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Rise of the Nakamura

Part 14 - Battle for Japan
August 1653

Suddenly alone in a starless wasteland, confronted with a horror beyond comprehension, the Nakamura army was addressed by a booming voice which emanated from the very black sand below their feet. The unseen presence both chided and lauded their ambition, then made a momentous offer. If [[:nakamura eiji]] could defeat the voice’s avatar, Japan would be his. With that, the beast before them roared, thrashing its bloody appendage about, and charged forward, ponderous claws raking the ground.

Frightened and confused by their situation, but emboldened by the presence of their leader, the Nakamura army met the creature in combat. First to the fray was Chisawa Ai, drawing a circle in the sand around herself and waiting stoically for the approaching monster. It reached her with talons flailing, the first of which she dodged, but the second tore a shallow gash across her. Unfazed by the minor wound, she responded with a lightning slash of her blade, tearing a much deeper wound in the creature’s bulbous flesh, from which gushed a foul, black ichor.

Yamada Junko struck the monster’s back, pinning it between the two fighters. A torrent of shadows battered the thing’s pale skin, but had little effect on the blubbery mass. Joining her were Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen, approaching from either side. The former was cloaked in ornate, interlocking plates formed from shimmering light, and holding a blade made of the same ethereal energy, while the latter hefted his enormous, double-headed war fan, the weapon thrumming with power. As they slashed attacks across the creature’s unarmored flesh, a monstrous cat with twenty eyes and flaming claws crawled from the ground nearby, summoned by Suna’s magic, and added its own formidable prowess to the fray.

Attacked from all sides, and with Mito-jō no Oeyo commanding gouts of electricity from afar, which raced painfully up and down its flesh, the creature made another mighty swing at Chisawa Ai. Her expression distant, the young kensei evaded the blow by stepping lightly onto her enemy’s claw as it crashed to the ground, and sprinting lithely up its arm. As she reached its neck, her sword left its sheathe, tearing a gaping wound up the monster’s neck and across its head. Bursting forth with black ichor, it writhed in pain and rage before letting off an unearthly screech that cut jaggedly through the air like a rusted knife.

Those who heard the cry felt their concentration and determination waver. It was as though the sound was reverberating in their very souls. Though most of the fighters were able to push through its effects, Ayame was severely afflicted, the curse roiling around her as a visible, oily black cloud. So affected, her movements adopted a more violent manner, and she turned on the nearby Junko, monofilaments ripping into the smaller ninja’s exposed back. Only slightly wounding her target, Ayame prepared for another attack. Before she could raise her arms, Eiji was in front of her, Kusanagi no Tsurugi slicing through the air just shy of her exposed throat. The black mist vanished, the curse dispersed, while Eiji caught his wife in his arms as she slowly fell to the ground.

The two embraced in the chaos of the battlefield, as the other warriors remained locked in battle with their cyclopean foe. Takeda Shingen, enraged by the attack on his sanity, charged his weapon with an enormous surge of energy. The characters for wind, forest, fire, and mountain wrote themselves in the air above the surface of his fan, before combining into a single, glowing fire character that blazed with blinding intensity. His war fan slashed down with inexorable momentum, burning a livid path through the creature’s wrist and cleanly severing its right claw from its arm.

Howling again, the bloody tentacle thrashed about wildly and split itself into two lengths, whipping dangerously through the air in front of it. One of the appendages scooped up Junko in its glistening grasp, and there was an audible shudder of energy and her very life force was eroded by contact with its blasphemous flesh.

Confirming Ayame’s safety, Eiji released her and rejoined the battle. Hands in his pockets, he walked calmly up to the enemy and materialized four elegant blades around him. The first two darted forward like arrows, burying themselves to the hilt in the creature’s pale ribs and evoking another cry of pain. Slicing through the air with inhuman grace, the other blades cut deep into each shoulder, before all four released a stunning blast of electricity. With a dramatic flash of energy, the being’s arms blasted off in opposite directions, as its flesh began to bubble and deform at its feet, rising and twisting through its body until, finally, with one last horrific scream, the horror exploded in a violent torrent of oily black gore.

With the avatar’s death, the bleak scenery around them dissolved, eroding from the sky downward until they were again standing the deserted streets of Owari Castle. Shingen promptly sat down on the ground and produced a small gourd of sake from within the folds of his elaborate outfit. He waved vaguely and his matronly ninja master appeared by his side. Instructing her to take evidence of Oda Nobunaga’s death and show it to the armies fighting outside in order to end hostilities, then turned his attention back to the recovering Nakamura Army.

Meanwhile, Uesugi Kenshin, his chest gouged deeply with a crosswork of claw wounds, unceremoniously fell backward and thudded against the dusty ground, his posture never failing. Sighing, Shingen picked up his fallen rival and roughly slung him over one shoulder. Nodding to Eiji, he stated that it was fairly obvious at this point which of the many contenders was fit to become the military ruler of Japan. There would be some land issues to work out, but that could be handled in the Capital, when Nakamura Eiji took his place as Shogun.

As the sounds of conflict beyond the walls ceased, and a peaceful calm descended upon the castle, Chisawa Ai turned to the Nakamura Daimyo and unexpectedly challenged him to a duel. Though surprised, he accepted, and the two faced off in the deserted city. Ai led off with her distinctive stance and circle drawn in the sand, and Eiji materialized three of his blades. The first one was deftly dodged, and his opponent countered with a blinding strike, sword leaping from her sheathe and grazing a thin cut across Eiji’s chest. The Daimyo’s other two swords also missed their marks, cutting shallow wounds across the kensei’s body but failing to seriously injure her.

As Ai resheathed her blade and concentrated, Eiji launched another attack with four swords. In her focused state, the swordswoman almost effortlessly dodged three of the attacks. The fourth blade, however, which had not been present in the previous assault, materialized behind her and swept in a deadly arc toward her calf, cleanly severing her left leg at the knee. Ai’s face registering vague shock, she collapsed forward, suddenly unable to support her own weight, and was unconscious before she hit the ground. Though her appendage was cleanly replaced by Suna’s magic, the victory was clearly Eiji’s.

So it was that the Sengoku Period ended, and the era of the Nakamura Shogunate began. Eiji merged provinces based on their previous clan ownership, so that Japan was divided among a small number of large states, each held by a formidable power. Shimosa itself was merged into the largest and most prosperous of the new states, with its favorable location spanning the Southern coast, and Nakamura Eiji officially moved the Capital from Kyoto to his home city of Ichikawa. There, he had a healthy son by Okuni, whom he named Nakamura Neji, and declared his heir.

