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Kyoudai

by Mike Maikeru Baker

            The rays of the afternoon light were slowly fading, as the bright yellow sun was slowly setting behind the mountains, signaling that dusk was arriving and night would surely follow. The darkening sky created a tranquil veil over the valley of Western Shinano. This peacefulness was a contrast to the excitement that the soldiers of Takeda Harunobu had experienced, from the exhilaration of battle during the past few months, and the anticipation for the battle that was lying ahead. Months earlier the Takeda from the province of Kai had defeated a combined army belonging to the clans of Ogasawara, Suwa, Murakami and Kiso warlords, during his invasion of Shinano. Shortly thereafter Takeda Harunobu had claimed the castles of Uehara and Kuwabara, thus gaining a strong foothold in the province.

            Takeda had orders for a detachment of soldiers, under the command of Itagaki Nobukata. A trusted General and Harunobu's mentor, Itagaki was given the honor of leading a small force and claim the mountain-fort of Ankokuji, from the control of the Takato clan. At the present moment Itagaki allowed his men to break camp in a small valley halfway to Ankokuji, the men he felt deserved rest before the following days worth of fighting, though in their current position campfires would give their position away to the enemy. Ankokuji was positioned on top of a small mountainside, it offered the soldiers garrisoned there a view of the valley for miles, and smoke from cooking fires would alert the garrison of Itagaki’s presence.

            Itagaki Nobukata, along with his personal escorts and guards, had set up their sleeping quarters in a small temple, the rest of the forces under his command, had set up camp in a nearby area dotted with trees, this was to hide the army from Ankokuji’s spying eyes. The area was dotted with small campsites, each bustling with activity, there were groups of low ranking ashigaru in light armor, eating the crunchy rations they had made of rice, on normal occasions they would be making boiled rice over a cooking fire, but this would have meant death. Also there were various higher-ranking samurai who were also engaged in various forms of recreation. A few of the samurai were cleaning the steel blades of their tachi and re-oiling them, examining their bows and arrows, or engaged in games or talks, some were helping each other adjust various pieces of their armor, being prepared for anything, always alert even when relaxing.

            At one of the small campsites, there were two of the veteran bushi sitting across from each other Indian style, engaged in various talks. The younger of the two samurai had a larger stature than the average person, he had on a fine suit of armor, its small leather scales lacquered in a rusted red color, the color of the soil, much like in his home province of Kai, it's laces of reddish silk held the scales together. On the breastplate of his armor was a large, gold painted mon of the Matsumoto clan. This samurai's name was Tadamitsu; he was a seasoned soldier, who had seen his first battle even before some of his fellow soldiers were born. Tadamitsu had fought for Takeda Harunobu's father Nobutora, when Harunobu exiled his father, the Matsumoto clan along with Tadmaitsu clan changed over to Harunobu's side. With great strength and dedication in the heat of battle, Tadamitsu's strength was often compared to that of an enraged Oni, Tadamitsu was defiantly an asset to his Generals and fellow soldiers, and something to be feared from his enemies.

            Across from Tadamitsu sat his closest childhood friend Kazuyoshi, he was fairly older than Tadamitsu, his head was completely shaven except for a layer of stubble, the only indication of Kazuyoshi’s age was his graying beard. Kazuyoshi happened to be a distant cousin to the Yamagata family, and had seen a few more battles than his friend Tadamitsu. Though he was well into his Fifties, Kazuyoshi was still a capable and excellent fighter. Kazuyoshi had the fervor of a soldier half his age, the younger soldiers often tried to mimic his dedication and skills on the battlefield. Now the night before another battle, the two veterans sat, enjoying the cool air, the smell of choji oil and the laughter of the comrades, everything was almost perfect.

1.

Kazuyoshi ran his hand over the stubble on his scalp, he turned his gaze over to his possessions laying next to him, Kazuyoshi grabbed his cloth uchikoshi-bukuro, untying the large bag, Kazuyoshi opened up the sack laying it flat on the ground, exposing it’s contents. Tadamitsu looked over all the objects that Kazuyoshi brought on campaign with him. There was sharpened piece of steel used to shave hair, eating utensils, writing implements, a few smaller cloth bags and a small rolled mat made of woven straw. Tadamitsu had a quizzical look; he just kept looking at Kazuyoshi then to his possessions. Kazuyoshi picked up the straw mat, and then unrolled it flat onto the ground; it had a black grid painted onto one side. "Yamagata dono, what is all this for?" Tadamitsu asked of his friend, looking at the grid on the straw mat, Tadamitsu finally had a feeling of what his friend had planned, but he wanted to confirm these suspicions. Kazuyoshi grabbed two blue dyed, bags from his possessions, the contents "clacking" as they moved, he handed one of the bags to Tadamitsu. "Matsumoto Sama, honor me with a round of your favorite game, for old times sake". Tadamitsu chuckled, go happened to be his favorite of games, him and Kazuyoshi used to play go allot when not on campaign, often they would relax at Tadamitsu’s home, playing go and drinking sake, but they never could find a way to play it on campaign, the game was too cumbersome on the march, but Kazuyoshi devised a way to make it portable.  Tadamitsu was truly honored by his friend’s improvising a way. "Hai, Yamagata dono, I will certainly honor your request for a match".

