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by Nagaeyari

Youhachirou crouched in the mud. The black semi-solid enveloped him. All that could be seen were the fronts of faces, upturned, functioning as snorkels. A war-cry was heard in the distance. The savage monks of Mt. Hiei were coming. It was only a matter of time, and Youhachirou and his fellow regiment would have to face them.

Screams and sounds of steel-on-bone contact bounced from tree to tree in the dense, deep green colored forest. The leaves blanketed the ground. They fell slowly, spinning, to the mud below. Youhachirou made the mud above his chest wiggle as he breathed in deeply. The commander of his unit rose out of the waist high mud, and drew his sword. Its shine was magnified by the dark, muddy pit. The area of the hiding regiment stretched for about thirty feet, either way, a constant borage of mud and dirt. On a higher level, all around the mud, the scenic, and vivid, forest protruded.

The commander yelled forth in a voice that seemed to shake the mud off of his body. The rest of the company, hearing his orders, rose out of the mud. They had the muck caked onto them. The smell permeated through their plugged noses.

'The smell of a dead body...if this mere mud makes you cringe, turn back now!' At this, from the leader, two of the soldiers ran through the mud. They could barely run in the thick soup.

The leader, raising his legs high, ran after them. His muddy hair rose and fell as he made chase. The strands of hair that had loosened from his topknot, soaked with mud, left dirt marks on his already muddy forehead. The whole regiment was dirty black. The leader dove after them, jumping clear out of the mud, but they were out of reach. Sending mud in the air, he splashed down into the thick substance. He rose quickly, wiping the mud off of his face enough, so as to see, and whistled loudly. He raised his sword high into the air, mud sliding down its smooth surface.

Something unnatural sounded. It happened so fast, that the sound seemed to blend with screams-two of them. Arrows had been fired. The two runaways morbidly yelped as the wide circumferenced projectiles penetrated their skin. The sound, as the arrows finished their job, was like a slashing thump. The sound is not given justice by words.

The victims continued to scream. Blood trailed to the end of the arrows, and soaked in the feathers. They looked down. The arrow tip on one had gone completely through the body and through the clothes. He stared straight at it, lightly fondling it, trying with his limited strength to pull it out. The other arrow had almost made its way out of the dark, but stopped short. It made a bulge of the skin, it being so close. He reached to his back to try to pull the arrow out. The other tried snapping the arrow head off, in order to push it back through, but was too weak. He fell over into the mud. The blood that now heavily flowed made streams on the top it. The man who had fallen slowly sank, until all that was visible was a bloody feather at the end of the arrow. The leader had caught up to the other, by now, and the victim and his head, separated, also sank into the dark shallow mirk.

The leader, wiping the blood from his sword with a barely clean tissue, looked up into the trees and smiled. Youhachirou lifted his eyes and saw multiple archers perched like owls. He had not even noticed them, and it was likely that the monks would not either. The leader yelled an unintelligible sound and it was answered by another. He yelled out again:

'East!' The reply to that was 'West!' The army must have been weeding out possible future no-shows or turncoats.

Youhachirou looked at the head. The eyes still peaked out from within their grave. Youhachirou saw the face of a friend, not a foe. To have this man killed did not help the army at all. If they would have just let the man go, the situation still would have been fine, if fighting in a war was a fine situation. But the ways of war and politics were not for Youhachirou’s comprehension. It was not that Youhachirou was an idiot, but that he did not care, or take the time, to understand such things. Since his leader was doing it, it must have been right, at least in Youhachirou’s mind. Such was the trust between retainer and leader.

The monks were closing in, and had already met with multiple regiments. The one that Youhachirou belonged to would take the brunt of the monks’ eastern army. The western, Youhachirou thought, was not his concern.

As Youhachirou looked out from his muddy enclosure, to the top of the hill that sloped down into this mud hole, heads rose in the distance. The monks had finally made their way to the 4th regiment, being Youhachirou’s. The monk’s 3rd had already passed over, that being the reason for their hiding in the mud. They were not equipped to fight a regiment so large as the great 3rd.

The monks, with ferocity, sped down the hill, bearing swords and naginata. As the first wave of religious warriors reached the mud, they were pelted with arrows and met the same sinking death as the two earlier men. The next wave jumped into the mud, while the archers pulled their arrows out of their quivers. The monks were fast, not letting their legs be bogged down by the thickness of the mud, they raised their legs high.

