[ENG] Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Fanfiction : Tus Historias Sobre Las Familias & Batallas De Hymukai
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KokeKitsune
Posts: 27
Joined: Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:57 pm

[ENG] Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Post by KokeKitsune » Tue Jun 20, 2017 5:19 pm

Contained in this thread will be any ongoing stories between the Sessho-Sekki and the Sazama clans.


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壊れた容器 A Broken Vessel


Sessho-seki Hitoshi set his calligraphy brush down gently next to the missive he had just been composing. His sake cup set upon the table next to the paper shimmered as the breeze rolled into the half open room. Knelt in front of the low table looking out onto his well tended garden Hitoshi had been enjoying the onset of the autumn colours across the maple trees. His breath caught briefly as he went to speak. After a moment he composed himself and turned to face the intruders in his room.

"You will tell me again what you just said." The words came out gently and Hitoshi did not look at the two men knelt before. His eyes lured to the dark hallway from which the man had come, the light seemingly ending abruptly from this room and turning itself to a cold dark.

"Daimyo," The first man stuttered. "It, it is as I said." Hitoshis' eyes flicked to the man. He was young, too young, yes now he thought of it he did recognise him. Nobuo, son of Tadao one of his retainers the man to this boys right. Looking at his retainers ashen face Hitoshi recognised that the boy was indeed telling the truth.
"Your son, he is dead."

*
"Sister, be gone! I do not have time for your petty squabbles or whatever trivial item you wish to set before me today. Father has asked me to review the koku accounts for the year." Umeko pouted behind her brother the scroll tube she held in her hands suddenly forgotten in the face of her brothers rude dismissal.

"However do you expect to take on this reins of this fiefdom when you are so rude darling brother." She simpered while glowering at the tall, lithe form of her brother Kade. "If you talk like that clearly no woman will ever be yours and the families name will fall into disrepute."

Kade sighed and put his hand to his forehead. "Just tell me why you're here Ume." She brought a scowl from his sister as it always did, she hated being called a plum. Thrusting her hand forward she showed him the scroll tube. "This, it is from a source of mine in the city. It appears that Masaru is making some inroads with the nobles there finally." She flicked her head to the side as he took the proffered tube before muttering. "Not that father cares."

Kade reached into the tube and pulled out the contained letter delicately. The writing was familiar enough that he could identify it as his brother Masaru's easily. Things were progressing smoothly, even in these troubled times. Feeling the pressure about his temples lift slightly Kade looked up at his sibling. "My apologies Umeko, it has just been a long week." Umeko sniffed and still looked away from him.

"I want you to know I had nothing to do with that business with Hisao and that, woman." Umeko visibly flinched as she spoke and Kade put his hand up to stop her. "I never suspected anything of the sort sister. The whole thing has been dealt with as quietly as possible, the last thing we need is father to find out about his sons misdemeanour." Umeko looked back at Kade visibly upset. "Yes sister I am aware it was more than a misdemeanour but we have paid the family off and the body returned to them. Gods willing it was just an honest mistake on Hisao's part." Kade felt his face set to hide his emotions on the issue. Better Umeko not know the truth, she had always had a soft spot for her little brother Hisao and to know that he was a murderer and worse someone who enjoyed the process of it would break her heart. Kade turned back to the bales of rice. "Now get going before I put you to work counting with me." He heard her gracefully exit the room and felt the pressure in his head come back with vengeance.

*
Hisaos hand trembled as he looked at it, he hadn't slept for days, or at least that's what it felt like. There had been so much blood. Why had she pushed him to it. He curled up tightly on the floor of his room. His new room, they had moved him from his old one. The Tatami mats had been stained. His hands found his face again scratching impatiently at his cheeks.
"Brother." She was back, the voice cold and imperious. She was beautiful, her hair held up in an ornate manner and her face delicate as a snowflake. "Get off the floor."

Hisao still lay curled there looking up at Umeko his fingers idly scratching at his face, red marks trailed in their wake, not quite breaking the skin.

"Brother," she was quieter this time. Leaning down she put her hand on his shoulder. "She deserved it. She looked on your face and she was just a farmers daughter. You just taught her a lesson that's all." Her face hadn't moved at all. She was ice, beautiful fragile looking but strong and once she had power over you she could crush you at her will. Hisao closed his eyes wishing he didn't see the poor farm girl and every cut he had laid upon her.

*
"Dead," the word hung like poison in the air.
"How." Hitoshi said calmly.
"He was cut down Daimyo." Hitoshi's eyebrows drew in sharply.
"By who."
"A claimant to the throne Sir." the boy looked sick. His father looked near death. Hitoshi balled his fist in his lap anger beginning to wash over him.
"Daimyo, I offer my life to you in return for my boys failure to protect your son." Tadao was bowed head to the floor his son visibly shaking reaching a hand towards his father mouth opening and closing wordlessly.
"I will not hear of it Tadao. Boy, tell me quickly a fact you have yet to give me. Which of my sons is dead." Hitoshi spoke forcefully but still quietly letting the anger build.

"Masaru Sir, it was Masaru, I'm sorry Sir." The boy knelt forward as well head touching the ground. "He must've said something to offend the man and before I knew it in the middle of the street he was cut down and I was kidnapped. The only reason I live Sir is to bring you this news, otherwise I would be in the gutter. Your sons body lays in the city awaiting you, Sir." Hitoshi turned back to his desk. The brush and paper still sitting there, a dot of ink on the table where it had bled from the brush. The sake shimmered at him again. Outside a crane stood watching the stream in the garden wind rustling the reddening leaves.

"My son," the words came out little more than a whisper. Hitoshi put his hand out to the table. The world swum in front of him. Suddenly he roared in anguish. Striking the items off of the table he stood turning towards the two bowing men. The brush rolled across the floor leaving a dark line the sake cup shattered as it hit the wooden beam in the wall, a delicate tinkling and the scent of sake filled the air. "Why was he in the city!" A hot rage burned at Hitoshi, the trouble had not come to them. His son had found the trouble. Even in this backwater away from intrigue where he had thought his family safe from all the problems of the world. Screaming incoherently again he drew his wazikashi from his belt. The two bowing men had shuffled back away from his rage, the shouting had bought his retainers in from outside the door swords also drawn looks of confusion on their faces.

"Bring me, Kade!" He shouted at them. "Bring. Me. Kade!"

*
The water passing through the struts of the ornate bridge to the shrine glittered cheerfully underneath Fumiko. Her robes of red and white being caught and tugged gently by the breeze. Her mother stood next to her looking out onto the same tranquil scene.

"Kade tells me that he's sent Masaru into the city." Fumiko said her statement clearly a question to her mother.
"Yes well, we need to keep making friends in even in these times my dear. The Noble clans have to eat just as much as anyone else." Fumiko sighed at her mother and turned back to the river. "They all need to take brides soon aswell. That is the real reason Fumiko." Fumiko nodded sagely, not everyone was destined to live alone like her.

"Good, I'm glad that you understand mother, I had begun to wonder. Especially for Kade." Her mothers stance shifted, so it was as she feared. "You're not looking for one for Kade, are you? He is a dutiful son and a masterful bureaucrat. But he is not a leader. I would trust him to organise my court but never to hold it. The boy has no passion." her hand clasped on the raining of the bridge. "Masaru will be the heir, it is only a matter of time until your father sees it so." Fumiko turned away from her mother well aware that her position in the shrine put her on an equal footing with her mother she decided to try exercising her authority for the first time. Looking back over her shoulder at her mother she cast her features in the most serious manner she could.

"Be careful which threads you burn Kyoko. One of them may lead to a robe of silk that you did not know you had." Fumiko paced away from her mother towards the second Tori marking the shrine.

*

Kade knelt on the cold floor letting the news sink in.

"We cannot tell mother." Kade blurted out, quickly silencing himself and cursing internally at his outburst. "Why do you think I called you here instead of her." His father spoke in a gruff voice horse from the shouting he had done. "Your mother had high hopes for him." Kade nodded, higher than his father knew he was sure.

"I cannot go into the city, where one of ours has already been cut down so easily surely this is bait to pull our clan down one by one." His father nodded mutely "We need an independent. But someone who can still be counted on to bring Masaru back." Kade drummed his fingers on the floor.

"Are you really so craven Kade." Hitoshi's face had aged by many years in the course of a day. The crestfallen man in front of Kade was not the man he had come to know as his father. "If my brother had died by the sword and not from the errant buck of a horse I would've moved the gods stone itself to avenge him." Hitoshi's voice croaked, the emotion of sorrow did not suit his father, but then again neither did this apparent wish for Kade to end his life in a violent fashion. Kade opened his mouth to respond but Hitoshi glared at him and he felt his rebuke die on his lips.

"As I thought. Ever the bureaucrat. I weep for this clan when you are in charge." Hitoshi stood and walked to the sliding door that led to the garden. "The independent you are looking for is your sister at the shrine. If you will not face this evil then she shall." Hitoshi turned back to Kade a pained look fleeting across his face. To Kade it looked for a second that his father was going to apologies to him but then a dark shadow seemed to fall on the man. "Prepare our clan for war Kade, call the men to arms, notify the smiths and announce our intent to the neighbouring clans. At least in this I know you will serve." Hitoshi swept outside in a flurry of robes leaving Kade gaping at the pronouncement his father had just made.

*
The Gohei adorning the warding rope around the stone pattered quietly against its surface as a gust flurried through the shrine. Fumiko sighed exasperatedly. "It is long beyond sundown, the shrine is closed." She intoned. It was probably yet another young boy from the nearest village who played a silly game of sneaking into the shrine and climbing through the hole in the rock to prove themselves to their peers. She turned around expecting to catch a glimpse of the boy running out of the doors, instead a messenger stood in front of her. He bowed politely and offered the parchment tube he carried to her.

"The lord Kade instructed me to bring this to you immediately Dai ichi miko." Fumiko quietly took the tube from him noticing the intricately tied knot at the top. Bad news, tied in that manner it meant bad news. "Thank you, you're free to leave. If I wish to reply to my brother I shall do so in person." The messenger bowed again before walking calmly away out of the main door. Fumiko tugged once at the knot and felt it come apart, the parchment inside quietly holding its news for her. She closed her eyes and drew it out taking a deep breath, her brother had not used that knot in a long time. She opened her eyes and read of the death of her brother and the task she had been given. After a little while Fumiko composed herself and burnt the letter. So, she was to retrieve her brothers body, this would not be the first time she had had a similar task, but war. War changed everything, even she might not be safe in the city with the banners raised and the troops massing. She shook her head, she owed at least this much to Kade he had always looked over her. Sighing she packed her travelling gear away and made towards the nearest stables house looking back just once at the shrine whos doors she had chained for the first time in over 100 years.

*
A month had passed and the weather had not been kind to the Sessho-seki province. Snow blanketed the ground and the air in front of the spearmen stood to attention in the square outside the castle misted hazily over them. A grand pyre stood in the centre of the square with Masarus body atop it. Bedecked in his ceremonial armour he burned as easily as the wood beneath him.

Hitoshi watched his son and his plans burn soon he would watch the villages and towns of those who had forced this to be burn aswell.

Kade stood off to one side of his father, the two of them had spoken only of matters military since that day they found out. Kade rested his hand on the sword at his belt, soon he would show his father he was more than just a bureaucrat, the plans were all ready in motion.

Kyoko stood eyes fixed on the pyre her son was burning on, they had not told her until the body had come back, that hurt almost as much as his death. She would go to the ends of the earth and speak to the deamons themselves if they could bring Masaru back.

Hisao stood quietly Umeko just behind him. His brother had always been full of himself anyway. Or at least that's what Umeko said, he didn't remember much of it himself. Umeko put her hand on Hisao's shoulder perhaps this was for the best, not Hisao could prove himself a man on the battlefields.
Fumiko watched the fire she had set consume her brothers worldly remains and prayed fervently that this would be the last of her brothers she had to burn.

A Broken Vessel



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Last edited by KokeKitsune on Sun Oct 14, 2018 8:26 am, edited 3 times in total.

KokeKitsune
Posts: 27
Joined: Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:57 pm

Re: Sessho-Sekki & Tsutsujiba stories.

Post by KokeKitsune » Wed Jun 21, 2017 9:43 am

矢筒未満 A quiver unfilled.
A chill wind blew from the mountains, sweeping across the jagged rocks and harsh landscape that was the Sazama home. Carts and wagons moved in a slow procession along the dirt roads, their drivers slumped over the reins with tobacco as the wind tried to whip their coats from their backs or steal the flames from their pipes. The sun was hidden behind large grey clouds, promising neither warmth nor cheer. This was a normal sight for the Sazama family. They were not so grand as their household, yet this was home, a house big enough for their family and enough land to escape when needed.
Another cart rolled past as the barrier was lifted. The head of the family, Yoshio Sazama stood at the side of the checkpoint, his tiny glasses perched on his nose as he turned to a new page in his ledger. He wore a thick kimono and an even thicker coat; having been born and bred in this area, he knew full well how the wind could pierce a man’s coat and settle in his bones. He raised his head and signalled the next wagon forwards with a flick of his fingers. The driver urged his hefty horse forwards and the procession behind crept forwards with him.
“This will take all day Yoshio,” came a gruff voice at Yoshio’s shoulder. “Can you not hurry with your checks?”
“The other checkpoints are closed with summer flu, we are the only one open and allowing cargo to pass,” Yoshio explained, not pausing nor looking up from his notebook. “I am the only accountant of this prefecture qualified to perform these checks without the flu. I am working as fast as I can brother, rest assured of that. Unless you wish to become an account yourself?”
The man behind Yoshio sniffed in distaste; Yoshio could not resist a small smile at his reaction. Tsuyoshi Sazama was his younger brother, yet he was bigger in both height and girth. He had been a proud warrior for the Emperor, winning all duels, thwarting assassinations, saving the royal family and remaining a loyal servant for over 20 years. His reputation still remained a hotly discussed topic within the royal court, despite his retirement from royal politics. He stood tall and strong, his armour still gleaming and his two well-polished swords on his hips. Yoshio was glad of his brother’s protection, but not of the stares he still attracted. Whispered circulated that Yoshio had deliberately put his younger brother into the lesser post of Head Watchman in petty revenge for gaining a higher status. In truth Tsuyoshi had volunteered and welcomed the post, not that he would show this to non-family members.
Pulling his coat tighter, Yoshio began to scour the documents passed into his hand from the old driver before him. All seemed proper; 4 crates of dried fish, 2 boxes of satin and silk, 1 box of pheasant feathers and a rug made of finest fur for the Momotai family, present with their household signature. Three watchman began to open the boxes to inspect the items and take out the relevant documents that were sealed inside for Yoshio’s eventual seal of approval. It was a laborious task, but it was Yoshio’s way of life.
“I do not like all these carts being so tightly packed,” Tsuyoshi muttered. Yoshio did not need to turn to know he was flexing his fingers by his side. He was uneasy as always when too many people appeared at Yoshio’s checkpoint.
“Maybe you should have your watchmen play traffic signallers to direct the wagons?” Yoshio suggested with a grin, “or should I fetch that pen and paper for you instead?”
“The day I take military orders from you is the day the moon turns green,” the gruff man retorted, his eyes sweeping the queue of wagons and their grumbling drivers.
With a flourish of his signature, Yoshio waved the driver on through the checkpoint. The barrier was raised by two men from the Iekogo (家古語) family, who were fostering with the Sazama house before returning to the ruling clan for continued training. Yoshio did not mind them encroaching on Sazama territory; it was a lucrative source of income after all. He had to smile at that. He may not have any so-called ‘honour’ like his brother, but he could comfortably feed his family.
His brother stepped up behind him. “Where is Ryunoske?”
Yoshio’s face fell. His first-born son...
“Practicing his archery,” Yoshio replied, flipping the page of his book.
“Yoshio, of the Sazama clan?” came a loud voice from the other side of the gate. All eyes turned towards the voice belonging to a young man of middling height, wearing the uniform of a messenger of the court. He was out of breath and sweating profusely; several watchmen wrinkled their noses at him.
“I bring a letter for Head of the Sazama household,” the youth shouted again, holding aloft a small orange flower in his hand, the formal way of delivering letters in the Imperial Court. Whoever had sent this was important.
Sweeping his black hair from his face, Yoshio waved away the watchmen who had stopped the youth and beckoned him forwards. The man walked briskly with his horse in tow, holding the letter close to his chest.
“I am Sazama Yoshio, head of this household. Who sends me such a letter?” he asked the youth when he was an arm’s length away. The boy made no response, but bowed respectfully and held out the letter for Yoshio to take. He felt rather than heard his brother appear at his back.
“What is this?” Yoshio mused, eying the letter that the message passed. It was attached to the stem of a sayuri or more commonly known as an orange lily flower, a symbol he did not recognise. He heard his brother behind him gasp quietly.
“A message for the Head of the Sazama household,” the messenger repeated swiftly. He stood rigid, waiting to be dismissed. Yoshio brows creased at the letter as he turned towards his brother. He flipped it over and back several times, trying to identify the style of knot and the paper, but he could not. With a wave of his hand Yoshio dismissed the messenger, who bowed quickly and mounted his horse with ease. He was soon galloping down the dirt track while Yoshio placed his notebook under his arm and began to unknot the letter from the flower.
“Brother... wait until you are inside before reading that letter,” Tsuyoshi muttered. Yoshio had not seen him step forward. He was very close, so close that Yoshio had to crane his head back to look his younger brother in the face.
“I have much to do this day Tsuyoshi,” Yoshio replied, irritated at this strange display his brother made. He managed to untie the knot and unfolded the small letter. He did not have much room to manoeuvre, since his brother was so close to him, thus he had to keep the letter up close to his face. “Whatever this letter bears could not thwart the da-”
Yoshio’s voice choked and his eyes grew wide. He read the words twice and twice again before the true realisation hit him like a punch to the heart. He maintained the barest control over his face and emotions as he lowered the thin paper that had torn him in two. His eyes grew blank and around him the world became a shade darker. With a shaking hand, he pushed the crumpled paper towards his brother’s chest. “I trust you will know what to do...”