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Part 13 - Dark Lord's Demise
August 1653

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.

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Chapter 12 - The Battle of Totomi
August 1653

After the wedding, preparations continued smoothly for the planned march on the Oda Clan. As he worked the necessary arrangements, Nakamura Eiji was visited by two individuals seeking to march with him at the new month. Kaihime and the blade-wielding girl from the tournament, who introduced herself as Chisawa Ai, both arrived at his quarters, requesting they be taken with. It seemed that Kaihime wanted revenge for the annihilation of her town, and Ai simply felt that, since strong people tend to gather around Eiji, following him would be a rewarding experience.

At the designated time, the first of August, the Nakamura army began its march Westward. Eiji remained with his sizable body of troops and generals, Ayame riding beside him, while Yamada Junko scouted ahead. The force passed through Musashi without incident, and began their entry into Sagami, where they planned to give the ruined Odawara Castle a wide berth.

About a mile ahead of the main group, Junko encountered a set of three hulking figures proceeding down the road towards the army. Their leader was clad in interlocking, organic-looking plates of armor, and held a huge wicked looking sword in its one normal arm. The other appendage twisted unnaturally and ended in a massive misshapen claw. Following it were two other shambling brutes, similar to the larger one but still bearing some characteristics of the peasants they once were.

Junko had been gifted by Ken Suna’s magic with preternatural speed, and now used this speed to almost instantly cover the mile separating her and Eiji. Upon learning of the advancing monstrosities, the Nakamura Daimyo ordered his army to a halt. He and his generals would face the creatures alone. Gathering his allies, they marched ahead of the force until they encountered their would-be attackers.

As the others were still readying for combat, Chisawa Ai stepped forward calmly and stood in front of Suna, Kaihime, and Oeyo, the party’s three most vulnerable members. She took her sword sheathe and carefully drew a line in front of the others, then simply stood in the same position and gazed upon the enemies dispassionately.

Eiji, giving off an air of utter confidence, walked up to the leading monster with his hands in his pockets and stood before it. Without him moving, a pair of blades materialized in the air beside him and struck at the creature. The first blow clashed harmlessly against its heavy armor, but the second one found purchase and lodged itself within the hulk’s flesh, giving off a brutal discharge of electricity. Silently, the thing counterattacked, swinging both massive blade and twisted claw, but Eiji, hands still in his pockets, effortlessly evading the swings.

Back with the ranged parties, Suna crafted a spell to give her control of one of the mutated peasants, taking hold over its afflicted soul. At the same time, Oeyo moved to where she could achieve a clear line of sight on the other peasant, and produced an iron spike from her robes. As she concentrated, electricity began to crackle in the air, and the spike hovered for a moment before being magnetically hurled with a sudden sonic boom. The metal shot straight through the chest of the peasant and continued onward. Her opponent was still alive, but obviously staggered.

The rest of the generals focused their attacks on the hulking leader, Eiji battering it with ethereal swords, Ayame harrying it from behind with her monofilaments, Junko strafing the creature too quickly to be seen, and the controlled peasant slashing at it with his blade. At once, Eiji saw an opening, and a single sword plunged through an overlapping plate in the armor, impaling deep into the creature’s flesh. With a burst of electricity, the giant stopped moving, then slowly collapsed forward.

Kaihime ignited the injured peasant monstrosity with an explosive burst of flame, leaving nothing but ashes, and the remaining creature, under Suna’s command, ripped its own heart out before falling dead. The enemies dispatched, the Nakamura generals returned to their forces and resumed their Westward march.

Moving at a brisk pace, the army skirted Odawara and entered into Suruga, the beginning of Oda’s territories. There, scouting ahead, Junko discovered that the castle town had already been seized by a contingent of armed Buddhist monks. Investigating further, she accosted an acolyte and learned that they had attacked the town to avenge Oda’s supposed destruction of a nearby temple. Amused, the ninja returned and imparted this news to Eiji.

As before, the Daimyo ordered his troops to a halt and took his generals to the town. At the gates, they were met with a more severe-looking, bearded monk, who appeared to be their leader. He denied working for Uesugi Kenshin, as Eiji originally assumed, and explained his follower’s righteous rage at the wrongdoings of the Oda clan. Upon learning of the other’s war against Nobunaga, and after some deliberation, the man donated two squads of warrior monks to Eiji’s cause, and granted him free passage through the province they now held.

Thus the march resumed. The terrain began to turn rocky and mountainous, as the Nakamura army began to enter the province of Totomi. Scouting as is procedure, Junko encountered a large company of horsemen waiting to ambush them at the top of a long incline. Behind the cavalry was a sizable group of Ashigaru, apparently commanded by the mangy, monkey-looking man she had encountered before in Suruga. With him was an oddly-dressed man wearing leather, a wide-brimmed hat, and a red scarf. Apparently seeing Junko from her hiding place, he looked up at her and smiled, before she vanished and returned to bring the news to Eiji.

Upon assessing the situation, Oeyo teleported herself far ahead of the advancing army, atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the enemy force. Bringing her psychic power to bear, she issued an irrefutable command to a large portion of the cavalrymen waiting below, forcing them to attack their allies, then rush the waiting Ashigaru in their main camp. Junko, who had been observing the enemy army from an opposite cleft, observed the monkey general send a messenger down another pass. As soon as the courier was out of sight, she ambushed him, killing the hapless man instantly and procuring the message, which she took back to Eiji.

The missive, written to an unnamed third party, simply stated that the main army was in turmoil, and ordered the reader to dismiss the original plan and instead provide reinforcements. Eiji, immediately recognizing the presence of another enemy force, dispatched Junko to search for the recipient of the letter, a task that took her mere seconds. Up a mountain pass connected to the main valley, she found another large contingent of cavalrymen, led by a muscular, wild-looking man with long hair and a bare chest.

Silently, Junko appeared on the head of the leader’s horse, managing half of a sentence before he reflexively batted her away with the blunt of his spear. Injured, but unfazed, the ninja proceeded to tell the angry man that his main force was in shambles. Muttering something about never having liked the plan, he roared and rallied his men, leading them charging down the mountain path and into the valley. Junko, meanwhile, vanished, returned to Suna for healing of her wounds.

From her perch upon the nearby cliff, Mito-jō no Oeyo watched as the reinforcing cavalry charged from the mountain pass and into an empty valley, where they halted and began to look about confusedly. As she prepared to inflict a similar fate upon the hapless horsemen, she was interrupted by a boot pressed firmly to the back of her neck, forcing her head into the dirt. Her assailant’s words were lost on her, until she established a telepathic link to facilitate communication.

