This game night featured a special guest star, my 11 year old daughter, who played Hida O-Hinku. This was also the first time we had one of our game journals turn into a full blown fiction, in this particular case, an action sequence. It would not be the last. This game was a personal favorite of mine, mostly because my daughter got to play a complete badass haunted Crabzerker.
From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan.
It has been many weeks since I joined Ide Todo on his quest. Though I did not think it was possible, I have come to respect the little Unicorn. He searches always for peace, yet finds ways for men such as I to make war more effectively. How can I respect, even like, a man that will not lift his own blade, but will send others to fight in his stead? Before I would call such a man a coward, but Ide Todo is certainly no coward. I do not understand how, but under his meekness hides a soul of steel. He would not last ten minutes on the Wall, yet here I am, prepared to follow him into a war. Strange times.
We have spent the last ten days on the river heading north into Unicorn lands. As usual, the ronin Zuko does not talk much and avoids the others. Together we have killed many men, but I do not understand him either. He likes his secrets. Kitsuki Tsuze, like all Dragons, is an odd man. He calls himself an investigator, which I think means he likes to figure out puzzles. Puzzles anger me. I think he is here because he does not like the woman he is supposed to marry back in Dragon lands. Then you’ve got our Mantis, who likes his betrothed a little too much, if you get what I mean. Tsuruchi Machio is good company, because he cares for the fake politeness of coddled samurai even less than I do.
Shiro Shinjo seems like it would have been very nice at one time. My travelling companions were distressed by how destroyed and burned the country around it looked, and it didn’t help that there was a giant army to the north. Eh… Trust me. You get used to it. Nicer view than the Shadowlands. Smells better too. I was very surprised to see my family’s banner protecting one flank. This is an odd development. I will investigate when we land.
From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan.
There is not much time to write tonight. Tomorrow is going to be busy with killing and it is late.
Today was a momentous day. I have been reunited with family. I was able to practice with a proper Hida sensei, (I’m still sore from the beating). And most importantly, my mission to become worthy to marry Otomo Yuni was bolstered when my family was told of my exploits amongst the Scorpion and Lion. Heh… They didn’t see that coming!
I was surprised to find my half-brother Kenzan was leading the Crab forces, and he brought my half-sister O-Hinku with him. Truly, he is destined for greatness and his skills and courage will bring as much honor to the family as my father ruined. Kenzan was not glad to see me, but little sister was.
Ah, young O-Hinku… They call her the Little-Hida-Face-Wrecker for a reason, her ferocity in battle is unequaled. Her and Kenzan’s father was a Toritaka ghost hunter, and as a result of his many battles, O-Hinku was born touched by Gaki-Do. She is a disturbing, completely anti-social, violent berserker, and I am very fond of her.
I was saddened to find out that her heirloom ono, momo-iro-chou has been stolen. She has no clues as to who has taken it. If I come across Pink Butterfly, (do not laugh at the name, the blade is stained pink from twenty generations worth of blood and tears from its enemies) I will destroy the thief, and return it to her.
The Crab are leading an assault against the Yobanjin positions tomorrow morning. I asked to join.
Kenzan did not want to let me fight alongside my brothers. Too many of the men still consider me bad luck. Curse your cowardice, father… But I am used to this. The mountain does not bend, so I demanded a place in the battle.
It is sad that my reputation is better among strangers than my own clan, but the Akodo and Shoshuro daimyos spoke highly of my skills and told stories of my accomplishments battling many pirates. I think Kenzan was impressed, at least enough to allow me to join O-Hinku’s squad for the battle.
Battle of Shinjo Ridge
The air tasted like ashes.
However, it was better to taste ashes than blood. Hida O-Hinku cleared her throat and spit on the ground. “That was not very lady-like,” Hida Makoto chided her. He kept his voice low so the men would not hear. Though they had grown up together, it was never appropriate to tease the gunso.
“Neither is massacring honorless Yobanjin dogs,” she answered.
“I’ve missed you.” Her half-brother laughed. “It will be good to fight with you again.”
O-Hinku nodded. Makoto had certainly changed in the months since she’d last seen him. He was far more confident. Many of the other Crab did not trust him because of his father’s failures, but O-Hinku had often sparred against the older and larger Makoto. She was one of the most naturally gifted warriors to ever come from the Mountain Shadow’s dojo, and had always fought more experienced opponents to test her skills. Makoto may not have been the most agile, graceful, or even skilled of warriors, but he was stubbornly difficult to hurt. More than anything, she was glad to have someone familiar by her side. After all, this was her first time in command.