Tsuyoshi cursed as he watched his brother go. He knew what the letter said without needing to read it. He crushed the paper in his hand and shoved it into one of his many inside pockets, shouting that his second man was no in charge of the watchmen. The man saluted as Tsuyoshi stomped passed, grinding his teeth. He soon found the two men he was searching for.
“Takeshi. Takumi. Here,” Tsuyoshi called, watching his twin nephews leave their posts and practically bounce towards him eagerly. They shared the same colouration and characteristics; only through their voices could Tsuyoshi vaguely tell them apart. They saluted crisply at their uncle, admiration in their eyes. Tsuyoshi ground his teeth more.
“We must prepare for departure. I need you to collect your older brother and bring him here. He too will be joining us on this journey.”
The twins’ faces changed from bliss to apprehension as he spoke the news. They eyed each other nervously and shuffled where they stood. Tsuyoshi eyed them levelly as they disobeyed him.
“We cannot make him understand,” one of them said finally.
“He no longer listens to us.”
“Tomoko alone can make him listen. He will permit no one else to see him when he is practicing.”
“She must be alone?” Tsuyoshi asked. The twins glanced at each other then back at him. That irritating look that only they could do.
“Should she be afraid for her safety?”
Tsuyoshi made no reply. Instead he brushed passed them, barking orders at his men. The twins stood and watched him go before being caught up in the manic rush that had begun to sweep through the Sazama household.

With a heavy heart, Tomoko pushed open the door to her elder brother’s practice court. It was dark inside, he had not bothered to light any lanterns but instead used the faint sunlight. He stood tall, his blue robes almost black and his long hair pulled tightly into a long plait. His skin was pale, so pale that Tomoko saw some of his veins showing through. She shuddered and closed the door quietly behind her. Her uncle had found her moments earlier and relayed the shocking news. Now she had to tell her brother who, for some unknown reason, only allowed her inside his inner sanctum.
Her brother had changed. Before he laughed and shone bright, he was adept at both his accountancy and with the bow. He had enjoyed the sun and would join the family for their evening meals. Now he shut himself inside his room, refused all invitations to dinner and the outside. His sole purpose in life was his archery. He was now so proficient with the bow that Tomoko knew he could shoot any target with his eyes closed. His progress was... unnatural. Ryunoske seemed unnatural. He scared anyone who was not a close relative and even his youngest brother Osamu could not bear to be in the same room.
All this Tomoko knew, but she also knew he was her brother. He stood tall and readied his aim. Quietly, so not to disturb him, she crept forwards and waited until he fired the arrow. After several moments, when he had not moved, she gave up cleared her throat.
“Ryu, there has-”
THUD
The arrows shook violently from where it had impacted into the target. Her brother still looked impassively at the target and reached back for another arrow.
“Ryu, I’m talking to you. Please listen.”
His eyes remained on the target as he notched his arrow. Tomoko began to sweat as shivers danced along her spine.
“Ryu.”
He pulled the drawstring back and raised it to the corner of his face. Her pulse grew quicker.
“Ryu!”
He narrowed his eyes at the target as a shrill wind screeched through the practice court.
“Ryunoske!”
THUD
A second arrow quivered next to the first. The barest of smiles pulled at Ryunoske’s mouth as he stood back and surveyed his work. Tomoko shook her head incredulously at the man who was her brother.
Eventually he spoke. “Yes sister?”
“We have been summoned to fight. There has been an incident in the North and we have been called to deal with the up-starters. Uncle Tsuyoshi is leading the party; all able bodied men are to go. That includes you. As such, your wedding to Teiko has been postponed until this matter has been settled.”
“Is that so,” Ryunoske muttered as he finally pulled his eyes away from the archery target. Tomoko tried to remain strong as his predatory eyes settled on her for a moment. He unstrung his bow before somehow gliding across the floor and at an instant was by her side, reaching for the door. Before he left, he stopped and bent low. Tomoko swallowed in fear, keeping her eyes fixed in the walls. This was her brother whom she had known all her life. He was a good man. He did not have a dark heart. He was not a murderer as rumoured. He could not know what she was thinking...
“Are you frightened of me?” he whispered at her ear. Tomoko jumped and stopped herself from blurting her true feelings.
“I... I worry for you,” she replied in a whisper, afraid her voice would fail.
“I see.”
The door closed behind her brother. Tomoko released the breath she had been holding and crumpled to the floor.
Last edited by KokeKitsune on Sat Mar 10, 2018 6:38 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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ajmendoza
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Re: Sessho-Sekki & Tsutsujiba stories.

Post by ajmendoza » Wed Jun 21, 2017 9:03 pm

This is absolutely amazing. Thank you very much!!!
Do you mind if I translate it for the lazy Spanish readers?

KokeKitsune
Posts: 27
Joined: Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:57 pm

Re: Sessho-Sekki & Tsutsujiba stories.

Post by KokeKitsune » Wed Jun 21, 2017 10:09 pm

ajmendoza wrote:
Wed Jun 21, 2017 9:03 pm
This is absolutely amazing. Thank you very much!!!
Do you mind if I translate it for the lazy Spanish readers?
Of course you can! :D

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Manji
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Re: Sessho-Sekki & Tsutsujiba stories.

Post by Manji » Sat Jun 24, 2017 11:18 am

Very nice read, thanks for sharing, can't wait to see what comes next!

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ajmendoza
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Re: Sessho-Sekki & Tsutsujiba stories.

Post by ajmendoza » Sun Jul 16, 2017 9:26 pm

What's coming next???
I am so intrigued!

KokeKitsune
Posts: 27
Joined: Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:57 pm

Re: Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Post by KokeKitsune » Sun Mar 11, 2018 8:09 pm

突風雪 Gusting Snow The wind blew down from the mountains onto the plains east of the Sessho-Sekis realm. The snaking river of the Hachikawa(蜂川) wound sinuously across the landscape behind the column of troops trudging forward through the snow and the wind whipped little eddies across the rippled surface where it lay undisturbed.
The march was tough going even with the samurai up at the front being mounted, the ashigaru and unmounted retainers had to trudge through half packed snow. Occasionally a man would fall and cause part of the column to become disjointed. Hitoshi sat astride his horse, the armor he was wearing hung heavily on him and he looked along the column of his men with concern.
"Maybe I acted too rashly," He murmured. The Daimyo's face creased and a frown settled on him. "This weather is too harsh for campaigning. Even as much of a limited one as this." The wind gusted again and snow drifted across onto the path the horses were making for the foot causing men to stumble and curse.
"Father." A voice simpered from behind him. Hitoshi felt his face set into a grimace and attempted to school it back to neutrality before turning toward his youngest daughter.
"Umeko." The girl, woman now he supposed, sat in a palanquin born by several serving men. She was dressed as usual in fine silks and was well groomed despite the few days they had been on the move; well she should be when she had not moved a foot herself to make any distance. Hitoshi quieted his thoughts. "What is it my daughter? You perhaps have finally come to tell me how you intend to win the Kagedaten(影堕天) to our cause ?" The girls lip curled upward. The sneer he knew she got from him, her mother never sneered but he certainly had in his youth.
"Father, certainly you must trust me to apply myself to that problem without spilling my methods across the snow as you wish to spill the blood of the Iekogo." Fancy words, she was her mother's daughter in that regard. Histoshi nodded curtly. It was always the same, he pressed her for an answer and she told him to trust her... well, he did. But on a matter of such great import he just wished he could understand how she intended to bring about the outcome that was needed.
"Then what do you need Ume?" The girl frowned as he used the pet name the family used for her. "Tell me and I will see it done." He added, attempting to placate her somewhat.
"Retainers," she grumbled. "I will require two of your retainers for the duration of my.... negotiations." Hitoshi nodded and began to open his mouth, he had known she would need them and had already assigned four of his best to her. "Nobuo and Michi," Umeko stated firmly as she sat looking her father directly in the eyes. His mouth remained open as it had when he was just about to reply to her. "No arguments father," She concluded. Hitoshi still remained almost glued to the spot. She had chosen the two youngest, least blooded boys he had for retainers. One of them had been there when Masaru was killed. Hitoshi swallowed and closed his mouth before nodding curtly.
"I trust you know what you are doing daughter." The Daimyo turned his horse swiftly away before his face would betray his nervousness at allowing her to be under such sparse and untested protection. The wind whipped the snow up again and it gusted across his path turning the world white momentarily.

Up in the foot hills of the mountains where the wind had blown through another column, larger than the first, trudged onward. The snow up here was harder packed and the going under foot was easier but the incline made up for it. In this column the Ashigaru led, followed by samurai on foot then several figures on horse with the supply wagons pulled by servants and oxen bringing up the rear. The gusts here whipped the clothes the men were wearing around them and tugged at the sashimono on the Ashigaru's backs insistently.
Kade wrapped the cloth covering he had been using to cover his face tighter. It didn't offer much protection from the wind but it at least kept the occasional flurries of icy snow from cutting across his cheeks. He shivered and looked over at his youngest brother. His only brother now. Kade sighed, Hisao was huddled tightly against the back of his mount. He had covered himself in furs and bizarrely had taken to wearing what looked like an Ashigaru's hat but with a cloth drape covering it and his face, just a single cut out showing his shadowed eyes. Those eyes weren't just shadowed from the hat, Kade didn't think he'd seen his Hisao sleep more than an hour since they had left from the castle that was their home.
The elder brother shook his head and looked forward again, they had another half days march before the two of them were due to split ways. He just hoped that his brother would find a little more backbone than he had shown so far. The men would need it should they be forced to fight. Kade heeled his horse in the ribs and headed towards his goal, the mountain fortress of Makoto-Do held by the eponymous monks of that particular temple.

The palanquin bounced uncomfortably and Umeko scowled. She had been trying to arrange her hair into a more formal order using her small pocket mirror but all she had managed to achieve instead was making it look more of a mess. She fought down the urge to snap at her bearers and instead whipped the small piece of fabric aside from the slatted window to the outside. The world was still white, a distant couple of farm houses smoked from their thatched roofs and low rice fields glimmered white from the snow that had settled where the crops would stand later in the year. Umeko shifted her view and nodded. She could see one of the two samurai she had taken and at least three of her ladies maids. The young man stamped forward through the snow with an unreadable face but her maids were chattering to each other, all of them showing a certain level of aggravation. Umeko felt a little grin creep on to her face. She would have to prick them for information tonight, they would surely have riled each other up today and be willing to spill all their little secrets again.
"Bloody useless to try to make it there before the sun sets anyway." The voice drifted across into her enclosed space and she jumped. The thud of her head hitting the roof of the little palanquin made the bearers stop. Umeko cursed quietly under her breath. That voice was definitely not someone who she had allowed along on this journey. That voice belonged to Tatsuo, her families oldest retainer, he was by no means decrepit though. Tatsuo was hard as old wood and as unbendable as layered iron. Slowly, delicately, Umeko considered what to do.
"Tatsuo." She intoned. There was a shuffling of feet from outside and then a slight huff.
"My Lady Umeko." The man's voice was gruff and sounded as weathered as he was. "I trust I do not over extend my personal interests in your family's welfare by deciding to accompany you to the Kagedaten?" Umeko gritted her teeth. She could not see the man as he was on the opposite side of her palanquin to where she had drawn the little curtain, but at least that meant she was not visible to him either.
"Not at all." Her voice was sweet as honey, almost honey mixed with sugar. Bordering on too sweet. The gruff voice chuckled.
"Don't you worry Lady Umeko, I've not been sent here to keep watch on you. I'm here because I can't bear to see another of the good lady Kyoko's children in any more danger than she has to be." Umeko nodded, letting her shoulders relax a little, only a little mind, before sniffing loudly.
"Then let us carry on towards our destination Tatsuo. Please keep the two youngsters in hand if you intend to accompany me," she added and then whipped the curtain shut again. The old man's voice barked as he issued curt orders. The palanquin shifted and jerked before she felt it settle into a steady pace towards the fortress of the Kagedaten.
Umeko knew the retainer was right though. They wouldn't be there before dark and she was definitely going to feel the cold even with the little charcoal brazier she had mounted to the palanquin. She frowned and began the arduous task of rearranging her hair yet again. The wind outside whickered past and cut icy chills among her servants but didn't touch Umeko, snug inside the palanquin.

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RobotTanuki
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Re: Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Post by RobotTanuki » Mon Mar 12, 2018 4:50 am

I read the first chapter, and it's looking good. Can I give you feedback? Please don't feel forced to say yes: sometimes we just like to write as a safe space. It's just the English teacher in me. :lol:

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ajmendoza
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Re: Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Post by ajmendoza » Fri Mar 16, 2018 12:27 pm

Amazing story :D I truly want to translate it into spanish, I just need some spare time! give it to mee! xD
Thanks for sharing!

KokeKitsune
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Joined: Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:57 pm

Re: Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Post by KokeKitsune » Sun Apr 15, 2018 10:44 pm

ajmendoza wrote:
Fri Mar 16, 2018 12:27 pm
Amazing story :D I truly want to translate it into spanish, I just need some spare time! give it to mee! xD
Thanks for sharing!
;D Cheers man got a little more to post up today as well.
RobotTanuki wrote:
Mon Mar 12, 2018 4:50 am
I read the first chapter, and it's looking good. Can I give you feedback? Please don't feel forced to say yes: sometimes we just like to write as a safe space. It's just the English teacher in me. :lol:
Please do! Always looking for feedback (I get enough of it from the good lady wife but its good to have a fresh set of eyes as well! :lol: )

KokeKitsune
Posts: 27
Joined: Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:57 pm

Re: [ENG] Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Post by KokeKitsune » Sun Apr 15, 2018 10:47 pm

CHAPTER 4: WARM WELCOME
温かい歓迎
The light had faded to dark by the time the palanquin reached the castle town of Takahashi (高鷹城) and Umeko scowled at the barely lit streets through the small window. She was sure the Yoso (鷹爪) were meant to be a relatively prosperous clan not like her own family of bumpkins. The girl sniffed unhappily. There were barely any lanterns in the streets and at best she had seen only a few people, two of whom had been drunk! She sniffed again, the scowl remaining settled on her face. Tapping the side of the palanquins walls Umeko waited for Tatsuo to appear in her field of vision.
“They have sent no one to meet us,” she intoned, keeping her voice calm.
“No my lady,” he replied equally impassively. “But of course, if they sent someone to meet us in the town it could come across as them not trusting us.” Umeko frowned at the man through the slats. Well he was right she guessed, but he didn't have to be so smug about it.
“I thought this was supposed to be a proper town anyway,” she muttered, her irritation tinting her voice.
“It is a castle town my lady," Tatsuo replied coolly.His face was hidden by the darkness but his voice was measured and considered. It riled Umeko but instead of arguing, she decided to let the conversation go with a huff. Finally the bearers came to a jolting halt and Umeko schooled her face into a mask of calm; she would appear the perfect woman to these warlords and they would fall for her charm. They would. Her hands clenched into fists and the weight of her first true duty to the family pressed down on her. Taking a short breath, she felt the direction of the palanquin change before being set down. As the door slid open Umeko steeled herself as gracefully as she could and exited onto the flagstones of a courtyard. Even this courtyard was dark, lit by no more than four braziers and two hand lanterns located behind the shadowy group that stood in front of her.
“The Second Sessho-Seki Daughter Umeko-san, on the command of Daimyo of the Sessho-Seki Hitoshi-sama presents herself to you, the gracious Yoso, owners of the grand Takahashi,” Tatsuo intoned respectfully as Umeko executed a well practiced bow. The shadowy group stood silent for a moment and Umeko remained inclined in her bow. This was unusual; Tatsuo had followed the formalities correctly and her bow was perfect she was sure. Maintaining her posture she tensed.
“Very good.” The crisp, clear voice cut through the early night air as cleanly as a knife through fish. Umeko ensured the frown did not even skitter on to her face. 'Very good'? 'Very good'! Was the man trying to insult her?
She pitched upward slightly quicker than was proper and found herself nearly face to face with a weathered looking man. His face had seen battle and there were scars marking him as a survivor of more than one close call. His face held a flat expression and suddenly his hand darted up. Umeko felt herself flinch; what had happened to her self control?! He gently held her chin tilting her head slightly one way and then the other.
“Yes, I can definitely see your father in you Umeko of the Sessho-Seki.” A toothy smile broke across the man's face. With her head still tilted she saw caught a glimpse of Tatsuo who wore a matching grin. “Welcome to my family's home. You like your father before you and his father before him are welcome under my roof. So is your man there.” The scared man and Tatsuo shared a look, their grin's widening a little and Tatsuo bowing informally. The man spun around, his coat flaring behind him with the insignia of the Yoso emblazoned on it in grand style. As he walked away, one of the other men in the shadowy party intoned.
“Daimyo Isamu of the Yoso welcomes the Sessho-Seki to Takahashi.” The group smartly turned in place and followed the Daimyo away through the second gate.