After confirming that the attacker was indeed an enemy, she teleported a short distance away and faced him. The hat-sporting man from before turned to face her with a vague smile, brandishing a garish, but exquisitely crafted red pistol. Recognizing it as a weapon, though dissimilar to the rifles she was familiar with, Oeyo summoned up a magnetic field to rip it from his hands, leaving the weapon hovering jerkily to her side.

As soon as he was disarmed, the man pulled another pistol from his belt, this one a metallic blue, and, without hesitation, shot out the priestess’ kneecap. Breathless from the pain, but retaining her composure, Oeyo dropped to one knee, the other leg unable to support her weight. Her assailant calmly closed the distance between them, the pistol trained on the crouched woman. Then, as he bent down to grab her, his own shadow morphed into a solid form and smashed him across the face.

Leaping backward, with a trickle of blood marring his lip, he quickly turned to discover Yamada Junko standing behind him, arms crossed. Recognizing the threat, he immediately shot out the ninja’s leg with another well-aimed bullet. To his somewhat disturbed surprise, this did not seem to inconvenience her in the least, and Junko was instantly behind him and attacking with another shadow. What followed was a battle of attrition. The scarfed man was able to fend off the ninja’s strikes with moderate success, but whenever he would line up a shot he found that he could not bring himself to pull the trigger. It was as though he had a mental block preventing him from attacking. Meanwhile, Oeyo teleported back to Eiji and Suna, who restored her leg back to functionality.

After being worn to exhaustion, the man finally gave up. Declaring himself “dead”, he proceeded to sit upon a nearby rock and watch with his arms crossed. Shrugging, Junko vanished and returned to the main force, which was quickly approaching the valley proper.

As soon as the Nakamura army entered the pass, the cavalry, reformed under the command of Oda’s monkey general, charged. Leading the force was the wild man who has wounded Junko, his steed far faster and stronger than any normal horse. Suna chose the right moment, and inserted a spell between the leading man and the remaining cavalry, causing a huge tiger-like monstrosity with flaming claws to burst from the ground before them. A few horsemen managed to skirt it and continue, but the majority of the force was brought to a halt as their mounts panicked.

Making use of her unnatural speed, Junko vanished and reappeared amongst the Ashigaru soldiers guarding the enemy generals. With a huge burst of shadowy energy, she sent men flying in every direction, breaking several ranks. As the chaos subsided, she was gone again, returned to the main force.

Meanwhile, the leading horseman was bearing down on Chisawa Ai, who had drawn a long line in the dirt some distance ahead of the army, and was waiting behind it, sword arm ready. The larger man burst over the line, massive spear arcing towards her as Ai released her blade from its sheathe and scored it across her opponent’s exposed skin. To her horror, the wild man merely grinned and shrugged off the blow without injury, his muscled flesh harder than armor, then completed his swing, tearing a deep gash down Ai’s shoulder.

Before he had another chance to strike, Nakamura Eiji was between him and the swordsman, hands in his pockets and four swords materializing and diving towards him point-first. This attack was as successful as the previous, however, and his opponent smashed the swords out of the air with his arms, their keen blades not penetrating his skin. Eiji barely dodged the man’s spear as it ripped through the air where he was standing a moment before. Still grinning, the assailant turned his horse and began to gallop back towards his own force.

The maneuvering provided Chisawa Ai with a valuable opportunity, and her blade, coated in a thin sheen of her own blood, shot out of its sheathe with an audible crack of energy, rending the air before her. Her mounted opponent’s grin froze, as his leg cleanly separated itself from his body, and his slid almost soundlessly off his horse, unconscious from shock.

While this was occuring, Junko engaged in another raid against the enemy Ashigaru, appearing in a burst of shadow and blowing away the remainders of the defensive force. Before she could vanish again, however, the older enemy general waved his staff in a wide arc and froze her in place. Where Junko had stood a moment before was now only a stone caricature of her former self, unmoving and unaware.

Rightfully fearing the battle to be lost, the monkey general turned toward the Nakamura force and raised his hands to cast one final, devastating spell. Before he could utter the words, two strands of monofilament whipped from the shadows behind him, cleanly severing his raised arms. Wordlessly, he collapsed, dead before he hit the ground, with his wooden staff clattering forlornly beside him. Simultaneously, the spell petrifying Junko was released, and the last remnants of the Oda force scattered, spelling another victory for the mighty Nakamura.

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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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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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Part 9 - Mishima
May - June 1563

The day after the battle, Nakamura Eiji 中村英治 gave his companion of last night, introduced as Ayame, her promised report. Having been filled in on the details of the previous night’s battle, she asked Eiji’s permission and left for Mishima to deliver the information.

Walking outside, he encountered a large group of soldiers watching some activity in the middle of the camp, jeering and making catcalls. The source of their attention turned out to be Nakamura Eiichi, naked in a puddle of mud and making love to an unknown woman, revealed to be the succubus summoned the previous day. Disgusted, Eiji dispersed the troops with a barked order, shouting for them to form up and prepare to march. In the puddle, Eiichi finished his activity and stood up, playfully tapping his brother in as he walked away, completely unabashed.

The rest of the army awoke and mobilized at their Daimyo’s command, marching further south and making camp just outside the city. Mishima was a bustling port town, surrounded by lush forests and rife with merchants and products from across Japan. Upon their arrival, Nakamura Eiji prepared an entourage to speak with the leaders of the city, Yamada Junko and Ken Suna left to investigate the area, and Nakamura Eiichi departed on his own.

The first to reach and see the city was Yamada Junko. Stealthily climbing from rooftop to rooftop, she carefully scanned the streets and markets for anything unusual. Not long after she began scouting, she spotted, among the bustling shoppers, a short, tottering old woman with white hair. Gouta’s mother, Usami Kageie was inexplicably and quite happily shuffling from stall to stall, purchasing travelling supplies. Escorting her was a huge, muscular man, almost twice as tall as Junko, with a mane of unkempt red hair. His bare chest was tattooed with swooping red tribal designs, and his eyes, carefully watching the crowd around him, literally smoldered like embers.

Reaching a decision, Junko appeared in front of Kageie, who seemed not at all surprised to see her. The old woman was delighted to learn that Eiji was in town, and promised to visit him during his stay. Pleasantries exchanged, Junko returned to shadowing the two, who shopped for a few more supplies before retiring to a nondescript inn.