            Tadamitsu opened up the cloth bag that he received, he pulled out a polished black stone from the bag, Tadamitsu admired the stone looking at his own reflection in it’s glossy surface. The two friends started the game, taking turns placing a stone at the grids intersections, Tadamitsu placing his black stones first, and Kazuyoshi placing his polished white stones afterwards. While each one took turns placing stones the two had various conversations, ranging from events of the past to discussions of the arts and even the occasional joke. Time had passed as the game went on, both men were skilled players, often their games took a long time to finish, and often the game would end in a stalemate. Though their social ranks were different from each other, Tadamitsu and Kazuyoshi truly were each other’s equals.

             The sun eventually disappeared behind the mountains, being replaced by the moon, by this time most of the other troops had finally settled down to sleep, only a handful were still awake. Tadamitsu and Kozayoshi's game and talks still went on. Following orders and not having a campfire at night, the two men resorted to using the moonlight, and some memory to see the game board and it's pieces. Looking over the game board, Tadamitsu thought of what his tactics would be, he then looked up at Kazuyoshi, the moonlight gave him a pale blue complexion as it lit up his features. Most of the friend’s talks through the night were almost trivial; Tadamitsu decided to get personal now that everyone was asleep. "Yamagata dono, I hear your son was recently promoted." "Hai, he commands a squad of ashigaru now, though he still has room to improve rank, maybe someday he will be a yari captain." Kazuyoshi replied to his friend’s question, showing Tadamitsu he did not mind personal queries. "Matsumoto Sama, I hardly get to see your family as much as I used to, my duties always put me away from our village. So how is your family doing in Kai"? Kazuyoshi asked placing one of his white game pieces down on the mat." They are well, my wife is healthy and happy, she is such a lovely woman, and my son Haruko has grown the since last time you have seen him, in a few more years it will be time for his genpuku". Tadamitsu replied as he placed one of his own pieces down, this allowed him to capture one of Kazuyohi's owns tones, Tadamitsu smiled as he took the stone off the mat. Kazuyoshi nodded, smiling back as he noted the captured piece, and then placed another of his own stones. "That is good to hear Matsumoto dono. You must be as proud of your family as they are of you."

             "I hope this is true, though now my only wish that my son Haruko will grow to be better than his father." Tadamitsu lowered his gaze from Kazuyoshi to the game board, looking at the positions of the stones; he then placed another one of his black stones, blocking Kazuyoshi’s white stones from taking one of his own. "Are you sure that the world is ready for another Kai no Oni, Tadamitsu sama?" Kazuyoshi chuckled as he created more territories for his pieces. Tadamitsu started to chuckle then erupted into laughter, slapping his hand on his knee. Both of them calmed down form laughing so not to wake anyone up. Tadamitsu ran his hand up to his head, running his palm over his shaven pate up to his topknot. The two veterans were living in the moment, the two were truly close friends, and not even the anticipation of tomorrow would break their joyful mood, now everything was truly perfect.

2.

            Takato Yorimune walked behind his line of archers. His view from the main tower, offered him a tactical advantage. Yorimune could look over the positions of Itagaki's men. Near the front wall of Ankokuji, more archers stood on firing platforms built into the walls, these platforms only afforded protection for half their body, but allowed them better accuracy. Shouting commands to his men, Yorimune ordered another volley of arrows; he had his men aim towards the left, at a small squad positioned close to the fortress. A hail of arrows shot from Ankokuji's tower, they rained on top of the mobile wooden shields of Itagaki's troops. "Do not allow Itagaki to gain a greater foothold, we shall cut his men down with arrows, we must stop them now." Yorimune commanded to his troops, he knew in the back of his mind that the defense of Ankokuji was futile, though Ankokuji was on top of a large hill, offering a better view of the area for miles, Itagaki managed to march his troops up close to the forts walls, unnoticed.

Yorimune knew he would have to make the defense; he had to keep Itagaki's men at bay, thus allowing his older brother to escape, and possibly bring reinforcements.

            Tadamitsu knelt behind a large tree, his squad of samurai managed to find a cluster of trees off to the side of Ankokuji. Their orders were to slip over the walls of the fortress to open the outside gates. He looked as a volley of arrows descended on a shielded position a few yards ahead of him. He watched as a few of the unlucky soldiers, who could not move in time get struck. A handful of soldiers fell, arrows protruding from their armor; one soldier was pinned to the ground an arrow sticking through his thigh. Their squad leader ordered a return fire; the soldiers that survived the volley readied their bows, firing at the archer’s platform and the towers. Takato's men tried to kneel behind the platform's wall, offering protection from the missile weapons, there was a crimson spray as one archer was hit in the side of the face with an incoming arrow, the force spun the archer around around, knocking him to the ground, he was killed instantly.