The snowstorm outside rattled the shutters covering the temple's outer doors. Kade sat impassively across from the shaven head of the Juji (Abbot) as he bent reading the letter addressed to him. The Makoto-do sect were relatively small but their temple commanded access through these mountains. Anyone trying to pass would have to either negotiate or fight their way clear.
The Juji nodded, his eyes tracing further down the page before finally looking up. He looked tired. “Young master... Kade.” He paused on the name. “I mean you no ill will when I say this but,” The monk's hand suddenly slapped down onto the paper. “Do you really think that I will put the life of all my students at risk for the petty revenge of you seek?” Kade recoiled as the crack of the man's hand reverberated through the room.
“I assure you that is not the intent.” Kade's face remained still even if his body had not. “We simply ask that you allow us to take passage through your mountains. We ask for no escort, no supplies, no promise of return.”
The Juji gripped the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, Kade felt for the man he really did, but he had a job to do here. “If you refuse me this I have no other choice," he continued. "I do this not to avenge my brother but to bring an injustice to a close. I understand vengeance is not a principle you espouse. However, you must understand that bringing this criminal to justice will ease the suffering of those who are ground under his boot without thought?”
The Juji wearily looked up at him.“You are not nearly as informed on our scriptures as you think you are master Kade.” He huffed and slid the paper back across the table to Kade. “You may use the pass. You may even return by it. You may not bring prisoners or loot, you will harm no villages and you will not speak of our agreement. You will however return to this temple once you have finished your tasks. You would do will to learn some of the teachings, your family has wallowed in its animist dredge for too long.” The Juji stood and motioned towards the door for Kade to go.
Perplexed, Kade removed himself from the room and headed towards the stables where his men had been barracked. They would leave after the sun rose in the morning. The mountain paths were much too treacherous at night. The darkness swallowed Kade as he swept out into the snow to make his way to the stables.
Looking on at him as he left, the Juji shook his head and turned to face the imposing wooden statue behind him clacking his prayer beads together and beginning to utter his sutras.



Snow swept across the grounds of the Sessho-Seki's modest fort, swirling down the gentle slope between buildings and up over the walls of the shrine built over the river. Eddies of it whirled around and crept their way through gaps in the wooden structure and scattered across the shrine's wooden flooring . Fumiko sighed, her best efforts to keep the snow out of the building were always met by the spirits with mirth. She looked around for a Miko, after all it wouldn't do to have the priestess do menial work if there were others around. There being none in sight she grabbed the broom and attempted to usher the snow out of the doors. Better this than deal with the damp seeping into the wood. As she reached the large doors, head down and sweeping intently, a voice chimed out to her.
“Fumiko?” Her mother's head poked around the door, squinting into the dimly lit interior of the shrine. “Are you in here sweetheart?” Fumiko suppressed a laugh. Her mother, no matter how old she got, no matter what position she held, would always call her sweetheart. Fumiko raised a hand and her mother jumped realising her daughter was stood practically next to the door. “Oh!” she squeaked. “I wasn't sure you'd be here sweetheart.” Bustling through the door Fumiko felt a sad smile cross her face as she looked at her mother. She never had been a particularly skittish woman before but since her son's death she had changed.
“I'm almost always here Kyoko,” she said gently and laid a hand on her mother's. It had taken some getting used too using her mother's name, but she had had to learn after inheriting the place of priestess. She was on the same social footing as her and it wouldn't have done to call her anything else. Even if she did call her sweetheart. Fumiko felt a slight flush of heat cross her face. Well at least the Miko's hadn't been here this time to giggle and titter about it. They had found themselves committed to rough chores for the rest of that week and she hadn't regretted a moment of watching them scrub, scrape and polish.
“Well. Well yes, of course!” Her mother held her hand momentarily and then bustled past her making her way towards the inner sanctum of the shrine.
Fumiko rolled her eyes. “Mother, only I and father are allowed in to see the Kami, you know that.” Her mother whipped around, face innocence itself.
“I hadn't intended to!” She blurted and her hands swiftly hid behind her back. “I've been in there before though you know! On our marriage day!” Fumiko carefully paced around her mother moving towards her in a spiral motion finally standing between her and the wooden doors blocking her from the stone itself.
“You tell me every time.” Fumiko intoned dryly. “What is it this time Kyoko? Candy? Mochi? Steamed buns?” Her mother flinched with each different item before holding out her hand from behind her like an admonished child. There in her hand was a beautifully ornate piece of wagashi. Shaped like a pink lotus flower, it sat perfectly life-like in Kyoko's hand. Fumiko scowled. “Is this supposed to be some kind of joke mother?” Kyoko flinched at her words. “You bring this symbol of the monks into the shrine!” Her mother was a short lady and Fumiko had inherited her father's stature much to her chagrin but in this case it was of benefit. She practically loomed over her mother and held out her hand.
“We were served them for lunch,” Kyoko said breathlessly, “I just thought O-Kamisama would....” Her words trailed off as she swallowed and looked up at her daughter. “I didn't think,” she whispered before depositing the wagashi into Fumiko's hand, her gaze returning to the floor. Fumiko delicately put her other hand over the intricate sweet and moved to one of the corners of the room, pushing at several seemingly innocuous bits of wood but revealing a small hatch down into the river. She should've crushed the flower sweet but she didn't have the heart to do so, instead she placed it into the near freezing water and watched contentedly as it drifted away from her sight. Fumiko clicked the trap door back into place and turned on her mother again. Kyoko wore a look of pure innocence and Fumiko sighed, no doubt just inside the sanctum was another present for the Kami placed there as she had removed the decoy one.
“Kyoko-” She began but her mother interrupted immediately.
“You have heard the news from the east?” The words spilled out of her mouth and her hands dry washed in front of herself. Fumiko frowned slowly.
“No,” She murmured. “No I haven't.” Her mother flushed pink and then composed herself.
“There has been talk of the dead walking again.” Fumiko let out a breath the tension from her shoulders suddenly less.
“Kyoko, the dead may walk somewhere but it is not here.” She motioned to the floor the sound of gurgling water suddenly clearer. “They cannot pass here. The water and the Kami would keep them at bounds.” She laid a hand on her mother's shoulder. “No dead will rise here and no Oni will walk our town.”
The worst we'll have are bloody foxes, she thought to herself. The creatures were seemingly attracted to the shrine for some reason and every morning she would have to usher one or two out of it. Her mother looked abashed but nodded. The two of them stood in silence for a time just looking towards the inner sanctum until with a slight whistle snow once again spouted from the floor and Fumiko sighed. “I'm sorry Kyoko.” Her mother waved a hand and shook her head in an understanding manner.
“No sweetheart. I understand.” Kyoko smiled a sad smile at her daughter. “At least you're here, the manor feels so empty without everyone else.” Fumiko nodded and watched as her mother left the way she had come. Once she was out of the door Fumiko peeked inside the sanctum. Another piece of wagashi sat just across from the large holed stone which the Kami resided in. It was in the shape of a fox. Fumiko sighed and closing the door to the sanctum decided that it was at least suitable for the Kami before bustling off to sweep again.

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After this chapter the next is to be written from the perspective of the Sazama so hopefully my wife will write her piece & post it up when it's ready!

SeiShonagon
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Re: [ENG] Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Post by SeiShonagon » Thu Jun 07, 2018 7:33 pm

重荷
Heavy Burden

Inside the wooden castle of the Iekogo clan, Katsuo the eldest son of the Iekogo Daimyo stood waiting to catch his younger brother for a quick discussion. He wore the usual Samuegi outfit of a Buddhist monk that was used for working, long trousers and long sleeved wrap-around top. He wore no juban (undergarment) as it was warm in the temple and his long hair was pulled back to the nape of his neck. He had been pulled away from a private lesson with the head Abbott to attend a small family discussion, one which he had been expecting. His arms were folded and he leaned his back and one raised foot against the sturdy wall, irritation clearly seen on his face. A finger broke free and tapped hurriedly against an arm and the usual scowl he wore deepened.

When Hayato his younger brother did eventually appear from within the corridor, Katsuo's face darkened further. His fool of a brother looked care-free and almost unaware of why he had been summoned, like a child who had broken a statue when no one was around. Katsuo inwardly fumed.

As his brother reached him, Katsuo fell into place at his side.

“Father summoned you too Katsuo?” Hayato asked in a jovial tone. Katsuo turned to glare and noted what his fool brother was wearing. Two swords on his hips, his dirty horse-riding gear and a fine yukata over his shoulders that trailed behind like a grand cloak, similar to what those silly foreigners wore.

He thinks so much of himself,
Katsuo thought. What a fool. No wonder this incident has happened.

“Father would have summoned the whole family if I hadn't managed to calm him,” Katsuo explained with an edge of irritation ringing in his voice.

Hayato sighed and rolled his eyes, upping is pace as he did. “Once again you save the day, big brother,” he muttered sarcastically.

At his words, Katsuo's anger flared. He hooked a foot around Hayato's leg, tripping him up and sending him sprawling onto the wooden floor. “I wouldn't have to save the day if you could think with your head for once!” he bellowed at the crumpled mess on the floor. “Or maybe you just can't help thinking with the head in your pants!”

Hayato sprang up from the floor and yanked a sword free. He snarled in anger and his face turned a deep, furious red to match the impact mark on his forehead. Katsuo raised his hands and slid a foot back in a ready stance for attack. He was unafraid despite having a blade pointed at his face; Katsuo knew he could easily disarm his brother and part of him eager to teach Hayato a lesson with just his fists.

The doors of the main reception room flew open. “Ah my sons, don't stand around when I have summoned you!” rang the Daimyo's voice. “Come in now and stop acting like little boys.”

Neither moved.

“Hayato! Put that sword away now!” Iekogo Masaru screeched and smacked his own sheathed sword against the door frame. His patterned Daimyo robes fluttered and gave him the appearance of a small peacock, desperate to assert authority.

Hayato begrudgingly obeyed and with deliberate slowness sheathed his sword. With one final glare, he sulked into the room behind the rotund form of their father. Katsuo took a calming breath and followed, sliding the door shut behind him.

Masaru Iekogo was very different in appearance to his two elder sons. His first wife had been tall, taller than Masaru and as such his sons towered over the short, dumpy man. The only similarity they shared were thick eyebrows over almond shaped eyes, unusual for their region of the world. Katsuo was grateful that he only shared eyebrows with his father.

The Daimyo was pacing the room, waving his sheathed sword as a fan, pointing and babbling about family honour. Katsuo remained still and flexed his muscled hands behind his back, not listening to a word. His father always rambled before a serious family discussion; even Hayato was looking absentmindedly into the fire as their father droned on.

Unfortunately,
Katsuo thought as he gave his brother a withering look, Hayato shares father’s hot blood and rash decision making.

“-dared to provoke us!” The Daimyo finished, no doubt intending it to be a rousing speech. Katsuo only blinked in response and Hayato visibly jerked from his daydreams. “Speechless eh? Your father still has a fighting spirit, even in this old age!” Masaru bellowed.

“Yes father,” Katsuo replied quickly before the old man could start again, “but I would like to know why Hayato felt the need to embroil us in this situation?” He shot another glare at his brother.

Hayato shrugged. “He insulted me by picking the girl I wanted. He should have known better, so I told him so. He drew his sword but I was the better swordsman.”

Katsuo slapped a palm across his face. His brother had murdered someone over a girl? He groaned while the Daimyo gave a loud, roaring laugh.

“That’s my boy! Keeping the family honour strong!” He reached up to slap his son on the back in praised. “And new these upstarts want a further fight? We’ll give them what for, the Iekogo never back away from a chance to prove their might!”
Both brothers shot a worried look to each other. ‘Further fight’? Katsuo had heard nothing of this and by the looks of it, neither had Hayato.

“Further fight father?” Hayato questioned, tugging his yukata higher up over his shoulders. “I have not-”

“I’ve received word this morning of what those upstarts are trying to do, they will rue the day they dared to retaliate against the mighty Iekogo!” Spittle flew everywhere as the Daimyo gave into his rage. “That is why I am summoned you both here, prepare for battle my sons! I expect you to crush these curs under your boots!”

“Father, are you sure this is the wisest choice?” Katsuo interjected knowing that it was futile. “Can we not avoid further bloodshed? I have not heard of any formal-”

“I received a formal declaration this morning Katsuo and I expect you to do as your Daimyo commands!” Masaru spat, his eyes bright with rage. He rounded on his eldest son and jabbed his sheathed sword into his chest. “Or are you still a coward hiding behind your sutras?”

“That was your decision father,” Katsuo countered. He did not flinch from the jab to his ribs and narrowed his eyes at the short man. How he longed to say what he really wished but Katsuo knew better and bit his tongue.

“And this is my decision now. Ready yourselves and your men, the Iekogo will have their revenge for this slight!”

With a final roar, Masaru Iekogo threw his sword down onto the ground and stomped away to find his advisors. Katsuo and Hayato were left to contemplate their next course of action. Katsuo stole a glance at his brother. Hayato’s eyes reached his and they shared a brotherly glance of annoyance as he swept past. Katsuo sighed as he went to prepare to risk his life once again for his fool father.

*
Tsuyoshi stamped his foot hard against the ground as he swept through the Sazama family home, barking orders at anyone who dared to cross his path. All round him was a flurry of activity; men racing off to find their weapons, administrations scribbling notes in a flurry of pen marks, accountants skirting at the end of Tsuyoshi’s personal space waiting to ask their questions… Tsuyoshi was used to such situations. He gave clear and concise orders, albeit with a loud, booming voice. He knew his role in the family, one that his older brother could never achieve.

While the flurry of activity happened around Tsuyoshi, he noted that there was one vital person absent from the scene of action.

“I sent for Ryu as soon as the word arrived, where is he?” growled to a nearby attendant. The man cowered and as he did so, Takumi darted forward.

“Tomoko went to fetch him Uncle,” he explained a little breathlessly. “Everyone else is too scared to approach him.”

Not for the first time Tsuyoshi worried for his niece’s safety. The thought made him feel like a monster, why would his niece fear her brother? Ryunoske would never hurt anyone.

You remember his younger years, a voice in his head quipped, adding more anxiety to his mind. You have seen what Ryu is now. He is not the boy you remember.

The flurry and bluster in the Sazama checkpoint continued and Tsuyoshi found himself barking louder and louder at all the attendants. They came and went in a blur; bowing, reporting, exclaiming, shaking heads, cowering… Tsuyoshi treated them all with equal annoyance and waved them away once he had finished with them.

All too soon the provisions were ready and the picked warriors decked in their armour. Tsuyoshi had made them travel moderately, too much armour would weigh them down in the environment they would camp. Only chest and arm armour would be needed. And arrows. Lots and lots of arrows.

Still someone was missing from all the preparations. Tsuyoshi’s irritation grew to annoyance and then finally anger. He snapped mid-discussion with an accountant over death payments to families.

“Where is Ryunoske?” he bellowed loudly, his deep bass voice carrying far enough for everyone to here. “I cannot wait any longer, someone go find that-”

“I am here Uncle,” came a voice at his shoulder.

Tsuyoshi – not known for being easily startled – jumped in surprise at the sound. He spun and saw his nephew, sword on hip and dressed in suitable attire for battle. Ryu would have been the perfect warrior had it not been for those eyes. Dark and lifeless, looking into those eyes made even a hardened soldier like Tsuyoshi shiver. There was something wrong with those eyes, when had Ryu changed into this strange form? He could still remember the young boy who smiled freely and always spoke up whenever he wanted to be heard.

When he was younger he looked so full of life, Tsuyoshi thought as his eyes wandered over the form of his oldest nephew as he joined the ranks of soldiers. Now... now his aura seems so... strange. As if I know the skin but not the soul of this man... as if he is just a shell and the real Ryu has been spirited away.

"Ready Uncle! I mean- ready Tsuyoshi-sama," called Takeshi brimming with eagerness as he appeared at his shoulder.
Tsuyoshi felt the last of his energy drain away at the sight. Why were young boys always so keen to fight and die? He would never understand. Tsuyoshi waved him away and the young boy ran and stood next to his twin, chest out proudly while the rest of the troop stood at ease. These men were not so keen to leave the comfort of their families and Tsuyoshi felt the aged-old pang of responsibility and guilt in his chest.

He cleared his throat loudly and addressed the gathered men before him curtly and briefly, as all leaders should.

"An incident has occurred that affects the Iekogo. We are to dispatch to the northern mountain range as a reserve force should the Iekogo Daimyo require our strength. Form up and follow."

The soldiers shuffled away, leaving two young figures behind.

“That’s it?” came a voice from the twins. They looked disappointed.

Tsuyoshi scowled and barked back, “What do you mean ‘that’s it?’ That is what you have been told now do as your commander says!”

The twins were so desperate to get away from him that they bumped into each other. Tsuyoshi let a growl rumble out, not something he usually did. His mask had been slipping as of late, little things that would have barely registered now made him snarl.

