Princess Mononoke Fan Fiction ❯ Mind and Spirit ❯ Chapter 9 (Interesting times… part 3) ( Chapter 9 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Mind and Spirit
Chapter 9 (Interesting times… part 3)
Disclaimer: I don't own Princess Mononoke or the characters, it's just fan-fic, read and enjoy.
Still the flashback…
Less then 30 minutes later Ashitaka was in the main square, explaining the situation to the people of Iron-town. As expected their reaction was one of shock and angry, though enough new of the Muyo clan that fear was present as the situation became clearer. Unconcerned with the slight chance of being overheard by the enemy, Ashitaka stated that there would be an attempt at a breakout during the night, and if all else failed a full attack down the road in the early morning. This was enough to satisfy the townspeople, who would under no circumstances have accepted inaction. As expected all were eager to help in any way they could and Ashitaka left Gonza to make the preparations. Walking back past the main hall Ashitaka saw San leaning on the door-frame, she had listened to him give the speech. Walking up to her Ashitaka took her in his arms, San, initially surprised, returned the tender hug as well as the kiss that followed. Looking into his eyes San couldn't make out any thoughts or feelings, he was completely neutral.
“I had better get some rest and plan…” he stated simply “feel free to join me if you like.” he added with a kind smile. Giving her hand a reassuring squeeze, he kissed her again before making his way back to his home, without another look back. San watched him go from the open doorway, inside Kaji and Gendo lazed by the fire, watching their sister.
Knowing that he could no longer be heard by Ashitaka Kaji, said.
“So he still hasn't asked for help?”
San simply stood there for a second, looking vaguely at Ashitakas residence. She rolled from her leaning position, walking through the door, and closing it slowly behind her.
“You know that he wouldn't” she said softly.
“And you have not asked him not to go.”
“You know I can't”
“I'm rather surprised non-of the others did actually.” offered Gendo. “Ask for our help.” he added. Moving over to him, San replied.
“Toki knows well enough what is going on, she wouldn't ask of herself… Gonza still doesn't trust us fully, and I think Koroku simply believes that we will help anyway.”
Gendo smiled at that, having spent some time around Koroku now.
“He is quite interesting, for a human” Gendo said. Kaji gave his older brother a look for a second.
“Why have you not offered?” asked Kaji to San, turning back to her.
“I swore my elegance to the forest spirit, my life is not mine to offer… without consultation.” San replied, moving over next to her brothers and lying down next to them.
“It will be very risky.” mused Kaji out aloud.
“We are alone now sister… this is the time to discuss.” stated Gendo. San smiled for a second, her mind had actually already been long at work, weighing up the options. The fire crackled in the background as San put her thoughts in order.
“It is not directly clear whether our assistance will in anyway directly safeguard Ashitaka personally, he will try his hardest, but I am sure if presented with no other choice he will not throw his life away” San stated. “And the rest of Iron-town is not in direct threat, Gonza and Ashitaka will make sure none of them throws their life away either… So what we have left is effectively Eboshis life, and is it worth risking our own to try and save it.”
All three members of the wolf clan returned to thought.
“She `was' pivotal in saving our homes…” thought Kaji out loud.
“True, though we all well knew that stoping the fire at the pass was just as much in her interest as ours.” offered Gendo.
“She is the most complex and ruthless female I have ever met, human or otherwise.” agreed Kaji. “About as dangerous as one entity can get, as far as her mind is concerned.”
“Yes…..” agreed San. “Lord Asano obviously agrees, he has after all sent a small army of assassins with the express purpose of killing her.”
“I still give that woman a good chance of getting through on her own…” said Gendo. “not even mother could kill her.”
The mood considerably darkened as all remembered the not so distant past.
“The past is not of interest here, we are discussing the future well being of the forest.” guided Kaji wisely, though he to had to fight down unpleasant feelings himself before saying so.
San sat up, placing her head in her hands, rocking back and forth slowly.
“She has seemingly aligned herself to Ashitaka's plan” San said finally. “Though her priorities lie in the well being of Iron-town, she must believe a good component of that comes from co-existing with the forest, otherwise she would not have taken the course, and made the concessions she has.”
Kaji and Gendo nodded, the new alliance had been a surprising success, though it was natural for them to always have a little doubt in Eboshi overall plan.
“She is a dangerous woman, is it worth taking the risk to keep her as the head of our allies?” asked Kaji in general.
“As dangerous as she is as an ally, she is much more dangerous to her enemies, which are our's as well, in this case.” Gendo offered.
“If Eboshi dies now, there is a good chance Iron-town will fall, humans are here to stay, that is simply a sign of our times” said San.
“Well then, I suppose the question becomes is Eboshi better then the alternative, when also weighed against the extra risk?” said Kaji coolly.
All three returned to thought, it was difficult for them to think about Eboshi without letting emotions get in the way. Gendo spoke up first of the three.
“As much as I despise her previous actions, I find it difficult to fault her spirit as a whole with all that I now know. With Ashitaka around, Eboshi is too valuable for the forest to lose” Gendos voice sounded harsh, as if despising his own voice, though the truth was undeniable.
Kaji looked from one sibling to the other. “I would have to agree” he said. San looked up, though her expression was still dedicated, her relief was evident.
“So the wolf clan will assist?” she said, wishing confirmation.
“Go to Ashitaka” said Gendo with a smile. “We will prepare the forest to help.”
San smiled despite herself, getting up she made her way to the door, turning to give her brothers a big smile.
