L5R - The Great Dusk

The Chain of Dogs, Chapter One, Part 2

In the wake of the devestating attack upon Musume Mura by the combined fleets of Sanada’s Serpents, the Red Dawn, the Children of Suitengu, and a host of lesser pirate bands, the Eighth prepare to embark on a mission of vengeance. Setting sail to Sanada’s island fortress, the Eighth finds themselves facing their first real battle.

Of course, there is no way that the pirates could prove to be a challenge for the Minor Clan Alliance…

Part 2 of the Chain of Dogs.

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“Well I hope the Crane fair better than us, though it’s likely little will be left by the time they arrive, and the hostages taken elsewhere.” said Tonbo with a sort of sad smile on his face.

Yoritomo Yoshita nodded slowly in agreement. Already her thoughts were wandering and she was struck with an almost painful wave of the desire to be alone. “Well,” she said with a nearly inaudible sigh, “I am glad you are feeling somewhat better. A good night sleep will do everyone some good.”

As Yoshita left the quarters where the stabalized officers were being tended to, Tonbo thought to himself that the Mantis either took defeat very hard, harder than he would have thought for a clan and family who advocated facing up to the truth without regret, or that something more was indeed troubling the young gunso. The pirates had been far better equipped and despite Toku’s leadership, the battle had been lost.

Despite an exhaustion of body and spirit, Yoshita joined many of the other soldiers over barrels of red-tinged water, and bent to the task of scrubbing the blood, sand and salt-water out of her outer armor. As she dug the red encrusted gunk out of the design on her wrist guard, she was aware that it was the blood of a soldier in her contingent who had splashed his life upon her as an arrow had landed in his neck. Yoshita had paused in her assault long enough to look the man in the eye, tell him he had fought with the might of Osano-Wo before slashing the arrow across his neck to afford him a quick death. The rest of the battle was a blur, except of course, near the end…

Yoshita took the route that left over the deck back to her cramped quarters. Serving for as many years as she did inland, the salt-air was a treat for her, one that reminded her of home and had always brought comfort. But tonight it did little but chill her as the wind whipped past her damp clothing.

As she settled into the rough pallet that was her bed, the battle replayed itself in her mind despite intentions to sleep and analysis another day. First the feint led by Morito which had seemingly gone so well and then the successful landing of the scouts who circled around back. The might of four ships with trained samurai and the blessing of Suitengu who seemed in his wisdom to favour the Minor Clan by stopping that whirlpool, or perhaps it indeed been Kitsune Tokaji, whose powers seemed much more than he admitted.

But the harbour chains! Blacksmiths could take months to create those, and the koku required should be more than any pirate gang, with allies or not, could amass. And stone fortifications; Yoshita had encountered buildings of stone in so few places. The heavy armor of the pirates was perhaps the most disconserting along with so many other minor details, such as the presence of a skilled and non-entry level shugenja, the fierocity of the usually cowardly pirates, and disappearance of Naizen. Not to mention the general whom she had shot and the man… that man who the enemy general had submitted to. The Captain… not even an arrow had been strong enough to break his focus, to pierce deep beyond his armor, to stop the horrible predator from taking his offering of meat and blood… from her sister Tsuruchi… whom she had promised to watch over…

_Yoshita reached into her quiver and felt the air that surrounded the single arrow that remained to her. The world swam around her as bits of burning sand was flung into her body and the mire pulled and sucked at her feet. The screams of the Minor Clans turned muffled and the smell of bloated rot assaulted her nose. _

There should be more arrows… she notched the final one. As she pulled to sight it, she noticed the blood dripping from the end, she hesitated, but then realized she could not. The way had parted, and then Yoshita was alone, alone with the man in the shark membo, alone with the Captain.

