Thursday, October 12, 2017

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

AGE OF PETTY STATES ~小国時代~
Previous: Enemy at Blood River (Part II)
Next: Enemy at Blood River (Part IV)

[Part III]

With Mai and Sana on the battlefield, Hanoba turned the tide of the war. Foot soldiers fell to Mai's forceful thrusts. Cavalry crumbled before Sana's gusts of wind. Enemy generals lost their lives to Hiroshi in the dead of night. What remained of Hanoba's army braved storms of arrows to carve out victory after victory.

Yet however many Rinié invaders Mai and Sana sent to the next world, Hiroshi did not trust them to assault the enemy stronghold at Akagawa.

Mai and Sana relaxed in a hot spring; mere days ago, the town had been under firm Rinié control. The two women basked in the warm waters as steam floated around them.

"What's wrong with the general? Doesn't he want to win?" Mai asked, referring to Hiroshi.

"Remember that we're from Bai-an and we wield magic. He suspects Bai-an's hand in this -- I'm sure of it," Sana answered.

"And he's not sure which side Bai-an is on."

"That's it."



"But we've fought so hard for them! They should have our full trust!"

"Quite the opposite, actually. Akagawa would be the best place to betray the cause; it would shatter Hanoba's fighting spirit and hand Rinié an easy victory."

"Then what can we do to convince him?"

"Be patient -- wait for him to come around. We don't know how long this war will last."

"So his plan is to give Rinié time to build themselves back up. The sooner we wait to attack Akagawa, the harder it will be to win!"

"Mai, calm yourself. Trust his wisdom; he'll call upon us when he needs us."

In a huff, Mai climbed out of the bath and peered down at Sana, who sunk into the water a little.

"Then I will make him call upon us now," Mai said as water glistened on her naked body.

Sana climbed out as well. "Don't be silly. Just wait," she said.

"Wait? Wait while Rinié gathers up its strength? Wait while bounty hunters from Bai-an capture or kill us? Wait for Rinié to find an ally? I don't know about you, but I want victory," Mai said.

"They've been fighting this war a lot longer than we have. The general isn't a fool -- he knows what he's doing," Sana answered.

"And they've been losing this war until we showed up. I think we should get a say," Mai shouted back.

"That's not our place!"

"It's about to be." Mai glared at Sana, and Sana thrust out her hand. The diminutive woman's body shook as Mai lunged at her with the fierceness of a tiger. With a solid punch to the face, Mai sent Sana to the ground; even without her magical strength, she could snap the younger woman like a thin branch. Sana squirmed with her hands pressed against her head, but Mai wasn't done with her yet. She kicked Sana in the stomach, then ran for the exit. Mai grabbed her dando, threw it on, then grabbed her sword and left the bath as fast as her legs could take her.

#

Mai ran over to an unmarked building that Hanoba's forces used to plan strategy. She knocked on the door, gave the password to the guard, and was allowed in. The room she entered had a small, low table with a flower arrangement on it, as well as a cushion on either side. The guard showed her to a small sliding door carefully hidden in a wall, where shinobi in black masks and outfits discussed the ongoing campaign against Rinié.

"What is it, Mai?" one of the masked men -- Hiroshi -- asked. The other men tensed up.

"I demand that you let me and Sana fight at Blood River!" Mai said.

The shinobi directed annoyed glares at the maid. "You have some nerve interrupting us like this," one of them said.

"It's fine," Hiroshi told him. He turned to face Mai. "Why do you think you deserve to fight with us there?" he asked her.

"Because my strength is unrivaled. Merely showing up on the battlefield causes the Rinié to panic," Mai said.

"Your magic is wondrous, but that makes combat meaningless for you. Of course you and Sana would fight; the risk is not as great for those with your power. It proves nothing about your loyalty," Hiroshi answered.

"That's absurd! I took an arrow back in Bai-an when-"

"And here you are, alive and vigorous."

Mai balled her fists as her palms sweated. She wanted to tell Hiroshi that Sana's healing spell drained a part of her power away, but she held her tongue since Hiroshi would see it as backing up his point.

"But isn't it good to have someone like me keeping your men safe? We don't have many to spare," Mai said. Behind her, she heard the first door she entered slide open.

"Wait," Hiroshi said. Mai stood aside while the shinobi slid the door open. Mai peered into the room and her blood ran cold.

Sana.

A purple bruise below her eye. Blood flowing from her nose. Her hand on an aching stomach. Hiroshi turned to Mai.

"Now answer this for me: why did you leave your friend's side?" the shinobi general asked. Mai's bowels churned. Sana remained quiet. Mai twiddled her thumbs and stared at the ground.

"General..." Mai said, unable to finish the rest of the sentence.

"I order you to answer me," Hiroshi said. Crushed by the weight of guilt, Mai dropped to her knees and pressed her forehead against the tatami mats.

Tears welled up in Mai's eyes as she admitted her actions.

Mai stood at Hiroshi's command. "General, whatever I can do-"

"Quiet," Hiroshi said. He walked up close to Mai. "If this is how you treat your friend, I'd hate to see how you'd treat my men." Mai could only hang her head in shame.

"You brought this upon yourself," Sana said.

"She's right. Absolute headache, Mai," Hiroshi said. Pain like a million hammer blows fell upon the maid's head, and she dropped to the ground screaming. She twisted her body into a ball and squirmed as the agony intensified. The world was a blur as rough hands removed her dando -- and thus her magical strength -- and bound her up. With the headache still pounding, Mai was forced to her feet by the other shinobi.


"Return her to the village," Hiroshi said. The words stung Mai, but she couldn't think of much else but the headache. The shinobi pushed her along and marched her through the street, her body in full view of all.

AGE OF PETTY STATES ~小国時代~
Previous: Enemy at Blood River (Part II)
Next: Enemy at Blood River (Part IV)

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~

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