            Itagaki Nobutaka sat on his general’s stool; he had stationed his command post on the mountain path leading to Ankokuji, at the rear of his attacking force. He sat erect on the stool his right arm draped over his leg, his iron-signaling baton in his hand. He looked past his soldiers, stationed behind their wooden shields, up to Ankokuji castle. His plan of sneaking onto the mountainside, up to the walls of Ankokuji without Takato’s men knowing worked. Itagaki’s men surely had the advantage, but Itagaki still had to break the defenses of Ankokuji before he could order his men to scale the walls. Itagaki placed his left elbow on his armored knee, and placed his chin on his closed fist, he contemplated on different tactics to break the archers fire. An idea finally came to him, using his iron fan to signal, Itagaki yelled for one of his scouts. "Yamamasa!" he yelled, waving his signaling fan. A young samurai arrived running past the ranks of Itagaki’s personal guards. He had on a suit of dark red, almost black armor, the sashimi banner rippled as he ran to Itagaki. Yamamasa knelt down in front of Itagaki, his hand resting on his knee, his banner waving in the breeze. Itagaki lowered his arm, resting it back on his leg, and nodded at Yamamasa. "Yamamasa, I have an important task for you to do. Go to our front lines toward Yamagata’s position, we need to find wooden support structures on Takatao’s castle, they need to be near his archer platforms. When you do that report your findings back to me." Itagaki made his orders clear to his scout, if Yamamasa accomplished this task that would give Itagaki’s men a serious advantage. "Hai, I will accomplish my task, my General." Yamamasa stood up, turned and ran in the direction of Yamagata and his squad.

Kazuyoshi stayed kneeling behind his wooden shield, being pinned down by archers from the wall platform. He inhaled deeply as another score of arrows struck his position, producing loud thuds as the arrows stuck into the wood shield.

A hand of Kazuyoshi’s men knelt to the side of their wooden shields and returned fire, just as the archers were about to reload, a few of the Takato’s archers were struck with arrows, some falling back off the platform from the impact. Being lured out of their position left Yamagata’s men in a vulnerable position, a squad of Takato’s archers had held their fire until Kazuyoshi’s men came out from behind their shields, Takato’s men let loose their arrows. A few of Kazuyoshi’s men were dropped by the enemy’s arrows some dying instantly. Kazuyoshi was defiantly in a bad position, but that did not matter to him. With his bow ready he again pivoted next to his shield and released his arrow, it struck one of the enemy archers, cries of pain could be heard from the archers platform, the young soldier was not killed but was out of action now. With haste Kazuyoshi pivoted back behind his shield, just as a score of arrows had hit his previous position.

            A young samurai in deep red armor ran from shielded position to shielded position, his sashimo’s flag rippling as he ran, the banner displayed a giant black centipede. Yamamasa made it to a vacant spot, kneeling at the defensive line behind Kazuyoshi’s position. The enemy who was preoccupied with Kazuyoshi’s archers did not notice the scout’s arrival. Yamamasa went scanned over Ankokuji, looking for fine details as he was ordered. He noted that on the main building, there was a concentration of wood structures next to and below the main archers tower. Even the towers main support was wood, setting fire and smoking out the tower would be easy, Yamamasa would just have to make it back to Itagaki with this news. The scout took a deep breath standing from his position; he quickly sprinted away from the castle, dodging between the wooden barriers, he ran quickly down the mountain pass towards Itagaki. Kazuyoshi, having known of Yamamasa’s presence, quickly realized the importance of the scout. He ordered his men to be in a position for return fire. Kazuyoshi noted a sharpshooter on the archer’s platform, the sharpshooter was aiming for Yamamasa, waiting for him to clear the shields, and so he could get a clean shot. Taking one of the arrows from his cache on the ground, Kazuyoshi knocked the arrow, drawing it back all the way to its large forked head. Before the sharpshooter had time to fire his shot, Kazuyoshi stood up from his shielded position, letting loose his arrow, it quickly flew through the air towards it’s target, and then it struck home. The sharpshooter stood for his moment his pleas had turn to gurgles, for arrow struck him in the throat, the karimata arrowhead severed his windpipe and his artery. At the same moment the sharpshooter was hit, his fellow archers let loose a volley in Kazuyoshi’s direction, four arrows, struck him three had pierced through his massive shoulder guards, missing him.

Kazuyoshi felt a stinging pain in his upper arm; his armor had stopped the last arrow except for the last half an inch of arrowhead. The point of the arrow head had bit into Kazuyoshi’s flesh, a trail of warmth had trailed from he wound down to his hand soaking through his silk sleeves. As he was hit Kazuyoshi knelt behind his shield. He glanced over to his right shoulder at the arrow that wounded him. He merely yanked it out, the blood now flowing more freely, his arm and hand were now wet with more blood. Kazuyoshi grabbed the medical bag form his belt, opening it. He pulled out a long strip of cloth from the bag. He quickly untied and removed the large rectangular shoulder guards from his armor. With one end of the cloth held by his teeth, Kazuyoshi quickly wrapped up his wound and tied the cloth.

Yamamasa’s waraji clad feet floated on top of the soil and pebbles of the mountain pass. He was running in a full sprint towards Itagaki’s command center with his field report. There were a few close calls for Yamamasa and the archers in Ankokuji, one of the sharpshooter’s arrows missed Yamamasa, instead it tore a hole in his sashimo.