_He smiled and his teeth where like that of a shark, his eyes sharp and keen as a blade. Before him, with her back turned, knelt Tsuruchi Raiko, anger burning on her face mingling with the tears that fell freely and burned the sand where they fell, fueled by a rage that burned. _

_He raised his sword. Yoshita pulled back in preparation to let loose, becoming one with the arrow, one with the Wind. _

_“You could let it happen, then you would never risk defeat from her, and you would never dishonour your father’s or brother’s name.” _

_Yoritomo Hitomi appeared but a foot in front of Yoshita’s arrow, who quickly reduced the tension. “Mother?” _

_“Don’t you understand, this would force her to turn away from the path of vengence that is demanded of her by bushido, the False Code.” _

_“Mother,” Yoshita gasped, “I will not choose another’s fate, especially not her who has been pressured to follow a path that was not her own her whole life.” _

_“Then let her hate you for your own actions. Do not act, and let her path become clear.” replied the spectre of Hitomi, who had suddenly appeared as she Yoshita had imagined her at the height of her youth. _

_“No. I will protect her.” Said Yoshita as she side stepped her mother and pulled back on her yumi. Just as she prepared to release, the Captain looked at her, and suddenly Yoshita felt like a student again, scared of the bow, allowing it to master her, then her to master it. The tension hurt her arms, which should have been used to it, her muscles burned and her aim wavered. The shot was perfect, the wind in her favour, the man even stood still… _

_Yoshita allowed the bow string to pull her arm forward, and like an amateur, she didn’t release as the tension pulled her drawn arm, but allowed it to pull her, and only when she had already begun to slip did she release, too slowly, and the arrow knew it had been betrayed, and flew half-heartedly, so that by the time it reached him, it fell at his feet, just as Raiko was falling at his feet, cut down from behind, her lifeblood draining into the sand, the rage frozen on her face. _

And then the Captain nodded, as if commending Yoshita, and then the sand and earth rose up on either side of the stricken Yoritomo and fell in on her, burying her in her failure, the rocks crushing the breath out of her, and somewhere she heard a woman laughing…

Yoshita woke in a cold sweat. She heard the waves crashing against the side of the ship, and could hear the contents of the vessel that weren’t smartly strapped down, slide back and forth, making the wood creek. She felt the pitching of the ship and the pressure change of the air.

Yoshita knew not where the ideas in her dream had come from, for in the waking world, they no longer made sense or brought on those feelings of dread, but she did know one thing; a storm was coming.

 

Heichi Masu casually crossed his arms and leaned against the ship’s railing, mustering whatever effort he could so as to not betray how seasick he truly was. He was mirroring in posture the Gunso whom he had moved to stand directly beside. In the distance, the young bushi could hear birds; below him, the tumultuous waves as they crashed impatiently against the ship’s hull; behind him, the occasional command shouted from one crew member to another. He was already learning to ignore these unfamiliar sounds.

“How are you faring?” asked the Boar, his voice soft from nervousness. The archer pursed her lips, tilting her head upwards almost imperceptibly. Instinctively, Masu followed her gaze – as though it were possible to find upon the horizon what it was that occupied Tsuruchi Raiko’s mind. She sighed quietly, though for the samurai these tiny movements and gestures drowned out everything else.

“I am ready,” she responded before adding, “though this will be my first battle.”

“It is the same with me,” Heichi Masu quickly noted, seizing upon this common ground, hoping to anchor himself to it as a method of breaking through the cold silence. A stranger in a strange world, the headstrong Boar nonetheless wondered what it was that seemed so familiar to him.

=

A beautiful, yet modestly dressed little girl stood upon the ledge, allowing the breathtaking view of the mountainscape below to soak into her soul. A boy of the same age came to stand at her side, following her gaze and contemplating what it was that impressed her most. Was it the clouds, some above and others below, floating gently above the trees in an almost playful fashion? Or was it the lush forests which had managed to scale the sheer mountainside over generations of struggle and perseverance? Or was it something else entirely – something that he could not see himself?