I came away the Imperial court because of fighting and now here I am again, Tsuyoshi thought wearily as he scooped up a bag of provisions that had been hurriedly left for him by a spindly attendant. He heaved the bag onto his shoulder and gave his sword, bow and arrows a final check with his free hand. When he was satisfied, he called the warriors to order and made them form a line.

“No horses Uncle?” came the Ryunoske at his shoulder. Tsuyoshi – wise to this trick – didn’t jump but gave the man a sideways look.

“Horses and mountains do not match well,” he replied. “If you had been at the earlier briefing you would have known where we were dispatched to.”

Ryunoske had the grace to look embarrassed. Tsuyoshi wanted to press him for an explanation but time was of the essence.

With a heavy heart, he signaled the start of the trek to their destination. He glanced to the house’s viewing platform and saw only Tomoko standing there. The sight made him worried yet again for his brother, but there was nothing he could do. Tomoko would have to do her best with that situation. Tsuyoshi nodded curtly to her as they passed.

“Stay alive,” she called as the men trudged past.

“We shall see,” Ryunoske muttered from behind.

Tsuyoshi shook his head and walked on.

*
Yoshio stumbled his way through the halls of the Sazama household. A cold sweat had appeared on his forehead and the colour in his face had drained ever since he had read that letter. The bold and brash penmanship was easily recognisable; Masaru Iekogo’s appalling handwriting was known throughout his vassals, therefore Yoshio knew it was a genuine missive and no hoax.

No reason had been given in the letter but Yoshio had heard the rumours. Running a checkpoint had its benefits and despite what others thought, Yoshio was shrewd enough to listen to gossip that passed between the retainers and horseman as they waited for their papers to be ratified.

One of the Iekogo sons had killed a man. An important man. Important enough for the Sessho-Seki clan to respond with violence.

Yoshio knew that any skirmish that involved the Iekogo would draw the Sazama clan.

As he tumbled along, Yoshio kept a hand on the walls to steady himself. He felt as if he would fall into a black abyss at any moment; a deep well of despair had formed in his heart that threatened to swallow his whole being. No matter how hard he tried to remove himself from the politics of the world, ill deeds – not if his doing! – found a way into his life and snatched away his happiness.

Yet again his mind returned to painful memories that refused to stay buried. Narumi, his beloved wife had been taken from him because of political fighting. Her household had been decimated by favourites of the Imperial Court at the time, the most powerful clan in the Majime provice, who had turned a blind eye to the suffering of a smaller house. Narumi lost her entire family, all male heirs were put to death and females either forced to become nuns or married into other clans to prevent reprisals. The strain and heartbreak had driven Narumi to suicide. Yoshio could again see the image of his wife, body bent over a bloody sword that had impaled her abdomen surrounded by a sea of blood.

So much blood, Yoshio recalled. So much blood had come from such a small woman.

No one except Yoshio had entered that room since that day, not even their children. Even now no one dared approach for fear of seeing the outline of Narumi Sazama still imprinted on the tatami mats. Some muttered that her ghost remained in that room, still weeping and crying out for reparations for the murders of her family.

A cold chill crept along Yoshio’s back. Only once had he seen Narumi since her death…

The pantry appeared and Yoshio dived inside, his hands scrabbling at the wooden box that contained his secret medicine. There he found what he needed to keep going through this dark time, an old half-drunk bottle of the strongest rice wine the Sazama lands could grow. He found a bowl and poured the clear liquid generously, some even spilling over the rim of the bowl and onto his robes.

With a shaking hand, Yoshio quickly drank a small cup of sake, refilled it hurried and drank again. The last time politics had affected his family he had lost his wife, now it had returned and was trying to claim one of his sons. Who would it be? Yoshio knew that at least one of them would die, no matter what kind of appeasement he made to the gods.
Unless he gave himself? Would that work?

No. Last time he had offered and the gods had refused him, snapping the rope from which he tried to swing and breaking the sword he had tried to use to open his stomach.

He knew that one of his beloved children would perish in this battle.

Another cup of sake passed his lips.

“Father?” came a voice. His youngest son Osamu peered around the wall, his young face full of colour and life. Yoshio’s heart twisted in his chest. “Is something wrong father? You never come in here unless it’s very serious.”

Yoshio coughed and slipped the sake bowl into his sleeve, hoping the boy wouldn’t notice. “It’s nothing sweetness,” he said, forcing a smile. “Do you need anything?”

“Uncle Tsuyoshi is ready to depart. He wanted to say goodbye before he left.”

Say goodbye? Yes, better say it now, it might be the last words we share.

“Lead the way Osamu,” Yoshio replied. “Is your sister waiting for us?”

“Yes father,” the boy replied as he grabbed Yoshio’s hand. Yoshio was surprised at this but wrapped his slender fingers around Osamu’s warm hand. The boy gave a toothy grin. “Only when no one’s looking father,” he whispered, “I’m not a child anymore so I don’t want anyone to see but you.”

A single tear slid down Yoshio’s face at his words. He quickly wiped it away with a sleeve and motioned for Osamu to lead the way. Oh my boy, please don’t be the one to leave me, he thought as he let himself be taken to the viewing platform to take one final look at his family.

KokeKitsune
Posts: 27
Joined: Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:57 pm

Re: [ENG] Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Post by KokeKitsune » Sun Jun 10, 2018 5:37 pm

Image
Above is the current state of the region in which this story takes place. The three clan forces in play are clearly marked at their current locations.
1:Gawamachi: (川町)The Location of the Sessho-Seki post town, estates and grand shrine.
2:Tsutsujiba: (つつじ場) The location of the Sazama checkpoint and post town along with their estates & troops.
3:Kinjozan: (金城山) The location of the Iekogo clans castle town along with their troops.
4:Makoto-do: (誠寺) The temple of the Makoto sect of monks. The son of the Sessho-Seki, Kade, recently passed through here
5:Takahashi: (高鷹城) The castle town of the Yoso/Kagedaten(no one would call them that name to their face!) clan. The daughter of the Sessho-Seki, Umeko, is currently located here.

SeiShonagon
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Apr 19, 2018 10:23 pm

Re: [ENG] Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Post by SeiShonagon » Sun Jul 01, 2018 8:26 pm

擦り切れ糸
Frayed thread


A day and a half had passed since Tsuyoshi and his contingent had left the Sazama home. Roughly eighty men were now setting up camp at the base of the Makoto mountains; tents were being put up and wood gathered for fires. Tsuyoshi had been pleased with their progress but now that they were here, he was worried boredom would set in.

His instructions had been clear. Wait at the base of the mountain for the Iekogo to join up. His men were to hold the line should any enemy attempt to sneak through before the Iekogo had a chance to arrive. A simple plan and swift if the Iekogo came by horse.

Tsuyoshi found himself restless and on edge. The orders he had received were basic at best, although that was not the cause of his agitation. From his viewpoint, Tsuyoshi swept his eyes across his gathered soldiers, noting each man and what they were doing.

Tents were going up, cesspits and fire pits were being dug, water resources being scouted, firewood being collected by a small group that had opted to remain behind from the march to collect better materials… all the usual activities of a small army, every man pitching in to make life that little bit easier. Tsuyoshi jumped from face to face, noting each man as he stood atop an embankment.

One man was missing yet again.

The contingent had arrived at the mountain late this morning and camp setup was progressing. The twins had been making themselves very useful and Tsuyoshi made a mental note to praise them for that, but the other Sazama son was nowhere to be seen.

He disappeared on the trek to the mountain as well, Tsuyoshi though as he snorted in derision. Twice he vanished only to reappear before I sent out a search party. What could he be doing that warrants him leaving camp?

A multitude of ideas crossed Tsuyoshi’s mind. Was Ryunoske meeting a girl? Or a boy? Was he meeting spies? Was he selling them out to the enemy? Was he secretly planning his own contingent to take over Tsuyoshi’s command? Anything and everything was possible with Ryunokse and his tight-lipped musings. Tsuyoshi had initially felt like a monster for suspecting his own kin of such concepts, but after the second disappearance Tsuyoshi had been forced to acknowledge those suspicions.

The question was, how to find out what the weasel was doing. A straight up demand could result in a fight and that would ruin morale at the very least. Tsuyoshi sighed, knowing that he would have to use his courtly politics skills again. How he longed for a simple life.

“Camp is ready Uncle,” came a voice at his shoulder. Tsuyoshi narrowed his eyes at the sound.

“And you would now this how?” he asked as he settled a hand on the sword at his hip. “You have been absent all morning.”

“I disagree Uncle,” Ryunoske countered. He stepped into Tsuyoshi’s line of sight, his long black hair billowing gentling in the breeze. If it weren’t for the deathly pale skin and his dead eyes the man could have been considered handsome. “I have been wandering the camp as second in command, making decisions and assisting while you remained alone, brooding on our objectives.”

Tsuyoshi raised an eyebrow at Ryu’s jibe. “And the men can attest to that?”

This time Ryu was the one to raise an eyebrow. “You question my word?”

“I question your whereabouts earlier today,” Tsuyoshi stated. He gave Ryunoske a level look. “Twice you disappeared on our march here. No explanation, no message relayed to me, you just left. I cannot have men disappearing in the midst of a battle and to do so now does not fill me with confidence regarding your reliability.”

“I left messages-”

“You report to me like every other man here,” Tsuyoshi interrupted, predicting what Ryu would say. There was always an excuse. “Leaving messages for others to pass on defies the hierarchy of command. Unless you wish to step down from second?” Tsuyoshi narrowed his eyes at the man he no longer knew. “It can be easily arranged.”

Ryunoske returned the level glare and, for a split second, Tsuyoshi saw lightening flash. The sky behind him darkened and two blue flames flickered into life in Ryu’s eyes. The flames grew and grew until they threatened to engulf him. Tsuyoshi heard a harsh, whispering voice speaking in a language he did not know and an icy cold chill settled into his heart. Ryu’s stature grew and loomed over him, as if he were an insect waiting to be squashed by a giant’s whim. Harsher and more desperate the voice became, the brighter and more menacing the flames in those black, black eyes grew and the sky swirled and choked away any light-

“My apologies Unc- Tsuyoshi-sama. It will not happen again.”

His voice broke the illusion and Ryu made his way back towards the main camp, his hair and clothes swaying with momentum. Tsuyoshi felt fear and anger like nothing he had ever known flare in his chest. He found him legs shaking from concentrated effort to remain upright. With concerted effort, he lowered himself to the ground slowly as if the choice to sit was his own. What was that he had just witnessed?

Hurry and meet us Iekogo, Tsuyoshi thought as he wiped his brow with a shaking hand, else I cannot guarantee anyone’s safety.

*

Dust and dirt fleck up from the road as the horses trotted through, showering the men behind with clouds of dust. Several of them coughed loudly as the dirt filled their lungs and there were a few muttered curses at the higher ranks who were far too superior to even consider the hardships of the common soldier.

Iekogo Katsuo was only too aware of his warriors. Aware that they could all be throwing their lives away for some heated outburst that had gotten out of control. Yet again Katsuo snarled and cursed at his brother. Thankfully Hayato had been given a different contingent with a different aim, which meant he was far removed from Katsuo’s sphere of concern. All worries about what Hayato was up to were pushed from his mind; Katsuo had to concentrate here and Hayato was a grown man. Any mistakes his fool brother made were of his own reasoning.

“Scowling again Katsuo,” came a loud voice. Katsuo tried to mask a sigh but failed. “Oh and a sigh too! Careful, Buddha might get annoyed and turn you into a frog.”

At Katsuo’s right was his cousin and war advisor, Iekogo Takeru. He and his cousin were like oil and water; where Katsuo was calm, collected and logical, Takeru was loud, brash and quick to act. Despite their differences they worked well together and made a very effective strategic team. Takeru’s deference to Katsuo was deeply imbedded and Katsuo knew that Takeru would risk everything he had, including his life should Katsuo request it; for that he had a begrudging admiration for his younger cousin of a lesser branch of the family. There had been a handful of occasions where Katsuo had found himself back to back with Takeru faced with numerous swords, he trusted the man wholeheartedly to save him when needed.

It was just his loud voice and louder personality. Takeru sported a shock of ginger hair cut short and spiky. He always adorned a large grin and liked to be very physical with those he considered close; Katsuo often found himself dodging arms or hands that sought his shoulder or back.

“Buddha won’t turn me into a frog Takeru,” Katsuo replied with exasperation. “If you studied the sutras you would know that.”

“Eh sutras aren’t for me,” Takeru replied with a shrug, dropping the reins of his horse into his lap. The placid beast kept moving despite the lack of control. “I’m more a man of action, you know that Katsuo.”

“Iekogo Takeru, address the Taisho as rank decrees,” boomed a deep voice to Katsuo’s left. The man final man of their small group sat bolt upright in his saddle in his finely polished armour with hair slicked back against his head. “This isn’t a playfight, this is a skirmish. If you have time for idle chat then go check the warriors.”

Jungyuji Akihiko was an imposing figure on Katsuo’s left. As tall as Katsuo and of a similar build, many confused him as a brother or cousin of Katsuo’s. He did not suffer fools and strived to be as efficient as possible and thought that any outbursts were a sing of childishness. Katsuo rarely saw the man express any emotion other than cool consideration regardless of the situation. If Katsuo thought his own emotions were suppressed, he could learn a lot from his childhood friend. Jungyuji had begun Buddhist priest training at the same time as Katsuo, however his studies had been cut short with the death of his two older brothers and he had been molded into the family heir within a year of mourning for his brothers.

Takeru snorted at Jungyuji’s words and grabbed the reins of his horse, urging it to spin around and gallop back down the ranks of marching men. His polished dark green armour glimmered in the morning sun as he sped off with a shout. Katsuo sighed again and tucked a loose strand of hair behind his ear. Takeru and Jungyuji were always bickering, both in public and private, it gave him no end of headaches but they were both excellent advisors and good friends whom he trusted with his life.

And I have very few of those, Katsuo mused as the crested a sloping hill. The Sazama checkpoint came into view and a messenger suddenly appeared by the side of the road. Jungyuji edged his horse forward to block Katsuo from the man, making him the target rather than Katsuo. Takeru appeared at his right again, one hand on the reins and the other on a sword hilt.

“Peace you two,” Katsuo warned, “that is a Sazama messenger, no doubt here to notify the checkpoint of our arrival. Whatever nonsense my father filled your head with forget, we aren’t marching to a glorious war and no one wants to purge the Iekogo family. No one is going to attempt my assassination this time.”

Takeru shot a glowering look, which made Katsuo’s eyebrows crease in surprise. Very rarely did Takeru look serious. “You are the head of the Iekogo house here Katsuo,” he snapped in irritation, “Do not think so little of yourself.”

“I agree,” Jungyuji echoed, keeping his eyes fixed on the messenger.

Katsuo nearly fell off his horse.

“Greetings my lords of Iekogo,” called the jovial looking messenger, sweeping a low but flamboyant bow. “Permit me to inform the Sazama that their gratuitous lords have arrived.”

Katsuo nodded at the man in agreement. He didn’t trust his voice to work after seeing his two friends agree with each other!

A horse appeared from the side of the road and with a swift jump, the messenger mounted and sped away toward the bustling checkpoint. Katsuo eyed the checkpoint and adjoining village. It was not the largest checkpoint he had seen, but the layout had been well designed. There was no easy way around; large ditches had been dug either side of the main road and the nearby river had covered with sturdy netting and strategically placed logs to prevent rafts being used. He recalled what he had learned about the Sazama family whom he had never met.

The head of the household was called Yoshio, however his younger brother was the famous but now retired Tsuyoshi of the Imperial Court. Yoshio’s eldest son was named Ryunoske and was rumoured to be cursed, possessing the strength of a demon and the eyes of a ghoul. Katsuo had heard those rumours before and had packed extra beads for prayers on this journey. They were to meet up with the small Sazama force at the Makoto mountains after restocking provisions and then together march towards the Sessho-Seki. A crude plan but Katsuo expected nothing more from his war-hungry father.

With a flick of the reins, Katsuo urged his horse on. As expected, Takeru and Jungyuji kept pace for a private conversation.

“We make this quick, no loitering of any kind. I want to be out of this place before the sun reaches its peak,” he ordered, keeping his gaze on the ever-growing checkpoint. “Take any provisions that we need, the Sazama are rich enough to replace half the Imperial Court so don’t be fooled by their appearance. Accountants are always wealthy.”

“Yes my lord,” the two men replied.

“No fraternisation either,” Katsuo added with a scowl towards Takeru. “I want this incident settled neatly, Hayato has caused enough problems for me, don’t go adding to them.”

“Eh, last time it was Jungyuji that started the fight,” Takeru replied with a sly look, “that girl just happened to appear in my bed, I didn’t know she was-”

“You deliberately provoked me into that fight Takeru-”

Unable to stop himself, Katsuo rolled his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose while his two advisors began to argue yet again. Katsuo prayed that the Sazama household wasn’t as irritating as this, otherwise it was going to be a long day…


*

It was early morning and Sazama Tomoko was in her room reviewing accounts from the previous month with a cup of weak green tea in her hand and a pen brush in the other. An ink pot was on a low table ready for use but Tomoko had yet to dip her brush into the thin liquid. Her brows were creased in consternation and her usually loose hair pulled back against her head so she could see clearly. She placed the tea back down onto her camphor table with a gentle thud and grabbed the paper before her with both hands, leaning her elbows onto the table in a very un-ladylike pose.

