Rise of the Nakamura

Part 10 - Odawara Revisited

June 1653

The Nakamura army arrived back in Shimosa some days later, welcomed by parades and ceremonies held by an elated townsfolk. Tired from their journey from Izu province, Nakamura Eiji 中村英治 dictated that the banquet to celebrate their victories would be held the next day, and retired to his quarters. Otochitomono-kane, in her first visit to the capital, searched around and found some likely living quarters empty within the castle. These were previously Nakamura Eiichi’s rooms, but he was not present to object.

On the day following their return, the banquet was held. Noblemen, merchants, and influential people from across the now-expansive Shimosa province were in attendance. At Eiji’s personal invitation, Kanahime was present, accompanied by her loud and boisterous father. Usami Kageie was also among the guests, though her escort Douji had decided not to come.

Ayame, dressed in more formal clothing than her normal ninja gear, was using the party as an opportunity to speak to as many Nakamura clansmen as possible, moving quickly from person to person among the crowds. Partway through the festivities Ken Suna arrived as well, though she quickly slunk into the shadows and avoided the crowd for the duration of the event. After food had been served, Nakamura Eiji took to the stage with Okuni. Together they formally announced her pregnancy, and the coming birth of the heir to the Nakamura clan. This news was welcomed happily by many of Eiji’s supporters, who had worried about their lord’s lack of a successor.

Eiji also took the opportunity to introduce Ayame to Okuni. Though there did not appear to be any ill will between the two, they seemed to be incompatible in terms of personality, and soon drifted apart at the first opportunity. All of the formalities finished, Eiji then slipped away from the party to attend his troop’s feast in the barracks, and socialize with the men. Ayame followed him out the door, followed closely by Yamada Junko, who had noted the other ninja’s suspicious behavior. Upon realizing she was being followed, Ayame changed her course, and simply walked around the gardens before returning to the banquet.

The days following the feast passed quickly. Nakamura Eiji began setting into place a recruitment plan, and sending troops to reinforce those positions he had already captured. Yamada Junko, unknown to the others, celebrated her birthday, and disappeared for several days to visit her home ninja clan. Ken Suna spent several days in meditation and preparation for some large ritual, and emerged from the spell changed in many ways. Her tigerskin hood was gone, her hair now long, orange, and striped. Thin fur ran down the lengths of her arms, which now ended in a pair of vicious claws. Despite the obvious changes, Suna’s magic prevented her appearance from causing panic, and her new form was quickly accepted as normal.

On the eighth day after the army’s return to Shimosa, Nakamura Eiichi awoke in the woods outside of Ichikawa Castle, covered in dirt and bruises and holding nothing but the jewelry box containing the earrings he bought for Kanahime, clutched protectively to his chest. Though shaken from his blackout and lost time, he returned to the castle and refreshed himself, arriving in time for Nakamura Eiji’s war council held the next day.

Eiji had received a disturbing report from one of the clan ninja, stating that the area for a mile around Odawara Castle was filled with a dreadful presence, and that all life in this radius had withered and died. The castle itself stood empty and lifeless, with no traffic going in and out. Some had attempted to investigate the desolate town, but none who entered had returned.

Unwilling to dedicate a military force to what seemed an isolated problem, Eiji decided that he and his generals would leave to investigate the incident at the castle, while the majority of the troops remained in Shimosa. Unsurprised at his brother’s sudden appearance, he informed the assembled leaders of his plans and left to begin preparations. While alone in his room, Ayame appeared and asked for his attention. She had noticed something strange about Eiichi in the meeting, and felt that Eiji should know before they left.

A short time later, the Nakamura Daimyo and his entourage left for the castle. Eiichi, Suna, and Otochitomono-kane with her retainers Kaihime and Sashisaka followed, with Yamada Junko scouting ahead. The ninja master reached the edge of the desolation some time earlier than the others, and, as they arrived, began to infiltrate the castle.