Youhachirou and his fellow soldiers were surrounded by monks. The monks ran, with a struggle, through the almost solid mud. One of the monks swung his naginata at Youhachirou. The monk had the naginata behind his back, with the blade pointing down and the blunt end pointing upwards, toward the sky. He then brought it in front of his body, and spun it above his head, with both hands, and brought it out of the spin by slicing horizontally at Youhachirou, finishing with the spear far past his left shoulder. The monk had used momentum to his best advantage. Youhachirou ducked and submerged himself. It was impossible to see in the mud, therefore Youhachirou did not attempt it. He, pushing off the ground, still underwater, neared the monk who had tried to swing at him. The monk stabbed and sliced the area where Youhachirou had submerged. The mud left itself caked onto the blade. Mud, then the next slice, more mud, then the next...blood. Thick blood that dripped off of the steel-blood that mingled with the dirt. The monk was satisfied, and turned to engage himself with some other opponent, but was stopped short. Youhachirou suddenly rose out of the mud, and drawing his sword from its sheath, sending mud flying, cut the monk in the back. The sound of steel flying in the air was a prerequisite for the solid sound of the sword biting into the armor of the enemy. Youhachirou’s sword stuttered, and slid. Youhachirou drew his sword far to the right of his body, holding it high, and sliced downward again, igniting the morbid sound of bone and muscle tearing. Deep red blood thinly sprayed upward along the crevasse of the cut. The monk turned around, slowly, shocked to see a completely black figure, gasping for breath, holding a bloody sword. Youhachirou’s eyes, the monk internally noted, seemed ravaging and intense. His teeth were gritted and showing, his nose curled and his forehead wrinkled in a beastly expression, as he rose and fell in intense breathing. The monk looked down at the mud, and saw blood. A puddle of slowly sinking blood lay where his back had been. He screamed in pain as he dropped to his knees, coughing and spitting, adding to the red puddle. His teeth were red, and his tongue was stained. The blood followed the lines of his face, around his mouth, at first, then flowed out, with no partiality to route. He felt himself emptying out. The monk was then relieved of his head. It stared upward, in a contemplative stare. Youhachirou grabbed the head of his enemy, which he had personally taken, and threw it on the shore, fifteen or so feet away, hoping he could reclaim it later. As the head flew through the air, mud and blood slung off of it, creating a flying banner of death.

The mud where Youhachirou had submerged had not yet filled back in, for that was how fast, and how unpredictable, war was. Youhachirou reached through the mud to pull up a headless body. The thing that the monk had cut had, indeed, been an already dead man. It was one of the first victims of this war, one of Youhachirou’s companions, and Youhachirou quickly nodded his head in reverence to his friend for saving his life, even from beyond the grave.

The tides of battle had favored...someone. Youhachirou had been fighting another monk, when something happened. He was not sure what. All that he knew was that his fellow soldiers were dropping dead, in the mud. Youhachirou looked up. The archers were gone. It had only been five to ten minutes, and the archers had disappeared. Then an arrow had struck him. It went through his tricep and into the side of his body. The painful impact drove him to stumble. The monks had then left. Youhachirou was laying on the bottom of the mud lake, half suspended. Bubbles managed to push their way up to the surface.

The soldiers of the 4th regiment, opposite the monks, were now desolate and gone. All of the soldiers laid dead, slowly sinking in the thick mud that darkened their bodies. The monks, finishing off the 4th regiment, had left and tore through the rest of the 5th-9th regiments on the eastern side. The 4th regiment had had the upper hand, but in a split second-Youhachirou did not know which-they lost. It was a massacre that did not seem earthly. How could these monks fell so many warriors? How could they decimate the army so fast? How could the secret, hidden archers fail at their task so badly?

Youhachirou lay, now, on the bank. He had risen out of the mud, again, not easily, and slowly walked to shore. He groaned at his injury. The mud made it hurt even worse. He coughed up grayed mucus. His breathing was sharply pained. He lay on his back, propped up by his elbows and forearms laying parallel to the ground. He breathed slowly, shaking. When he breathed slower, the pain lessened. He still shook from the initial breath he had taken. When the arrow had driven into his side, he had shrieked in pain, taking a long suspended, winded breath. It had made him dizzy. He couldn’t compose himself at the time. Youhachirou lay on the bank, wary of his perimeter. He continued his labored breathing. He was building up his courage, his stamina.

Youhachirou sat up and picked a twig up from the ground. He threw it and picked up a thicker one. He placed it in his mouth and bit down hard. Then, with unsure hands, he tried to grab the arrow shaft. He quickly sprang back in pain and let go. The slightest movement had perturbed it. He bit down hard in pain and lay back, squinting terribly. His screams were muffled by the stick. He lay back on the ground and threw the stick away gently, careful not to aggravate the wound, or push the shaft around. He would wait...wait for his pain to decrease...waiting in vain.