The Sazama contingent had left for the Makoto mountains two days ago, yet demands at the checkpoint had not lessened. Tomoko had found comfort that the daily routines remained the same and she had thrown herself into accounting with vim and vigour. She just wished the same could be said of her father.

Lately his standard of work had been slipping and the number of junior accountants coming to her with concerns had increased. Despite being a junior accountant herself (albeit very knowledgeable since being under her father’s tutelage) Tomoko was not one to shy away from a challenge, she had asked to see the accounts in question and had found a handful of mistakes. This may not have concerned her at first, her father had just had a big shock by sending three out of his four sons away to a skirmish. However the mistakes were in several accounts which was very unlike her father.

The next day the number of mistakes grew again. One or two were serious errors in counting. By the afternoon the number of junior and senior accountants at her door had also increased.

A big sigh escaped her lips as Tomoko let the document fall from her hands. She was twenty-three years of age now and had dedicated her life so far to becoming indispensable to her father, yet it was times like this she wished she could be frivolous and care-free. A sense of dread settled in her chest as she faced the inevitable; a difficult conversation would be needed with her father. She was the only one who could do it in this difficult time.

While Yoshio Sazama was not a proud man, any type of criticism would send him into a dark cloud of depression and failure. Tomoko remembered a time when her mother had reprimanded him for an error. He had holed himself up in his study and refused to come out despite her mother’s repeated pleas. In the end, her mother had broken into his study and lectured him about facing up to responsibilities and accepting feedback like a man. Tomoko shook her head. Her father was a delicate man, it was the nicest word she could think of to describe him.

Weak,
said a voice in her head. You mean your father is weak. Say the truth.

Tomoko shook her head harder to banish that thought. Her father was not weak; he just had flaws the same as everyone else in this world.

Some flaws are worse than others,
the voice said in her head and an image of her father appeared, followed by Ryunoske.

Tomoko wrapped her hands around her shoulders as she pondered her older brother with mixed feelings. His fiancée had smiled when Tomoko had informed him that their wedding would be delayed. She could not blame Teiko for her reaction but it hurt to see someone think that way towards her brother, especially someone who was supposed to love him. Well, she could argue that she was no better than Teiko. She loved her brother but was now terrified of being alone with him. Tomoko felt chills along her spine as she remembered the archery room. Would the Sazama forces be safe with a man like Ryu?

Tomoko gave herself a slap at such a thought. She grabbed the dropped scroll and returned to her studies, banishing all thoughts of men and family for now. She had dedicated her life to accounting and it was too late to start thinking of other options for her life. She would happily take over the family business and leave family obligations to Ryu and her younger brothers.

She had just dipped her pen brush into the ink for a correction when the door of her room burst open with a loud crack.

“Sssssssssssssssazama-sssssssssssssama! C-c-c-c-come q-q-q-q-q-q-quickly!”

Tomoko was pulled away from her accounts by a skittish maid barely old enough to be in service. The girl had a terrible stutter which made any explanation take far too long, therefore she resorted to pulling the sleeve of Tomoko’s light blue kimono and practically dragged her out of the room. During the walk to the main door of the house Tomoko managed to piece together what the young girl was saying.

The Iekogo contingent had arrived at their gates.

Controlled chaos was taking place before her eyes as Tomoko watched horses being led away, warriors being corralled into various corners, bags of provisions taken away for re-stocking and water bottles being refilled. A long flag bobbed through the crowds, indicating the leader of this gathering. With a sigh and a straightening of shoulders, Tomoko sent the small maid away to fetch her father and made her way towards the main steps of her family home to greet the eldest son of the Daimyo.

He arrived with two other men and dismounted from his horse nimbly. His dark blue armour glinted in the sun, along with his two swords on his hip. Tomoko was surprised to see someone as tall as him, from her memory the Daimyo was a short man. His long hair, swept up in a high pony tail, reminded Tomoko of her brother Ryunoske.

“Welcome to our humble home Iekogo-sama,” Tomoko intoned with a deep bow, keeping her eyes on the floorboards. “I hope your journey has been pleasant.”

“Our journey has been uneventful,” the man replied with a curt nod. “We do not plan to stay long, only to replenish our water supplies.” Tomoko raised her head and saw him glancing about. “You are the head of this household?”

“My father Yoshio will be here soon my lord,” Tomoko replied. “Would you care to rest a moment inside our humble home?”

Those eyebrows are incredible, was all Tomoko could think while she kept her hostess skills working.

She glanced at the equally tall man by his side. He looked very similar to Ieokogo-sama, he must have been related to the Daimyo’s family. Perhaps another son that she did not know about? She wracked her brains for a name.

“I will decline,” replied the Daimyo’s son. “I wish to briefly discuss matters with your father, then my contingent and I will leave.”

Not one to mince words, Tomoko mentally noted. That should make conversations very brief. Maybe I can get back to my accounts this afternoon.

“Jungyuji, supervise the water restock,” Iekogo-sama ordered with nod towards the largest collection of warriors. “Make sure we have enough and some spare should this skirmish be drawn out.”

The tall man at his side bowed swiftly, turned on his heel and strode away. Jungyuji… not a name Tomoko had heard of. They must not be related after all. She was pleased that she hadn’t tried to engage in conversation and made herself look a fool.

Another man suddenly peered around the Iekogo-sama’s form and narrowed his eyes at her. Tomoko was surprised again, this man had ginger hair! She had heard rumours of northern villages where the population had ginger or red hair, but she had never seen one. Tomoko couldn’t help but stare at him.

“Eh, pretty plain looking girl aren’t you?” the man said, leaning in closer to study Tomoko’s face. “You could have dressed up a bit for us Iekogo, we’re your ruling house after all, right Katsuo?”

Tomoko blinked and gritted her teeth, internally seething with anger and rage. The retort that she wanted to say was replaced by a much cooler one. “My sincere apologies my lord, I thought you had come to our house for war. If you so wish it, I can tell you the directions of the oiran shops within the Imperial city.”

This is why I hate men! Books and accounts aren’t rude, Tomoko internalised as she clenched a fist inside her kimono sleeve, her nails digging painfully into her palm.

“Go check the horses Takeru,” the Daimyo’s son Iekogo Katsuo said with a sigh. It seemed as if such outbursts were a regular occurrence from this subordinate. “Remember what I said earlier.”

With much grumbling the man in the dark green armour wandered off. Tomoko watched him leave with narrow eyes and entertained the thought of using Ryu’s arrows on him.

“You handled Takeru’s remarks well,” Iekogo Katsuo said with the barest hint of approval on his face. Tomoko caught him studying her face and averted her gaze.

“Thank you my lord,” Tomoko replied with another bow. “I have four brothers; therefore I know how to deflect any remarks such as those.”

When she straightened from her bow, she caught the tall man running his eyes over her form with appraising look. “Are you married or promised to anyone?” he asked.

Tomoko visibly bristled at his words. “Excuse me? What does my-”

“Answer the question,” he snapped in annoyance.

Tomoko schooled her face back into neutrality while she imagined beating this infuriating man into the ground.

“I am neither married nor promised, my lord,” she forced out through gritted teeth. “Although if you seek a bride, there are others with far better social standing that would catch your eye. We would make a poor match.”

“Oh no not for me, you would be more suited for my brother,” Katsuo replied, his eyes still traveling Tomoko’s form. “You seem logical and able to hold your own when put under pressure, that will be a good trait to have when dealing with Hayato; he and Takeru both do not know how to filter their thoughts before speaking.” He nodded and let his eyes settle on a certain body part. “And you have bigger breasts than normal, which will keep Hayato from straying. He does enjoy girls with larger breasts.”

Tomoko nearly burst a blood vessel she was so livid! Thankfully her father appeared before Tomoko could say something she would bitterly regret.

The instant she saw him, Tomoko knew something was wrong. Her father appeared in the doorway of their home, holding onto the wooden frame. With wobbling legs he strode towards the Daimyo’s son, displeasure clearly showing on his face. He glared at Tomoko as he arrived before rounding on the Iekogo son.

“So, you’ve come to bring death to my door?” Yoshio snapped, jabbing a finger into Iekogo Katsuo’s chest. Tomoko audibly gasped at this and as she did, tasted sake on her tongue. The strong smell of liqueur poured from Yoshio’s entire body and Tomoko was further stunned.

Her father had been drinking? At a time like this? How much had he consumed to smell this strongly?

The thick brows of the eldest Iekogo son furrowed angrily. With a firm but gentle hand, he pushed Yoshio’s finger away from his chest. “I am come at my father’s behest to meet the Sessho-Seki army that marches towards your checkpoint,” he replied with a calm voice. Tomoko felt anxiety settle in her chest. “Whatever our Daimyo orders we must obey, Sazama Yoshio-san.”

“Pah!” Yoshio snorted with a dismissive wave of a hand. “You come to drag us into your family’s mess.”

“Mind your words Sazama Yoshio,” Iekogo-sama warned with a stony face. “You are our vassal and your taxes to us can easily be increased.”

Tomoko placed a hand on her father’s arm but he yanked it away with a snarl. Tomoko was taken aback by this, her father never acted so aggressive. His actions caused nearby employees to stop and watch. Tomoko tried to wave them away but by now everyone was fixated on the interaction.

“Your contingent should have left for the Makoto mountains, when did they leave?” continued Iekogo-sama, his eyes resting on Tomoko instead.

“Yesterday morning my lord,” Tomoko replied stepping in front of her father. Someone had to be the voice of reason. “A full contingent led by Sazama Tsuyoshi-san.”

“Led to their deaths because of some foolish murder committed by your brother far away from here,” Yoshio said loudly, loud enough for even some warriors to pay attention.

Both Tomoko and Iekogo Katsuo rounded on him and spoke at the same time.

“Watch your mouth Sazama.”

“Father, Iekogo-sama is only-”

Suddenly Tomoko was roughly pushed away by her father, who stepped in close enough to sneer up at the Daimyo’s son. “A family full of fools, liars and betrayers,” he spat with seething rage.

“Father!” Tomoko exclaimed, horrified at his words.

The sound of metal scrapping filled the air. In one quick, smooth motion, Iekogo pointed his katana directly at her father’s face and tap the point against his nose, piercing the skin so that drops of blood appeared. With a shriek, her father jumped backwards, cupping his nose as he fell against the wooden stairs of the family home.

“This slight against my family will not go unpunished Sazama Yoshio,” Iekogo Katsuo said darkly, looking every inch the Daimyo’s son. He looked down his nose at the mess that was Tomoko’s father. “It seems you brought your own death to your family,” he added with a sneer.

“My lord, please forgive my father’s foolish outburst and his poor reception,” Tomoko begged as she planted herself on the floor before him, head pressed to the ground. “I beseech you!”

“Enough!” Iekogo Katsuo shouted, causing everyone watching the spectacle to jump. He was breathing hard as Tomoko raised her head, his eyes bored into her own and she shivered under his gaze.

“It seems your wish has come true,” Katsuo snarled as he sheathed his sword with a hard slam. “No one will want you for a bride now!”

His words stung more than Tomoko wanted to admit. “I-”

“Be silent!” he snapped and spun on his heel, his long hair whipping above her head. Tomoko scrambled to her feet and ran after him as fast as her kimono would allow.

Iekogo Katsuo strode away through the crowds of people, signalling and calling his men until they were swarmed around him like a barricade. Her kimono and obi made running difficult, the material was tight against her body making her movements slow and breathing restricted. With rasping breath, Tomoko managed to catch up and hear his words as she hunched over onto her knees to drawn in much needed air.

“Move out, we leave this checkpoint within the next hour. Take whatever you want, food, water, horses, anything you wish as recompense for slandering the Iekogo name,” he shouted, his deep voice carrying far for everyone to hear.

Some men cheered at the news, but others exchanged confused and cautious glances in their smaller groups. Even the ginger-haired man cast a sideways glance at Iekogo Katsuo. With one final bark of an order, the milling men hurried off to their previous stations and began completing their tasks, ignoring the worried cries of the Sazama personnel.

A number of employees came to Tomoko’s side, questioning what they should do. Tomoko had no answer for them, her father had caused this disaster and she had no idea how to fix it.

Iekogo Katsuo stood with his back towards her, hand on sword hilt and the other clenched in a tight fist. Tomoko felt too frightened to approach him; he looked as dangerous as Ryunoske. A tall man in dark blue armour appeared his face a mask of concern. Tomoko recognised him from before.

“Message to the Sazama contingent Taisho?” Jungyuji asked. He openly scowled at Tomoko as she hurried walked closer and tried to interject, leaving the wailing employees behind.

“Leave them to fester at the mountain, I’ll not waste a messenger on this clan,” Iekogo Katsuo spat, his face and voice full of venom. Tomoko’s breath caught in her throat at his words.

The man named Jungyuji saluted and sped off before Tomoko could stop him. She managed to grab the sleeve of Iekogo Katsuo to prevent him from darting away.

“Please Iekogo-sama! My father meant you no offence!”

“No offence? Sullying my family name before everyone gathered here is not an offence? Fools, liars and betrayers were his words,” he hissed, wrenching his arm free of her grip.

“My father has… difficulties with situation such as these. He is delicate, an accountant cannot bear the burden of warriors, we are built for problems of logic not problems of name and honour,” Tomoko replied, clinging to the hope that she could save this situation.

The man narrowed his eyes at her. “Anyone can slander a name, accountant or not,” he countered.

Tomoko had to concede. “Yes this is true, but my father’s ability to filter such thoughts has been… difficult as of late. The stress and strain of running this checkpoint, the lone checkpoint working in this region and dealing with his family-”

“You mean Ryunoske, your brother,” the man interjected. “It’s no secret in this region that he is cursed.”

Tomoko straightened her back. “He is not cursed, he is simply unwell.”

“Unwell? Yet I do not see him here to greet me, which means he must be fit enough to have joined your Uncle’s troop, correct?”

Tomoko opened her mouth, then closed it. She had no comeback to his question. Seeing her reaction, Iekogo Katsuo smoothed his features and took a long, slow breath before he continued. “Your father has made me very angry. My Buddhist training tells me to not seek revenge, yet his words have made me break that promise. Consider your family’s debt to us extended indefinitely.”

Despair began to well in Tomoko’s heart. “My lord we are not so wealthy as you believe, we-”

“I have never heard of a poor accountant,” Iekogo countered. He turned towards the horses stable and somehow lengthened his stride, Tomoko found it impossible to keep up with him. “No amount of apologies or arguments will settle this matter Sazama-san; save your efforts, I am not a man easily moved by simpering words.”

“Then how can I appease you?” she shouted, giving in to her exasperation.

The man stopped in his tracks as did Tomoko. A hand flexed on his sword hilt but he did not turn back to face her. His words carried over his shoulder.

“Those are dangerous words to utter to a man Sazama-san. Think before you do so again. We will continue this discussion when I return.”

Tomoko watched him leave with a chest filled with dread and eyes filled with tears. What would happen to Tsuyoshi and her brothers?

SeiShonagon
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Apr 19, 2018 10:23 pm

Re: [ENG] Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Post by SeiShonagon » Tue Aug 21, 2018 8:19 pm

将棋駒 Shogi Pieces
The air was bitter and chill as Hayato Iekogo stood peering over the side of the Makoto mountains Valley. He had one leg raised, resting up on a rock ledge with an arm on his knee and a look of indifference on his face. He and his contingent of warriors had been stuck on this mountain for the past three days and the view hadn’t changed. Snow, rock, more snow and more rock, a never ending cycle. Hayato’s blue armour no longer shined but instead had a dusting of white flakes at the edges from where the wind whipped them up from the ground. His hair and thick eyebrows were also dusted with flecks of snow, which clung to his head and made him feel constantly damp. Hayato had been surprised that he had been given this route to pursue and not his brother, holed up on a mountain would have been perfect for the devout Buddhist believer.

Yet again Hayato sighed, his breath forming a misty cloud. The waiting was driving him insane. He had heard rumours that a Sessho-Seki contingent were on the move near him. But rumour was all it was. As of yet he had seen nothing to indicate the enemy was near. And that was excruciatingly frustrating. Hayato was itching to fight, to show that he was the better son and that his grand long-term plans would benefit the family more than his idiot older brother.

The sooner I can shove him into a faraway monastery the better,
Hayato thought as he rubbed his hands together. He’d prefer that anyway. Time to stop hampering me and move aside for a better leader, that applies to father as well!

“Taisho, no good will come of you leaning over the rocks,” came a monotonous voice from Hayato’s back. “Please come away before you fall to your death.”

With a groan, Hayato did as requested and pushed away from the edge of the rock formation. He did not turn to face the speaker but pinched the bridge of his nose instead in irritation. As he did so, flakes of snow fell from his eyebrows and landed on his cheeks where they quickly melted.

“Tell me Shinobu, do you ever express any emotions? Is there any enjoyment in your life?” he asked his advisor with annoyance.

“Would answering such questions help your battle plans, Taisho?”