Nakamura Eiji, accompanied by Otochitomono-kane, tasked Hojo Ujiyasu with gathering the influential people of Mishima for a political meeting in a high-end sake den near the market district. The merchant lords, nobles, and politicians who arrived were surprised to be summoned by the aging Daimyo, who they had presumed dead. Sitting next to Ujiyasu, Eiji quietly lit a pipe and explained to them that Izu Province was now under his leadership. In answer to their questions, he explained that not much would change, but that new trade was open to them, and they would now pay taxes and swear allegiance to the Nakamura Clan. The leaders were happy to submit, having expected a much more violent conquest by the Oda Clan.

As they finished their meeting, Otochitomono-kane entered, resplendent in a beautiful oriental gown and attended by a ceremonial guard bearing Honda Tadakatsu‘s armor and trademark antlered helmet. She regaled the Nakamura Clan and Eiji’s exploits, heralding them as the future leaders of all Japan. The listening nobles and tradesmen were tasked with spreading the news of his conquest across the country, to which they respectfully agreed.

Meanwhile, in the Market, Ken Suna was mixing with the bustling crowds and exploring the city. Her keen eyes spotted, across the road, a youth dressed in Nakamura clan colors, hurriedly looking around him as though searching for someone. Amused, Suna began to follow him.

Otochitomono-kane left the council and Eiji to carouse in the sake den, and was apprehended by the harried youth outside of its doors. He respectfully bowed and explained that he was a messenger, bearing a letter for a “Princess Suna”. The ryukyuan princess took the letter herself, briefly opening it and reading its contents before Suna stepped out of the crowd and snatched it from her hand. Otochitomono-kane relented, and departed with her guard to the town’s Shinto shrine, bearing the bodies of Honda Tadakatsu and Tokugawa Ieyasu for proper burial.

Nakamura Eiichi searched the port town for the seediest sake den he could find, picking up an entourage of beautiful women on the way and entering a rickety structure near the docks. Inside, the crowd was dominated by a tall, unkempt man on a makeshift stage, wearing a battered but quality kimono and a large sword sheathed on his back. He boasted of his exploits, calling himself the best swordsman in the land and demanding that anyone confident of their skills challenge him to a duel. Not to be shown up, Eiichi began boasting of his own, and soon the room was filled with a boisterous shouting match between the two ronin.

This continued for a short time, with the jeering audience siding slightly in the unknown man’s favor before, without warning, a drunken Nakamura Eiji burst through the den’s doors, accompanied by a pair of embarrassed-looking guards. Not noticing his brother, he ordered a drink and centered on the boasting man, shouting slurred insults at him. Eiichi quickly attempted to placate his brother, standing up and trying to convince Eiji to calm down and sit at a table.

The server who had taken Eiji’s order for a drink was intercepted by Yamada Junko, who appeared silently from the shadows, and ordered him not to serve the Daimyo any alcohol. The man, shaken by suddenly being accosted from the darkness by a menacing presence, hurriedly agreed.

Eiji, drinking what he believed to be fruit-flavored sake, continued his insulting of the man on stage. He had noticed Eiichi by this point, but made no move to sit with his brother, and ignored all attempts to placate him, instead advancing on his presumed opponent. Junko, wary of her master’s drunken state, silently removed Eiji’s katana from his side before disappearing once again.

The other man, meanwhile, had drawn his blade, a beautifully-crafted nodachi several inches longer than an average specimen of its type, claiming that he only intended to use it for self-defense. Eiji responded by trying to draw his own katana, which was not there, sending him twirling awkwardly. Eiichi took the opportunity to restrain his brother from behind.

Not to be discouraged, Eiji drunkenly rose to the other man’s claim of being the best swordsman in Japan. He introduced his brother as Nakamura Eiji, Daimyo of the great Nakamura clan and best swordsman in the land, much to Eiichi’s own surprise. Muttering incoherently, he then stumbled out of the bar, accompanied by his two guards. The ronin, impressed by Eiji’s claims about his brother, introduced himself as Sasaki Kojiro and challenged Eiichi to a duel. It was decided that they would meet outside of this sake den at sundown in two days, and fight to first blood.

After arranging the duel, Eiichi rushed outside, grabbed his departing brother, spun him around, and loosed a punch at the other’s face. Eiji made no attempt to dodge, but Junko appeared at the last moment and deflected the attack, sending it harmlessly past its intended target’s head. Still fuming, Eiichi launched a strike at the interfering ninja, which landed without any effect, Junko not so much as flinching. Tired and annoyed, Eiji decided to try a gamble. He raised his voice and called out Ayame’s name into the darkness.

Junko attempted to restrain Eiichi, who deftly stepped out of the way, only to be tripped by an unknown presence with a swift sound of tearing cloth. A slight shine betrayed several almost invisible wires extending into the darkness, tying Eiichi’s hands and legs together and leaving him helpless on the ground. One of Eiji’s guards returned with a palanquin and, satisfied, he returned to the camp with Junko, leaving Eiichi tied up on the ground. Once he was out of sight, both the strings and the other presence disappeared, leaving him alone in the dark streets.

The next day, Eiichi went searching for Suna around camp. He had been feeling weak and tired since his encounter with Otochitomono-kane’s summoned demon, and wished to ask the shaman if she had any cure. He found her outside the camp, picking flowers in a field, and explained his situation. Seeming to understand, Suna reached into the recesses of her clothing and produced a live frog, which she proceeded to bite the head off of. To Eiichi’s horror, she shook the remainder of the corpse over him, spattering him with bodily fluids and frog entrails. With the use of his mystical eye, however, he could confirm that the ritual was producing some kind of magical effect. Suna claimed that the ailment should disappear by the next day, and to return to her at the same time tomorrow.

Having taken care of her political business, Otochitomono-kane spent this day traversing the camp, speaking to the soldiers and trying to raise morale. This proved a difficult task as Eiji’s continuous victories, low casualties, and charismatic leadership had inspired his troops to unprecedented highs of confidence and satisfaction. Satisfied that the army was in good order, the princess took her retainer Kaihime and set out to town to shop the diverse markets.

Realizing that, despite her station, she had no actual money, Otochitomono-kane first set out to look for a moneylender in town. A perfunctory search came up with a small, greasy man, who claimed he was willing to lend her money in return for “special favors”. The princess agreed to his terms, and received the currency, leaving Sashisaka, her summoned succubus, to entertain the man as she departed. The demon returned a few hours later, but the unfortunate moneylender was not heard from again.

Eiji returned to town the next day, meeting Usami Kageie and her escort on the road there. The old woman was happy to see him, and explained the circumstances of her situation. She said that she was indeed assaulted by a ninja sent by the Hojo Clan to kidnap her, but that he was very kind once she spoke to him a bit. Kageie decided to fake her own kidnapping, taking the opportunity to leave town for a vacation. Hojo had simply taken advantage of her absence to fake a kidnapping of their own, leaving the ransom note for Gouta. The old woman said that she had been travelling across various provinces, and had met the smoldering man behind her on the way, who she introduced as Douji.

