The Dual Blade Demon

By Squire Davidson

 

            Kenchu Uesugi was the third son of Kensei Uesugi a distinguished and honorable samurai warrior.  Kenchu was rather tall and had long and angular musculature.  This lanky youth was at a disadvantage and mocked as he struggled in the practice of the sword arts.  Kenchu just saw it as a challenge, however, and that mindset ultimately made him historic.  It forced him to work harder in the dojo. The Uesugi clan’s sword master was nothing but frustrated by Kenchu.  His student had difficulty drawing the sword from the scabbard gracefully and seemed to be the least effective apprentice sparing with the bokken.  His father Kensei, who was a master swordsman in his own right, saw his son’s dedication and effort and so took it upon himself to help him.  Kensei realized that the traditional techniques just didn’t seem to favor his son’s linear frame and so began working with him on a unique style that would take advantage of his distinctive physical characteristics.

            Kensei had the Uesugi clan’s sword smith craft two custom unchigatana blades.  The blades were slightly smaller than the traditional katana and easier to wield with one-hand.  Due to Kenchu’s greater than average arm length the katana’s longer blade was excessive.  Kensei had seen many a warrior dead on the battlefield with an undrawn sword in their obi and often pondered that senselessness.  He began training his son with these custom blades on effectively drawing and cutting in one fluid motion as well as the art of two-sword fighting.  His maxim for training was simple, “The only technique that can’t be either blocked or countered was speed.”  Now as a teenager being tall and handsome with a strong tactical mind, it would have been very easy to understand a lackadaisical attitude towards sword training and yet it had the opposite effect.  Kenchu intuitively knew that he had now overcome his weakness and had achieved greatness.   The private training sessions with his father had forged Kenchu into a master swordsman with a matchless and unconventional style, and at the age of fourteen he fought and won his first duel.  At the age of seventeen he came to the aid of his older brother dispatching two opponents and earning the nickname the “Dual Blade Demon.”  Kagehiko didn’t look favorably on the exploits of his younger and more charismatic brother thus driving a wedge between them.  Jealousy is a dangerous emotion amongst siblings.

            The Uesugi clan fought for Ieyasu Tokugawa at Sekigahara though his father died during the run up to the battle.  His father’s death was untimely and happened under mysterious circumstances.  Rumors suggested he was assassinated by a ninja hired by the Oda Clan though Kenchu had his suspicions about Kagehiko’s involvement.  Kenchu’s older brother seeing an opportunity for fame and glory ordered the clan to change sides mid battle to fight for Mitsunari Ishida.   Soon thereafter, Mitsunari was defeated and summarily executed.  Rather than surrender with the rest of the Western Army, the Uesugi clan retreated to a protected though isolated position thus leaving the fate of the clan very uncertain.   After the executions and believing his brother would bring certain end to the Uesugi clan, Kenchu snuck away from camp and made a deal with the Tokugawa.  Upon his return he gathered fellow supporters and so began a war between brothers for control of the clan.  Kagehiko Uesugi was deposed and allowed to commit seppuku in 1602.  Kenchu Uesugi was officially named the daimyo of his clan and in so doing stabilized the domain.   Though now a clear ally of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Uesugi clan still had many enemies.   Surviving members of the Eastern Army weren’t so quick to forgive the clan’s betrayal at the Battle of Sekigahara and those loyal to Mitsunari Ishida thought Kagehiko Uesugi’s retreat was shameful and called for the clan’s banishment.  Even among his family there was dissent.  His younger brother Kato had always favored and even fought alongside Kagehiko.  It was obvious that he held a grudge against his older brother.  The only person Kenchu could trust was Saito.  He held the position of ashigaru kashira and as a long standing friend and captain of his samurai Kenchu relied heavily on his counsel and expertise.  

