Tsuwamono

伊勢への行進
Yamato - 1559年10月21-23日

Following his defeat at the hands of Ryuuzaki Sanosuke, Matsumoto Ooawagaeri took to the town, stopping in at Masamune’s forge in search of a new weapon. The grinning swordsmith was all too happy to oblige, and would even be willing to craft for Ooawagaeri a katana of almost legendary weight, balance, and design, a culmination of all of his skills. In return, however, the Black Blade would have to either produce a large amount of currency, probably through the Daimyo, or, as an alternative, go on a date with Chosokabe Morichika, who, though away at the moment, was still using the forgery as her lodgings.
Masamune happily explained that Morichika herself knew nothing of this, and he was merely trying to set her up. Further, the details of their arrangement would be up to Ooawagaeri. The Doll of Darkness weighed his options, not eager to spend time with Morichika, who his still suspected had an interest in him only to spite Chosokabe Kanetsugu, but also seeing the value in spending a few hours of time instead of a large amount of money for his new weapon. Eventually, he reluctantly agreed, and was told to come back on the 23rd, two days from the event, to pick up both his new weapon and his date.
For the meantime, Masamune lent Ooawagaeri the use of one of his better crafts, a fine katana to use for his tournament bouts until his other order was complete.

Before he could return to the castle, Ooawagaeri had one more obligation to fulfill. At approximately midnight, exactly twelve hours after she had been teleported into the future by Hakutaku, Jijage Koukou reappeared in the field, bewildered by her perceived sudden change in lighting and environment. Waiting for her was the Black Blade himself, who calmly attempted to explain her situation.
Communication proved difficult, however, as Koukou was either unable or unwilling to speak, and eventually resorted to drawing simple characters in the sand of the arena when the other did not understand her gestures. Eventually, the general idea of what had happened to her was understood, and Ooawagaeri took Koukou’s arm, leading her gallantly back to her lodgings for the night.

It was in the very early morning when Ooawagaeri finally returned to his room, placing his loaned katana in the weapon rack on the opposite wall before returning to bed and, eventually, falling asleep. His rest was not to last long, however. After only a few hours of sleep, he found himself awoken by a gentle shaking, and a soft voice calling his name.
Raising his head, Ooawagaeri saw a small shape crouching near his bed in the darkness of the room. His visitor had the general shape of a young girl, but with dark, purplish skin and curving horns growing from out of her dark hair, marking her immediately as something not human. Though odd of appearance, the girl did not seem to harbor any ill intent, and carefully asked him to hide with her under the floorboards, as two individuals, who she only described as “bad people” were soon to enter his room.
Confused, but also concerned, Ooawagaeri obliged, slipping under the tatami and into a small, cool crawlspace, dark tunnels branching out in every direction to different areas of the castle. No sooner had the mat slid back into place than the door to his room opened, and two pairs of footsteps could be heard above them.
One voice, unknown to the Black Blade, spoke first, seemingly annoyed that Ooawagaeri was nowhere to be found, and questioning the competence of the other. The second man to speak, however, he recognized immediately. That voice could be none other than Vengeance, leader of the Igamono and a persistent thorn in the side of the Hashinara.
Vengeance, for his part, suggested that perhaps Ooawagaeri had been alerted and had already escaped. He managed to insinuate that this was, perhaps, the first voice’s fault, for insisting on coming along, rather than allowing Vengeance to bring just a few ninja, as was the original plan. The other snapped a response about not entrusting the Daimyo of the Matsumoto to the devices of such ruffians, a comment that gave Ooawagaeri some pause.
After a short argument, the two left, both wary of being caught inside the castle by the Hashinara Clan’s other generals. Ooawagaeri did not immediately move, however, and instead questioned the mysterious Youkai who had appeared and hidden him from the intruders.
The girl introduced herself as Utsutsuki, and claimed to live in the dungeons underneath the castle. Ooawagaeri, who had never seen her before, and thought that Hashinara Katamoto would have made some comment if he had discovered anyone living in his underground laboratories, found this rather strange. He offered to find her a better place to stay, as thanks for her help, but she seemed reluctant to understand, confused by the very notion of staying somewhere other than the dungeons, where she seemed to believe she belonged.
Utsutsuki then excused herself, assuring Ooawagaeri that they would meet again, should it become necessary. Puzzled by the whole encounter, he climbed out from under the tatami even as the girl disappeared down one of the tunnels beneath his room. Deciding to tell the other generals about Vengeance tomorrow, at the very least, he returned to bed and slept soundly for the remainder of the morning.

Early on the 22nd of October, Hashinara Katamoto, in his guise as Katsusada Shishauezaemon, called a meeting of the four top generals and “Yoshiyuki-hime”, in order to discuss how they should proceed with the troublesome Byouyuugan Aika, whose actions had nearly disrupted the tournament the previous day. The Nekomata herself was still being kept unconscious at very low levels of ki by one of the Kyonshi generals. Despite several advisements encouraging her execution, Katamoto still felt that she could have some worth if properly encouraged and applied.
He proceeded to invite Ippondatara of the Hyakki Yagyo to attend the meeting as well. She had been most affected by Aika’s activities, and Katamoto wished to make sure that whatever they chose to do with the criminal would not have any negative repercussions on the Hashinara Clan’s relations with her or the Night Parade as a whole.
In response, Ippondatara stated that, while she thought keeping her alive was an awful idea, what the Hashinara chose to do with Aika was their business, so long as she herself never had to encounter the cat again. Furthermore, she gave a warning that, should the Nekomata ever cast any spell on Ippondatara or anyone she cared for, the demons of the Hyakki Yagyo would kill her without hesitation. However, she was careful to include that she had no intention of bringing the previous incident to Hitotsume-nyudo‘s attention, or holding it against them otherwise.
Thanking her for her time and understanding, Katamoto dismissed Ippondatara. The Youkai stood to leave, first taking time to offer Sanosuke luck should they meet in the arena later, and, smilingly, say that she would be seeing Aotsuki anyway, before exiting.
Before the group left to begin the tournament anew, Ooawagaeri chose this moment to report on his agent’s findings in the province of Mikawa across the bay. According to the ninja, the city was operating normally, with no giant holes in the sky or other obvious arcane activity. The Palace of the Firebird, however, current seat of power for the Tokugawa Clan, was completely off-limits to the public, with extremely high security in place. Not liking his chances of getting in to see what was be guarded so carefully, the agent sent the previous in a report to Ooawagaeri before returning safely to Yamato.

Despite having fought only the day before, and with several other small adventure besides, Matsumoto Ooawagaeri was once again in the ring for the first match of the day. His opponent was Tsunawara Mishiko, samurai bodyguard to the Daimyo of Shima Province. Despite Mishiko’s heavy armor and skill in combat, she had, as far as the crowd knew, no way of attacking an airborne opponent, and so the public’s opinion was heavily skewed in Ooawagaeri’s favor for the match.
As Aotsuki held up the starting card, the Black Blade of Doom wasted no time in lifting off from the ground, quickly flying around the side of the bridge and hovering over the shallow water just below it, accumulating magical energy as he did so. Mishiko, seeing her opponent change positions, leaped down the side of the hill, skidding into the water and rushing Ooawagaeri, just failing to reach him before he moved again out of her reach, this time flying under the bridge and coming up again on the other side.
Seeing that she was unlikely to engage her enemy in melee with his superior maneuverability, Mishiko climbed the other bank of the river, returning to the bridge and the large pile of rocks that stood in its center. Here, she hefted one of the pieces of rubble, hurling it off the bridge and at Ooawagaeri. The stone’s trajectory was slow and predictable, however, and the Doll of Darkness merely slid to the side and let it harmlessly sail by. He then responded with a grandiose wave of his arms, conjuring the winds around him to magically gather at the river. The howling tempest formed into a whirlwind, which then began to suck water from the surface below even as Ooawagaeri floated closer to the bridge, stopping just short of the railing.
Seeing what would perhaps be her opportunity, Mishiko rushed him, dodging in between Ooawagaeri’s swirling weapons and swinging her katana at him in a swift arc. The Black Blade brought his own sword up, blocking the blow and countering in kind. Mishiko’s strengths lay not in attack, however, but in defense; a specialty which she displayed now, blocking Ooawagaeri’s strike and returning with a slash of her own, the blow much more focused than her original attack. Her opponent’s front was cut open in a shallow gash, and Ooawagaeri was knocked off balance by the force of the blow.
Before Mishiko could take advantage of this situation, however, the whirlwind arrived on the bridge. Its howling winds swept up the samurai almost immediately, sending her spiraling around its edge in a violent corkscrew. Before she had a chance to reorient herself, Ooawagaeri cast another spell, freezing the water in the whirlwind in place. The result was a shining crystal sculpture, twisting up from the ground to several tens of feet in the air, where Mishiko lay trapped, her arms and legs bound in shackles of ice.
After a moment of struggling, the samurai gave up and hung limp, announcing her surrender to the referee. Aotsuki gave the appropriate declaration, and Ooawagaeri was declared the winner of the match.

The second match of the day was to be between Tanefuji Shinryu and Huolian, but as the latter had died in her fight against Benkei, and her corpse ordered shipped back to China, the Tea Bucket Man won by default and advanced to the next bracket.

In a similar fashion, Nanami claimed victory in the next match, when Akechi Mitsuhide failed to show up. She advanced to the next round, while the Oda general was officially removed from the tournament.

The fourth round of the day was a fight between Jijage Koukou and Muchimaro Masuyo, both martial artists in their own ways. As Aotsuki called the start of the match, Masuyo immediately hid herself in the shrubbery around the forested arena, stealthily approaching her opponent. Meanwhile, Koukou channeled her ki into creating several duplicates of herself, sending each, and herself, to a different location, and trying, unskillfully to hide herself within the trees.
Her tactic proved fruitful, as, however bad Koukou’s stealth skills were, Masuyo’s skills at finding the clones proved to be just as poor. The two found themselves in something of a standoff, neither able to see the other, and unwilling to make a move.
After several seconds of this, both Masuyo and each copy of Koukou darting from hiding place to hiding place, the Bakeneko was able to catch sight of one version of her opponent which had apparently separated itself from the others. Considering it the best chance she was going to get, she pounced from her cover, cutting into Koukou with her claws. The attack had just broken her skin, however, when the clone vanished in a puff of smoke.
Before Masuyo could duck back into the foliage, two other Koukous appeared from around her and attacked. One was countered and immediately destroyed, but the other managed to distract her opponent long enough before vanishing for the real Jijage to take advantage of the situation. With two solid blows, she slammed into Masuyo, putting all her ki into the strike.
The attacks were effective; perhaps too effective. Koukou was forced to look on in surprise as her opponent’s body was torn asunder by the two strikes, Masuyo’s shoulder separating from her torso, which then was reduced to little more than a pile of meat by the next attack, the resultant pile of parts crumpling to the ground.
Katamoto was somewhat dismayed by the bloody spectacle. Having risen Masuyo once, he knew that her soul would now go directly to Yomi, and that her body, without its energy, would be unable to accept new unlife, its structure worn out by its previous resurrection.
Regardless, the match was called, and Koukou declared the obvious winner.

Next to battle were Sasaki Kojiro, the elegant swordswoman, and Okuni, second daughter of Hitotsume-nyudo. Having seen what Kojiro had done to her previous opponent, and well aware of Okuni’s fragility from her previous matches, the crowd was justifiably worried for the girl’s safety. Okuni herself, however, seemed petulantly determined to win, against all odds, and so Aotsuki began the match, round card raised.
Kojiro began by rushing forward, attempting to reach Okuni before she could teleport to safety, but was too slow. Just as the kensei was about to reach her, the Hitotsume vanished in a flash of light, reappearing stealthily in a bush a short distance away.
Reasoning the bush to be the only really viable hiding place in the sandy arena, Kojiro approached carefully, searching through the branches and brambles for her opponent. Just as she was about to be sussed from her hiding place, Okuni rose behind the other and slammed her umbrella down on Kojiro’s back. Though the blow was solid, the kensei’s armor, sturdy despite its ostentation, absorbed the blow entirely. She turned in response, swinging her long blade as she went, and brought it to within an inch of Okuni’s neck before stopping. Not wanting to actually hurt the girl if she could avoid it, Kojiro calmly asked her opponent to surrender.
Despite her situation, the Hitotsume merely smiled, reminded her opponent that she could teleport, and began to vanish in a flash of light. The brightness was rent in half by Kojiro sword before it could vanish, an image of Okuni’s torso separating from her lower half before disappearing altogether.
Not finding the Youkai girl in the brush, the kensei exited, searching around the stone the referee stood upon. This gave Aotsuki an unparalleled view of the proceedings as Okuni appeared from behind another rock and sneaked up carefully behind Kojiro. With another full swing, the girl’s umbrella slammed with force into the side of the kensei’s head. This blow obviously dealt some damage, forcing Kojiro to stagger to the side slightly, but not incapacitating her. The swordswoman’s counter was swift, and, though she held back her strength, this time she actually slashed through Okuni, cutting the front of her dress open and drawing a thin red line on the inside of the Youkai girl’s torso.
Not seriously wounded, but intensely embarrassed by the sudden bareness of her front Okuni crouched down, both arms pulling the remains of her dress over herself while she called out a flustered surrender.

Second to last in the day’s fights was to be a battle between Baby Huey and Chosokabe Kanetsugu. Despite the awkward matchup, the fight itself was less than spectacular. Babs, with his great size and strength, was simply unable to hit the graceful Kyonshi, who dodged around and through his attacks, using the Oni’s own momentum to slam him into the ground. Each strike did little to stop Huey’s momentum, his unholy constitution enabling him to fight beyond even what a normal monster of his stature would be capable of, but Kanetsugu also did not tire. Through sheer persistence, she eventually laid the brute low, claiming victory for the match.

The final battle of the day gave rise to an unexpected pairing. Nakajo Fujikasuke and Nakajo Kageyasu, the two Tengu sisters, were set to fight each other. On the eastern side of the bridged arena, Fujikasuke began with some taunts, challenging Kageyasu to beat her as, according to her own statements, she often did when they sparred. The black Tengu made no response, merely staring at her sister, mask raised over her eyes.
As soon as Aotsuki raised the round card, Fujikasuke blasted forward from her starting position. Skimming across the ground at something between a run and actual flight, she brought her quarterstaff to bear and swung it once at Kageyasu with force. The other Tengu dodged easily, however, acrobatically dancing backwards to distance herself from her opponent, then dashing into the nearby foliage and vanishing from sight.
Knowing she had lost the advantage, Fujikasuke flew slowly up to a point above the center of the bridge, raising her staff in a defensive stance and looking warily about herself. Unseen by her opponent, Kageyasu slipped from the trees on the other side of the bridge, stealthily cutting through the air toward her sister, and slamming her tonfa into the unaware Tengu’s back. Once, twice, Kageyasu’s weapons connected, and it became obvious that Fujikasuke was weakened by the punishment.
With the awareness that this was likely her last chance to land a hit, the white-winged Youkai swung her staff twice, one of the ends connecting with force against Kageyasu’s side, causing her to flap slightly to the side to rebalance, but not seriously wounding her.
Seeing that her opponent was swiftly tiring, and almost beaten, Kageyasu eschewed returning to stealth, instead swinging her arm, tonfa twirling, in an attempt to finish the match. This had been what Fujikasuke had been counting on, as she blocked the strike with her staff, then countered, putting every ounce of her strength into the attack, just as she had in her fight with Sanosuke.
With a resounding crack, the quarterstaff slammed into the top of Kageyasu’s head, snapping her neck forward and sending the black-winged Tengu dropping into unconsciousness immediately. Fujikasuke had just enough energy to grab her sister and ferry her harmlessly to the ground before collapsing herself, conscious for just long enough to hear the referee declare her the winner.

The next day, on the 23rd of October, Hashinara Katamoto received an important message from Todaisen Nobuhara that called for a temporary halt to the tournament festival. Iyo Province‘s Daimyo, Nishiuwa Matsutake, had successfully delivered the three promised Atakebune to Awa Harbor, as promised, and they waited there for the Hashinara army to claim them.
More importantly, however, was the message from the clan’s bandit scouts stationed on the edge of Omi Province. They had spotted a sizeable force of Oda troops moving southeast out of the capital and marching toward Ise. It was Nobuhara’s supposition that they intended to defeat Ichinomiya Hachiro and take the province for their own. This would result in the Oda sharing a border with Shima Province, currently under Katamoto’s protection and, more troubling, with the Hashinara Clan’s seat of power in Yamato.
Katamoto immediately called for a temporary suspension of the tournament, inviting all of his most trusted generals to the audience chamber for a council of war. Whether he was to attempt to intercept the marching Oda force, or attempt to capture Omi Province in their absence, the time for war with their enemy clan had come.

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大会の続き
Yamato - 1559年10月20-21日

The second day of the tournament dawned, but before the fights could begin, some local matters still needed to be handled. Tsukijo Hanahane had arrived early in the morning, and Hashinara Katamoto, aided by his generals, was even now meeting with him, Okuni, Prince Frederic, and the Shinsengumi to discuss what must be done.
Katamoto,who was, as usual, portraying himself as Katsusada Shishauezaemon, remained staunch in his belief that, as the new Kobayakawa Hideaki had not acted outside of the laws of the Shogunate, he had no reason to detain or otherwise act upon his character. In return, the Shinsengumi stressed the importance of maintaining the timeline, and expressed their worry on what else Frederic would choose to do should he be allowed to roam free in Tsuwamono-era Japan. Meanwhile, Hanahane fussed over Okuni, and exchanged some respectful fashion tips with the Prince in question somewhere in the corner of the room.
Finally, Katamoto countered that, because Prince Frederic had taken on the role of Kobayakawa Hideaki, perhaps it would be best to let him remain under that name rather than removing said person from history altogether. Though she still had her doubts, Kondou Isami was forced to agree that this did make sense. Eventually, the two groups agreed to allow a trial period in which neither would act upon Hideaki in order to see how he adjusted to his new role as ruler of Bungo. With that issue resolved for the moment, the Shinsengumi thanked Katamoto, and excused themselves to return to Inaba Province, where they were supposedly staying with Kaguya.
Released from the meeting, Hanahane was quick to capture both Prince Frederic and Okuni, taking them with haste to his estate in the noble quarter of Wakigami. His daughter, he exclaimed, would likely have something in Okuni’s size (with some adjustments), and he was more than eager to hear more about the fashion in whatever country it was that Hideaki hailed from.

Returning to the tournament area, Katamoto officially announced the beginning of the second day, which would encompass the fights in the first round of the losers’ bracket, giving those who had been defeated the first day another chance to move forward in the rankings.
First into the ring were Yamanka Yukimori and Tsunawara Mishiko. Both samurai of middling skill, the audience was not sure which one of them would be able to best the other. As the match began, Yukimori rushed forward and attacked, landing a solid blow that nevertheless did not pierce Mishiko’s armor. This attack painted the theme for the rest of the fight. Despite his agility and reasonable strength, Yukimori was simply not able to harm his opponent through her heavy mail. As such, Mishiko eventually wore him down, and won the match.

Second to fight each other were Tanefuji Shinryu, the acclaimed Tea Bucket Man, and Raizou the bandit. As the match began, Shinryu launched his attack with a series of arrows from his bow. Not having any way to fight at range on his own, Raizou ducked behind the rubble covering their bridge arena and began throwing rocks back as he advanced. When the two did eventually clash, with Shinryu now using his katana and Raizou his fists as usual, it quickly became apparent that the samurai was the more skilled of the two. Despite the larger man’s impressive constitution, he was being worn down by Shinryu’s adept strikes.
Not wanting to seriously injure himself, but also unwilling to give up while Joguma-donyo watched from the stands (the two had enjoyed a wonderful night in the entertainment district the day before), Raizou put everything he had into one last attempt on his opponent. Grabbing Shinryu in a huge bear hug, he brought all of his giant stature to bear to throw the samurai off the bridge and into the shallow river below. Although there was not enough water to force Shinryu to try to swim in his armor, the fall nevertheless hurt him quite a bit, though not enough to put him out of the match. Seeing that his had failed, and being close to collapse himself, Raizou ceded the match.

The third match pitted Nanami, the wandering ronin, against Prince “Kobayakawa Hideaki” Frederic, now known to be the official Daimyo of Bungo Province. Their arena saw them fight around the remains of a large, walled structure; likely the ruins of some past civilization here in Yamato. Nanami was quick to use this field to her advantage, kicking off a crumbling pillar in order to land on the top of the wall, then leaping without pause to strike at Hideaki on the other side. To his credit, Prince Frederic saw her coming, and was able to both defend himself from her attack, and prevent her from slipping behind him, despite Nanami’s best efforts.
He had not, however, been prepared for melee combat, and still had his hand crossbow out. Switching to his saber in combat was difficult, but he managed, and the two found themselves in a close-range swordfight. As before, Nanami was unable to move around Hidaki’s skilled guard, but despite her inability to attain a superior position, her strikes were landing with increasing frequency against the Daimyo. Soon, a single strike from her katana shot past Frederic’s guard, cutting a deep gash into his chest and, more importantly, in his uniform.
Not wishing to sustain any more injuries to himself or his expensive clothing, Hideaki conceded the match. He proceeded to leave the arena, dejected that he had lost against a woman with such awful fashion sense.