This time Hayato turned to face the small man. Shinobu Tachibana was an old man with grey, thinning hair and no meat on his bones. He had two loose, wobbling teeth at the front that he pushed about with his tongue, which Hayato found revolting. Despite this disgusting habit, Shinobu was a quiet, simple man devoid of any emotion and quick reaction. Even his speech was monotonous and slower than others. Hayato was amazed that the man had made it this far into their journey. Shinobu had been an old man for a long time, Hayato could remember being a child and seeing old Shinobu pottering around the main household. Would Shinobu make it home? Hayato was unsure.

“You know Shinobu, idle conversation is a great way to make friends,” Hayato quipped as he brushed past the man. He stank of stale, mouldy clothes and Hayato wrinkled his nose as he went past.

“All my friends are dead Taisho, I do not need new ones,” the old man countered. Hayato smelt him follow. “If I may suggest, why not post a guard at the rock ledge if you are worried the Sessho-Seki will attack?”

I’m not worried!” snapped Hayato a little too quickly. “That places helps me think, that is why I frequent it so often.” He felt his cheeks turn pink in embarrassment, then turn red as his anger flared.

“I see Taisho,” Shinobu replied with a bow. His face gave away none of his thoughts.

Curse you old man! Treating me like a child! You and the others will regret making a fool of me!

“Might I suggest a briefing with the Yoriki, Taisho?” Shinobu stated as he slowly clamoured along a respectful distance away from Hayato. “And scout assignment as well? They would be able to provide better evidence than rumour and hearsay?”

Hayato clenched his fists in chagrin and anger. “Of course that was what I was planning. Do you doubt my leadership?”
“I doubt nothing Taisho,” Shinobu replied with a small bow. “Humour an old man like me and his musings; it has been so long since I last ventured out to fight that I need to prompt myself to remember the right process. Being old has its disadvantages Taisho.”

Hayato was unsure whether he was appeased by Shinobu’s explanation. Before he could snap again, he had arrived at the meeting point for the briefing. His three Yoriki were standing huddled together, the snow whipping about their heads and feet. Their cheeks were red from the cold and snow had settled in their waxed hair. Hayato did not know their names and didn’t feel the need to learn; in all honesty he could not tell the three men apart.

One stepped forward and bowed quickly as Hayato appeared. Before Hayato could signal his approval the man spoke rapidly. “Taisho, the rumours of the Sessho-Seki concern me. Burning villages is not what I expected them to do, this strikes me as far too aggressive even for a rumour. If this is the case, then it can only be Sessho-Seki Hisao who is heading this way. And if-”

“If, if, if!” Hayato interrupted with a shake of his head. “I don’t need ifs I need evidence. Send out some scouts and bring me proof of Sessho-Seki activity.” He waved his hand dismissively. “What else have you to report?”

The other Yoriki exchanged glances. “Food stores are dwindling Taisho, we have very little left.”

“Pah!” Hayato snorted with a wave. “We are not too far from home, send some men back to bring more. Father will gladly give us anything we need.”

“Taisho that is a two day hike through the winding mountains-”

“Would you rather the men not eat?” Hayato interrupted with a haughty snarl.

“We do have excess of some ingredients that could be used with snow,” said Shinobu from Hayato’s side. All three Yoriki turned their gazes to him. “It is not a permanent solution but if we grow desperate it is an alternative. There is no game to be had here, sending men back may be the only course of action.”

The Yoriki nodded sagely with Shinobu and Hayato felt himself bristle. Why did the Yoriki seem to want Shinobu’s approval, Hayato was the leader of this expedition! They should be listening to his words.

“Anything else?” Hayato snapped. The wind whipped through the group sending flakes of snow dancing up to their ankles.

“The men are growing restless Taisho, fights and quarrels are starting to appear. There has been little word since we left the household and-”

Hayato interrupted with a loud groaning sigh. “Tell them to keep practicing, once the Sessho-Seki are here there will be no time for boredom.” He kicked the ground with a foot and ran a hand through his wet hair. “This would hardly be a problem if you learned to keep the men occupied. Why do you bring such small problems to me?”

“Taisho, if this continues we could have deserters,” one of the Yoriki explained. The others kept their faces blank but Hayato caught the faintest hint of irritation. This in turn made his annoyance flare.

“Then all the more reason to keep them busy!” he shouted. “Send the worst ones back for food and keep the rest doing drills.”

He caught the Yoriki looking at Shinobu. Hot rage flared up in Hayato’s chest and he drew a sword, pointing it at the Yoriki. “Those are your orders! Go!”

A few seconds passed before the Yoriki recovered and hastily bowed. With snarling breathes, Hayato watched them leave before sheathing his sword. It was only then he noticed Shinobu had remained motionless and stood with his hands clasped by his stomach. The old man did not say a word but turned to look at Hayato the way a disappointed father looked at a child.

Hayato’s cheeks turned a furious red again. “You too! Go… check on the food stock and report the damage back to me!” Hayato snapped at Shinobu with a finger jab to the man’s chest. The old man’s body felt all bones and sinew but he made no notion that the contact hurt. Instead he simple bowed and shuffled away.

I need this to go well!
Hayato thought as he gritted his teeth in frustration. I didn’t kill Sessho-Seki Masaru over a girl, I needed him to die so that I can prove myself!

Hayato returned to his earlier spot on the rocks, biting the nail of his thumb nervously as his eyes darted about. His mind was whirling with anger and frustration as he searched for any sign of the Sessho-Seki.

Come on Sessho-Seki! Hurry up and die by my hand!

***
At the base of the Makoto mountains, Tsuyoshi Sazama was losing patience. It had been three days since their small group had arrived at the designated meet point and there had been no word from the Iekogo; no sightings, no scout, not even a messenger with notification of delay. Tsuyoshi stood at his usual vantage point with his arms crossed, a finger tapping away at his forearm. He had his back towards the men as he did not wish to show them his frustration. He knew that they too were just as frustrated. Fights had been breaking out in the camp along with snide comments, a sign that the men were growing bored with waiting. Tsuyoshi had employed his usual methods when fey moods struck, but they were not effective and had only abated the situation for a few hours.

We need to get away from here, Tsuyoshi thought as he scowled to the landscape. And not just because of the men.
During the wait, Ryunoske had disappeared five more times despite Tsuyoshi’s warning. Three of those times Tsuyoshi had been given a brief but garbled message on paper from one of his subordinates, twice Ryu had simply gone again. Each time he had returned with something different; a pheasant, a baby boar and a handful of quails had been held aloft as belated excuses for his departure. The fourth time he had come back with a black eye. After his most recent excursion, Ryu had come back with a cut on his forehead. He had waved away concern, stating that a boar had almost gotten him and in his desperation to get away he had cut his head on a low branch.

Tsuyoshi had kept silent after each disappearance, biding his time. He still recalled with a slight shake the image of Ryu with glowing eyes. No boar would dare charge against something like that. Whatever Ryu was doing, Tsuyoshi could not fathom. A multitude of theories had run through his head as the days had passed, some logical, some dark, some downright foolish and some truly terrifying. Every day the worry for his troops grew. Ryu was not showing signs of frustration, but Tsuyoshi did not wish to consider the possibility if he snapped and just how many of his men would-

No, stop. Ryu wouldn’t harm his own brethren… you must believe that, Tsuyoshi told himself as he turned and saw Ryu ascending the small hill towards him. If you don’t, then the men will pick up on the lack of trust. Suspicions will have to wait until this fight is over and we have returned home.

Ryunoske have a bow as he approached and Tsuyoshi nodded. At least he bowed properly this time. His armour was shining in the dim sunlight and his swords were on his hips. His long hair had been tamed into a long plait now instead of a flowing freely. Tsuyoshi still thought it impractical for fighting.

“Uncle, the men are growing restless. Has there been no word from the Iekogo?” Ryu asked quietly, one hand resting on a sword and his eyes subdued for now.

“If there were word you would have been informed,” Tsuyoshi replied, shifting his gaze to the camp below. “This silence is strange but such things happen. Perhaps the Iekogo have been held up. We can only speculate and wait.”

Tsuyoshi knew that the camp was becoming unsettled, he too felt that way. It was infuriating to be left without any word or inkling of what was happening at home. He did not like being left out of the communication loop, previous scenarios like this had resulted in disaster and Tsuyoshi wanted to avoid that at all costs. He theorised in his mind what could have happened as he watched the bustle of the camp. He watched the twins practicing their sword skills. His heart lurched in his chest at the sight, he still had reservations about bringing them along and seeing them play together reminded him how young they were and just how old he was. The young were always so eager to throw their lives away and the old cling to what little life they had left.

“You wish to replace me with my brothers?” Ryu asked.

Tsuyoshi’s eyebrows creased in confusion and he turned to face his nephew. “What makes you say that?”

“You keep staring at them Uncle. Takeshi and Takumi are young and untested, but everyone is a novice at first. If you wish to replace me with them, I will not resist.”

Tsuyoshi snorted at Ryu’s words. “The way you keep disappearing makes me question if you are willing to cede this position all too eagerly.”

Ryu tilted his head in a haughty fashion which made Tsuyoshi’s anger grow. “I chose to be seen by the men rather than standing alone and loftily from the heights,” Ryu said with a sneer. “Does it make you uncomfortable being around common warriors after your time in the Imperial Palace Uncle?”

Tsuyoshi was livid at his words! He clenched a fist and took a step forward, snarling as he did. “Listen you little-”

“A letter sir!” shouted a voice loud enough to make the whole camp stop. A small messenger appeared next to Tsuyoshi, stepping forwards with a bow, arms outstretched holding a crumpled letter by the fingertips. Tsuyoshi was abashed that he had been too caught up in arguing to see the man approach. “From the household sir, marked for your urgent attention.”

With an affronted snort, Tsuyoshi eyed the letter before reaching out to take it. Dirty and crumpled, very little attempt to keep the contents secret. Who would have sent him such a letter? He took the letter from the messenger with a scowl; the only person who would write to him would be his brother and Yoshio would never send a letter in this condition. Was this some sort of joke? Or maybe the Iekogo had just arrived at the Sazama household and felt the need to explain the delay? He hoped that was the reason as he tugged open the paper.

As he skimmed the first few sentences, his face fell. He managed to wave the messenger away as he absorbed Tomoko’s hastily scribbled message with lead weigh settling deep in the pit of his stomach. He sighed loudly, crumpled the paper and shoved in inside his armour as he walked further away from the camp of men who were all eagerly watching for a sign of action. When he felt far enough away, Tsuyoshi called over Ryu and the other leaders.

Tomoko had kept the details brief but he knew they must be true. They had been left at the mountain for long enough for Tsuyoshi to suspect abandonment. He was disheartened to find that he was not surprised Yoshio had ruined the situation, his brother’s reaction to the initial Iekogo news had reconfirmed that Yoshio could not handle anything outside his normal sphere of existence. Tsuyoshi would have to deal with that once he returned home.

Now the question was what to do? Leave and return to Sazama? Leave and join the skirmish? Stay and follow orders like a true warrior? There would be consequences no matter which option he picked. Tsuyoshi could see the leaders advancing; he had a few seconds to decide their future.

The men bowed, Ryu not as deeply as required but Tsuyoshi chose to ignore it for the time being.

“Our orders, sir?”

Tsuyoshi agonised for a moment longer before he made his decision. He kept his orders brief and clipped.

“There has been an incident in the household and as a result the Iekogo will not come as previously agreed. As such, we head toward the plains. Break camp and form up the warriors. We leave as soon as possible.”

The experienced Yoriki nodded in understanding and bowed in response before rushing off, barking orders as they went. Ryunoske stayed behind and for the first time in many months, Tsuyoshi saw genuine concern on his face. He almost looked like his old self again.

“An incident Uncle?” he asked in a tight voice.

Tsuyoshi glanced to the retreating Yoriki to make sure they could not hear his words. “Tomoko didn’t go into detail,” he said in a hushed voice. He kept his features blank too. “But the fact the letter came from Tomoko worries me. We must hurry home after this fight has been one.”

Ryu nodded his agreement, his eyes returning to their strange hue. Tsuyoshi shook his head and made his way back to the camp. Whatever was wrong with Ryu? The more he thought about it, the more Tsuyoshi wished for a priest.

“Do you wish to send a messenger?” Ryu asked at his side, making his stride with Tsuyoshi’s.

“Later. Pack up and move out first, we need to make up for lost time.” From the corner of his eye he saw Ryu bow before speeding off back to camp, his long plait swaying behind him.

That makes three problems I now need to deal with once I’m home, Tsuyoshi thought as he arrived back at his tent. He strapped his arm protectors back one while attendants frantically dismantled the fabric around him. Tsuyoshi barely acknowledged the movement, his thoughts still dwelling on his family.

Hold on Yoshio, I’ll be back soon brother. Just hold on and wait for me.

***
The sun had moved along its sky path as the Iekogo contingent wound their way across the plains. Katsuo had decided to leave the small Sazama force at the base of the Makoto mountain and had barked such orders at Takeru and Jungyuji, both of whom had merely nodded. Katsuo had been too furious to care if they opposed him. Because of this change, the Iekogo had made good progress and the plains were in sight. Katsuo was riding alone with his thoughts and had done for the whole journey; several attempts at discussion had resulted in glares.

For the fifth time, Katsuo ran through what the Iekogo had taken from the Sazama stores. It was enough to allow them five days of decent food, although rationing would begin if this battle lasted more than three. Katsuo doubted that, but after telling his troops to take whatever they wished, a reminder that this battle would be brief and that much rice was not needed, would have sparked more than just grumbles. Besides, anything left over could be taken back home.

Katsuo’s anger at the Sazama had cooled during the journey to the plains, and yet he found himself pondering once more how best to ensure compensation would be achieved. There were many petty thoughts that he tried to banish, yet they continued to creep into his mind despite the need to focus on the upcoming skirmish. One face kept appearing in his mind. Yoshio Sazama. The rage in Katsuo’s mind called for his blood but the Buddhist teachings called for calm. Never had he felt such conflict.

The sooner we are done with this, the sooner I can return home and forget about that infuriating family,
Katsuo thought as he clenched and unclenched his fist.

A familiar horse and rider appeared at his side. Katsuo groaned.

“That was mean of you Katsuo, I’m surprised you can act like that,” Takeru said, his not-so-subtle way of attempting conversation. Katuso decided he should engage with humanity.

“Despite all my attempts to suppress my emotions, I am still human Takeru,” Katsuo snapped as he scowled at the landscape, “a human who does not suffer fools or insolence.”

“But still, taking it out on the poor lady of the house was cruel. Especially after she begged so nicely,” Takeru said. An elbow connected with Katsuo’s ribs, making him turn to face his cousin who was give him a smirk. “I guess you aren’t affected by girls and their actions?”

“You try growing up with five half-sisters Takeru, then talk to me about girls and their actions,” Katsuo replied as he shoved his cousin away with a palm to the face.

“Oh I can tell you about girls,” Takeru replied, rubbing his cheek as he stumbled back. “Although probably not the parts you’ll want to hear.”

“Iekogo-sama, we have arrived!” called a voice from the front of the column. From Katsuo’s other side, Jungyuji rode past and began shouting orders for camp.

There was no advantage to be had on the plains; no gradient or vantage point. The ground was one solid level; this battle would be decided by pure numbers and skill. Katsuo cast an eye at his men who were unpacking their provisions. Most were seasoned; some wildcards and only a handful were green to battle. Those he had placed with the most experienced. Katsuo begrudgingly had his father to thank for the high number of veterans; his quick-temper and constant declarations of war had resulted in a number of fights over a small space of time; Katsuo, Takeru and Jungyuji had all been involved in more than enough fights to consider themselves skilled. He hoped this would be enough advantage to succeed.
“Camp is being set Taisho,” Jungyji said with a salute.

Katsuo nodded. “We brief once the tent is ready. Bring the Yoriki and tell the men not to dig in too far. I aim for this to be done in two days.”

“Bold of you Katsuo,” Takeru said as he wheeled his horse around. “And if it takes longer?”

Katsuo snorted. “We have enough provisions to last five days, or ten if rationed. And if it lasts any longer, we can go back to the Sazama and take more. I doubt the Sessho-Seki will have resources on tap like us.”

He expected his two advisors to nod in agreement. Instead, they glanced at each other with poised looks. This made Katsuo begin to doubt himself. “For now, we wait for the Sessho-Seki to make their move,” he continued. He pushed aside all thoughts of the Sazama and scanned the plains for any sign that the Sessho-Seki had arrived. He saw none, but did not feel assured.

“Send out scouts,” he ordered as he whirled his horse in the direction of his tent. “I do not trust these plains and the long grass.”

“Already dispatched,” Jungyuji replied as he fell into line on Katsuo’s left. Takeru appeared on the right.

As the trio made their way through the assembling camp, Katsuo tugged on the prayer beads he had wrapped around his wrist. “May the gods grant us victory,” he muttered as the weight of war fell on his shoulders.

KokeKitsune
Posts: 27
Joined: Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:57 pm

Re: [ENG] Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Post by KokeKitsune » Tue Oct 02, 2018 8:12 pm

Morning Fog 朝霧 Sunlight glinted through the covering veil of mist as Kade let his personal servant fit him into his armor. He had set his stool near the edge of the plateau where he and his men had rested on overnight and as the mists parted, he caught his first glimpse of the domain of the Iekogo. A snaking river in a green valley, mountains framing either side and the sun practically dripping from their peaks. It was as if he watched the spear of the Kami drop life into the seas. Kade inhaled sharply, his revere broken as his chest plate was yanked sharply into place and his eyebrows knotted.

