The arc focuses on the events that have occurred prior to the criminals and executioners arrival on the unknown island to acquire the Elixir of Life.
The Hollow's Chance at Redemption
Gabimaru, the elite ninja of Iwagakure, prepares to be executed for his crimes, however, the young man manages to somehow survive every single form of execution he is sentenced to and begins to question why he will not allow himself to die. While being locked up, Gabimaru is interviewed by a woman about his past. He tells her about his marriage to his village's chief daughter after proving himself worthy, however, Gabimaru says that could not stand to be around her and asked for his chief's permission to leave her. Gabimaru is told that his request would come to pass if he completes a mission. Upon taking the mission, he is betrayed by his allies, who were ordered by their chief to have him arrested for planning on leaving the village. Later, Gabimaru prepares to be executed once again. He then encounters the woman who has been interviewing him and sees that she is actually a highly trained executioner named Yamada Asaemon Sagiri. Sagiri instantly gets behind Gabimaru to decapitate him but witnesses him moving out of the way. Gabimaru wonders why he avoided Sagiri's sword. Sagiri tells him that he has been lying to himself about wanting to die and that he wants to live because he loves his wife. This sparks an anger in Gabimaru and attacks Sagiri, denying her accusation based on the life he has lived and tells her that he could never have a peaceful life with someone he cares about. After hearing this, Sagiri shows Gabimaru a signed pardon by the shogun, saying that there is a chance his crimes can be overlooked and receive full protection from the shogun without having to worry about Iwagakure pursing him. However, she says that he must travel to a mystical island and compete with other criminals to retrieve the Elixir of Life for the shogun, which is believed to exist after several dispatched teams went missing and the only thing that returned to the mainland were boats filled with flowers and men transformed into flowers. Sagiri also informs him that his wife is waiting for his return and asked if he accepts the mission. The magistrate refuses to allow this action to pass and has his soldiers stay on guard. Knowing that he a chance to have a normal life with his wife, Gabimaru ignites his body on fire using ninjutsu and burns the soldiers. He then accepts and is taken to Edo by Sagiri.
Sagiri remembers the time she first witnessed her father's talent in performing an execution and became inspired to copy the same technique, however, she is unable to create a painless cut to the condemned because of her fear of taking a person's life.
Sagiri brings Gabimaru to Edo with many others of the recruited criminals set for the mission. The spokesperson presents a flower infected officer that recently returned from the island and gives the details of the mission; explaining that in order to receive the pardon they must return back with the Elixir of Life and with their assigned Yamada Asaemon as monitors. They are then ordered to reduce their numbers by starting a massacre since there are too many participants. After the Bandit King, Aza Chōbē, starts off by killing two criminals, the other criminals begin to kill each other. While watching the massacre, Sagiri is approached by Yamada Asaemon Eizen who tries to stated to her that she was not suited to be an executioner due to being female. Sagiri explains that as a child she could not avoid her clans trade of involving themselves with the dead and made it her objective to hone her skills as an executioner. A few criminals then attempt to escape by attacking Sagiri. Eizen prepares to cut them down but is halted by Sagiri who chooses to decapitate them herself. She then becomes frightened after ending their lives but looks towards Gabimaru as he asks the soldiers if he cannot be forced to kill unnecessarily. Unhappy with his attitude, one of them offers a few criminals a position on the mission if they kill Gabimaru. With no other choice, Gabimaru kills the criminals. Sagiri witnesses the slaughter and realizes that in order to overcome her fear of killing she must carry the weight of those she has killed like Gabimaru. Eizen looks at Sagiri and sees her crying, thinking that watching Gabimaru killing was too much for her. Sagiri disagrees with his statement and says that she will be the one to kill him. After a solider calls off the massacre, ten criminals remained standing alive: Aza Chōbē, Tamiya Gantetsusai, Nurugai, Warped Keiun, Hōrubō, Gabimaru, Akaginu, Yuzuriha, Moro Makiya, and Rokurōta. They are then assigned their Asaemon's and depart to the island.
After making landfall on the island, Gabimaru tells Sagiri that the Elixir of Life must be real based on his village's chief's immortality after being sold the elixir long ago. Gabimaru then releases his restraints on his hands and complains to Sagiri about the resources he was given. Sagiri draws her blade on Gabimaru and makes it clear to him that she is not his ally and orders him to rebind his hands. Gabimaru agrees to cooperate and dislocates his neck after anticipating an attack by one of Warped Keiun's weapons. Keiun reveals that he plans to eliminate the competition by killing every criminal sent to the island and starts by challenging Gabimaru. Gabimaru quickly kills Warped Keiun and wishes to proceed with his travels.