            Kenchu loved his clan and had put his own life on the line to ensure its safety, and yet he had no love of its daily administration.  Though seeing its necessity, his warrior’s heart couldn’t be quelled by the routine.  In his martial training his father had fostered his love or the arts.  Kenchu was a master of calligraphy and haiku.  He would often partake in the tea ceremony and preferred a game of Igo to court politics.  Immediately after his brother’s death, Kenchu took up the affairs of the clan with much vigor, but as things seemed to become more and more stable his attentions gradually shifted.  His dear friend Saito was very ambitious and eager for more responsibility and so Kenchu shifted some authority to him and Saito handled it exceptionally.  It was at this time that Kenchu encountered Ume.  She was the daughter of a sake merchant and extremely beautiful.  Though a daughter of low birth, Kenchu was taken by her and loved her gentle disposition.  In her arms his experiences of war and death were vague remembrances.  As a man of action he had done what was required for the benefit of his clan and yet his discerning mind allowed him to glimpse the future.  Japan was entering the time of great peace and he deserved to benefit from it.  His courtship to Ume was brief and they were soon married.  Saito was quick to pick up even more responsibility so his lord could enjoy this time with his new bride.  Kenchu was eternally grateful.

            It was in the spring of 1604 that Ume shared the news of her pregnancy.  Kenchu had never been happier in his life.  That evening Saito and he drank their fill and talked about days long pasted.  If it hadn’t been for the excess sake and general merriment, Kenchu probably would have noticed something odd about Saito’s behavior.  Late that evening Saito had some of his samurai escort their Lord to his home where they stood guard.  That next morning Kenchu awoke, his head pounding, hardly a remembrance from the night before.  Ume was smiling at him and teased him about his adolescent behavior.  He beamed, “Your news has placed some sort of spell over me and I can’t seem to contain myself.”

            “Yes.  It is a blessing.  Perhaps you shouldn’t exert yourself today, my love.”

            Kenchu attempted to sit up in bed then fell back down.  “Yes, you might be right.”

            “Let me get you some tea, my love.”

            “Thank you.”

            “I will have Izumi put together some food for us.  If you like we can take a picnic to see the cherry blossoms.  I saw that they have started to bloom.”

            “That would be splendid.  I am very lucky.”

            “I will see to the preparations.”  Ume bows and leaves the room.

            Kenchu falling back asleep was shortly awakened with a kiss from the beautiful Ume.  He grabbed her and pulled her close her giggling the entire time.  In that moment he believed he was still asleep dreaming of gokuraku a land of heavenly Buddhas.  She lightly slapped him across the cheek before kissing him, “Okay my love, you’ve had your fun.  Let’s go as I’m very hungry how that I am eating for two.”

            The Lord of the Uesugi clan got up and dressed in a light kimono.  He dawned his daisho, the matching swords that symbolized his stature and then he and Ume proceed out to the courtyard.  Kenchu gracefully mounted his steed as Ume stepped into the norimono.  Kenchu gave the order and the troop headed out.  Kenchu on horseback pulled alongside the palanquin and whispered to Ume.  She couldn’t hear him, but perceived the footfalls of a horse and slid the door ajar.

            Kenchu didn’t notice, and yelled at the norimono carters, “Not so bumpy.”

            “Yes my Lord.”

            Ume rebuffs him quietly, “I am quite alright my love.  I believe we are almost there.”

            Kenchu smiled thinking of holding her in his arms under a cherry blossom tree.  They soon arrive at the destination and the members of the royal court began setting up for their lord and his lady.  Soon they were together again eating artistically prepared snacks of fish, rice and sweets and enjoying the white and pink blossoms.

            Kenchu so full of love and beauty remarked, “These blossoms are scattered by the wind and the wind cares nothing, but the blossoms of my heart no wind can touch.”  Ume blushed as pink as any cherry blossom.

            In moments Kenchu’s attention was redirected.  “Do hear that?”  He yelled to his distant guard of two samurai.

            “No, my Lord.”

            “Two horses are approaching.  See to Ume that she is ready to leave.”

            “Yes, my Lord.”

            Ume’s mouth was agape as she was rushed back to the norimono.

            The two horsemen were fast approaching as Kenchu mounted his steed.  Now that the riders were closer it was clear that they were Uesugi clansman.  Kenchu and two samurai bodyguards rode out to meet them.