"Taisho!" Yamamasa called to Itagaki as he knelt down in front of the general’s stool. The scout knelt with one hand resting on his raised knee. "Taisho, it appears that Takata’s castle has many support structures made of wood.  One of these structures is even next to his main keep, where he positioned his own archers." Itagaki nodded in conformation, his tightly closed mouth curled into a clever smile. "Very good. Yamamasa sama now go back to the front lines, have Yamagata sama and his men use flames to attack the supports, that shall be the signal for Matsumoto and his squad to climb the walls." Itagaki signaled back to Kazuyoshi’s position with his iron fan. Bowing to Itagaki, Yamasa stood from his kneeling position, and raced back to the front lines, back into the sharpshooter’s sights.

            Having received Itagaki’s commands from Yamamasa, Kazuyoshi ordered a small group of his best archers to ready flammable arrows. The remaining archers were ordered to divert the attention of Takato’s men, by firing volleys of regular arrows at the enemy. In a simultaneous manner Kazuyoshi’s men lit the specially made arrowheads on fire, they then nocked the arrows, readying them. "IRU!" A second before he let fly the first shot, Kazuyoshi yelled the order for his men to fire their bows. Archers under Kazuyoshi’s command let loose their arrows, aiming at the structures as ordered by Itagaki. A volley of flaming arrows lit up the sky, and quickly hit their mark, the wooden structures of Ankokuji slowly catching fire. Kazuyoshi’s men kneeled behind their shielding readying another volley, before the enemy archers could retaliate.

Screams of "HI!" emanated from the fortress. All the targets hit by the arrows quickly was quickly afire; billows of smoke arose from the burning timber. The smoke blinded Takato’s archers and their throats burned. At this point Kazuyoshi and his men were relentless with the assault, they let loose another volley of flaming arrows, while support troops picked off targets with their plain arrowheads. While some of Takato’s archers ducked for cover, their sight useless due to smoke, samurai and servants alike stumbled as they ran through the halls of Ankokuji, carrying wooden pails of water with them, in a futile attempt at combating both the flames and Itagaki’s forces.

With the defense and morale of Takato’s side severely battered, Itagaki decided now would be the time to put his plan into motion. Using his iron fan to signal to his messenger. Acknowledging the order with a bow, the messenger turned, drawing an arrow from his quiver. The messenger fitted an arrow with a large wooden tip into his bow, he pulled the arrow back, as far as his ear, aiming for the sky in Ankokuji’s direction, and he released the arrow. A loud whistle pierced the air as the arrow flew. Tadamitsu heard the signal and ordered his men to charge. Tadamitsu was the first man to reach the fortress’s walls. The rest of his men followed behind, moving portable, wooden shields on wheels and makeshift ladders. Seeing the charging samurai emerge from the tree line, the archers on Ankokuji’s outside platforms, turned their sights to the new threat. Two of Tadamitsu’s men were struck down by a hail of arrows, the rest of the men managed to make it to the walls.

The bows of Takato’s archers were set on Tadamitsu and his squad, as they climb up the walls of Ankokuji. The Takato archer’s had all of their concentration on Tadamitsu and his men was so great, that they barely had time to react to a new threat. A third squad of Itagaki samurai, led by an Amarai Toshiro, broke through the tree line, on the opposite side of the fortress. With the enemy’s attention already split in two directions, Toshiro’s troops met little resistance, as they sprinted to the walls.  After several minutes and four more casualties, Tadamitsu’s troops made it over the outer wall. As soon as his waraji touched ground, Tadamitsu broke into a run, dodging arrows being shot at him, running towards the inner gate. Some of his companions weren’t as lucky; they were struck with many arrows, just as they got onto the top of the outer wall. The men that survived the onslaught soon followed their leader, making it to the inner entrance. The remaining archers on the outer platform tried to eliminate the men who broke into their fortress, but were struck down by the arrows and swords of Toshiro and his troopers, they were successful in scaling the wall and taking the outer platform as their own. .

Amari Toshiro looked over the dead and dying samurai archers, on the outer platforms. Waving his hand his hand, Toshiro ordered his squad to split in two groups, one to set up defenses on the outer wall, allowing them a greater view of Ankokuji and it’s defenses, the second group was ordered to the inner gates.

The thick smoke emanating from Ankokuji’s burning planks slowly dissipated. Takato regained sight of the grim situation. "Archer’s back to your post!" Takato still yelled orders back to his men, his throat sore from inhaling smoke. His archers stood readying bows again, setting sights on various soldiers trying to make it over the wall into the courtyard. The rest of Takato Yorimune’s archers focused on keeping Amari Toshiro and his force pinned down; Takato would not allow them the advantage of the outside platform. A battlefield messenger ran up the stairs towards the archer platform. Takato walked away from the openings of the archer’s platform, towards his messenger. The messenger kneeled one knee raised up, his hand resting on it. "Sir, there are reports that a small band of Itagaki’s men had made it into one of Ankokuji’s buildings!" The scout explained. Takato looked at the young samurai. Tapping the legging of his hakama with his iron fan, Takato muttered to himself, "That Itagaki, he will not get the better of me." He then turned to the messenger, "Go have my foot soldiers wait by the entrances to the this building, do not let them venture out, until the enemy is closer, otherwise that damned Toshiro may lower our numbers with his arrows. Have a small band go search for the ones in my compound. I want killed, now." In the back of his mind Takato knew the battle was not in his favor, his only hope would be in escaping with his Hatamoto, while his men inflicted as many possible casualties on the enemy.   "Hai!" The messenger bowed his head and stood, running back the way he came. Turning to the captain of the archers, Takato looked at him. "You are in charge, I have matters elsewhere to attend to, keep out anymore of the enemies soldiers." Takato was very stern his voice had a grave tone. The captain could only bow in acknowledgement, as Takato walked away, down the hallway.

