The Battle of Ukabu Mura
Written By Robert Anderson Hunt and Gareth Jones
I am sure that in the course of things, the Battle of Ukabu Mura will not be an event of great significance; it was no battle of Toshi Ranbo, nor could it be compared to the battle of the Fire Flower. Even so, I cannot help but feel privileged to have witnessed what so few will remember as more than a footnote in the war between Lion and Phoenix.
The village of Ukabu Mura overlooks the banks of the Drowned Merchant River. It is the westernmost holding of the Shiba provinces and due to the frigid climate of the settlement it is unsuitable for the growing of rice. It is for this reason that the temple of Toyouke-Omikami, the Fortune of Grain resides there, and it my privilege to serve as the abbot of that temple. Knowing that this day would be significant, I, Shinsen, took a place high up as my viewing perch where I would be out of the way but able to see.
Excited by the events to come, and by the presence of the Phoenix’ Hurricane Legion, a multitude of Air kami danced over the empty grain fields. Unlike most days, the peasants did not work, but remained safely inside. Instead, a force of Shiba bushi, spotted here and there by the bright colours of a Hurricane Legionnaire, stood in neat ranks, arrayed to defend their settlement. Across the fields from them, approaching in a steady march was an army wearing the colours of the Lion.
I did not know at the time, but having spoken to the samurai afterwards, I discovered that the leaders of the forces were named Asako Chigo, Acolyte of Air, the Akodo Gunso, Kotaro, and a personage of no less importance than Asahina Tamako, the Daimyo of his Family.
Asahina Tamako stood with a double rank of shugenja from his family, standing back-to-back between the Lion and the Phoenix in one final attempt to avert the coming war between the two Great Clans.
Perhaps, indeed, the kami were reacting to the movements of the troops in the fields: as the Lion marched towards the village, the Phoenix troops advanced and the wall of the Crane stood firm between them, the wind rose to a howl, picking up loose stalks of grain and leaves from nearby trees to fill the air with debris.
The Lion looked as if they would reach the steadfast pacifists first, but at an order of the leader, they halted. Akodo Kotaro walked forward alone to the Asahina and exchanged some words with the Daimyo. I could not hear their exchange over the wind, but Kotaro returned to his troops and Tamako stood firm.
It is said that the only thing the Lion and the Phoenix of this generation hate more than one another is that which comes between them. That day I saw these bitter enemies join together and destroy the Crane who stood bravely between them. Though no word passed between the two enemies, an understanding seemed to pass between their commanders that there was business to attend to before they began their conflict. Not one Asahina raised a weapon to defend themselves, and not one escaped the wrath of the two warring Clans. By the time that they were felled, Akodo Kotaro and Asako Chigo had earned the new names I have heard their men give to them.
Let the death of Asahina Tamako and his men stand as a warning for those who would stand between the Hammer and the Anvil.
The two Great Clans then turned on one another with a fury that I have never seen in my short life. Kiai tore the air, steel cut through flesh and blood sprayed onto the grain fields. The first blow struck by gold against orange was marked by the slightest shower of rain among the winds. I could not know then what the kami had in store, but I felt a sense of what was to come nonetheless.
Initially, the disciplined hatred of the Lion took the upper hand. The rapid responses to the movements of their enemies and the orders of their officers gave them the upper hand. Slowly, however, the coordination of the well-trained Lion started to wane and the endurance of their Shiba opponents began to tip the balance.
I admit I was surprised that the Phoenix were managing to turn the battle to their advantage, but then I observed the bloody cause behind it. With a flash of coloured light, I saw a member of the Hurricane Legion appear out of thin air next to one of the Lion officers, striking down the Nikutai from behind before the officer even knew his opponent had arrived. The shugenja of the elemental guard were systematically cutting off the head of the Lion.
Of course, one of the legionnaires appeared out of nowhere to strike at Kotaro. At the last moment the Hammer realised that the attack was coming and brought his blade up to defend himself. He struck down his would-be assassin with a brutal efficiency, and then had a chance to take stock of the battle. He saw his commanders lying dead. He saw a shugenja flash into existence behind a comrade and though he tried to shout a warning, he was not fast enough. Enraged, Kotaro the Hammer surged forward towards the front line screaming out a challenge to his “dishonourable opponent”.
On the instinct of a moment I peered up to the heavens and was struck by drops of rain. It was not a torrent, but I saw that the clouds were full to bursting with the rivers of heaven.
The warriors around the Anvil, Chigo, moved to surround Kotaro. But the Phoenix shugenja shouted over the tumult that he would accept the challenge and commanded his troops to occupy themselves otherwise. He answered the challenge with violence. Calling to the kami, he convinced them to catch the arrows being launched from the Lion’s Ashigaru archers and redirected them out and back into the surrounding air. They were shattered by the force of the winds and joined the circling cloud of dust, rain and debris. The Hammer glowered at this display, and then charged with a roar of defiance blossoming from his throat to match any Matsu berzerker. Around them, the dam of the sky burst and the heavens became a maelstrom of wind and water alive with the energies of the kami.
The Anvil again called on the gathering air kami and hurled them against the charging bushi. A brutal gust picked up Kotaro and hurled him to the ground like a child’s discarded toy. Then again; and again; Kotaro was picked up and flung back and just as many times he picked himself up to charge again. The very air fought to keep him back as the storm intensified and I could see the Acolyte straining to keep him back.
It was as if they were alone on the battlefield. No other warrior came near to help nor hinder either samurai. Kotaro knelt in the now-muddy earth, anchored to the ground with his blade. Chigo stood exhausted before him, water streaming from the roof of his hat in solid sheets.
Surging to his feet for another attempt to bring his enemy down, Kotaro charged at Chigo. The exhausted shugenja tried once more to push him back, but the battle had taken its toll on him; the rain soaking into his robes weighed him down, and the kami who answered his call did so slower than before
Like their namesakes, the Hammer and Anvil slammed together. As the bushi’s blade slashed twice, sending the shugenja’s bloodied hat flying, the Acolyte threw him away with a final spell. This time both were driven to the ground in the slurping muck. Both slowly stood, facing one another.
I tore my attention away from them to see that around them the tide had turned: Lion ashigaru cut down Phoenix troops and I saw several members of the Hurricane legion abandon the field. Perhaps they thought their leader slain.
The Acolyte and the Gunso spoke then, briefly. Neither man was truly in a position to fight any longer. Both had completely expended themselves and the kami had favoured the Lion. Kotaro sheathed his blade. I could see the Phoenix leader cast about him and take stock, seeing no doubt the same thing that I did. He tied away his spell scroll and retrieved his hat.
The two men bowed to each other, before turning apart and calling to their troops, commanding them to come apart. The Phoenix departed and the Lion entered the town. Thus passed the battle of Ukabu Mura.
Abbot of the Temple of Toyouke-Omikami