Rise of the Nakamura

Part 11 - The Tournament

June - July 1653

The death of Otochitomono-kane caused a huge disturbance among the servants and commoners, and it was not long before news of it reached the ears of Nakamura Eiji. Fearing the political implications of a foreign princess murdered in his capital, he immediately dispatched Ayame and Yamada Junko to investigate. A short interview of the servants and Kaihime, who had shared a nearby room, revealed Nakamura Eiichi‘s presence in front of the princess’ door for the past week, as well as a description the noises that had led up to her death.

Using this information, it was a simple thing to piece together than Eiichi was behind Otochitomono-kane’s death. Angered at his brother’s actions, Eiji sent the two ninja to search for him around the capital. Junko discovered Eiichi in the hot springs, soaking and sipping angrily on a cup of sake. When he learned of this, the Daimyo instructed Ayame to relieve his brother of his weapons, which were deposited nearby his bathing location. This was accomplished easily, Eiichi being angry, frustrated, and not wary of his surroundings.

Preparations complete, Eiji finally confronted his brother. A heated arcument ensued, with Eiichi’s anger rising and eventually giving way to violence. Lacking weapons, he attacked his brother with his bare fists, but Eiji moved smoothly out of the way of each strike. Finally, blind with rage, Eiichi leaped at his opponent, seeking to tackle and strangle the other, but a single sword materialized above Eiji’s shoulder, stabbing through his brother’s forehead and stopping the advance. Eiichi’s body collapsed to the stone floor, his eyes glazed and body unmoving. Knowing of the other’s condition, Eiji ensured his death by cutting off the head.

Upset, but convinced of the necessity of his actions, the Daimyo ordered Ayame to take his brother’s body to the priests, for ritual burial. Junko was instructed to take Eiichi’s head and store it properly. That done, Eiji bent and retrieved the dead man’s swords, left by Ayame with her departure. The obviously magical weapon he sheathed by his side, and kept the other blade with him as he returned to the castle.

When he returned, Eiji sent a band of servants to find Eiichi’s armor, and another messenger to summon Ken Suna. Both were in the same place, and a bemused Suna followed the armor-bearing servant and the messenger back to the Daimyo’s quarters. Upon her arrival, Eiji asked Suna whether she could summon the spirits of the dead for a short time. He wished to give Otochitomono-kane peace by assuring her that her murderer had been killed. The mystic refused, however, stating that the raising of spirits fell under Necromancy, foul, evil magic. Recalling his experiences at Odawara, Eiji understood the perils immediately and dismissed Suna.

The rest of the evening he spent authoring a letter to the Ryukyu Kingdom, explaining the circumstances behind Otochitomono-kane’s death. This he packaged with the princess’ body, as well as Eiichi’s head, sword, and armor, and ordered that it be sent by ship, along with an honor guard, to the kingdom in the West.

Though greatly disturbed by the events of the past month, Eiji busied himself for the remainder of the week organizing his planned tournament and overseeing recruitment efforts for the clan’s military. He also ordered the construction of a stone monolith, a monument to all those who had lost their lives at Odawara Castle. This time was uneventful, save for Yamada Junko noticing that one of her ninja had gone missing on a routine patrol. An investigation revealed the place where he had vanished, but nothing was there save for the signs of a struggle and three great gouges ripped into the bark of a tree, as by a huge claw. When brought to the scene, Suna confirmed that the marks had indeed been made by some kind of gigantic tiger-like creature.

The day of the tournament arrived to much excitement. Advertising of the contest around Ichikawa had resulted in a huge turnout of approximately one hundred participants. The majority hopefuls were armed with wooden swords from the Nakamura army’s training division, while those with more unique weapons were provided wooden equivalents by Suna’s magic.

Junko, Ayame, and Suna all entered the preliminaries, where they competed with great success. Ayame and Suna both achieved a place in the final sixteen participants with ease, but Yamada Junko had the misfortune to encounter a powerful opponent on her final round. Tsukahara Bokuden, having traveled to Shimosa proper after the siege of Odawara, dispatched the ninja master with a single, calculated blow to the head.

The day after the preliminaries, the actual tournament was held with much more festivity. Open to the public, it was presided over by Nakamura Eiji, with Okuni at his side. Accompanying the woman was another, unknown figure, wearing the traditional red and white of a shrine priestess with her features covered by a crimson hooded cloak. A number of other notables were in attendance for the event, including Usami Kageie.

The first round saw Tsukahara Bokuden facing off against another, similarly clothed figure. A gruff, bearded man wearing a kimono much more tattered and worn than that of his opponent, he sported two finely crafted katana at his sides. Bokuden led off with a blinding assault, which the other man only barely managed to block, suffering a shallow cut down his sternum. Another such exchange followed, with Bokuden again leaving a red line across his opponent’s skin. With their swords locked, the rougher of the two leaned across and whispered something in the kensei’s ear. With this they disengaged, and Bokuden raised his sword in victory as his opponent exited the arena.