“Thanks” she said simply, knowing that their sensitivity in regard to her loyalty to Ashitaka had naturally played some part in their decision. San quickly jogged to Ashitakas, leaving the door open behind her.
Ashitaka was sitting in his room, a single lamp illuminating a small desk he was kneeling before, the surface of which was covered with maps and some writing paper.
Ashitaka heard someone enter through the front door, who then quickly made their way up the stairs to Ashitakas room. He could tell it was San, no human moved with such light footedness and speed. Noting her pace he smiled in anticipation at the news he knew she was coming to deliver.
San approached Ashitaka's door and was about to open it when she stopped, smiling to herself she knocked lightly on the doors wooden frame. Ashitaka grinned, musing at the girls ability to pick, now, as a time to demonstrate her ability to take on human customs.
“Who is it?” Ashitaka teased, unable to stop himself despite the seriousness of the current time. San contemplated her response.
“Your mate and guardian” replied San sweetly.
Ashitaka span around to face the door.
“Well then, come in San” he said simply, but somehow intensely complimentary. San slid back to door, spotting Ashitaka kneeling attentively she wished nothing more then to run over and tackle him into a massive hug, though the spontaneity quickly drained as she remembered why she had actually come. Ashitaka smiled sweetly at her, and despite the close relationship the two now shared, both found it very difficult to communicate the many feelings that were now flowing through them.
“…. The wolf clan would like…” San started to say, when she was suddenly interrupted by a massive howl. Kajis huge voice cut through the still evening air, the shear volume sending shivers down the backs of everyone in Iron-town, many of which were very glad the wolf was apparently on their side. This was seen as an obvious declaration to Ashitaka, who watched San evenly while they waited for the howl to subside. Before it had completely faded, Ashitaka interrupted San further.
“I suppose I couldn't stop you if I graciously declined” he mused. San looked at him for a second then moved over to him, kneeling down immediately in front of him, knees touching.
“You should have thought of that before you kissed me” she said softly, leaning forward to place her hand tenderly on his knee. Ashitaka followed suit, taking her hand in his and covering it tenderly wit his other, stating simply. “Thank you”
A few minutes later Ashitaka found Gonza, Koroku, Toki and Kaji standing at the front gate, observing the terrain around them.
“Where is Gendo?” asked San to Toki, coming up to the small group.
“He thought it best that the mercenaries didn't see him up and moving yet” replied Toki, impressing Ashitaka.
“Smart wolf” offered Gonza.
“Glad he's on our side” added Koroku happily. A small smile crossed Ashitakas face.
“This is not going to be easy” continued Gonza. “With all this snow, and a clear half moon night, you can easily spot and intercept anyone leaving Iron-town.”
“Gendo thinks there is going to be a slight change later in the night” offered Kaji.
“It had better be one heck of a storm” said Toki. “With all the snow you can spot anything moving out there, except it seems the enemy”
“We will wait for the change, but it is not critical” said Ashitaka.
“What is the plan?” asked Gonza with interest.
“It wont be possible to break out I fear, even with the advantage of Yakkuru and the Wolf clan” he started. “We will have to try and sneak out, which means that only one or two of us can go.”
Everyone looked at Ashitaka, a little disappointed that there contribution could not be more involved.
“Well that's you and San, what about the rest of us?” asked Koroku, correctly assuming who it was that would be attempting to break out.
“We won't be able to sneak out on our own. More importantly is the diversion that will allow us to do so, I need everyone working together to pull this off, the enemy mast believe that San and I are attempting to force a break out. Only if they are convinced that we are putting all our efforts into that do we stand a chance to sneak by.”
“And how will we do that?” asked Toki.
The small group discussed matters at the gate then went back to the main hall to finish their plans off with Gendo. Everyone contributed, and though there were some conflicting ideas soon everything was settled. The plan was risky, for almost everyone involved, but it sounded plausible and an hour later they broke up to attend to their individual tasks.
San found herself in a small courtyard, shielded from view from the surrounding mountains, in front of her was Toki, looking rather comical in an outfit almost identical to Sans.
“Wow, it's a lot more comfortable then it looks” stated Toki, trying various stretches.
“Here try this on” said San, handing over her cloak and mask. Toki took the cloak but needed help to fit the mask properly.
“So how do I look?” asked Toki, now completely dressed up. San smiled, she had to admit her outfit was quite intimidating, now that she saw it on someone else.
“Like a real spirit of the forest” she said approvingly. “Now we just have to get you used to holding my weapons and riding Kaji.”
Kaji moved over and sat in front of the two woman, San handed over her spear and dagger, quickly showing Toki how she held them.
Behind them in the other end of the compound Ashitaka was watching as the best rider (luckily roughly Ashitaka's build) was doing some trials on Yakkuru. They had opened all the doors, and Yakkuru and his rider were racing through a hastily prepared circuit, the rider, armed with bow and arrow, hitting a target on one of his passes through the courtyard.
“Not bad” said Koroku, standing next to Ashitaka.
“Yeh, there is no doubt he is an excellent horsemen” replied Ashitaka, the problem was that he was too good a horse rider, and not a very adaptive elk rider. The young man sat very stiff on Yakkuru and the two did not flow well together, Yakkuru fighting a little against the rigid dominative guidance of him. He did complete the circuit, though more mechanically then Ashitaka would have liked.
“ shot?” asked Koroku, as the rider dismounted in front of the two.