            “My Lord,” Kato bowed slightly, “Izumi your wife’s chambermaid has been kidnapped.”

            “How can this be?!”

            “My Lord, it seems that some bandits have taken her to the abandoned temple near Mount Kamewari.”

            Kenchu always a man of action gave the order, “Kato take Ume and the royal entourage back to the castle.  Make sure nothing happens to her.”  Kenchu was in full warrior mode.  “You three men come with me.”

            “Yes my Lord,” they all responded in unison.

            Kenchu rode up along the palanquin where Ume was seated inside.  There were tears in her eyes.  “I will get Izumi back.  I will not tolerate bandits in our lands terrorizing innocent people.”

            Ume choked back the tears for a moment, “Be careful, my love.”

            Kenchu struck his horse’s hindquarters with a loud “Yaahh!” and he and three samurai galloped towards the abandoned temple.

            The warriors were one ri away from the temple when a zipping sound passed Kenchu’s ear and then one of his men fell from his horse.  “We are under attack!”  Another zip and another samurai was hit in the shoulder with an arrow.  Kenchu, his senses heightened surveyed the surroundings and captured the two archers in his line of sight.  He bore down on his steed and pointed it directly towards the two assailants.  “Single file behind me,” he yelled as he stood in the stirrups both swords drawn.  Arrows kept flying towards him though he was knocking them out of the air with his paired uchigatana.  The archers were fumbling in fear as the “Dual Blade Demon” overran their position, and were easily dispatched.  Kenchu dismounted and commanded his samurai to do the same.  Speaking to Hayate, “Let me see your shoulder.”  The samurai took a knee in front of his master.  Kenchu examined the wound.  The arrowhead was lodged deeply in the musculature of his shoulder.  “I need to push it through and break off the tip to get it out.”

            “Yes my Lord.  I am sorry my Lord.  I should have been…”

            “Say no more of it.”  Kenchu used this distraction to catch Hayate unaware and forced the arrow out above his shoulder blade while breaking off the blades tip.  Hayate screamed in pain.

            “Osamu, keep pressure while I bandage this up.”

            “Yes, my Lord.”

            As Kenchu was working with the bandages, he spoke in a whispered voice.  “Men, there is something not right about this.”  He paused, and then continues, “These archers, these are not bandits but trained soldiers.”

            Hayate gulped down several breaths before speaking, “Could they be ronin from Sekigahara.”

            “Unsure, but I think the Oda clan is behind this.  No matter, this is definitely a trap.  One of the archers shot off a signal arrow before he was killed.”

            “My Lord how do you wish us to proceed?”

            “By now Kato should have arrived back at the castle and informed Saito of the situation.  We head back.  They will expect us to continue onto the temple where I’m sure they have fortified their position.  If Buddha is with us we will meet up with Saito on the road and head back with reinforcements.  If not, once they realize we have discovered their plan, they will pursue us.  If so, we prepare to defend ourselves in the clearing near the Chubu trail.  Osamu, grab this archery equipment and if we hear horseman take higher ground and take out any rifleman they might have.”

            He grabbed the yumi and ya from the two archers, “Yes my Lord.”

            “Be watchful for ninja.”

            “My Lord, you’ve seen a ninja?”  Hayate’s voice cracked and Kenchu shook his head.  In unison they inquired, “Then how do--.”

            “Because if I had planned this ruse that what I’d have done.”  The two samurai bowed and prepared to mount their horses.  Kenchu gracefully mounted his steed and headed out at full gallop with his two men in tow. 

            Just before the Chubu trail head Kenchu sensed something was wrong and sent Osamu to higher ground.  “Remember, if you see any rifleman take them out first, but if not wait for my signal.”

            “Yes, my Lord.”

            Shortly thereafter Sato and his men arrive.  He had seven men and a palanquin in tow.  This was very strange.  Kenchu began to addresses Saito, but Saito spoke first.  “My Lord, I am glad to see you are unharmed.”

            “Saito, the palanquin…  What is it doing-- Is that Lady Ume?”

