hakuda.
"Look further within, Tōsō. Not in just your solitude, nor in just your pain. Look deeper inside. At everything which composes your being. Draw power from everything. And bring yourself to my level." the Shiroyasha declared, gripping his fists as a tremendous pressure surged outwards. Literal waves escaped from his center, radiating outwards like the waves of the ocean itself. It began to wash over the distorted world, as if it were a waterfall crashing down onto a dry plain, and threatened to impose balance onto it all. Pulling his fist back, he extended it outwards in Tōsō's direction, and with its strike, it was like a world descending. Although he had yet to wrestle control from Tōsō's distorted world — an act that would be nigh impossible without first establishing total balance — he gained enough of a foothold for his power to manifest in all locales. And with the motion of his first strike, a sky of fists descending onto the Shiroyasha's opponent. In every conceivable angle, direction, and path of combat, the Shiroyasha's fist manifested with great strength, with the intention, not to inflict damage, but to batter the very soul of his opponent into submission. And with the first strike, Seireitou delivered another, and another, engaging in a barrage of punches that only brought forth the sky of fists to continue a relentless assault onto Tōsō.
That was another time the dark-haired man heard truth from his silver-haired counterpart. How quaint. That was certainly an unusual feeling, to establish some sort of connection with another person, come to understand, if partially, each other's motives. And there he thought the entire world had succumbed to trauma-induced insanity. But was that not the purpose if this ordeal? For two otherwise unrivalled Hakuda specialists with wildly differing views to communicate, converse with their words and actions alike, to negotiate the fate of the world. Yes, their earth-shaking battle was just a medium for a far more profound conflict. Apart from the physical, there were spiritual and mental exchanges as well, perhaps even more important than the former.
Truth. Tōsō had never forgotten about his past, he could not, but he wished he could. So, most of the time, there was a slight disconnect between his foundation and the summit of his being. And there Seireitou demonstrated him the immeasurable power that stemmed from a perfect unity of existence, the acceptance of all the suffering, woes, joy and satisfaction one had ever experienced. The power that felt as if the vault of heavens came crashing down upon him, worlds apart from any other assault Kawahiru had conducted earlier. If he were to defend from this onslaught the way he had been at the beginning, he would perish. With his current attitude, he could survive, but mangled and battered, unable to carry on with his mission as that would be not only his body, but also his martial spirit broken.
So he had to change. He wanted to teach the world a lesson, show them the ultimate truth, guide them toward salvation. He wanted people to learn from his experience. So he had to accept that experience first, all of it, draw the strength necessary to grab and move the entire globe forward as a result. He remembered the beautiful, careless days of his life as an orphan in the dirty alleys of the Rukongai. The overflowing joy when the guardians of balance and order sought him to train and fashion him into a powerful warrior, the defender of the innocent. He remembered his friends and mentors, imperfect, selfish, but supportive and reliable. His growing disillusionment, disappointment, as he discovered the extent of corruption in what he thought immaculate, the betrayal and persecution he suffered at the hands of his alleged allies. The feeling of freedom and overwhelming sorrow when he abandoned them. The offer of the Unfettered King, the enemy of Soul Society, so sweet, promising, so false and insincere... As he removed his moral shackles and lashed against his former masters, thinking he was the necessary evil to bring back the lost goodness. Suffering, despair, death. One last strife with his former best friend...
One last disenchantment... The day and night, the last, he spent with Hitomi... Another change of mind... Then, the entire world crashing down upon him when he gazed into her bewitching, glazed, dead eyes, and he finally realised there was no place for him among any people... The final battle with the Unfettered King. The ultimate test. Balancing at the precipice of defeat, the fate of the entire spiritual world at stake. The monumental strain. Yet each time he was struck a heavy blow, he stood up, bruised, lacerated, covered in his own blood, and fought. For his ideals. For the sake of others. And he won. Only that way, he could win against the odds.
He lifted his guard. That was tantamount to projecting a wall of solid unreality between him and the barrage of metaphysical strikes. They descended upon the undulating barrier, hundreds upon hundreds, sinking into oblivion and taking the martial spirit ward with them. Then, came another volley. Tōsō rose both of his arms and began a counter attack, his limbs distorting space around them just through their sheer velocity, a mere side effect. Fists against fists, that was what it always boiled down to between two fellow martial artists. One strike per strike, until there were none left. And there was the final barrage. Tōsō shifted his stance, once again his arms disappeared as they were submerged in primordial chaos, this time deflecting the attacks with nigh-imperceptible speed, not with just his wrists, but the entirety of his being.
The onslaught subsided. Tremors shook the ground, and Tōsō lowered his posture, let out a deep sigh. The foundations of his very being had been shaken, but so profoundly reinforced just moments before, he persevered. As he always did.
"I must admit, sometimes my grand vision becomes blurred", he spoke in a calm voice, with no frown or unnerving smirk plastered on his face, just composure. "But I have never truly lost sight of my ultimate goal. I have sacrificed everything to save the people. Unlike you, I have never been passive. For as long as I breathe, I shall strive to put an end to this vicious cycle of suffering, no matter the cost, no matter the odds. I shall never surrender."
There was no surge to his spiritual power output, he already had plenty accessible to him. But still, he felt as if he rebounded from the lowest depths of Hell and pierced through the impassable ceiling only to skyrocket toward the Heavens. And so he charged toward his opponent-teacher. First, he performed a flurry of thrusting strikes, thousands upon thousands, with his martial spirit rather than just his hands, showering Kawahiru with a comprehensive volley from all sides. Then, he unleashed several percussive punches, fists like spiritual cannonballs, causing ripples through space as they were sent toward their target. In utter silence, for now, because sound could not hope to catch up with him. He could destroy the distance between him and Seireitou, approach him in a literal distance, but for this he required momentum of a real, exceedingly fast motion. So that he extended his left arm, wreathed in the flickering, red-violet aura of Yugamekyō. So that he was about to exploit that momentum to decapitate Kawahiru with a clothesline that had the power to level a whole mountain range in one fell swoop.
Just as the assault began, Seireitou rose his right hand with his left hand resting against his abdomen, supposedly in a defensive position. As each strike came toward him, he alternated between hands at a quickening pace. Each time, his palm met Tōsō's thrusts, yet a strange occurrence seemed to happen each time they collided with one another. Before, Seireitou deflected his strikes, but he was doing no such thing; he met each of them head-on, but the feeling was strange. Every time the force collided with Seireitou, he wasn't challenging the force nor trying to change its course. Rather, he accepted it. Hua jin. The very phenomenon was to neutralize the force, almost as if it were being melted before him, and that seemed to be the case. Surrounding the Shiroyasha were ripples of what appeared to be actual melting drips of reality and spacetime themselves, moving about like some kind of viscous gel. He was literally melting the force as it approached him, manifesting forth hua, a perfected method of manifesting the concepts of atemi and aiki together in harmony.