Makoto turned away to speak with his strange companions. The masked ronin, Zukozuko, was solemnly running a whetstone down a battered katana. He met her gaze with his good eye and did not look away. Tsuruchi Machio was busy stringing his bow and telling a story about eating pork or some such thing. They were odd, but Makoto vouched for them, so that would do.
She overheard a nearby conversation. “What is he doing here?”
“I don’t know. Makoto is bad luck.”
“Shouldn’t he be shoveling dung with the other eta?” The two Crab shared a hearty laugh.
O-Hinku barely resisted the urge to turn and kill the man that had said that, and only because she would need every sword possible for the coming fight. She gripped the handle of her ono so hard that her knuckles turned white, but the urge to satisfy the desires of Gaki-Do slowly passed.
A horn sounded. That meant that on the other side of this hill, the combined armies of four great clans were on the move, led by her brother Hida Kenzan. O-Hinku was proud that her family mon was at the tip of the spear. She turned to study the two dozen Crab infantry awaiting her orders. Many she knew from home or from the Wall, many were strangers. Some were saying prayers to Osana-Wo, while others were pouring buckets of water over their armor in the hopes that it would dull the pain of legendary Yobanjin death fires. All were eager to fight.
“We move out on the second horn.” She did not raise her voice. She did not need to. Two dozen mempo turned to face her and all fell silent. Though she was only in her seventeenth year, her reputation for violence was enough to get any Crab’s attention. She did not like talking, in fact, nothing made her more uncomfortable, but she knew it was a gunso’s duty to inspire. “Follow me. Move quickly. When we reach the top we will push their archers into the ravine. Kill them all for CRAB CLAN!”
“CRAB CLAN!” Heavy weapons slammed rhythmically against the hard ground. “CRAB CLAN!”
The second horn sounded. O-Hinku hefted her gigantic ono. “Charge!”
The air had turned to fire.
The world was black, spreading ash in every direction. Blood flowed red only to disappear into the black as the fires continually washed over them. The Hida stood shoulder to shoulder, a blue line in the black, heavy weapons rising and falling, rising and falling. This was not war. This was peasants threshing fields. Their harvest was death.
Where they had been told to expect tens of Yobanjin, there were hundreds. Every step forward was against a wall of gaijin bodies. The muscles of O-Hinku’s arms screamed in protest as she swung her ono endlessly. The blade slammed through a Yobanjin’s throat and blood sprayed. Every flying droplet suddenly burst into flames. The blood struck her armor and burned like tiny rivulets of molten steel splashed from a Kaiu forge.
A nearby Hiruma wrenched his katana from a Yobanjin’s belly. O-Hinku closed her eyes as the fire washed across her. She opened them to see the Hiruma stumbling away, his long hair on fire, eyes melting and pouring down his blackened cheeks. He collapsed into a heap. Another man lost. A Hida took his place.
Rise and fall. Rise and fall. Thresh the field under the hot sun.
A screaming gaijin dodged her attack. The ono blade cleaved into the charred dirt. She could not lift it in time, and turned so that her armor would receive the tip of his sword. But the blow never landed. The gaijin’s head ruptured and sprayed a cloud of white teeth. Makoto yanked his tetsubo back, taking the gaijin’s jaw with it.
Makoto nodded at her through the consuming fire. Osana-Wo must surely smile upon her brother for him to bear such heat without flinching. “For Hida!”
“For HIDA!” She smashed another Yobanjin flat and was rewarded with pain. She’d soaked her clothing in water before the fight, but it had long since turned to steam. Only the touch of the gaki, rewarding her with strength for every life she took, was keeping her alive.
The men were faltering under the onslaught and the heat. Hida Toru fell. Hida Chun was disemboweled. Hiruma Yoriku died choking on his own blood. Does this hill ever end? The Tsuruchi sliced a charging Yobanjin’s arm off, but fell in the resulting explosion. The brave Mantis struggled back to his feet, blood streaming from a multitude of wounds and shouted for more.
Ash fell as if they were trapped in a tainted snow storm. “The top! We’ve made it.” Makoto shouted as he slammed a Yobanjin’s ribs into the earth and kicked another one aside.
Reach the archers and we have succeeded. “The ravine… It’s on the wrong side!” O-Hinku screamed her fury. How? The ravine was supposed to be over there. They would never reach the archers now. They would fail. The ravine was ten feet wide and very deep. Falling down it in heavy armor would mean their end. There was only ten Yobanjin left on this side, but more were coming. In the distance, Kenzan’s army was charging up the hill, but the enemy archers would have an eternity to keep raining arrows upon them.