From Eiichi’s view, using his mystical sight, the castle appeared as a bonfire of magical energy, surging endlessly into the sky. Powerful forces were obviously at work. As was reported before, a ring of dead flora extended for exactly a mile around the castle, withered leaves dotted occasionally with the corpses of small animals. Not waiting for the others, Eiichi began to cut his way through the magic surrounding the castle, appearing to him as a thin mist, with Kusanagi no Tsurugi.

Meanwhile, Junko reached the wall of the castle and quickly scaled it. From her position at the top, she saw Odawara Castle empty of life, and festering with strange black lumps of a fleshy substance, which adhered to every surface. Connected to the lumps by dark veins running through the earth was a multitude of coffins, smooth, black and unmarked. Treading carefully, she dropped inside and continued investigating.

Realizing that the mist was harmless, Eiichi stopped his slow advance and the other soon entered the castle’s walls. They were greeted by the same sight as Yamada Junko, with the disturbing black pustules clinging abhorrently to walls and floor. Eiichi approached one of the lumps and examined it, noting the flow of magic from the tumor to the surrounding coffins by means of latticed veins in the earth. As he prepared to investigate further, there was a brief rumbling of the earth before a cyclopean mass burst forth from beneath him, swallowing the ronin whole.

As it reared around and prepared to attack, Eiji and the others beheld a huge worm-like creature made up of stitched-together corpses, dead arms flailing wildly and pale faces leering. To the Daimyo’s disgust, the bodies making up the monstrosity were obviously those of the guards he had left to defend the castle. Without waiting for another strike, the team of generals readied and attacked.

Simple cuts from a katana had little effect on the abomination. Sundered flesh simply hung limply, before slowly beginning to tie itself back together. Inside the worm, Eiichi was not having any more of an effect. His attempts to sever the magic keeping the construct active were thwarted by the thing’s creator’s superior sorcery. Seemingly unfazed by the attacks, the beast swung around for another attack. Grasping lims and raking claws missed Eiji, who dodged deftly out of the way, but as it turned the thing shot a corpse out of its mass with a horrible sucking sound. The projectile flew directly to Otochitomono-kane and her retainers, standing a short distance away, and exploded, showering them with foul ichor.

The princess herself was unaffected by the acid, and Sashisaka suffered only minor burns. Kaihime, however, received a large globule of it directly to her arm, the flesh of which immediately began to swell painfully and turn an unhealthy black in color. Clutching at the wound, she screamed in pain and rage, and her normally raven-black hair spontaneously changed to a fiery red. Simultaneously, the corpse creature burst into a pillar of flame, emitting a shrill screeching as it flopped about in evident pain.

Inside the beast, Eiichi dealt a heavy blow to its unprotected interior, and was promptly ejected from its gullet, landing safely several feet away from it. Another series of attacks and another fiery burst from Kaihime destroyed the monster, the corpses that made up its mass falling apart and dissolving before they hit the ground. Eventually, all that was left was a large hole in the ground where the thing had burrowed up to swallow Eiichi.

Taking the opportunity to explore, Junko dropped into the hole and began to navigate its length. She found herself in the castle’s lower parts, where five more of the corpse worms lay coiled around each other, dormant. Careful not to make any undue noise, she climbed back out of the hole and reported her discovery to Eiji. Satisfied, Junko began scouting again, this time heading directly for the castle at the center of Odawara.

Eiichi himself continued his investigation, forcing open one of the surrounding coffins. The stricken body of a villager, barely recognizable, was immobile inside. Half of his body had been corrupted to black, sickly flesh and pieces of wicked, organic metal stuck out of him at every angle.

At this point, Eiji decided to confide in Eiichi about the condition Ayame had noticed. He took aside and conversationally commented that he was breathing a bit hard. Suddenly, Eiichi realized that he was not breathing, and had not been for some time. Attempting to breathe was possible, but seemed awkward and unnecessary. Experimentally, he cut an incision in his wrist using the edge of his sword. Though he felt the pain of the blade breaking his skin, no blood flowed from the cut. Stunned by this revelation, Eiichi wavered for a moment before following the others, who had departed for the castle.