Muchimaro Masuyo, the Ryuuzouji Bakeneko survivor, faced Yokoji Masamitsu for the fourth match of the first round of the losers’ bracket. Despite Byouyuugan Aika’s cheers for him from the stands, Masamitsu looked less than inspired, and, indeed, was quickly overpowered by his opponent, defeated in a mere matter of seconds. He survived without any permanent wounds, which is the best that could be expected under the circumstances.

The fifth round was a battle between Umashiashikabihikoji, the warrior Kyonshi, and Tsukuda Katsuo, right hand to the leader of the Iga Ninja. The outcome seemed obvious to many observers, as they had seen what Umashiashikabihikoji was capable of upon the battlefield, but Katsuo himself was a wild card, cunning and skilled with techniques beyond the abilities of normal fighters despite his lack of raw power.
As expected, Umashiashikabihikoji began the fight by rushing Katsuo, slashing at him with her crackling claw. What she connected with, however, was no more than a piece of nondescript wood, Katsuo having used his substitution technique to teleport behind her. He proceeded to slam his own ki-infused weapon into her claws, shattering them under the pressure of the attack. Though it would be a simple thing for the Kyonshi to materialize another weapon, she lacked the ki to accomplish it now, and her follow-up attack, while powerful, was no more than a punch, and did little to harm Katsuo.
Under the assault of the ninja’s return attacks, Umashiashikabihikoji’s weakness in defense came to light. Lacking her claws, she was unable to properly block the strikes, and once again Katsuo channeled ki through his weapon, this time breaking the Kyonshi’s arms. After only a few strikes like this, Umashiashikabihikoji was defeated, returning to an inert state on the arena’s floor.

Before the sixth match, a default to Tsutsumi Houzan due to Midorikawa no Moukin-hime‘s retraction from the tournament, Todaisen Nobuhara approached Katamoto. According to the onmyouji head, another participant had appeared, and requested to take the empty slot, fully aware that it would place her in the losers’ bracket. If such a fighter was fine with handicapping herself, Katamoto reasoned, there was no reason not to allow her, and he told Nobuhara as much, indicating his approval for the new arrival to join into the tournament.

With the addition of the new participant, an elegantly-dressed, dark-haired swordswoman with a long, heavy sword on her back, the sixth match was now able to proceed. Her opponent would be Tsutsumi Houzan, self-proclaimed leader of the Yamashiro Vigilante Association and soon-to-be Tea Bucket Man.
As the battle started, with Aotsuki Tsukamoto holding up the round card, the two moved with middling speed toward each other, meeting in the center of the bridge upon which they fought. The swordswoman unsheathed her long nodachi, the gilded, and intricate hilt a stark contrast to the unimpressive, dull blade itself, and made a single strike against Houzan. For her part, the vigilante leader was able to block the majority of the attack with her own weapons, suffering only a minor wound.
Impressed, the swordswoman proclaimed that a fighter like Houzan may indeed be capable of surviving her special technique, and prepared to execute such. Black butterflies materialized and dissipated in the air around her as she swung her heavy blade, first one direction, then, in a complex maneuver, again through the air toward her opponent, the sword leaving a purplish trail of energy as it moved.
Though she tried to block, the attack proved too powerful for Houzan to resist, and there was a collective gasp as the defensive Kensei’s head separated from her shoulders, her body slumping to the ground as it rolled to a stop a short distance away. Disappointed, and chiding herself for thinking that her opponent could survive such an attack, the elegant swordswoman left the arena even as miko rushed forth to collect Houzan’s parts and deliver them to Katamoto for resurrection.
Despite her skill, Tsutsumi Houzan was thus removed from the tournament. She would go on to become a Tea Bucket Man under Baby Huey, and began wearing a scarf to hide the line cleanly encircling her neck.

Second to the last match in the losers’ bracket was Chosokabe Kanetsugu of Tosa fighting Tsuchimi Takasuke of Kawachi. As the round card was raised, Kanetsugu quickly moved up to her opponent, taking a defensive stance before him. In response, Takasuke hefted his nodachi, swinging it in a ponderous attack at the Kyonshi. Before it could land, however, Kanetsugu was already in his guard, turning the power of the strike against him as she flipped his body, slamming him into the ground with such force that his stomach ruptured brutally, a spray of blood rising in parallel with a gasp from the audience. Emergency miko rushed to the site, moving Takasuke from the ring and to the medical tent for the immediate attention required to save his life.

The last match for the day pitted Go-Shirakawa Teishi, Nekomata survivor, against Nakajo Fujikasuke, Tengu general under the Uesugi Clan. Fujikasuke was well aware that, in a match against a caster, her best chance at winning would be to defeat her opponent before she had a chance to accumulate much magic. As such, she shot forward as soon as Aotsuki brought forth the round card, using her birdlike speed to arrive directly in front of Teishi and deliver a solid strike with her quarterstaff.
Teishi’s magical shield held against the assault, but could not entirely protect her, the force of the blow wounding the fragile Nekomata. She responded by casting a spell, focusing on summoning something big and strong to protect her. As the incantation finished, there was a rush of air as a thick, gray-skinned elephant appeared next to the little magician. Though it seemed well ready for battle, the creature was disoriented by its sudden appearance, and did not yet make any move to fight.
Unwilling to battle against what she considered a ridiculous creature, with a nose that was just unacceptable, Fujikasuke returned to attacking Teishi. This time again, the Nekomata’s shields were unable to withstand the full blow of her quarterstaff, and the end slammed into the side of her head, knocking her unconscious. Fujikasuke was declared the winner, even as she stood and stared at the elephant, which began confusedly pattering about the arena.

The day’s fighting being concluded, the crowd dispersed to enjoy the rest of the festival, and the many stalls set up around Wakigami’s mercantile district. As the sounds of merriment washed over the city, the rest of the day passed uneventfully.
Ryuuzaki Sanosuke took the evening to gather several ashigaru serfs, visiting various participants of the tournament and offering their services as manservants for the duration of their stay. Most were happy to agree, and took the ashigaru with them. Okuni raised a fuss, but was soon convinced when Prince Frederic pointed out that the serf carry the shopping when the two of them went to market.
Sanosuke put extra focus, however, in assigning the servants to Minamoto no Yoshitsune, Benkei, the armored swordswoman, and Sasaki Kojiro, setting the stage for one of his many plots. Kojiro was somewhat acerbic, though she answered the questions he set about asking, confirming that she was in the tournament specifically because there was someone she felt she needed to fight. She accepted the serf somewhat begrudgingly, and apologized in advance to Sanosuke if they happened to face each other in the arena.

On the 21st of October, Hashinara Katamoto returned from his underground laboratory to a troubling missive from Todaisen Nobuhara. The most pressing matter was regarding the ships he had ordered from the Nishiuwa Clan of Iyo Province. According to Nishiuwa Matsutake, the Sakurajima Pirates had struck his main shipyards. Under the orders of a woman they called Matasaburo, they occupied and stole the majority of the vessels meant for the Hashinara clan, including the single Tekkosen. The only ships spared were three Atakebune, which were still under construction when the attack took place. These would be delivered on the 23rd as originally agreed.
In addition, the masked swordsman participating in the tournament, long known to be an agent of the Oda Clan or their allies, had requested an audience with Hashinara Yoshiyuki or Katsusada Shishauezaemon at their earliest convenience. Curious about this man’s motives, Katamoto agreed to see him that morning.

As the masked man entered, he sat himself before the Hashinara’s assembled top generals, and introduced himself as Akechi Mitsuhide, general under Oda Nobunaga. Cutting to the crux of the matter, he explained that he was here to deliver an official declaration of war to the Hashinara clan from the Oda due, in part, to their unprovoked attack and murder of Hosokawa Gracia, as well as the related capture of Sen no Rikyu.
Katamoto began by disavowing any involvement in said events, but the other was unconvinced, prompting him to justify his clan’s actions within the context of Oda Nobunaga’s slaying of the Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshikage. Mitsuhide countered that Hosokawa Gracia was merely traveling with an Oda escort, which at no time entered Hashinara territory, in order to claim holdings which legitimately belonged to her, so their actions would be egregious even if their clans were at war. In addition, he explained, Ashikaga Yoshikage was never actually Shogun, and the current holder of the position had pardoned Nobunaga’s actions as being in the best interests of the realm as a whole.
Ryuuzaki Sanosuke interjected, demanding that he explain how Nobunaga’s actions served the realm, but Mitsuhide merely said that he was under no obligation to justify his clan’s actions, nor were the Hashinara under any obligation to defend theirs. With that, he began to excuse himself, but Katamoto interrupted, asking if he had plans to attend the remainder of the tournament. When he agreed that he did indeed plan to stay in Wakigami for the rest of the festival, he was allowed to leave, but Matsumoto Ooawagaeri quickly slipped out behind him.
At first, Ooawagaeri was unable to find Mitsuhide, who had apparently rendered himself invisible just after leaving the room. After a moment, he attempted to detect the other’s ki instead, and was rewarded with a Mitsuhide-shaped silhouette moving down the corridor away from him at speed. Together with Amenotokotachi, Ooawagaeri determined the Oda general’s destination to be the eastern gate of Wakigami, and so magically teleported himself there to intercept Mitsuhide as he arrived.
A short time later, the masked man in question arrived, now visible and moving at a leisurely stroll, and made his way into a stable just outside the gate. Calling for backup over the mental link, Ooawagaeri entered the stable himself, asking Mitsuhide what his business here was. Suddenly acting suspiciously, the masked man proclaimed that he was just here to tend to his horse, to which the other bemasked individual replied that that was Goemon’s horse he was idly petting.
Feigning surprise, Mitsuhide stated that his horse must be missing, and that he would wait here for the stablemaster to ask about it. Ooawagaeri immediately stated that he, too, would wait, under the pretense of caring for Goemon‘s horse. Meanwhile, Amenotokotachi, hidden in the shadows, was scanning the area for any powerful presences, and found one large, fiery, ape-shaped aura hiding under a haystack in the back.
When he received this information, Ooawagaeri flash-froze the needles in the haystack, prompting Saru to burst forth from his hiding place. At the same time, Ishikawa Goemon arrived, brought forth by the summons, and excitedly asked where the evildoers were. Ooawageri responded cryptically, even as he watched Mitsuhide, who was engaged in explaining that the ape was merely here to deliver a message for him, and that they had no intentions of violence within Wakigami.
Soon, Ooawagaeri was engaged in conversation with Goemon about the existence or nonexistence of her horse while they waited for further orders from Katamoto. They had not spoke for more than a minute before Mitsuhide and Saru, who had been standing still and silent for a while, wavered and vanished, leaving just their ki silhouettes visible. Assuming the two to still be there, and finally receiving a message from Katamoto, Ooawagaeri genially invited Mitsuhide to a party they were about to hold at the castle, to celebrate Hosokawa Gracia’s recovery.
There was, however, no response from Mitsuhide. Goemon, in contrast, was very excited at the prospect of a party, and demanded that she be brought along as well. With their ki silhouettes unmoving, Katamoto eventually determined that he would not act on Mitsuhide at this time, and he could come to the party if he wished, and thus recalled Ooawagaeri and Goemon to join in the festivities.
Shortly after they left, Baby Huey arrived on the scene, having also been called in case a fight broke out. Not finding anyone there, and not receiving any further instructions, he grumpily stood guard at the gate, bullying travelers and searching carts passing through to keep himself entertained.

Back at the castle, Hashinara Katamoto had hatched a plan to bring Hosokawa Gracia back to his side. Inviting many of the important dignitaries and his most favored generals to the audience chamber for a party, he then retired to his laboratory with the fallen general’s body. Using the dark magics residing within him, he raised Gracia as an undead creature, restoring her memories and personality, but not her soul. The ghost of Ichinomiya Karen, who had been on standby, then cast her own illusory magic, replacing Gracia’s memories with versions more beneficial to the Hashinara clan.
In this version of her life, Hosokawa Gracia had been good friends with Hashinara Yoshiyuki since childhood. When her contingent was passing through Yamashiro Province, they had been attacked by the forces of Harizono Yoshinatsu, and then saved by the Hashinara Clan’s army. She had been badly wounded in the battle, but owed Katsusada Shishauezaemon and the Hashinara as a whole her life, and had pledged her loyalty to the clan shortly before dropping into unconsciousness. In addition, Katamoto requested that she be made to believe that this day, the 21st, was her birthday, as it was in a sense the “birth” of the new Gracia.
As she woke, Katamoto assured her that she had been healed, and also that a celebration had been arranged for her birthday in the castle. Though disoriented, Gracia seemed happy to see Shishauezaemon, whom she recognized as an old acquaintance, and went with him to the audience chamber.
There, the assembled dignitaries greeted and introduced themselves to her, including Matsumoto Ooawagaeri, who arrived shortly after with Goemon in tow. Sen no Rikyu appeared quite surprised that Gracia was now alive and moving again, and she quickly cast a spell to scan her being. Understanding immediately what Katamoto had done, she seemed willing to play along, and greeted the risen woman, congratulating her on her birthday.
Still confused, but happy to see everyone here for her, especially Yoshiyuki-hime, Gracia sat in her place of honor and enjoyed the party. The festivities were just beginning to rise when an ageing man, bearing a variety of cats on his person and with his arms full of sake bottles, burst through the door and joined in. Katamoto had had some dealings with this strange man, who seemed able to effortlessly arrive anywhere he wished, regardless of security, but he seemed harmless, and mostly interested in spreading joy and cats to those around him.
Okuni, however, immediately recognized the man, and fell backwards from her seat in surprise. The serene cat man, as it was revealed, was actually Nurarihyon, missing leader of the Hyakki Yagyo. He ignored all of the Hitotsume’s requests for him to return, however, and merely focused on enjoying the party with everyone, only stopping to ask Okuni not to tell Hitotsume-nyudo about his location or activities, as he’d be sure to get an earful later if she did.

Some time after the party had concluded, the tournament was ready to resume. First to face each other in the second round of the primary bracket were the mysterious armored swordswoman and Nakajo Kageyasu, the other Tengu general from the Uesugi. As before, Kageyasu began the fight by vanishing into the foliage about the arena, preparing for a sneak attack. Finding herself unable to track her opponent, the armored swordswoman stepped forward, drew her weapons, and closed her eyes, her breathing steady.
When Kageyasu flew from behind a rock, slamming her tonfa down onto her unaware opponent, the swordswoman’s ki reacted immediately, gathering at the site of the impact and absorbing the damage harmlessly before vanishing. She then turned and, with one, two quick slices, cut the Tengu from the air and sent her to the ground, unconscious.

The second fight pitted Baby “Babs” “Tea Bucket” “Nagatobimaru” Huey against Joguma-donyo, another Oni. Despite Huey’s size and obvious advantage in terms of resilience, the two seemed about evenly matched in strength, and, as they clashed, their blows shook the very earth when they connected. While Joguma-donyo had no problem slamming her umbrella into Huey at every opportunity, he was having a much harder time damaging his opponent. Any swings of his mighty kanabou that she did not block outright seemed to crash harmlessly off of her heavy armor. Though he managed to wound her more than her previous opponent, it became obvious that he would not be able to defeat this opponent, and so Baby Huey surrendered, giving respect to Joguma-donyo’s strength in combat.

Third in the second round of the primary bracket was Minamoto no Yoshitsune, facing Okuni of the Hyakki Yagyo. As in her previous match, Okuni began by teleporting away as Yoshitsune reached her, hiding in the nearby brush and waiting for an opportunity to strike. As the Kensei entered the foliage in an attempt to find her opponent, Okuni slammed her umbrella down forcefully on her head, inflicting a minor wound upon Yoshitsune before teleporting away once again. This time, however, upon landing lightly on the ground, her shoe came down upon a twig, cracking it and alerting her opponent to her position. Okuni was unable to move again before Yoshitsune was upon her, slashing three times with her glowing sword. Even as she held back her full strength, however, the Kensei’s strikes were too powerful, and, at the end of the barrage, Okuni lay on the ground, killed from the final blow.
Devastated by her accidental murder, Yoshitsune fell to the ground, lamenting Okuni’s death. Meanwhile, Hakutaku, well aware of what the death of Hitotsume-nyudo’s second daughter could mean for the Hashinara clan, gathered her energy and began to cast a spell reversing time in the girl’s immediate vicinity. Kobayakawa Hideaki, who had rushed out to weep over Okuni’s corpse, was the only other one affected as time reversed itself and Okuni was brought back to life mid-dodge.
She fell to the ground awkwardly and, as Ippondatara calmly explained what had happened, immediately withdrew from the fight, rattled by the knowledge that she had died moments earlier.

Before the fourth match could start, Aotsuki Tsukamoto was approached by Byouyuugan Aika, one of the upcoming fighters, who wanted to be swapped with Ryuuzaki Sanosuke so that she could fight Ooawagaeri. Finding it hard to resist such a charming and beautiful woman, Aotsuki happily agreed that he would do whatever he could, and the two sought out Todaisen Nobuhara, who arranged the tournament brackets. Nobuhara, similarly, found himself rather enchanted by the lovely Nekomata, and assented without hesitation to change the brackets.
He then made his way to Katsusada Shishauezaemon, and informed him of the change, stating that a clerical error had created a situation in which two Hashianara generals were to fight each other, and that Sanosuke should be switched with Aika in order to avoid this situation. Perplexed at this development, and perhaps more surprised that Nobuhara would make such an error, Katamoto inquired further, prompting the onmyouji head to explain in more depth. Sanosuke, also present, was staunchly against the idea of Ooawagaeri fighting Aika, as he had seen what she had done to Yokoji Masamitsu in her first match, and had presumably done to Nobuhara just moments ago.
Unable to find magic on his adviser, but doubting his motives nonetheless, Katamoto decided to uphold the current status quo against the change, under the justification that the brackets had already been announced, and it would not do to deceive the audience. Bowing, Nobuhara returned to Aika, and delivered the bad news. As enthralling as he found the woman, he was unwilling to go against a direct order from his lord for her.

Thus it was that Ippondatara and Byouyuugan Aika prepared to face each other in the fourth round. Before the fight could start, Aika began accumulating magic, in direct opposition to the rules. The illusory magic that cloaked her, however, made this impossible to observe, and indeed, caused it to appear as though Ippondatara was the one accumulating. Though Katamoto was able to see through the first illusion, and catch the Nekomata gathering magic, none of the other magically inclined individuals present were able to see anything, and he decided not to interfere.
Aika then cast a spell on Ippondatara preventing her from speaking the truth in any way. After a few false starts, the Youkai began pouting, while her golem, #12 spoke on her behalf, understanding his mistresses’ feelings through their empathic link. At this point, it was obvious that something was wrong, as Aika was eagerly and passionately accusing her opponent of cheating, while the golem denied such accusations.
Eventually, Katamoto, pretending it to be a message from Yoshiyuki-hime, ordered a halt to the fight, and stated that they would resume in an hour’s time, during which they would be carefully monitored by the greatest magical minds present at the tournament. Shortly after, he was also advised by Hakutaku that she had detected Aika changing everyone’s perceptions, and also by Sen no Rikyu, who consulted her tea leaves and came to the conclusion that Aika was skilled in Illusion magic, while Ippondatara had no such ability.
Katamoto stood by his command, despite Aika’s continued and increasingly frenzied accusations, which only stopped once #12 pointed out that such persistence in the face of a direct order from the Daimyo was itself suspicious. The tournament then went to the next round.

While the previous match had yet to be decided, the fifth fight was between Hakutaku and the pale martial artist, Jijage Koukou. As in her previous bout, Hakutaku sat calmly on her starting ring, seemingly meditating with her eyes closed, while Koukou rushed forward to attack. The martial artist probed her opponent’s defenses, each of her attacks thwarted by a magical shield which healed itself after every combination of blows.
Koukou then attempted to move behind Hakutaku and, finding no resistance, launched another flurry from there, hoping to catch the Youkai girl off guard. The shield surrounding her seemed to act independently of Hakutaku, however, and caught each blow effortlessly, preventing any harm from coming to the spellcaster, then repairing itself immediately.
After three such exchanges, Hakutaku finally turned and rose her staff, bright wisps of light shining from the head, then moving to envelop Koukou. When the flash died away, the martial artist was gone, seemingly vanished entirely.
Hakutaku went on to try to explain to the referee that Koukou had been sent several hours into the future, was unharmed, and would be back well in time for her next fight. Aotsuki, however, had some trouble with this concept. If the martial artist was several hours in the future, then where was she now? A minor debate erupted and, after a few attempts at explanation, Hakutaku eventually gave up, going back to meditating with a frown on her tiny face. After an offering from Sen no Rikyu, stating that the situation was no different from Hakutaku knocking her opponent unconscious for several hours, Katamoto agreed, and the match was decided in the Youkai girl’s favor.