'Perhaps it was for the best that my train of thought was removed from the esoteric, my concern now is the earthly,' he thought. Laying a hand upon his leg, he squinted into the mists. Even at this hour he could see small boats on the river and the spindly wisps of smoke from several villages. One or two on the river and another few scattered along the edges of the mountains. His target, the targets for this whole sojourn. The easiest way to hurt the Iekogo was in their purse; a seemingly well to do Kuge family with good lineage who actually spent every last penny they had and relied on the good will of the clans they had subjugated in their past. A little curl crossed Kade's lip and he extended his raised arm allowing his gauntlet to be slipped on and secured. A gentle gust of wind obscured the valley again and brought the bitter feel of snow on his face. Just a few flakes, nothing like the amount on his side of the Makoto ranges.

"Taisho." The young boy fitting him with his armor was standing deferentially to one side and Kade was momentarily confused. He paused and assessed himself. His arm was still extended, he lowered it and waited. The boy made no move and Kade found himself about to rebuke the boy, when he realised his other hand had drifted onto the hilt of his sword set across his lap. It sprang open and he suppressed the shock which tried to express itself on his face.

'How unlike me' he thought, 'I was never the warrior, that was always down to Masaru.' Kade felt a little tug at his heart and extended his now free hand. The boy hurried forward to fit the other gauntlet. Kade sat thinking again, thinking about his father's words all those months ago. 'Ever the bureaucrat.' His father hadn't been wrong, but this raid should be an exercise in accountancy. A little smirk crossed his face, if all went well they would be in and out before the enemy could even muster, except he had already set messengers to work spreading rumors, he would have his example and his father would be forced to re-evaluate his worth. Feeling the last tie on his gauntlets being affixed he slapped his leg.

"Call the men to arms. We shall be moving into the valley, have them prepare torches and have the ashigaru drilled into rank." Kade stood up and took one last look at the mist-shrouded valley before pivoting on his heel and moving towards the horse lines.

--------------------------------

Ume carefully parted her hair with her tortoiseshell comb and intently separated the strands. Normally she would have a servant fix her style in the morning but they had traveled with the smallest entourage possible. She sniffed disdainfully and continued tugging at her hair until it lay in the current style favored by the nobility in the Imperial City. Long around her shoulders with a short knot on top. Her father would've had a fit if he'd seen her wearing the style, but all options were necessary when convincing a potential ally. She pressed her lips together making a tight line and nodded her head curtly. She was sure she could do this. Her subtle makeup, the in-fashion hairstyle and the many layered kimonos she had bought would all show the Yoso that they were dealing with a truly useful ally.

Outside of the door, Umeko heard the soft sound of feet across the wooden floor and she turned her head to look towards the entryway expecting a lady in waiting or some such come to deliver a message. Instead silence followed by a slight shuffling of feet again. Slowly Ume reached out and grasped the short dagger she had near herself, carefully unsheathing it and resting it in her lap.

"Who is there?" she intoned imperiously. "I have no maids to greet you so tell me your message or leave." Her voice was icy, but she could feel a slight tremor in her hands. She should've let Tadao set a guard like he wanted too.

"I'm sorry Ume." The gruff voice was unfamiliar. "I was going to greet you but as I peeked through the gap in the door I realised you were still in the process of dressing." Umeko bristled, she did not like being called Plum by anyone let alone someone she didn't know who peeked in on her!

"How dare you!" She rose to her feet, quickly grabbing at a sheet to cover her already covered, but now seemingly exposed form. "This is a lady's chamber!" Ume paused before calling for her retainer. "Tadao!" she roared, this stranger behind her door would not get away with this insult.

"Yes my lady." Ume blinked in shock and the blade thudded tip first into the floor. She had been sure she had only heard one set of footsteps outside.

"Tadao, who am I addressing?" she said cautiously, her blood like ice in her veins.

"You have the honor of addressing Daimyo Yoso Isamu my Lady Sessho-Seki." Umeko groaned and wretchedly made her way to the door despite her state of semi-dress. Looking to the left she saw her aged retainer, his face impassive and eyes looking straight ahead of him. Turning her head to the right she saw the slightly reddened face of the Lord of the Yoso, he kept glancing at her then glancing away.

"My Lord Isamu." Umeko inclined herself deeply towards him. She wasn't sure her bow was respectful enough, perhaps she should dogeza but her pride wouldn't let her. "I'm terribly sor..."

"No no!" Isamu reached a hand towards her grasping her shoulder a little painfully pulling her back upright. "It was my fault, my hurry. I was expecting your father not a young.... lady." His pause made Umeko flush and the Lord of the Yosho looked away, although his hand remained gripping her shoulder. "We have hunting to do Lady Ume. The horses will be in the courtyard shortly. I suggest you wear something comfortable." With that the grey haired man turned and hurried away.

Umeko growled and turned towards Tadao. "Were you out here all night?!" she snapped at him. Without waiting for an answer she whipped back into the room, slamming the sliding door closed behind her and pulling angrily at the pins holding the arrangement of her hair in place.
-----------------------------
The grass had been trampled ahead of Hitoshi as his ashigaru marched in well-ordered step. Behind him various contingents of samurai and retainers moved in less orgnaised ranks talking and occasionally laughing, the younger ones boasting to each other. Hitoshi frowned, if he had his way the young men would go disappointed, there would be no chance to test their metal or bare their swords. His horse whickered sensing his frustration and he smoothed its mane distractedly. This far onto the plane the snow had long since dispersed but the cold wind had not.

Holding up his fan and flicking it open Histoshi made a short gesture and the shout of halt rang out among the Kumigashira, groups pulled to a halt and the senior members of the group began moving towards Hitoshi. Sourly and without giving them a chance to approach, he flicked his fan again. 'Make camp.' The call went out and all ranks began the well practiced routine of creating their field camp. Undesirably many of the seniors continued moving towards Hitoshi and he pursed his lips.

"Daimyo." There was a clamor for his attention, several men calling for his attention at once. He slipped off his horse and handed the reins to a waiting attendant. "Daimyo." The men continued to bluster and Histoshi carefully untied his Kabuto from his head before removing it and handing it to yet another attendant. "Daimyo."

"What?!" He roared. The vicinity around him went silent, several attendants paused their work with eyes averted. Hitoshi flushed. The damned vultures had been circling him all of the journey talking about plans, scouts, raids, wounded and other things. He had no need to hear these things, this unit was not to be committed but even they had not known this, now he was about to unfurl the plan for their disappointment.

"You all were chosen for this unit because I requested you to be." His voice had calmed, the wind carried it to the group. "I have disheartening news I'm sure for you. We are not to be committed." Shocked murmurs arose, two of the younger commanders raised their voices but were swiftly silenced by a white haired Taisho. Taisho Ikagi, Hitoshi nodded to the older man. Ikagi was a distant member of his family but not of the ruling branch, he would need to remember to thank him later. "Our role here is to draw the Iekogo out. Force them to commit their force to chase us. My sons will meanwhile be wreaking my vengeance upon the Iekogo lands. It is unlikely they will come into our lands when they realise their own lands are suffering and we should have an ally to our south." The murmurs began again and Hitoshi raised a hand. "We will set camp and send out a screen in the form of scouts. Once we have contact, we will begin our withdrawal back to our domain." Hitoshi sat without looking backward. An attendant had placed a seat behind him and Hitoshi silently thanked the kami at least that much had gone right. With a quick gesture with his fan to dismiss the seniors, Hitoshi exhaled slowly and relaxed letting the wind wash away his worries.
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With her morning an unsalvagable wreck, Ume sullenlysat astride a mount as the procession worked their way into the nearby forest. 'A grand hunt' Isamu had declared and subsequently told her how there was rumored to be a Kirin in these woods. Ume had paid little attention to the old man's words. She was fuming. Her carefully laid plans were smouldering ruins, her hair had had to be scraped back for hunting and her formal robes lay strewn about her quarters as she had hurriedly pulled on rough riding gear. She wasn't even supposed to be riding, she had bought a palanquin. Ume ground her teeth. She had been given a bow and several arrows, their fletchings scratched irritatingly against her and she grumbled under her breath.

"My Lady?" Tadao turned towards her.

"What?!" she snapped at him. He looked taken aback and Lord Isamu leaned over from the other side of him, a questioning look on his face. Ume smoothed her face, annoyed how much like her father she had sounded and tried to put on a smile for Lord Isamu. "I did not, say, anything," she said through the toothy smile to Tadao. He had the decency to look abashed but Ume still felt her cheeks heat. If he had just followed her orders and not guarded her door then..... then what? She would've still been just as rude to the Daimyo. She clicked her tongue in irritation.

To the front of her a pheasant erupted from the undergrowth. Several arrows were let fly and she half-heartedly drew but didn't release. The loud clucking and flapping streak disappeared, none of the arrows had hit their mark.

"Too bloody close that one!" Lord Isamu loudly laughed, clapping Tadao on his shoulder. The old retainer hadn't even drawn his bow, just sat looking sadly at Ume. Her hands tensed reflexively, open and close around the bow. How easy it would be to teach him a lesson with this bow. Normally she would've just gotten Hisao to do something; the boy was so easy to manipulate, but without him here how should she approach the issue. Maybe one of the young retainers she had requested come with her... they were both easy to corral into something.

"Lady Ume?"

She realised she had been spoken to. Bringing herself back to the real world, she looked blankly waiting to be informed of what had been said. She was sure she had missed something. There was silence, Isamu looked at her his face puzzled while Tadao's eyes still on here was giving her a very odd look.

"My... my Lord?" She struggled to get the words out. She had never had to ask before, what was Tadao playing at! "My lord I apologise," she said, her face flushed again. "I was temporarily distracted, I was awaiting another pheasant." She was proud of the lie, it was a good one. The Daimyo nodded sagely.

KokeKitsune
Posts: 27
Joined: Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:57 pm

Re: [ENG] Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Post by KokeKitsune » Thu Oct 25, 2018 10:14 pm

Drops of Blood
血の滴
Stomping ungraciously round her quarters Umeko flung her dull hunting jacket to the floor. How was she supposed to persuade these people when they insisted on acting like bumpkins! The wood beneath her feet even felt unrefined, lumpy even. Ume kicked downward and with a curse hopped round as the iron-like wood failed to yield to her tantrum.

“Lady Ume.” The voice intoned from her closed doorway. “Do you require assistance?” Ume scoffed.

“Even if I did 'require assistance'” she copied the tone of Tadao’s voice, “I would hardly seek it from you right now. I would rather seek it from a horse who's hind legs had been tied together!” She knew she was stropping but she realised she no longer cared. What did it matter if these nobodies didn't lend their hand to her fathers stupid war. She didn't even want to be here anymore, she should've been sent to the Imperial city where her skills would've been of use. They could've sent a farm hand here and done as much good as she could.

Ume felt her hands ball up in frustration and was surprised to find her bottom lip quivering. What on earth was wrong with her? She had been the master of manipulation back in Gawamachi she had so many plots in motion and had her little brother wrapped around her finger, she was going to be the power behind the Daimyo damnit! She rubbed the back of her hands across her eyes. She wasn't crying, no, there had been dust in her eyes.

Sniffing Ume made her way over to her traveling boxes and examined them. She could leave if she wanted. The thought shot through her mind like lightning across a darkened sky. Ume felt herself stumble a little, befuddled by her own thoughts. Why would she leave? Why would she even consider leaving?!

'You've already shamed yourself enough here.' The little voice in her head was faint but she recognised the tone, it was the voice she used with her brother. Hiaso had always been easy to manipulate, she had cut her teeth on his weakness and developed her style of intrigue from there. But before that, the little voice had been directed at herself. She could remember the dark times when she had been growing up and that voice had whispered of her own uselessness in her ear, before she could turn it to a use with others. Now it was back, there was no one to manipulate other than herself. These simple men around her were too backward to be led and so it was just herself.

Ume grabbed at the traveling box. She could get away from it, before it started properly again. She tugged at the box shifting it away from the others and looked around frantically for her coat. Cold sweat had begun to bead on her forehead.

'You've done so little, and yet failed so many.' The box lid snapped open and her accoutrements scattered across the floor. Ume lost her footing and crashed to the floor. The door slid open with a snap and Tadao entered head darting this way and that, one hand on his short sword. Ume felt the heat rising in her face and tears forming in her eyes. She scrabbled up and fled. Without her shoes, without her jacket. Tadao reached out as she sped past him, his fingers brushing her arm but she was gone into the dark corridors of the castle.
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Hisao scratched idly at his forearm. The journey along the edge of the mountains had been cold, long and boring. Even his draped hat hadn't kept the worst of the weather off his face and it had made him miserable. The men he lead had all been silent as well. No doubt upset they weren't with his elder brother’s expedition or his father’s grand army. No they had been assigned to Hisao, the young, inconsequential boy who was nothing. Well they had a job to do and an important one at that. There was an important route along the bottom of these mountains for the villages of the Iekogo, food trickled into the region along this road and Hisao was intending to see it cut.



The wind spattered some sleet through his eye slit. The hat was usually good at stopping it but his luck had been rotten recently. He'd bought it off of an archer, a wide brimmed ashigaru's hat except with a drape over the top of it which covered his whole head from sight, a slit at about eye level allowing him to see a pillbox view of the world. It would be useless in a fight but, for now, it kept him at least somewhat comfortable.



Hisao squinted, there was movement on the road ahead. That was unusual, so far there hadn't been so much as a beggar on this peddlers way. He scratched at his arm again; he had broken the skin recently and now it was wrapped in linen, another irritation.



"Send the men forward, seize the travellers." Hisao mumbled. There was no movement. Hisao turned to his side, the slit in his veiled vision showing him his second in command. The man wasn't even looking at him. "Send the men forward!" he said this time louder, the man started out of his revere and turned towards Hisao.



"Taisho?" Nakaki (軽木) leaned forward. "What was your order Taisho?" The man had the gall to squint as if trying to discern Hisao through the veil.



"Take the travellers!" Hisao roared. Blood flecked the insides of the drape, the specks of red staining through to the outside; unbeknownst to even himself Hiaso had been biting at his own lip. Nakaki pulled his head back and swiftly issued commands to the fast troop of horse. They sped off towards the oncoming group who immediately, seeing charging horsemen began to scatter off of the path.



'Spies.' Hisao knew these men for what they were. Iekogo spies trying to sneak past his watchful guard. Probably going to attack his own force in the rear. Well there would be no quarter given for spies. He fingered his sword hilts, finally resting his hand on his tanto. They would realise they had chosen the wrong brother to cross before he was over with them. The travellers had mostly been rounded up and were now being herded towards the oncoming group by the horsemen.



"Taisho, two escaped. One took an arrow and two have wounds as well. I shall reprimand the men." Nakaki bowed from his saddle, "I apologise, these men were from my group and I shall-"



"Reprimand?" Hiaso cut the man off, his voice cracking. "Yes," he nodded "for the ones who escaped." Nakaki looked taken aback. "Prepare my Maku. I shall deal with these spies personally." Nakaki opened his mouth but Hiaso pealed his horse away. Gods but the man was insufferable. Head of the cavalry but with about as much stomach for blood as a girl being shown how to butcher a chicken. Hiaso bit at his lip. It was a shame two had got away, they would report on his forces composition to their masters surely. At least he would obtain some information from their comrades.



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The acrid smell of the burning buildings filled Kade's pallet and he looked around at the devastation his forces had wrought. An entire village burned. Houses, shops, inns, storehouses even the bridge had been hacked away after they had dumped the precious metals into the river from its center.



A scruffy group of peasants huddled together under the watchful eyes of his men. There had been little resistance, one man lay unconscious and was being tended to by his family but most of the rest had complied with his mens orders to gather under their watch. It didn't sit well with him, the children's eyes especially bored into his soul.



"Take them to the river, give them each one days provision and send them on their way." He motioned to one of his attendants and they swiftly complied scurrying off to the quartermaster to set the plan in motion. Kade knew he would have to be swift from here on. At best, his troop would have three days until the Iekogo arrived, at worst they could be on him before sunset, it all depended on if the old Daimyo had his wits about him or if he was simply spoiling for a fight with Kade’s father.



A messenger on horseback cantered into view, the horse wide-eyed and foamy from its sweat. "Taisho!" the man bellowed looking this way and that. "Taisho, news from the scouts!"


Kade closed his eyes, he already knew what that meant. The battle would be on them before the day was out.



"Finish up here." Kade’s voice was nearly imperceptible over the sound of the village burning. His staff looked to him and a he let his tone carry a little further. "Finish up, carry out my orders, see the serfs away safely. We make for the Koiki narrows. Have the men prepare defenses, they will not expect us to be ahead of the village we destroyed." Kade wheeled his horse and beckoned the messenger towards him. The news was as expected but the details were of interest. The younger brother of the Iekogo. Well, Kade truly had a chance to prove himself here. His brother’s killer was in his grasp. It was time to set the trap.



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Hisao held his shaking hands up to his now uncovered face. The men had been reluctant to kill the spies so he'd had to take matters into his own hands. They had dressed themselves up as pilgrims! The shame that they had bought on themselves! Hisao watched his hand tremble and the tanto quiver in his grasp. Ume would've done the same. Ume would've helped convince the men.