Junko reached the central castle before the rest of the generals, and just in time to see a small figure emerge from its gates. She appeared to be a young girl with raven black hair and pale features, dressed in voluminous and elaborate black robes trimmed with gold. She walked confidently through the main street of Odawara, heading directly for Eiji and his band. When the girl made some distance from the ninja, Junko dropped into the street and began to shadow her silently. As her quarry walked forward, two coffins on either side burst open, their lids thrown violently into the air. Two hulking figures in disquietingly organic armor emerged from the caskets, one hand holding a massive sword and the other ending in a wicked claw. The monsters fell into step with the girl, who did not slow. This happened twice more, until she had an entourage of six hulking warriors.

The two groups met in the center of the main road, Eiji and his generals watching the other cautiously and the girl musing idly, the armored figures still on either side of her. In a condescending voice, she addressed the Nakamura Daimyo, explaining that she was sent to Odawara by Oda Nobunaga to avenge the “unprovoked” murder of his friend and general [[:tokugawa ieyasu]]. Apparently the Oda leader had been somewhat distrustful of her abilities before the event, using the necromancy sparingly, but after his force in Izu was routed, he sent her in a fit of rage to utterly destroy one of Nakamura’s provinces. As she spoke, she gestured vaguely in the air, casting a spell on the listening Eiichi. He demanded to know what had been done to him, but the girl simply smiled and did not respond.

Upon learning her motivations, Otochitomono-kane instructed Sashisaka to create an illusion behind the necromancer. Appearing with a slight pop and rush of air, a likeness of Tokugawa Ieyasu appeared behind her and loudly proclaimed his continued vitality. As the girl turned in shock to look at the apparition, Eiichi launched himself forward, blade flashing for her neck. With a simple gesture, she froze him in place, the blade hovering inches from her skin, then turned back to the fake Ieyasu. Somewhat to the watchers’ surprise, the girl was completely taken in by the illusion. She bowed her head to him and asked for his instructions. Dictating quietly to Sashisaka, Otochitomono-kane caused the illusion to instruct her to join the Nakamura, and fight against Oda, at the wish of her lord. Though obviously surprised, she hesitantly agreed to the orders. At that moment, Nakamura Eiji gave a signal.

Strands of barely-visible string lashed out from the darkness near the necromancer, crashing harmlessly against a magical shield that sparked and flickered in the air before being repelled. Simultaneously, Junko leaped from the shadows and Eiichi, with a supreme effort of will, overcame the spell holding him in place. There was a flash of steel and the necromancer’s head was separated from her shoulders. It landed a short distance away, then opened its mouth and shrieked horrifically, before both head and body dissolved into black mist and vanished.

With the girl’s death, the magic sustaining the castle’s corruption ceased, and the black masses began to rot and vanish. Coffins stood inert and the general air of death and disease that had hung over the area quickly dissipated. Without waiting for another word, Eiji stalked away from the castle, heading full speed back to Shimosa, followed only by Junko and Ayame in the shadows.

Realizing their leader had vanished, Suna asked Eiichi for their next move. Though momentarily prideful about his sudden leadership position, he quickly realized he had no idea how to handle the situation. He eventually ordered that Odawara be burned, a task which was achieved using Suna’s magic and the store of gunpowder left at the castle. Along with Otochitomono-kane, the three then began their return to Ichikawa.

Nakamura Eiji arrived home significantly earlier than the others, and, without speaking to anyone, stormed into the command center. Venting his rage, he threw about furniture in anger, leaving the room in a state of utter disarray. After a short rampage, he retired to his rooms, where he remained for some time, alone but for Ayame, who arrived a few hours later and silently comforted the Daimyo.