Upon hearing her story, Eiji explained what had happened to Gouta in her absence. Kageie was obviously dissatisfied, and voiced her intent to return to Shimosa and work at breaking her son’s seal. The Daimyo wished her luck, and invited the older woman to join in the feast he was planning upon his return, to which she laughingly agreed.

Another day passed, and Nakamura Eiichi returned to Suna to report that he was feeling cured and revitalized. He proceeded to entreaty the shaman to grant him a magical shield for the night’s duel. Suna grudgingly relented, obviously exhausting herself with the casting of so many spells, then slunk off to rest after the exertion.

Nakamura Eiji, meanwhile, sent a messenger to Sasaki Kojiro, inviting him into the Nakamura camp. Upon his arrival, Eiji explained the misunderstandings of the other night, and apologized for his drunk behavior. Kojiro accepted it graciously, and mentioned his scheduled duel with Eiichi the same night. Upon Eiji’s request, the other samurai happily agreed to allow him to watch the battle in a few hours.

The two leisurely walked to the inn of a few nights past, and took up position by the doors, Kojiro polishing his massive nodachi and Eiji idly chatting with him from his seat on a stack of boxes. A few hours later, Eiichi arrived on the scene as well and, sparing a bitter look for his eagerly watching brother, faced off in a duel with the other swordsman.

Kojiro landed the first strike with his nodachi, swinging the huge blade with more speed and grace than should be possible. Eiichi’s attempted block failed to stop the other’s attack, and he was struck solidly on the shoulder. With a flash of light and a sizzle, the magical shield given him by Suna absorbed the blow and instantly dissipated. Taking the opportunity, Eiichi countered with a swift blade draw, drawing a shallow cut across his opponent’s chest.

Though the terms of the duel should have made this Eiichi’s victory, Kojiro snarled in anger and attacked again, dealing a much deeper wound to the other before sheathing his sword. Not sparing another word, the swordsman stalked away, furious at his defeat. Unknown to him, Eiichi was doing much the same, upset that his victory was the result of Suna’s magic rather than his own skill. Ignoring his fuming brother, Eiji trotted to catch up with Kojiro, eager to learn more about the masterfully wrought blade he wielded. From gritted teeth, the defeated swordsman gave up that it was inherited, before disappearing into a nearby den and drowning his frustration in sake.

The same night, Eiichi, still angered by the events previous, visited the markets in search of a gift to bring to Kanahime upon his return. Settling on a pair of beautiful golden earrings, each set with a sapphire, he bought them and began immediately to walk back to Shimosa province, not waiting for the rest of the army.

Neither surprised nor worried by his brother’s sudden absence, Nakamura Eiji kept his forces outside Mishima for the remainder of the week, giving the men some time off to enjoy the port town. At the end of this period, he mobilized his troops and began a march to Shimosa, sending word ahead to prepare a grand feast for his victorious return.

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Part 8 - The Battle of Izu
May 1563

With a minimum of preparation, the Nakamura forces mobilized once again. Accompanying them was the Daimyo of the ailing Hojo Clan, Hojo Ujiyasu, eager to stop the Southern province of Izu from falling into Oda hands. Heady from their recent victory, and inspired by Nakamura Eiji 中村英治’s masterful leadership, the army made good time, and would soon catch up to their foes.

Yamada Junko, the Nakamura ninja master, took the opportunity to obtain a supply of gunpowder from the Hojo stores in Odawara Castle, and fashioned it into a set of makeshift mines. She outpaced the marching army and soon discovered the Oda ranks further down the peninsula. Moving ahead of the enemy soldiers, she began placing a series of explosive traps to slow their advance. No sooner had she placed the first one, however, than a whooshing noise came and went from behind her, and the mine vanished.

Experimenting, Junko placed a few more mines, and they too were disarmed and spirited away by the unseen observer. Determined to discover the other’s identity, she placed a trap and stood just above it, watching closely. This too failed, however, and she saw nothing but an impression of black cloth and a gust of air as the mine vanished. The presence spoke with her then, from an unseen location, lightly mocking her efforts. A short conversation ensued, until Junko mentioned that the Nakamura forces were en route, at which point the unseen ninja chuckled and disappeared.

The ninja master returned to Eiji’s position, scouting the enemy force en route. She determined that the enemy had equal or slightly fewer numbers than the Nakamura army, a few squads of which seemed somehow wrong. They marched jerkily, as though puppets to an unknown force. After delivering the report to her Daimyo, Junko rejoined the army for a short time before leaving to scout once again.

When she encountered the Oda army this time, they had set up a defensive position in a short inland pass between a mountain and a thick forest. A large command tent was obvious even from her distance, and several squads were visible outside, busily digging pitfall traps in preparation. Groups of archers were deployed on the foothills of the nearby mountain, ready to fire on the attackers.

Upon receiving this intelligence, Nakamura Eiji decided that the army would sweep through the Western forest, attacking the Oda forces from the side and pinning them against the Eastern mountain and their own traps. Meanwhile, Junko would lead a small squad of ninja to the foothills and neutralize the enemy archers.

After reaching the enemy encampment, the Nakamura army waited for the cover of night and attacked. The force’s advance was hindered by the terrain, but unchallenged until they neared the edge of the Oda camp. Waiting for them there was a huge man in full plate armor, a pair of elaborate antlers adorning his helmet and a steel visor covering his eyes. Unmoving, he faced down the opposing ranks with nothing more than 4 squads of samurai reinforcing him.

Without hesitation, Nakamura Eiji sprang into action, cutting a swathe through a group of the opposing samurai. Ken Suna and Otochitomono-kane began their own offensives, bringing into being a monstrous saber-tooth and a battle-ready succubus to attack the enemy ranks. As the others mounted a charge, Nakamura Eiichi rushed the imposing figure at the head of the enemy formation.

Eiichi leaped from his saddle, his sword coming down in an arc at the armored man, who deftly batted him out of the air with the blunt of his spear. Coming down hard on the ground, Eiichi rose again and faced the opponent, who had lowered his spear into a fighting stance. The two exchanged several blows, with the antlered figure blocking every attack and scoring a long gash down Eiichi’s chest, an almost fatal blow. Suna, seeing her ally in grave danger, granted him a magical shield to protect Eiichi from further damage.

