When Mai and Sana finally regained consciousness, they found themselves in a small shinobi village nestled within a mountain range. Since full sunlight only occurred at noontime when the sun shone directly over the mountains, nothing grew here; the village subsisted on small game hunted in the surrounding forests and grasslands, as well as any fruits or vegetables they could forage. Since the village flooded often, every house sat on tall stilts, with wooden stairways leading to each door. A narrow, winding dirt road led into the village, and that path emanated from a cavern in one of the mountains. The enemy forces would have a difficult time locating where these shinobi lived.
The leader of the shinobi, who went by the name Hiroshi, set Mai and Sana to work after they awakened. The two young women had to exchange their fancy dando for simple brown kimono not only to keep Mai from betraying the village with her incredible strength, but also to show the women that they held no special favor.
In Hiroshi's house -- twice as large as the others, and the headquarters of the village -- Mai and Sana swept the floors, washed the clothes, cleaned captured weapons, and prepared meals, among many other tasks. Mai found all of the work familiar and even reassuring, but Sana struggled with even simple tasks like drawing water from the well, for she had never once worked with her hands. Over the following days, however, Sana learned how to do her tasks correctly, though not as skillfully as Mai. As they worked, news of the outside came in; the enemy damiyo Terauchi Saruemon had been assassinated, Hanoba's troops had not been able to retake a single village, and Rinié's generals are seeking allies to ensure Hanoba's complete destruction. However, they heard nothing of Bai-an, so Mai and Sana still saw hope.
Two weeks had passed, and the two young women had grown used to their daily routine. They became familiar with several of the shinobi, and became very well-liked. One day, while sitting in a corner of Hiroshi's house set aside for knitting, Sana attempted to fix a torn haori but couldn't figure out how to use the needle. Mai, noticing her distress, decided to help.
"That's not quite right. You move the needle through like so," Mai said, showing Sana how to place the large wooden needle through the cloth. Mai demonstrated how to fix one tear so Sana could do another for herself. This time, she threaded the needle much better than before, though the result looked crude.
"I don't know how you do it," Sana said to Mai.
Mai patted Sana on the back. "Don't worry so much. Even I messed up when I first did it," she answered. Sana nodded, but Mai could tell Sana wasn't satisfied with her handiwork.
As Mai grabbed another torn kimono, a woman opened the door. Mai jumped, but she saw that it was merely Hiroshi's wife, Akemi.
"Mai, Sana. My husband has a job for you. I'll take care of in here," Akemi said. Exhiliration ran through Mai, for she hoped that the "job" was what she thought it was.
Mai couldn't be happier. She got to wear her dando again. She got to wield her repiya again. She got to use her strength again.
And best of all, she got to go on a mission.
The assassination of Terauchi Saruemon had the forces of Rinié shaken. Fearing that Hanoba may have found allies, they sought to shore up defenses around Akagawa, the Red River, also known as the Blood River for the deep crimson color of its waters. However, the forces of Rinié had denuded the province of its trees to expand castles and towns back home and produce battering rams, bows, and arrows.
So, hard up for wood, the Rinié forces made a group of Hanoba villagers dismantle their homes.
Mai, Sana, and Hiroshi watched the scene from behind a bush; Mai wearing her maidservant's dando, Sana and Hiroshi wearing the all-black clothing of the Hanoba shinobi, chosen more for intimidation than stealth. Mai saw a force of about 20 mounted samurai and 50 spear-wielding ashigaru foot soldiers brandished their weapons in the faces of the frightened rice farmers. Loomed over by the armed invaders, they took hatchet and saw to the only shelter they had, making sure to keep as many pieces as possible whole. Mai couldn't help but notice the large number of porters and wheeled carts that surrounded the village; several of them were already taking lumber away.
"They think this area is secure. But they would be wrong," Hiroshi said.
Mai smiled. "Because we'll rip them to pieces," she said.
"Not just us. Men of Hanoba are on the move as we speak; we need to create enough chaos for them to cut down the enemy and scatter them to the four winds," Hiroshi said.
"And doing so here, where they think they have control, would crush their spirits," Sana added.
"Now you're getting it," Hiroshi said. The three waited a moment longer, and then when a cart was being loaded, Hiroshi gave a signal to Sana to go in first. Mai watched Sana emerge from the bush, then gather up a gust of wind and blow an archer right into a full cart of lumber, breaking his neck.
The samurai and their ashigaru levies let out shouts of alarm as Sana dispatched more archers. As armored men with naginata spears ran at Sana with unrelenting fury, Mai leapt from the bush to meet them. She drew her repiya and jabbed it straight through the charging ashigaru's scant leather armor, ending his life in an instant.
Mai and Sana pressed forward. Sana put down any archer foolish enough to aim at them. Mai punctured the chest of any warrior who tried to engage Sana up close. More than once, Mai used her incredible strength to throw men at each other, and as samurai after samurai met his end, a few of the ashigaru broke and fled, some even dropping their weapons.
But not enough did, and to Mai's horror, several samurai emerged from the villagers' huts, with sword, spear, and bow at the ready. Sana wanted to blast away at them, but she held back for fear of hurting the cowering farmers.
Mai, on the other hand, didn't worry, but not because she could somehow stab through all of the spread-out enemy troops. She heard rumbling in the distance, the sound of hooves against grass.
The Hanoba men had arrived.
The enemy archers looked at the fast approaching cavalry, then at Mai and Sana. They loosed their arrows, but their hands were unsteady; Sana blew the arrows aside with ease, and Mai dispatched the archers shortly afterward. By now, the Hanoba men had swooped into the village and cut down the remaining troops. Hiroshi joined in with the bloody mayhem, with Mai and Sana merely serving to keep the Hanoba right flank safe.
It only took a short time for everyone to rout the Rinié force and send the stragglers scurrying away. The surviving villagers let out a mighty cheer, for their homes were safe once more. Mai sheathed her blade and smiled; at long last, Hanoba had a real victory.
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I'm Rawle Nyanzi, a professional author who seeks only to entertain. My blog is a convenient place where you can find all my writings and some of my opinions on various topics relating to politics, pop culture, and even gender.
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