|Logistics of Death|
|Written By:||Brian Yoon|
|Edited By:||Fred Wan|
|Released:||November 1st, 2009|
Two weeks ago…
The sudden avalanche of loose stone from high above the Wall’s parapet caught the group unaware, crushing Destroyers as they traveled through the burnt crater below. Legulus, his golden armor shimmering from atop the fortification, turned and looked down at the sound. A fleeting look of disinterest passed over his features and he returned to his conversation.
“Your failures know no bounds, Kheth-tet,” he continued. “Your demons outnumbered the weaklings three to one, yet they pushed on past your defenses and humiliated you. Tonight those Crab proved your incompetence once and for all. The master will finally end the incompetence that passes for your leadership.”
Kheth-tet scowled. “What makes you believe I failed, you imbecile? The Crab leader is dead.”
Legulus gestured to the crater by their side, evidence of Hida Kuon’s final battle. “The air reeks of burnt flesh, Kheth-tet, from the hundreds of pawns you have wasted. You could not even prevent them from reaching their precious Wall. A warrior with even a scrap of intelligence could have performed better. Can you proclaim victory while the smell of defeat still ferments the air?”
Kheth-tet’s eyes gleamed in the light of the moon, and nothing could hide the raw hate that lay underneath his stare. “What do the deaths of a few creatures matter?” he snapped. “Their numbers are as drops in the ocean. The result is the only thing that matters. The death of their leader, the one that challenged our master, weighs heavily in my favor. Do not try to move attention away from the fact that I orchestrated the defeat of his newest enemy.”
Legulus snorted. “You could not grasp the defeat of your enemy, even if he were to lay its means by your feet.”
“Your strategies only limit the Destroyers from their full potential, Legulus!” Kheth-tet shouted. “They are not your precious legionnaires. Let them indulge in their own savage nature instead of playing puppet to your silly games.”
Legulus snarled with fury and Kheth-tet grimaced. For the space of two heartbeats, the two commanders stared at each other. The contempt each held for the other was well known. If either decided to strike, the other would die, and their feud ended. Both were fully aware of the opportunity.
Only their mutual fear of their master kept them from loosing weapons from sheaths.
“The master demands the death of the Crab,” Kheth-tet finally said.
“And the master’s will be done,” Legulus replied. “I do not want to see your incompetence again, Kheth-tet. I will go north. There I will show you how a true warrior completely crushes his enemies. You may have the privilege of proving your ineptitude elsewhere.”
“Northwest,” Kheth-tet said, pointing. “I will obliterate the place they call Shiro Kuni.”
One week ago, Kyuden Hida
Hida Reiha placed a hand on the windowsill and stared out toward the Shadowlands. A thick, rolling column of smoke seemed to rise from the Kaiu Wall, marking the still smoldering reminder of her husband’s death. Conversation in the room slowed then finally stopped as others realized she was no longer listening to the strategies discussed in the room.
Horiuchi Nobane looked up from the maps spread out over the table and surreptitiously watched the new Crab Clan Champion. She had assumed the duties of Championship with vigor, guiding the troops and fighting the enemy in these war-torn times. Grief had deepened the lines on her face, yet she showed no other signs of recent events. The tragedy seemed to fuel her dedication to the Crab defense.
Of course, Nobane himself was no stranger to tragedy.
There simply had not been enough time to mourn, Nobane reflected, neither for him nor for the Crab Clan. Nobane had stayed within his quarters on Kuon’s final night, so that the hero could have a moment of privacy with his Clan. The aftermath of his explosive demise lingered on, even now. For one long breath, the entire night sky flared with magical brilliance. The earth shook violently, as if the kami were protesting the death of a hero.
Three hours later, the demons answered by pressing forth with renewed vigor. The Crab, Unicorn, and Lion forces were ready for the response, yet the scope of the attack had taken them all by surprise. The demons rushed forward, dying by the hundreds under skies blackened with Rokugani arrows. They lost dozens per Rokugani kill, yet it did not seem to slow them down. Each day since had been filled with constant battle. Despite their greatest convictions, the Rokugani forces were forced to make a fighting retreat under the weight of the gaijin advance. Through it all, Reiha fought on the front lines of battle with the Hida Elite Guard around her, felling Destroyers with each blow.
