Hell and Heaven are in the Hearts of Men
My Enemy's Weakness
Hida Renmazuo stood in the fields outside of Shiro Kaotsuki no Higashi. He had lived in this castle for almost half of his twenty-five years, since his father had given its command to him — although in name only at first — at his gempukku. Due to the vigilance of his father, he had never had to command his men against the threat of the Shadowlands. Across the plain, where the Unicorn had set up their camp, plumes of dust arose. Thirteen years, and it was fellow samurai that rose up against him. He couldn’t decide how to feel about that.
Even though this would be his first true battle since his gempukku, the lessons of Takanaka-sensei would not be dulled. Know your enemy’s weakness and you may at least take his life as you give your own. Renmazuo found that paraphrasing Takanaka worked best, lest the lesson be lost among the vulgarities. When news of Unicorn border skirmishes first reached him, he had contacted the Crab’s allies in the nearby Falcon Clan, requesting several samurai skilled in the use of spears to train his men. There was little time to drill them on the finer points of yarijutsu, but the Crab were nothing if not pragmatic and adaptable when it came to weapons. If nothing else, a thicket of spears would give the the Unicorn pause when charging into his lines.
The two forces fought inconclusively. The Unicorn probed the Crab’s line, but the bristle of yari kept them at a distance. For the better part of the morning, the dance continued with few casualties on either side. Finally, at the signal of their commander, the mounted samurai withdrew and reformed their line.
A single rider came forth and removed her kabuto. As she let it fall to the ground, Renmazuo recognized Shinjo O-Shite. Once, one of the Crab’s greatest friend among the Unicorn, her face was now a mask of hurt and hate. “Son of Hida!” she shouted, dismounting and drawing her katana. “Come forth and die!”
Renmazuo stepped forward to the challenge, leveling his spear. “Cease your attack, O-Shite-san! I do not desire your life, but I will take it!”
She answered with a banzai.
Renmazuo grit his teeth and planted firmly against the reckless rush of the Shinjo. The tempered steel struck true, punching cleanly through the sloping lavender scales meant to deflect such blows from horseback. O-Shite did not cry out as a gout of hot red burst forth, coloring Renmazuo’s hands in her life, she merely took a final step forward and slumped forward on the shaft, her long hair spilling over her limp head to brush against the weapon that killed her. Breathing a sigh of relief and regret, Renmazuo drew the spear back to deal with the next Unicorn.
O-Shite took a step.
“No!” Renmazuo shouted. A thousand thoughts ran through his head as the corpse’s foot rose and fell. Was O-Shite tainted during Winter Court? Was her grief and madness the whispers of the Dark Brother, using her to undermine the Crab’s defenses? No! She was too strong for such things! She had been to the Wall before and knew what precautions to take! Red blood!
O-Shite took a step.
All doubts left Renmazuo at that step; the Crab knew how to deal with corpses that walked. His hand flew to his obi, sure despite its crimson slickness, and drew his tanto. The ancestral cry of Hida! left his lips and he knew that the Fallen One would hear it and know his brother’s descendants fought him still. The blade pierced her skull as readily as it slid through that limp, auburn hair, and into the soft gray beneath.
O-Shite took a step.
The hands that found his throat burned like a blade in winter. Renmazuo did not feel his legs buckle, he was only aware that he was now upon his back, the dead woman atop of him, the spear that killed her pointing at the sky like some obscene monument. The son of Hida An could finally see into the corpse’s face and its eyes held neither the blank, lifeless stare nor the pale green glow of Jigoku’s touch; they held only joy – pure, malicious joy that belonged to O-Shite and O-Shite alone.
“Thus I strike at your father,” she said and spat on his face. “Now he shall know pain and hate as I do.”
The night, the eta burned the two bodies together, for none could pry her fingers from his neck.
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