The Kitsune Winter Court was over, its goal of uniting the Minor Clans in purpose and in resources achieved.
Mamoru vanished without a word, though his room was left orderly and clean, absent of all of his gear.
Kiyomi sent off a message to her mother, detailing her many successes at the Court, and the suitors she now trailed wherever she went. Hitomi was satisfied with her own catch, and waited with waning patience for the day they could finally be married.
Yuzuki, unable to sit still long enough for her own coutship, took advantage of the brief time before the closing ceremony to go off by herself to fish. When a particularly large fish took her pole, she dove in after it and was dragged far downstream. She recovered her pole, and the titanic fish attached, but as she hauled herself onto the bank, she forgot all about both.
Before her stood the ruins of a village, ronin and lesser oni moving among the bodies of the murdered peasants. As she looked on in shock and horror, the blood that soaked the ground moved on its own, forming a portal of blood and flame at the town center. A massive oni stepped through, accompanied by a white-haired warrior and several other ‘mortals’.
Knowing that her duty was to report this immediately, Yuzuki activated her jade steed and raced to Kyuden Kitsune.
Kitsune Daisuke immediately called in all of his samurai and ordered the peasants into Kitsune Mori, where they would be safe. He noted that the [[Session 9 – Fourth Task: Of Duty and Dishonor | actions]] of his guests had probably saved a great many lives: no gaki in the forest meant the people within would live on.
Deciding to make a stand until help could arrive, Daisuke requested the assistance of his many guests. Shugenja and bushi put on their armor and sharpened their weapons or practiced their spells, while those Courtiers without military training led the way into the Forest. Only Kiyomi remained, charged by the Fox Lord with gathering ronin reinforcements.
The Fox army took its stand along a river. Sagura was charged with guarding the shugenja and archers at the rear. Hitomi acted as a one-person bulwark at the river’s edge, bisento firmly planted and heavy armor gleaming. Yuzuki led the tiny Fox cavalry in preparation for a flanking maneuver, and Tatsuya was incorporated into Daisuke’s personal guard, his father’s trusty blade at his side.
Kitsune rangers reported an army of thousands, mostly Tainted ronin, undead, and goblins, but also including at least one living siege engine and a dozen bloodspeakers. Both armies stared at each other across the river, which began to run red with blood spilled upstream. The bloodspeakers caused the river to peel back, and the zombies began moving across the muddy river-bottom, those who became mired serving as a bridge for later forces.
As Sagura’s archers began to fire, and Fox shugenja turned the Earth upon their foes, Hitomi unleashed the destructive spirit within her bisento and began separating zombies from their heads. Few actually reached the Fox lines, and the main Tainted army began to cross. Goblins sprung from hiding around the shugenja, only to be cut down by Sagura and Kiyo. Yuzuki charged into the enemy’s flank while Daisuke and Tatsuya spearheaded an assault on their front.
Appearing all but routed, the opposing general sacrificed his bloodspeakers to trap Daisuke, Yuzuki, Hitomi, and Tatsuya on the far side of the released river. A truly immense Oni rose out of the forest and attacked the four, while the white-haired general wordlessly challenged Sagura to a duel.
Unable to overcome the massive creature’s tough natural armor and its rapid regeneration without crystal weaponry, Tatsuya sent up a silent prayer: a prayer that did not go unanswered. A single bolt of lightning sprang from a darkened sky to strike the Mongoose, and his crystal blades appeared at hand. Though all took hideous wounds, standing at the brink of death, they finally found the beast’s heart and killed it forever.
On the other side of the river, Sagura watched as the enemy general handily dispatched a half-dozen ashigaru in the space of a breath before launching through a series of attacks with his naginata, driving the Tainted man back to the river’s edge. Just as the flames embossed upon his blade’s edge caught a single beam of sunlight, prepared to strike the final blow, his opponent’s katana cut up across the young Phoenix’s face, stealing the light of day from him forever.
As a second Tainted army approached, the enemy general flicked his hand, banishing the bloody waters once more, and began to stalk across the bodies of his army toward the four wounded samurai. In that moment, when all hope had faded, Tatsuya flung himself at the maho-tsukai, interrupting his control over the river and causing them both to be swept downstream
Yuzuki rescued Tatsuya’s unconscious body from the river’s fury with her fishing skills, and the survivors made their way back to Kyuden Kitsune. There they were healed, and thanked by Daisuke and all others present for their sacrifice and their service.