Finally Reiha turned away from the window and returned to the head of the table. Hida Benjiro met his sister’s eyes with a firm gaze, but the others positioned around the tactical maps politely left the lapse in strategy unacknowledged. Nobane was the only Unicorn general in the room as the leader of the Unicorn forces. The Lion Clan had come out in full force with both their high ranking generals, the Lion Clan Champion Akodo Shigetoshi and the general Ikoma Kosaku, in attendance.
“Do we have an estimation of the demons’ numbers?” Reiha said, drawing the focus back on topic.
“Reiha-sama, though we have attempted to estimate their total reserves with scouts and-” Kosaku began.
“No,” Benjiro cut in bluntly. “We’ve engaged them with constant battle as we retreated from the Wall but that doesn’t seem to have diminished their numbers.”
“Or their eagerness to die to our blades,” Nobane said. “They push forth with no restraint or care for their lives.”
Shigetoshi looked at the Unicorn. “Why should they exhibit caution when their army seems to stretch out beyond the horizon? We should not mistake their carelessness for a lack of strategy. They are clever and dangerous and it would be folly to underestimate their abilities.”
“You may be unfamiliar with enemies without number, Nobane,” Benjiro growled, “but the Crab have faced such assaults for centuries. My remaining concern lies with their leadership. The rakshasa is a clever and powerful foe that will not relent until its forces are utterly annihilated. If the demon army is led by others of its ilk, we have a tough fight in front of us.”
A murmur of assent traveled around the room.
“Where do our defenses stand?” Reiha demanded.
Shigetoshi turned to his assistant who placed an open scroll in his expectant hands. Shigetoshi glanced over the figures and nodded. “The Lion armies took many casualties within the past week, yet your warriors took the brunt of the attack. Most of my men are currently stationed around this castle. I can send them back to the front or leave them here in case the Destroyers push us back to this area.”
”If the Destroyers continue at their current pace,” Benjiro replied, “our defenses will be forced to retreat to the safeties of Kyuden Hida. If we try to maintain our position, we will take massive casualties to protect a minor stretch of land.”
“Minor?” Shigetoshi said. “Every inch of Crab land taken by these creatures is an affront to Rokugan.”
“Of course it is,” Benjiro replied. “I detest the situation. However, we must be pragmatic. We have a greater chance of halting the enemy’s approach if we regroup at our most defensible fortress.”
“Benjiro-san has a good point,” Nobane said. “The Unicorn armies are currently protecting the lands surrounding Shiro Kuni. We can harass and fight the enemy armies over many miles due to our mobility, but the presence of a base to recuperate greatly increases our fighting prowess.”
Reiha placed a hand where the figures representing the Unicorn forces stood. “I will be direct, Nobane. The Crab Clan is grateful for the assistance you give us, but your army remains the smallest of the forces available to us. The current defenses stationed in Shiro Kuni are more than sufficient to defend against the gaijin threat, but if they start a major offensive in that direction your forces may be overwhelmed by numbers.”
Nobane acknowledged her concerns with a nod. “The Unicorn army is only here to help. My men will ride as quick assault wherever you may need the forces. My second in command can lead some of the Unicorn with your defensive line, if you believe they may be of use.”
Shigetoshi leaned forward. “Your men have seen these creatures first hand. I have a tactic in mind, if you are willing.”
Now, Shiro Kuni
“Nobane-sama,” a man said, “a scroll from the north.”
He accepted the sealed scroll without looking at the messenger. His attention was fixed on the thousands of Destroyers filling the barren fields surrounding Shiro Kuni. They would reach the fortress within the hour. His scouts estimated that the Destroyers outnumbered the garrison two to one.
Nobane frowned and looked down at the scroll. It was sealed with the mons of both the Dragon and Phoenix Clans.