Kaiu Heihachi caught a spear with his mouth. Hida Ozske killed the spearman, but could not stand the resulting fires and collapsed. O-Hinku looked around. Only half of her men were still on their feet, and most of them did not look like they would be able to leap across the ravine. Hiruma Kaisozu grabbed her by the obi. “O-Hinku-sama. We cannot survive a counter attack.”
The Tsuruchi went down under another onslaught of the Dark Oracle’s foul magic. This time he did not get back up. She looked to Makoto, who understood the difficult decision she faced. He nodded at her, acknowledging her wisdom. He was prepared to die with her. “Kaisozu, take everyone that can walk, carry the wounded, and retreat.”
“But what about you?”
“All those archers aren’t going to kill themselves. Now go!” Kaisozu bowed quickly, then ran to fulfill her command. “Makoto, what are you doing?” Her brother was recklessly charging toward the ravine, alone.
“Buying you time.” Makoto crashed into the swarm of screaming fur-clad bodies. Sword blades hummed through the air. He was completely surrounded. Spear blades bounced off his armor with echoing clangs, and then he was lost from view.
“Makoto!” she followed, only to realize that one other person was still with her. The ronin Zukozuko was courageously still fighting. Though haggard, burned, and bleeding, he charged into the fray.
There was a mighty roar and the pile of gaijin erupted. Two of them tumbled, screaming, down the ravine to explode against the rocks below. Makoto rose, bellowing. One tried to flee, but Makoto’s tetsubo shattered his spine. Then her brother kicked the last one in the stomach and sent him hurtling over the edge. A wall of fire rose around him as he thrust the dripping tetsubo into the sky. “CRAAAB CLAAAN!”
There would be no talk of eta courage now.
The three remaining warriors shared a nervous glance at the wide ravine. A horde of screaming barbarians were coming. Across the gash in the earth, the archers spotted them and turned to engage. There was no time for hesitation. Zukozuko ran and leapt, smoking robes fluttering behind him. For just a moment she thought she saw one of the black tattoos of the Togashi on his arms, but then it was gone. He sailed impossibly far, and landed easily, immediately slashing and dodging between the archers. The sight inspired O-Hinku, and she hurled herself across the chasm. It yawed, hungry, beneath her, but then her sandals struck solid ground. Makoto was clumsy, but he was strong. He jumped across and cushioned his fall by crushing a Yobanjin flat.
It was a blur of steel and wood. Blood and fire. They herded the archers like so many oxen and flung them to their deaths. The fury of Gaki-Do stood with the blood of Osana-Wo. As the last archer’s head went sailing into the sky and his body exploded, the fire was too much for the Zukozuko to bear. The ronin collapsed to his knees, then fell face first into the mud made of churned ash and blood. Makoto rushed to his friend’s side.
Dizzy from blood loss, O-Hinku gasped for breath. Her hands were shaking. Her muscles begged to stop. There was a ragged line of yobanjin between her and Kenzan’s banner. Had they stopped the archers in time?
The banner dipped and fell.
O-Hinku screamed as rage consumed her. The barbarians would pay for that insult! Without thought, she vaulted over the stone fortification of the archer’s position and ran downhill into the knot of enemies. Her ono was a blur as limbs were removed from bodies, then the battle seemed to open around her.
A barbarian, nearly a head taller than his brothers, was waiting for her as the mob of clashing bodies swarmed all around them. O-Hinku was completely surrounded, but she did not care. She would lift that banner or die trying. Hida Kenzan’s mon lay crumpled beneath filthy fur boots and that was unacceptable. The chieftain lifted a mighty curved sword and taunted O-Hinku in an alien tongue.
They clashed. His sword caught her armor as her ono cut a gash in his cheek. Weeping tears of fire, the chieftain circled. He struck with blinding speed, slashing deep into O-Hinku’s side. Grinding her teeth together, she struck back repeatedly, slamming his sword down further with each mighty blow. The chieftain’s eyes widened in fear as his sword shattered. O-Hinku removed his hand at the wrist, reversed her swing and demolished his knees. He hit the ground and raised his remaining hand, quivering, begging for mercy. O-Hinku lifted her ono one last time, screamed “HIDA!” and chopped his skull in half.
The tattered Crab banner rose again, fluttering and snapping in the hot wind. The river of souls flowing to Gaki-Do would run deep this day.
Coming next week, the aftermath of the battle, Ide Todo finds his purpose in life, and the plot thickens. http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/the-burning-throne-episode-5-aftermath/