Thursday, September 28, 2017

Enemy at Blood River ~血の川にいる敵~ [Part I]

AGE OF PETTY STATES ~小国時代~
Previous: Woman Scorned ~怒妻大敵~
Next: Enemy at Blood River (Part II)

ENEMY AT BLOOD RIVER ~血の川にいる敵~
by Rawle Nyanzi

[Part I]

Kikuta Mai and Yonekura Sana walked a tough road as outlaws. They had killed samurai, and thus had to flee their home province of Bai-an, the most civilized and powerful of all the provinces in the land of Hinomoto. To evade bounty hunters, the outlaw women had to hop from village to village and inn to inn, living off of Sana's meager supply of gold coins.

Then the gold ran out, and Mai and Sana had nothing at all.

The two women trudged down a dirt road, seeking whatever shelter they could; they hoped soem farmer or merchant would take mercy on two young women without a home.

"Maybe I should sell my sword and my clothes," Mai said. Mai and Sana did not wear the kimono typical of Hinomoto; rather, they wore the dando, a garment of barbarian origin that fit closely around the chest and torso, but flared out at the waist to allow the legs free movement. Mai wore a maidservant's dando, black with white fimbriations and accompanied by a ruffled headband, long white socks, and soft black shoes. At her waist was a long thin sword, also of barbarian origin, known as a repiya, or "rapier" as Sana insisted it was pronounced. Sana wore a more elaborate green-and-blue dando with a white cloth about her shoulders -- the dando of a female scholar. Even in their current battered and wrinkled state, their dando and Mai's sword would fetch a very high price, more than enough for them to purchase more conventional clothing and weapons.

"I have thought about it, but if we're going to do that, I should only sell my clothes. Yours might find their way back to the daimyo," Sana said, referring to the daimyo of Bai-an.



"You're right. Then we'd really be in trouble," Mai said. They continued the conversation until they came across a pile of burnt wooden rubble. Blackened posts with metal hinges stood up, suggesting a gate once stood there. The accompanying guard house was an ashen skeleton of what it once was. Big fat flies buzzed around the decaying corpse of a guardsman with a smashed-open skull.

Sana pointed at a rectangular piece of wood with some writing on it. "Mai, could you get that?" she said as she winced at the stinking body near it. Mai, numb to the smell since she used to clean out latrines, walked over and brought the bloodstained sign back.

"What does it say?" Mai asked. Mai had originally been a peasant and thus never learned to read. Sana's old home was full of scrolls, but all the hundreds of ideograms confused her to no end.

But then Mai noticed Sana curl her hands in fear.

"Hanoba Province. Continuing would be dangerous," Sana said.

"Why?"

"They're at war with neighboring Rinié Province, and word is that they're losing. People might get desperate and-"

A masked figure burst from beneath the rubble and put a tanto dagger to Sana's throat.

"Any sudden movements and the girl dies," the masked figure, a man, said. Mai's hand went to her sword, but more masked figures clad in black -- shinobi -- emerged from the surrounding bushes, aiming bows at her. Once she realized that the shinobi had her surrounded, she tightened her grip on the sword but didn't dare draw it.

"So you'll take us back to Bai-an and get rich," Mai said.

The man who held Sana raised his eyebrows. "They've put a bounty on your heads? Splendid; it'll be worth more than your sword, that's for sure!" he said. Mai realized she said too much, and Sana just glared at her. The other shinobi drew their bows back a bit farther.

"Wait, we're worth more to you alive than dead," Sana said. The shinobi that held her pressed his dagger right against Sana's neck.

"Let's hear it. But first, she has to disarm," the shinobi said, indicating Mai. The young maid unhooked the waist strap that held the sheath and placed it on the ground. A shinobi walked up and took it away, then Mai held her hands in the air.

"We possess magical abilities. My maidservant over there has incredible strength, but only so long as she wears that particular dando. I myself have the power of wind. Together, both of us can help you win your war against Rinié Province," Sana said.

"A tempting offer, but how do I know you're telling the truth?" the shinobi who held Sana asked. Sana considered blowing him away with her power, but even if she could avoid a slit throat, the archers would hammer her with arrows.

"Allow me to say a chant," Sana said.

"If I think you're trying to escape, I will run you through," the shinobi answered.

"That is fine." Sana then spoke a chant in a bizarre barbarian language heavy on consonants. The shinobi pressed his dagger so close to Sana's neck that it drew a small trickle of blood.

"Now say the words 'absolute headache,'" Sana said. The shinobi spoke the words, and what happened next shocked him; both women winced and screamed as headaches like a hammer to the skull overtook them. Mai crouched on her knees and held her head while Sana shifted and squirmed in the shinobi's grasp.

"Good -- very good," the shinobi said as Sana gritted her teeth.

"We are your weapons to wield," Sana said between pained grunts.

"That would do nicely. If you are who you say, we may very well win our war," the shinobi said.

"You won't regret it. We will do our best to assist you," Sana said.

Her captor turned to face one of his men. "We're going to have to do some heavy lifting. You up for it?" he said.

One of the men took a gander at Mai and Sana. "I most definitely am," he answered.

Mai shot the shinobi a glare, having recovered from the headache a moment back. "What do you mean by this?" she asked.

"We'll transport you unconscious, just to be safe," the shinobi holding Sana answered.

"You have my word -- I won't betray you," Mai said.

"Mai, stop. They're the only chance we have," Sana said.

"They'll just take us back to Bai-an!" Mai maintained her aggressive posture.

"I said stop," Sana said.

"I'm sorry, Sana, but you're wrong about them. I won't let us be sent to our deaths!"

Sana craned her neck towards the shinobi holding her. "May I deal with her? I wouldn't want your men to get hurt," she said.

The shinobi let Sana go, but kept his tanto pointed at the back of her neck. "Do what you must," he said. Sana thrust out her hand at Mai.

"Sana, what-" Before Mai could finish, Sana deployed her wind magic to draw the air out of Mai's nose and mouth, causing her to choke. She kept the air out until Mai lost consciousness and fell to the ground.

"She should still be alive," Sana said. A shinobi walked up to Mai's inert body and checked the pulse -- she was indeed alive. He then hefted Mai over one shoulder.

"Now its your turn." The shinobi that held her before put an elbow around Sana's delicate neck and squeezed as hard as he could. Sana couldn't help but fidget and struggle as air and blood to her brain were cut off. In mere moments, her whole world went black.

AGE OF PETTY STATES ~小国時代~
Previous: Woman Scorned ~怒妻大敵~
Next: Enemy at Blood River (Part II)

Other stories of the Age of Petty States:
Hantei wa No Contest
For a Bowl of Rice ~飯一杯のために~
How to Slay a Bandit ~山賊を殺す方法~
The Sword that Breaks Stone ~斬岩刀~

No comments:

Post a Comment