But as the barrage of thrusts ended and were succeeded by powerful punches, Seireitou lifted forth his arm up high. From neutralizing the force, he proceeded to perform xu jin. An accumulation of force, following the motion of his hand as the melted reality around him began to spike upwards and seemingly built a transparent rigid construct that surrounded the Shiroyasha, smothering the force from Tōsō's punches as they proceeded to strike against him. This was a skill known as separation of the water, which started forth by the action of xu. When the master would raise his hand, it would be like a mountain itself rising and moving. Tried as they might, Tōsō's punches would find it nigh impossible to smash through this concrete accumulation of reality itself stitched together by the martial will of the Shiroyasha. After all, at this realm of Hakuda, no movement was a single effort. Even the act of shielding was both a form of offense and a form of redirection. All of the Hakuda disciplines, in this case meaning atemi and aiki, were manifested forth by the martial artist. This mountain of accumulated melted reality continued to flow and pulled in the force of the punches that smashed into it, growing all the more dense and visible.
"You have great power and your aim is true, Akiyama-san. As you are opening your heart up to the world, you are growing stronger by the minute. But it's still not enough! If all you do is strike, you still have not truly exchanged blows with your opponent. You must touch your opponent's heart. When fighting, you must aim to learn about your foe while also to understand yourself. It is essential that it comes from the heart!" Seireitou declared while maintaining this gesture. It was odd, they were opponents with initially differing paradigms, and yet, despite being in the troughs of fierce battle, the Shiroyasha was giving a sincere lecture to his brother-in-training. He was a true teacher, through and through, wishing to bring out the potential of even an opponent trying to best him in battle.
With that, and the incoming lariat threatening to cleave him in twain, the following part of separation of the water was to release the force, fa jin, as the tremendous sturdy mountain became fluid and fanned outwards, descending onto Tōsō as Seireitou motioned his raised hand downwards as a knifehand strike. In separation of the water, it is believed that mastering this skill means that whatever the hand of the martial artist should touch, it shall fall. This force that surrounded Seireitou as the mountain became the wave of an ocean, a tsunami if you will, curving downwards and approaching Tōsō with the full intent to utterly drown him in the accumulated force reigned in by the balance of Seireitou's aiki. Of course, this was no simple attack as the others. Even if Tōsō were to use the same guarding method as before, it would not hold back this assault, for it is in the nature of water to swirl forth and seep into the cracks of everything that lay before it. The very nature of water is to cleanse and wipe away all before it, and in behaving in this manner, the wave of force threatened to wipe out Tōsō himself.
As powerful as it was, Tōsō's manoeuvre was simple. An exertion of tremendous force, yet only force. So it was a simple matter for someone of Kawahiru's skill to weather that devastation. Be that as it may, it was only a prelude, in fact, and it was not the purpose of a prelude to provide the closure to a story. No, the dark-haired man had yet to display his full capacity in a proper follow-up. The goal of the initial assault was to occupy the opponent with minimal effort whilst Tōsō was closing the distance, and in that he succeeded. Now, the next stage was to endure the inevitable retaliation.
Not every strike had to be directly defended from. Sometimes, certain strikes could not be defended from. Defiance in the face of overwhelming power was not a sign of bravery or prowess, but perhaps the last display of recklessness. In spite of his peculiar preferences, Tōsō was a Hakuda Grandmaster, and recognised the nature of the blow descending upon him like the metaphorical blade of a guillotine. There was no need for him to hold his ground, protect that transient location he was at as if it were important to him. Rather, he was going to embody his own aspect of the martial arts, employ the result of millennia-long labour and the personal approach built upon the ancient legacy of the entire Hakuda.
Where Seireitou chose to imitate water, he himself once again became chaos.
Amusingly, both concepts were somewhat similar, especially when considered through the prism of their influence on a fighting style. Yet water was a fundamental, if only one of the many elements of this world, swift and fluent, powerful when need be, but not much beyond that. Tōsō could imitate water, or fire, or wind, many other forces of nature, but that would be against his views, to imitate something as inherently flawed, constrained. Primordial chaos, on the other hand, was another world. The substance of an alien realm, devoid of profound restrictions of this reality. Uninhibited by states, uninhibited by form, gleefuly ignorant of laws of physics. The goal of Yugamiken was to exploit that power, overcome a dozen crippling weaknesses through that single strength, harness the unique half-gift, half-curse, provide focus to the power of an entire realm and wield it as a limb, or maybe an additional layer of being, in close combat.
Just as Seireitou's attack crashed down upon Tōsō like a tidal wave, Tōsō exhibited a flagrant disrespect for the rules of this universe and vanished. Distance was a relative term, and one he could choose to disregard altogether. Like in that particular instance, his connection to the realm of primal madness allowed him to destroy space, place pure nothingness in its stead, to evade the dangerous strike. Reality struggled to process this otherworldly phenomenon, and the result was a momentary error as several four-dimensional copies of the man manifested in different places around Kawahiru. Each of them real and unreal, surreal, at the same time, capable of acting in tandem for that single moment where a part of realm from time before time was restored into this modern period of existence.
Four of them leapt at Kawahiru in the wake of his own attack. The first jutted a hand with two fingers extended forward, the gesture of holding a cup, in a jab. The second pointed the index finger at the target in a piercing thrust. The third formed an extremely sharp knife-hand. The fourth instead struck with a clenched fist. Four different Tōsō's, with four different attacks. Each of them a carrier for much more than sheer impetus, but also the distorting, disrupting properties of primordial chaos, enveloping their ethereal forms with equally spectral, flickering auras of primeval energy, nemesis to Reiryoku. Nemesis to space and time. Nemesis to reason.
Meanwhile, the original Tōsō reappeared behind Kawahiru. He gained no momentum from that no-motion of his, but had yet to shed the incredible amount he had accumulated beforehand. So that he spun about his axis, descended toward the ground with his leg jutted forward in a low kick. A deviously basic motion. For it had the same mountain-shattering power of the clothesline that did not hit the mark, more than that even. Tōsō's presence warped the universe around him and Seireitou, grabbed at and twisted the spatiotemporal fabric to mangle two essential aspects of current existence beyond recognition. The primal power of primordial chaos surged through the dark-haired man's leg whilst it sunk into existence, toward Seireitou's legs. Symbolic strike, because it was intended to disrupt the opponent's balance in every pertinent sense of the word. Tōsō could not tell what was Seireitou's perception of time at that moment, but he himself was perfectly aware of when the distraction onslaught was about to occur, and measured this strike immaculately.
