[Part V -- Finale]
Mai and Sana both were led to an encampment on the banks of Blood River. While Mai groaned under Akemi's tortures, Hiroshi and his army encircled Akagawa, their chances helped by Rinié's sagging morale and Sana's powerful wind magic. Victory was at hand.
Night had fallen by the time they arrived. Mai and Sana entered a small tent in the corner; she needed her rest for the coming battle. They would attack at dawn, and Mai resolved to do all she could to help Hiroshi's forces win.
But before she could even think of fighting, she had to speak to Sana.
Both women took a spot on one of the sides, away from the partially open flap. Only bare grass lay beneath them, for luxury had no place in a camp. Mai tensed as Sana sat close.
"Sana, why? Why did you deceive me like that?" Mai asked.
"I wanted you to feel what I felt. When you struck me in the bath..." Sana's eyes watered.
Mai hung her head down. "My emotions got the better of me. Maybe I should've hit the general instead," she said.
"Hit him? You were ready to kill him," Sana answered. "I will admit that I wanted you to feel the pain I felt when you attacked me. But I wanted to help you too. I wanted to show the general that you could be trusted -- that we could be trusted."
"And he agreed to stake his life on it?"
"He did -- because I helped him get this far. He had to know for sure, and what I did was the best way."
Mai stared at Sana, who tilted her head away. That delicate face, that petite body, that calm, careful temperament -- Mai had always noticed those qualities about her, but now, they took on a new significance. From the moment Mai stepped into the Yonekura household all those years ago, she swore to serve Sana and her father, Yonekura Kyohei. She was no man, but when the samurai of Bai-an slaughtered Yonekura Kyohei, Mai came to see herself as Sana's protector.
And by striking her in a fit of rage, she failed at that task.
She would not fail again. She could not fail again.
Mai gripped Sana's chin with two fingers and made the smaller woman look into her eyes.
"I'll never hurt you again, Sana. I love you." With her free hand, Mai grabbed Sana's wrist. Sana's cheeks reddened, and her eyebrows raised. After a long pause, Sana spoke.
"You as well, Mai," the young mage said. She leaned into Mai, and Mai pressed her lips against hers. The kiss deepened, and Mai wrapped Sana in her arms and lowered her to the grass. Waves of pleasure moved through Mai as she caressed Sana's clear skin. Mai smiled inwardly; Sana's body had become more firm from all the physical activity.
"You're beautiful," Sana whispered. She removed Mai's frilly headband and ruffled her hair, but the mage didn't stop there; she slid her hand down Mai's side to the lower part of the maid's dando, then lifted it back.
"Oh, Sana," Mai said as she slid her own hand up the mage's dando. Deep in the throes of passion and love, the two women continued their amorous session well into the night. By the time they fell asleep, they had shed all of their clothing.
At the dawn's first light, Mai and Sana were awakened. They dressed themselves and lined up alongside several ashigaru, right at the front. The soldiers were quite happy to see them, not merely because they were lovely in their strange clothing, but because their power would be the difference between victory and defeat. Mai watched as three samurai on horseback rode out to greet them, their armor worn and crooked. Something seemed familiar about the mounted warriors, but Mai couldn't quite figure it out.
"Men, today we avenge our fallen daimyo and retake our great province," the samurai in the lead said. It was Hiroshi, no longer in the garb of the shinobi. Now, he was the samurai he truly was.
"All of you have fought long and hard to get us here, but just as your strength drove the filth of Rinié back, now it will cleanse them from our land altogether." As Hiroshi spoke those words, Mai stood up a little straighter.
"No longer will we bow to invaders. The low will overcome the high, and the conquered will become conquerors." Now the ashigaru stood up straighter as well, as did Sana.
"So let us take weapon in hand and make Blood River run a bright, shining red!" Hiroshi shouted. Everyone, including Mai and Sana, cheered and raised their weapons high, eager to wash them in Rinié blood. The energy of the place made Mai want to meet the enemy straight away -- and to her delight, that moment was soon.
Soon, however, fast transformed into now.
Arrayed against the crimson waters that gave Akagawa its name, Hiroshi's forces stared down the defenses the enemy put up to frustrate cavalry charges. As for Mai and Sana, they had no part in the formations in front; their role was to sow chaos in the enemy lines, making it easier for Hanoba's meager yet motivated forces to take them down. To that end, they were placed right in the middle of one of the ashigaru formations. The enemy waited behind spiked palisades, with archers ready to slow the Hanoba advance. Further back were several ashigaru and samurai, who would support and protect the archers.
Hiroshi blew on a conch shell. The time for worry had passed, and the time for battle had come.
Mai watched as Sana stepped out from inside the formation and thrust out her hand. A mighty, howling wind emerged from it, and the enemy creamed as both they and their palisades were thrown back. The move had impaled some of the archers, but the ashigaru in the back held firm. After two more such attacks, Hiroshi gave the command to advance.
Mai screamed as she plunged her rapier into ashigaru chests. With her strength, she tossed them this way and that like leaves in a storm. The men around her fought with great vigor, spurred on by Mai's hard fighting. The breeze picked up as Sana's wind magic disturbed the air all around the battlefield.
With single-minded fury, Mai pushed onward, riding the wave of men behind her. Swords flashed and warriors fell, unable to stop the advance of Hanoba. As Mai impaled a man's face on a palisade, she could taste victory on the horizon. A fever for battle overtook her, and before long, the Hanoba forces scattered the Rinié stragglers.
