They went forward, one by one, with hearts heavy, but hands firm, and they looked the man in the eye, and claimed their revenge.
There was barely a spark of life left in him. A multitude of swords stuck out from his body, and a monotonous groan escaped his lips under those half-open eyes.
They had fallen into a silence, as they stood there, empty, caught up in the moment. A goal that they had spent so long on, finally achieved, and once there, nothing remained, except the corpse of the man they despised.
A single man stepped forward, wizened by the many years he had spent on this earth. He knew the true value of revenge, and all its self-corrupting attributes, and so he had not allowed it to corrupt himself. It was his duty – as one of the last of his generation – to usher in the light for the younger men.
He drew his wakizashi, twirling it in his hand with familiarity. He grasped Imagawa Yoshimoto's hair, placed the blade to his throat, and severed his head, allowing the corpse to fall forward, as he held it up the head for all to see. "BEHOLD! IMAGAWA YOSHIMOTO IS DEAD, AND THE IMAGAWA CLAN IS DESTROYED! LONG LIVE THE MIURA CLAN AND THE SOLDIERS OF THE RED FEATHER!"
His words almost fell on deaf ears, as the light returned to their eyes. That's right. It wasn't just about killing Imagawa. There was much more to it. This needn't be the end. It was time for a new leader to be ushered in – and that's where the joy was to be had. It was here, and it was now, and it was in the future too. Under their leadership, they would be able to achieve something of note. They would be able to push forth, and experience bigger and greater things. This piglet with its severed head was nothing more than a slight stain on the greater glory of their future achievements.
"The Miura clan?" Gengyo repeated, amused by the sound of it. "Must that be our name? The Red Feather clan is more pleasing to the ears." He too was able to be light-hearted, despite the grim nature of their affairs.
"No, no. Of course not. The head of the clan must share its name – it's tradition." Jikouji insisted. "Do you men not think so? The man that lead us to victory on this night, against a force of twelve thousand men, and inside their own fortress nonetheless! As Daimyo, his clan should be of his family name, and we humble men will be his servants – the soldiers of The Red Feather!"
"The Miura clan sounds good to me, general!"
"Yeah! And to me! It's only right."
Gengyo shook his head with a light smile, stepping lightly over Imagawa's corpse, and ascending the steps towards his throne. "Shall we see just how comfortable this is then?" He mused, plonking his bum down upon its surface. "Well, it's certainly roomy."
His joking held a greater significance for them, as he sat there, his clothes and armour stained with blood, and his expression light. Yet one could tell merely from his eyes that he was a terrifying person. A person who had united both his darkness and his light, who had transformed the duality of man into a singularity, and been rendered whole in the process. A holy man.
They felt compelled to kneel. How could it be so? It was like a key had been fitted into a lock. A position he had only assumed mere seconds before, and yet, it suited him so perfectly. The very image of what a Daimyo should be, all whilst having peasant blood running through his veins.
By the front, led by an old man, they bent one knee to the floor, and bowed their heads towards him. Those next to him reciprocated. His own father bowed his knee. His wife. His sister. His mentor. All his closest friends, they accepted his leadership, and felt no qualms in showing him the respect that he deserved. The rest were quick to follow, as the feeling rippled through the crowd, and soon all bent their knee towards him.
"ALL HAIL MIURA TADAKATA, DAIMYO OF THE MIKAWA PROVINCE AND HEAD OF THE MIURA CLAN!" Jikouji lead the cry.
"ALL HAIL MIURA!" They seconded.
Gengyo stared back at them, his smile fading, caught off guard. The reality of the moment was moving. This truly was it, he realized. He truly did have a province under his rule – at least for now. He tightened his fist in response to such a thought. The world was a chaotic place. They would not remain constant for long. Their worst threats were yet to come. The first step up an unclimbable mountain.
"You've fought well today, men. With a ferocity even greater than that of lions. Your legend will be remembered no matter what happens from here on out." He murmured quietly, humbled by their strength.
"LORD!" They barked their respect, slamming their fists into their chest.
"This castle, and all those castles for miles around – they're ours. We've hit upon a great wealth, yet I hope you will not take that to heart. We must remain valiant, at least for a time, until our hold is cemented. Heed my words – the Takeda will come, and they will not come lightly. In the name of vengeance, they'll storm these lands, though they could not care less for the piggy that fell. Nevertheless, we can hold them! We will call to arms the people of this land, and we will add another head to our collection!"
"For now, though, we can set such concerns aside. We have achieved the impossible, and it is time to celebrate. Go! Search this place! Find their stash of wine and sake, and we will indulge ourselves – enough to even make Zerok envious."
His words aroused many amused chuckles, as they scrambled to their feet glad at the order, stomping through the rooms. They would make a grand mess, that was for certain. They might even cause a good amount of damage. But it was fine. Things had to be changed, and the ghosts of the Imagawa clan that haunted this castle would be removed, and so they began about making it theirs.
As the men ran off in search of wine, Gengyo's friends waited at the foot of the stairs for him, smiles finally on their faces. He wandered down to them, stepping across Imagawa's corpse with barely a glance. How low the mighty had fallen.
"We had better go tell the others, had we not? I expect they are rather worried by now." He suggested, freeing himself from his helmet and sword, casting them down on the floor without a care, as he stretched out. "Its been a long night, but there we are. When we fall asleep and wake up tomorrow, we will do so as different people."
"I sure hope not." Rokkaku replied with a grin. "I've grown fond of this face of mine – as have the women, or so I'm told."
"Heh… I guess some people are happy with very little. Good for you, Rokkaku – that's an admirable quality." Even the usually stern-faced Togashi was able to joke a little now, catching Rokkaku off guard, as he stared back in surprise.
"…I expected it to be Morohira, not you, Togashi. A man needs to have some confidence, y'know? A compliment here and there might not be so bad."
"You're ugly." Morohira stated gruffly.
"I'm going to cry." The big man muttered his eyes clouding.
"I don't think you're bad looking." Sasaki comforted him, a big meaty hand on his shoulder.
"Thanks Sasaki… I can always rely on you. You're a good pal."
"But I'm better." The giant teddy bear of a man asserted with a grin, bringing a chorus of laughter out from the rest of them.
"Hey, boss?" Il called out, as they walked through the castle, stepping past the corpses of slain servants and soldiers.
"Do you think we can bring horses in future? Y'know, because we could already be back by now."
"Hoh… He's already complaining." Gengyo tutted.
"No, no. It's just that… We wouldn't get so tired."
"Don't you worry my boy. I've got something far better than a horse, and you'll never get tired on the battlefield again – you can count on it! We'll double your endurance training, how about it?" Jikouji leapt in, seizing the opportunity.
"Now that – that's a good idea. We'll do that. Feel free to complain in future, Il, we'll sort it out for you straight away." Gengyo asserted, running his arm over his wife's shoulder as she leaned against him, a contented smile blossoming on her face.
"You're worse than Imagawa…" Il muttered.
"That sounds like treason, Nii-san. Should I cut him open?" Rin asked, her voice sweet and gentle.
"I'll leave that to your discretion, little sister."