            “Yes, my Lord. I fear that Kato tried to deceive you.  The chambermaid was a ruse and his target was Lady Ume all along.”  He paused for a moment.  “I brought Lady Ume here for her protection.”

            “And Kato?”

            “Dead, my Lord.”  The palanquin had moved closer now and a samurai with a drawn sword stood within striking distance of it.  Kenchu’s warrior senses were taking in the entire scene, and Saito’s behavior was creating far more questions than he was providing.  Why is Ume here?  That guard seemed to be prepared to strike her down if signaled.  Kato might be angry, but not calculating enough for a plot like this.  Has Saito made a move against me?  Using Kato as his scapegoat?   Kenchu realized his next move will decide the outcome.

            Kenchu dismounted and starts walking towards the palanquin.  Sato interjected, “My Lord please for your safety, please stay where you are.”

            “Your Lord, needs to check on the wellbeing of Lady Ume.”  He continued walking.

            “My Lord...  I must insist.”  Kenchu was almost at the sliding door.  He feinted opening it, but draws and turns in a lighting motion striking down the samurai guarding the palanquin.  Saito shouts, “My Lord—“

            Kenchu momentum spun him around back facing towards Saito.  He flicked his blade removing the blood on it and returned it to its scabbard.  In a booming voice,” Saito, did you not recognize that samurai as one of Kato’s men?  Why else would he have a drawn blade in Lady Ume’s presence?”

            “Yes my Lord.”

            Kenchu began walking back towards his steed.  He now had much more information than moments before and one less adversary.  It was clear to him that Saito was behind this treachery, yet not everyone here was committed to the deception.  Had it been otherwise Saito would have already attacked, or he was simply waiting for the “bandits” to arrive.  Either way, Kenchu realized he needed to use this to his advantage.  Worst case was that Saito has six samurai on mounted horse against a wounded Hayate and him.  Osamu had eight arrows and the high ground, but Kenchu knew not to expect more than one or two kills from him at best.  He must have Saito show his hand before the bandits arrive.  “Saito, do you have any solid proof of Kato’s treachery.”

            “No my Lord.  What I have said can be vouched for by my men here.”

            Kenchu shook his head and then dismounted.  “I see,” making his way back towards the palanquin.  “I wonder if Lady Ume will also collaborate this story.”

            Saito now visibly upset, “My Lord.  I must insist you stand your ground.”

            Kenchu addressed the six remaining samurai.  “I am your Lord.  I am the DUAL BLADE DEMON!”  Drawing his blades and moving towards them.  “You don’t think I know what is going on here.  You can die now with Saito by my blades or you can die by beheading as traitors.”  Kenchu paused, “Or you can return to the castle now and kiss your wives and hold your children as my loyal subjects.  The choice is yours.”

            Saito and Kenchu both scanned the men’s faces.  All I need is one, Kenchu thought to himself.  If one samurai wasn’t too proud to leave than more would follow.  Kenchu saw one samurai, a new recruit and the youngest of the six, his resolve was wavering.  Kenchu knew he had never seen battle and he had heard the tales of his Lord’s skill and bravery in combat.  He even knew his father had been a good and honorable samurai.  Kenchu pointed his sword tip at him, but spoke in a maternal voice, “Boy, you do not belong here with these men.  I fought alongside your father.  He was an honorable man.  Go home.  Do not tarnish your family name.”

            The young samurai staring directly at the ground whispered slightly, “Yes my Lord.”  He turned and left.

            Saito was silent, but his face was flush and his breathing heavy.  His perfect plan was unraveling; his Lord had dispatched two of his men.  In his mind he was screaming, “WHERE THE HELL IS THE ODA CLAN!”

            Kenchu knew the tides had turned in his favor.  Now to go one better, “Osamu is in that clearing over there waiting for my signal to kill you.  He is an excellent archer, but it is not too late for you to take my offer.  Leave know and be spared.”