Foot soldiers clad in armor, the honey colored laces of their do maru almost glowing in the candle light, waited inside the main building of the fortress. Their silken fundoshi underneath their armor was stained with perspiration, not from heat but from anxiety. They remained inside Ankokuji, as not to be cut down by arrows, and waited for the gates, incase they were opened. These orders were not for their sake, but more for Takato Yorimune’s. Archers inside Ankokuji tried desperately to kill the infiltrators near the main gate. But the enemy was well defended and for every one that was killed another would take their spot. Soon the archers emotion when from a sense of urgency to sheer dread, as the gates of Ankokuji slowly opened, Ankokuji and the Takato soldiers inside were about to feel the full power of Itagaki Nobukata’s force.

As the main body of Itagaki’s army entered into the courtyard, the defenders of Ankokuji exploded from the fortress like an armored wave, trying to engulf the enemy.  Both sides were fighting with fervor, Itagaki’s men fought for another victory on behalf of Takeda, the Takato bushi fighting mostly for survival. The defenders of Ankokuji reinforced their front lines, using their long yari, attempting to slowly push back Itagaki’s men, causing casualties on both sides to form quickly. When the enemy refused to move back and pushed further, the men abandoned their spears and went for their tachi, both sides slashing ferociously at each other, with heir curved blades. The remaining archers on the outer platform shot volleys into Takato’s men. Groups of the soldiers fell, arrows protruding from chests, limbs and torsos. Ankokuji’s archers returned the attack, half returning fire into the middle of Itagaki’s force, trying to force them to retreat back, clogging any possible escape, the other half would try to hold off further attacks from Toshiro’s bowmen.  The ground was littered with bodies, men in various shades of blue or gold armor lied on the ground, stained with dirt and fresh blood, waraji clad feet were sticky with fresh gore.

3.

            While soldiers in Itagaki’s main force fought against Ankokuji’s defenders, Kazuyoshi along with three other men scaled the walls of the fortress. Kazuyoshi was given direct orders by Itagaki, before the battle had begun; to enter into the fortress while it’s soldiers were diverted. His shoulder ached from the arrow wounds he suffered before, but Kazuyoshi climbed on, though exhausted from the fighting Itagaki and his men were determined to succeed.  The small squad finally made it over the wall, then men glanced over to the battle, their army was slowly slopping Takato’s push, and advancing forward themselves. Men on both sides fell in sprays of blood from vicious tachi wounds. Both armies exchanged arrow fire causing more havoc on the troops. Kazu yoshi waved his hand and he along with his troops descended the wall, dropping to the ground. The squad made its way along the shadow of the wall, towards the left-most side of Ankokuji’s buildings. In Kazuyoshi’s mind he hoped to meet Tadamitsu in the center of Ankokuji, towards victory. Takato’s men were unaware to the group of men that entered into one of Ankokuji’s doors. .

            Kazuyoshi and his men move stealthily through the hallways of the fortress. Their straw waraji padded on the wooden floorboards, often Kazuyoshi would go ahead of his squad to check for guards or creaky floorboard. The squad’s objectives were clear to them; any hint of detection may only serve to hamper them.  As the small group made its way down a long hallway, towards a stairway, Kazuyoshi soon realized this might not be easier than he first planned. The sound of many waraji padding on the floorboards could not only be heard on the top of the stairwell, but also behind the men, where they had previously been. With silent motions of his hand, Kazuyoshi ordered his men to split in half, one half facing the hallway and the other half including their commander facing the stairwell. The hallway was not an accommodating space for fighting; its width would only allow two men side by side, if their shoulders touched. Realizing this fact Kazuyoshi’s only solution was to draw his shorter wakizashi to allow for more movement, the rest of his men followed suite. Just as the men drew their swords, and readied themselves, the threat made itself visible. Quickly moving around the corner into the hallway were two armed samurai, though each of them had tachi, only two of the soldiers had drawn them, the last still held onto a short-shafted yari. Just as the situation was assessed did the odds change again, marching down the stairs were three more samurai, their tachi drawn. Trained in combat since youth, and seeing many wars, Kazuyoshi stood unflinching, the odds did not find a way into his mind, his men who he had trained with for years, also remained empty of thought stood tall. Takato’s guards soon advanced on the cornered enemy, as soon as they reached weapons length of their prey, Kazuyoshi and his men unleashed all hell.