Five attacks total, deceptively simple at a first glance, in fact, the chaos itself threatening to drown reality and Kawahiru with it on its approach. Elaborate distraction and a preparation strike for what was to come. Immediately, Tōsō was prepared to follow-up that assault by grasping Kawahiru's waist, lifting him and slamming him to the ground with a tremendous suplex. At that point, he would finish the manoeuvre, and presumably the opponent, with an earnest Bōkyaku. To provide a fitting funeral to his teacher-enemy, to bury him within this world he so cherished without forcing it to behold the result of such a blow making direct contact with any body.
Dodging his wave of force which composed of the accumulated 'balanced reality' was not any real setback, for Seireitou had a second plan for this wave's use. If anything, based on the patterns of movements made by Tōsō throughout the entire fight, the Shiroyasha outright expected him to dodge this attack. For the secondary purpose of this wave was to be sent off, spreading outwards toward the sky as ripples began to spread throughout the entire distorted world. The silver-haired master spread his arms outwards just as he registered the disappearance of his adversary, causing that wave to crash down and flood the entire surrounding space. For being a massive gathering of balanced force, radiating the will of aiki, the distorted world created by Tōsō's influence was melting away. Pieces of the real world started to shimmer back into existence, and with it, those four clones as well as any others that may have been hanging around — constructs of this chaotic realm forged by Tōsō — were withering away before they could even carry out their attacks. It was indirectly thanks to this action that the disruption of reality caused by Tōsō's illogical departure was filled up rather quickly, further resulting in the prevention of those replicates from making any actions and their subsequent fading away from this world.
Take in what is useful, discard what is not.
It was not that Seireitou mimicked water, but that he learned from water. He observed water's flow, he understood its characteristics, its 'Ki', and changed himself from those lessons. What he performed was the materialization of those experiences, for every experience is a lesson to the martial artist. Kiroku means to draw power from experience, and the power of water is to cleanse and wipe away impurities. Many could argue that the primordial chaos that Tōsō manifested and drew his power from was a pure source in and of itself, and that could be true, but the time of primordial chaos was long since over. To violate the natural order as it stands now is nothing short of impure. The distorted world melted away as a result of his tremendous accumulated wave washing over the chaos surrounding them, and the real world came once more into view. Of course, Tōsō could eventually take back the world and reestablish his distorted world in full force, but it would take him some time to do this time around. After all, the first time, he didn't have a challenging will in the space around him. With the foothold gained slowly but surely by Seireitou's actions throughout the entire fight, Tōsō would find it to be a truly arduous task.
With his hold over the surrounding reality torn, there was only Tōsō himself, who was approaching fast from behind. Sadly, the concentration that the Shiroyasha needed for his last maneuver cost him his balance, for the low kick connected and disrupted the man's physical stance. A minor and temporary set-back. With his distorted world torn asunder, it drastically reduced the effectiveness of Tōsō's power over the space, and responding to this attack was nothing short of simple. Spinning himself in mid-air, Seireitou kicked at the ground to garner a short yet sufficient distance from his opponent, while subsequently overturning dust and dirt in a sort of smokescreen. That alone prevented him from being grabbed by the simplistic idea of a throw from behind. However, there was no way this maneuver was going to actually prevent Tōsō from finding Seireitou; a martial artist would be a fool to rely on their basic senses, but no matter how little it would, the purpose was simply to disorient his opponent for no less than a millisecond. Even less than that, for that was all the Shiroyasha needed. He needed merely that brief instant, that tiniest of windows, to ensure his victory.
Just as before, he rose his hand and outwards flowed a barrage of fists, numbering in the hundreds if not thousands, but they did not make a charge for Tōsō. Not at all. Rather, in the close vicinity where Tōsō was, they swirled around that space in a sort of dance, moving at speeds which made them resemble like wisps of white flames enclosing around Tōsō in a sort of makeshift cage. On a physical level, it would seem as though Tōsō was surrounded with no way of escape, but of course there would be other ways to escape unharmed? Not at all. For these fists, dipped in the manifested power of will itself, were blocking off the paths of both the physical and the conceptual. This was the ultimate power of the Hakuda Aiki discipline, to dominate the paths of battle, and Seireitou took his time to properly learn his opponent; he observed Tōsō, moved with Tōsō, experienced Tōsō. He patiently waited for his chance to close his opponent off, a proverbial checkmate if you will. Just as the previous fists, these were geared to beat his soul into submission, but for some reason, the Shiroyasha opted not to make any actual offensive action; merely to block off any chance of escape.
"You've fought adamantly, Akiyama-san. If you truly were my student, I would even say I was proud of you. But we're opponents right now, are we not? Even so, I cannot help but ponder. What have you learned from our fight thus far?" Seireitou inquired as he faced Tōsō as the smoke from his overturning of dirt had finally faded away in its entirety.
Tōsō devoted a moment to consider what had transpired. Seems he had missed a single important element during his vicious assault. The moment he had unleashed Yugamiken at the beginning of the battle, he mangled the environment to establish the subtle influence of primordial chaos. With Yugamekyō active there was no need for any exertion. Much greater influence was maintained constantly by the aura composed of primal, disruptive energies enveloping him like a phantasmagorical shroud of flames. But that was a passive property, which Kawahiru countered with active measures. He had criticised the latter for inactivity, yet displayed it himself in a matter of speaking. How hypocritical... He made a mistake, and had to learn from that experience. That entire battle was a worthwhile experience. So he rose, straightened his back, and fixed his stare at Seireitou.
"No matter the odds, Kawahiru-ue", he declared.
No passive effect could win in a contest with a deliberate action. So he had to exert himself. His body, mind and soul. Bathe and invigorate his physical vessel with the eldritch energies of primordial chaos, let if overflow into his surroundings, to wash away at the nigh-inescapable metaphysical cage around him. But that would take long, to simply erode that constraint, with Seireitou free to do as he pleased in the meantime... But Tōsō had already broken his chains and obtained ultimate freedom long ago. On that fateful day, that fateful day when he gazed into the dead eyes of Hitomi for the last time, that day when he faced and obliterated the masked man known as Lord Nemesis, the warlord, that was when he became unfettered. From that point onward no-one, ever again, would be able to impose any limitations upon him.
So rather than stand there and wait for something that would not come to pass he lifted both of his arms, his muscles flexed, strained, veins bulging out as they were forced outward. The shroud of visible energy was rendered electrified, even more ferocious than before, but more focused as well. He reached toward his cage with his hands, with his thoughts, with his dream, his resolve and skill, his experience. The reality around him was undulating, unable to cope with that kind of exertion, with the kind of power behind it, the distant memory of another realm, another time. True, Tōsō could bring back a portion of the primordial chaos, the beginning of all existence, but that... that was just the half of his capacity. After all, he was not so much concerned with the past, as he was with the future. At the beginning and the end there was chaos, and he had the ability to reach out to both. So he did.