            One of the samurai glanced at Saito and turned his horse quickly around.  He and another samurai take off at full gallop.  Saito was enraged, “Enough of this!  Men kill them.”  The three remaining horseman readied themselves to attack.  Hayate drew his sword while Kenchu ran over to the palanquin.  He threw the door open and found Ume inside bound and gagged.  He released her from bondage while Hayate did his best to slow the advance of the galloping samurai.  Hayate was of no interest to them, they knew their survival depended of killing their Lord.  Just then a zipping sound and one of the samurai fell from his horse.  As the other two dismount using their horse’s body as shields, Kenchu commanded Ume, “Run!  Run to that clearing.  Osamu is there.  Go as fast as you can and have him take you to safety.”

            “My Love, I—“

            “This is your Lord’s orders, NOW GO!”  Ume took off running in the direction of Osamu, and watching her go saddened him so.  The thought that his last words to her might be so harsh troubled him, and yet she was carrying the future of the clan in her womb.  It could not be helped, and as the wife of a samurai she’d understand this.  Kenchu issued one final command before unleashing the Dual Blade Demon.  The norimono carriers were shaking and hiding behind the palanquin.  “Are you still loyal to your Lord?”  They both nodded in fear.  “You run!  Run to the castle and tell all about the treachery you have seen here today.  Whatever the outcome, the truth of these events needs to be told.”

            “You have our word me Lord,” and with that they took off running.

            While Kenchu had been dealing with the actions surrounding the palanquin he had missed the heroic death of Hayate.  He had fought valiantly and bought Kenchu the time he had needed to rescue Ume.  Kenchu was now free.  There was no one or nothing else to worry himself with other than the three remaining samurai wanting to kill him. That suited him just fine.  Kenchu heard the sounds of hoof falls in the distance and knew he had to press the fight to a conclusion before they arrived.  He ran straight at the samurai and Saito who were still cowering behind their horses.  Good he thought, their attention is divided, while mine is as clear as crystal.  Kenchu engaged with the first samurai and dispatched him with a single blow.  Saito and the remaining samurai attack simultaneously and their blows were easily parried by his dual blades.  Kenchu spoke to Saito while he was fighting the other foe.  “You are a fool!  You were always ambition but—“

            Saito snickered, “Nice talk coming from a lone man about to die!”

            Kenchu blocked another blow from Saito and simultaneously slashed the other samurai with a diagonal stroke across the chest.  The traitorous samurai dropped to the ground dead.  Saito took several steps back while looking over his shoulder.  About ten men were advancing quickly form the direction of the temple.  It was obvious to Kenchu that Saito had thought better of a continued attack and planned on waiting for reinforcements.   Kenchu took the opportunity to plant a seed in his mind.  “Why do you think it took them so long?  You know the Oda clan cannot be trusted.  What did they promise you?  Money?  Title?  Do you really believe the Oda clan would ever reward a traitor?  It is more likely they’d let you dirty your hands and then ride in to take the credit.  Afterwards, they kill you and your men.  The Oda clan cannot afford any witnesses.”

            Saito mounted his horse as the Oda Clan arrived. This action told Kenchu he had gotten under his skin.  Kenchu figured he wanted to look more impressive when the Oda arrived or he was planning to escape.  Either way, Kenchu knew Saito was now in doubt.  Kenchu mocked, “It is best that you retreated as I was about to have struck you down!”

            The Oda samurais dismounted and circled Kenchu.  Saito is off to the far right still on his horse.  A bald warrior with a mustache and a spear spoke, “I am Toshishiro of the Oda clan.”

            “I know who you are.”

            “Very well, we will speak plainly,” he responded.

            “You are on Uesugi clan land.  I am a loyal daimyo of the Tokogawa Shogunate.  Leave now and no more will come of this.”

            Toshihiro laughed and as he started his men followed.  “My dear Kenchu...  I see everything they are saying about you is true.  You are a great warrior, but no skill with politics.”  Toshihiro paused, then, “You see it is because of the Shogun that we are here.”  This one statement confirmed to Kenchu that the plan in motion necessitated his bloodline not seeing another sunrise.  At least Ume escaped, so there was a chance for the future of the Uesugi clan.