Seeing the situation, Otochitomono-kane began weaving spells to inhibit the enemy combatant’s fighting prowess, first aggravating his vulnerability to magic, then crystallizing his flesh, leaving him partially immobile and his armor brittle. Eiji pressed the advantage, launching a series of ultimately ineffectual attacks against the opponent. While he was defending these, however, Eiichi used the opening to launch a powerful Iaijutsu technique, unsheathing his katana and crashing it through his opponent’s armor, crushing metal, flesh, and piercing his heart in one epic blow. The sound resounded around the forest as, slowly, the giant fell to his knees and collapsed, shaking the ground. Triumphant in his victory, Eiichi reached across and grabbed the unprotesting Otochitomono-kane, kissing the princess as the surrounding army erupted in cheers. Horrified at the death of their champion, the other squads of enemy samurai broke and fled.

While this all was occurring, a squad of ninja led by Yamada Junko and her two retainers sneaked around the mountain opposite, intent on ambushing the waiting archers. As they approached the foothills, Junko’s keen nightvision spotted a squad of enemy ninja lying in wait to ambush any attackers. She darted forward, leaving her squads behind, but was brought up short as another ninja appeared from the darkness and unceremoniously assassinated both Ajibana Chinatsu and Maeda Fujima, thrusting a wrist-mounted blade through their hearts from behind.

Determined to avenge the death of her sister and loyal underling, Junko rushed back and engaged the other ninja in melee combat. They quickly proved to be an almost even match, with the enemy teleporting around the battlefield to gain an edge, but Junko’s keen perception and whirling kusarigama nullifying any advantage. Each scored several flesh wounds on the other, slashes and strikes being exchanged too quickly for an ordinary observer to follow. Finally, Junko launched a direct attack at the other, flinging one sickle at him. As he contemptuously knocked it away, the other blade rushed through the air behind him and severed his head with a wet sucking sound. His body collapsed to the ground, motionless.

On the other side of the battle, Tokugawa Ieyasu had done his best to set up a defensive line against the attacking Nakamura, but was in a poor situation. The enemy’s unexpected assault from the Western forest, combined with the loss of his ace, Honda Tadakatsu, left him and his army pinned against the Eastern mountain cliffs and their own carefully placed traps.

Otochitomono-kane continued to cast offensive spells, creating a great dome of negative energy that instantly killed a huge amount of enemy troops, breaking all but one squad in the radius. As the front lines of the Nakamura broke through, led by Eiji, Nakamura Eiichi rocketed past the ensuing conflict. Catching Tokugawa Ieyasu off guard, he unsheathed his blade and removed the enemy Daimyo’s head with a single, calculated slash. Historians agree that this was a very anticlimactic way for one of the great strategists of the time to fall.

As Ieyasu’s corpse fell to the ground, and his head tumbled away, the remaining Oda forces surrendered, their morale shattered. Those two inhuman-seeming squads that Junko had spotted before simply stopped moving, frozen in various stages of attack amongst squads of Nakamura’s ashigaru.

Once Junko returned and reported, having viciously carved the enemy ninja master into small pieces after killing him, Eiji decided to set up camp in the pass for the remainder of the night, taking advantage of the already-established defenses. The Nakamura Daimyo himself took residence in Tokugawa’s command tent, searching the laid out maps and battle plans for useful intelligence.

Time passed uneventfully until Yamada Junko, on watch, spotted a single figure observing the camp from the forest. Sneaking behind the infiltrator, she surprised the ninja from behind by clasping onto the other’s legs, startling it out of the tree. Junko’s captive was revealed to be a beautiful woman dressed in blood red ninja gear.

The Nakamura ninja master did not release her grasp, but instead climbed the taller woman and latched on to her torso, holding her in the awkward position until Nakamura Eiji approached. A short discussion revealed her to be a spy from the Northern Takeda Clan, sent to observe their military movements. Seduced by Eiji’s handsome and charming demeanor, she decided to spend the night with him, rather than returning to the city of Mishima to deliver her report.

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Part 7 - The Siege of Odawara
May, 1563

After hearing the alarm sounded and seeing Hojo’s troops rushing to the West side of the castle, Nakamura Eiichi attempted to locate the two sources of supernatural power he had seen from outside the castle. The spot of emptiness was nowhere to be seen, but a large source of Ki energy he identified as Hojo Ujiyasu was moving from the castle and toward the Western wall. Seeing an opportunity to strike at the enemy Daimyo, Eiichi urged his companion Tsukahara Bokuden to follow him to the other side of the castle and assess the situation.

Visible from the West side of the castle, across a large river and just within the boundaries of the Sagami province, a large army bearing the Oda flag had set up camp. A portion of their forces had detached to the south, where they had blocked the path to Hojo’s other province of Izu, effectively cutting off supplies or reinforcements.

As Eiichi and Bokuden took this in, a loud crack erupted from the tower above them, and with the sound came a deep whistling and an explosion. The Oda forces that had blocked off the trade route to Izu scattered as the projectile pierced their ranks. Those who had escaped the blast reformed, and it became obvious that the soldiers were mobilizing to move out of the weapon’s apparent range.

Meanwhile, Nakamura Eiji and his army were camped on the opposide side of Odawara Castle. After receiving report of the Oda army to the West, the young Daimyo deliberated for a time before sending a missive via ninja to the other army. Enclosed was a short challenge, calling the Oda Daimyo to meet the Nakamura army in the center of the besieged castle. After a short time, a reply arrived, signed by a general named Tokugawa Ieyasu. The letter claimed that Oda Nobunaga was not present at the battle, and that the army was under orders to eliminate the Hojo clan, rather than to claim the castle. Thus, the Oda forces would not interfere.

As the bombardment continued on the Western front, Eiichi and Bokuden decided that it was a good time to attempt the assassination of Hojo Ujiyasu. The two returned to the castle, which, among the excitement, was guarded by only a single man. Tsukahara Bokuden did not want to kill the man, his reputation at stake, and so they decided to charm their way past. Despite the best efforts of the two handsome men, however, the guard remained stoic. He tersely informed them that the Daimyo was not currently in the castle, when they asked for an audience. This confirmed Eiichi’s suspicion that the Ki power he had seen before was indeed Hojo Ujiyasu, and he began to move back to the Western wall.

Back in the forests to the East, Nakamura Eiji’s patience had reached its end. He ordered Yamada Junko to infiltrate the castle and open its Eastern gates, then began to mobilize his forces for a charge.

