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.