While departing, the guards carrying Rokurōta worry over the possibility of him waking up and going on a rampage from hunger. Eizen reassures them that he is confident in his abilities as an Asaemon that he will be able to deal with the giant. Yamada Asaemon Kishō decapitates the dead Keiun and prepares to return to Japan. Sagiri warns him to be careful since the past men on the island went missing, however, Kishō states that she should be more worried about herself since she has a dangerous criminal to look after and that the other criminals have form plans of their own. He also explains that the rules should not matter as long as the mission is successful and looks towards Gabimaru as a prime example as someone who was not willing to follow them from the start. After Kishō offers to cut him as a chance for Sagiri to return home safely, Gabimaru silences Kishō and tells both Asaemon that all that mattered to him was getting back to his wife. Kishō then states to Gabimaru that more than half of the criminals on the island will die and if the criminals begin to perish then the shogun will simply send in more expendable men to complete the mission. He then reveals to the ninja that the shogun is thinking about involving Iwagakure with the mission and to Sagiri that the mission will determine the next leader of the Yamada clan. After saying what he had to say, Kishō leaves for his departure. Sagiri then prepares to resume with following Gabimaru, however, she blocks a sword attack from him and sees that he is set on killing her.
Gabimaru tells Sagiri that if Kishō is right about Iwagakure potentially being involved in the mission then he needs to quickly find the elixir and decides to get rid of her. As they clash swords, Sagiri begins to wonder why she is unable to see Gabimaru as her enemy despite him trying to kill her. At the same time, Gabimaru can't comprehend why he is hesitating in his attacks and thinks back to his wife's words about how she thinks having sentimentality will make him into a true warrior. However, he also remembers his leaders words about becoming strong means abandoning his emotions. Gabimaru manages to cut Sagiri's sword in half and gives his apologizes that he would have to resort to this line of action. Sagiri insults Gabimaru, saying that she wouldn't think that someone like him would feel sentimentality. Hearing this, Gabimaru agrees with her words and gains the upper hand in pinning Sagiri down while explaining that he feels nothing after being raised to become a killer. Gabimaru prepares to kill Sagiri, however, he is unable to bring himself to do so as a vision of his wife stops him. Sagiri then realize that Gabimaru has been trying to convince himself that he is an empty man but has noticed, based on his emotional expression, that he has been enduring the pain of killing people. Gabimaru expresses that he will not be able to see his wife again if he is unable to remain strong, however, Sagiri tells him that having emotions is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. She then agrees to overlook his attempts to kill her and tells him that if he plans to regain his life back by keeping his emotions then she will agree to accompany him. As she puts Gabimaru's sword back in its sheath, Sagiri tells him that he is no longer the man he once was.
Later, Gantetsusai tells Fuchi of how he was arrested as they make landfall on the island. Gantetsusai explains that he was sought out for hire by a daimyo and the two engaged in a delightful conversation. However, after the daimyo doubted his abilities, Gantetsusai became angry after being underestimated and cut the daimyo's gate in half. Fuchi stated that he fails to understand where Gantetsusai was coming from. Gantetsusai also redirects his statement back, saying that he could not understand how the Asaemon are able to live with themselves while taking on their execution duties. Fuchi justifies the Yamada clan's duties and says that he will not stand for such insults to the clan. The two then set out to explore the island. Gantetsusai explains his plan of eliminating the competition so that he may take his time to find the elixir and becomes excited knowing that he can fight strong opponents such as Chōbē, Yuzuriha, and Gabimaru. Fuchi becomes aware that the criminals will dispose of each other as time pass, however, he reminds himself that the situation may turn out worse if the shogun becomes impatient and decides to send out "them" to complete the mission. As they continue forward, Gantetsusai and Fuchi become shock to see statues that give indication that someone or something on the island made them. Gantetsusai then notices a butterfly on his hand that stings him. After remembering the bloomed solider that had returned from the island, Gantetsusai slices his hand that begins to sprout flowers and the butterfly that possesses a human face. Fuchi becomes shocked by the swarm of the human-faced butterflies and centipedes that approach them while Gantetsusai becomes excited with the situation that they are in. The two then look up in shock to see a large monster walk behind them.
Gabimaru and Sagiri are approached by a fish-like monster and are surrounded by human-faced centipedes. With his instincts telling him that the monster is dangerous, Gabimaru attacks but also takes damage from the monster. He decides that the best course of action for them is to flee, however, Gabimaru and Sagiri are surrounded by more of the monsters. With no other way out, Gabimaru enters into his "Hollow" state and slaughters the monsters while Sagiri watches in horror. She is then about to be attacked from behind by a monster. Gabimaru senses that she is in danger but decides to focus on simply eliminating his targets. However, he realizes that he has unexpectedly saved Sagiri from the monster. Gabimaru is then caught in danger after a monster wraps its tail around his head.
