Oneka chases Eizo in the heat of battle only to disappear through a portal to the unknown.
To the east of Lord Tokugawa Hideyoshi and his men were the snowcapped slate blue mountains. The leaves which remained on the trees had all turned bright red colors, but most of the leaves had fallen on the ground on either side of the dirt road. The Lord felt the nip in the air as he watched the steam waft up from his horse’s nostrils. All of this reminded him of a time nearly twenty years past.
His samurai armor weighed down his shoulders and his soul. Maybe he was feeling his age. Maybe, he thought, he was feeling the weight of this clan war with Toyotomi which had raged on for those twenty years. To have such weight on ones’ soul, he thought, was extraordinarily depressing for someone in their early 40s.
Nothing, but loss had come from this war. Lord Tokugawa looked over at his daughter, who rode next to him. She was the one good thing that had come of this war, but her birth came with the price of losing his beloved wife.
Many women tried to curry his favor since then. At first, he could not accept their attention, without guilt that reminded him he had a love. Eventually, the guilt turned numb. All he had left was the desire to prevent Toyotomi from gaining the throne and the destruction of Eizo, the izado.
The war went back and forth. Tokugawa clan had the numbers, by three to one. Toyotomi had the strength with the use of yokai. Lord Tokugawa did not care if a yokai was good or bad, they all brought an unnatural imbalance to the human realm. The fact Toyotomi employed them was reason enough not to allow him the throne.
“Otousan,” came his daughter’s voice from next to him.
Still staring at the surrounding foliage and taking in the late fall breeze, he replied. “Yes, my Oneka?”
“What are you thinking?”
Trying not to betray his true thoughts, “I was thinking about your birthday. It will be soon. How would you like to celebrate?”
The question took her aback. “I’m not sure.” The moment of battle was upon them. They were hunting her mother’s killer, Eizo. The distraction was fun though. “Could we have dancing performers and then a show of combat styles from the men?”
Lord Tokugawa’s smile showed his amusement. Every year was the same. Oneka loved the performers and their feats of prowess and grace. The shows from their clan’s samurai he thought was her way of trying to find ways to best them, which she did most of the time.
A stirring in the dead leaves and pine needles that made up the forest bed off the path next to Oneka, brought the two back from their distractions. Again they were Samurai and they were on the hunt for an evil izado.
Oneka took stock of the surrounding soldiers. There was a phalanx of foot soldiers in front of them. Behind the soldiers rode two of Oneka’s personal guard and two of Lord Tokugawa’s guard. Behind them were the other eight that made up their personal protection. Further back were twenty more Samurai on horse and two more phalanx of foot soldiers.
Oneka knew this small army was enough to handle another human army, but what traveled with Eizo was not human. They were instead Yokai; demons from another realm. Eizo had made some deal with one of The Three Terrible Yokai of Japan. The deal allowed Eizo to command any Yokai for his biding. For what in return was not known, but it could not be good. Dealings with Yokai were never good.
The trail continued through the dense forest. It was impossible to see anything beyond the trees, except some mountain tops. At least she knew her directions, based on the peak of Mt. Fuji seen just over the tree line. Oneka could only see as far up the trail as to the next turn, which was never far.
Oneka worried if marching through the forest was such a good idea, as she heard another rustling. They were hunting, but their prey could easily cut off any escape and slaughter them. Their only hope was if Eizo did not know they were coming.
Ahead of Lord Tokugawa and Oneka the foot soldiers row after row threw their fists in the air, as they quietly came to a stop and crouched into fighting positions. A man appeared out of the trees off to the left of the foot soldiers. He was wearing black and grey clothing. A yellow wrap around his arm and another covering his head, signified the Tokugawa Clan colors. He ran down the side of the troops to Lord Tokugawa and Oneka. He dropped to one knee, with his head bowed. Still breathing heavily, “My Omo and Ojosama.”
“Report,” demanded the Lord.
Oneka was surprised to see Seiji kneeling before them. He was a Samurai, not a scout and foot soldier. She knew her father had something to do with this and her anger grew. Quickly Oneka reined in her anger for fear of being discovered that Seiji was her lover. Then she began to blush, but held her head high as she was taught to in the presence of lower ranking persons.
“My Omo, the scouts have spotted the Izado, Eizo, about ten minutes up the trail, heading this way. He is escorted by ten foot soldiers at the front, ten foot soldiers bringing up the rear, and four Yokai surround the carriage.”
“What are the Yokai?” Oneka asked, trying not to betray her emotions.
Seiji glanced up at her and then back at the ground. “They’re rock golem, standing about 3 meters tall.”
“You’ve done well. Return to your scouting party. Tell them to watch for anyone who escapes and kill them. If you cannot make the kill, then signal.”
“Hai!” Seiji stood, bowed, and disappeared into the trees.
Oneka side stepped her horse closer to her father and whispered angrily at him, “Otosan. Why has Seiji been demoted? He’s a good warrior and Samurai.”
With a harsh tone to remind her of her place, “I will assign whoever I want to whatever position! Seiji is a good warrior, but has much to learn.” With a much softer tone Lord Tokugawa continued, “I thought you’d be happy Seiji would be safe from the main fighting.”
Oneka lowered her face in embarrassment. How did her father know about the two of them? Who else knew? Would they be able to continue to see each other?