“Sure” said Ashitaka, humouring his friend. Though Toki was a logical choice to take Sans place, no-one took Korokus offer to imitate Ashitaka seriously, least of all Toki, Koroku had been adamant he be allowed to compete against the best rider.
Kaji, having gtaken Toki for a few quick runs on his back, slowed as he saw Koroku get on Yakkuru.
“This should be interesting?” said Toki with a wry smile.
Koroku accepted the bow, arrow and quiver, quickly putting them on, leaning forward he patted the large elk on the neck.
“Come on Yakkuru, you know what to do, help me keep an eye out for my wife.” the ox driver whispered into the elks ear, and without any further comment, gave a curt, quiet but clear.
Yakkuru reacted instantly, not from shock but from anticipation, Koroku was a little ungainly at first, quite inelegantly flapping his arms in an attempt to keep his balance. This generated a laugh from Toki. To everyone's surprise this soon altered however as Koroku quickly melded seamlessly with the movements of his ride. Every time their was a new movement, like a sharp turn or a quick stop, Korokus first attempt was almost his last, though the second time around he reacted smoothly, soon becoming almost as good as Ashitaka. It was bazaar, the look of concentration on his face was clear, as if on complete autopilot. Having done multiple turns jumps and stops Koroku felt confident enough to let go of the reigns and arm the bow. Racing around the second half of the impromptu course he reacted flawlessly as Yakkuru manoeuvred with minimal guidance, bursting back out of one door he focused on the target and fired, the arrow missing by a good 2 meters. The rider, who had become increasingly flabbergasted by Korokus perplexing skill let out a light snigger in satisfaction.
“Come Yakkuru one more time.” exclaimed Koroku crisply.
Koroku was actually a crack shot at archery, having a natural gift at accurate tasks, something not well known in Iron-town, as Koroku rarely advertised this skill.
Laving the course the elk jumped a table, skidded a bit on some bare flagstone before racing around to jump out of an open window, Koroku ducked, then pulled the bow taught as Koroku turned to race at the target. Firing between the Elks antlers the Arrow hit the target, not dead centre but a hit non-the less. Breaking suddenly the elk ended by softly jumping the target itself, Elk and rider coming to a quick stop behind the target. Briefly stopping to give Yakkuru a congratulatory pat on the neck, Koroku turned to give his audience a big cheesy grin.
“So what do you say?” he said enthusiastically.
San and Toki looked at each other, astonished.
Gonza did not at first believe his eyes when his best rider returned to him and the other preparing guards. Remaining professional, he kept the news between the two, but couldn't shake his perplexed expression for a few minutes as his grasp on reality was sorely shaken up by the unexpected news.
Gendo for his part laughed when told by Gonza, much to Gonzas surprise. The two veteran worriers where working on the last part of their separate plan. It was difficult to keep the larger older wolfs recovery a secret from the others in Iron-town… the less people that new the better.
“Well this is it!” said Koroku to his wife optimistically. The two were alone in one of the many rooms in the main hall, putting the finishing touches on their borrowed clothes from Ashitaka and San.
After Tokis original surprise at Korokus selection to play Ashitaka she had gone very quiet and hardly said a word to anyone
“Some clouds have moved in across the lake… you never know, we might even manage to break out.” Koroku added with a smile, attempting some light hearted conversation with his brooding wife.
“Why was I cursed with such a stupid man” Toki said quietly, to the world in general.
Normally Koroku avoided any confrontation with his wife, preferring simply to avoid her until she calmed down again. Given the current situation however he didn't feel that time was a luxury he could now afford.
“What is the matter?” he asked, with as much care as he could. Koroku had last asked such a question way back at the start of their union, preferring to generally avoid the type of response he knew was about to come.
“What is always the matter?” asked Toki rhetorically. “You!” She said spitefully, turning to face her man.
“What on earth do you think you're doing!?” she began angrily. “Making an idiot of yourself in front of Ashitaka, and now you've guilted him into selecting your sorry carcass.”
“But he chose…” Koroku attempted.
“Only because he felt he had to, bless his sole, how could you take advantage of such a nice man.” Toki continued. “Your luck on Yakkuru during the test is so typical, talented in only one thing! Getting yourself into more trouble, and probably killed!”
“You're going…” Koroku offered meekly.
“I can take care of myself, and there is no one else.” Toki offered arrogantly. “plus I will be on Kaji, not even poor Yakkuru is good enough to keep you safe out there.”
“I don't think it is wrong for a husband to want to look out for his wife.” replied Koroku, now finding some more theoretical solid ground. Toki did not appreciate the slight confidence in her husbands tone, becoming more angry.
“How can you hope to look after me, you can't even look after yourself!” Toki replied harshly. “I would be safer out there with anyone else riding poor Yakkuru.”
Koroku remained cool in the face of this abuse, becoming visibly more confident with his decision, Toki for her part became more desperate.
“Damn fool that you are you can't see this to be true.” she added viscously. The comment cut deep, Korokus looked surprised for a split second, then his expression hardened. Breaking eye contact with his wife he quickly finished adjusting Ashitaka's borrowed hood, sitting it properly on his head. Toki stood completely still, too full of emotions to say anything, in front of her her husband silently put on the grass coat, tying off the face mask before walking towards the door, not saying another word. Toki could only watch as he opened the door, receiving a signal from a guard just beyond, he turned for a second.
