Following their decisive victory at Totomi, the Nakamura Army mobilized once again and began heading north toward Owari. The terrain around them leveled out into dry and cracked earth, mountains dominating the area to the East, and the sea to their West. Because of the parched ground, Yamada Junko, once again scouting ahead, was easily able to spot two huge burrowing creatures long before they reached the marching army, their passage leaving a latticework of cracks in their wake.
Upon receiving the news, Nakamura Eiji ordered his forces to stop, and he moved forward with his generals to face the approaching threat. It was not long until their paths converged, and an enormous worm-like creature comprised entirely of stitched-together corpses burst horrendously from the ground, attempting to snatch up the Daimyo in its jaws. Eiji was ready for this, and leaped back, deftly evading the creature’s clumsy attack. He struck forth with Kusanagi no Tsurugi, severing the necromantic magic holding the golem together. Unceremoniously, it crumbled to the ground in a mass of twitching organs.
The second corpse worm met a similar fate. Before it could raise itself aboveground, Ken Suna used the staff she relinquished from Toyotomi Hideyoshi to form the earth above it into a wicked spike, which lodged itself firmly into the head of the beast. The creature retaliated by emerging beneath the mystic, securing a deathly hold upon her calf and summarily devouring her. After being lit aflame by Kaihime, slashed asunder by Chisawa Ai, and harried with shadows by Yamada Junko, it too was severed and fell into its component parts, revealing a severely wounded, but alive and conscious Suna in the wreckage.
Unfazed by the minor setback, Eiji and his generals returned to the army, and they resumed their march, and continued unmolested until they set up camp due south of the castle town of Owari. There was no sign of their allies the Takeda and Uesugi, but a ring of decay surrounded the fortress itself, stamping a mile-wide radius of death similar to that seen at Odawara. The castle itself was covered by a foreboding pall, thunderclouds storming over the black masonry, laced with ugly, bulging veins.
Junko immediately scouted the surrounding area for signs of their allies. Takeda’s army was advancing steadily from the East, but had to traverse a long mountain pass before arriving in their arranged position. The Uesugi forces were faring somewhat better, but slowed by religious rebels in the North, who harried them continuously as they moved South towards Owari.
Upon learning of the other armies’ positions, Eiji dispatched Junko again. Moving with preternatural speed, she asked first Takeda Shingen then Uesugi Kenshin what sign they would give upon arriving at Owari. Shingen was enjoying sake with one of his lieutenants, a young-dark haired man in bright red armor, and was too drunk to answer properly, so Junko promised to be back and moved on. She caught Uesugi in the middle of a prayer, and politely waited for him to finish. Upon encountering her, he instructed her to tell Eiji to watch for “the light in the sky”, and that he would know when the time came. Dutifully, she relayed the news to her Daimyo, then returned to scouting.
Strolling leisurely on the bottom of the clouds that roiled over Owari, she spotted a large number of unmarked ships anchored in the bay just outside of the castle town’s port. The men on the vessels were equipped for battle, but the mon adorning their armor was not the five-petaled flower of Oda, but a much more intricate blossom done in shades of white and gray. Mito-jō no Oeyo, who was receiving Junko’s information via psychic relay, teleported herself upon the mast of the largest ship to investigate.
Peering down through the mist that cloaked the bay, she saw a number of well-armed men standing guard upon the vessel. At its prow, a significantly larger man clad entirely in sea-blue plate armor stood with one leg upon the rail, staring intrepidly across the waves. As she observed, another, older man exited the area below deck and strode up to the presumed captain. He was clad in loose-fitting comfortable clothing except for his left arm, which was shielded by interlocking plates of armor. His hair was held back with a simple band, and he leisurely smoked a pipe. Though the others would have recognized Hojo Ujiyasu, this was the first time Oeyo had encountered the former Daimyo.
Seeking more information, she psychically prodded the armored man, bringing him into conversation. Though originally wary, he soon lost himself in boasting and she learned that he was Content Not Found: chosokabe-motochika, and was here to take advantage of Oda’s poor position by pirating any ships that attempted to leave Owari’s port. When she had inquired to her satisfaction, she teleported back to the army and reported what she had learned to Eiji.
Once Junko managed to catch Takeda Shingen sober, he assured her that Uesugi’s signal of light would be sufficient and he would not send any of his own. The grinning Daimyo was determined to reach Owari before his rival, and so would use the other’s light show as the signal to charge. Uesugi’s forces were estimated to arrive in a week, and Eiji decided to simply set up camp outside Oda’s fortress until the others were ready to join the assault.