With his back facing the right side of the hallway, Kazuyoshi advanced with his right foot, pivoting and raising his wakizashi as a guard made a diagonal cut at him. Seeing an opportunity, while the guard he faced was momentarily off balanced by his fellow guardsman’s slash, the soldier to Kazuyoshi’s left advanced, stabbing his short sword forward, planting the tip of his blade in the guards stomach, he forced the blade in with his weight, pushing through leather and silk lace, until the blade disappeared into armor and flesh. Kazuyoshi held onto his opponent’s wrist forcing him back, back into the guard behind him, allowing more room, and a way to block the other man. Soon they began to wrestle, the guard trying to regain use of his sword, Kazuyoshi trying to find an opening. Behind Kazuyoshi, one of the guards fell dead, his lifeblood flowing from a wound in his belly, his howling of pain soon ended, by a sword thrust to the throat. The two other soldiers in Kazuyoshi’s company tried fending off attacks from the guard. The guard with a yari scored a hit on one of the soldiers, he had pierced into the man’s armor with his spear point, slowing him down greatly. The fight turned for the worse for Kazuyoshi and his men, another thrust of a spear head stabbed into the soldiers sword arm, causing him to drop his sword, a final stab into the man’s chest caused him to fall dead. The soldier next to Kazuyoshi turned from his kill, and went away form the stairs, to take the place of his fallen comrade. Mustering his strength, Kazuyoshi pushed his opponent, back some more, leaving the man behind the guard off balanced, Kazuyoshi raised his sword arm slowly, being resisted by the guards free arm, Kazuyoshi raised his sword to shoulder level, the guard could not resist Kazuyoshi any further, soon the wakizashi’s point found its way into the spaces of the guard’s armor into his neck. Kazuyoshi pushed the man’s lifeless body into the guard at the base of the stairwell, both the guard and his dead comrade fell onto the stairs; the guard dropped his tachi to the floor. Kazuyoshi grabbed the guard’s sword off the floor, and crouched over him With the weight of his armor and the dead guard’s armor, the man struggled on the base of the stairs, trying to find a way up, but it was too late, with tachi in hand Kazuyoshi repeatedly stabbed the man in the chest with his own sword, until the flailing and struggling ceased. Meanwhile Kazuyoshi’s other soldiers struggled, one made efforts to parry the stabs of a yari, which would not allow him a counter attack of his own. The soldier to his right faced off the guard with only a wakizashi in hand. Eventually the guard shown to be the greater of the two, with a diagonal slash the guard cleaved through the soldiers neck, killing him instantly. The remaining soldier backed up a few steps, so as not to be attacked on both sides, the guards advanced on him.

Kazuyoshi turned to see his comrade in trouble; he raced forward a tachi in hand. The guard sprinted towards Kazuyoshi; he pulled the hilt of his tachi back, keeping the sword horizontal, and stabbed forward. Steeping out to the left Kazuyoshi swiftly dropped his blade down onto his enemy’s tachi, parrying the stab away from his body. The guard flicked his wrist, pivoting the blade, which caused Kazuyoshi’s to go up, the guard used the opening making a sideways cut to the left. Kazuyoshi quickly leaped back dodging the razor sharp blade by inches. Seeing that Kazuyoshi was unbalanced the guard advanced forward raising his sword up, as he was about to cut down, Kazuyoshi’s hand shot up, holding the pommel of the tachi up, at the same moment his tachi’s point came up swiftly forcing it’s way into the bottom of the guard’s chin. Meanwhile, Kazuyoshi’s other comrade fought of strikes from the guard’s yari, stepping back and parrying with his short sword. He came close to launching a counterattack of his own, but the guard was well trained and quicker with the spear. The guard feigned his next defensive move, while parrying the soldier’s attack, he dipped his yari down to the right, close to the wall, and he pretended to lose his footing. The solider advanced to the guard’s left, hoping to take advantage of the loss of defense, but was soon met with a surprise. The guard quickly pivoted the yari up, in line with the soldier’s belly and stabbed forward. The wide spearhead dug deep into the soldier, severing the silk laces of his armor, and stabbing deep into the soldier’s belly. It felt like the soldier’s belly was on fire, blood drained from most of his body and out of the wound. The soldier mustered the last of his available strength, and with a great swing of his short sword he severed the head of the spear from its lacquered shaft. He pushed the broken piece of wood away, the guard still holding on, looking on in shock. Advancing forward the dying soldier’s last action in life was putting his wakizashi blade into the guard’s trembling eye. 

            Kaxzuyoshi could only look as his comrade fell; he raced over to him, and kneeled next to him, his waraji soaking up blood. "Shizawa, Shizawa!" Kazuyoshi shook the young soldier, but there was no response. He checked on the other men of his squad, but they also lay dead. Grabbing his wakizashi he shook the blood and gore off the blade, and slid it back in its saya. He then made the journey up the stairs, alone. Kazuyoshi made it up the stairs and into another hallway, to his dismay he was not alone. Only twenty feet away stood his goal, it was Takato Yorimune, along with five of his hatamoto. Takato looked at the tired and injured Kazuyoshi, and smiled, he quickly turned and walked away with one of his personal guards. The remainder of his hatamoto drew their tachi. Un-phased Kazuyoshi also drew his tachi from its saya, holding it vertically off to his side, he gripped the tsuka tightly, and advanced forward. 