“I will see you at the gate… be careful out there” he said simply, before moving out and closing the door behind him. Toki had calmed down at this stage, but had remained in her place. Unable to think of what else to do she quickly completed her outfit, the ceramic mask slipping over her concentrated but angry expression. Moving over to the door she also waited for a signal before making her way out.
Iron-town was abuzz with activity, in a well planned manoeuvre many of Iron-towns people where seemingly getting on with normal activity, however out of line of site of the surrounding hills people were racing to prepare for the coming break-out attempt. The night had become slightly overcast with a slight breeze bringing with it a little snow, the large sparse snowflakes beautifully illuminated by the few stars and occasional exposed moon.
Koroku calmly walked over tho the pen to get Yakkuru, the large elk was a little apprehensive of the stranger waring Ashitaka's clothes, but calmed upon recognising Koroku's scent.
“Come on boy, we'll take care of each other O.K.” he calmly stated, patting the elk, Yakkuru nuzzling the Ox driver in the shoulder. The saddle and weapons were already prepared and soon Koroku was leading the elk towards the gate, using the buildings to hide their movement from any prying eyes. Looking up he could see that many of the guards had already crept into position behind the parapet at the front of Iron-town, loaders taking position just behind. The normal watch walked the walls as normal, having to tread carefully to avoid the crouching bodies. Coming up to the gate Koroku could see Gonza giving last minute instructions, just beyond the main parapet. Koroku looked across to where he knew San, Ashitaka and Gendo were waiting their time, silently confident they would be able to get through to Eboshi. Behind him Toki and Kaji joined him and Yakkuru next to the Gate, Toki Jumping off Kaji.
“Are you ready… Ashitaka?” asked Kaji to Koroku confidently. Koroku nodded from behind the mask. Kaji smiled; actually quite interested to see how the Ox-driver would go. Looking up the large wolf let out a low growl. Toki and Koroku looked up automatically and were surprised to see a small flock of tine birds, apparently previously perched on the roof, fly down to land on the large wolf. Some also landed on Toki and Koroku, with the startled man extended his arm to give some of the tine creatures a perch.
“We have been granted some assistance from the animals of the forest” explained Kaji. “Our little friends here will fly out in front of us, looking for any ambush on our behalf, watch them carefully…”
Koroku carefully lifted his other hand to very gently stroke the chest of one of the birds who allowed this for a few seconds before hopping away down his arm. Toki watched her husband, her anger not helped by his, once again, apparent calmness to the upcoming danger. She had never gotten used to his continuous unstressed view on life, mistaking much of his calm attitude to ignorance and stupidity. Though it was true that Koroku quite often possessed a very simple viewpoint on life he was normally quite aware of what could influence him at any given time, unhindered by the complexity of a situation with his focused attention, he surprised everyone with his occasional insight and aptitude. Toki had seen this on occasion, and it had been one of the reasons why she had accepted him as a husband, as well as his placid attitude. Though during the course of her marriage she had begun to view this more and more as simple luck, and she seriously worried now that his luck would run out.
Up from the parapet Gonza gave the first signal of preparedness. Kaji growled again and the birds flew up, disappearing over the rooftops.
“Well this is it” stated Kaji. Koroku nodded, turning to prepare to mount Yakkuru. Behind him Toki suddenly moved, taking the few steps to grab Korokus arm, he stoped, turning to face his wife, unable to see her expression behind the ceramic mask. She hesitated for a second before taking him in a forceful embrace, resting her head in the nap of his neck. Koroku froze for a second, `was this his wife?' he quickly recovered, to return the hug, it didn't last long, just long enough for Toki to whisper threateningly.
“You better come back safe, there's no where you can go where I won't find you to kick your behind”
Koroku smiled behind his mask.
“I'll see you soon” he said simply. Just as quick as it had started Toki broke the embrace, quickly running over to Kaji and jumping on the big wolfs back.
Koroku mounted up as well, just getting into position as Gonza gave the second signal.
The seen was oddly silent as a multiple of small bombs flew elegantly over the wall and through the gate, landing in an even spacing on the ice and bridge in front of the entrance to Iron town. The series of muffled “Fumphs!” that soon occurred was almost anticlimactic as the smoke bombs went off, a thick low smokescreen beginning to form in front of the entrance. The reaction to this opening move was swift, with the whistle of a mercenary's signal arrow being heard moments after the explosions. As if choreographed the guards lining the entrance walls raised and fired the first volley. The rounds being a mixture of flares and exploding shot impacting on the terraced hillside. It pained the soldiers to have to fire on their newly constructed terraces, though it was expected that the flares and exploding/smoke shot would do minimal damage. A second volley impacted further up the hill as the guards prepared for the third round. A thick vale had already engulfed the front of the town, with the parapet sticking just out above it, and the hillside itself was also starting to be obscured.
“Wait” hesitated Kaji, the other three paused, eager to rush into the newly formed smoke. The watched the thick smoke as it began to slowly creep through the gate. A few seconds later a small volley of arrows pierced the vale, in-bedding themselves into the ground around the gate, Yakkuru moved back but was calmed by Koroku.
“Not Yet” Instructed Kaji, looking up. A few moments later a second heavier volley hit the entrance and parapet, one soldier taking an arrow in the arm. “Clever” said Kaji to himself.