Eiichi and Bokuden once again moved to the Western part of the castle. On their way there, they spotted another man returning from the wall with an entourage. His unique outfit and weapon, along with the samurai protecting him, identified the bored-looking man as Hojo Ujiyasu himself. Nakamura wanted to attack immediately, but Tsukahara Bokuden balked at ambushing him in an open location with so many witnesses. Reaching a decision, Eiichi tore himself away from his partner and rushed the Daimyo.

Meanwhile, the alarm had been sounded for an attack from the East, and Hojo’s men were desperately attempting to mount a defense on the less well-fortified side of the castle. Junko pushed the on-duty guard off of the gate tower to his death below, then activated the mechanism to swing the heavy doors open. The Nakamura cavalry, formed in a wedge around their Daimyo, surged into the castle, followed closely by the infantry and the rest of the army’s generals. Waiting for them was a line of spearmen, set in a defensive formation, along with a group of archers and several squads of samurai wielding bandoliers of fire bombs.

Eiichi was partway to his target when a pale hand, cloaked in some kind of energy, slashed through the air in front of his face. He narrowly dodged the attack, and found himself face to face with the Hojo Clan’s ninja master, Fuuma Kotaro. Ujiyasu, who had been organizing the defensive forces, noticed the attempted ambush. Sparing Eiichi a sideways glance and an amused grunt, he returned to his task.

The enemy ninja went on the offensive, striking at Eiichi with an inhumanly quick series of blows and scoring a few grazing cuts on the other. As he mounted his strength for a counterattack, Eiichi saw Tsukahara Bokuden quietly walk up behind Kotaro, a small, confident smile on his face. There was a quick flash of steel, too fast for the eye to follow, and the garish swordsman was sheathing his sword as the ninja collapsed to the ground, his torso a bloody mess. With Fuuma Kotaro defeated, the two turned their attention to the battle unfolding a short distance away.

Nakamura’s cavalry crashed against the line of waiting spearmen, their superior equipment and morale giving them an advantage against the defending peasants. Nakamura Eiji cut a swath through the ranks, striking down enemies on both sides as he rode forward. Behind him, Ken Suna crafted a spell and created a great monstrosity behind the Hojo soldiers. A gigantic saber-toothed cat, its paws wreathed in fire, began to lay about into the spearmen, sending infantry flying.

As the defensive line weakened, Eiji and Junko broke through and converged on Hojo Ujiyasu, stationed behind the troops and providing artillery fire with his mace-cannon. Joining them from behind the enemy Daimyo was Nakamura Eiichi, who joined the battle as Bokuden retired to the sidelines to watch, and the two brothers flanked the larger man.

His forces began to break under the other army’s attack, but Ujiyasu proved a formidable foe, fending off all three attacker simultaneously with his heavily-armored left arm and iron mace-cannon. A bitter battle ensued, until Eiichi landed a calculated strike on Hojo’s weapon, using his supernatural blade to sever the cannon’s flow of Ki. With a prolonged scraping and clunking, the weapon shuddered and emitted a black plume of smoke. As Ujiyasu’s pipe dropped from his mouth in surprise, Eiji slashed a long cut across the man’s relatively unarmored back. Noting his routed army and hopeless battle, the Hojo Daimyo dropped his weapon and lifted his hands in surrender.

In the aftermath of the assault, Eiji learned from the defeated Ujiyasu that the majority of his civilian population had been moved south to their other province of Izu. Furthermore, as Nakamura assaulted the castle, the Oda army had begun to move South, obviously intent on capturing Hojo’s last province. Sensing a potential ally, Eiji offered Hojo Ujiyasu a chance to fight with him and keep Izu Province from Oda’s grasp, to which the other Daimyo agreed.

As the others began discussing strategy, Otochitomono-kane demanded of a few soldiers that they search the castle and find her a suitable handmaiden. Lacking any other orders, they complied and shortly returned with a wavy-haired, red eyed young woman. Despite being among lords and generals, she spoke frankly and without etiquette, and identified herself as Kaihime. After learning that Otochitomono-kane was a princess, and with her home province captured by an enemy, she gladly agreed to be the lady’s handmaiden.

Nakamura Eiichi met up with Tsukahara Bokuden off to the side of the various negotiations. After a brief discussion, the master swordsman reluctantly agreed to duel Eiichi using his full strength. Nakamura made the first attack, missing his opponent with a wide swing of his katana. Bokuden deftly dodged the stike and retaliated with a quick and calculated stroke, tearing a huge gash across Eiichi’s chest. Barely conscious from the pain, the young noble conceded his loss. Tsukahara thereafter refused all requests to join the Nakamura army, claiming that he was not interested in large-scale combat, and instead left to the East, to look for more students around Shimosa.

With all things settled, Nakamura Eiji and his forces began mobilizing to intercept the southbound Oda army.

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Part 6 - Arrival at Odawara
April - May, 1563

Intelligence received from Junko and her ninja suggested that Odawara Castle, the Nakamura army’s next target in the Hojo lands, was well-manned and heavily fortified. This was likely to be Eiji’s first true challenge as a commander. He remained in camp for the time being, and began to consider a strategy of attack.

While his brother and the other generals debated strategy in camp, Nakamura Eiichi headed west to scout the castle for himself. Using the magic-detecting eye he obtained on his travels, he scanned the fortifications for any sign of supernatural force. Easily apparent was a huge source of Ki energy in the main tower, which he assumed to be the Daimyo of the Hojo clan, Hojo Ujiyasu, and a blotch of emptiness not unlike that generated by the Nakamura’s own ninja, Yamada Junko.

During his scouting of the castle, Eiichi noticed a woman on horseback round the castle and gallop up the road toward him, closely pursued by a squad of twenty men. He ordered his ninja escort to detain the woman, and stepped between her and the pursuers as she passed. The chasing party was made up of gruff-looking, rifle-wielding samurai who claimed to be from the Shimazu Clan to the West. They claimed that the woman they were chasing had killed the son of the Daimyo, and that they were to return with her head.

Despite their superior firepower, Nakamura Eiichi quickly dispatched the twenty samurai and approached the woman. She claimed to be Otochitomono-kane, a princess of the Ryukyu Kingdom far to the West, and demanded to see his lord. Such a demand struck a sore spot with Eiichi’s inferiority complex towards his brother, and he refused to help her, instead sending her south to follow the coast. The ninja guard set about collecting the rifles from the remains of the samurai and Eiichi began to walk casually toward the closed gates of Odawara castle.

Meanwhile, the castle had its Eastern gates equipped with a pair of mangonels, large siege engines capable of hurling exploding ammunition into an opposing army, and Yamada Junko had come up with a plan to eliminate them. She and Tsuna sneaked quietly into the part of the forest nearest to the castle. Then, the shaman worked her natural magic to temporarily transform the ninja into a living flame. Junko moved with inhuman speed to the gate of the castle, and had touched the first mangonel, setting it on fire, when she was attacked from behind by an unknown assailant.