Heichi Masu felt the top of Rukia’s soft hand brush gently against his own, before she politely pulled it to her side again. He could still feel the ghost of her hand, the way a rock remains visibly changed after the tide had licked it moments before. The little Boar’s heart was racing.

“This will all be mine one day!” she suddenly exclaimed, a playful grin creeping onto her face. Seeing that the son of Shuzo was thoroughly confused, she added, as though it were obvious, “You know, when Nobunaga-sama asks me to be his bride!”

Seeing that Masu’s face was now whiter than the whitest sands, Rukia laughed mischievously. Knowing that she was simply teasing him, Masu forced himself to adopt a knowing smile, though he was consumed with an almost maddening rage which he had never before experienced.

“He will not marry you! He could marry anyone that he wants!” the future bushi retaliated, having regained a semblance of composure and now thinking himself particularly coy. Heichi Masu casually crossed his arms, still putting all of his efforts into maintaining his aloof facade. “No, he won’t be your husband.”

“You don’t know that,” responded Rukia argumentatively, now also putting effort into remaining steadfast and hiding how her stubborn friend had hurt her feelings. “And besides, who else would I marry? You?”

=

Even when he was deep inside the belly of the beast, Heichi Masu could not escape the creaking and the rocking. In fact, the ship’s groans and shifts seemed even worse than normal, as though it were as sick and wounded as its inhabitants.

Forcing himself to his feet, the Boar felt an almost blinding pain pour into his body, flowing rapidly into his legs. He bit his tongue so as not to yelp and shame himself, but he had never been so injured before. Stumbling drunkenly by the other soldiers and some concerned members of the medical contingent, Masu barely managed to make it to the bedside of Tsuruchi Raiko.

The bushi was shocked, almost sympathetically terrified to discover that the proud and noble archer had lost her right arm. He was struck too by how pale her face was; for a brief moment that lasted eons, Heichi Masu had almost assumed that she had left this realm entirely. She appeared to be sleeping, but even that brought little solace as her anguished expression communicated her misery more effectively than anything else could. Grunting slightly, the Boar sat himself down upon the side of her makeshift bed.

That was when her eyes opened. Raiko looked about the room for a moment, almost panicked before she realized where she was, remembering what had transpired and realizing that this was not the dream. As the clouds parted from her eyes, she turned her head slightly to look at Heichi Masu – who was surprised to feel, for the first time, as though he belonged. A sense of confidence, of purpose, washed over him, cleansing him momentarily of all of his pain – allowing him to fully understand hers.

Seeing this new expression come across the face of her proud companion—this look of compassion, of an almost profound sympathy—was enough for Raiko’s guard to finally collapse. The tears came suddenly, a torrent of her indescribable pain released. Though he did not realize it initially, this was the moment when Heichi Masu was finally free of all thoughts of duty, of politics, even of his homeland. And without the slightest hesitation, without thinking, the young man reached his arms around the Mantis.

He just held her.

 

“TRAPPED! Then at the last second a serpent emerges!”

Tokaji participated in the epic battle.

In the heat of battle he encounters the pirate’s shougenja. In the ensuing battle against a clearly superior shougenja, Tokaji relied on earth becomes sky as he was struck multiple times by multiple intensities of lightning attacks. At one point his magic fails him, and his opponent laughed at him. And then mercifully at the same time, magic failed the opposing shougenja. Without hesitating Tokaji ran at the shougenja and impaled him on his Yari. As the shougenja died, he dragged himself closer up the shaft of the yari driven by pure hatred.

At this, Tokaji’s first kill, the fox felt relief that he was not going to die this day, as well as a small amount at pride in defeating a superious opponent.

Shortly after he found Heichi Masu injured on the ground and did his best to heal him.

During the retreat, while the boats were still stuck between the chain nets, Tokaji asked his friend Watana for help. At which point an Orochi emerged from the watery depths and tore down the chains.

Tokaji now wants to learn more about Orochi’s and their possible connection to his friend.

Shameful_Thomas

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