He was the terminator, the gate, the channel, the bridge between two extremes. The interval... was impure, imperfect, irrelevant. As a result, he chose to drown it, wash away the woes, the suffering, the injustice and restore pristine disorder, with no restrictions, an immaculate unity of being. He extended both of his arms, his fingers curled, like claws of a predator grasping at prey. He submerged them in the plane of existence, grabbed the spatiotemporal fabric of reality, like the metaphorical veil of lies he despised, and tore it off. That was impossible, yet was exactly what he did. Sundered reality, all four dimensions and everything contained within, born of it, and cast them away, as if they were broken shackles.
He stood there, a man or a no-god rather, for it was not the power of a man to sunder the universe with any kind of exertion. There was nothing and yet something around him. For that fleeting moment he was, indeed, enveloped by pure chaos, no subtle influence, no portion or imitation of it, but the real, unmistakable one. Then it subsided, allowed the reality shivering with distinct ripples regain its place in the order of things. So did his aura, Yugamekyō, recede, no longer necessary. The fate of the world had been at stake, but now it was offered a moment of respite.
"I expected to find an ally, or destroy an enemy today", said Tōsō after he let out a deep sigh. "I did not expect to find... guidance. There is some truth to your words and actions, Kawahiru-ue. I think... I think I am beginning to understand the true nature of your "passive" attitude. Perhaps... well, there are many things I should consider. The fate of this world, the validity of the existence we share, they can wait. After all, they are not going anywhere. Someday... they might change for the better..."
With those words, he simply turned to the side, began marching through the ruins of an otherworldly struggle. He was chaos incarnate, in the end, and as much as one strove to determine patterns, expect, anticipate, their efforts had little to no influence on the outcome. For the outcome was forever undecided. Brooding, he was ready to depart, but moved in a casual stroll rather than vanishing from before Kawahiru's eyes.
As a Martial Artist
Exhibiting a silent smile, Seireitou lowered his hand, causing those spiritual representations of his fists to dissipate as he held his hands against his hips. He jumped back almost immediately but maintained his stare toward Tōsō. Without saying a word, he began to remove his white haori, throwing it to the wayside as he stood in his simple attire. But even with that, he moved his arms further inside his sleeves and moved them back out from his chest area, causing his kosode to fall on both sides of his body, adorned around his hips, as his entire muscular torso was revealed. If anything, he was not quite ready to declare this match as being decided.
He shifted into a calm stance, with his right arm raised and the subsequent hand shaped as a knifehand. "We can't end a good fight without somebody on the ground, Akiyama-san. Those who take up the martial arts are those who collide their bodies together. And in the end, the winner is the last man standing." he explained, moving his left leg back with his left arm raised toward his lower abdomen.
"No tricks. No special techniques. Just fist-to-fist martial arts. Until one of us falls." the Shiroyasha declared.
Tōsō stopped. The motion was neither abrupt, nor swift. It happened. For a short while he stood there, motionless, staring blankly into the distance. Beholding the devastation he had caused. The undescribable mess that were the few last remains of the tavern Seireitou had invited him to. The crater that had replaced a good portion of the adjacent area, completely devoid of life in a place that used to be teeming with it. The mangled body parts only partially obscured by rubble, or twisted into said rubble on a molecular level as a result of his own powers. With a downcast eye, he gazed upon his hands. His fists.
Was that what he wanted? Was that the only thing he could accomplish? Mindless destruction impotent in the face of a real obstacle?
I wish I could change the world into a better place, Master.
Oh, is that so? That is a very ambitious dream you have got, Akiyama-kun. It is no easy task to accomplish such a thing on your own.
Will I be able to do that, Master? Will you teach me how to do that?
I can teach you everything I know, Akiyama-kun. But what you do with that knowledge will be for you to decide.
I wish to help others. So that people won't have to cry anymore. So, I'll make them smile all the time! And they'll be happy! But... sometimes, when I train, it's really hard. And sometimes I think, if training is so hard, how can I hope to change the entire world? How hard will that be? Isn't my dream impossible? Isn't... isn't it...
That will certainly be a tremendous ordeal, Akiyama-kun. Can you see the sun?
Well, yes, Master. But the mountain peak is in the way...
Exactly. The sun is your goal. And the mountain, all the mountains in that range, are the obstacles on your path toward that goal.
Now, if you really, really want to achieve your task, you need to destroy every single mountain that stands in your way and reach toward the sun to claim your victory.
But that's absurd! I'll never be able to do that!
Only if you believe you cannot, Akiyama-kun. You boast exceptional potential. You bear the seed of power that one day will prove sufficent to topple that mountain. And the next one, and another. As long as your resolve does not waver, as long as you believe in your noble cause sincerely, as long as you do not lose sight of your ultimate goal, you can overcome any possible obstacle that stands in your way. Fight through fatigue, do not concern yourself with the rubble that cuts your feet and the dust that gets into your eyes. Believe. And one day, you shall succeed. Do you understand?
Yes... yes, master. I understand.
Now, he had the power to topple those mountains. He had sacrificed everything, he had sacrificed his whole existence to gain that power. And he had already shattered several of them, their rubble still behind him, the evidence of what he had accomplished so far. That was no point to doubt or hesitate. His grand vision. Stained with the blood of his fallen friends and enemies, with the ashes of war, torn, filled with the stench of death, but he could still see the sun. And as long as he could see the sun that entire ordeal was entirely worth everything he had endured throughout almost three thousand years of his life, everything and more.
Tōsō reached unhurriedly to his neck, grabbed the collar of his cloak and cast it to the side. Then, he pulled his arms out from the sleeves of his ancient, battle-worn shihakushō, and let the top portion of that now meaningless uniform to fall, exposing his upper body. Supremely honed muscles, a perfect balance between strength, durability and agility, not a trace of excess fat. He himself was like a mountain, large, broad-shouldered, with scars that served as memoirs of his history. Three circular ones, as if from some sort of impacts, on the left side of his chest, a diagonal gash that marked his torso, numerous smaller ones formed together an intricate network created across countless battles and through the combined effort of his greatest enemies.
Yet he stood there, still alive, still pursuing his childish goal. No matter the cost. No matter the odds.