A tall, lanky man with a cruel expression and white face paint had appeared seemingly from nowhere and launched an assault on the sabotaging Junko. His movements were odd and jerky, reminiscent of a badly-stringed puppet. Junko took advantage of her speed, however, and dodged the first strike. Rather than retaliate, she rushed around the mangonel and set fire to the other one, before disappearing around the side of the castle. Fuuma Kotaro crossed his arms as if in disgust, and once again disappeared into the shadows.

Despite the guards’ best efforts to put out the fires, the mangonels were reduced to flaming husks by the time Eiichi sauntered up to the castle and entered via a side door amongst the confusion. The guard inside sharply questioned his presence, but, passing himself as a ronin, the swordsman was able to charm his way into the city proper. Once inside, he entered a likely-looking inn and set about gathering information.

Inside the inn, a handsome man wearing a garish blue kimono and carrying two katana was the center of attention. After speaking to the watching crowd, Eiichi gathered that the man was Tsukahara Bokuden, a legendary swordsman and traveling instructor. Sure enough, Bokuden was attended by a team of younger men in white kimono, each with a sword at his hip.

Intrigued by the other man, Eiichi approached him and chose a seat nearby, leaning over to speak with Bokuden. After just a brief exchange, Eiichi, usually confident that he was the most suave and stylish man in any given location (except where his brother was concerned), felt totally outclassed. Seeking to challenge him, the former ronin gave a false name and offered Bokuden to compete in a friendly arm-wrestling competition. Eiichi resoundingly lost the first round. Thinking himself distracted or simply not ready, he challenged the other again. The second round ended as the first, with Eiichi’s hand being slammed decisively against the table by Bokuden.

Frustrated by his loss, Nakamura Eiichi challenged Tsukuhara Bokuden to a duel the next day, with the latter’s services in slaying an enemy as the wager, to which he casually agreed. The time and place being determined, the two proceeded to carouse the night away.

Meanwhile, Otochimono-kane had headed south and followed the coast until she encountered the Nakamura army’s camp. Using magic to make her appearance and clothing impeccable despite the long journey, she approached the guards and asked to meet their leader. After some difficulties, Nakamura Eiji himself walked outside to meet her. After hearing her story, he belatedly granted her asylum from her pursuers as, though he had not heard of the Ryukyu kingdom, her status as a princess was obvious.

The next day, at noon, Eiichi met Bokuden outside of the inn. The supposed master swordsman was carrying no weapon and, in response to the other’s questions, simply responded that he followed the school of “no sword”. Bokuden proposed that they duel in a less crowded place, such as one of the nearby warehouses, so as not to disturb people. Eiichi agreed and was led to one of the surrounding buildings. As he walked in the door, Bokuden shut it without entering, and locked it from the outside. Laughing, he said “This is my no sword school.” and began to walk away.

Angry at being tricked, Eiichi climbed out of one of the warehouse windows and rushed at Bokuden. The other man was ready, and one of his students tossed him a katana. The two clashed several times, with Eiichi eventually scoring a shallow cut across his enemy’s cheek. As the terms of the duel were to first blood, this was Nakamura’s victory, but nevertheless he felt as though it was somehow too easy.

After having the situation explained to him, Bokuden agreed to help Eiichi kill Hojo Ujiyasu, Daimyo and commander of the castle. However, he reasoned, it would be better to wait until the city had been attacked, so that the death could be easily passed off as a casualty of war. Eiichi agreed, and the two decided to wait.

Only a day after the duel, an alarm was sounded signaling the presence of a hostile force. Eiichi, assuming that his brother’s army had arrived, was eager to attack the Daimyo until he saw Hojo’s forces rushing not to the East side of the castle, but to the West.

At the same time, Nakamura Eiji, who had marched to the outskirts of the nearby forest, received intelligence that another army, bearing the Oda flag, had appeared on the other side of Odawara Castle.

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Part 5 - Edo Burns
April, 1563

Nakamura Eiji‘s army marched quickly to the west, penetrating into Hojo’s recently acquired province of Musashi. Ninja reconnaissance had confirmed that the castle town of Edo, their first target, was guarded by only a few squads of men, the majority of the enemy clan’s forces being concentrated to the West.

Following his usual tactic of direct assault, Nakamura‘s forces stormed the castle by simply marching in through the front gate. There, they were met by several squads of bowmen, samurai, and the noble left in charge of Edo’s defense, fully armed for battle. Eiji, riding at the front of his formation, watched with detached amusement as the leader raised his arm and brought it down in a cutting sweep, ordering the bowmen to release a thick volley of arrows onto the exposed Daimyo.

No sooner had the noble’s arm finished its arc, than Nakamura Eiichi sprang from the nearby buildings and, with a wet splattering noise, cleanly severed the commander’s head with his katana. Ken Suna, meanwhile, worked a magical shield to protect her lord from the incoming swarm of arrows. Eiji merely smiled as only a single arrow struck him, rebounding harmlessly off his skin before embedding itself in the ground. After this display, the remainder of the guarding forces immediately surrendered, granting the Nakamura clan ownership of Edo.

Eiji decided to stay in the castle for the coming night before mobilizing his troops to continue their invasion in the morning. He and the army took quarters in the castle, with Junko silently standing watch on one of the towers throughout the night. Unseen by her, a throng of furtive black figures infiltrated the castle walls under the darkness.

The residents of the town as well as those garrisoned in the castle were awoken by the first explosion, as Hojo’s ninja revealed themselves, hurling bombs throughout the castle that destroyed and lit aflame the structures caught in the blast. In the barracks, Nakamura’s army was panicking under the sudden assault. It was only Nakamura Eiji, crashing through the ceiling in a shower of flame, gesturing and shouting affirmative orders, that kept the casualties to a minimum. The Daimyo evacuated his forces from the castle, ordering his squad of demons to spread out through the town and hunt down the ninja.

After they escaped, with only a few dead or missing, several squads volunteered to return to the town and assist the civilians. Nakamura Eiichi also disappeared back into the flames, intent on rescuing those trapped by the burning lumber.

Once the town had been evacuated, little was left of Edo but a smoldering ruin. Eiji spoke with the civilians from the city, promising them shelter in his provinces in the East, and to rebuild Edo after his assault on the responsible Hojo clan. With the peasants traveling away to the East, Nakamura Eiji set up camp near the burning ruin, dispatching Junko and several squads of ninja to gather intelligence about their next target.

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