However, there was no time for celebration. Mai and Sana followed Hiroshi and the other Hanoba men deeper into the battlefield. Several more Rinié reinforcements rode in from the sides, the hooves of their horses thundering across the plain. Mai braced herself, and the battle began anew.
Hanoba gave as good as they got. With Mai and Sana's help, Rinié's superior numbers were whittled down. Even as Hanoba men took spear, sword, and arrow, they did not break. Mai fought, Sana fought -- everyone pushed hard against the relentless enemy forces.
But as Mai took down yet another enemy samurai, she spotted an ashigaru, covered by his fellows, advancing toward Hiroshi. Mai dashed over to them with all her strength, her bloody sword ready to gore them.
And then a spear went through her gut.
The searing pain shocked Mai. She dropped her weapon, and her samurai attacker yanked the spear free and kicked the wound, which sent her to the ground. Her vision became a blur; she could only think about the pain.
She heard more men die around her -- what side, she couldn't tell, nor did she care. She heard steel meet steel, and a katana landed on its tip a short distance from her face. She heard thunderous footsteps and hoped no one trampled her.
She heard Sana's screams.
Small, soft hands grabbed her face and covered her bloody wound. A warm sensation came over her body, and the pain melted away. Her intestines righted themselves, and the wound closed completely, but the sensation didn't stop -- it intensified.
Now Mai could see that Sana had saved her. Sana had used the healing property of Mai's dando to save the one she loved, but this time, Mai was brimming with energy.
"Thank you, Sana," Mai shouted over the cacophony of battle, but Sana didn't hear it. She fell unconscious, sprawled out over Mai.
The maid pushed Sana off, got up, and grabbed her fallen sword, but for some reason, it felt heavier than it should.
"We have to get you out of here," Mai said to Sana, but when Mai pulled on Sana's arm to lift her, the maid found that she no longer had her abnormal strength. Mai knew what had happened; every time the maidservant's dando is used to heal, it weakens the wearer's extra strength. Sana must have used so much of it that it sapped the garment's power entirely, meaning that she was no stronger than any other woman.
Sana still breathed; she could be saved. Mai put her weapon away and slung the unconscious mage across both shoulders. Even though Sana wasn't rotund, the extra load made it hard for Mai to run. No one had to tell the nearby Hanoba ashigaru to protect her; they did so at once. Mai trudged through the chaotic battlefield, hoping that an arrow didn't hit her. Step by step, she made her way to the parts of the field that the Hanoba men had already moved past. The ashigaru didn't need to fight much, for the battle had moved toward the town.
Then one of the ashigaru gurgled blood.
Mai turned to face the disturbance -- five of the Rinié samurai had risen to their feet, for they were only playing dead. The ashigaru tried to fight them, but the samurai were swifter and stronger. Once all of them were dead, it was just her and the five enemy warriors.
"Those Hanoba fools may have won here, maidservant, but a far greater destiny awaits us," one of the samurai said. If he knew Mai's garment was for maids, then-
"With both your heads, the daimyo of Bai-an will treat us well indeed," another samurai said.
Mai laid Sana down and drew her sword. "You will get nothing!" Mai said as she lunged at one man. Not a single one had undamaged armor, so a stab into a gaping hole put him down at once. Mai pulled the sword out of the samurai's gut and went for another's head, but she missed; the samurai stepped in and cut her face open, but the damage didn't last; in a very short time, Mai's face repaired itself, but the sensation that she felt when she got healed grew weaker. She thrust at another's chest and she struck, but she got cut in the side. Again, her body healed, but the sensation dwindled to insignificance afterward. If she was cut now, that was it.
Mai watched her opponents, then thrust at the abdomen of one of them. She hit home, but now her arm was a prime target for the remaining samurai. Mai got her arm out of the way just in time, but they still hit her weapon and forced her to drop it. Mai scurried back to Sana, but she couldn't do a thing if the samurai wanted to kill them both.
"Stay still, and this won't hurt. I'll be merciful and go for your heads," one of the samurai said. With a gleaming katana, he approached Mai and raised his blade.
"Everything ends here!" he shouted. He got in close, drew his sword back, and fell on top of Mai. The maid pushed him off, but she saw that the samurai was dead, having taken a wound to the back. As soon as she turned to the remaining one, he too got it in the back. Now all five were really dead.
Mai gazed upon her rescuer: a Hanoba samurai on horseback wielding a bloody spear.
"The general says leave the battlefield. I just made it a bit easier for you," the samurai said. Mai thanked him and bowed deeply, then took Sana over her shoulder again to get her somewhere safe.
Mai had every reason to be proud of herself.
At long last, the war had ended. With the victory at the Battle of Blood River, Hanoba had reclaimed the province and drove Rinié out for good. The hidden village was abandoned, for it was no longer needed. Yokominé Hiroshi, who took the name Akagawa Hiroshi, had become the new daimyo. The soldiers exchanged sword and spear for seed and hoe, ready to bring ordinary life back to a devastated countryside.
As for Mai and Sana, Mai served as a maid in the daimyo's household, while Sana opened a small magic school for the children of samurai at the daimyo's request. A small province like Hanoba needed every advantage it could to keep invaders away.
Every day, after a hard day's work, Sana would go to Mai's little living quarters, located some distance from the daimyo's keep. Mai would be there to let her in, and they would talk over tea. Finally, they would enjoy each other's bodies, happy that everything had turned out for the best.
But in spite of it all, Mai knew their ordeal wasn't over. It would not be long before Bai-an came calling. Both Mai and Sana vowed to protect one another and their new home, come what may.
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The Age of Petty States ~小国時代~
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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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