Gabimaru is saved by Yamada Asaemon Genji after he slays the monster and is approached by Yuzuriha along with Yamada Asaemon Senta. Gabimaru thanks them for saving him but asks why since they are competing with each other. Yuzuriha explains that she would like to team up with him to play it safe on the mission. Sagiri interrupts to asks why she had two Asaemon following monitoring her. Genji explains that after his assigned criminal, Moro Makiya, was deceived and killed by Yuzuriha he decided that she was too dangerous to be left with alone with Senta (though Gabimaru and Sagiri knew right away that he was lying and that he actually fell for her charms). Yuzuriha tells him that she has gathered information on the island, such as the bugs, but will only share them if he provides protection. Gabimaru then asked how she managed to get this information and what is her motivation to survive. Yuzuriha explains that she used Makiya as bait for the centipedes and butterflies in order to study them and then decided to kill him. For her reason for wanting to survive, Yuzuriha tells about her sick younger sister and background as a shinobi, however, Gabimaru could tell that she was lying. She then tells the truth, explaining that all she wanted to live. Gabimaru then wanted to know what actually happened to Makiya. Yuzuriha tells him that she honestly used him for research on the bugs but remembers his blooming corpse. After hearing everything he needed to hear, Gabimaru agrees to working with her, much to Yuzuriha's delight. Sagiri thinks back to the past events that have happened to her since coming to the island and fears that she is powerless. She then falls unconscious due to the effects of inhaling the poison from the butterflies scales.
Aza Tōma remembers how he infiltrated the Yamada clan in order to free his brother, Aza Chōbē, out from prison by offering him the shogun's mission. On the island, as Chōbē starts to kill the monsters that approach them, Tōma takes note of how Chōbē is capable of adapting to situations from the days they were left in poverty to becoming bandits. They then begin to hear the monsters speak about how killing is a sin, causing Chōbē to grow in anger as he remembers his past and kill the monsters. Chōbē then declares that he will kill every monster and criminal on the island and take the opportunity to have both him and Tōma consume the Elixir of Life.
Gabimaru and Yuzuriha's group relocates to a cave for the night. After waking up from a nightmare about her father, Sagiri gathers back with the other to discuss what they know about the island. According to Gabimaru, while scouting the forest he could not find anything resembling the drawing he was given on the mission depicting the Elixir of Life and only discovered the bloomed samurai that were last dispatched to the island. Senta then explains the religious features of the island's statues, which may give indication that people live on the island. Sagiri believes that it is impossible due to the dangerous environment. After Sagiri gives an analysis of the monsters being able to live without organs, Gabimaru becomes excited of the possibility that the elixir truly exists. Going by what Gabimaru suggested earlier, Senta says that they should study more about the monsters before they can continue forward.
After sunset, Sagiri steps outside and is approached by Genji ordering her to return home, explaining that she is not suited in handling the mission. Senta overhears and says that escaping may not be a simple task since most of the dispatched samurai that first came to the island never returned.
Meanwhile, Yamada Asaemon Tensa attempts to flee with his assigned criminal, Nurugai, believing that he is not deserving of the harsh punishment of the mission like the other criminals. Nurugai says that it is useless since he will still be condemned without the elixir but is assured by Tensa that he will try to convince his superiors after they aboard the shogunate's ship. Tensa sees the shadow of the ship but realizes that it is wreckage of the past boats that tried to escape the island. The two are then attacked and surrounded by large tentacles. As they try to avoid the sea monster's attacks, Nurugai remembers how he led his grandfather and his people to their demise. Tensa and Nurugai then find Kishō's deceased body blooming with flowers and watch as he is torn apart by one of the tentacles. Nurugai believes that he is experiencing divine punishment and gives up on trying to live. Tensa says that he is unable to accept Nurugai's reason in wanting to die and asks whether or not if he wanted to live or not. After remembering his grandfather, Nurugai tearfully answers that he wants to live and return home. Tensa then gives Nurugai his second sword and asks that he fights with him as they try to reach Kishō's boat.
Tensa and Nurugai manage to escape and land back on the island. Tensa realizes that finding the Elixir of Life will not matter if they can not find a current off the island and away from the sea monster. As they wash the blood off them, Tensa looks at Nurugai and notices that his body is a lot feminine, prompting Nurugai to explain she is indeed a female. Tensa becomes shocked since he came under the impression that Nurugai was male. The two then begin to search for an escape route and find Asaemon allies to help fight against the monsters.