That night, after he had retired to his quarters, a mystical doorway forced itself open in the wall of Nakamura Eiji’s tent, and the demon lord himself walked confidently into the dwelling. Accompanied by a smaller figure hidden in the folds of a dark robe, Oda Nobunaga looked around imperiously before resting his gaze on Eiji, who had lit a pipe and was watching with disinterest.
The intruder’s business was of a surprising nature. He wasted no time in offering Eiji an alliance, claiming that together the two would be unstoppable. The Nakamura Daimyo refused, however, certain that he was capable of uniting the land without another leader’s assistance. To this the demon lord chuckled, asserting that he would not kill Eiji today, but would rather meet him honorably on the field of battle. This was received with muted amusement by Eiji himself, who had noted the almost-invisible strands of bladed wire that dangled unseen around his counterpart’s neck, ready to tighten at the slightest provocation. Without another word, Nobunaga strode back through the portal, followed shortly afterward by his retainer, who was obviously distressed at the Daimyo’s decision to spare the other’s life.
With a wealth of time before the other armies would be ready to attack, and Oda’s forces making no move to assault them, the Nakamura army took on a more relaxed air. Oeyo teleported herself to Kyoto for something of a vacation, while Eiji and his generals donned swimsuits conjured for the purpose by Suna, and took to the beach.
Junko, in a cute one-piece, stood stoically on the surface of the water, carried slowly up and down by the waves, while the others gathered on the shore and set up a watermelon on the sand for the first event. Eiji was unfazed by the gathering of his beautiful female generals, his attention directed solely toward Ayame, but Chisawa Ai was afflicted with a slight nosebleed as the sight of so many scantily clad figures.
Suna, blindfolded wearing a very conservative swimsuit that covered significantly more skin than her normal attire, swung clumsily at the ripe watermelon with a conjured wooden sword. Despite the loud cheering of the other generals, she was unable to land a solid hit, and the weapon was passed off to the next player. No sooner had Ai tied the blindfold and gripped the wooden hilt than there was a rush of air, a small thunderclap, and the melon split into two perfect halves. The assembled warriors proceeded to consume the juicy treat while a group of Ashigaru busied themselves setting up a net for the next event.
The ninja returned from sea to participate in the beach volleyball that followed shortly after. Using her absurd speed, Junko dominated her side of the field, matched only by Ayame on Eiji’s team. Despite not being as unnaturally speedy as her adversary, she too was a ninja, and was giving her all to match her husband’s cheering. A vicious spike from Ai almost scored the opposing team a point, but Eiji briefly removed his hands from his pockets to perform a dizzying return that took all of Junko’s ability to counter. The stalemate continued for some time until Suna, in a fierce uppercut, accidentally extended her tiger-like claws and punctured the ball. Calling the match a draw, and feeling much more relaxed, the Nakamura leadership returned to their camp to begin serious preparations for war.
On the night of the third day after their arrival at Owari, a signal was sent up from the opposite side of the castle and exploded into a huge glittering image of the character for love. Though it was still several days early, Eiji noted this as the sign to attack, and the Nakamura Army marched forth. Accompanying their footfalls was the distinct sound of a cavalry charge from the east, hundreds of hooves hitting the ground in unison, and a methodic chanting that echoed from the North.
Unsurprisingly, a large Oda force awaited them before the castle gates. Rows of Ashigaru, Samurai, and archers were flanked by a pair of corpse worms, coiling and undulating obscenely in the moonlight. Among the troops was the distinctive figure of the gunslinging man Junko encountered at the battle of Totomi, flanked by an armored, serious-looking woman wielding a long, straight broadsword. The hatted man looked over his shoulder, his eyes locking on Junko as she stealthily moved behind the enemy army. With a smile and a shrug, he turned back to the coming combat.
Nakamura Eiji led the charge on the enemy lines, heading straight for one of the worms showing its mottled body above ground. A slash from Kusanagi no Tsurugi resulted only in a deep gash in the creature’s fetid flesh, the powerful necromantic magic this time rebuffing the sword’s ability. As the rest of the army charged, Suna lifted her gourd-tipped staff and the front lines of enemy Ashigaru followed it, falling awkwardly away from the ground and rising at an alarming rate.
Chisawa Ai moved herself ahead of the advancing army, shouting a challenge for the bravest of the enemy to face her in single combat. The woman accompanying the gunslinger responded, moving forth through the enemies and engaging Ai. Respecting the duel, the two forces formed a small space around them as the two swordswomen clashed.