“Lets go!” he called, rushing forward, closely followed by Koroku and Yakkuru. The four rushed into the smoke, turning sharply to race down to the lakes surface, unable to see much in the smoke the riders were relying on their animal protectors to guide them safely at high speed. Up on the parapet the third volley was prepared, consisting of solid shot, half fired into the ice in front of iron-town, cracking open a consistent stretch in the ice, while the other half returned fire on the archers. Gonza also fired a shot, aiming low his shot impacted on a part of the aqueduct on the hillside destroying a section of it and diverting all of Iron-towns water down the side of the frozen hill, receiving a disapproving look from the marksman next to him.
“I thought I saw someone.” Gonza offered meekly. “You worry about those archers!” he added defensively, reaching for another loaded weapon. Down bellow Gonza just caught sight of what he new was a white figure racing down to the newly opened lakes surface.
Back on the lake the two riders broke through the smokescreen as they circled around the side or Iron-town, heading towards the centre of the lake at speed. Behind them they could hear the continued firing of the gunners. With the lakes frozen surface opened up behind them they were relatively safe from pursuers, now all they had to worry about was what lay ahead. Behind them signal flairs were launched into the air, illuminating the entire lakes surface. The white frozen expanse stretching out flawlessly in front of them, menacingly rimmed by the darker encroaches of the recovering forest. Koroku watched as a group of small birds swooped low over the speeding Yakkuru, spreading out in a wide ark about a bowshot in front of the rider. A similar group travelled in front of Toki and Kaji, the two pairs travelling about 50m beside each other.
With the flares and noise dissipating behind them the fear began to grow within the two humans, helping to sharpen their senses. Looking forward, Toki held her spear loosely, the heavy panting of Kaji mixed with the rhythmic sound of the crunching snow, behind them the guns of Iron-town were now only a dull roar. The situation was surreal, Toki could never have imagined in her entire life that she would be doing anything like this, looking over she saw Koroku speeding along on Yakkuru, she had to admit he was doing a great job, he had drawn an arrow, ready to fire, and looked completely at ease on the Elk.
“Don't worry” said Kaji below her, sensing her fear. “We will only run around the lakes edge for show… and be scared off, there is no real danger.”
Toki returned to watching the moving birds, they were almost at the centre of the lake. To her left she caught the sudden movement of a one of the Koroku small birds stooping abruptly, looking closer she recognised a small hump raised above the otherwise flat surface, behind it she thought she could make out a trail to that point.
Koroku had barely noticed, being too focusing on the first bird to stop a-ways to his left, raising his bow he fired, the arrow streaking off to the target. The unsuspecting ambusher was not expecting the shot and reacted late, the arrow striking him in the leg, his own shot flying high. Bow still in one hand Koroku drew his sword. In front of him the other mercenary raised from his position, knowing he had been compromised, holding his staff at the ready, he prepared himself. Yakkuru could not turn effectively on the ice at this distance, something both men knew.
With only a few meters left, Koroku let out crisp
The elk changing its steps to launched itself into the air just before reaching the mercenary. Koroku crouched low in the saddle to the side facing the mercenary, swinging the sword low to impact on the staff tip spearing its way towards the elks side. Connecting hard the spear shattered, the deflected jab missed the two completely. Landing well, the two continued forward. Looking right he checked on Toki, she was still running fine, obviously it had been a forward ambush. As if to confirm, two signal arrows could be heard from the forest in front of them, to the left and right of them other figures emerged from the snow, they had been in a loose circle around Iron-town spread about 500m apart in pairs. Immediately the began to move too drive the two onto the opposite bank and cut off their retreat, they were spread in such a way as to be able to close on any individual that broke through the line, forcing them to go towards a specific bank of the lake. In front of them on the bank they could make out a group of horsemen, newly appeared from the trees. It was quite an elaborate trap.
“Ashitaka split up!” called Kaji. Already turning to his right. Koroku did the same, steering Yakkuru to his left.
Seen from above the turning ark for the burdened animals was quite large, particularly Yakkuru, as he struggled to maintain traction on the slippery surface. Of the mercenary horsemen, two broke off to follow Koroku the other four followed Toki and Kaji, who they obviously considered the bigger threat. The horses easily matched the speed of the icebound animals, which were already now becoming a little tired.
Back in Iron-town Gonza and the guards had ceased firing. The smoke had already begun to clear and it was obvious that most of the mercenaries on the hill had already departed to help close the gaps for the two messengers attempting to break out on the lake. Gonza was half tempted to try a forced break out down the main road with horses, knowing that only a few men would be left there. Looking out over Iron-town he could just make out the figures off on the lake, he had been quite shocked when told of the waiting ring of mercenary's. These were no ordinary soldiers, and he knew that any attempt along the road would never make it to Eboshi. Looking down at the shattered ice his eyes scanned the visible hillside, looking for a glimpse of any movement. Satisfied he could do no more for the three fugitives he turned his attention to the drama unfolding with the diversion.
“It's not looking good Gonza, they may be trapped.” called a guard back to the large worrier. Grumbling with this more immediate problem Gonze started to walk to the far wall.
“Quickly get some rope. We may have to go out on the ice.” he called.
While all this action had been going on a second more covert story had been unfolding right in the midst of the flying arrows and shot. Moments after the diversions broke through the smoke screen, showing themselves to be heading to the lake, the three true messengers took their turn to descend into the dense smoke, or at least one of them… Gendo had waited until the third volley had been fired, quickly dashing down to the newly opened lakes surface, moving as far as the smoke screen would allow before diving into the freezing water, any lingering effects of the poison was quickly eradicated by the frigid water. The white figure moving completely unseen below the ice and snow as he quickly made his way towards the start of the river that snaked its way down next to the road that led to the empire.