Hisao turned to his captains. They visibly shrunk back from him, but why? He had just done what needed to be done. The tanto fell tip first into the ground and Hisao licked his tattered lips. But what now?



"Find the escapee." His voice was ragged. "Run him down, cut him down or if none of you have the stomach to do this then bring him to me. One more corpse won't hurt me today." Hiaso flicked his veil down, it was more red than white now, before he moved back towards his horse. He began to scratch at his covered arm. The gore from the dead hiding his own blood seeping through the white binding.



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KokeKitsune
Posts: 27
Joined: Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:57 pm

Re: [ENG] Sessho-Sekki & Sazama stories.

Post by KokeKitsune » Sun Dec 23, 2018 11:45 pm

A Different Path
別の道
Breaking of camp was progressing smoothly for the Sazama, though not as swiftly as Sazama Tsuyoshi had hoped. He glanced over his shoulder at the men who were bustling around the camp. All tents were now empty and over half were being dismantled. Fires were all out and any pit filled, pots and pans tucked inside bags and the small amounts of gunpowder were stored away safely. Tsuyoshi cast a wary eye about once more before hunching over.

Both he and Ryu were on the outskirts of the camp crouched over a map of the area, their eyebrows furrowed at the weathered and battered piece of paper. It was held down by stones in the corner and there were several old, faded marks of previous skirmishes dotted across it.

Tsuyoshi jabbed a finger at the plains. “The Iekogo should be roughly here,” he said gruffly, “I am unsure of their numbers but I envision they should only be a day ahead of us.”

“The quickest route would be through here,” Ryu said as he trailed a finger down the map. “It leaves us exposed, should there be a Sessho-Seki contingent hiding somewhere.”

“I would be surprised if the Sessho-Seki had already passed the Iekogo, unless you have met some on your disappearances?” Tsuyoshi asked with a pointed look.

Ryu returned his stare. “If I had I would have notified you instantly,” he said curtly. “I have not forgotten why we are here Uncle.”

“That is reassuring,” Tsuyoshi said with a sigh. He did not feel reassured at all but drew his eyes back to the map. “The Sessho-Seki could be here,” he pointed to a space at the edge of the mountain and snaked it back towards the Sessho-Seki boarder, “if they have a large contingent. There are two sons left, it would make sense to split forces. Therefore we should expect some scouts as we move.”

“I will have our scouts ready to go in an hour,” Ryu stated with a nod.

A loud shout sounded which made Tsuyoshi glance up. Several more shouts appeared and he could see men standing still at the edge of the camp. He narrowed his eyes, what was going on? Arms appeared, pointing at something in the distance. Three men drew swords and an over to something in the distance.

A shrill scream rang across the camp and more shouts from the edge joined it. Yoriki trotted over to the camp edge as cliques gathered to talk.

“What is the commotion?” asked Tsuyoshi rising up from his crouch.

“Someone in distress I believe,” answered Ryu coolly as he looked toward the noise. “Sounded like a woman. We have no camp followers, who could it be?”

“Come,” Tsuyoshi barked as strode past towards the noise. Someone was wailing at the edge of camp and several men had stopped to stare at the spectacle.

“Yoriki report,” Tsuyoshi snapped as he barged his way through the men.

“We were packing up camp Taisho when this woman came at us,” one of his Yoriki explained before being interrupted. She pushed through the crowd towards and fell before Tsuyoshi, pawing at his leg and looking at him imploringly. She was covered in dirt and mud, her clothes were shredded and frayed and she was missing shoes.

“Please, they killed our fellow pilgrims! You have to help!”

“I don’t have to do anything,” growled Tsuyoshi. He remained where he stood and the cowering woman let go of his clothes. “Tell me where you come from woman, this place should be uninhabited so how did you get here?”

“We ran!” the woman sobbed. Large tears formed in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. She sat wiping them away. Tsuyoshi was unmoved.

“You are the only one here, what happened to the others?”

“I ran the fastest, they are following. We were pilgrims on our way to Soehi-do, the main temple, when we were attacked. Soldiers from the Sessho-Seki came upon us and killed half of our group!”

Gasps and hushed whispers raced through the gathered crowd at the name of Sessho-Seki. Tsuyoshi snapped an arm out to silence them before kneeling down before the sobbing woman.

“You are sure it was the Sessho-Seki?”

“It was.” She sniffed up some snot before continuing. “Sessho-Seki Hisao he was called. He and his men ambushed us along the main road, when he found us he… he-”

“Enough,” Tsuyoshi said as he rose. He turned to face the nearest Yoriki. “Give her better clothes, shoes and a map to the Sazama home.”

“Taisho?”

“Bring me paper and ink,” Tsuyoshi announced to the crowd. Two men ran off at his command. “The Sessho-Seki have never been this brutal before, we offer sanctuary to any of their innocent victims,” he added to the group before turning back to the sniveling woman. She looked up at him, eye red-rimmed and hair wild. “You will be safe with my family, although if you wish to stay you will have to work.” The woman bobbed her head as tears still flowed.

With a jerk of his head at Ryu, Tsuyoshi walked back into the camp. He heard his nephew’s footsteps behind him. “Double our efforts,” he called over his shoulder to Ryu, “we must meet with the Iekogo.”

“You believe like I that the Sessho-Seki are planning a sneak attack?”

“There can be no doubt,” Tsuyoshi said as he pointed to the distance. Three more dirty and disheveled people had appeared, two elderly women and an elderly man with a pronounced limp on a bloody leg.

“They were pilgrims,” Ryu simply said as a man appeared at Tsuyoshi’s side bearing paper and ink.

“Do not tarry Ryu,” Tsuyoshi stated as he picked up the offered quill with a grim expression. “The chance to spill blood grows ever closer.”

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“I don’t like this.”

Katsuo nodded at Jungyuji’s words and narrowed his eyes at the figures in the distance. The Sessho-Seki were visible on the plains, their commanders made the occasional appearances in their armour and Katsuo had counted two distinct figures so far.

The Sessho-Seki numbers were far smaller than Katsuo had expected. He recalled the report and letter from the Sessho-Seki he had seen in his home; the language had indicated ‘bloody retribution’ and ‘swift demise’ to the Iekogo. It conjured the image of hardened warriors, sword in hands, desperate to spill blood like a roving hoard. Instead, Katsuo faced a smaller force than his own which seemed content to sit and watch like a dog. No one had moved!

Katsuo clenched his jaw and tied his long hair up in a bun atop his head. The waiting was making both him and his commanders irritable.

“This is so frustrating,” Takeru growled at Katsuo’s side. “I thought the Sessho-Seki were crying for blood over their son’s death. Why aren’t they moving?”

The beads clacked on Katsuo’s wrist as he sat deep in thought.

“A message Taisho!” called a messenger from behind the line. Jungyuji rode to intercept him while Katsuo fixed a steely stare at the line of men in the distance. He was a patient man, his Buddhist training had taught him to savour the peace of the moment, but he found it strange that the Sessho-Seki had made no move at all. Katsuo had sent out scouts but he had seen none from the Sessho-Seki.

What are they trying to do? He thought as he rubbed the prayer beads at his wrist.

“Have the scouts meet any counterparts from the Sessho-Seki?” Katsuo asked as a few figures in the distance pulled out bows to inspect. Even their archers had not taken any shots.

“Two Taisho,” answered Takeru. “Both have been incapacitated and I find it strange that the Sessho-Seki have not reacted to this.”

“Taisho, the message comes from the Sazama,” called Jungyuji from the distance, which made Katsuo roll his eyes.
Oh great, what do they want? Katsuo thought as he spun he horse towards Jungyuji and the messenger.

“From Sazama Tsuyoshi Tmy lord,” the man puffed with a bow as he offered up the letter. With a slight grimace, Kastuo took the letter and pulled off the large leaf it had been wrapped in. The text inside the letter was clear and precise, no smears or misspelling.

His eyes flicked over the words once, twice and then again as the grimace deepened on his face.

“Jungyuji, Takeru. My tent,” Katsuo barked as he stuffed the letter into his breast pocket. He nodded curtly at the messenger as he spun his horse. “Yoriki! Eyes to the front! Any sign of movement, archers are to fire volleys!” he shouted to the commanders, who bowed crisply at his words.

With a jerk of his head, Katsuo trotted his horse towards his tent. He dismounted and threw the reins at yawning retainer, startling the youth awake. A harsh slap of his tent material opened the way. Once inside, Katsuo pulled out a small table and placed it in the middle of his tent. Takeru and Jungyuji appeared as Katsuo slapped a map down onto the table, corners curling together.

Takeru frowned at the map. “More bad news cousin?”

“It would seem so,” Kastuo muttered as he placed levy stones on the map corners to keep them from joining. “Pilgrims fleeing met the Sazama. They say a Sessho-Seki was in their path and killed half of their group. If that is true, then we have two fronts to deal with.” He pointed on the map where the Sessho-Seki they face were stationed and the second group were. The two points were not too close, but close enough for Katsuo to be worried.

“A Sessho-Seki killing pilgrims?” Takeru asked as he sat down by the map. “One of the younger brothers no doubt, surely the Daimyo would not be so foolish as to kill pilgrims.”

“It must be,” Katsuo concurred with a nod as he knelt down opposite Takeru.

“Murdering pilgrims may be a ploy to divert our attention,” Jungyuji said with a grimace. He glared at the map. “The Sessho-Seki are Buke after all.”

“It is something we must consider,” Katsuo conceded as he sat back and pulled out the letter from his breast pocket. “The Sazama are heading to regroup with us. I plan to have them stay here with a small detachment while I find the Sessho-Seki.”

“Leave that to us Taisho,” Jungyuji stated. At his side Takeru nodded.

“The Sessho-Seki here have made no move. The Sazama can handle them,” Katsuo explained as he tapped the edge of the map with a finger. His prayer beads knocked against the table as he moved.

“But Taisho-”

“I would feel better knowing Hayato isn’t making a fool of himself if the Sessho-Seki are close to him,” Katsuo snapped as an image of Hayato appeared in his mind, laughing loudly with a puffed chest and hands on hips as a swarm of soldiers rushed him from behind.

Takeru tilted his head in thought. “You suspect they are targeting him?”

“He did kill their eldest son," Katsuo said with a sigh. "It would make sense for them not to engage me here, I am not the Iekogo they are after.”

“And if this is a ploy to distract you and then conduct a sneak attack?” Katsuo grew silent at Jungyuji’s statement. “If that is their aim then let us engage this Sessho-Seki. Do not lose honour because of Hayato. Their Daimyo is here after all,” Jungyuji continued.

“Agreed, you leaving may cause the Daimyo to take affront and attack us from behind,” Takeru added as he crossed his arms to match his legs. “Who would you place in charge should you leave with us? Sazama Tsuyoshi?”

“It is a poss-”

“Pah! None of our men would listen to him!” Takeru exclaimed.

“He has experience at the Imperial Court. He was at the battles of Haguro Forest, Fusaiji Temple and Matsuo Hill! If that does not command obedience then nothing will. Besides, if I leave you two alone all you will do is bicker!”

“Not true Taisho.”

“You would follow Takeru’s orders then Jungyuji?”

Jungyuj’s face twisted as he battled between an emotional response and his duties to Katsuo.

“And would you follow Jungyuji’s orders if I asked Takeru?”

“Of course not!” Takeru snapped, “why would I listen to-”

“You may order me to follow him Taisho,” Jungyuji interjected, “but his orders will be-”

“You are the one that gives foolish orders, I-”

“Says the man who-”

“Enough both of you!” Katsuo bellowed with a fist slamming into the table. “This just proves my point. Now, divide the men and pack up. We are leaving once the Sazama arrive. Pack discretely, the Sessho-Seki must not know.”

The two men bowed, glared at each other and rose swiftly to depart the tent. Once they had left Katsuo pinched the bridge of his nose again. He opened an eye to study the map once more and his eyes snaked up to where Hayato should be based.

“Please do not make another mistake brother,” he whispered as fear began to creep into his bones.

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Hayato cursed as his foot found yet another patch of mud and he slipped to the side. The snow had melted and had turned the ground into a muddy bog, making feet slip and splashing against clothes when the warriors stomped through puddles. Hayato grumbled at the landscape and the weather… and anything else he could grumble about.

The food had run out on the mountain and Hayato had been forced to order the men back, which was humiliating for him. Shinobu had stated that it was a logical course to follow but this had only made Hayato more angry; Shinbo just had a knack for making him annoyed. The journey down the mountain had been uneventful and now the contingent was making their way to a nearby village for food supplies. The men had been pleased once the order was given, which made Hayato grit his teeth.

The wind was blowing eastwards as if to hurry the warriors and deliberately make them slip in the mud. Hayato saw two spearmen ahead fall over completely, thankfully missing their spears as they fell. Their comrades helped them up and laughed at the mud that now covered their clothes.

How can they be laughing? Hayato thought the Yoriki next to him fell onto his shoulder. The sooner we get to this village the better!

A call to halt sounded from ahead and the column came to a juddering stop. Hayato narrowed his eyes as drizzle began to mist in the air. What was going on? He took a breath to shout-

“Taisho, the village ahead is burning,” reported Shinobu, who magically appeared at his side, making Hayato jump. How could a man so elderly move so nimbly?

“Burning?” Hayato questioned and Shinobu nodded. “Even the rice stores?” Again Shinobu nodded. Hayato cursed; his plans had gone up in smoke.

“Your orders sir?”

“Where are the villagers?” Hayato asked as he stepped out of the column and peered at the buildings ahead. Sure enough, plumes of smoke could be seen at those furthest away while those closest had collapsed. One building suddenly erupted into flames as he stood watching, making the men begin to waver.

“Unknown Taisho, it seems the village is abandoned,” replied Shinobu on Hayato’s heels. “Please do not step out of the column Taisho, if this is a trap you may be targeted by archers.”

Hayato ignored him. “We are too close for scouts to be effective,” he muttered as his eyes danced over the surroundings. “If this is a trap then we have already been spotted…”

“Wise thinking Taisho,” Shinobu said with a little bow.

Hayato glared at him and snorted through his nose. “Send the spearmen up and hold the rest here on alert. The spearmen are to exercise caution, this could be a trap.”

“You suspect the Sessho-Seki?”

“I suspect bandits,” Hayato snapped, eyes still darting, “the Sessho-Seki are after me, not geographical gains. I see no logic to them burning villages; bandits however will take anything they can claim.”

The order for the spearmen to move was shouted down the line. The men formed up and crept down the dirt road to the edge of the burning houses before disappearing into a thick cloud of smoke. The rest of the column stood silent, ears straining for any sound of clashing weapons. Breaths were held and hands gripped weapons tighter, waiting tensely for any sign of fighting.

The village remained silent aside from the crackling of fire.

"I hear nothing," Hayato huffed as he stood with arms folded, his eyes straining to see any shapes through the thick, dark smoke.

"Indeed Taisho," Shinobu muttered. Hayato glanced sideways at the man; he too was fixated on the smoke.

"Move forward and sweep the village," Hayato shouted as he drew his sword. He turned to allow the wind to carry his voice. "The bandits could be hiding anywhere like the cowards they are!"

The men before him separated and formed ranks facing towards the village. Weapons were at the ready, arrows knocked into bows, swords raised and spears up ready to attack. Hayato stepped through the ranks to lead them, despite Shinobu's protests.

"Taisho you should remain at the back of this maneuver, you will have a better vantage," the old man said as he dogged Hayato's heels. Hayato sighed and rolled his eyes as he hefted his sword higher.

"There is thick smoke everywhere Shinobu, how could I see through that if I am at the back of this sweep?" he asked as he raised an arm, ready to send his men forward.

"The bandits could still be within the village waiting to ambush us," Shinobu explained, his usually calm face wrinkled and creased with worry.

"There has been no sound of fighting, surely by now we would have heard some engagement if the bandits remain."
"Taisho I urge that you remain in-"

"I go wherever I wish Shinobu," Hayato snapped as he stomped away from the old man wih his arm still raised. "Stop nannying me, I know what I am doing," he added with confidence.

With all the bluster of a commander, Hayato snapped his arm down and began to march towards the burning houses. He heard his men's heavy footsteps behind him and the shifting of weapons in hands. The wind whipped about his head as he walked and pushed whisps of smoke away from his path. Hayato gritted his teeth. It may not have been the fight he wanted, but he was somewhat grateful for a chance to prove himself, even if it was only in front of Shinobu. With this, the Yoriki would take him seriously now.

As Hayato stepped through the boundary of the village, a sudden harsh gust of wind surged from behind, pushing away all the smoke and clearing the path before him. Hayato had to raise an arm to cover his eyes as the wind kicked up dirt and stones.

When he lowered his arm, he saw bodies laying on the ground, blood pouring from their mouths and from gaping wounds. His unit of spearmen had been decimated in silence. Strange men stood all around them, blood dripping from their spears and sprayed across their faces. All eyes turned towards Hayato and he saw the emblem on their armour.

A red half-circle over two downwards arrows. The Sessho-Seki crest.

Hayato's words were barely a whisper. "Shinobu... you were right..."

(posted on behalf of the good lady wife.)

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