4.

            Kazuyoshi sat up using the wall as a support. Various slashes in his armor and hakama revealed open flesh. He could only stem some of the blood flow, but still it oozed freely. He looked up with dazed eyes to a figure approaching. It was a soldier in a rich deep red colored armor, the lacquered plates held together with dark yellow laces, the samurai’s breastplate as adorned with the mon of the Takato. The man replaced his tachi back into its saya and knelt in front of Kazuyoshi. "It appears you killed most of my lords personal guards, but did you think you would get away unscathed?" The hatomoto guard chuckled as he looked at Kazuyoshi. In his present state all Kazuyoshi could do was grimace; a trail of blood escaped his lips. "I will take that as no." The soldier spoke sarcastically to the wounded commander. "There would be a great honor in taking your head, I truly thank you for this opportunity." Gripping the hilt of his knife tightly the soldier drew it out. The floorboards behind the soldier creaked, and he quickly pivoted on his knee turning around, all he saw was the sharp edge of a tachi coming down towards his kabuto, then everything went black.

            Matsumoto Tadamitsu dropped his blood stained tachi to the ground, a large crescent shaped dent, that resembled the curve of a kabuto was in the middle of the blade.

He quickly rushed over to Kazuyoshi kneeling besides him. "Yamagata dono, Yamagata dono!" he yelled as he shook his injured friend. Kazuyoshi opened up his eyes, and a small smile formed in his weak lips. "Tadamitsu, you’re here, it was my hope to meet you in the cent." He let out a chuckle, but soon coughed, more of the red blood trailed down his mouth. "Yamagata dono you will be fine, I will get us out of here!"  Kazuyoshi did not respond to his friend Tadamitsu. "Yamagata dono..." Tadamitsu called out again but was soon interrupted. "Tadamitsu, please, do not call me that, I must confess to you something, I have always considered you my equal, regardless of our differences, please call Takeshi." Tadamitsu was stunned by the words of his wounded comrade. "Tadamitsu, I must ask you to do something for me." Kazuyoshi weakly pushed himself up to a better sitting position. "My son Nobuyoshi, he has grown into a fine man and a soldier, and all fine soldiers need a good sword, please take my tachi to him."  Kazuyoshi patted the tachi tied to his obi. Tadamitsu bowed his head in acknowledgment to Kazuyoshi’s request. "Also I want to give you my nenju, keep them safe, may they serve you as they had served me." Tadamitsu looked down at the large rosary beads that encircled Kazuyoshi’s shoulders. But suddenly the sound of shouts and footsteps were heard in the distance, Tadamitsu turned, being ready with a weapon in case of another attack. Tadamitsu turned back to his friend, Kazuyoshi sat there his eyes still open, but he was motionless. "Takeshi!" Kazuyoshi yelled for his friend, but there was nothing.

            Hirayasu gripped his short-shafted yari tightly. He was a handsome young samurai, not even in his early twenties, one the youngest members of Ankokuji’s garrison. His sweat created through anxiety soaked through the tengui, tied on his head, creating padding for his helmet. Hirayasu had followed reports of break-ins by the enemy; he had stood his post, with a scared readiness. He looked forward, as shouts echoed through the hallway. Hirayasu was startled as his three of his fellow guardsman ran down the hallway, crossing an intersection 20 feet in front the young samurai. He slowly kept backing up, thinking he may face a threat. Still backing up he backed into a hard object; startled so much Hirayasu had loosened his grip on his yari. Hirayasu looked to his side and seen that he had walked into a wooden support beam, drawing a sigh of relief he began to step forward. Suddenly a massive hand grabbed his armors collar, from behind. The hand pulled him back with such force into the beam; it knocked the wind out of his lungs. Hirayasu tried to wrestle forward, but the powerful arm kept him pinned to the beam. The young samurai’s eyes went wide as a short dagger appeared in front of him, from the right side. His pleas for mercy were stop short when the ha of the knife dragged across his throat, the sharp blade scraping against Hirayasu’s spinal column. Soon Hirayasu’s pleas for help turned into gasps for air, as he slowly drowned in his own crimson fluids, he quickly dropped to the floor, limp.  Tadamitsu stepped out from behind the wooden beam; he rubbed the fresh blood off of his hand, onto the beam. He looked down at the body of the dead samurai, kneeling down he picked up the samurai’s spear, and quickly made his way down the hall.