Fujibayashi Nagato was next, and was scheduled to fight Akechi Mitsuhide. The masked man, however, failed to show at the venue. After some questions and a short time of waiting, the victory defaulted to Nagato.

Second to last in the original layout of the second round in the primary bracket was a much-anticipated battle between Benkei, wandering monk, and Huolian, Chinese magician. Like she had done in her match with Takasuke, Huolian began the fight by flying upward at speed. Benkei had, apparently, came prepared for this, however, and produced a huge longbow, as tall as her own self, as well as an accompanying buckler which she strapped to her arm. She then began firing arrows at an alarming rate, averaging one projectile a second up at Huolian, who was rapidly disappearing into the distance.
Each arrow hit home, but was deflected by Huolian’s shields, which she was forced to pour magic into at one point to prevent them from breaking. No matter how high the wizard ascended, it seemed that Benkei had no trouble matching her range, pulling back the bowstring of the massive weapon further than seemed humanly possible. Huolian returned the attack with a fireball of her own, but the missile splashed harmlessly off of Benkei’s buckler, raised to receive the attack.
After some time, it became a concern whether Huolian was actually still within bounds of the arena, as she had flown to almost a thousand feet in the air. One of Benkei’s arrows had caught her a significant wound, but she was still fit to continue fighting. Katamoto, once questioned, set the limit at a thousand feet upward, and both Baby Huey and Benkei made every attempt to convey this to Huolian before she ascended too far, but she proved unable to hear them from that far up.
Fortunately, she stopped just before hitting the limit, and flew above Benkei, gathering all her energy for a single massive fireball. The conflagration hit the monk’s shield, splashing around it, and singing Benkei, though not seriously wounding her. This huge spell meant, however, that Huolian had little magic left for her shield, and the third of Benkei’s next arrow barrage broke the barrier, shooting through the fragile wizard and killing her instantly.
As she saw her opponent falling, Benkei kicked off from the ground herself, flying under the power of her ki up to catch Huolian, then slowing both their descents gradually until they reached the ground. Upon finding her opponent dead, Benkei gravely set her down, held a length of prayer beads, and muttered a request to the gods for Huolian’s soul. The match was decided, and Katamoto ordered the wizard’s corpse to be recovered and prepared for transport back to China.

As soon as the match between Benkei and Huolian had been decided, Katamoto gave a surprise order for the battle between Ippondatara and Aika to begin early, Aotsuki grabbing the crowd’s attention with a flurry of round cards. #12 was quick to act, bursting forward in a surprising turn of speed to rush up to Aika. The Nekomata, meanwhile, was telling Aotsuki that Ippondatara had surrendered, a statement which he felt magically inclined to believe. The scene in front of him, however, with #12 punching Aika into unconsciousness, then holding up her body, seemed to contradict that, however, and so her refrained from giving any verdict until the confusion could be resolved.
His mistress still under Aika’s spells, #12 gave an ultimatum that, if the Hashinara could not find a way to undo them in two days, all the Youkai of the Hyakki Yagyo would descend upon the Nekomata. Katamoto was, fortunately, able to simply drain Aika of her remaining magic, leaving no fuel for her enchantments, and clearing a number of spells from the arena that no one had been aware of.
Ippondatara thanked him, now able to express herself properly again, and made a point of the fact that she had not killed the Nekomata, despite having great justification in doing so. Sen no Rikyu advocated the death of Aika nonetheless, as such an individual would be very dangerous regardless of circumstances, but Katamoto refused. He ordered the Nekomata to be taken away, and assigned a Kyonshi to keep her at very low levels of ki, forcing her to remain asleep until he had time to deal with her.

This now settled, the last fight of the round was to be between Matsumoto Ooawagaeri and Ryuuzaki Sanosuke. Not wanting Ooawagaeri to fall into the loser’s bracket, where he might still face Aika, Sanosuke moved forward, messaging his opponent mentally that he would be glad to throw the match in a spectacular way. Ooawagaeri, however, responded in the negative, desiring a true fight between the generals, an a real show for the audience. Indeed, the women in the audience, hearing part of the exchange, and admiring the men’s sweat-soaked and muscled bodies, seemed very eager to watch the match. Even Tsukijo no Yumeno, who had taken over as round girl to allow Aotsuki a break, seemed very interested in the chemistry between the two, watching them intently.
Ooawagaeri then leaped backwards, his weapons floating slowly around him, and kicked up a great wind, sending the sand before him bursting into the air in a screen that obscured vision. Sanosuke responded by bursting through the small sandstorm, rushing Ooawagaeri and grabbing the heavy ram dao sword which circled him slowly, bringing it to bear and cutting his opponent a minor wound.
Ooawagaeri teleported away from the conflict, reappearing on his enemy’s starting disk, and floating two body lengths into the air, arms crossed before him. Sanosuke, seeing that his opponent had vanished, brought forth his great strength, and ripped Ooawagaeri’s own starting disk from the ground, hurling the heavy stone plate at him. Though he attempted to block with his katana, Ooawagaeri was not prepared for such a projectile, and the leaden plate slammed into him, wounding him further and knocking him slightly off balance. He recovered quickly, however, and took a defensive stance as he accumulated more magic.
Not wasting any time, Sanosuke leaped forward, onto the rock on which the referee stood, and scooped Yumeno into his arms, calling out a challenge to Ooawagaeri to fight him while he held the girl, expertly dropping into the role of the villain for the fight.
Ooawagaeri responded by retrieving his fallen ram dao, the weapon flying across the arena to join those floating around him, and resuming his defensive stance, daring Sanosuke to attack him.
For his part, Sanosuke kicked off the rock, shifting the “fainted” Yumeno (who seemed only too pleased to go along with the flow of the match) to his shoulders while he picked up the fallen starting disk once again. As before, Ooawagaeri found his katana woefully unequipped to block the heavy circle, and the disk crashed into him, bringing him closer to the brink of defeat. Before it had hit the ground, however, he descended quickly, swinging his blade in an arc designed to hit Sanosuke’s shoulder around Yumeno, whom he had once again moved to his front like a shield.
In a sudden flash of insight, Sanosuke saw that the swing was unwieldy, and would connect with Yumeno herself if he let it continue, and so turned quickly, the attack glancing harmlessly off his back armor. Ooawagaeri followed the attack with another teleport, appearing behind a crumbling stone wall on the other side of the arena and using it as cover. As another stone disk struck it, however, hurled by Sanosuke opposite, the mortarless structure crumbled, crashing down on Ooawagaeri, who dodged out of the way of the worst of the stones, but still received a painful wound that made moving difficult.
He stood, and found that Sanosuke had vanished while he was distracted, likely hiding somewhere on the battlefield. Heavily wounded, and unable to devise a strategy to turn the fight around, Ooawagaeri lowered his head and announced his defeat.
Sanosuke appeared from behind the referee’s rock, and replaced Yumeno upon it, who miraculously woke from her faint just in time to announce the results of the match. With a declaration that they would meet again, Ooawagaeri flew backwards out of the arena, arms crossed at his front as his weapons spun around him.

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大会の始まり
Echizen, Yamato, Yamashiro, Setsu, Kii - 1559年10月16-19日

As he was preparing to return to Yamato province from his stint in Echizen, Hashinara Katamoto received a missive from Todaisen Nobuhara, the head priest of Todai-ji and self-appointed spymaster of the Hashinara clan. In it, Nobuhara detailed that the preparations for the tournament Katamoto had ordered were almost complete, and that participants had arrived from all across Japan to take part. In addition, a contingent from Ise province wished to see him when he returned, and reports of pirates troubled the waters between Awa and Kii.

While the clan’s Daimyo left Echizen, Ryuuzaki Sanosuke ordered Chosokabe Nobuchika to take several squads of samurai and to attack Harizono Yoshinatsu, who had granted the Oda contingent use of many of his troops, in the capital of Yamashiro. This she did, and captured the province with little in the way of casualties, killing Yoshinatsu in the process. She then took residence in the capital fortress, guarding the area against any incursions from Omi province to the east, currently ruled by the Oda clan.

A few days later, Katamoto once again entered Wakigami. He first met with Tsutsumi Houzan, brokering a deal with her by which she would enter the tournament alongside Baby Huey. Whichever of them lost first would be forced to join the organization of the other. That is, if Houzan won, Huey would join the Yamashiro Vigilante Association, and if Babs won, Houzan would have to join the Tea Bucket Men. Aware that the Vigilante Association was not a real group, and all the peasants who comprised it had long since gone home, Katamoto reasoned that this would cause Houzan to join the Hashinara regardless of the situation’s outcome. Houzan herself agreed to enter the tournament without hesitation.
Next, Katamoto had Sen no Rikyu brought forth. In his time away, Sanosuke had been able to determine that she was a powerful magician, expert tea master, and general to the Oda clan who had been sent to ensure Hosokawa Gracia‘s safe travel to Izumi province. As Rikyu entered the room, bound and gagged, Katamoto began gathering magic to cast a spell to drain her very soul, planning to bend her to his will. Just before he finalized the incantation, however, Rikyu’s bonds and gag fell to the floor and she herself cast a spell in an effort to tie Katamoto’s essence to her own, reflecting any state she suffered back onto him. Being a creature of substantial magical power, however, Katamoto resisted the spell, casting his own and successfully drawing out a portion of Rikyu’s soul, much to her discomfort.
He was, however, impressed that she was able to so easily break free and retaliate, and so decided to parlay with her rather than bring the tea master under his control by magical means. At this point, Matsumoto Ooawagaeri entered the room, bearing tea that he had brewed and distributing it to the generals present. Sen no Rikyu took one sip of hers, and one sip only, then placed it to the side and refused to look at Ooawagaeri for the remainder of the proceedings.
Through their talks, Rikyu and Katamoto came to an understanding by which she would aid him in resurrecting Ryuuzouji Masaie, who had perished in combat with the Oda in his absence, and, in return, he would not make any more attempts to devour her soul. Having been given the crystal containing Gracia’s soul by Huey, Katamoto had some inkling of what the tea master across from him could do. Without much alternative, and not wishing to undergo that magic once again, Rikyu accepted his deal.
Preparations were made for Katamoto, Rikyu, and a small delegation to travel to the battlefield in Yamashiro, where Masaie’s soul still lingered, in an attempt to capture it before it made its journey to Yomi. However, before he left, Katamoto deigned to meet with the delegation from Ise. Before they entered, Nobuhara warned that these individuals were very powerful, and perhaps not what he was expecting, so politeness and respect were to be encouraged.
Entering the room after him were three very strange individuals. The first looked like a young girl dressed in voluminous robes, but for the pair of long white horns extending from either side of her head. Under each horn, a bovine ear twitched, and a staff carved of bone and hung with various talismans rested upon her back. The second of the delegation was also girl, verging on being a young woman, wearing a fine dress and carrying a parasol; ordinary in all respects save for the single, large, crimson eye that dominated her face in place of the two a human would have. Last to enter was a woman who also bore a single crimson eye in the center of her head. Unlike the other, however, she had only a single leg, the other ending just above the leg, and tapering off into a thin wisp of curling blue smoke. This disability seemed to present her some difficulties in moving, but she carried herself with dignity regardless.
The three introduced themselves as Hakutaku, Okuni, and Ippondatara, respectively, and stated that they were representatives of the Hyakki Yagyo, an organization of Youkai currently based in Ise province. They had come to Yamato to participate in the tournament, as a result of Katamoto’s aggressive advertisement in Ise, and also to initiate relations between their own group and the Hashinara. Okuni did much of the speaking, while Katamoto and the other generals listened respectfully.
After some short discussions, Hakutaku and Okuni took their leaves, while Ippondatara stayed behind briefly to thank them for putting up with the latter, who would get upset if she were not the center of attention, before excusing herself and leaving as well.
Surprised by the appearance of these Youkai, but looking forward to what their presence would mean for the coming battles, Katamoto finalized preparations for the journey and set off for Yamashiro province.

Arriving at the battlefield, it was a simple thing for Sen no Rikyu to locate Masaie’s soul and transfer it into a gem, of which she had somehow procured several. She explained that the soul would be useless without an animate body to place it in, as placing it back into the Bakeneko‘s corpse would be essentially the same as containing it in the gem. Katamoto waved off her concerns, and the two traveled northwest into Setsu province.
Before they could make much progress toward Osaka, the Hashinara contingent was halted by a Bakeneko guard, who seemed furious at them and ordered them not to enter the province, or else it would be seen as an invasion and appropriate force would be employed. Confused by this sudden change in attitude from the Ryuuzouji clan, Katamoto spoke briefly to the Bakeneko, who was under strict orders not to listen to anything he said, before finally convincing a nearby samurai to deliver a message requesting a meeting to Ryuuzouji Matashichiro.
Eventually, the samurai returned, and stated that Matashichiro was willing to meet with them. With the Bakeneko still hissing and glaring at them, the Hashinara were led away and to a small tent which had been erected for the purpose. When the entered, they found only a grave-looking Matashichiro, who politely thanked them for coming, then officially presented her clan’s surrender.
Now even more perplexed, Katamoto inquired as to why she thought it necessary to surrender, as their clans were allies, and eventually learned that a man wearing Katamoto’s robes and mask, and speaking with his voice, had delivered a declaration of war to them several days previous. This troubled Katamoto, similar as it was to what had happened during the Igamono attack, and especially in light of the fact that Vengeance himself had recently vanished from Wakigami’s dungeons.
After some explaining, Katamoto was able to convince Matashichiro that the man delivering the notice was an impostor, and the true Hashinara clan had no desire to go to war with the Ryuuzouji. With her obvious relief, he continued to explain the real nature of their visit, and Matashichro agreed to have Masaie’s corpse brought into the room.
Once again waving aside Rikyu’s complaint that placing the soul into the dead body would do no good, Katamoto explained his plan to the Nekomata across, stating that he could revive Masaie but that she would be technically undead; unable to eat, sleep, or heal from wounds, but with her personality and memories unaltered. Seeing no downside, Matashichiro agreed, and Katamoto summoned his powers of necromancy, raising Masaie’s corpse at the same time as Sen no Rikyu directed her soul into the now-animate vessel.
Surprised to find herself on a table in the middle of Setsu after being “knocked out” in battle, Masaie was soon informed that she had been badly injured and that Katamoto and Rikyu had used powerful magics to heal her. These magics, so they said, would have some side effects, and she may not find herself sleeping or eating much in the next few days, as the power itself would sustain her. Matashichiro herself stayed quiet, glad to have Masaie back and not wanting to ruin the pleasant picture the two wizards had painted for her.
Their goal achieved, Katamoto soon excused himself and Rikyu and began the journey back to Yamato province. On the way, Katamoto informed Rikyu that she was still to be a prisoner, but that she would have some degree of freedom and would be able to move about as she wished. Asking if that meant that she could return to Owari province, then receiving a response in the negative, Rikyu decided to settle, for the moment, for watching the tournament alongside Katamoto.

Shortly after Katamoto returned once again to Wakigami, it was time for the tournament to begin. As his false identity, Katsusada Shishauezaemon, Katamoto had ordered for the tournament to be held to celebrate both the clan’s declaration of war upon the Oda, and his own adoption of both the ghostly and the revenant Ichinimiya Karens as his daughters. The ghostly Karen was overjoyed, as she had become quite attached to Katamoto during her travels with him and, while the corporeal Karen was still rattled by her father’s rejection, she too was happy to have found a place which would accept her.
The tournament itself would be held in four arenas at various places across the Yamato and Kii provinces. The ghost Karen would act as magical referee, to ensure that no participants with supernatural abilities altered the arena or gathered magical energy before the fight began. Meanwhile, Aotsuki Tsukamoto would be the more conventional referee, watching over the fight and declaring which party had won or lost. Battles were to unconsciousness or surrender, and killing was highly discouraged, though not actually against the rules.
Everything being in preparedness thanks to the efforts of Todaisen Nobuhara, and with Ryuuzaki Sanosuke working for security, the tournament officially began.

The first battle was a fight between Tsunawara Mishiko, bodyguard to the Daimyo of the Tanahase clan, and a mysterious armored swordswoman who had chosen not to give her name when registering. As the match commenced, the unnamed swordswoman drew her two blades, wielding one full-size katana in each hand, before moving up to Mishiko and launching a single attack. The bodyguard blocked the attack skillfully, although it seemed as though her opponent had not put her full strength behind it, and countered with a cut of her own. This, in turn, was blocked by the swordswoman, who took the opportunity to make a lightning-fast strike with her other katana, halting the blade an inch from Mishiko’s throat. Dropping her weapon, Tsunawara Mishiko surrendered, and the first bout went to the armored swordswoman.

Second into battle were the Hashinara clan’s own materialistic samurai, Yamanaka Yukimori, and a woman who had registered under the name of Nakajo Kageyasu. Kageyasu, as explained by Nobuhara and evidenced by the black crow-like wings on her back, was a Tengu, a race of humanoid Youkai rare in this area of Japan.
The battle began with Kageyasu using her superior speed and agility to vanish in the underbrush surrounding the bridge on which they battled. Realizing that he had lost sight of his opponent, Yukimori moved closer to the center of the bridge, taking up a guarded stance with his back to the edifice’s rail. Moving almost too quickly to track, Kageyasu slipped from the foliage and took flight on her wings, still unnoticed by her opponent, and rose up behind him above the river. Two strikes from her tonfa and the fight was over, with Yukimori collapsed on the ground unconscious. It was clear that Kageyasu had pulled her strength on the second blow, so that the samurai was merely knocked out, and not seriously wounded or killed.

The third match was between Baby “Tea Bucket” Huey and a samurai named Tanefuji Shinryu. Shinryu was a member of the Tea Bucket Men who had aided General Huey during his battle at Yamashiro province. Highly embarrassed at this new name, he entered the tournament in the hopes of earning a promotion out of the squad and the nickname that came with it. It was just his bad luck, however, to be fighting his commanding officer, who also happened to be a 15-foot tall undead Oni, in his first match.
Shinryu began the fight by firing several arrows from his longbow, each planting itself in Huey’s flesh but not seeming to do much to the giant Oni, while trying to keep distance between himself and his opponent. Babs soon caught up to him, however, and Shinryu abandoned the bow in favor of a katana, facing the monster in melee combat. Here, Tanefuji displayed a surprising amount of skill for a mere foot soldier, blocking attacks from Baby Huey’s massive kanabou and returning strikes of his own that cut deep into his opponent’s undead flesh. For a moment, it seemed as though Shinryu might even win, but then Huey landed a blow, and the result of the match became obvious. Skilled as Tanefuji was, Baby Huey could simply take an absurd amount of damage before showing any effects, and did not tire as a normal opponent would. A few strikes of the kanabou later and Shinryu was battered unconscious, though not seriously wounded, and General Baby Huey won the match.

Next into the ring were the ever-jovial Raizou of Goemon’s Bandits and a heavily-armored female Oni called Joguma-donyo. The two met in the center of the arena without hesitation, Raizou swinging his meaty fists, but with little effect on his opponent’s guarded form. In return, Joguma pummeled him with an umbrella-like weapon, landing each hit, but the bandit’s high level of stamina enabled him to keep fighting. As they exchanged blows, Raizou lamented that he was here in the tournament when he should be out on the town, as an exotic entertainer was in Wakigami performing Kabuki, his one true passion. To his surprise, Joguma was interested, and he managed to ask her out for that evening and get a response in the positive before she finally knocked him out, uninjured but impressed that he had managed to take that much punishment.

The fifth match was between Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the wandering swordswoman, who had been lured to the event in the hopes of reuniting with Benkei, and a woman of similar profession named Nanami. As the match began, Nanami rushed Yoshitsune, using her superior agility to dance around her defenses and strike her from behind. Despite the surprise attack, Yoshitsune was able to partially parry the blow with her glowing blade, Shichiseiken, and took only a minor wound. Her attack in response saw Nanami dodge the brunt of the assault, but also receive a cut. After several of these exchanges, with Nanami always appearing behind Yoshitsune, but the other swordswoman managing to avoid the worst of the situation and attacking in kind, it became obvious that, while both were wounded, Nanami was the worse off. In respect of Yoshitsune’s strength, she bowed out of the match and granted her the victory.