            It is at that moment that Kenchu heard a sound from the clearing.  He turned and gasped in disbelief.  There he spied a ninja with a knife at Ume’s throat and Osamu’s head in his hand.  The ninja walked over to where Toshihiro was standing. The assassin threw Osamu’s head and it rolled towards Kenchu’s feet.  Toshihiro and his samurai laughed.

            Kenchu knew that he had lost.  It is accurate that a true samurai would never give up, and yet Kenchu had always been pragmatic.  The count was twelve to one, and Ume was their hostage.  He had only one move left thought it didn’t do much to help his situation.  At least there was a chance it might bear some sort of untold fruit.  This Toshihiro was rather talkative.  Perhaps he could manipulate that to some advantage.  “If I am going to die here buy your hand, then at least tell me why.”

            “Why.  You want to know why?  Very well...  Your father’s reputation...  Ieyasu was concerned that when the Eastern Army won your father’s reputation would be too great and his own aspirations might interfere with the Tokogawa’s master plan.  I mean the peasants loved him.  Did you know that he had followers that thought he was the Avatar of Bishamonten.  They called him Kensei god of war.”  Kenchu couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  “So Ieyasu had him killed before the battle.”

            “That isn’t true,” Kenchu screamed.

            “True well, you don’t have to believe me, but the proof has a knife to your wife’s throat.”  Kenchu’s face became flush and his breathing strained like a dozen sacks of rice on top of his chest.  The ninja gestured in the affirmative.  “Your brother found out the truth and that is why he changed sides during the battle.”  Kenchu couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  Why hadn’t his brother shared this with him?  “So then you offer to take out your own brother and Ieyasu figured why not.  If you killed your own brother he didn’t have to worry about the truth of the assassination every getting out.”  Toshihiro smirked, “the problem became that after you defeated your brother the tales of the Dual Blade Demon began to grow and grow.  Ieyasu was concerned about you taking over your fathers influence.  His ministers recommended using that to their advantage and forcing a marriage to one of his daughters, but before that could happen you rushed out and married the daughter of a sake merchant.”  Toshihiro shook his head in disgust.  “She is beautiful, I will give you that.” 

            Kenchu had heard enough though he knew the truth when he heard it.  As a master of Igo he appreciated that he had been a piece in a larger game and hadn’t even realized it.  Now, none of that mattered, and Kenchu only had a final request.  “I see what you say to be truth and my time soon over.  Please let me share one finally embrace with my wife.”

            The ninja and Toshihiro lock eyes and the loquacious samurai nodded his head.  The ninja pushed Ume towards Kenchu.  The two embraced.  Ume, tears running down her cheeks, spoke first, “My love...”

            “I am so sorry.  I love you my dear Ume.”

            “Do not be sad my love, I’d not trade a moment of my life for anything—“.  A horse’s naying interrupted the lover’s exchange as Saito, who’d fallen out of everyone’s mind, broke through the circle of warriors.  Upon approaching his Lord he dismounted and Kenchu jumped in the saddle.  As he did Saito lifted Ume on back and hit the horse’s hindquarters with a loud scream.  In an instant the horse was at full gallop with Kenchu knocking over one of the warriors as they broke free.  Saito, a master warrior in his own right, knew that Kenchu and Ume were not out of danger as Toshihiro had two riflemen preparing to fire.  He realized he must take them out.  His Lord and Lady’s survival was his only salvation.  If he failed all was for naught.  Saito swiftly killed one samurai who was guarding the rifleman.  They were both focused on preparing their matchlock rifles, so not completely aware how quickly Saito was closing in on them.  He felt three throwing stars in his back as he dispatched the first rifleman.  Saito succeeded in preventing him getting that shot off.  Saito heard a thundering boom and saw the smoke as he slashed through the head of the second rifleman.

            Saito fell on both knees, his body beginning to stiffen as his sword fell from his lethargic hand.  “That’s poison you are feeling now,” Toshihiro taunted.  “I guess your change of loyalty is short lived,” he quipped as he stabbed Saito in the throat with his spear.