Suna’s opponent for the first round was a short man with a full beard wearing nothing but a vest and leggings. He carried a long, club-like rectangle of metal that barely qualified as a sword. As the mystic charged him, he took a stance with his feet set in the ground, weapon raised above his shoulder. Then, as Suna leaped to attack with her claws, he swung with his entire body, crashing the flat side of his sword into his opponent’s forehead with a resounding clang. Suna flew backward from the impact before slamming into the edge of the arena, unconscious but not severely injured.

A flamboyant, richly dressed man, sporting cape and mask, was selected as Ayame’s first opponent. He flaunted into the ring and introduced himself as the great Ishikawa Goemon, king of thieves. Despite his grandiose entrance, however, the ninja made short work of her opponent. As soon as the battle began, Goemon was held roughly in place by a multitude of almost-invisible strings, binding his limbs to his sides and rendering him helpless. Though he managed to break free once, the strings merely entangled him again, with Ayame constricting until the masked man gave up.

Along with these, several other fights took place. Douji, who had apparently entered at Kageie’s bequest, defeated his first opponent with a single swing of his massive kanabou. The other man was unable to even break the giant’s skin. Also notable was a young girl with oddly-colored purple hair, wearing a white robe with yellow trim and bearing an exquisitely-crafted sword of obvious quality. As the fight began, she drew a line in the sand around her and then stood still, looking into the distance with an expression of marked disinterest. As soon as her opponent crossed the line, however, there was a flash of steel and the man was sent barreling past her, bleeding from a deep gash across his chest. The girl’s blade had been drawn and resheathed faster than any eye could follow.

With the contestants reduced to eight, the first day of the tournament concluded.

The first round of the next day of combat had Douji pitted against the remarkable girl from the first round. She began the battle in the same way, drawing a line in the sand and standing disinterested, despite the imposing physique and obvious power of her opponent. Douji, however, charged her as soon as the fight began, swinging his heavy kanabou. As he crossed the line on the ground, the girl’s blade flashed out of its sheathe, cutting a deep and bloody swathe across the giant’s chest. Though the blow would have instantly felled any human, Douji was unfazed and followed through with his swing. Registering surprise for the first time, the girl barely dodged out of the way of the strike, suffering only a glancing blow. Not waiting for him to approach this time, she attacked again, cutting a gash through Douji’s arm as he swung the great club once again. This blow the girl did not dodge as deftly, and it caught her with almost full force across the ribs. With a rush of air, she was sent hurtling across the ring and slammed into the far border. Though unconscious, she was not severely injured, and was immediately taken away by a medic team for treatment.

Ayame found herself matched with the short, bearded man who had so summarily dispatched Suna the previous day. As the match began, she attempted the same tactic she had used against Goemon, and wrapped the thin strings around the other man in a move to bind his movements. Obviously wary for some sort of trick, however, he caught the strings around his heavy blade, breaking them with a rough swing. The ninja brought up another cloud of monofilaments, and he cut through these as well, rushing Ayame with his weapon poised to swing. Dodging fluidly out of the way, she used the opportunity to finally entangle the man, holding him at bay a few feet away. Though he was unable to move, the strings were harmless against his thick, rough skin, and the two were held at an impasse. After a time of the two standing in these positions, the bearded man apparently lost interest, and relinquished the fight.

Tsukahara Bokuden and a swarthy, well-muscled man also dispatched their opponents, each with considerably less effort than their other peers.

On the third day of the tournament, the semifinals, Bokuden was paired to fight against Douji. Though this was accepted as a fight to be seen, his opponent never arrived. News came that Douji and Kageie had disappeared somewhere together, and so the kensei won the round by default.

For her fight, Ayame was pitted against the swarthy man, who faced her with just a single katana. Despite having made it to the semifinals, the man was decidedly weak, and Ayame finished him within a few seconds of the fight beginning.

With Eiji whooping and cheering from his presiding seat, the final fight of the tournament unfolded as Ayame faced the legendary Tsukahara Bokuden. She began the fight with the same tactic she had used in the previous battles, whipping into being a swarm of near-invisible threads seeking to entangle her opponent. Acting with surprise at the sudden appearance of her weapon, Bokuden bore an expression of profound shock as his sword was pulled from his hand and thrown out of his reach. Now unarmed, he conceded the duel. Though the audience was disappointed with such an easy victory on the part of Ayame, only Junko’s keen eyes saw the kensei deliberately release the blade as the ninja’s monofilaments wrapped around it.

In the aftermath of the tournament, Ayame requested that she be elevated officially to the status of a general of the Nakamura Clan working directly under the Daimyo. Eiji happily agreed, and had all of the procedures handled with haste. Though the festival had succeeded in raising everyone’s spirits, it was only a few days before another challenge presented itself.

A squad of Takeda samurai arrived shortly after these events, bearing the severed head of a Nakamura ninja and claiming that the clan had assassinated Takeda’s only son and heir. In response to the assault, Takeda Shingen had disengaged from his conflict with Uesugi, and accepted an alliance with the Oda Clan in preparation to fight a war on two fronts. Eiji resolutely refuted the accusations, though it was obvious that the messengers did not believe him. He allowed them to return unscathed, and Ayame, who was deeply troubled by the event, asked for permission to return to the Takeda seat of Kai and explain the situation. Eiji granted this to her, and she departed the same day.

