Read Story: SEASON 1 EPISODE 554
The sudden turn of events caught everyone off-guard. No doubt the duel results had already been determined, Yamada’s attacks only raged on, where even swore he’d take Akane’s life. Then, at the critical moment, Zhang Heng appeared out of nowhere and blocked the fatal blow.
Takeuchi inhaled sharply, and his sleepy eyes lit up.
Even he had to admit that Yamada’s plan had been successful. Little by little, he led Akane into his snare, only revealing his fangs at the end. Unfortunately, it fell short. It wouldn’t have been easy for that ronin to parry Yamada’s attack. He would have to react fast enough, where if he were to be one second late, Akane would have been slain. But speed alone was not enough. Yamada’s last two attacks were undeviating. If his intention to kill Akane was only realized at the last second, it would still have been too late even if the ronin was quick to react. Like Takeuchi, the ronin would have to see through Yamada’s intentions ahead of time to be able to save Akane by the skin of her teeth.
Takeuchi thought back and recalled seeing Zhang Heng taking a half-step forward when Yamada launched his final attack.
The small half a step shouldn’t be underestimated. For Akane, it was a difference between life and death.
She didn’t anticipate Zhang Heng to step in.
When the drunken Yamada caused a commotion at the market last night, Zhang Heng played the daft baddie. Sure, he was also carrying a weapon, but the ronin strangely didn’t step in to stop the rogue samurai, something Akane misinterpreted as cowardice.
However, after learning that Zhang Heng had traveled to Western countries, her opinion about him changed, but only to a certain extent. She thought that Zhang Heng was the kind who held culture in low esteem and despised martial arts. Warriors of the Edo period were literate individuals and good fighters because how could illiterate men be expected to rule the territory? (Not to mention, the Japanese literacy rate actually exceeded that of many Western countries during that time).
During those turbulent times, men with noble aspirations actively sought ways to save their county. While some used their swords, others went the course of the pen. In Akane’s opinion, however, there was no difference between the two.
But after last night’s incident, Zhang Heng came to the dojo, explaining that he had come to Kyoto to challenge a high-ranking samurai warrior. Akane thought that must be a braggart who knew not his place. She simply wasn’t certain if he just wanted to show-off or if he really planned to get bashed at a dojo somewhere.
Before she could answer the question, the Choshu people were already knocking on her door, forcing her into accepting a duel with Yamada. She noticed the bloodthirst in Yamada’s eyes and thought that must be where she would meet her end. Imagine her surprise when the man she believed to be unreliable saved her when her life hung by a thread.
The guy did not step in to help when she was up against three men, but now that there were five, he suddenly stepped up to the plate. Could he have measured the gap between the enemy and her based on the number of people in the dojo where he included the children?
As Akane tried to make sense of the situation, Yamada suddenly bellowed, “This concerns the very soul of the Choshu warriors’ reputation! It’s a duel between Oishi Shinkage-Ryu and Myoshin-Ryu! Who the hell are you?! What makes you think you’re qualified to intervene?”
“Oh, I just recently found lodging here.” Even though the samurai was uncouth, Zhang Heng told him the plain truth. “Oh? So, you’re just another parasite? That means you’re one of them?!” hissed Yamada with malice.
The samurai had misunderstood him, and before Zhang Heng could explain, Yamada snapped, “You came at the right time. Since you’re from this dojo, then you have a share in this woman’s crime! If that’s the case, both of you can pay with your lives!”
“Hold on!” Akane picked herself off the ground, clutching her injured right hand. “This has nothing to do with him. I am your opponent here!”
“Stop blabbering. Don’t worry, none of you will escape today!” With his carefully formulated plan now quashed, Yamada was incensed. He would instead shed all pretense of cordiality than continue rambling.
Without another word, the samurai raised his katana in menace.
“Might as well!” Zhang Heng shot Akane a look, telling her to step back. Then he looked at Yamada and said, “Unlike this lady here, I fight to kill. Once my sword leaves its sheath, I’m afraid it won’t end well for you. You and I are on different levels. Since you’ve already gotten the victory that you wanted, yesterday’s grievances should have been settled. Why don’t all of us take a step back?”
Yamada threw his head back and laughed hysterically as if he had just heard the funniest joke. “Even your dojo master lost to me. Yet, here you are, a parasite, making such lofty statements.” Yamada’s laughter abruptly stopped, and he looked Zhang Heng in the eye, enunciating every single word, “I hope that your swordsmanship is half as powerful as your mouth; otherwise, you might even last ten moves.”
Zhang Heng shook his head. “Ten is too many. I only need three moves to defeat you.”
He had never fought Yamada, but he had already seen the samurai fight twice and was somewhat familiar with Oishi Shinkage-Ryu. To boot, he also had the opportunity to observe some of Yamada’s style and tendencies.
When Akane and Yamada were fighting, Zhang Heng imagined himself in the fight and thought about the fastest way to defeat his opponent. Three seemed to be the more accurate number.
Yamada obviously thought otherwise. To him, the ronin was simply trying to ruffle his feathers.
For the time being, it could be a countermeasure. But only the weak would use such a feeble trick to close the gap between themselves and the strong, a method completely ineffective in terms of actual strength.
As long he kept his cool, calmed down, and gave it all he had, the ronin had absolutely no chance against him. And that was exactly what Yamada did.
He shoved Zhang Heng’s pesky words to the back of his mind, raised his weapon, and charged towards the ronin. As he gushed forward, he focussed his mind and produced his best, of not, second-best moves. If only Susumu Oishi was here, he would have been very impressed.
Zhang Heng, on the other hand, did not react. He was not even in a combat stance.
Akane held her breath.
Just when Yamada was right in front of him, Zhang Heng finally made his move. It was no fancy performance, and all he did was raise his sword to meet his opponent’s.
A sly look passed over Yamada’s eyes. He was waiting for Zhang Heng to do just that. But when his sword was in midair, Yamada suddenly shifted from striking to slashing, and he targeted Zhang Heng’s neck. If successful, Zhang Heng would probably be unable to keep his head.
The onlookers let out a hushed gasp, not expecting Zhang Heng to transform such a simple move into something artful. However, Zhang Heng’s reaction was swift. He repositioned his sword from horizontal to vertical. Yamada was pleased to see that. He rarely met anyone faster him.
Too bad it all amounted to nothing in the end. Because before he made a move, he found a good spot. Even if their swords were to clash again, he could rush and stab Zhang Heng in the chest.
But on the spur of the moment, he heard Zhang Heng say, “Three moves.”
Swords flashed, and blood splattered. Yamada’s left hand flailed wildly in the air.