Kawahiru was the mountain. The final one, the peak of which concealed a portion of the golden disc of sun. An immovable pivot, the anchor of present day order, unwilling to let go of the fleeting illusion for the sake of a better future. In consequence, Tōsō bathed his body with spiritual energy. But this time it was different, he did not let the influence of primordial chaos manifest outside. A peculiar feeling, but not hard at all a task to achieve, for he had grown accustomed to deliberately enfeebling himself so as to avoid city-wide genocide just through his sheer presence alone. This time he would require no active help from the source of his power beyond said supply of energy to sustain him.
He shuffled the left leg to the front, leant forward somewhat, rose his arms bent inward in an odd guard, once again extending two fingers per hand in a gesure that imitated holding a cup. The opening stance was established. He was focused. He was determined. He was ready. Ready to topple the mountain.
Written across the Shiroyasha's face was nothing short of pure joy. The prospect of fighting somebody without the need for anything more than raw martial art instinct was exciting. So much so that Seireitou went as far as to willingly block off his 'world feeling' skill. He wanted to enjoy every blood-stained and soul-raging moment that awaited him in this upcoming collision of fists. Even his reiatsu simmered down and remained passive within him. It wasn't a real fight unless he could feel Tōsō's bare fists slamming into him. It wasn't a real fight unless he could feel his own knuckles pressing hard against Tōsō's face. Tōsō's leg sweeping him, his elbow striking Tōsō's chest, Tōsō's knee shoved against his gut, his heel lodged into Tōsō's neck; it wasn't a real fight without that raw sensation. It would not be a true fight unless he allowed himself to be vulnerable; open to his opponent, willing to accept his opponent's soul as they fought. Nothing else would be like it. Only a fight between martial artists could grant one a feeling of ecstasy such as this. And the Shiroyasha made no attempt to hide it.
"That's right. No more than right this moment, Akiyama-san... can I see your heart more clearly and you mine. This is what it means to be martial artists."
"With just our fists. With just our bodies."
"Until one of us falls!"
With a mere shifting of the feet, Seireitou had nearly closed the distance in an instant. He would not even rely upon his actual Hakuda skills for this. This was a mere expression of strength. Even without Shukuchi, the sheer leg strength he possessed made his movements near instantaneous, closing the maai within the blink of an eye. With that gained momentum, Seireitou spun his body in a full rotation, holding up his bent leg as it swung with his hips, extending it only at the last moment. Given his body's motion, it looked like he was preparing to attack with a spinning heel kick, but in fact, the sheer control over his body allowed the Shiroyasha to shift ever so slightly to turn that heel kick into a roundhouse kick. Whether Tōsō chose to block or dodge, Seireitou already moved with a natural aloof motion for his follow-through. He would thrust his left fist out for Tōsō's chest, but regardless of the response, this was simply to gain momentum once more. The fist was a distraction, a bluff, for as soon as it built up enough speed in its thrust forward, Seireitou shifted the force built up from the accumulated momentum to his elbow, bending outward the elbow as he intended to perform an elbow strike straight for Tōsō's neck. All the while, he maintained his right hand at the ready, should he need to deal with Tōsō's counterattack. It went without saying, however, that each move for Tōsō carried tremendous physical force.
Tōsō remained stern. He had dropped his guard once during their whole encounter, before the fight. That would not happen again. As a result, he was able to react the moment Kawahiru started reducing the distance between them. There was not much time to prepare, but enough to brace himself. First, he jutted out his arm toward the opponent's incoming leg. The exact nature of the kick mattered little for what he was about to do, yet still demanded a slight adjustment to the positioning of his wrist at the last moment possible. In consequence, rather than absorb the considerable impetus, Tōsō swayed to the opposite side and deflected the strike.
Naturally, there was no respite once they were locked in a close combat duel. Immediately, there was another attack being conducted by the silver-haired man. One that extended towad the scarred chest of his dark-haired counterpart. Action and reaction. Tōsō poised his own arm to intercept the strike. But rather than await the inevitable clash passively, he acted himself. The arm swung in a circular motion, like the head of a cobra ready to pounce upon its prey. Thus, it coiled about Seireitou's arm like that metaphorical serpent to prevent his strike altogether. Then, Tōsō planned to sink his fingers into the muscles and contort them, wring them like rags and reduce them to comparable effectiveness in battle.
That was time for retaliation. Nothing elaborate, just a simple, if powerful, outward crescent kick. Aimed to hit Seireitou's face and force him away, to the side, creating a potential opening for Tōsō to continue his own offence. One of his legs became the anchor, affixing him to his current position, and the striking one borrowed some of its strength to exert colossal force upon impact. And the force was indeed substantial, for even without the influence of chaos, even without Yugamekyō, Tōsō was more like an entire landmass in battle rather than man, so to speak, striking with the might of a large island crashing down upon the enemy and as immovable as that comparison entailed whenever he did not wish to be moved. Only his swiftness was unfit for that figure of speech, in an unusual combination of tremendous power, toughness, and agility.
Feeling his arm being caught by Tōsō's snaking arm, Seireitou wouldn't be able to continue his elbow strike as intended. But no matter. The momentum he built up intended for the elbow strike could also be used simply to reinforce his muscles while he maintained a tense grip in order to prevent his joints from being torn. His right arm moved quick as he noticed Tōsō's arm sneaking its way around his left, using the right arm's own elbow as he pressed it against his opponent's shoulder joint. This allowed him to stop his opponent's advance and subsequently keep Tōsō's arm under siege given the situation. Seireitou took advantage of this movement to get even closer, nearly to the point of his own shoulder pressing against Tōsō's chest, which allowed him not only to dodge the incoming crescent kick due to the proximity, but with this arrangement, Seireitou used the same foot which he used to close the distance and swept hard at Tōsō's remaining leg.
The goal was to knock off his only remaining ability to stand up, as his sweep occurred at the same instant that his other leg was raised for that crescent kick. The Shiroyasha's leg came in from the outside in, with the intention of knocking Tōsō's lower body off in a direction opposite to where his arm was being held. This way, even if Tōsō managed to somehow stop himself from falling, he'd risk his arm being broken in the process. But that was still not good enough for the Shiroyasha. Locked in the joy of close-quarters combat, he continued his assault, raising up his knee — the same leg used to sweep at him — with the intent of crushing his abdomen if he chose to fall to the ground in order to escape his arm being torn. These were carefully maneuvered movements, conducted with such precision and beautifully perfect progression that it was no wonder this man was known as the legendary Grandmaster.
There was always a way to escape from a trap, defend from an enemy strike, or land a hit. Such was the case with people who in the face of chaos immediately, defiantly struggled to bring order to it, determine patterns, comprehend it, unable to understand that their limited, restrained perspective on the state of existence had no bearing on a former state of being, so unlike the current one on a fundamental level. They wanted to drive Tōsō into a corner and then destroy him decisively. But, there was no corner, and to destroy him seemed impossible. Throughout his entire millennia-long life Tōsō met only one person who understood that. And while Kawahiru was a formidable opponent of outstanding prowess no doubt, unlike any other he had fought during the last thousand years, the silver-haired martial artist had yet to match the performance of that man Tōsō battled roughly those thousand years ago.
