MGW Author Note: "Battle of Tsugemachi" (柘植町の戦い) is a standalone story inspired by my ninja fiction "Pure Heart: Ninjutsu Chronicle", which is on hiatus. It is a rewrite of the chronicle's former prologue, which was intended to work as a test chapter to see how my writing style could convey a violent historical drama and the ninja. It is my personal recommendation that you increase the font size (check upper right) while reading.

All of man's sins influence even beyond the living world. From the aftermath, he re-experiences the age old vendetta through the pain in his body.

The year was 1567; it was another year within Japan's most chaotic era – the Warring States Period. Battle after battle waged constantly for political re-unification, dragging boys and men into a sea of despair even if against their own will. Men were cruel and greedy; they were either killed or suffering from their debilitated war force or human spirits. It all became an everyday occurrence.

The eyes of eighteen-year-old Shoutarou widened at the massive field surrounding Tsuge Castle, the most esteemed fortification of northwestern Iga Province. Daybreak revealed the grass lined and splotched with red, and an acrid smell hung in the usually pleasant clean air. The boy, very hesitant, followed a red trail with his vision. He then moved his legs with an instinct of urgency, bolting past the castle's stone walls and around a corner, and reaching a sight that froze his body. The color of red stained the grass even more, overlapped by a spread of men that extended for as far as Shoutarou's eyes could see.

He looked around as his shock forced him to. Bodies lay by, next, or atop one another, or were slouching across the stone walls. Even arms and legs, thought to be imagined at first, were detached and torn, scattered all over. Ripped flesh hung loosely from the bodies' stumps; there were even bloodied protruding bones. As the only one standing within this awful situation, the boy's mouth was gaped open, his heart pummeled, and he became daunted.

Shoutarou was a boy unlike many males from his home province. Peers say he had an "effeminate soul"; gentle and preferring peace, Shou was easily shaken by each disaster that the Warring States brought down on Japan. Since he has never been in proximity of an ongoing battle or after one, the exposure of so many raw dead bodies at such a fast pace, not veiled by rolls of straw, severely showed Shoutarou the true face of reality. It was the reality of 16th century Japan where strength ruled above all and naivety led to death.

Shou squeezed his eyes and jaw shut, and clasped his head that thundered with a migraine. The boy dropped to his knees from nausea and began to whimper, and he pushed himself to stifle a scream. Gods forbid if the corpses were his closest friends, his mother, or his senior. Japan's violence had already taken his father and baby sister.

In between sobs, Shou's ears picked up loud heaving snorts ahead of him. The Iga boy looked, and his feeling of fear and helplessness elevated. He was expecting a samurai clad in rich armor; broad eyes were instead fixed on a tall, muscular figure that hulked meters away. The figure crouched, snorted, and then lunged forward at Shou, who quickly rolled out of the way. The attacker missed, but was now positioned very close by. Close enough that the boy was able to see creases in its large arm and abdominal muscles of white flesh. He was stunned with intimidation.

Examining more, the Iga also noticed its black mane and huge baring teeth, jaws bigger than Shou's head. It, whatever it was, turned its head to stare at Shou, giving out a low threatening growl. Shou gasped; not from fear, but from the sight of a lacerated human arm being squeezed in between its blood-stained teeth.

After three quiet seconds, Shou moved again.

"Y-y-YOU!" Anger, panic, the will to live, or all of it combined, with it the traumatic Shou became a man and grabbed the short sword at his back, swinging at the attacker's neck. The monster swung back – with its clawed hand. The sickle-like nails tore through the fabric of Shotuarou's jacket. There was no scream; swathes of blood flew outward and the image of the monster vanished.

Countless seconds of silence and darkness have passed. However, another chance was seemingly given. No one knew why, but the young man always had a high aptitude for survival.

"Agg…" Shoutarou returned very slowly with a quick intake of breath following with a low, strangled cough. Consciousness was faint, like the level of belief he had about his luck, but indeed consciousness was present. His eyes half-parted open and everything was too blurry to distinguish; and as if on cue, the first thing he picked up was the smell of blood permeating the entire area. The sharp scent stung his nose, and his head ached from the sound of a whistle shrilling through his ears. Shoutarou cringed and gasped again; the moment he tried to move, the responding fiery pain travelled up and around his chest, then spread down to his arms and knees. It even nibbled at his feet, a stark reminder of his reckless action. Gods forbid he would ever want to move again.

Maybe "luck" was the wrong way of describing it, but even within this unpleasant moment, the young man felt a bit of gratification. If Death was taunting him, maybe allowing him to savor a "best memory" or some other aesthetic, then he would take the chance. Shoutarou sighed one more time with ease. He could feel strings of plants between his fingers as his hand curled and clutched the earth. His memories ventured back to his mother's garden or how his late baby sister enjoyed resting back on a hillside, looking up to the stars on a summer night. Once in a while, the injury intervened with Shou's happiness. The young man tried to be comfortable, but there was still the whistling. He would grab his head if he wasn't so too pinned down by his wounds. He continued to clench the grass, and another voice had broken through.

"How does it feel, Iga? This is all your fault after all!"

"Stop that mentor! Don't provoke the situation anymore."

"Master Kousaka!"

"Be silent! If he hadn't strained himself, he would have never become what he did!"

Shoutarou listened and his eyes flew wide open. Shou recognized the irritable voice, and very quickly it triggered him a revelation. He strongly believed that the massacre was led by that guy, the one who was dead serious like a bull about defeating the people of Iga and mostly Shou himself. Shoutarou knew him too well. The Koga, why? He had thought. Apparently, the guy was directing his anger towards someone and more blood was about to be spilt soon.

Shou's cold aching body still disallowed him to move. A cry of death of a young boy was raised, and the sound of a swinging blade shortly before that.

The master Koga's mouth jumped open as he saw his companion's head fall off his neck. Red liquid cascaded over the now dead body's clothing.

"YOKUMARU!" Kousaka shouted with absolute anguish. Following was another blade stroke, a loud echoing roar of pain, and a loud crash of something heavy falling to the ground.

"I had enough," calmly said the new challenger in the voice of a woman. Very focused, She was not baffled by the dead bodies of her Iga intimates and Shou before her or so she believed. Upon her beautiful face her eyes were sharp and cold, passively angry. This made the men from Koga slowly backpedal with fear. All except for the one called Kousaka who desired to fight the most. That person had always remained faithful to his fighting art.

And despite facing someone of higher stature, he held up his weapons and affirmed to the woman, "You will pay, Aina!"

Shoutarou smiled lightly from hearing the woman's voice.

"Mother", that thought gave him relief. As if she sensed his agony, the one who Shou shared a very close bond with appeared as a lone reinforcement. Retaliation would be promised through murder.