            Kenchu under full gallop and away from his enemies allowed himself a moment of contentment.  Perhaps Ume and he would grow old together after all he thought to himself as a small smiled emerged on his face.  The smile left quickly as he heard the shot and felt Ume’s hands lightly drop their grip around his waist.  Lord Buddha he pleaded, please not this, anything but this.  Kenchu stopped his horse and turned to see that Ume had been shot and killed.  In that moment life slowed down to a crawl as the truth of the situation traveled from his eyes to his brain.  Kenchu dismounted and walked his horse over to a nearby tree.  He took Ume’s lifeless body and propped it up against the tree, “I am so sorry my love.”  Kenchu had been trained to be in command of his emotions, but never had he been prepared for emotions like these.  Tears poured down his face as he took on last look at his dear Ume.  He softly stroked her long dark hair and gave her a sweet kiss.  “My love,” he said in a voice he only reserved for their sleeping chamber, “I will avenge you.”

            Kenchu grabbed the horse’s bridle and walked out beyond the tree.  He had a clear view of the enemy.  He stared at eight men in the distance.   These same men had turned his best friend against him, killed his wife and father, and now threatened his life and that of his clan.  Kenchu killed his own brother for far less.  His brother who it now seems was acting to avenge their father.   I am sorry Kagehiko for my vanity and disrespect he espoused to himself.  Eight men or eighty men made no difference to him, they all needed to die.  As Kenchu prepared to mount his steed, he noticed something unusual in Saito’s saddle bag.  Upon opening it he saw a flask of gunpowder, flint and several wicks.  What was Saito planning Kenchu wondered?  No matter, if I time this right it might work to my advantage.  Kenchu lit the wick and stuck the unlit end in the flask then gracefully entered the saddle and began moving forward.

            Toshihiro’s men were feeling restless.  The pace that Kenchu wass moving towards them was infuriatingly slow so they moved to mount their horses.  Toshihiro scolded, “Stay where you are.  We take him out soon enough.  He is up to something, don’t--”.

            His men back down except for two.  Seeing an opportunity to make a name for themselves they head out at a full gallop.  Toshihiro shook his head, “If they come back alive, kill them.”

            “Yes my Lord,” the remaining samurai all agreed.

            Kenchu saw the samurai galloping towards him though still quite a distance away.  He kicked his horse signaling to pick up the pace and drew a single unchigatana blade.  He appreciated that a conflict on horseback would be about exactness rather than speediness.  He looked at the burning wick then realized it wasn’t time.  Not quite yet.  The samurai were getting closer, one behind the other.  He glanced at the wick again before striking the horse’s hindquarter with the back of his blade.  Galloping at full speed towards the two men, he saw clearly what needed to happen.  As he approached the first rider, he slid in the saddle to a right angle barely able to hold on, but from here he took out the horse’s front leg with his sword.  The horse instantly crashed to the ground and the rider flown forward landed on his head and broke his neck.  The next rider witnessing this began slowing down his assault just as Kenchu had anticipated.  He forced his horse to go faster and over took the rider removing his head in a single swing of the blade.

            Kenchu paused a moment sitting tall in the saddle.  The remaining samurai held their positions and in so doing reveal their strategy.  Toshihiro a master spearman was planning on demounting him and then the others would pounce.  Kenchu took one final look at the burning wick then took off towards them at full speed.  Almost…  Almost he thought to himself as he approached them.  Now!  He screamed in his mind as he leapt from the horse and rolled away.  The burning wick ignited the gunpowder right as the horse neared the six warriors.  The grenade-type explosion took out the loyal steed but also two men and dazed the others.  Kenchu was up and running, both swords drawn, towards the remaining samurai.  The first samurai he dispatched, still stunned by the blast, wasn’t even able to lift his sword in defense.  The subsequent samurai fell for his feint, and so was stuck down with the lighting speed of his second attack.  The next samurai attacked, but far too slowly and Kenchu’s block and thrust found his throat.