The sight of Kyuden Hida in the distance brought a grim smile to Legulus’s face. It stood proudly as a testament of Rokugani military might, carved directly into the foundation. The granite walls were higher than any he’d seen, and the hundred lights lining its ramparts promised him a worthy fight. The army standing in front of the castle gates seemed to be ready for a fight. Their golden flags fluttered in the wind, their armor tinged by the glow of twilight. It made his blood boil in anticipation.
“Destroyers,” Legulus said loudly. “Assume wedge formation.”
His mass of oni and Destroyers began to move after a momentary pause. The creatures in front began to form a triangle, with its most powerful oni forming the tip. The powerful monsters in the front would stress one point of the enemy defenses and collapse them with a concentrated assault. His opponents were accustomed to fighting mindless demons and would collapse under the pressure of a coordinated strike.
Legulus watched his creatures and felt a slight fondness growing within his mind. These Destroyers would be acceptable, after all.
“My lord,” Kosaku said.
“I see it,” Shigetoshi responded. “A standard tactic, but quite effective. Let us see if our opponent can match our adaptability. Signal the saw formation.”
The flags swished in intricate formations as the command staff conveyed the order to the rest of the army. Each commander began to marshal his troops to meet the coming advance. His front line shifted out and formed a half circle, to envelop the point of the wedge. A group of Crab heavy infantry stood at the heart of the Lion formation. A unit of Lion samurai retreated from the front and began to pace the length of the formation, ready to reinforce any area in danger of collapsing against the offensive pressure. The Rokugani had barely finished maneuvering when the first of the monsters struck.
The blood red giants crashed into the wall of swords and spears with a resounding crash. Their long arms swept through the line, flinging dozens of samurai aside with each strike. They flew and collapsed among the field, slumping unconscious like puppets cut unceremoniously from their strings. Samurai rushed to fill the gaps against the assault. More and more Destroyers rushed into the center of the wedge, but the Rokugani fought bravely without budging from their position. The line held.
The Rokugani began their counterattack with infinite patience. The side units moved slowly so that the attacking army did not notice their approach. They struck from the flanks and began to fill the circle. At first the demons did not notice, but they began to fight back as soon as the enemy commander began to understand. More Destroyers appeared outside of their formation to strike the new flanking units.
Shigetoshi smiled and nodded to the flag carriers.
The gates opened and three units of Unicorn cavalry thundered out of the safety of the fortress. They struck the rear of the flanking Destroyer army and took vengeance for the losses they had taken during the weeks of fighting.
The Destroyers retreated within minutes.
Horiuchi Nobane was going to die. He knelt on the middle of the battlefield while samurai died around him. He could only rest and watch the destruction without giving any aid. He could barely move without feeling pain coursing through every inch of his body. His face and chest was completely covered in the blood of his horse; a Destroyer had grabbed his steed’s head and ripped it clear from his body. His horse had collapsed on top of him and Nobane was sure his leg was shattered from hip to toe.
A figure in metallic armor loomed over him. It brandished a wicked blade within each of its four arms, and it drew back to deal the final blow. Its eyes glowed deep into his heart, and Nobane knew he would carry that image to Yomi. It opened its mouth and displayed two rows of sharp fangs.
The Destroyer’s mouth began to glow a deep blue, the color of the heart of a fire. Its eyes widened. A stream of fire crawled out of its mouth, its eyes, and its ears. Quickly, the fires gathered together and engulfed the entire creature. The Destroyer writhed in place as it burned from the inside. Dozens of Unicorn warriors charged his position to save their commander.
Nobane felt a hand on his shoulder and he looked up to see the exhausted face of Iuchi Kota.
“Can you get up?” the shugenja asked.
Nobane shook his head. “My leg is shattered. Help me up.”
Kota braced Nobane’s side with his shoulder and raised him to his feet. Nobane looked out at the battlefield and his face paled. So few of his men remained and they struggled to maintain their position. Each fought with the strength and conviction of a hundred men. The Destroyers continued to push forward with no end in sight.
“The Dragon and the Phoenix are coming,” Nobane shouted. “Hold on, men! Just a little longer, my friends!”