“Oneka,” her father’s voice snapped her back to the coming battle. “We’ve trained for Rock Golems. Our men know what to do. Now take your place.”
“Hai!” Oneka dropped off her horse and pulled her over into the trees, with the other Samurai. All of them lined up just inside the trees and coaxed their mounts down on their sides. The Samurai then lay down in the forest bedding next to their steeds.
Half of the other Samurai were doing the same on the other side of the trail. The foot soldiers also took hiding places in the forest. Some of them up in the trees, others lying on the ground.
Oneka was tense. She ran through her head how the battle should go, but tried to look for weaknesses in their plans and what she could do about it. The only thing that mattered to her was Eizo’a head on a pike. She would play her role in the attack, but Eizo must not escape.
There’s the chirp! The izado was in the battle zone.
The first battle cry! Oneka flinched, but it was not their turn. She looked up. The Tokugawa foot soldiers had appeared out of the trees to block off Eizo’s entourage at the front and the back. They closed in and attacked Eizo’s foot soldiers at the front and the rear. The rock Golems stayed next to Eizo’s carriage, as expected. Oneka could not see the izado. He must be inside.
The second battle cry! She barely kicked her horse and she was up on her back, charging out of the trees. Across the path another Samurai appeared on his ride. He threw a rope to Oneka, while holding onto the one end. She grabbed the rope in mid-air and nudged her horse into an all-out run through the battle. Oneka and the other rider kept the rope held high, to miss the foot soldiers.
In front of Oneka was another riding pair of Samurai with a rope held between them. The first riders swooped past the first rock golem with the rope, clothes lining the creature and toppling it over. The second golem swung at the rider in front of her, smashing the man and horse sideways. The rider and mount slammed into the side of the carriage and toppled over motionless.
Oneka continued her charge forward with a battle cry screaming from her throat. Past the Yokai, the rope went taut, which she had braced for, but her steed continued on without her. A moment of puzzlement and she contacted the hard trail ground. Her helmet popping off in her crash landing.
Reflexes had her spin up into a combat stance, with her hand on her sword, ready to draw. With a moments pause she took in the scene. Her riding partner was also on the ground. The rock golem was squishing his remains into the ground with its foot. The other Samurai had followed. A few had attacked the first fallen golem with spears, trying to pry the blocks of rock from each other. Other Samurai continued their charge towards the golem she failed to topple. On the other side of the carriage the other two golems still stood and were flailing wildly at the foot soldiers and Samurai that were swarming them.
With all four rock golem being attacked, Oneka took the opportunity to find Eizo the Izado. Lunging at the carriage with a spear she picked off the ground, the weapon pierced the side, running through where a passenger would be sitting. She felt no resistance to the spear. Oneka tore open the carriage door to find it empty and the other door swinging back and forth.
Oneka heard a quiet thud in the air. Looking up, she found the dark grey cloud of a signal. She pulled the spear from the carriage and bolted off in the direction of the signal.
Cutting across the battle, Oneka was spotted by her father. He yelled for Oneka’s personal guard to follow him in a mad dash in the direction Oneka had disappeared through the woods.
Spear in one hand and the other on the hilt of her sword to hold it steady. Oneka leapt over fallen branches, dodging under low hanging limbs, all the while scanning for footsteps and broken vegetation. She had picked up Eizo’s trail, hoping to outpace him. She could hear her clan’s Samurai on foot and on horseback behind her, which comforted and emboldened her, knowing they were with her.
Wafts of steam slowly filled the air around Oneka. She worried this was a trick from the izado. She pressed forward not letting her fear get the best of her. The trail fell off in front of her as she came to an abrupt stop. In front of her were hot pools, inundated by dozens of snow monkeys. Their normal peaceful calm was disrupted. Oneka watched as the monkeys were trying to climb out of the water.
She scanned the area to find the source of their concern. It was Eizo on the opposite side of the pools. He waded up to his waist across the water to the far side. Oneka jumped into the water, holding her spear high. The water splashed up to under her chest, making it slower going for her to wade through the pool.
Eizo was mumbling a chant as he faced the bank of the far side of the pool. Oneka closed in, her target and destiny finally in her sights. No throwing the spear and leaving things to chance. She would ram it through his heart. She pulled the spear partly under water to hold the spear for a close attack.
Eizo threw his arms out to the sides and a blueish glowing ring grew in front of him. Oneka paused for a second waiting for the izado to attack first. Instead the warm steaming water rushed forward towards the partially submerged ring. Eizo took a step forward and fell through the ring.
Seeing the magical ring appear and the disappearance of the izado into the side of the hot pool a snow monkey that was cowering in the water nearby panics. It frantically leaps away from its hiding spot to reach its companions, but the rushing water towards the portal sweeps it up fighting and screeching, flushing the monkey through the portal.
Oneka rushed forward in the water. Her prey had escaped, through another of his tricks. At the face of the ring she looked back over her shoulder at the Samurai gathering at the edge of the hot pools. Her father was off his horse. He stared at Oneka, his look pleading with her not to go. Oneka looked forward, holding her spear in front of her, she plunged into the magical ring as it was closing.
Lord Tokugawa slipped into the water and rushed as best he could to the other side. It was all for nothing. The ring was gone, Eizo was gone, and so was his daughter. The last thing he truly loved in this world.