            Off to his right side, Kenchu saw Toshihiro and the last samurai standing beside him, but not the ninja.  He must keep alert for the ninja he thought.  Toshihiro began a series of thrusting spear attacks while the samurai attempted an overhead blow.  Kenchu succeeded in evading the onslaught, but a sliver of doubt spilt his mind.  He finally felt the overwhelming physical and emotional fatigue.  Toshihiro was the best spearman he had ever faced.  At one hundred percent he’d be a challenging opponent, but Kenchu wasn’t even half that and he wasn’t only dealing with one opponent.  He hadn’t yet seen the ninja, the murder of his father, and this weighed heavily on his mind.  Just then a spear grazed his left thigh.  The wound wasn’t deep, but the pain was severe and just what he needed to focus his warrior’s mind.  Kenchu was now on the defensive a very unusual place for him to be.  He managed to block, parry or evade spear and sword attacks that seemed to be coming from all sides until…  Tharp, tharp.  Like a thousand bee stings two shuriken pierced his right side.  Poisonous, no doubt.  Instantaneously, a steel chain wrapped around his neck as the weighted end knocked him in the mouth splitting his lip.  The ninja immediately choked up on the chain and now he was behind him with the sickle of his kusarigama within striking distance of his neck.

              Kenchu watched as Toshihiro and the samurai shifted from attack mode and relaxed somewhat.  With a chain around his neck making it hard to breath and the poison cursing through his veins Kenchu dropped to both knees, his dual blades beyond his reach on the ground while his hands strained at the chain.

            This is the end for you,” Toshihiro jeered as he approached wearing a giant smile.

            Toshihiro and the samurai were now just close enough, and with sheer determination Kenchu pulled the shurikens from his side and hurled one at Toshiro and the other at the samurai, both hitting their targets.  “Now we all die together,” Kenchu barely managed.

            Toshihiro was delighted and his face showed it.  “You just keep surprising me.”  He pulled the shuriken from his shoulder and threw it to the ground.  Toshihiro was only a spear length away now, and a quick thrust could have easily ended his life.  Toshihiro looked at the ninja, “I know you must have an anecdote.  I have never met a poisoner who didn’t carry an anecdote just in case they accidently—.“   The ninja gestured affirmatively.  “Splendid.  Kenchu, I am now going to kill you, then take the anecdote, and make sure the Uesugi clan is removed from the annals of history.”

            Figuring Toshihiro hadn’t finished gloating, Kenchu attempted to speak, but was barely audible due to the pressure on his wind pipe and the paralyzing effect of the poison. Toshihiro moved even closer, the spear just resting on Kenchu’s shoulder, ready to strike its final blow.  Kenchu grabbed the spear head with his left hand and using a smashing blow with his forearm broke the shaft.  He slumped backwards now with a makeshift dagger in his hand and stabbed the ninja in the stomach splitting him open.  The force of the shaft breaking caught Toshihiro of guard, and with his muscles weakened form the poison he lost balance.  Kenchu crawled over to the ninja’s body and found a small pellet that he assumed was the antidote and swallowed it.  In moments he felt his strength returning and made it to his feet.   

            Kenchu and the samurai were both on their knees, the effects of the poison now obvious by the expressions on their faces.  Kenchu picked up his dual blades and walked towards the samurai.  Speaking to Toshihiro he remarked, “I had attempted to say, a samurai talks less and acts more.”  Kenchu stabbed the samurai in the chest killing him instantly.  Looking at Toshihiro, silent for the first time since their meeting, “You will not die quickly,” he remarked as he stabbed him in the stomach.  Kenchu flicked the sword blades removing Toshihiro’s and the Oda clansmen’s blood from their edges and returned them to their scabbards.  Kenchu continued, “Know this Toshihiro.  You did succeed in ending the Uesugi clan his day, the Dual Blade Demon is no more.”  Toshihiro gasped and spit up blood as he listened.  “I am now the Avatar of Bishamonten.  History will remember me as Kenchu god of war!”   

           

                 

Demon is no more.”  Toshihiro gasped and spit up blood as he listened.  “I am now the Avatar of Bishamonten.  History will remember me as Kenchu god of war!”