                A trio of guards walked down a stretch of hallway, passing by rows of shoji screens on their right side. The lead guard in front stopped, and turned to his companions. "I will report to his lordship, keep watch, make sure no one goes this way at any cost." The head guard spoke sternly to his underlings. "Hai". They replied while bowing to their commander, who quickly went down the stairs, his waraji pounding the steps. The guard closest to the shoji turned to companion. "Do you think we may make it out of this siege"? "If his lordship leads us correctly, and with some luck we may make it". The other guard replied almost sarcastically. He looked up at his fellow guard and noticed something strange. Behind his companion a shadow in the shoji, of a large figure grew behind the guard. He put his hand on his tachi’s tsuka, his friend looked at him strangely. "What, what is i..." He was soon stopped, by a sudden crash; a slender spear blade broke through the shoji screen, piercing the guard’s armor, and his back, screams of pain echoed down the hallway. With the spear blade still in his flesh, the guard was pushed forward into the other samurai, who quickly moved out of the way, drawing his tachi. The rest of the battered shoji was broken down; a large figure stepped through the opening. The guard looked over him keeping his tachi at ready. The opposing samurai was a large man, his armor held together by reddish brown laces. A major feature of this opponent was the large Buddhist rosaries strung over his chest diagonally. The look in his face was vacant, his eyes seemed to glow with a fierce rage, his tachi quickly went up, its point aimed for the guards throat.

            Tadamitsu stepped over the broken wood and rice paper, towards the guard, who slowly backed up. His companion was lying on the floor, body twitching, the spear still in him; a pool of blood was forming. The guard lunged forward with a stab of his tachi, but was soon knocked off balance, Tadamitsu parrying it to the left, following it with a punch into the guards face. Blood trailed down the guards face as he made another attack, he made a diagonal slash to the right, hoping to catch Tadamitsu’s knee. Tadamitsu, being quicker pulled his left leg back, the slash missing it, Tadamitsu countered with a downward slash onto hips opponent’s wrist. Tadamitsu’s slashed the armor and bit into the flesh of the guard’s wrist, he winced with pain, but did not allow it to take his mind. He stepped back into a defensive posture. His tachi blade up, Tadamitsu moved forward, making a powerful downward slash, the blade was stopped, as the guard lifted his own tachi in a horizontal position. While raising his blade slightly, Tadamitsu slid back quickly, just missing the guard’s horizontal slash, in the same instance Tadamitsu thrusted his blade point forward, into the guard’s right eye. The guard grabbed for the bloodied void, a stream of crimson pouring from between his fingers and down his face. With one precise stroke of his tachi, Tadamitsu removed the guard’s head from his body, causing it to roll to the floor. Looking down at the body, Tadamitsu snapped his tachi down, flinging the blood of the blade; he then returned his tachi to its saya. There was the sound of footsteps behind Tadamitsu, he turned quickly, ready to draw his blade again. Before Tadamitsu stood the general Itagaki Nobukata along with his personal retainers. The sight of the general quickly brought Tadamitsu back to his rationale self, his rage had ceased. Tadamitsu quickly kneeled down before the general, placing his hand on his knee, his eyes downcast. Tadamitsu began to report to his superior "My general I..." but was soon interrupted by Itagaki. "Matsumoto Sama, it appears that you have everything under control here. I must thank you and Yamagata Sama personally for scaring that rat Takato out of his hole, do not worry I had seen to Takato personally. Tadamitsu Sama you and Yamagata Sama will be rewarded for your deeds’. All Tadamitsu could do was bow his head down. "Hai, my general, domo arigato gozaimashita."

It was only a matter of a few minutes that the garrison of Ankokuji had surrendered. Possibly after it was announced Itagaki personally took Takato’s head. The casualties for both sides were counted, most notably killed in action was Takato Yorimune along with his personal hatamoto and some of his captains, among the dead was the body of Yamagata Kazuyoshi, a well known samurai who had served the Takeda since the days of Nobutora

Prologue

Tadamitsu sat on his cushion, in front of his writing table. The fude in his hand glided across his paper. As he wrote about today’s events, he thought back many years, to the events surrounding Ankokuji. After the siege Tadamitsu was awarded for his bravery and his deeds. Takeda Shingen even awarded the deceased Kazuyoshi for his years of service; those honors were passed down to his son. Times have changed afterwards, the head of the Matsumoto family, Tadamitsu’s second cousin, had taken Tadamitsu out of military service, this allowed for his more favorite relatives a better position. He justified this change to Tadamitsu and the rest of the clan by appointing Tadamitsu a record keeper and advisor to the younger samurai, and raised Tadamitsu’s stipend to 150 koku. Tadamitsu missed his military service greatly, he missed out on Shingen's continuing invasion into Shinano, and Tadamitsu also missed the battle of Uehara, the battle where Itagaki Nobukata lost his life in the name of the Takeda.

            Running his aging hand over his shaven head, Tadamitsu’s mind jumped back into the present. Today he celebrated his son Ryoichiro’s genpuku ceremony. Many of Tadamitsu’s closest friends who could attend did, even Yamagata Nobuyoshi attended, fresh from his recovery after the battle of the Fuse. As honorable repayment for Tadamitsu’s friendship to Nobuyoshi’s father and family, Nobuyoshi offered up part of his name for Ryoichiro’s ceremony, the same part his father had given him. Yadamitsu decided on giving his son his adult name, Mitsuyoshi. The thought of this gift made Tadamitsu think back again, about his friend, his companion his equal. Tadamitsu had thought Kazuyoshi to be his brother, and his absence would always be felt.