Sakaala, the Scourge of Soul Society. The despicable villain who rose into prominence following the pyrrhic victory over the Quincy, and who threatened to bring utter defeat to the ravaged Soul Society during that tumultuous period.
Nevertheless, to underestimate Kawahiru would mean quick, unsightly death. Tōsō had to act, and he could not afford to hold back. With Seireitou reinforcing the muscles of his left forearm Tōsō failed to deal the damage he wanted, and his kick designed to begin a counter offence was evaded, so that none of that would come to pass. Now it was his anchor that was being the target. Probably, he could attempt to withstand the strike, with the amount of support that single limb was able to provide on his demand. But to stay passive and await for the enemy strike to work as intended? No, that was not the right choice. There was another way.
Thus, Tōsō rebounded from the ground, cracking the surface of the earth beneath his foot with a thunderous roar. With his left leg useless for the time being, he was able to transfer its strength and momentum to the other one, to exploit as means of propulsion. Like a spacefaring vehicle his right leg rose toward Kawahiru's chin in a tremendous shearing kick, with astounding velocity. But that was not all to that manoeuvre. With so much power focused in that one limb, the rest of Tōsō's body became unnaturally numb, slithering away from Kawahiru like a serpent and allowing him to perform a full rotation with his spinning vertical kick. Regardless of whether the attack would connect or not, Tōsō continued his rotation for a moment, then landed upon the ground just a couple of metres from his opponent. Instantly, he leapt at him. Once again spinning, he launched himself into the air and swung rapidly about his axis, intending to crush or tear apart the opponent in a twister of outstretched limbs like razor blades of flesh.
The maneuver was quite impressive, Tōsō handled the situation expertly, but it would take more than that to outdo the Shiroyasha. Launching himself off the ground, using Tōsō's captured arm as a pivot, Seireitou spun himself around, narrowly dodging the vertical kick in a skillful display of gymnastic movement. It was like he blended with his opponent's movements, they looked like twin rivers flowing side by side for an instant. He somersaulted over Tōsō's body, just as the latter garnered distance with his rotation, landing to his feet just as his opponent came toward him with his twister of limbs. But Seireitou's reaction this time was different. He did not move, nor did he make an attempt to dodge. The Shiroyasha faced his enemy's attack with quiet confidence.
With a nasty and sickening klok sound, Tōsō's descending heel kick — he was rotating his body in a wild motion, he would have to land on some actual move — slammed hard into Seireitou's shoulder, sending a tremendous shock of force radiating down his entire body. For a moment, there was silence, with Seireitou's head remained lowered and his stance undisturbed as Tōsō's kick remained against the Shiroyasha's shoulder. He had quite literally tanked that kick, causing a pause in Tōsō's body movement, but it was not without consequence. A noticeably black bruise had formed against the spot where the heel connected. No doubt, a bone or two had been fractured or injured in some way by the force of that kick. One might wonder why it was that he chose to take the brunt of that strike. Within that very same moment, a trickle of blood spilled from both corners of his mouth, which were visible as he lifted his head to look the close-up Tōsō deep in the eye; blood dripping to the floor once, twice, and once more, before he actually rose his head. His pupils were dilated, their piercing yellow color glaring toward Tōsō as his mouth formed a wicked grin that suggested utter excitement.
"That can't be it... Keep going. Keep dancing... Show me what you've got, Akiyama!! It's not a fight without raging blood and a pounding heart!!" Seireitou answered with a fierce voice.
His voice was akin to a thunderous kiai, waves of force trembled the very ground beneath them; Seireitou's muscles bulged as they forced off Tōsō's heel, but he wasn't going to allow any distance this time. Using the arm of the side where Tōsō's kick landed, he reached out to grip the kicking leg's ankle. He willingly took that foot and forced it down onto the same shoulder that he was injured, hard enough to draw blood as a cracking sound indicated a bone breaking. A wave was tunneling into his body by his actions, causing him to cough briefly and even more blood came out as he shaped his grin once again. "If you don't hit me at least that hard... then this isn't going to work!!" he roared. One might think that the man known as Shiroyasha had finally lost control, his sanity slipped as he descended into the monstrosity he once was infamous for, but that wasn't the case. This was the purest expression of his martial spirit, taking the lead from his sense of right and wrong; stepping in front of his desire to impart teachings. He wanted to fight until he wouldn't be able to so much as lift his arms anymore.
Motioning his other hand, his intention was to use both hands to twist and tear off the ankle he had grabbed before. Whether Tōsō was able to avoid that was inconsequential, for he ended up letting go of the leg anyways. It was like a frightening king of beasts, a void of infinite martial arts, was standing before Tōsō; flashing an intense grin with blood spilling from his lips. His next move was relatively basic but it defied patterns and martial art theory; almost as if he were engaging in a street fight. The same hand used to hold Tōsō's ankle went for the back of his head, seeking to slam his forehead straight into Tōsō's own head. Of course, if the move were to fail, Seireitou was to retaliate using a close-range heel kick straight for Tōsō's gut. Either way, the maneuver would be to garner distance once again. Swiftly spinning his body, he performed a series of fierce wheel kicks, causing even the wind to bend around his legs as he spun them out, his heel aiming to knock off Tōsō's head each time he spun his leg, for a total of three times. If he blocked any of the kicks, Seireitou intended to drop his body weight down, and use the falling momentum to sweep Tōsō's leg, in order to bring them both down to the ground. But if they were all dodged, the secondary purpose of the kicks was to further build up momentum and force, charging forward and engaging in a multitude of one-two strikes — the first strike being either a punch or an open palm thrust, and the second strike being an elbow strike with the same arm — at tremendous speeds with the goal of smashing Tōsō into oblivion. He was not going to allow any interruption, even intending to shift motions and utilize close-range hand techniques to avoid being caught by Tōsō's own hands or arms, and if any defense were to try and hold him off, he would force his way through.
Once again, Tōsō's limb became unnaturally limp, and with a combination of absolute body control and subtle application of spiritual pressure, he was able to recover the leg from Kawahiru's grasp and avoided losing his foot. He would need that foot later on. But in doing so he let the opponent grab the back of his head, and what followed was a ground-shaking slam of their heads, as if two worlds collided. Briefly stunned, Tōsō swayed backward, with a bruise now adorning his forehead.