Sixth in the first round of the tournament was a match between two oddities. The first, a man calling himself Kobayakawa Hideaki, was very obviously a foreigner, with blonde hair and a strong accent, while his opponent was the Hitotsume, Okuni, leader of the Youkai delegation from the Hyakki Yagyo. While “Hideaki” at least appeared equipped for combat, with a hand crossbow and a saber, Okuni wielded only an umbrella.
Despite what the audience might have thought, the two seemed to have an immediate respect for each other, complimenting each other on their fashion sense and being complimented in turn. As they were about to meet for their first attacks, however, Okuni concentrated and seemed to vanish, reappearing in the bushes near the bridge they were fighting on, unknown to Prince Frederic Hideaki. Confused, he himself wandered into the same bushes and nearly stepped on her accidentally, firing his crossbow in surprise and tearing her dress with the arrow.
Rather than following up, Frederic seemed more concerned with the damage to the dress, and Okuni teleported away once again in a huff, reappearing once again further in the bush and hiding. Thinking she had escaped to another part of the arena, Kobayakawa left the brush and looked around one of the walls spanning the bridge, but was unable to find her. Meanwhile, Okuni crept from the bushes and came up behind him, landing a solid hit on the back of his head with her umbrella.
Though obviously in pain and annoyed, Prince Frederic was not seriously hindered, and made an attack in turn with his saber. While only slightly cutting Okuni, it once again shore through the fabric of her dress, and both fighters cried out in dismay. Okuni demanded that he take responsibility for the damages to her wardrobe, and the foreign man was quick to agree. He immediately escorted her out of the arena, and the two made for Wakigami’s merchant quarter. The confusing outcome to this match was eventually ruled as a victory for Okuni.

Following the odd match between Prince Frederic Charles of Prussia and the Hyakki Yagyo’s Okuni, Hashinara Katamoto was approached by Todaisen Nobuhara, who informed him that a group of strange individuals had requested an audience with him. They claimed to have knowledge of the Kobayakawa Hideaki character who had entered the tournament, and so Katamoto acquiesced, taking Aotsuki, Sanosuke, and Ooawagaeri with him to the audience chamber.
Entering the chamber shortly after them were five children, young girls, all of whom were wearing clothes of a familiar, but somewhat odd cut, and who spoke with surprising eloquence despite their ages. They introduced themselves as Harada Sanosuke, Okita Souji, Todo Heisuke, Hijikata Toshizou, and Kondou Isami; members of a law-enforcement group called the Shinsengumi who were after Kobayakawa Hideaki for crimes committed in Bungo province.
Thinking this must be a game the children were playing, but still curious about what they knew regarding the strange foreign man, Katamoto played along for a time. According to them, Hideaki was what Okita Souji referred to as a “scumbag” who had traveled with them here from a different land. They had entered Japan under the agreement that they would not do anything to disrupt the area or its politics, and yet Hideaki, who also went by the name Frederic Charles, had challenged the original Kobayakawa Hideaki, Daimyo of Bungo, to a duel and killed him in front of hundreds of people. He then took the original man’s name and declared himself Daimyo, a blatant breach of their rules.
Not convinced that this was actually an issue, Katamoto responded that this duel and manner of succession was perfectly legal under the Shogunate, an assertion which Nobuhara was able to confirm. He had also heard word of the duel in question, adding some validity to the Shinsengumi’s story.
Unable to stress the significance of his actions any other way, Kondou Isami finally broke forth with their true story. According to her, the Shinsengumi had traveled through time here from hundreds of years in the future, alongside Prince Frederic and a woman named Kaguya, who possessed the means of such travel. Harada Sanosuke continued that a malfunction had occurred upon their arrival in Tsuwamono-era Japan, regressing the Shinsengumi into children, and effectively stranding them there until Kaguya could figure out a way back. As they were from the future, they were very worried about the consequences Prince Frederic’s actions might have on their own timeline, and this was why it was so essential that they bring him to heel.
Katamoto naturally found their story somewhat hard to believe, but he did sense a strong aura of magic around them, and one linked to the manipulation of time. He was not willing to commit to the capture of Hideaki, but did wish to hear the other side of the story from the man, and so he agreed to allow the Shinsengumi to bring him back to the castle for another hearing. The children gratefully agreed, but stated that it would be best for them to have a guide who knew the city. Hijikata Toshizou thought that Aotsuki, in particular, would be perfect for this role, and so he was soon volunteered to go with the group in search of Prince Frederic.

With Aotsuki leading the way, the Shinsengumi entered the mercantile quarter of Wakigami in search of Prince Frederic. The man himself was not hard to find, bickering loudly with a clothing merchant in one of the main thoroughfares, with Okuni at his side. The children urged Aotsuki forward to distract him while they spread out to surround the street and block all avenues of escape. Somewhat reluctantly, he entered the street and hailed Frederic, who even now was complaining loudly that these goods were of no quality for a lady like Okuni.
While surprised to see Aotsuki, Hideaki recognized him as the round girl referee from the tournament, whose fashion sense and style he had admittedly been admiring. When Aotsuki cautioned that the man next to her was a criminal, Okuni was quick to run to his side instead, perhaps also eager to gain the attentions of so handsome a specimen.
While Prince Frederic was busy being affronted at Aotsuki’s accusations, the Shinsengumi were in position and ready to strike. Before they could act, however, Charles spotted Okita Souji, hiding badly behind a corner, and was put on his guard. Sensing that their chance for surprise was gone, Kondou Isami ordered the charge, and the Shinsengumi surrounded Hideaki, intent on bringing him to justice, by force if necessary. Prince Frederic himself, however, was more inconvenienced than anything, his opponents all being children, though he seemed genuinely afraid of the food that Okita Souji had found somewhere and was bringing dangerously close to his fine clothing.
While the Shinsengumi struggled to bring Frederic down, Aotsuki explained the situation rationally, and asked him to come to the castle to discuss it with the Daimyo. Charles responded in turn that he would certainly be willing to, but Okuni quickly interrupted that the issue with her dress had not yet been resolved. Resignedly, Aotsuki called Tsukijo Hanahane on the mental network, and asked for his help. Delighted to have been hailed, and by Aotsuki of all people, Hanahane responded that he would drop everything and be in Wakigami the next day to handle the fashion emergency personally. Aotsuki, in turn, tried to explain that this was not necessary, but Hanahane would not be deterred, and was already making the arrangements.
With his fate in that area sealed, Aotsuki explained that an expert was being brought in for Okuni, before gathering up the two fashionistas and the five children and returning to the castle.

Meanwhile, the tournament continued after a short break. Due to Aotsuki’s absence in dealing with the Shinsengumi, Tsukijo no Yumeno was appointed as interim round girl, much to the excitement of the many men in the crowd.
She presided over the seventh fight of the first round, a battle between Ippondatara of the Hyakki Yagyo and a Bakeneko from Setsu named Muchimaro Masuyo. According to Nobuhara, Masuyo was actually one of the two remaining survivors from that Bakeneko squad which had been destroyed by Hosokawa Gracia and Saru in the first battle of Yamashiro province.
As they entered the ring, it became obvious that Ippondatara was not intending to fight alone. Accompanying her was an enormous golem, its body wrought of rough stone, connected at the joints by blue flames of the same color as that which replaced its master’s leg. Sensing that going head to head with this creature was a poor option, Masuyo instead opted to make her way quickly into a tree around the arena’s exterior, hiding within its brush while she waited for an opportunity to close the distance.
While she did not know her opponent’s exact location, Ippondatara had seen Masuyo duck into the brush in that direction, and so she conjured a huge fireball, sending it blasting into the tree’s branches and obliterating the Bakeneko’s cover. Masuyo herself avoided most of the damage, but was forced to rush forward into new cover even as Ippondatara brought forth a new fireball. Eventually, however, she was able to brave the assault long enough to place herself at her opponent’s back, with the Youkai unaware of her presence. A slash from her long claws overcame Ippondatara’s shield, but, despite the accuracy of the attack, bit only slightly into her flesh. Slashing the Youkai’s flesh was like trying to cut into stone.
At this point, Ippondatara unleashed the magic she had been gathering, in an attempt to turn Masuyo temporarily to stone, thus ending the match but, much to her surprise, the Bakeneko resisted the spell, pushing through its energies to launch another attack. This strike was blocked by the huge arms of the golem, which had placed its limbs above Ippondatara in a defensive stance, ready to guard her against attack.
The Youkai lashed out again with her psychic power while she gathered more magic, but once again, Masuyo shrugged the assault off and kept attacking. Despite this display of fortitude, however, she was having some difficulty bypassing the golem long enough to get to Ippondatara, and was thwarted by the other’s shield when she did so. Eventually, on the understanding that attacks on her opponent’s spirit were not going to be successful, the Spirit of the Forge poured all the magical energy she had gathered into the ground itself, summoning an array of six stone spears which jut from the earth violently, attempting to spear Masuyo.
The Bakeneko was able to dodge the first, and the second, but the third caught her a solid blow, and the remaining three speared through her form, leaving her impaled form hanging limply among them. This being the first death of the tournament, the crowd was somewhat shocked. Ippondatara herself seemed only disappointed that she was unable to end it without resorting to such violent methods.
Katamoto had been ready for this eventuality, however, and a group of Miko rushed to the field, carrying Masuyo’s “injured” body away to the laboratories below the castle, where he and Sen no Rikyu worked together to bring the Bakeneko back to action as an undead creature. As with Masaie, Masuyo retained all her memories and personality, and was merely told that she had been badly wounded, and healed by magic that might have some side effects.

The next fight was to be between Yokoji Masamitsu, once captain of the guard for Wakigami Castle, and a Nekomata named Byouyuugan Aika. Despite the lack of action that had come his way in recent months, Masamitsu seemed somewhat confident, and was eager to see if his personal training had paid off.
As Yumeno began the fight, Aika moved forward and into Yokoji’s view, causing him to pause in shock. She was, to him, simply the most beautiful woman he had ever set eyes upon. With a simple request from her, he happily set down his weapon, forfeited the match, and left the arena, Nekomata in tow.

A subsequent match found one of the Hashinara’s favorite undead bodyguards, Umashiashikabihikoji, battling against Hakutaku from the Hyakki Yagyo delegation. The Kyonshi began the fight by generating her energy claws from one voluminous sleeve, then dashing across the field to where her opponent sat at the starting point, seemingly meditating and drawing in large amounts of magic. Umashiashikabihikoji brought her weapon down in a brutal slash but, with a flash of sparks and sudden burst, her attack was thrown backward by a magical shield which had appeared around Hakutaku. The screen of energy had developed an array of cracks from the strike, but they were beginning to heal even before the Kyonshi could launch another attack.
Soon, the Youkai’s preparations were complete, and Hakutaku opened her eyes, directing her bone-carved staff at her opponent. A serpent of crackling darkness twined around its shaft, rearing its black head and striking Umashiashikabihikoji in the shoulder with its fangs. In an instant, the Kyonshi fell to the ground, completely inert, all of the undead life gone from her body.

Next into the ring were Tsukuda Katsuo, of the Iga Ninja, and a pale martial artist named Jijage Koukou. Koukou began the fight by creating several ki-fueled doubles of herself, all of which took on the same fighting stance. Advancing, Katsuo hit one with a dart of energy fired from his blade, causing it to explode in a puff of smoke and vanish. The others advanced, but it was obvious that their skill was not at the same level as that of their creator, and he was easily able to dodge the first attack, relocating himself upon a nearby wall through use of his substitution technique.
One by one, the doubles fell, by the real Koukou proved to be a more difficult opponent. Using a style incorporating several different martial arts, she was able to push Katsuo to the brink of defeat, while he was unable to land a solid hit on her. Not wishing to endanger his own safety, and thus his usefulness as a ninja, he soon conceded the match.

The next match was one which had been highly anticipated by certain members of the crowd. Tsutsumi Houzan, self-proclaimed captain of the Yamashiro Vigilante Association, was to fight Fujibayashi Nagato, current leader of the famous Iga Ninja. Houzan’s defensive skill was well built up in rumors, while Nagato had a history of defeating her opponents in a single blow.
As the fight began, Nagato ducked away from the starting position and into the brush around the edges of the arena, hiding herself from Houzan, who was unable to track her. For her part, the Tsutsumi Kensei put up a defensive position, and waited patiently for her opponent’s inevitable attack. Seconds later, Nagato burst from the brush and launched a strike on Houzan’s back with both of her kama. Anticlimactically, the attack took Houzan completely by surprise, and both blade buried themselves deep into her back, sending her falling to the ground, immediately unconscious, and granting the win to Nagato.

Fighting each other after were a mysterious masked swordsman, known by Katamoto to be a member of the Oda clan, and a local noblewoman by the name of Midorikawa no Moukin-hime. As the match began, Moukin-hime’s hawk, a fine specimen called Amadeus, took flight and launched a diving assault on the masked man. The swordsman managed to block the strike, but only just, and quickly cast a spell on himself, muttering the incantation under his breath, which rendered him invisible to enemy eyes.
With that, he began making his way north, hoping to cut around the large ruins which dominated the center of the arena and catch Moukin-hime by surprise. Amadeus was not fooled for long, however, and soon saw through the illusion, once again diving at the masked man and empathically warning his mistress of his location. Now aware that his position was compromised, the man dodged a few potshots from his opponent’s bow, then cast another spell which created eleven illusory duplicates around him, making it near impossible to discern which was the real one.
Once again, however, Amadeus was able to use his keen vision to narrow down his options for attack, and launched a strike at what he thought was the true opponent. This was revealed to be merely an illusion, however, which dissipated when the bird’s talons cut through it.
Still unable to see her enemy, but informed of his position by her hawk, Moukin-hime began edging around the ruins in the opposite direction as the masked man advanced, still muttering incantations under his breath. Again and again the bird attacked, each time cutting through an illusion without his claws finding purchase on the swordsman’s flesh. As Moukin-hime backed herself into the southwestern corner of the arena, near where her opponent had started, the bird came to a distressing realization. Taking a closer look, he felt with some certainty that none of the masked figures advancing on his mistress were real, all of them being mere illusions.
At the same time, an invisible blade cut deep into Moukin-hime’s back, sending her corpse to the ground, dead from the unseen blow. Amadeus went into a frenzy, but was still unable to locate the killer through his magic, and so the match went to the masked stranger.

A short time later, Katamoto and Sen no Rikyu raised Moukin-hime as they had with Masuyo. The woman was shaken from her experience, and decided to opt out of the remainder of the tournament. In thanks for saving her “life” she also agreed to help Katamoto with the binding of a summoned creature to a weapon sometime in the near future.

The next match was between the wandering monk, Benkei, and Chosokabe Kanetsugu, who had entered the tournament in hopes of drawing the attentions of Matsumoto Ooawagaeri. Without preamble, the two clashed in the center of the sandy arena, Benkei wielding two large maces she had produced from somewhere on her outfit, while Kanetsugu watched and waited for an opportunity to counter her strikes. While the monk’s strength would normally have made her an ideal opponent for Kanetsugu, who specialized in using her opponent’s force against them, Benkei was simply too skilled, and the Kyonshi was unable to find any openings through which to launch a counterattack.
Eventually, after several exchanges, Kanetsugu finally fell, and Benkei emerged victorious.

Fighting after Benkei and Kanetsugu were Tsuchimi Takasuke, Daimyo of Kawachi, and a magician from China registered as Huolian. When the match began, Huolian flew into the air, and Takasuke immediately forfeited, stating that he was far too old to deal with anything like that.

In the second to last match of the first round, Matsumoto Ooawagaeri found himself fighting Go-Shirakawa Teishi, the other surviving Neko member of the squad in Yamashiro. Unlike her companion Muchimaro Masuyo, Teishi was a full Nekomata, and skilled in magic.
As the match began, Ooawagaeri approached cautiously, while Teishi ran to take cover under the northernmost tree.
Unknown to her, this was the tree which had been fried by Ippondatara’s fireball in one of the preceding matches, and the merest touch from Teishi caused the branches to fall in a resounding crash, leaving her in the open and directing Ooawagaeri’s attention directly to her.
The Black Blade of Doom continued approaching, using trees and rocks as cover, while Teishi, recovering from her surprise, used her magical abilities to summon a variety of animals to protect her. Two burly gorillas stood guard on either side of the Nekomata, while a swarm of eagles descended on her opponent.
Suddenly finding himself in the center of a constricting whirlwind of claws and beaks, Ooawagaeri suffered a variety of wounds before he was able to coat himself in a thin membrane of water. While not thick enough to act as armor, the water acted as a barrier preventing the small attacks from the eagles from getting through and wounding him.
So protected, he then teleported himself directly above Teishi, who was crouched behind the fallen tree’s trunk, and hung there in the air, upside down, with his blade to her throat. There it should have ended, but Teishi miraculously dodged away from the blade, and cast a spell on her opponent’s spirit, inflicting a form of paralyzation upon Ooawagaeri. The Black Blade of Doom began floating aimlessly upward, but before he passed too far, he himself cast a spell sucking all the air out of the arena, save for that small amount which surrounded Yumeno, who continued to oversee the match.
Unable to fight or cast spells without air, and with her eagles unable to fly without wind under their wings, Teishi sat pouting under a rain of birds flopping to the earth and eventually surrendered.
To the assembled crowd, it seemed that Ooawagaei had teleported his blade to within inches of Teishi’s neck, but had been unable to bring himself to kill the young girl, and so had cast his air spell and then gone to sleep in complete confidence that he had won the match. Only Katamoto, and Baby Huey, who was sent to retrieve the floating general, knew the truth.

Final in the matchups for the first round of the tournament were Ryuuzaki Sanosuke, general and strategist to the Hashinara, and Nakajo Fujikasuke, another Tengu and Nakajo Kageyasu’s sister. As Yumeno called the fight to a start, Fujikasuke readied her quarterstaff and moved with blinding speed to Sanosuke’s side, swinging at him in a swift arc. Her opponent, who had not yet unsheathed his nodachi, blocked the attack with his arms, then grabbed the staff himself, surprising Fujikasuke, and tore it from her grasp. He threw it into the bushes behind them, and then readied to draw his weapon, inquiring if his opponent still had the will to fight.
Now more impressed and bemused than surprised, Fujikasuke dropped into a martial artist’s stance and answered in the affirmative, striking Sanosuke with a pair of blinding strikes that, while not very damaging, resulted in a pair of painful bruises across his abdomen. In response, he drew his nodachi and swung twice. Despite his strength, the weapon caught only empty air as the Tengu sidestepped the attacks, then answered with two of her own. It was obvious now that Sanosuke was heavily wounded and growing exhausted from the repeated strikes, and it seemed obvious that Fujikasuke would win in the next exchange.
With a might roar, however, Sanosuke slammed his foot down on the stone starting plate, causing it to buckle under the strength of his blow and sending the opposite side crashing into Fujikasuke’s solar plexus. Following this, he shoved his shoulder into the now nearly-vertical plate, crashing it into the Tengu and smashing her arm in the process, rendering it a bloody, unusable mess.
Now just as bloodied, and beginning to tire herself, with the added hindrance of a useless limb, Fujikasuke readied herself for a final attack, challenging Sanosuke to survive as she put all her remaining energy into the strength. When it came, the attack was lightning-quick, and it seemed her good arm would spear directly through her opponent’s chest, but Sanosuke’s nodachi came up with preternatural speed, managing to barely, miraculously, deflect the blow.
He nodded to her in respect, stating that she had done well and could rest now. Convinced by his manner, Fujikasuke acceded, and dropped into his arms, unconscious. Sanosuke was just able to claim his own victory before he too dropped into a deep sleep, leaving the two fighters collapsed together on the floor.

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将軍の死に方
Various - 1559年09月25日-10月16日

Following his clan’s victory in Tosa province, Hashinara Katamoto met with the Ooeyama-doji and discussed the battle. Hoshikuma-doji was chosen to search for the missing Chosokabe Morichika, and found her soon after in the wastelands near the ruins of Nankoku, but she simply teleported away again before they could close. Torakuma-doji handled the negotiations with Katamoto, and the Oni army soon returned to the Mori lands to report to their Daimyo.
Once the political matters had been settled and the area scouted, Katamoto himself entered the ruined hulk of the city and made his way to a room filled with the remains of those who had fallen victim to the Chosokabe. Having his ninja stealthily bring the skeleton of the Ichinomiya princess he had claimed previously inside, he set about resurrecting her. When the risen Ichinomiya Karen awoke, Katamoto explained that he had found her in the ruins of the Chosokabe capital to the west, wounded but alive, and had healed her with magic. Acceding to her wishes to see her father, he promised to deliver her to Ise on their return to the mainland.
The Hashinara army sent Aotsuki Tsukamoto to Nishiuwa Matsutake as a messenger, and he was able to negotiate a truce despite the Daimyo’s previous apprehensions. The Nishiuwa clan agreed to keep an eye on Tosa in their absence as the Hashinara troops withdrew and prepared to return to Yamato province. As agreed beforehand, Motoyama Tsugutoshi took two squads of samurai and returned to Sanuki, where she would govern as a vassal Daimyo and attempt to rebuild her ruined holdings.
Tosa itself was quarantined as a dangerous area, with only a few squads of ashigaru left to guard it. Redevelopment was encouraged, but restricted to the eastern portion of the province, far away from the mysterious black rocks filled with void essence. Several of said rocks were broken into samples, to be returned to Wakigami for research.