Ashitaka and San took a similar wrought under the cover of ice, though several meters `above' Gendos. Having waited patiently for the water to stop San and Ashitaka crawled into the now `dry' aqueduct.
Knowing that the aqueduct would freeze over the people of iron-town had insured that the water level had been raised to maximum.
The newly frozen, and now covered with snow, ice tunnel hiding the two sneaking figures of San and Ashitaka as they made there way allonge the sturdy aqueduct, arrows and shot flying by, only meters away. In only a few minutes they had reached the breach opened up by Gonzas `stray' shot. The area having now been effectively cloaked by the encroaching smoke from further up the hill. Waiting for the rhythmic lull in fire from the exchanged volleys Ashitaka slid out of the breach, attempting to avoid the spilling water as much as possible. Soon San was behind him, the two almost invisible to each other in the dense smoke. Both of the young warriors were completely covered in head to toe in white, a large white fur coat helping round off the disguise, Ashitaka turned to face San, focussing on her eye's, being about the only thing he could see, as that was all that was not covered in white. Ashitaka nodded, which she repeated, immediately breaking away to make her way up the hill, Ashitaka, losing sight of her, almost immediately then turned to make his own way.
Moving carefully through the smoke San made her way up the terraces, taking care to hide her tracks she also used the disturbed snow caused by stray shots when the opportunity presented itself. Luckily the smoke was holding steady, and the occasional flairs helped illuminate her path while at the same time temporarily blinding the mercenaries who were facing Iron-town. San was getting ahead of herself and some stray fire from Iron-town came a little to close for comfort, holding her position she waited till the fire lifted slightly before continuing. Gonza stuck to the plan, with the volleyed shots from the gunners raising to target the top of the hill. With her immediate surroundings now calmer San was able to make out some figures moving in the smoke. Her keen hearing picking up the sound of foreign accents.
“You 3 help the injured back to base…”
San heard from one of the larger figures.
“Yes sir”
“Clay, split your forces to cover the lake, I don't want them doubling back I will position my men to cover the road, remember the time-line, we may need every man we have, be prepared to move out at any time.”
“Right” replied a short chubby figure, quickly giving some quieter orders to his men. San was only meters away, huddling in a snowdrift next to a terrace wall, her white coat providing perfect camouflage. She observed as most of the figures quickly dispersed. Waiting for an opportune time San moved quickly to position herself to cross the heavily trafficked area. She paused for a second to ensure she was clear then leapt elegantly from the small number of exposed surfaces available, landing perfectly in a set of tracks just freshly made by a mercenary, she bounded on up into the upper terraces. Moving as smoothly as a snake she quickly reaching some low vegetation and disappeared, stopping to ensure that she had left no tracks or been spotted. Satisfied she grinned to herself then began moving carefully through the thicker undisturbed snow. Having to wait only two more times for passing mercenaries San soon found herself at the meeting point, a large old stump at the crest of the ridge, it was left over from the clear felling days of Iron-town. The new growth was about the height of a man in many places and they undulating snowy landscape was actually perfect for camouflage, assuming you were good enough to cover your tracks in the frigid landscape. From her position San had a good vantage point of Iron-town as well as down the road leading to the Empire, about 500m away San could just make out the small encampment of the Mercenaries, she could easily see the small fires burning brightly. Satisfied with her vantage point she settled into a more comfortable position leaning up against the large stump, snuggling into the large fur coat. The world had grown quiet again, with the firing having completely stoped minutes before. Listening to the silence she was only alone for about 15 minutes when she could suddenly just make out the sounds of her creeping accomplice. Quite efficient at stealth Ashitaka almost stepped on the perfectly hidden San before either realised the others presence. San quickly shot up her hand above the surrounding snow, stopping Ashitaka in his tracks. Cleaning up the last of the tracks behind him Ashitaka quickly `buried' himself next to her, snuggling up closely so the two young adults faces were right next to each other, San looking out towards Iron-town and Ashitaka towards the mercenaries camp.
“Any trouble?” whispered San, her eyes focused on the activities on the lake, far away.
“No” replied Ashitaka, scanning for movement. “Though one of them almost stepped on me, I had to wait for 10 minutes until he left.” Ashitaka finished, with a little chuckle. San turned her attention to the young man, he could tell from her eyes alone that she was smiling, Ashitaka long realised that San really enjoyed this type of `hunting' the thrill of the chase being so ingrained into her animal instinct.
“I hope Koroku and Toki are O.K.” stated Ashitaka warily. San broke eye contact to scan the lake again, she could only guess at what was unfolding on the ice.
“Get some rest” whispered San kindly “I will wake you if anything happens”
Ashitaka looked into her eyes, his own eyes already deciding for-him that he was long overdue the offer. Leaning forward the few centimetres Ashitaka rubbed Sans nose with his own before snuggling down further into the snow, his head resting against Sans arms. San made herself more comfortable then settled in. Looking across the silent frozen landscape she observed some movement within Iron-town, she found her mind wondering about the fate of her comrades, hoping that they had had as much fortune as them.
Back down on the frozen lake the situation was far from peaceful. Koroku and Yakkuru had run hard and stretched their pursuers to the maximum. They had never looked likely to threaten breaking through the riders on the south west shore but the footman on the ice had to spread thin to make up for their lack of speed, Koroku was contemplating doubling back when a flare fired from Iron-town revealed more riders and men on the east shore. The game was up, the riders would match him on each shore and eventually the footman would corner him on the ice, already his position was looking rather precarious, the footman showing surprising speed and fitness.