That was an interesting phenomenon. Two otherwise unrivalled masters of martial arts, Hakuda Grandmasters, engaged in a duel. They were more like two tectonic plates clashing with each other rather than human, or at least human-like, beings. In a fight with a lesser enemy they would be able to persevere through devastating assaults, whole cities crumbling to dust around them whilst they would emerge unscathed. Every strike they would perform could utterly destroy a skilled warrior with exertion of tremendous force. But in this battle they were not facing their inferiors. No. They were equalised. Their colossal physical strength and durability rendered irrelevant, all that remained was their nimbleness, resolve and skill. As befitting a proper contest between two prodigious Hakudaka.
Tōsō regained focus. Yes. That was more like it. He felt pain, the shock of force travelling through his skull, a momentary feeling of confusion. In fact, there was a wound upon his forehead. And he had himself managed to inflict one. Finally, the two were able to reach one another, and exchange the best arguments they could afford. Now he knew that it was going to be like the grandest battle of his entire life, like that ultimate duel with Sakaala. Hit for hit, block for block, dodge for dodge, their muscles contorting, their skin ruptured, their bones shaking with each clash. Trickles of blood loosing crimson droplets into the electrified air.
The dark-haired man required some time. Of course, Seireitou was unwilling to let him take a deep breath and rest for a while. So he had to earn that time for himself. It was too early for a counter strike, and defence would entail paying a hefty price for each of those powerful strikes intercepted. As a result, he concentrated upon evasion instead. Tōsō became the embodiment of chaos with that aspect in mind. Kawahiru was grasping at him, lashing out at him, attempting to put an end to that existential aberration. But like chaos itself, Tōsō eluded comprehension, disregarding the futile, if vicious, endeavour of his opponent. Three kicks threatened to swiftly decapitate him, and he swiveled his torso three times to evade them. With his impetus increased, Seireitou then moved forward, ever bold, valiant, relentless, performing a volley of debilitating strikes. Once again, with his arms hanging limply, Tōsō devoted his efforts to dodge all of them, swaying like a drunkard but with a stern expression and focus that belied that comparison. They were fast, extremely fast, and one of them passed by his face less than inches from removing a portion of it, grazing his left cheek.
Whilst dodging the last strike of that barrage, Tōsō turned his torso to the left side. Meanwhile, his left arm, until then limp as if it were dislocated, moved behind his back and toward Kawahiru's face with surprising velocity in an arc. All of a sudden, the tendons and muscles flexed, power flowed through the appendage whilst it moved toward the target with enormous force. A peculiar strike no doubt, but one perfectly consistent with his peculiar fighting style. Then, Tōsō spun his body in the opposite direction, building greater momentum and lifting his left leg in a side kick, to strike the opponent's jaw with the heel of his foot. Once those two twisting manoeuvres had been performed, he transitioned into the opening posture only to proceed onward. With two fingers extended per each of his hands, he conducted a volley of hyper-speed jabs, targeting multiple pressure points upon Kawahiru's abdomen, chest and neck with the intent to disrupt the flow of his energy. Ultimately, he abruptly clenched his left fist and swung forward in a tremendous uppercut punch with a thunder, when the fist broke the sound barrier almost immediately after beginning its motion and continued to increase velocity whilst rising toward Seireitou's abdomen.
Perhaps if this was the start of their fight, Tōsō may have been able to fool the Shiroyasha with such strange body movements, but after matching fist for fist for so long, Seireitou had come to understand his opponent. These movements were to be expected, but he did not allow himself to become complacent. Despite what seemed to be a vicious state of mind, Seireitou's mind was moving with his body and spirit in perfect precision. Hard and soft, aggressive and passive, spirited and silence; a true master was the very embodiment of the art. Even when displaying these passionate tendencies, his mind was crystal clear and focused. It was almost strange, seeing his ecstatic expression, when he quickly shifted into a cold attitude in his fighting. Rather than meeting Tōsō's series of attacks head-on as before, Seireitou utilized the most minimal motion to avoid the initial hook punch, allowing it to gently brush against the follicles against his chin as it passed by harmlessly. With the momentum of this spin, he continued to turn even as he shifted his weight to his lower body and crouched slightly, enough for that side kick to brush against his fluttering white hair.
In this strange crouched and twisted stance, reminiscent to a similar posture taken by the practitioners of ba gua, Seireitou held out both of his arms; the hands were held flat with the fingers pointing upwards, his elbows pointing straight down, and his forearms were being held parallel to one another in front of his body. As each powerful two-fingered jab came for him, Seireitou constantly spun his body, deflecting the strikes with his forearms with just enough force to push them off from making actual contact with his body. But then the jabs stopped, and a fierce upward thrust of the fist came flying for his abdomen. Using the stance that he was in to his advantage, he leap upwards in a twisting motion, almost like a frog, and thrust his right foot down hard and fast as an ax kick. The punch and kick collided with one another, emitting tremendous shockwaves of force that ruptured the land around them, before causing a distance to be created between the two Hakudaka.
But it wouldn't be long before they charged at one another once more...
With this Fist...!
Well into three hours had passed, neither Hakudaka had given in as they exchanged blow after fierce blow. It was a miracle that the district still remained standing and hadn't been razed into the very dirt. Without a doubt, both of them had managed to secure rather considerable injuries onto one another, but these two titans of the martial arts hadn't let themselves breathe heavy. It was almost as if their bodies hadn't registered the pain, their minds hadn't acknowledged the fatigue, and their spirits continued to burn with a fearsome blaze. Maintaining his distance, he adopted a similar stance that he did at the start of their hand-to-hand brawl, staring down Tōsō with a bright smile.
"You've got a good grasp on the kihon. I have enjoyed our fight thus far, Akiyama-san. I haven't gotten this fired up against an opponent for quite a while. But as I'm sure you've noticed... It doesn't seem as though neither of us is going to fall with this." he uttered, breathing out as he widened his stance, tightening his right fist as it was held near his hip. "One last charge, Akiyama-san. Put everything into your fist and I'll do the same. With this fist... With your fist... Show me your newly forged resolve!" Seireitou declared.
"I have forgotten many things", replied Tōsō in a calm manner, wiping a trickle of blood from his mouth. "The reason I am doing this... the weight of my choices and sacrifices. I have strayed from my own path. But thanks to you, my vision is crystal clear again. Nothing else, but the pursuit of my goal. So let us find out whether I am able to shoulder the weight of the whole world, to carry it toward the better future... or whether the world is strong enough on its own, whether it has the power to change itself instead."
Once again, he assumed the opening posture of Yugamiken. However, this time he curled the fingers of his left hand into a clenched fist. No other medium could suffice as a way to express his dreams, goals, resolve. The fist was a symbol, the monument to nearly three thousand years of great ordeal. The chisel to shape the world, or the instrument of its destruction. For the last time, he braced himself to perform Bōkyaku. To call that a technique was an insult. It was a state of the mind, an expression of will. The true strike. An exceptional Hakudaka did not have an "ultimate technique", but a way to convey his martial spirit with a single, whole-hearted motion. His fist tightened.