The Giant of Bizen
Genji makes his leave and tells Sagiri to depart from the island when dawn breaks. Senta believes that it is a good idea but also thinks that she should stay because he noticed how Gabimaru sees her as his only hope of returning home or for another reason. During the night, Sagiri and Gabimaru stay up to keep watch. Gabimaru asks Sagiri if she was feeling okay after being infected by the bug's poison and thanks her for helping him find his resolve. She then hears Gabimaru comment on how strong she was back when they first fought at the jail and gives her a quote from his village, giving her confidence to confront Genji the next day. Sagiri tells Genji that despite being a woman he should accept the path she has taken as a samurai. Genji refuses to hear Sagiri out and attacks with his sword, however, she manages to take the sword out of his hands. She then looks to see Rokurōta standing behind Genji and tries to warn him.
Rokurōta has a flashback to when he was an infant and attacks Genji. Sagiri comes to Genji's side but is about to be caught by the giant. However, Gabimaru comes in to kick Rokurōta away. Seeing as how he is alone, Sagiri realizes that Eizen has been killed. Gabimaru then decides to fight Rokurōta and tells Sagiri to move elsewhere. He then sees Yuzuriha on sitting on top of a tree, with a pinned Senta, and asks her for assistance. Yuzuriha refuses after reminding him of the agreement they made about him being responsible for fighting opponents while she is responsible of intel. Gabimaru analyzes Rokurōta's strength by attacking him and sees that he is unable to damage his body. With his injury to severe, Genji tells Sagiri to leave him behind but hears her refusal. He then comments on how he found it weird that earlier she was talking in the tone of a man but is now showing the compassion of a woman. Sagiri replies that she doesn't care if she acts as one as long as she can save him. After hearing this, Genji finally realizes Sagiri's conviction in accepting both opposing forces within her and gives her his sword, entrusting her to cut down Rokurōta. During his battle, Gabimaru sees that in order to find an opening he needs to team up with a partner. After Rokurōta misses Gabimaru, he notices that his pinky finger has been cut off, which is revealed to have been done by Sagiri. Gabimaru and Sagiri then ask for each others assistance.
Senta asks Yuzuriha to let him go to administer first aid to Genji but is declined, being told by Yuzuriha that it would be best to see how the fight ends. Gabimaru tells Sagiri that they will have to get Rokurōta down to his knees in order to have her make the cut to his neck. Gabimaru deflects Rokurōta's next attack while Sagiri comes in to cut Rokurōta's knee. However, she hesitates in her strike after thinking about how Rokurōta caused the deaths of Eizen and Genji. Sagiri makes another attempt and tries to maintain her focus but is unsuccessful again due to his bones closing the gaps while rampaging. The two then cover their ears in pain as they hear Rokurōta starting to cry loudly as his stomach rumbles. Rokurōta then comes in to slam Gabimaru to the ground after he left himself open. Gabimaru manages to stand back up but is severely injured. Rokurōta comes in to attack Gabimaru again but is blocked by Sagiri using the Middle Way. Sagiri causes Rokurōta to fall down and gets behind him to make the cut to his neck. Rokurōta notices her attack coming and jumps out of the way in time. Knowing that normal moves are not working, Gabimaru tells Sagiri that he has another plan, that he noted was a little extreme, to brings Rokurōta to his knees. Yuzuriha catches wind of Gabimaru's plan and tells Senta that they have to run.
Gabimaru uses Ninpō: Fire Monk and launches various flaming ninjutsu attacks at Rokurōta. Rokurōta deflects the attacks towards the forest and sets the area on fire, much to Gabimaru's intentions in order to have the smoke suffocate the giant. After Rokurōta falls to his knees, Sagiri instantly gets next to him and prepares to bring her sword down to his neck. Rokurōta sees Sagiri and tries to attack her but is hold down by Gabimaru who requests that Sagiri make the cut in a hurry. As Sagiri brings her sword down, Rokurōta hears her bell ring and has memories of his life. Sagiri then appears consoling the soul of an infant Rokurōta in a subconscious while holding his decapitated head in the outside world. Once the battle was over, Gabimaru suggests that they leave before the monsters get attracted by the fire. Sagiri worries about Genji but knows that she must push forward while she is on the island.
Gabimaru and Sagiri head to the direction the monsters came from with their minds set on completing the mission. They then reach Yuzuriha and Senta's destination to find them shocked looking a ruined village. Senta believes that if the island is truly known as Shinsenkyō then the village must be where the hermits reside. Meanwhile, Tōma explains to Chōbē about the mystical hermits that have been said to live on the island. After the brothers continue to travel forward, they discover two beautiful women engaging in sexual intimacy on top of ruined statues. The women notice the brothers appearance and one of them wonders why a human is here. Chōbē puts his guard having sensed that the two females are not human. The woman then starts to change into a man and declares that he will kill them. As he looks towards the village, Gabimaru states that whether the people that live on the island are hermits didn't matter as long as they know whether they are allies or enemies. The four are then spied on by a small person behind a tree.
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