The other general took advantage of the chaos to unholster his pistol and fire a direct shot at Nakamura Eiji, still embroiled in combat with the first worm, and a second that had emerged from the ground just behind it. Distracted as he was, the Daimyo effortlessly sidestepped the bullet, not sparing any attention for his attacker. With a pair of swift slashes, he managed to sever the magic supporting the two monstrosities, and they crumbled before him. No sooner had the man shot, than Junko and Ayame were on either side of him, and he was forced to dodge a sudden volley of blows as shadows battered at him and monofilaments cut dangerously through the air around him.
Meanwhile, in the center of the battlefield, Ai’s opponent slashed at her with a series of calculated strikes, each attack quicker and more accurate than the last. Before she could build up momentum for an advantage, however, the other sword maiden’s blade flashed from its sheathe in an arc of deadly light, drawing a deep and bloody gash through her opponent’s forearm, causing her to gasp in pain. Engaged as he was with the two ninja, this incensed the gunslinger, and he fired off a wickedly accurate snap shot that buried itself in Ai’s chest, knocking out her breath and blinding her with pain.
As the armies clashed, the Nakamura’s relatively unguarded right flank was assaulted by the remaining corpse worm and another that emerged from the ground just beside it. Spindly arms flailing and massive bodies shuddering, they ripped through the Nakamura forces, cutting a large swath through the ranks. The survivors regrouped and faced the monstrosities, emboldened by their leader who was even now rushing to their aid. A hail of arrows did little to harm the monsters, but the subsequent volley of thrown explosives sent them rearing in pain.
Oeyo, who had teleported to a more secure position, mentally contacted the scarfed man, offering him a chance to surrender. His condition that his wife be spared was accommodated, and he rushed to the swordswoman as Ai deftly swatted the broadsword out of her grip. Together, the two acknowledged their defeat and hurriedly left the battlefield as Ai dramatically sheathed her sword. Still holding the man’s other pistol, Oeyo promised to leave it on the battleground once the army had moved on, to which the man replied with only a single, weary “Thank you”.
As the enemy generals retreated, Eiji burst forth from the throng of men and slashed in a wide arc at one of the corpse worms devastating his ranks. Its source of sustenance severed, it collapsed like the others. Almost simultaneously, the other worm burst into a pyre of searing flame, letting out an unearthly screech as it too fell to the ground, motionless.
All of their aces defeated, and their ranks being broken by a mass of enraged warrior monks and samurai, the remaining enemy army broke and began to flee. At the same time, the Ashigaru who were still floating high in the air began to fall, crashing to the earth in an uneven stutter of sickening crunches.
Disappearing in a flash, Junko immediately scouted the surrounding area to ascertain the situation. The Takeda army to the East was crushing the ranks of enemy Ashigaru, but had no counter for the corpse worms that burst from the ground devouring men and horses alike. Shingen himself was engaged in combat with of the monstrosities, leaping through the air and swinging a double-bladed war fan in a wide arc. On the Northern side of the castle, the Uesugi forces were faring much better. The Oda troops were proving no match for the fervor of Kenshin’s warrior monks, and the corpse worms were being plucked from the ground by a huge, smiling buddha, the character for love written on its expansive stomach.
Most importantly, however, the gates on all sides of the castle were solidly shut, save for those being assaulted by the Nakamura army, which stood invitingly open. Further inspection revealed a group of three imposing figures striding down the main path toward the gate. Oda Nobunaga was at the head, flanked by his robed retainer and a flamboyantly-dressed, fair-looking man with a long, thin sword at his hip. Upon hearing the report, Eiji ordered his army to stay behind as he approached the gate. The Nakamura generals would face their Oda counterparts alone.
As the demon lord came into view, he addressed Eiji in a deep booming voice, expressing his satisfaction at his progress and joy that the two would finally meet in honorable combat. Nobunaga introduced the man to his left as Akechi Mitsuhide, and the hooded figure to his right as “Young Lord Ranmaru”, whom the party had already met. Upon being addressed, the figure lowered its hood to reveal the grinning visage of the supposed girl the generals had killed at Odawara. Her, or rather his, eyes were now completely black and inhuman, and a wicked smile crossed his lips.
Without further ceremony, Oda Nobunaga drew his katana and began to advance. Faster than both he and Eiji, however, were Ai and Mitsuhide, who shot forward and immediately engaged each other, the force of their clashing emitting a powerful shockwave that flattened the earth around them, and sparks flying from their crossed blades. Behind them, Kaihime screamed with anger, and a column of intense fire shot up around the advancing demon lord. Unheeding the flames, the demon lord continued his advance, stepping through the maelstrom completely unharmed.
As the other generals advanced, Ranmaru raised his hands in preparation for a spell, but Suna calmly leveled the gourd at him and, with a sad little sound, he turned instantly to stone. Junko took advantage of the opportunity, appearing behind him and pummeling the statue with a barrage of shadowy blows until only a rough pile of rubble remained.