“Damn it” stated Koroku to himself, pulling back on Yakkurus reigns, slowing the elk down to a trot. Looking back to the North west he could make out most of the footman still running in that direction, obviously Toki and Kaji were giving them a run for their money.
“Come on Yakkuru, we have drawn most of the men, lets go home” he said calmly to the elk, who was already panting heavily. Turning, he looked for the largest gap between the pursuing footman, making his mind up quickly they headed off back towards the centre of the lake. Gaining speed he looked around at the escorting birds, who had again formed a rough circle around him, surely they were now quite tired themselves, but they continued on. Now that all the enemy had shown themselves the birds had formed so as to tweet loudly when any incoming arrows were observed, something that had saved Yakkuru twice already when the two had strayed to close to one of their pursuers.
The mercenaries reacted swiftly, two moving fast to close as much of the aimed-for gap as possible, they were taking no chances and were aiming to bring the messenger down. Koroku redirected Yakkuru to catch one of the runners off guard, angling so as to go through the other gap. Committed now Koroku judged that they two archers had only two or so good shots each at him as he passed through the centre of the two. Deciding to show his back to the one that had just run he prepared himself to square off against the other archer.
“Be prepared to jump Yakkuru” stated Koroku calmly, the large elk changing his pace slightly. Koroku measured his shot and fired early, the first arrow was on target and the mercenary had to role to avoid. To his other side he heard a chirp, kicking into Yakkuru but holding himself and the reigns low the Elk sprang forward instead of up, the sudden acceleration making the Arrow fly wide. Raising Koroku fired at the other archer, again his arrow forcing the archer to avoid. The two were dead centre between the archers now, another chirp, and without hesitation Koroku gave Yakkuru the order to jump, another arrow just missing. Kicking as he hit the ground Yakkuru accelerated hard, steadying himself Koroku fired, but his shot was well wide, and both archers were ready for a shot back. Though they were now firing from a ever increasing distance the angle of the two shots left no real room to manoeuvre, Koroku pulled hard on the reigns, shifting his weight and causing the elk to lose his footings, the two falling hard on the ice the sliding unceremoniously as the two arrows pierced the air just above them, in-bedding themselves into the snow just on either side. Continuing to slide Korroku unceremoniously pushed off Yakkuru forcing the two to slide on a slightly different angle, another arrow falling in-between the two.
“Come on Yakkuru get up!” shouted Koroku, scampering to his feet, the two managed to regain there footing and began to run. One or two arrows falling about them. Surprised at their inaccuracy Koroku looked back, just making out that some of the birds had split to harass the archers. Smiling he doubled his speed, soon getting out of their range, calling Yakkuru over he skilfully remounted on the run.
“Come Yakkuru lets go help Kaji and Toki” said Koroku, steering the Elk to head towards his wife. With that the two set off, at a more leisurely pace then before.
Toki and Koroku had broken the footman containment line twice on the ice, Kaji easily avoiding even closely ranged shots, Toki simply had to hang on and avoid getting shot, though occasionally this proved most difficult. Given the number of horseman on the shore it was simply impossible to break out of the lake, though they had come close until the appearance of the reinforcements on the northern shore. With the extra footman now on the ice the noose was beginning to close, in fact the situation was becoming desperate, the skilful teamwork of the mercenaries representing the hight of ad-lib choreography.
“Damn it, we should not have doubled back that second time” commented Kaji, stopping momentarily to assess the situation. Their only chance now was to head to Iron-town, though even that looked very dangerous.
“These mercenaries are amazing” replied Toki, genuinely impressed. “We will have to fight our way out… I am ready” she added stoically, knowing full well she had little chance in hand to hand combat. Kaji smirked at her determination, impressed with the woman's resolve, preparing to move he caught Yakkuru coming in over the lake out of the corner of his eye.
“It appears your husband will soon be here to help, be ready to move” commented Kaji and with that he let out another piercing howl.
With the skies clear again and the moon illuminating the white landscape as if it was day, Koroku could easily see the very large circle of mercenaries closing in on the wolf and his wife, they would very soon be caught in a deadly cross-fire. Kajis howl was quite audible, the small birds that had been escorting Koroku had been taking a rest, landing on every available steady surface of Koroku and Yakkuru, at Korokus prompting, the birds seemingly understanding.
At the sound of the howl the birds took off once more, quickly speeding off to assist Kaji. Considering the number of men he saw in front of him it was obvious that the mercenaries had only aimed to `contain' him, while they were definitely out to `get' the Wolf clan.
“Well this is it.” Koroku said to his ride. “After this we go home” he added reassuringly. Reaching for an arrow he quickly counted how many shots he had left. Yakkuru accelerated once more, Koroku taking his time to line up his first shot. In front of him a signal arrow was launched from the riders back on the shore, warning the footman of Korokus approach.
“The games afoot” stated Koroku, letting his first arrow fly.
Hearing the signal arrow Kaji growled slightly before springing into action, running headlong at the men blocking the way to Iron-town. Toki could just make out their small escorts as well as numerous other smaller birds speed off ahead of them.