Upon the army’s successful return to Yamato, Hashinara Katamoto oversaw the recruiting of two new generals to aid with the management of their new holdings. A seasoned trader and associate of Tsukijo Hanahane, Juntoku no Chukyo was chosen to act as Bugyo of Awa, and oversee its rebuilding. In addition, a woman of low birth, but unrivaled skill in the sciences, one Sarutaba Chino, was hired to be head of the clan’s research and development, starting with the containment and possible weaponization of the mysterious black void stones recovered from Tosa.
Katamoto himself then left for Ise province, Ichinomiya Karen in tow, to return her to her father, the Daimyo of the Ichinomiya clan. Upon arrival, he was halted at the gate by the head priest, named Matsumashita Daiki, and told that he could not enter with the Nue, which he had taken as a kind of pet, on his shoulder. Acceding, he passed the creature to Kamimusubi and entered with only himself and Karen.
To his surprise, Katamoto discovered that Ichinomiya Hachiro not only knew of his daughter’s whereabouts, but was haunted by her ghost, an apparition that only Katamoto and Hachiro could see within the chamber. This made him naturally suspicious of the creature that the Hashinara Daimyo had brought before him, claiming to be his daughter, and he ordered Daiki to banish it. By the use of some timely illusion magic by the ghost Karen, who had become rather infatuated with her other self, however, they were able to escape, and Katamoto was officially exiled from the province.
On his return trip, he discovered that the ghostly Karen had chosen to accompany him, having grown bored of only her father’s company for the past twenty years. Bemused by his new companion, Katamoto said nothing and allowed her to follow back into the castle.

When he returned to Yamato, Katamoto was told that an envoy from the Shogunate, sent to inquire regarding the Hashinara’s aggressive conquest of the Chosokabe, would be arriving later that day. A rather efficient administrator, who no one had seen around before but knew his job well, had already handled the arrangements for the envoy’s arrival and set up a series of checkpoints for his safe delivery to the castle.
Noting this, Katamoto decided to spend his time until the envoy arrived speaking with Vengeance, who was still incarcerated in the dungeons beneath the fortress. Vengeance was as recalcitrant as ever with his responses, and still refused to join the Hashinara, but seemed more sure of himself, and hinted at having a plan to bring Katamoto’s clan down, a goal which he seemed to see as his new purpose in life.
Worrying that Vengeance’s machinations may have something to do with the Shogunate envoy’s visit, Katamoto ordered Umashiashikabihikoji to remain in the dungeon with him, and to drain his ki regularly, leaving him on the edge of consciousness.
Later in the day, the envoy arrived at the city on time, and reached the first checkpoint, but failed to arrive at the second. Katamoto wasted no time in arranging a squad composed of himself, Matsumoto Ooawagaeri, Aotsuki Tsukamoto, Kamimusubi, the administrator who had set up the checkpoints, and Yoshiktaka Hitsuie for his tracking ability, and making his way to the noble quarter to investigate the man’s disappearance himself.
A search of the area and questioning of the nearby servants of noble houses revealed that the envoy had been seen in the area, and had left with an important looking group away from his predetermined route. Hitsuie was able to follow the retinue’s tracks down a side alley, at which point the group was attacked by a group of Igamono insurgents who had been waiting in ambush.
Already prepared for battle, the Hashinara generals fought off the initial attack and killed the enemy ninja after a brief struggle. The administrator, who revealed himself as an Igamono himself when he attempted to kill Katamoto from behind, was slain with an arrow in the forehead by Hitsuie, earning him some measure of respect from the other generals there. Rather than falling to the ground, the administrator disappeared in a rough blast of smoke, leaving no trace but the single arrow falling to the ground.
Fearing that even more enemy ninja may be lying in wait for them at the destination of the tracks, Katamoto called for backup over the clan’s neural network, and the group was joined by Ryuuzaki Sanosuke and Fujibayashi Nagato. Following the trail, they arrived at the Tsukijo family’s manor. Tsukijo Hanahane was away acting as the Bugyo of Kii province, but his daughter should have been still present, so the emptiness of the manor and her absence were troubling.
After some searching, the party found a trapdoor leading into an underground storeroom, and were there met with the bound and gagged form of Tsukijo no Yumeno in the back. Stepping from the shadows was a man dressed in the exact robes that Katamoto wore, with the same mask, and even the same voice. The mysterious impostor revealed that he had already met with the Shogunate’s envoy and had sent him on his way after telling him, in forceful terms, not to interfere in the Hashinara clan’s business.
The political ramifications, should the envoy return to Echizen province with the message, were obvious. Fujibayashi Nagato, striking from the shadows, was able to kill the Katamoto impostor with a single strike, causing him to burst into smoke and vanish as well. Yumeno, who had managed to get to her feet, stumbled toward Aotsuki in an apparent gesture of thanks, but something in her gait put the party on guard. Nagato noticed that rather than being bound behind her, Yumeno’s hands clutched a katana, and she seemed intent on attacking Katamoto when she drew close enough. This impostor was defeated as quickly, and once again vanished into a puff of smoke.
Before the group could leave, a larger group of Igamono burst from the darkness of the storeroom, and a short but bloody battle ensued. Ooawagaeri found himself surrounded, but was teleported to safety by a surprise appearance from Chosokabe Morichika. Aotsuki Tsukamoto was knocked unconscious, and, to the assembled generals’ horror, a surprise attack by one of the ninja cut Hashinara Katamoto’s head clean from his shoulders. Taking command, Ryuuzaki Sanosuke managed to control the situation and lead them to a bloody victory without any more casualties.
The real Tsukijo no Yumeno was found in a barrel, tied with ropes and gagged but otherwise unharmed, and explained that the Igamono had taken control of the estate and met with the Shogunate’s envoy in the cellar. Thanking her, the group informed Tsukijo Hanahane of his daughter’s situation, and returned to Wakigami.
Aotsuki Tsukamoto, upon his recovery, was sent to intercept the messenger before he could relay the false Katamoto’s message to the Shogunate, while Ooawagaeri retired with a group of bodyguards and Katamoto’s corpse to Isonokami shrine to the south. In a ritual lasting three days, he would be able to revive the Daimyo and return him to his previous undead state.

Meanwhile, Ooawagaeri found himself in a modest blacksmith’s shop in the trade quarter of Wakigami. Morichika, who had been staying here while in hiding, introduced him to a man named Masamune, the owner of the shop and self-proclaimed best swordsmith in Japan. The two spoke for a short time, Masamune taking a particular interest in Jigenmaru, until Morichika, having developed something of an affection for Ooawagaeri, if just to spite Chosokabe Kanetsugu, implored him not to divulge her location to the rest of the generals, a request to which he agreed.

North of Wakigami, Aotsuki caught up with the envoy from the Shogunate just as he was about to pass into Yamashiro province. The messenger, an unimpressive man with a mustache named Matsutada Tadamatsu, originally mistook Aotsuki’s intentions, and called upon his guard to protect him from the Hashinara thugs here to finish the job they had started in the city.
Accompanying Tadamatsu was a young woman in red clothing with a long blade at her hip and a strange, archaic accent. Once Aotsuki cleared up the misunderstanding, and informed Tadamatsu that he had been kidnapped by an impostor, she introduced herself as Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a wandering swordswoman who had come across Tadamatsu and agreed to protect him for his journey back to Echizen.
Somewhat mollified, Matsutada gave Aotsuki his real message to deliver to the Hashinara Daimyo. According to it, the Shogunate had taken a dim view to their aggressive conquest of the Chosokabe, regardless of their reasons, but would be willing to overlook this if they lent their aid to the nearby Hosokawa clan. The Hosokawa had been forced out of their home in Osaka, Setsu province, by an upstart clan calling themselves the Ryuuzouji, an organization not recognized by the Japanese government.
The Hashinara were to meet with Hosokawa Fujitaka, the Hosokawa Daimyo, as earliest as they were able, and aid him in reclaiming Setsu. Aotsuki thanked the envoy, and began to take his leave, but, before he could, Yoshitsune called for him to keep a look out for a wanderer named Benkei, a servant from whom she had been separated.

Upon hearing the news, Ryuuzaki Sanosuke, who had taken over command in the absence of Katamoto, sent Aotsuki out once again to speak to the Daimyo of Yamashiro, in an attempt to gain his aid against the Ryuuzouji. He himself then traveled to Kawachi province to the west, and met with Tsuchimi Takasuke, who had been their ally in many fights in the past.
Takasuke was less willing to help in this instance, as the Ryuuzouji presented no direct threat to him, and the hypothetical scenarios Sanosuke presented left him plenty of opportunity to act if it proved necessary. He agreed to lend his forces to the Hashinara, but only for a price, albeit somewhat reduced from his normal mercenary rates. Thanking him, but uninterested in hiring the clan, Sanosuke returned to Yamato.
Aotsuki’s negotiations did not fare much better, as Harizono Yoshinatsu, the Daimyo of Yamashiro, saw little reason to actively engage the Ryuuzouji. The Harizono, he explained, had been tasked with the protection of Yamashiro, and he would guard it whenever it became necessary, from the Ryuuzouji or whoever else, but this duty did not include uprooting his troops and taking the battle to the doorstep of a clan that may very well not wish him any harm.
When Aotsuki and Sanosuke had both regained Wakigami castle, Ooawagaeri’s ritual had been completed, and he too returned with a newly-resurrected Hashinara Katamoto in tow. After being brought up to date on the events he had missed, Katamoto decreed that a contingent of the Hashinara army would travel to Setsu province and see this Ryuuzouji clan themselves. If necessary, they would then defeat them and report to Hosokawa Fujitaka, but Katamoto was open to other options depending on what they were to find. Preparations were made, and Ishikawa Goemon was sent to scout ahead, but was captured shortly after entering Osaka castle.

A few days’ march later, the Hashinara forces entered into Setsu province, and were almost immediately met with a samurai messenger. The man explained that the Ryuuzouji would defend themselves if necessary, but had no desire to fight the Hashinara, and wished to arrange a meeting of generals instead. Katamoto agreed, and took his most trusted subordinates as well as the Nue to the parley tent the Ryuuzouji had set up between their forces.
Waiting for them were two young women and a girl, all with what could only be described as lifelike cat ears sprouting from their heads. Attending them were several other individuals with the same ears and cat tails, a race of Youkai both Sanosuke and Katamoto were able to identify as Bakeneko.
The three introduced themselves as Ryuuzouji Masaie, Takanobu, and Matashichiro respectively. Takanobu, the smallest of the three, but apparently also the Daimyo, attempted to do most of the talking, but her mastery of Japanese was somewhat lacking, and she had to be helped at many points by Matashichiro, who proved herself quickly to be the most intelligent of the operation.
Meanwhile, Ryuuzouji Masaie spoke only rarely, and spent most of her time glaring daggers at Sanosuke from across the table. She seemed to harbor some real anger toward him, though Sanosuke could not guess why.
Takanobu, and sometimes Matashichiro, explained that the Ryuuzouji clan had been formed by Bakeneko from around the Osaka area and beyond in order to claim vengeance for the capture and trafficking of one of their own. Hosokawa Fujitaka, it seems, had taken one of their number, a girl called Ryouka, and hastily adopted her as his own daughter before marrying her off to Tokugawa Ieyasu in order to gain more political pull with the Tokugawa clan. Their marriage was to be scheduled for two months hence. Not seeing any way to fight the Tokugawa without an organization of their own, the other Bakeneko came together for revenge, and the Ryuuzouji clan was born.
The Hashinara present sympathized with the Ryuuzouji’s motives, and Katamoto decided then to aid them against the Hosokawa, the Tokugawa and, by extension the Oda, regardless of the political ramifications this may cause with the Shogunate. Takanobu and Matashichiro seemed relieved to hear his decision, though Masaie still did not seem to trust them. She continued directing anger at Sanosuke throughout. Matashichiro then made a point of returning Goemon to them, the ninja encased in a thick coating of ice, but otherwise unharmed when she was thawed out.
Together with the Ryuuzouji, Katamoto hatched a plan. First, they made it seem as though their meeting had gone awry and a battle had broken out between the generals, a task which the ghostly Ichinomiya Karen was all too happy to help out with using her illusion magic. Then, the Hashinara traded Ooawagaeri into the Ryuuzouji’s care in exchange for Matashichiro, who would be a faux hostage to bring before Hosokawa Fujitaka.
They would then convince Fujitaka to surrender, and possibly replace him with a more complacent version courtesy of Katamoto’s spells. This would take the Hosokawa out of the picture without overtly harming the Hashinara’s image in the eyes of the Shogunate. From there, the two clans could cooperate to face against the Oda and the Tokugawa.
Takanobu and Matashichiro were in favor of this plan, but Masaie raised a complaint. She would not be satisfied unless Fujitaka were killed, preferably in as painful a way as possible. Katamoto promised that her vengeance would be satisfied, and this mollified her enough for the plan to begin.

The group, now short Ooawagaeri but with Matashichiro in his place, traveled south from Setsu into Izumi province. They were met by a Hosokawa messenger before reaching Sakai, and were led to a meeting with the Daimyo inside the city’s main castle.
Fujitaka accepted Katamoto’s explanation that he had traveled first to Setsu province and put down the Ryuuzouji successfully, as evidenced by their prisoner. He said that he would send a squad of samurai to clear out any remnants, then move back to the province as soon as was convenient. In an attempt to dissuade him from traveling back immediately, the conversation continued, and talks soon turned to the subject of Youkai. It became clear that Fujitaka was extraordinarily biased against Youkai in general, and Bakeneko in particular, and made several references to them being subhuman and not worth his attentions.
Eventually it was too much even for the cool-headed Matashichiro, and she lashed out with her psychic power in anger. In an instant, Fujitaka and one of his samurai guards were transformed into glittering sculptures of ice, which then shattered, leaving nothing but a pile of quickly melting shards. The remaining samurai guard backed away in horror, but was quickly killed by Baby Huey, who bowed to him in a violent manner, his head smashing the poor man into a mush on the ground.
Thinking quickly, Katamoto asked the ghostly Karen, still present floating behind him, to craft an illusion to clear their names of the murder. Baby Huey, with his prodigious lungs, called out the alarm, and the room was soon flooded with ashigaru and samurai of the Hosokawa. There, they found Fujitaka (or an illusion of such) facing off against Crocodile, of the Igamono. Crocodile killed the unfortunate Daimyo with a single swing of his nodachi then, laughing evilly, cut his way from the room and escaped. A few samurai apologized to Katamoto, and a manhunt began for the strange, giant man who had killed Hosokawa Fujitaka.
Matashichiro apologized for her outpost, but Katamoto was not overly bothered, as the situation had resolved itself quite well. Satisfied, the group returned to Setsu province and traded the Nekomata back for Ooawagaeri, who was somewhat delirious from his day spent surrounded by doting catgirls.

As he was returning from Setsu, Katamoto received troubling word from Todaisen Nobuhara, who had taken it upon himself to become the clan’s information expert. The Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshitaka, had been killed by mysterious assailants. The inheritance ceremony for his next of kin, Ashikaga Yoshikage, would be held shortly, and all Daimyo claiming control of more than one province were invited to attend. This, of course, included Katamoto or, rather, Yoshiyuki-hime, and so he set about preparing the maid to pose as the Daimyo and, along with Aotsuki and an entourage of samurai, set out for Echizen province to attend.
The journey to Echizen took several days, and Katamoto arrived one day before the ceremony was to be held. Enjoying the sights of the capital, he arrived at the designated place the next day refreshed and interested to see who else would be in attendance. Several other Daimyo and their right-hand generals were in attendance, including Mori Motonari, of whom Katamoto had heard quite a bit, Hojo Ujiyasu, and Date Masamune.
Sitting apart from these was a huge, unpleasant-looking man in full armor who could only be Tokugawa Ieyasu, accompanied by a pale girl with black hair and a man who looked distressingly similar to Ooawagaeri, down to the hair and the mask. Aotsuki sat himself directly next to Ieyasu, which earned him a raised eyebrow and a harrumph, while Katamoto, taking his guise as Katsusada Shishauezaemon, socialized briefly with the other Daimyo as proxy for Hashinara Yoshiyuki.
Their interactions were cut short when an administrator in ceremonial robes took the stage with a stern-looking man with a regal bearing who could only be Ashikaga Yoshikage. Speeches were made, and Yoshikage promised to bring an end to the chaos that plagued the country under the rule of his predecessor. With a flourish, the administrator brought forth the experimental katana and seal, and presented them to the soon-to-be Shogun. As Yoshikage reached out to take them, sealing his place as military ruler of Japan, he sputtered and coughed out blood. A bright red blade, flames dancing around its edge, exploded through his chest, as a young woman stepped out from behind him, gripping its hilt.
While somewhat petite, she had an air of command and regalia about her that was only accented by the pair of long, reptilian horns which curled outward from both sides of her head. Dressed in a red jacked cut in the Western fashion and similar slacks, she pulled the blade from Yoshikage’s corpse, letting it fall to the ground, and raised it in the air. In an instant, the auditorium was filled with blazing fire which, when it cleared, revealed two ranks of battle-ready women, their auras flickering as though with barely-contained flames, and their weapons gripped confidently. At the same time, the masked man sitting with Tokugawa stealthily made his exit, while Ieyasu himself was teleported away with the dark-haired girl beside him.
The young woman on the stage introduced herself as Oda Nobunaga, new Daimyo of the Oda clan, and proclaimed that the chaos would not end. In the fires of battle, a new Japan would be forged, and only the strongest would survive to claim rulership over the Land of the Rising Sun. With that, she ordered her troops to attack, at the same time telling the assembled Daimyo to survive if they could, and exited through the back with the administrator held in tow, cutting an opening in the wall with her burning red blade.
In her place, the center of the stage erupted in a pillar of flame, revealing a hulking creature similar in form to a gorilla, but with a twisting, glowing red light under its dark skin as though it were filled with liquid magma. The creature beat its chest and howled in rage before leaping down and joining the advancing troops.
Hojo Ujiyasu ordered the general at his side, Hojo Ujimasa, to leave immediately and attempt to cut off Nobunaga’s escape, while Motonari did the same with Kobayakawa Takakage, who had accompanied her. As those two left, the remaining leaders took up their weapons and went forward to meet the Empowered forces, only Katamoto, “Yoshiyuki-hime” at his side, remaining seated in the back row, serenely enjoying a cup of tea.

Meanwhile, Matsumoto Ooawagaeri was receiving a message in his dreams. A tall, masked man, brimming with power and dark flames, ordered him to close the other rifts across Japan. Knowing instinctively that this man was none other than Matsumoto Jigenzaemon, Ooawagaeri’s esteemed ancestor, he asked many questions, but received only knowledge that the next rift was in Mikawa province, currently the seat of the Tokugawa clan.
Ooawagaeri confided in Chosokabe Kanetsugu, with whom he had become quite close (not by his own design), and by proxy Chosokabe Nobuchika. Upon hearing that there were other rifts in the country other than the ones that her mother had created, Nobuchika decided to pledge her allegiance to the Hashinara, in the hopes that she might prevent such suffering from afflicting others as it had her mother and her people.

Date Masamune was the first to engage a trio of Empowered Miko. His two massive blades moving almost too quickly to follow, a look of fierce enjoyment crossed his features as he cut down two of them, then countered an attack from the third with a fatal blow. More Miko moved forward to attack him, but it seemed as though they were practically throwing themselves upon his blades, each one lasting only seconds before falling to the ground.
Mori Motonari was faring similarly, her single katana wreathed in crackling electricity as it cut down an Empowered Bugeisha, before she gracefully sidestepped another attack and brought down that enemy too. As she fought, she seemed to become gradually quicker, her strikes dancing like lightning across her enemy’s bodies before bringing them to her feet.
In the center of the room, Hojo Ujiyasu and Aotsuki Tsukamoto stood together, facing off against a crowd of Empowered soldiers. Though they were easily outnumbered, the assembled enemies could not seem to wound either of them. While Aotsuki had been graced by the ghostly Karen with a crowd of illusory duplicates, which took blows for him before disappearing, Ujiyasu’s heavy armor and natural toughness allowed him to simply ignore the series of attacks which glances or scraped over his compact form without effect.
Ujiyasu’s heavy war axe glowed a deep red with gathered ki as he swung it to and fro and, though neither of them felled the Empowered as quickly as Masamune or Motonari, soon there was naught but a pile of corpses around them as well.
This left only the enormous molten ape, who had made his way to Motonari unleashed a torrent of blazing, liquid fire from his fanged maw. The Jigoku Breath washed through where the Oni Daimyo had been a moment ago as she stepped to the side, and beyond, splashing across the room and engulfing Katamoto and his maid. Katamoto himself was able to pull himself from the deluge, his natural undead toughness leaving him with little damage but a few burns to his robes, but the girl posing as Yoshiyuki-hime was less lucky, burning to death almost instantly, much to the horror of the assembled Daimyo.
The molten gorilla was unable to follow up with his attack as, under a hail of attacks from Motonari, he failed to see Date Masamune finish with his battle and come up behind the great ape. A series of brutal attacks from the Daimyo’s twin blades later, and the monster roared in rage as he disappeared in a column of flame, leaving only a charred spot on the auditorium’s floor.