What's the matter, Kentarō-chan? Isn't that what you always wanted? By killing that hazel-eyed bitch I severed the last bond affixing you to this miserable world. You're free! Absolutely, completely free! No commitments, no duties, no chains of command, no moral restraints! You can do what you want. You can finally work to fulfil that silly dream of yours. So why are you mad? Won't you practice what you preach, you bloody hypocrite? We're the same, Kentarō-chan. We're unfettered. So why are you trying to destroy me? Isn't that... revenge? Aren't you trying to make me pay for exposing the extent of your delusions, for taking away your hidden, precious lover away from you? Where's selflessness in that, huh? Where are the ideals you blabber about all the time? Tell me, Kentarō-chan! Clash with me! Earnestly, like there's no tomorrow! Prove to me that your vision was worth all the things you've done, or fucking die!
Yes... I am alone now. And with nothing else to lose, I can gain everything.
Just like on that fateful day, he was ready. Ready to collide with the entire world, to bear its unimaginable weight upon his shoulders. To lock himself in one last struggle, one that would prove or disprove the righteousness of the mission of his life. His cause. Time seemed to slow down, everything around Tōsō seemed to disappear. Everything but Seireitou Kawahiru, the Legendary Hakuda Grandmaster, the anchor of the present day order, the sky-high mountain that stood on his way to the sun looming in the background.
In the end, Tōsō, no, Kentarō Akiyama, leapt toward his opponent, lifting his fist in preparation for the final strike. The primordial chaos could merely observe, supply him with power, but was not allowed to interfere. For that was a clash between two outstanding martial artists. Power was a secondary concern. What mattered was their skill, their conviction, clarity of mind and purpose. Energy surged through his arm, the muscles flexed to the brink of their capacity. That was a natural reaction, his body readying itself to convey his message, to serve as an outlet for his resolve. Inevitable, like a meteor descending toward the Earth with astronomical velocity. Would it collide with the planet and destroy it completely in a single cataclysmic expression of will? Or would the planet persevere, as it had always done in the past, damaged but still alive, ready to evolve and be reborn?
Only time could tell, and it was running out quickly.
A grin formed on the Shiroyasha's face after hearing Tōsō's words. The feeling of exchanging fists with somebody strong, getting through to his worthy adversary's heart, and in turn, being able to open himself up in this battle; not since his match long ago with those of the sage fists did a martial artist pose this intense of a fight against Seireitou in a one-on-one battle. A subtle aura overtook the silver-haired master's body, humming softly as it flowed toward his right fist, energy itself swirling around his fist, like bright flames licking at his knuckles. Crouching down for a brief instant, Seireitou kicked off with the force that utterly decimated the ground where he had stood.
Hurtling toward Tōsō, Seireitou prepared his fist just as his opponent had.
Everything. Their past, their victories, their losses, their pain, their sorrow, their joy, and... their future.
The two Hakudaka charged forward with no intention of giving one another an inch, holding everything that they were within their fists as they flew toward one another.
And then it was like time itself stopped.
Both fists collided with one another and the entire world was silenced.
It wasn't anything like before. No spatial rends, no eruptions...
An intense white light shone forth from the point at which their fists met, enveloping their being and bathed over the entire land around them as it shot into the skies above. It was brighter than the stars themselves, radiating with such strength that districts from every direction would be able to see the strange light in the distance as if it were a second sun.
And as quickly as it appeared, it faded away, leaving nothing behind in its wake.
Nothing but the two Hakudaka responsible for this phenomenon. Their backs against the rough ground as their battle came to a close.
Winds began to pick up as they curled against the rocky terrain that was once a considerably busy district.
In that brief moment of silence, Seireitou, who was facing upwards toward the sky, had been smiling the entire time. "The night is the darkest just before the dawn." he began, clearly addressing Tōsō, who had also been on his back roughly a meter or so away from him. His words were most likely a reference to the rather cloudy atmosphere that shrouded the sky when they had first confronted one another much earlier. "But if you avert your eyes from the dark, you'll be blind to the rays of a new day." he continued, facing the sunny heavens that now stood above their heads. "No matter how much pain awaits you, never turn away. Keep looking straightforward. Because what lies ahead is well worth it, don't you think? Just look at how beautiful that sky is." Seireitou mused, his gaze set upon the result of their vicious clash that had brought forth this dazzling sunshine.
"Maybe... it is better to wait for dawn", mused Tōsō, referring to Kawahiru's thought. "Rather than set everything on fire for a modicum of light..."
With a composed expression, he fixed his stare at the sky. He did not destroy the mountain. Presumably, he was not ready yet. However, the sun was still there. It did not disappear just because he failed now. Still looming from behind the peak, as if a few inches closer. So, instead of toppling that mountain, maybe Tōsō could climb it toward his goal? That would require patience. An even greater effort than simply striking it down. But that would be worth it. To be able to behold the landscape, to be at peace, walk up the slopes slowly, gradually. Maybe, the shortest path was not always the best one, after all.
He had not had such a fight since a thousand years, no moment of such profound epiphany as on that fateful day that set him on his current course. If he wanted to change the world, he should change himself first, evolve and adapt to modern conditions rather than arbitrarily impose his personal views on everyone. No wonder people labelled him a villain, seeing as he had been turning dangerously radical in his approach. But there was nothing forcing him to behave like that but his own single-mindedness. In severing all bonds and becoming independent, he had become his own slave. How ironic. That was not the way, and now he realised that.
"I am deeply grateful for this experience, Seireitou Kawahiru-ue. Like I said, there are many important things I should reconsider. There is still hope, in the end... But for now, I shall rest", he added, only to close his eye and relax.
Seireitou let out a snicker as he lay there. "We just beat on each other for an entire day. I think you can drop the honorifics, Akiyama. Just call me Sei." he added, facing upwards before he too closed his eyes with a bright smile etched on his face. "Ahh... what a wonderful sight. It's a shame there's no sake with which to enjoy this sunny day."
"Next time, make sure to bring along sake if you plan to destroy the tavern, Akiyama." mused the Shiroyasha, letting out a hearty laugh as he lay opposite his former adversary.
It truly is remarkable how the martial arts can bring people together, even those of once such differing views.
Living beings are strong because they are capable of changing themselves with their own efforts, and it is this principle that becomes the bedrock of which martial arts is built upon.
Even for these two, acclaimed to be at the height of the martial arts themselves, they are still moving forward in search of that brighter tomorrow.
Thank you for reading!