The situation for the 7 mercenaries, spread over about 500m, and soon to be in good arrow range of the `wolf-clan' was not as clear as they would have liked. Only 4 were pared up and could effectively handle attacks from both side, the other three raced forward to try and position themselves for hand to hand combat if the opportunity presented itself. As well as having to avoid a series of Korokus surprisingly accurate shots, their situation became infinitely worse when each was suddenly swarmed by a group of small birds. Kaji grinned as he ran forward, not having to avoid the few incoming shots as they strayed wide. Approaching within 50m of the 2 closest mercenaries, Kaji avoided two good shots, on the other side Koroku fired on one of the two immediately in front of his wife. Warned by a call from his side the mercenary hit the ground, Kaji sidestepped and bounded in such a way as to land crouched, Toki had recognised the signal and was ready as Kaji launched her at the recently dropped archer, himself Immediately springing up at the other archer who had armed himself with a staff and was closing quick. Toki flew the 15 or so meters through the air at the archer. Struggling to hold a semblance of balance through the air she couldn't bring her spear to bare, careering into the mercenary who was too slow too avoid her. Luckily she had her knee out and came out the better of the heavy collision, the two tumbling backwards together.
Kaji had engaged the spearmen, elegantly knocking the spear tip away with his paw in a jump, spinning upon landing, Kaji then managed to got a hold of the spear with his teeth, flinging the larger man a fair distance with one swing of the head. Avoiding another shot the wolf ran in such a way as to fling up a maximum amount of snow. Toki had recovered quickly, kicking the still stunned archer in the side of he head, knocking him out. The next closest archer committed to firing despite the continued pestering of the little guardians, Toki dived, the arrow passing through her fur coat, the blade of the arrow cutting her side, but just missing in-bedding into her, the mercenary was about to finish her off when he was struck in the leg by a shot from Koroku, now having turned for a second pass. Shouting out with pain he fired at Koroku, the mounted archer being already far enough away for the shot to fall wide. Toki used the opportunity to run, soon Koroku was back by her side, a few arrows falling around him. Waiting until Toki jumped back on him, Kaji accelerated further, the two quickly getting out of effective range.
Soon they were joined by Koroku and Yakkuru.
“Nice job Koroku” said Kaji encouragingly, very grateful to be out of the trap. “Thanks for coming for us” he added.
“Of course” replied Koroku. “You two all right?” he asked.
“We're fine” replied Toki, matter-of-factly. She was concentrating on her current condition, one hand holding her cut side. Looking over she also added “Thanks”
Koroku smiled at this recognition from his wife. Though this soon changed as the blood she was loosing from her wound became quite apparent on the white fur coat.
“Toki your bleeding!” exclaimed Koroku, removing the mask.
“We can do nothing until we reach Iron-town, they are still closing form the east bank.” Interrupted Kaji. “Can you hold out till then?”
“I will be fine Koroku” stated Toki to her husband, the two riding on together.
Gonza and a small group of foot soldiers had scaled down the southern wall of Iron-town with ropes, having taken large wooden boards, or shields, and an assortment of weapons, they formed up into a mobile fortification. A single flair revealed that mercenaries were evenly spaced out on the North-east shoreline on either side of iron-town, just outside gun range. Toki, Koroku and Kaji gratefully greeted Gonza as they reached the small group, Koroku dismounting and tending to his wife as the small group slowly made their way around the East side of Iron-town, to the still open gate. Moving slowly a series of smoke bombs were thrown to obscure the parties' movements from the archers in the hill, though not a single shot was noted from the surrounding band of men. Soon everyone was back inside, the gate closing symbolically behind them.
All 4 were tended to for numerous injuries, with Koroku watching nervously as his wife received more complex attention. Soon she was bandaged up and put to `bed'.
Finally finding themselves alone, Koroku, sitting cross legged next to his wife, started fidgeting a little. Toki had everything she could possibly want at hand, and it was slightly annoying for Koroku not to be able to do anything for her. Her injuries had looked a little gruesome but were not critical. They had actually not spoken directly to each other since reaching Gonza on the lake, as all 4, in particular Toki, had required attention, and Koroku knew better then to get in the way.
“I sure hope the others got through O.K.” he said finally, scratching the back of his head. Toki remained still, her eyes closed.
“If we almost managed to break out, they should be fine” she said calmly.
“Ya” chuckled Koroku, still a little uncertain.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked automatically, before catching himself.
“Actually there is” replied Toki slowly after a few seconds.
“Stay as you are..” she said softly, opening her eyes to look at her husband, “Its worth putting up with the other annoyances” she added, smiling. Koroku smiled broadly, as only he could. Taking her hand he gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“Now lets get some rest” she said finally, becoming genuinely tired. Koroku moved closer to lie next to his wife, the futon she was on being easily large enough.
“Koroku… other side” said Toki calmly.
Koroku looked at his wife for a second, noting he was on the side with the injury.
“Oops… sorry” he said with a smile, moving over to her other side. Toki shook her head with a faint smile, sleep already well on its way to taking over.
The two dozing figures soon falling asleep, amber's of a small fire crackling softly next to them.
Outside, the rest of Iron-town was settling down to get some sleep, Gonza and Kaji were also dozing next to a fire, exhausted by their previous efforts.
“A good fire is not a bad thing you must admit.” said Gonza lazily, settling into a comfortable position.
“I have to admit, its not all bad.” replied Kaji, not opening his eyes.
Gonza shivered slightly, thinking of the cold water that Gendo had jumped into only hours before.
“Poor Gendo must be freezing” thought Gonza out aloud.
“he he…” mumbled Kaji. “He will be running hard now, probably warmer then us actually.”
“hmm” responded Gonza, himself soon also falling asleep.