When the fighting ended, the remaining Daimyo convened to discuss what had occured. Katamoto resurrected the fallen maid, then wasted no time in explaining that this girl was not the real Yoshiyuki-hime, but rather a double prepared for exactly this eventuality. While the other Daimyo were unimpressed that the leader of the Hashinara had not attended herself, they could not deny that the double strategy had served its purpose.
Motonari volunteered that one of her daughters had already seen to the protection of the next in line for the Shogunate, one Ashikaga Yoshiaki, Yoshikage’s younger sister, and could confirm that she was unharmed. At this point, Kobayakawa Takakage and Hojo Ujimasa returned, unsuccessful in their attempts to track down Nobunaga, who still held the seal and ceremonial katana. A single ninja, with long white hair and a red mask covering most of his face, also appeared and told Ujiyasu that there were no longer any traces of the Oda clan in the city.
With the situation as it was, the Daimyo could only wait for the next succession and ensure that it went more smoothly than this one, a course of action which clearly riled Date Masamune, but he had no alternative to. All four rulers agreed to stay in Echizen for the next few days until preparations were complete.
With that business handled, Katamoto sent a telepathic communication to Ryuuzaki Sanosuke in Yamato, ordering him to take Izumi province by force and to prepare for war with the Oda clan.

Having received the message, Sanosuke wasted no time in mustering a small force and marching to Izumi. Having lost its Daimyo, and with little in the way of a military, the province put up no resistance, and was smoothly brought under the control of the Hashinara.
At about this time, the Goemon Bandit squad that had been posted to watch the movements of the Oda in Omi province returned a report. A contingent of Oda troops were approaching with Hosokawa Gracia, intent on delivering Fujitaka’s daughter to Izumi so that she may assume leadership over the clan and her father’s holdings.
Sanosuke replied with an order to delay the Oda procession’s advance as much as possible, and sent Fujibayashi Nagato as a runner to the Ryuuzouji, to ask for their aid in ambushing Gracia’s force before they could make their way through Yamashiro.

So it was that three groups, one led by Baby Huey and containing only a squad of yumi samurai, one led by Chosokabe Nobuchika, and one formed of Bakeneko and Samurai from the Ryuuzouji and led by Ryuuzouji Takanobu and Masie, harried the Oda force toward the southernmost fortress in Yamashiro, captured and emptied by Baby Huey, and cornered them there for a battle.
Nobuchika’s group attacked from the northeast, while the Ryuuzouji struck from the northwest, and surrounded Gracia’s force. Gracia, accompanied by a magician known as Sen no Rikyu, as well as the burly molten gorilla first seen in Echizen, was not to be so easily defeated, however, and met their onslaught head on. She had with her a squad of samurai using firearms, henceforth unknown in Japan, and used them to their fullest effect, while she herself almost wiped out a squad of Bakeneko singlehandedly.
To the south, in the fortress, Baby Huey moved to join the fight, but was halted by the appearance of a spirited young woman leading a force of a hundred hastily-equipped ashigaru in a rebellion against him for his capture of the fortress. Surrounded by ashigaru prodding him with spears, Babs ignored the fruitless attacks and focused on the girl instead. Introducing herself as Tsutsumi Houzan, and attempting to place him under arrest, it quickly became apparent that Baby Huey was simply unable to land a strike upon her. By the same account, she was unable to wrest his weapon from him, despite her obvious skill and repeated attempts. After a few exchanges, the two separated and watched each other with a kind of wary respect.
Meanwhile, Baby Huey’s squad of bow-wielding samurai, henceforth to be known as the Tea Bucket Men, launched a powerful volley which, combined with similar attacks from the yumi miko to the north, succeeded in piercing Sen no Rikyu’s shields and piercing her body with hundreds of arrows. Rather than falling, however, her image began to blur and twist before vanishing completely.
On the edge of the conflict, Gracia was also running into similar difficulties. Though she had killed more than two score Bakeneko, seriously wounded Takanobu, and brought Masaie to the brink of defeat, she herself had been wounded by the cat Daimyo’s blade, and the storm of cherry blossoms protecting her from arrow attacks was starting to thin. Masaie, now without a squad to protect her, was brought down and killed by a squad of Oda samurai, sending Takanobu into a frenzy. The Bakeneko hissed and scratched and slashed at Gracia, but her opponent calmly retaliated with a brutal strike that cut through Takanobu’s leg at the knee, sending her to the ground in a spray of blood.
The two surviving Ryuuzouji troops managed to drag Takanobu to safety within another squad, but even missing her leg, the tiny Daimyo was in such a rage that she had to be physically restrained. At that moment, however, a piercing hail of arrows from the yumi miko shot through Gracia’s protections and brought her to the ground, impaled several times and clearly dead. With her fall, the only enemy left was Saru, the hulking molten gorilla who had been fighting by her side.
Tsutsumi Houzan, now aware that she would get nowhere in attempting to arrest Baby Huey herself, asked him who his superior was, and was directed, by a helpful Tea Bucket Man, to Chosokabe Nobuchika on the other edge of the battlefield. By the time she arrived there, the battle had ended, with Saru defeated and the rest of the Oda forces either retreating or being slaughtered by the newly arrived Babs. Nobuchika contacted Sanosuke, asking for his opinion on the strange young woman who wanted to arrest a giant undead Oni, and was told to bring her to Yamato, as Katamoto was always interested in meeting new and interesting people.
As the battlefield cleared, Sen no Rikyu reappeared in the center, looking around herself with an expression of annoyed disappointment. She managed to take out a crystal and store the fallen Gracia’s soul in it before being apprehended by Baby Huey. The Oni demanded her crystal, and any other shiny things she might have on her, intending to give them as gifts to Katamoto and the other generals and, not liking her chances against a fifteen-foot tall undead monstrosity, Rikyu replied, handing over four crystals, including the one glowing with the magic of Gracia’s soul.
Baby Huey then led Rikyu to Nobuchika, and, after meeting with the Ryuuzouji briefly and discovering Takanobu in no mood to speak, the group returned to Sanosuke in Izumi.

Meanwhile, in Echizen province, a day passed uneventfully. Motonari and her daughters kept a close watch over the soon-to-be Shogun, although Ashikaga Yoshiaki declined to actually meet with any of the Daimyo present, and ensured that she was unharmed up until the rescheduled ceremony.
The day of, Katamoto and his entourage entered the auditorium to find Date Masamune, a woman in a strange outfit with a pointed hat behind him, facing off against the bulk of Tokugawa Ieyasu, his anger barely restrained. Ieyasu mockingly informed the Date Daimyo that, as the Tokugawa did not have any hand in the previous debacle, any assault on his person would be an act of war. A steadying hand from the woman behind him mollified Date, and he angrily took his seat and fumed.
The entire group from before was present, with the new addition of a relaxed-looking, muscular young man with a mess of black hair sitting near the back. Aotsuki felt an immediate companionship with this individual, and sat across from him, accepting it when the man offered him a drink of sake from the gourd strapped to his waist.
As Katamoto and the resurrected maid took their seats, the ceremony began, with Ashikaga Yoshiaki and the same administrator from before taking the stage. Unlike the past attempt, the seal and ceremonial katana were handed over without incident, and Yoshiaki successfully became the new Shogun of Japan. After a brief speech, she declared that her first act as Shogun was to pardon the actions of Oda Nobunaga and the Oda clan as a whole, much to the amusement of Ieyasu and the fury of the other Daimyo. She then unceremoniously took her leave, stating that she had much to attend to as the new military leader.
As the new Shogun left, Ujiyasu, Motonari, and Masamune quickly convened to discuss what had occurred. They had hardly spoken, however, before Ieyasu loomed over their conversation, a twisted smile upon his face, demanding to be let into the fun as a fellow Daimyo.
Katamoto, who had been formulating his own plans, quickly cast a spell of control over Ieyasu, bending the huge man to his will. The magic was immediately canceled, however, by the same dark-haired girl he had seen teleport the Tokugawa Daimyo away during the first ceremony. She merely smiled at him, completely aware of what he had just attempted to do.
Gathering magic for another spell, he walked over and stuck out his hand in introduction, claiming that he wished to meet such a great magician himself. The girl introduced herself as Takenaka Hanbei, strategist for the Oda clan. As she did so, Katamoto channeled a spell through his hand, draining her of her intelligence. While he knew it was successful and not resisted, however, a spell that should have reduced a normal person to a gibbering idiot had no visible effect on her, and she took the opportunity to cast a spell of her own, magically scanning Katamoto and learning every detail of his physical and magical being.
His attempts frustrated, Katamoto broke off in time to see the Hojo, Mori, and Date Daimyo leaving the room, intent on returning to their own provinces to make new plans for the new situation. Before she left, Motonari pulled Katamoto to the side and informed him that one of her Oni girls was still in his mental network, and to contact her if he ever wished to speak to the leader of the Mori.
As the others left, Katamoto summoned into the room the corpses of six Empowered soldiers he had risen after the previous ceremony, and ordered them to surround Hanbei. The strategist seemed unfazed by the undead surrounding her, an almost taunting smile on her lips. Katamoto toyed with the idea of having them attack, but instead caused the corpses to simply fall dead once again at Hanbei’s feet. With a warning to her, Ieyasu, and both their clans, he took his leave and began preparations to return to Yamato.

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決戦: 長宗我部
Tosa - 1559年09月25日

The Hashinara army approached the Nankoku fortress under cover of three clouds of fog. Two from the east, one of which contained the actual army, and one from the south. At the same time, coordinated through their mental connection, the Mori Oni forces charged from the north. As expected, the Chosokabe archers on the fortress’ walls, presented with a total of five targets, had difficulty choosing where to shoot, and many of their arrows fell short or landed harmlessly on barren ground in one of the fog clouds.
Well above the castle, floating a hundred feet up, Hashinara Katamoto, Matsumoto Ooawagaeri, and Oni General Baby “Tea Bucket” Huey the Undying observed the enemy’s forces. In addition to the many squads of Forsaken archers upon the walls, the fortress was surrounded by four squads of samurai and many more ashigaru. Standing just within the gates, a hulking figure, easily thirty feet tall, bore white stone armor that leaked black smoke with every shifting of its massive frame. Mirroring the giant outside the gate, a Gashadokuro towered over the Forsaken forces, ready to defend the sole entrance to the fortress.
Meanwhile, on the walls, slightly apart from the squads of archers, stood two figures, obvious leaders in the conflict. One was familiar, the psychic Chosokabe Morichika who had escaped after the battle at Awa harbor. The other, however, they had not encountered before. From her flowing black robes, hollow voidlike eyes, and the black crown which sat lopsidedly upon her raven hair, they could only assume that this was Amenominakanushi, once Chosokabe Motochika, and Daimyo of the Chosokabe clan.
Even as he watched, Katamoto felt a rush of magic wash over him as the floating figure of Amenominakanushi cast a spell. He hurriedly identified it as a magic to reveal the locations of undead creatures. Fortunately, both he and Huey had easily resisted its effects, and their position above the fortress remained hidden. The other Daimyo had, however, apparently noticed the location of the Hashinara Kyonshi, as she ordered the archers to focus their fire on the fog cloud which Katamoto knew held his forces.
In reaction to this, he cast a spell of his own, creating an illusory noise from the cloud to the south, a great clatter of weapons, armor, and shouting as though a large army approached from that direction. Immediately, the enemy commander changed her orders, dividing fire between the two clouds and the Oni forces even now appearing from the north.
In the fog cloud with the actual army, Ryuuzaki Sanosuke and Aotsuki Tsukamoto, who had joint command of the ground forces, watched as shadows suddenly appeared from the fog and attacked their generals in melee combat. The initial impression was that of the dark cloud Youkai they had encountered in Takamatsu. These creatures, however, were different. They stood slightly shorter than a man, with a similar body shape obscured by a tattered cloak save for an emptiness where its face should be under the hood, instead filled only by two red eyes and an eerie glowing smile.
Despite their unexpected ambush, however, things were not going well for these unknown attackers. Several generals were caught off guard, but responded admirably, with Raizou, Yamanaka Yukimori, and leaders Sanosuke and Aotsuki themselves halting the creatures’ initial attacks and reacting in kind. Sanosuke and Aotsuki sustained minor injuries, as the monsters’ hands sank through armor and flesh, spreading frost wherever they touched, but it was nothing that would prevent them from fighting back at their fullest.
While this assault happened to the east, the Oni to the north were slowly beginning their own attack. While the hulking Red Oni and bulging Blue Oni slowly gained momentum, and the Mori generals readied their weapons, the Oni Musume, a squad consisting of lightly armored Oni women with nodachi, acted with speed and engaged a team of Forsaken samurai immediately. The Chosokabe samurai, unprepared for such a furious and quick assault, lost several men in the first clash, empty suits of armor clattering to the ground as the others’ massive blades cut through their ranks.
Meanwhile, above the battlefield, Katamoto saw the Gashadokuro before the gates prepare to move. Rather than let the enormous skeleton wade into his own forces, he quickly cast a spell to control undead and brought it under his command. With the same momentum it would have carried into the Hashinara forces, the Gashadokuro instead turned, stood to its full height, and swiped a giant clawed hand at the archers on the wall. The Forsaken bow samurai were able to scatter out of the way of the ponderous attack, but were sent into a state of considerable confusion as the new threat placed its hands on the lip of the wall and goggled at them with its empty sockets.

As the Hashinara forces approached from the south, obscured by fog and with decoys to the west, the battle between the Forsaken and Ooeyama-doji forces to the East raged on. Hovering above it all, Katamoto, Baby Huey, and Ooawagaeri slowly descended, still undetected by the enemy forces. Babs made the first move as, his spell of flight canceled, he flung himself downward and landed directly behind Amenominakanushi, bringing his enormous kanabou to bear as he fell.
In a single swipe, Baby Huey’s club sheared through the Forsaken leader’s body and, with a sound like breaking porcelain, her abdomen shattered. A brief expression of surprise crossed her features, but was quickly obscured by a void of pure darkness that erupted from the wound. The battle slowed as the void created from Amenominakunishi’s death hungrily pulled in everything around it, devouring rank after rank of Forsaken troops and growing larger by the moment.
Planting his feet on the ground, the Oni General of the Hashinara was barely able to keep himself from being drawn into the bubbling sphere and having his existence canceled out, even as Chosokabe Morichika teleported herself away to safety. A mighty roar engulfed the battlefield as the void grew larger and hungrier, its pull now affecting almost the entirety of the forces present, with those at the edges hastily retreating by Ryuuzaki Sanosuke’s order.
Katamoto and Ooawagaeri flew ever upward to escape the hole’s pull, as the building below them was torn into rough chunks and sucked away into the nothingness. On one of the remaining parapets, a single slender figure appeared. Ishikawa Goemon, her clothes still tattered and clutching a single hand to the wound on her stomach that had not yet fully healed, pulled herself to the top of the tower and braced against the void’s enormous pull. Having read the last memoirs of her fallen master, Momochi Sandayu, and entrusted with the secret technique that lay at the end of the path they both had followed, she knew what she must do.
Ignoring shouts from Katamoto, Sanosuke, and the others, she drew her katana, almost losing her grip, but regaining it with a renewed vigor. The blade glowed with a bright golden light that, despite its small size, almost seemed to outshine the growing void before her. In the midst of a flash of light, Goemon launched herself forward and, with a single, beautiful cut, sliced the brilliant blade through the void even as its pull brought her to its center, passing through it as it slowly separated into two halves, faltered, then evaporated into the air harmlessly.
A cheer went up from the Hashinara forces, but their victory was short-lived, as the tear in the sky above continued to leak darkness, and the Forsaken troops around them showed no signs of falling.
Far above, Matsumoto Ooawagaeri felt a stirring in his clothes as the squirrel, which had been silent until now, pulled itself into view and demanded, in its oddly low and dark voice, that he throw it upward as hard as he could. Figuring that it couldn’t very well make the situation any worse, Ooawagaeri complied, flinging the tiny rodent skyward with all his strength. The squirrel roared in triumph, proudly proclaiming the glory of the Matsumoto clan, as it disappeared into the great rend in reality above them.
A flash of light tinged with a cloying darkness exploded from the rift as, with a great rumbling and chorus of thunder, it began to close. On the ground, the Forsaken fell apart where they stood, their armor and weapons now bereft of any force to hold them together. The void rift grew smaller and smaller, devoured by the ever growing light, until it reached a single point and solidified, dropping back toward Ooawagaeri.
A black blade, carved with arcane sigils and bearing feathers and other magical fetishes, hovered before him. The sword, in the same deep, dark voice that the squirrel had used, ordered him to take it and wield it as heir to the Matsumoto. Hesitantly, Ooawagaeri reached forward and gripped the black blade’s hilt. Awash with the magic of the sword, he raised it high in triumph and, once more, a great cheer went up from the amassed Hashinara forces. The day had been won, and the void rift which had corrupted the Chosokabe closed.

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間奏: 戦争準備
Sanuki, Awa, Tosa - 1559年09月17-25日

Following the successful conquest of Sanuki, Hashinara Katamoto, in his guise as Katsusada Shishauezaemon, had much to accomplish. The next step, as agreed on with the Mori forces stationed in Iyo province, was the invasion of Nankoku, the Chosokabe capital in Tosa. Before that, however, he had several prisoners from previous battles to tend to, as well as a few of his own generals who needed time to recover from their wounds.
Before he could begin preparations, however, Katamoto was approached by Motoyama Tsugutoshi. Much more formal than her usual, laid-back attitude, she placed her head to the ground before him in a gesture of supplication. Tsugutoshi had once, she explained, been the Daimyo of Sanuki province and, though she had no right to ask this, she implored Yoshiyuki-hime, through Shishauezaemon, to restore her to power. The city of Takamatsu was devoid of life, barren after the invasion of the Chosokabe but, the Motoyama Daimyo asserted, she would not be able to live with herself if she made no effort to rebuild. If the Hashinara granted this, the Motoyama clan promised to be their loyal vassals for many generations to come.
Katamoto, surprised and bemused by Tsugutoshi’s sudden humility, bid her stand and assured her both that he would bring her request to the attention of Yoshiyuki-hime, and that she was likely to be receptive to the idea.
TsugutoshiKatsusada1.PNGThe Motoyama Daimyo thanked him, and assured him that she would still be participating in the coming battle, before taking her leave. Nearby, his bulk poorly hidden behind a pillar, Raizou gave a nod of approval as she left.

Afterward, the first issue Hashinara Katamoto directed his attention to was that of Chosokabe Kanetsugu, the Kyonshi general they had captured during the battle of Takamatsu. She was still comatose after sustaining a powerful attack from Umashiashikabihikoji, but Katamoto had no intentions of waking her yet. Instead, he wove a spell over her that allowed him to delve into her memories, seeking to learn all he could of the Chosokabe clan.
He quickly discovered that Kanetsugu was, in fact, an ancestor of the Chosokabe several generations displaced from the current Daimyo. She had woken and risen herself as a Kyonshi with the occurrence of whatever cataclysm had so changed the clan. According to her memories, and from her viewpoint, Kanetsugu had then tried to helpfully advise her granddaughter, current ruler of the clan, and warn her away from the devastating magic that had so ravaged the lands of Tosa.
Tired of her risen grandmother’s nagging, Chosokabe Motochika, now calling herself Amenominakanushi, had sent Kanetsugu and her son Chosokabe Kunichika away to defend Sanuki, sealing the command with a spell of control that forced the Kyonshi to obey her commands. So it was that Kanetsugu and Kunichika, the magician Ryuuzaki Sanosuke’s archers had killed in the previous battle, had been at Takamatsu when the Hashinara attacked.
Katamoto also searched out some useful information about the Chosokabe capital, and their last stronghold, Nankoku. The majority of the city had been demolished by whatever force had ripped open a hole in the sky and was slowly drawing the surroundings towards it. In lieu of this, Chosokabe Motochika had constructed a makeshift fortress with stone walls and an iron gate, and, as far as Kanetsugu was aware, this was the only defensible structure in the entirety of Tosa province.
The Nankoku fortress was staffed with Forsaken soldiers, which Kanetsugu apparently had a great distrust of, but not in greater numbers than the Hashinara had yet seen. Combined with the aid of the Mori clan, the open terrain, and Kanetsugu’s own distrust of her granddaughter’s fortress-building skills, this portrayed the capture of Tosa and the defeat of the Chosokabe as an easier task than expected. How to deal with the void in the sky over Nankoku was another issue entirely, however.