The other generals returned in silence, an unspoken understanding among them not to disturb their grieving leader. Eiichi decided to relax in the local hot springs before retiring, but upon arriving at his room, discovered that it had been occupied in his absence by Otochitomono-kane. Stark naked, he walked into the bedroom regardless, only to be embraced from behind by Sashisaka. He then realized with some horror that, with his body in its deceased state, he felt no sensation of carnal lust. After refusing the princess’ demands that he leave the room, he was blasted with a spell from Sashisaka, which left him utterly confused and, from his perspective, wandering a dark forest filled with spirits. After an indeterminate amount of time, he awoke the next morning in the servant’s quarters, still naked. Sashisaka sat beside him, a look of dissatisfaction upon her beautiful features.

The conflict between Eiichi and Otochitomono-kane quickly escalated into a war of attrition, with him steadfastly standing outside her door, day and night, completely naked, and her resolutely ignoring him. As the days passed, Yamada Junko set off on her own journey to exact small revenge against Oda.

Travelling quickly, the young ninja master entered Suruga, the province just west of Sagami and known to be held by the Oda Clan. Noting the monastery in the nearby mountains, she sneaked into town and began to investigate. The townspeople appeared to be preparing for some event, which she learned to be the arrival of Oda Nobunaga himself. He was coming personally from the provinces to the north to investigate the events surrounding Odawara Castle, and the town was preparing to welcome him.

Not wasting time, Junko spirited a banner bearing the Oda mon away from the town, taking it to the nearby monastery and fixing it atop its highest steeple. She then quietly laid a series of bombs around the structure’s foundations, blowing the place of worship into a crumbling ruin. Though there were not many casualties, the pilgrims and monks were sent into obvious despair. Satisfied, she returned to the nearby town and began scouting ahead for Nobunaga.

Junko encountered the lord of Oda shortly up the path, leading a small entourage of a few generals and several squads of samurai down the path. Accompanying him was a wizened, rather ugly man with monkey-like features bearing a staff with a gourd on the end. On the other side of the Daimyo rode a hunched, cloaked figure, its features invisible to the observing ninja. The three were engaged in some discussion as she watched.

Hastily writing, Junko scribed a truthful account of the events that had happened at Odawara and tied the note with a ribbon to a branch in the Oda party’s path, then hid and watched. Nobunaga noticed the note when he reached and picked it off the tree, reading quietly as he rode. As he reached the end of the note, his features darkened, and he appeared to argue with the cloaked figure beside him, who raised a hand to placate him. Though he was silent as they rode on, the Daimyo was obviously displeased. Having seen this, Junko returned to Shimosa.

Several days after the disaster, Eiji was still despondent, though he had removed himself from isolation and had taken to walking the castle gardens with Ayame. It was here that Junko appeared and gave a report, telling the Daimyo what she had done in Suruga.

Some few days later, with the events still at a standstill, Eiichi decided to escalate the conflict by standing directly in Otochitomono-kane’s doorway. The princess responded by simply shutting the door. Still completely naked, the Daimyo’s brother cut a small hole and pushed his member through, making it fully visible on the other side. Sashisaka, still attending her master, shortly arrived with a knife and pointed inquiringly toward the intruding organ. Otochitomono-kane nodded, and Sashisaka, with one swift stroke, castrated Eiichi.

Enraged beyond reason, the swordsman drew his blade and slashed through the paper screen, instantly killing the succubus on the other side. He furiously advanced on Otochitomono-kane, who began casting magic to slow his approach. Eiichi cut the spells out of the air with Kusanagi no Tsurugi, not slowing, and eventually grabbed the princess by her neck and forced her out of the window. He demanded, in a voice thick with fury, that she never cross him again. When Otochitomono-kane did not respond, instead glaring defiantly at him though obviously shaken, Eiichi dropped her out of the window, where she fell to her death several stories below. Unfazed, the swordsman walked back across the room, and replaced his missing manhood with a small expenditure of ki.

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