As though fated by the gods, Oda Nobunaga and Nakamura Eiji clashed in the middle of the fray. His hands in his pockets and an expression of calm determination on his face, Eiji materialized four blades which leveled themselves at the demon lord and shot forward. Almost contemptuously, Nobunaga swatted them away with a series of blinding sword strike. A deep, evil glow surrounded his katana and he drove it through Eiji’s exposed chest. There was no apparent physical damage, but the Nakamura Daimyo felt as those his essence itself had been wounded.
Across from them, Ai and Mitsuhide were engaged in an intense battle of swordsmanship. The two clashed repeatedly, inflicting minor wounds on their opponent but neither able to gain the upper hand. In the midst of the conflict, Ai suddenly sheathed her blade and calmed herself. A trickle of blood from the gunshot wound still glaring red on her chest trickled down her arm and coated the blade in its sheathe.
Suddenly aware of his retainer’s condition, Nobunaga sidestepped Eiji, fending off the other’s attacks as he moved directly before Suna. Again the dark glow encompassed his sword, and before the mystic could react, he had driven it deep into her chest. Though she was utterly unharmed, the spell affecting Ranmaru immediately switched off, and the crumbled bits of stone turned into quivering, bloodless lumps of flesh. Without hesitation, Junko grabbed the head, still intact, and rushed away from the castle, intending to dispose of it in the nearby sea.
Seeing his opportunity, and with Nobunaga’s back toward him, Eiji leveled three swords at neck height, and sent them spinning in a deadly bladed cyclone. Without turning, the demon lord reached behind his head with his katana and blocked the malestrom before it could sever his head, the clashing of steel on steel sending sparks and flashes of light flying across the grounds. Upon the barrage of attacks, however, he let his guard down for but an instant and, with an utterance of pure fury from the nearby Kaihime, his right shoulder exploded into flame.
Meanwhile, Mitsuhide launched two blinding strikes against Ai, who, in her meditative state, calmly sidestepped both of them. Strands of monofilament extended from the darkness behind him and bound his arms to his sides, leaving him helpless before his concentrating foe.
Away from the castle, the head in Junko’s hands turned slowly and emitted a soul-searing scream as it sucked away part of its holder’s soul. Using the essence gained from his captive, Ranmaru grew himself and new body, the flesh emerging blasphemously from his neck and forming into a pale, lumpy caricature of a human physique. Lashing out, Junko caught Ranmaru with a piercing shadow, ripping his newly-formed ribs out of position as the body teleported out of her hands and back to the gates.
Eiji and Nobunaga crossed swords yet again, the demon lord obviously weakened by the injury to his shoulder, as Ranmaru reappeared nearby, breaking into a maudlin laugh as Junko rose up behind him and pummeled his broken body with a torrent of shadows. Nobunaga landed a solid blow on Eiji, ripping the katana deep into the muscled flesh of his chest, as Kaihime erupted into a final enraged scream. The demon lord donned look of contemplative surprise, which changed to rage and then agony as white flames erupted from his stomach, licking their way up his body and forcing themselves out through the back of his eyes and mouth. A terrible scream wracked the air and then there was silence, as the ashes that had been Oda Nobunaga slowly settled upon the ground.
With his master’s death, Ranmaru’s battered, bloodless corpse flopped lifelessly to the ground, leaving only Mitsuhide, still bound before Ai. Chisawa, still gripping the hilt of her sword, offered the other man a chance to join her, out of respect for his abilities. He answered with nothing but silent rage, however, and with a great effort broke free of his bindings. As the monofilaments snapped, Ai’s blade left its sheathe and cut a thin line through Mitsuhide’s shoulder and across his neck. He fell to the ground lifeless, as his head and shoulder slid wetly from his corpse.
Their adversaries finally dead, Junko went to ascertain the situation around the castle as Suna prepared to send Ranmaru’s soul from his broken body back to the flow. What she found within the mangled corpse was not a soul, however, but something large, powerful, and malicious. The body let out a final scream as a huge, bloody tentacle ripped its way out of its chest, rising and undulating into the sky.
With a flash of darkness and cold, the warriors found themselves not in Owari, but upon an endless desert of black sand, cyclopean pyramids towering in the distance under a starless sky. Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen stood with them, staring at the thing that had summoned them all. Before them towered a huge, human-like figure, clad in pale, bulbous flesh and its arms ending in wicked, glistening talons. Where its face should have been was instead a massive bloody tentacle, writhing terribly in the sourceless light.