Having finished his mental research, Hashinara Katamoto bid Matsumoto Ooawagaeri to Kanetsugu’s side and, making sure that her hands and feet were bound tightly, ordered him to infuse her with a portion of his own ki. After he had done so, the Kyonshi opened her eyes and looked around her with an unimpressed air, though she was somewhat amused that Ooawagaeri had apparently finally managed to catch her.
KanetsuguKatsusada1.PNGKatamoto, the other generals present, and Kanetsugu then held a discussion in which the Hashinara Daimyo confirmed what he had already suspected. Though Chosokabe Kanetsugu held loyalty to her clan as appropriate to a lady of her status, she had no real love for her granddaughter or her methods, and, while she may not help, would be not likely to interfere with the Hashinara attack on Nankoku.
At Kanetsugu’s own order, Ooawagaeri made tea and untied her bindings so that she might drink while she spoke to them. Indeed, over the conversation, his lack of protest made him into something of an errand boy, fetching things for her, refilling her tea, and, once it became apparent that she was not hostile, untying the bindings on her legs as well.
The conversation over, Katamoto gave Kanetsugu freedom to act as she saw fit, and took his leave. Ooawagaeri, however, stayed, and spent the next few days attending to the Kyonshi.

On the second day after the victory at Takamatsu, a representative of the Mori forces arrived to ask the Hashinara of their plans for attack on Tosa. The messenger, a tall, slender, but obviously fit young Oni woman with a single horn, was told that the Hashinara army would be launching their assault in approximately six days, to allow for their generals to recover and for the interrogation of their prisoners. Shigeaki Fujino then inducted the Oni into the Hashinara mental network, sending her back to act as a direct link to the Mori generals.

The same day, Katamoto sent a messenger to Wakigami with orders to convey the skeleton of the Ichinomiya princess to his location, a task which would sate his own curiosity on the matter. That done, he summoned the prisoner Chosokabe Nobuchika, who had only that day woken from the unconsciousness brought about by her grave injuries.
Holding audience with Kanetsugu, Nobuchika, and, of course, Ooawagaeri in Takamatsu Castle’s tea room, Katamoto questioned the girl on her intentions now that she had been captured. Enduring jibes and mockery from Kanetsugu, technically her great-grandmother despite not looking much older than her, Nobuchika gave short, disciplined responses, obviously uncomfortable but hiding it behind a proper and militaristic exterior.
She refused to comment on the actions of her mother, Chosokabe Motochika, or Amenominakanushi as she preferred to be called, and the morality thereof, nor on the status of her sister, Morichika.
KatsusadaNobuchika1.PNGAs Nobuchika saw it, she had been defeated in fair combat, and no longer had any place in the war. Somewhat disappointed, Katamoto left her with a request to really consider the morality of her mother’s actions before granting her the same freedom as Kanetsugu. Though she technically could move freely throughout the castle and camp, her lingering foot injury made Nobuchika’s escape unlikely.

Several days later, his generals’ recovery almost completed, Hashinara Katamoto received the corpse of the Ichinomiya princess. The skeleton appeared entirely normal for a girl of about fifteen, with no abnormalities or obvious signs of injury. Katamoto was somewhat disappointed, as he had, having heard tales of the large number of them in Ise, secretly suspected her to be a Youkai, but all signs pointed to the skeleton having belonged to noghting more than a normal human.
With the remains in his care, he gave the order to march, and the Hashinara forces began their trek down through Awa province and then west into Tosa. The journey took just over two days, and on the third, after a long journey over the cracked, barren white earth, the fortress of Nankoku came into view on the horizon.

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讃岐の侵攻
Awa, Sanuki - 1559年09月17日

After the Hashinara army had rested for five days in Awa, Aotsuki Tsukamoto returned from Iyo province with his assigned generals and a squad of muscular Blue Oni in tow. All of their generals, save for Ishikawa Goemon and the captured Chosokabe Nobuchika had recovered, and so Hashinara Katamoto mobilized his forces in preparation for an invasion of Sanuki. He first sent his ships back to Wakayama, so that they would not be left defenseless in Awa harbor, then abandoned the province, moving the entirety of his army up the northern roads toward Takamatsu, Sanuki’s capital city.
The Hashinara forces arrived without incident, and found the city to be entirely deserted. Further scouting revealed the presence of a single squad of forsaken samurai at the castle overlooking the rest of the town. Takamatsu Castle, which had once been a massive temple, still retained its religious architecture, and the samurai stood among a cluster of cyclopean stone pillars at its entrance. Keeping the Hashinara army at some distance, in order to better hide their presence, a team consisting of Matsumoto Ooawagaeri, Tsukuda Katsuo, and Motoyama Tsugutoshi approached the castle. Tsugutoshi, who knew the area, as it had until recently been her domain, chose a good vantage point from nearby and took stock of the castle. The samurai whom they had seen before had vanished, and the structure looked to be completely deserted.
Sensing something amiss, Ooawagaeri searched the castle for any signs of magic, and was able to determine that there was something supernatural afoot. Hashinara Katamoto, having a greater breadth of experience in such matters, was called in, and he was able to determine that some form of magic was making it difficult to detect presences within the castle.
The four soon formulated a plan and crept closer. From their hiding place just outside the castle grounds, Katamoto wove an illusion spell that made it smell as though the castle was on fire.
In response to the smell of wood smoke, a squad of samurai, accompanied by two squads of bow ashigaru and a single Kyonshi general soon left the concealment spell and began looking over the area, searching for any sign of the fire. The Kyonshi accompanying the enemy forces was dressed in a similar manner to the others, but was lithe and athletic in appearance, moving with graceful catlike movements.
As the enemy squads appeared, Katamoto followed up with a fog spell centered on the samurai and extending for hundreds of feet in every direction, so thick that nothing could be seen through it. With the enemy’s vision so obscured, the Hashinara army made its advance even as the generals present began their attacks.
As the others advanced, Ooawagaeri cast a wind spell that allowed him to teleport inside the fog, just behind the Kyonshi general’s last known position. He then followed with a gust of wind, hoping to knock her prone so that he may more easily pull the talisman from her head, but, despite the concealing fog and the surprise of his sudden attack, she danced out of the way of the wind, which buffered the ashigaru in front of her to no effect. As a result, the fog in Ooawagaeri’s immediate area cleared, and the two faced each other.
Without hesitation, Matsumoto lunged forward and reached for the talisman, but again the Kyonshi sidestepped easily out of the way, chiding him playfully in a melodious voice for his simple attempts at catching her. At the same time, outside the fog, Katamoto watched for any sign of the Kyonshi’s successful capture but, seeing none, ordered an advance as the rest of the army arrived.
The Hashinara forces cautiously moved forward into the fog. Though its opaqueness had effectively neutralized the enemy archers, it also meant that they could not definitively locate the positions of the Chosokabe squads. Aiding in this was a new recruit to the Hashinara army, one Shigeaki Fujino, a psychic whose telepathic abilities linked the whole of the force together, ensuring that if one unit discovered the enemy, the rest of them would know. Also unhindered by the fog was Umashiashikabihikoji, whose unique method of sight meant that while she could not locate the Forsaken troops, she was able to pinpoint the position of the Kyonshi, Chosokabe Kanetsugu, whom she immediately moved to engage.
Ooawagaeri, meanwhile, had finally succeeded in tearing Kanetsugu’s talisman from her head. Far from collapsing like the others had, however, she simply laughed and mocked him, claiming to be far more perfect a specimen than those other Kyonshi and not subject to the same rules. Before Matsumoto could react, a shadowy creature in the fog around him suddenly lashed out, fangs sinking deep into his flesh and injecting venom into his veins. Kanetsugu took advantage of his distraction to slip away into the mist, as did the only visible squad of Forsaken archers.
Unseen by the Hashinara forces, Chosokabe Kanetsugu joined with a squad of her samurai and advanced on the approaching forces. She first encountered Umashiashikabihikoji, the other having no trouble pinpointing her position, and the two traded insults as they met, which quickly escalated to blows. Umashiashikabihikoji attacked first, swinging her claw with force, but Kanetsugu merely sidestepped the attack and grabbed the other Kyonshi’s arm, applying just enough force to snap the bone and send her slamming into the ground.
The Iga jonin, Fujibayashi Nagato, was well ahead of the other Hashinara forces and, sensing her ally’s situation through Fujino’s mental link, moved to Umashiashikabihikoji’s aid. Her advance was halted, however, by another one of the shadowy creatures that had assaulted Ooawagaeri. The thing seemed to be little more than shifting clouds of darkness in the equally opaque fog, having no set shape and forming claws and fangs as needed to strike at its foes. Her enemy indiscernible from the fog around her, Nagato swung at it and missed before it countered with a vicious slash of shadowy claws, badly wounding the ninja and knocking her unconscious.
Having already lost two units to the unknown creatures, and not willing to sacrifice any others, Aotsuki Tsukamoto ordered the Onmyouji under his command to summon their Shikigami. The paper figures formed, gripped their weapons, and rushed the location of the known fog monster in a rushing, valiant, and above all, expendable charge. Surprisingly, their staves found their mark, and, perhaps because of their own supernatural nature, they were able to inflict some minor damage upon the shadow creature.
Meanwhile, Hashinara Katamoto was understanding that the fog he had conjured was inflicting more harm than aid upon his forces, and prepared to lift the spell. Before he could do so, however, a shroud of complete darkness fell suddenly upon the area. In roughly the same dimensions as the fog cloud before, a dome of almost solid stygian night obscured all sight for those within it.
As the darkness fell, Ooawagaeri searched around for his assailant to no avail. Black claws lashed out from the blackness around him, crashing into his chest and smashing several ribs, then dropping him to the ground, unconscious from his wounds. Satisfied that its opponent would not be getting up again, the shadow creature moved in search of other prey.
Outside the dome, Ryuuzaki Sanosuke was considering how best to handle the situation. The darkness, fog, and the strange creatures that inhabited it, put the Hashinara at a serious disadvantage despite their superior numbers, and he considered advising Katamoto to sound the retreat. As he made preparations for a strategic fallback, however, Sanosuke received a telepathic message from Umashiashikabihikoji who, with her special means of vision, had detected a fourth presence in the darkness, one separate from Kanetsugu and the two shadow creatures.
Ryuuzaki immediately relayed the information and his orders to the archers under his command, and the ashigaru launched a flurry of arrows into the darkness at the approximate location of the figure, followed by a barrage from the bow samurai just behind them. For a moment, it seemed as though nothing had happened, but then the darkness shrouding the battlefield suddenly vanished.
As light once again pierced the area before the castle, Hashinara Katamoto lifted his spell of fog as well, leaving the field completely unobstructed. Stripped from their cover, the shadowy creatures that had been terrorizing the Hashinara forces were revealed to be strange youkai, bearing the face of a feral monkey upon the body of a tiger, with a living snake extending behind in place of a tail.
Also approaching, revealed by the sudden influx of light, were two full squads of living dead, zombies shuffling slowly forward to join the fight. Off to their side, a single human figure lay lifeless on the ground, his corpse riddled with a veritable forest of arrow shafts. Two squads of forsaken bowman stopped their movement to the sides and prepared to fire, their vision now restored.
With renewed vigor brought on by the revealed enemy forces, the Hashinara army once again began advancing. Umashiashikabihikoji, with a sudden burst of speed, took advantage of Chosokabe Kanetsugu’s momentary lapse in concentration, slamming her claw into the other Kyonshi’s foot with brutal force, pinning her down, then following up with another attack, charged with ki energy, that blasted into Kanetsugu’s chest and sent her crashing to the ground, immediately comatose.
Meanwhile, Tsukuda Katsuo, who had been advancing stealthily around the vanguard of the enemy forces, reached Ooawagaeri’s prone form and slung him over his shoulder, rushing the unconscious general back to the main army. Though a squad of zombies, which had been getting uncomfortably close to the unconscious Matsumoto, spotted him and made chase, they were no match for the ninja’s speed, and he easily escaped them. One of the amalgam youkai, however, gave a much better showing, flying with incredible speed to Katsuo’s side and lashing out with its venomous tail.
Knowing that he couldn’t risk getting poisoned here, Katsuo performed a substitution technique at the last moment, dropping Ooawagaeri as he vanished in a puff of smoke, reappearing a few feet to the side and catching the other general before he fell to the ground. The youkai’s fangs closed on nothing more than a small log suspended in the air where the ninja had been, and Tsukuda Katsuo took the creature’s confusion as an opportunity to put distance between himself and the threat.
The other youkai was not faring nearly as well. Taking advantage of the pressure exerted by the Shikigami squad, a team composed of generals Yamanaka Yukimori, Motoyama Tsugutoshi, and Tsuchimi Takasuke had surrounded the creature and begun wearing it down with repeated attacks. Despite its ferocious appearance, the youkai was not nearly as formidable outside the darkness, and, heartened by Yukimori’s sword drawing blood, the three brought the creature down with a flurry of attacks. At the same time, the Onmyouji in the rear guard finished their chanting, raising their hands and, with a motion, banishing the Forsaken samurai vanguard back to wherever it had come from, their heavy armor clattering loudly as it fell empty to the ground.
Seeing its companion brought down so easily now that the darkness had lifted, the youkai’s counterpart seemed unwilling to engage the Hashinara forces. Panicked, it took the only action it could think of to preserve its own life. With a sudden explosion of black smoke, the fierce creature vanished and was replaced by a much smaller and cuter version. Far from the fanged visage it had borne earlier, the youkai’s monkey face now seemed innocent and inquisitive, and it did its best to roll around the ground in as adorable a fashion as it knew.
Ryuuzaki Sanosuke and Aotsuki Tsukamoto were immediately distrustful of the creature’s transformation, but Hashinara Katamoto was smitten. With his orders, a few troops captured the youkai and bound it as tightly as they were able before delivering the now tiny creature into his care.
Their leaders defeated, and the youkai neutralized, the rest of the Chosokabe forces were easily dealt with. The archers fell quickly under pressure from the superior Hashinara troops, while at the same time the Onmyouji banished the zombies into nonexistence. With those squads fallen, the battle had ended, the forces of the Hashinara clan victorious at Takamatsu castle.

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大枝山童子
Awa, Iyo - 1559年09月12-17日

Following the battle of Awa Harbor, the Hashinara army stood by in the province for several days to replenish their forces and allow their wounded generals to recover. Chosokabe Nobuchika and Ishikawa Goemon were too severely injured to rejoin the campaign at any point in the near future, but the other combatants were expected to make a full recovery before the clan took the next step in their invasion of Shikoku.
Though he was still nursing his broken arm, Aotsuki Tsukamoto was sent with a vanguard of several generals, including Raizou, Motoyama Tsugutoshi, Umashiashikabihikoji, Tsukuda Katsuo, and a squad of bandits to Iyo province. The Hashinara had heard that Iyo, which occupied the northwestern quarter of Shikoku, had not yet been taken by the Chosokabe, and Hashinara Katamoto wished for Aotsuki to negotiate a possible alliance with the ruling clan against their shared enemy.
His journey into Iyo took only a day, and Aotsuki’s group faced no obstacles on their way to Matsuyama, the province’s capital, seated as it was on Shikoku’s northern coast. Upon their arrival, Tsukamoto first sent the bandits and Tsugutoshi off to ingratiate themselves with the people, keeping Katsuo and Umashiashikabihikoji as his own bodyguards. He took some time to speak to the peasants of the area, in a bid to see what he could learn from them about the province’s current state.
From the common folk, Aotsuki learned that Iyo was a prosperous area, largely because of the province’s agriculture and the large shipyard in Matsuyama.. This enterprise, which was officially sponsored by Nishiuwa Matsutake, the Daimyo himself, produced some of the finest vessels in Japan. Matsutake sold these ships to the rulers of other clans at very reasonable prices, and as a result the Nishiuwa clan had favorable relations with many powers across the country. One of these, the Mori clan, had sent forces to aid in the defense of Iyo province, as a sign of gratitude, and it was because of these that the Chosokabe had not yet been able to enter the province.
Aotsuki took the opportunity to spread a few rumors that his own clan was preparing to crush the Chosokabe aggressors, casting the Hashinara in a positive light among the populace, before heading to the Daimyo’s manor and seeking an audience. He was not kept waiting long before a pair of guards led him inside and to Nishiuwa Matsutake’s audience chamber. The Nishiuwa Daimyo, who had been reclining on a seat covered in furs, rose as he entered, and the two introduced themselves. It soon became apparent that Matsutake was a relaxed, humble man who found Aotsuki just as charming as they discussed clan matters.
The Nishiuwa clan agreed with the Hashinara stance that the Chosokabe were dangerous and must be eliminated, but they were not military specialists themselves, and so were not able to do much to help the other’s cause in those terms. Matsutake had, however, received aid from the Mori clan, with whom his clan had good relations, in the form of three generals and several squads of infantry.
As he spoke of this, two hulking figures slid open a door and entered a room. One of them had greenish skin and stood well over nine feet tall, while the other was of a more bluish coloration and even taller. It was obvious from their bulging muscles, unique clothing, and the horns that twisted from their heads, that both were Oni.
The green Oni, who introduced himself as Torakuma-doji, spoke first in a surprisingly articulate, scholarly voice. He introduced himself by name, the blue Oni as his brother Hoshikuma-doji, and a much smaller, horned girl, yet unseen hiding behind his leg, as their sister Kanaguma-doji. The three were here on orders from Mori Motonari to defend Iyo province from the Chosokabe, but their group, known as the Ooeyama-doji, held a certain degree of autonomy, and Torakuma-doji saw no reason why they shouldn’t take the opportunity to join with the Hashinara army and crush the threat with finality.
Torakuma vouched that he and his siblings had three squads of Oni soldiers posted at the borders of the province, and it was because of these that the Chosokabe had been unable to enter Iyo. He planned to pull them back from deployment and mobilize them in preparation for an invasion of the enemy capital in Tosa. This would take several days to accomplish, during which time the Oni suggested that Aotsuki and his clan replicate their success in Awa by invading Sanuki and defeating the Chosokabe forces there, which he knew to be relatively small in number.
Tsukamoto agreed with this plan, but asked if he could pick up one of the Oni squads located on the border to take with them into Sanuki so that the Hashinara could see their abilities for themselves. Though he hesitated, Torakuma-doji asked his brother Hoshikuma for permission, as the Blue Oni soldiers posted on the Sanuki border were under his command. The blue-skinned giant, who had stayed mostly silent throughout the conversation, gave his approval, and Aotsuki thanked them for the opportunity, stating that he would rendezvous with the squad on his way back to his own army.
With that, the conversation turned back to negotiations between the Hashinara and Nishiuwa clans. Matsutake stated that while he could not offer a full alliance, as the other clans with which he had dealings might get jealous, he could certainly offer discounted prices at his shipyards and favorable trade relations with the Hashinara if they could eliminate the threat posed by the Chosokabe. Though it was not exactly what he had hoped for, Aotsuki thanked the Daimyo and made his leave, staying in town for a single day while word was sent to the Blue Oni regarding his arrival.