While Ayame was away, Eiji was approached by his mistress Okuni. Due to recent events, she was distrustful of those people surrounding her lord, expecting another betrayal. Thus, she assigned to him one of her most trusted servants, the red-cloaked woman seen at the tournament, who she introduced as Mito-jō no Oeyo. She was described as adept at rooting out treachery, and would henceforth travel with Eiji as one of his generals, to keep a wary eye on those around him.

Several days later, Ayame returned with news from the Takeda clan. Though Shingen was still angry and distrustful, at the ninja’s urging he had agreed to secretly meet with Eiji on the outskirts of Kai. Lacking other options, the Daimyo wrote a short letter to Uesugi Kenshin, explaining the situation, then gathered his generals and had Ayame and Junko smuggle him into the Takeda territories for his meeting.

The talks took place in the back room of a secluded sake den on the fringes of Kai. Eiji and his generals arrived first, and settled into the cramped, shadowy room. They were kept waiting for half an hour before another, hulking figure entered the enclave. Contrary to his desires for an inconspicuous meeting, Takeda Shingen was dressed in a bright red, armored robe bearing his clan symbol. His huge frame was crowned by a mask of the same color that covered the upper half of his face, sporting a fierce mustache, stubby horns, and a mane of blinding white hair. Accompanying him was another kunoichi dressed in the same manner as Ayame. Though beautiful, she was obviously older, and moved with practiced confidence.

Takeda Shingen was not a stupid man, as he explained. The sudden assassination of his son by a Nakamura ninja was obviously a setup. As the crimson Daimyo saw it, a stupid man would have lashed out at Oda, rather than Takeda, and a wise man would not antagonize another clan while at war with such a superpower. However, the people of Kai demanded justice, and barring some proof that Oda was behind the attack, he would have to make a move against the Nakamura clan.

As the two lords spoke, Junko’s caught a glimmer of movement in the shadows on the opposite side of the room. A hunched, quasihuman figure had phased through the wall behind Shingen, and raised a huge claw-like appendage, preparing to bring it down on the unsuspecting Daimyo. Without hesitation, Junko detached a shadow from her side of the room and sent it stabbing at the intruder. The figure dodged at the last moment. Unharmed, but unbalanced, it stumbled into the light at the center of the room.

Only Yamada Junko recognized the mangled form of Hattori Hanzo. His corpse, sliced to pieces by the enemy ninja, had been crudely sewn together in a macabre patchwork. Where his arm had been before now rested a huge, mutated tiger arm, sewn onto his body in the same fashion. Hanzo’s dead eyes scanned the room hungrily, devoid of any glimmer of intelligence.

As the intruder was revealed, the whole room immediately leaped into action. Junko struck with another shadow, sending the enemy lithely dodging backwards, also narrowly avoiding a sword strike from Eiji. The motion sent him into the grasp of Takeda Shingen, who ripped a pair of huge war fans from their position behind his seat and fashioned them into a single giant weapon, striking at Hanzo.

The ninja barely dodged this strike as well, and was regaining his balance when the older kunoichi stepped forward, a slight smile on her face. She made a ripping motion with one hand, and Hanzo literally fell to pieces. Monofilament strands glittered in the candlelight where they had shorn through the stitches holding the necromantic monstrosity in one piece.

After the commotion, and having had the circumstances behind the attack explained to him, Shingen decided that the corpse of a legendary Oda ninja was sufficient evidence to avoid conflict with the Nakamura. He wasted no time in proposing an alliance to Eiji, wishing to unite the three great clans Takeda, Uesugi, and Nakamura against the dark force growing to the West.

The alliance confirmed, they set to work on a plan. Shingen and Eiji would both send messages to Uesugi, asking for his aid. Then, on the first day of the next month, hopefully before Oda learned of the coalition, Takeda would march their armies to the west, following a mountain pass into the heart of Oda territory. At the same time, the Nakamura forces would strike from the South, working their way West from Odawara then North up the coast. Uesugi Kenshin would do the opposite, defeating the Oda forces massing in the North, then working his way south. The three armies would converge on Owari province, the seat of the Oda Clan, and force the Demon Lord, Oda Nobunaga into a confrontation.

With this decided, Eiji and his generals began their return to Shimosa, in preparation for the coming war. While camping one night on the way back, Eiji was accosted in his tent by Takeda’s kunoichi from the meeting. She explained a plan to elevate Ayame to official noble status in the Takeda clan, then marry her to the Nakamura Daimyo to cement their alliance. Nakamura Eiji took little convincing, and excitedly agreed. So it was that, upon their return to Ichikawa, the ninja Ayame, stunning in her blood-red wedding dress, was married to the Daimyo of the Nakamura Clan, Nakamura Eiji.

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