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阿波の港へ
Awa - 1559年09月11日

Low in the water, the Hashinara clan‘s ships approached Awa harbor. It was obvious even from a distance that the Chosokabe forces were expecting them. Several squads of ashigaru and samurai stood ready on the docks themselves, as well as upon the wall separating the harbor from the rest of the province. The wall’s gate was shut tightly, and three more elegantly-dressed figures, standing apart from the military squads, watched them approach.
The first two, standing atop the walls to either side of the gate, Amenotokotachi identified as Chosokabe Morichika and Nobuchika, the two daughters of Chosokabe Motochika, the clan Daimyo. Nobuchika was said to be an expert leader and melee combatant, and was the heir of the family. As Amenominakanushi was immortal, however, this point was moot. The other, Morichika, was not known to be versed in combat at all, and her presence on the field was surprising.
Standing directly in front of the gates, the third figure, a young woman with a flowing white coat and an eyepatch, katana sheath stuck firmly in the ground before her, was someone Amenotokotachi did not recognize.
The majority of the Hashinara troops were below deck, leaving only the three Kyonshi visible upon the ships. Hashinara Katamoto cast a spell bringing a swirling fog down upon the harbor, limiting visibility as the cargo vessels docked. The Chosokabe forces upon the walls kept their bows drawn and trained on the ships, but did not fire.
Amenotokotachi stepped forward, announcing loudly that she and the other Kotoamatsukami had been more than successful in their mission, and had captured another ship before returning to Chosokabe lands.
Chosokabe Nobuchika, the apparent leader of the forces, seemed to sense something amiss in the Kyonshi’s testimony. She shouted orders to the archers to open fire, reasoning that they could easily revive the Kyonshi again later if their claims turned out to be legitimate. As the archers let loose with their arrows, several things happened at once.
Matsumoto Ooawagaeri, hiding with Baby Huey in one of the ships, used his magic to translocate the Oni to a position directly over the walls, where he twisted in the air and turned his fall into a flying body press aimed directly at Nobuchika. The Chosokabe general, though not unsurprised, had prepared herself for the attack, and turned as the brute fell, shield raised. Arrows rained down over the boats, some finding their mark, but even more turned away by Ooawagaeri’s wind magic or lost in the fog, as a shower of sparks erupted from atop the walls, Nobuchika catching the falling Oni’s strike on her shield and turning the momentum away, sending Baby Huey crashing to the ground while she drew her weapon.
Hashinara troops surged from the docked ships, engaging the Chosokabe forsaken aboard the docks in a flurry of katana, spears, and arrows from above. Yamanaka Yukimori, leaping from the leftmost ship, attempted to engage a full squad of ashigaru by himself in a stunning display of bravery. He found himself quickly overwhelmed, however, and, under a withering torrent of projectiles and spears from his opponent, only managed to kill two of the squad before receiving a serious wound to his leg. Despite their somewhat rocky first meeting, Ooawagaeri knew he had to do something. Flying up from the ship, he quickly cast a spell which relieved Yukimori from the need to breathe before tossing him into the water below the ship. The samurai sank, his leg too wounded to propel him upward, but remained alive.
By the middlemost ship, a similar scene was unfolding. Umashiashikabihikoji had leaped across the waters and landed in the midst of a squad of ashigaru, her glowing claws tearing through the air as she slaughtered the hapless foot soldiers. Aotsuki Tsukamoto was soon behind, making the jump himself and joining his assigned Kyonshi in the fray. They were soon surrounded, however, as a squad of forsaken samurai joined the battle. Pelted with arrows and harried on all sides by weapons, Umashiashikabihikoji fell, her reckless style of attack leaving her open to all manner of attack. Aotsuki fared somewhat better, but suffered a serious wound as an arrow shot through his right leg, shattering the calf bone even as the enemy squads approached from either side.
Back by the left ship, the young woman in front of the gate had moved forward and taken up a defensive stance in the face of several Hashinara squads. Though she was surrounded by enemies, they seemed unable to land a strike on her, her katana flashing with inhuman speed as she blocked attack after attack, taking the opportunity to counter when she was able. Soon, the majority of the Hashinara forces from that ship were concentrated entirely around her, but she had taken only minor wounds from their assault.
Ryuuzaki Sanosuke‘s forces, on the rightmost ship, were further from the action, but rushed forward in an attempt to make up the distance and rescue Aotsuki from his precarious predicament. Amenotokotachi and a squad of bow ashigaru stayed behind, firing her ki in concentrated blasts at the figures on the walls while supported by covering fire from the squad. One of the ki blasts found its mark in Chosokabe Nobuchika, who turned quickly from her engagement with the Oni and again deflected the attack harmlessly off her shield.
Baby Huey found himself flanked by the small but surprisingly powerful Nobuchika and Momochi Sandayu, who had appeared suddenly from the shadows to come to her assistance. Sandayu struck twice, once with each weapon, and left a pair of minor wounds in Huey’s flesh. Even with the hundreds of arrows sticking out of him from the archers’ fire, however, he showed no signs of stopping. Before he could wind up his kanabou for a swing, however, he felt an odd sensation in his head and, failing to resist the mental intrusion, found himself under the control of an enemy.
At the same time as Baby Huey lost control of himself, the young woman on the docks, surrounded by Hashinara forces, suddenly dropped her defensive stance in shock and looked around her, growing increasingly panicked. Attempting to back away, but finding nowhere to go, she demanded to know who all of the aggressors were, and what they wanted with her, but got no response. Bordering on hysteria, she raised her weapon in front of her and looked around, seeking any sort of sense in the situation.
Both Ooawagaeri and Tsuchimi Takasuke noticed her sudden change in attitude, but the latter was in a position to engage, and so he called out to her, asking what was going on and why she was suddenly having second thoughts about fighting them. She replied that she had no idea where she was, who any of them were, or why they were fighting, a claim which Takasuke found hard to believe. Her panic seemed genuine, however, so he offered her a chance to throw down her weapon, and then perhaps they could talk. The young woman complied immediately, placing her sword on the ground and raising her hands, much to the surprise of the troops surrounding her, whom Takasuke immediately ordered to stop attacking.

The situation was looking grim for Aotsuki, severely wounded and still surrounded by enemy forces. Sanosuke, who had attempted to come to his aid, found his progress hindered both by the forsaken ashigaru squad, standing in between him and his companion, as well as Baby Huey, who had started to lay into his own ashigaru, killing ten with a single sweep of his mighty kanabou.
Facing the enemy alone, Aotsuki defended himself as best he was able, but the pain from his broken bone interfered with his attempts to block the incoming attacks, and he soon suffered a spear wound that, while not fatal, left him unconscious and on the brink of life, collapsed on the docks’ surface.
Freed from their battle with Motoyama Tsugutoshi, who was still questioning her purpose in being here, Raizou‘s squad of bandits soon took up position around Aotsuki and Umashiashikabihikoji, defending them from further harm. Not anticipating the sudden emergence of fifty burly men, the enemy ashigaru fell quickly under the bandits’ axes, and the numbers of their squad were severely reduced, losing even more from the pressure Sanosuke’s forces exerted from the other side.
They were joined in the fray by a squad of Shikigami, summoned by the onmyouji previously under Aotsuki’s command as they continued chanting the ritual to banish their forsaken enemies. This created a complex melee directly in front of the easternmost tower, from the door of which stepped Chosokabe Nobuchika, a look of confusion and consternation on her face as she exited into a group of small paper figures brandishing rods at her and making angry gestures.
Kamimusubi, who had positioned herself beside the door, waiting for Nobuchika to appear, launched an attack as soon as she stepped out. The Chosokabe general deflected the Kyonshi’s fist with her shield, and launched a counterattack, which Kamimusubi slipped around and returned with another strike. The two traded several blows, and it quickly became apparent that they were more or less equally matched in combat.

Back hovering near his ship, Ooawagaeri’s squirrel maintained its composure as he found himself suddenly in intense pain as some alien force, a concentration of psychic energy, forced itself into his body and wracked his bones with energy. At the same time, Katamoto fired a beam of concentrated necromantic energy at her, hoping to catch her off guard with the supernatural attack. As expected, she did not seem able to see the magic force speeding at her, but still managed to guard at the last moment, a psychokinetic shield barely visible rippling through the air around her. Amenotokotachi followed up with a sniping blast, which Morichika also blocked, deflecting it with her barrier, which started to develop the barest of cracks across its transparent surface.
Though wounded from the other’s psychic attack, Ooawagaeri did not falter, but instead countered with his own magic, casting a spell at Chosokabe Morichika up on the battlements. Heeding Ooawagaeri’s call, the wind picked up suddenly, gusting from behind Morichika in a great concentrated blast that swept her off her feet and sent her flying hundreds of feet into the bay.
Surprised at how well that had worked, Matsumoto turned to the rest of the battlefield, but soon saw Morichika reappear on the wall. With a flash of light, she touched the ground, sopping went and pouting, and seemed to be searching about for the source of the sudden wind that had so humiliated her. Ooawagaeri mixed himself in with the squad of mounted samurai, hovering at such a height that he appeared to just be another rider, and attempted to cast another spell of wind to replicate his success, but fumbled the incantation. The gust of wind appeared a few feet away from him, blowing harmlessly into the castle wall.
Near where the spell had expended itself, a squad of Hashinara ninja stealthily inserted themselves between a group of enemy ashigaru and the westernmost tower door. While the majority of their number distracted the opposing troops, a few took to the door, soon unlocking it and opening it. Twenty ninja peeled off of the group and filed into the small door at amazing speed, their training allowing them to access the narrow passage beyond much more quickly than would be expected for so many.

Motoyama Tsugutoshi, watching all of this, continued to be bewildered, until she felt a huge, warm hand on her shoulder. Raizou, the bandit lieutenant, had approached and offered some words of ruffian wisdom in his deep booming voice. Under assurances that she was on the big man’s side, and that the Forsaken troops were the enemies, she was hesitant at first, but soon became more and more enthusiastic as Raizou pumped her up with encouragement.
Soon, she no longer felt any conflict, and instead rushed into battle alongside the Hashinara forces, flanking the allied ninja around a squad of forsaken ashigaru. Her first strike at the enemy lancers swung wide, leaving Tsugutoshi open, and the ashigaru were quick to take advantage of it, launching a many-pronged attack at their apparently helpless prey. At the last moment, in a sudden flash, Motoyama’s katana met every attack, driving them back and swinging a great swathe in front of her. Knocked off balance by their deflected strikes, several ashigaru fell to the attack, black smoke leaking as the katana sheared through their midsections, leaving a pile of empty clothes to fall to the ground.
Raizou himself watched with appreciation before reaching into his packs and pulling forth a conch horn. He blew a single note, replaced it, then joined a squad of samurai in fighting the enemy, his huge fists bashing into the forsaken’s armor with little effect.

Back at the eastern tower, Chosokabe Nobuchika deflected a bolt from Amenotokotachi, and another attack from Kamimusubi, before finding herself surrounded. Adding to her troubles, Katamoto had managed to cast a successful spell of control undead, bringing Baby Huey back under his control. She attempted to access the magical ties with her own powers, but was unable to muster enough magic to bring the beast to heel, instead shouting out a warning to her own troops before returning to the battle.
A group of Hashinara samurai had appeared, pinning her between them and the shikigami, and Tsuchimi Takasuke had also joined the fray. Under pressure from a barrage of clubs and katana, her guard faltered, and Takasuke managed to injure her, though not severely. Kamimusubi followed up with a powerful strike, both fists smashing into Nobuchika’s right arm and shattering the bone. Now weakened and still faced on all sides by the enemy, she spat curses at the Hashinara and raised her shield shakily to meet their blows.

From where Hashinara Katamoto stood at the base of the docks, the battle, though worrisome at first, seemed to be turning in his own favor. The reclamation of Baby Huey, in particular, had been a great blow to the enemy, and the Oni now mowed through a squad of forsaken ashigaru, sending bodies flying with every swing of his club.
A sudden noise made him turn, and there, just a few feet away, stood Momochi Sandayu, the dark ninja, blade drawn and advancing menacingly. A muttered comment, almost apologetically, about how Katamoto could not be allowed to continue, and he swung, ninja blade shearing through the air. Even as the Hashinara Daimyo tried to dodge out of the way of the attack, it was halted in a sudden clash of steel and sparks as Ishikawa Goemon appeared between the two, forcing Sandayu’s blade backward with her own katana. Goemon seemed both sad and furious, calling Momochi “master” and lamenting that this was not, could not be the real him. The real Sandayu, she claimed, was a kind man, who would never act in such a blatant perversion of justice. With another flash, the two leaped away, and faced each other on the docks, blades drawn. A few feet away, Katamoto watched in wonder as the ninja readied themselves for another clash.

Meanwhile, the squad of 20 Hashinara ninja burst from the top of the tower on the wall, slipped past the enemy bowmen, who were too surprised by their sudden appearance to stop them, and surrounded Chosokabe Morichika. They immediately launched an attack before she could raise her psychic shield to defend herself, and she suffered a stunning blow to the abdomen which caused her to double over in pain.
The leader of the ninja squad demanded her surrender and, though she at first seemed confused by the concept, she soon acquiesced and raised her hands, still smiling.
At the same time, Tsuchimi Takasuke landed a solid hit on the wounded Chosokabe Nobuchika. Though she was unable to defend herself, he contained his strength just enough to knock her out, sending her crumpling to the ground, unconscious but still alive. On the walls, under pressure from the ninja, and seeing her sister fall, Morichika called the surrender, and the Forsaken forces put down their weapons, standing eerily still but not continuing the fight.

All the Chosokabe forces but one were now neutralized. Momochi Sandayu still faced off with his student down on the docks by Katamoto. Goemon launched an attack, swinging her katana in a swift arc, but Sandayu blocked it easily, returning with a brutal counter. His blade cut deep into Goemon’s stomach, ripping through her flesh and sending her sprawling, immediately unconscious.
Enraged, Raizou roared and rushed to his fallen boss’ aid, swinging a meaty fist at Momochi which the ninja dodged easily. He was joined by Motoyama Tsugutoshi, who swung her katana with similar results. Wary, the two moved to flank him, and the enemy jonin was so engrossed in defending himself from his attackers that he did not see Amenotokotachi take aim from the other dock.
The Kyonshi’s blast took Sandayu full in the side, sending him flying several feet into a heap on the ground, instantly dead from the energy’s impact. With the defeat of the dark ninja, the battle of Awa harbor was officially over. The Hashinara had claimed victory and the province.

After the battle, Hashinara Katamoto and his generals approached Motoyama Tsugutoshi. As they spoke, it was revealed that she was originally the Daimyo of the Motoyama clan, which ruled Sanuki province. She had been attacked by the forces of the Chosokabe in their bid to conquer the entire island of Shikoku, and she recalled only mobilizing her own army to meet them before she blanked out and suddenly regained consciousness here on the docks.
Unsure of what path to take from here, having lost both her people and her province, she decided to, for the moment, become an informal member of Goemon’s thieves, and Raizou’s bodyguard.
After speaking with Tsugutoshi, Katamoto went to interrogate Chosokabe Morichika, as her sister Nobuchika was still unconscious due to her wounds. However, by the time they reached where the psychic was being held, she had vanished, her bonds empty on the ground.
Finally, that same evening, in the aftermath of the combat, Baby Huey surprised Katamoto by approaching him. The Oni, who spoke in a halting, unpracticed, but intelligible voice, informed his master that he was tired of being used as a tool, and wanted freedom to fight when he wanted to fight which, of course, was basically all the time.
Katamoto took some time to consider Huey’s complaint, and came back to the Oni the next day. The Hashinara Daimyo offered him not complete freedom, but an honored place as one of the clan’s generals. He would be able to win glory in combat and be respected as an honored combatant, able to walk free in their lands. Though this was not exactly what the Oni wanted, he accepted the compromise, and, though a spell cast by Katamoto, Baby Huey became the Daimyo’s official vassal, their destinies connected through bonds of necromancy.

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戦争の夜明け
Yamato, Iga, Ise, Kii - 1559年09月09-11日

Following the defeat of the Igamono in Iga, Hashinara Katamoto wasted no time in sending his newly acquired squad of ninja on their first mission. They were to secretly infiltrate the province of Ise to the Northeast, and recover the body of the Daimyo’s deceased daughter, bringing it back to Wakigami for use in one of Katamoto’s long-term plots. With that squad dispatched, he gathered his allies and headed once again south to Kongobu-ji, stopping at Todai-ji along the way to heal his generals’ wounds.
During the fighting in Iga province, Katamoto had felt his connection to the zombies left at Kongobu-ji falter, then vanish completely and, surrounded by combat-ready generals, he was determined to discover what had happened. When he arrived, he found the twenty zombie corpses, still wearing Chosokabe armor, strewn about the temple’s inner quarters. Some had been cut in half or cleaved through with what Matsumoto Ooawagaeri learnedly guessed to be a katana, while others were smashed into the ground or lay with their sternums brutally caved in, as if they had been smashed by a giant fist.
Concerned by these findings, Katamoto set his three ninja generals, Ishikawa Goemon, Fujibayashi Nagato, and Tsukuda Katsuo, to search the area. Despite her injury, Nagato had the experience and skill to conduct the most comprehensive survey of the temple, but found no signs of anyone or anything still present. The mystery remained unsolved, but Katamoto had larger plans at hand, and decided to send a contingent of fifty newly-trained priests to take over the temple’s operations before returning to Wakigami.
When he regained his castle, Hashinara Katamoto set about preparing for war against the Chosokabe. He first sent his generals Ryuuzaki Sanosuke and Aotsuki Tsukamoto to Kawachi province, their mission to parlay with the Daimyo of Tsuchimi and attempt to bring him into their cause. Ishikawa Goemon and Tsukuda Katsuo were ordered to scout Awa and return with any information they could about troops or generals. He also formed a new squad of fifty samurai, and dispatched them to Wakayama to await orders, before gathering all his literature on arcane knowledge and, with the aid of Todaisen Nobuhara, burying himself in research for the next two days.

Ryuuzaki Sanosuke and Aotsuki Tsukamoto arrived at the Daimyo’s manor in Kawachi the next day, and were soon led inside to an audience with Tsuchimi Takasuke. The Tsuchimi Daimyo greeted Sanosuke respectfully and, after being introduced to Aotsuki, delved straight into business, asking them what the purpose of their visit was. Sanosuke explained the situation, that the Hashinara clan was preparing for war on the Chosokabe and would appreciate the Tsuchimi’s assistance, before Aotsuki made the actual request, with his usual charm.
Takasuke seemed to consider for a moment, but soon answered that, because he owed Sanosuke his life, and the Hashinara clan a debt, he was in no position to refuse. Both he and a full squad of samurai cavalry would make for Wakayama forthwith, and place themselves under Hashinara Katamoto’s command.

When they returned to Wakigami, Katamoto had been attempting for two full days to unravel the secrets of Takamimusubi. He discovered that the general’s body was little more than a ceramic container, cunningly decorated to appear human, designed to act as a vessel for some manner of supernatural creature. Todaisen Nobuhara, who was assisting with the research, felt confident that he could use the residual imprinting it had left on the vessel to call this creature back from wherever it had gone, but he was less certain about whether he would be able to control it once he did so.
Not wanting to risk reviving Takamimusubi without being able to control him, Katamoto set aside his project for the moment, and instead dismissed Nobuhara before heading to the dungeons to visit his other prisoner.
Vengeance was locked and chained in a dark cell beneath the castle, and had been treated well given the circumstances. His face was pale and drawn beneath his shaggy dark hair, but he was awake and alert when Katamoto entered the room. The two spoke for a time, and Katamoto asked him about his purpose, and what he planned to do from here on. Vengeance’s answer was less than satisfactory. Without a cause, he claimed, he was useless, and wished to be allowed an honorable death.
Katamoto offered Vengeance a cause, to serve under him as a general of his clan, but the other refused, stating that he would rather die than become Hashinara’s dog. The Daimyo merely nodded, and asked him to consider his position and the offer, before leaving as the room darkened.

On the third day of preparations, Hashinara Katamoto set out to revive the two Kyonshi whom he had captured after first fighting the Oni near Kongobu-ji. He performed the ritual twice, once for Amenotokotachi, and once for Umashiashikabihikoji, using the ki from an ashigaru guard, and with KamimusubiKamimusubi present as a bodyguard.
Amenotokotachi, it became apparent, was entirely deaf, a situation which caused some confusion until Kamimusubi explained. Though capable of reading lips, she could not see beyond Katamoto’s mask, and so was unable to understand him until he wrote down his questions and showed them to her. Despite her condition, she was patient and elegant in her speech, with a pleasant voice, and assured him that she would serve him however he wished, with no remaining loyalty to her previous masters.
Umashiashikabihikoji, in contrast to Amenotokotachi’s calm demeanor, snapped the chains binding her as soon as she was revived, pulling out her gag and grabbing the ashigaru guard by the shirt, lifting him up while he whimpered in terror. When Katamoto spoke, she seemed surprised, turning and looking about the room, but seemingly unable to find him. Amenotokotachi explained that the other was blind, and Umashiashikabihikoji herself remarked that she could see the souls of men. As she could not see Katamoto, he must have no soul, a quality which she admired.
With all three Kyonshi present, Amenotokotachi asked about a fourth, one she called Kanetsugu, who she claimed was an irregular member of the Kotoamatsukami, a special forces unit to which all three of them had belonged. Katamoto had not heard of this individual, but made a mental note of it, before bringing his newly acquired generals to meet the rest of his forces.

By the end of the third day, the dispatched ninja had returned, successful in their mission and bearing the skeleton of Ichinomiya Karen, daughter of the Ichinomiya Daimyo, ruler of Ise province. Katamoto had the skeleton interred in the castle before mobilizing the last of his troops, gathering his generals, and setting off for Wakayama, their staging ground for the coming war. Goemon and Katsuo had still not returned, and the Daimyo worried that they had been captured by the enemy, in which case he could waste no time in commencing his attack.
He left Fujibayashi Nagato at the castle, still recovering from her broken shoulder, along with Todaisen Nobuhara, Yokokazu Ume and a false Yoshiyuki-hime to oversee the running of the capital in his absence.
Ryuuzaki Sanosuke, who had arrived at Wakayama previously, had spent his time organizing the troops and generals into three main squads, each one headed by one of Katamoto’s most trusted military leaders. In addition, he had been working with Tsukijo Hanahane to ensure that the clan’s new ships were manned and ready to launch at a moment’s notice. Hanahane had taken to the task with great vigor and enthusiasm, and had even begun an initiative to sell out the empty housing in Wakayama at low prices, encouraging the re-population of the city.
So divided into squads and prepared for war, the Hashinara troops boarded their ships, three military and three cargo in all, and launched across the channel to Awa province.

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