This fic is currently undergoing an intensive rewrite. Chapters will be updated as they are completed. This fic is also available on AO3 under the pen name Frailty Collapse. Thanks for sticking with us, and I hope you enjoy the new, revised version of Bones!
The year was 1585. As the chill from the surrounding mountains glided down to the valley, the leaves began changing from their usual lush green to a brilliant vermillion, signaling the coming winter. The land of Kai was once again at peace, having not seen the carnage of battle in some time. The surrounding provinces had become content with their land, their resources sufficient for the colder season. And since the fall of their mutual enemies, none saw fit to continue to push their borders. Not even the rival Uesugi clan saw fit to leave the mountaintops for a duel, contented with the knowledge that they both had their strengths and there need not be any further bloodshed.
For this, Takeda Shingen was grateful, for even as the mountain of Fuji stood eternally watching over their land, a symbol of infinite strength and wisdom, the lord of the land found his own strength dwindling.
He would not admit that his age was beginning to creep up on him; he was only in his sixties, after all, and his position did not allow him the luxury of slowing down. And yet, the times had begun to take their toll. Now the proud general spent his days watching his young students practice in the courtyard. They were his legacy in physical form, the future of Kai, of Japan; far better than an ailing man, wasting away from illness. His own body was fighting a battle against itself, and even as the doctors did their best to treat him, it was becoming apparent that it was a war he could not win.
Truly a pitiful fate for a man known as the formidable Tiger of Kai, whom had fought to keep the borders of his small province against the demons themselves.
In spite of the illness that caused even his breath to bring him pain, there was at least one glimmer of light in his life: a young man, the son of one of his esteemed captains lost in the war, Sanada Yukimura.
He watched as the boy, only barely a man, danced across the courtyard, sparring with his fellow students with the grace of an Odori dancer. Takeda had taken the boy under his wing at a young age, training him in the ways of the samurai. From his youth he showed an affinity for spears, and would not be satisfied with simply wielding one in battle. No, Yukimura had always wanted to impress his lord, and so took to training with two, and mastering the skill if only to receive the praise of his beloved general. He had succeeded thus far, earning him the informal title of Takeda's protégée, and in some circles, the Tiger Cub of Kai. The general could not be more proud.
For his youth, Takeda had always been confident in the boy's skills. Even as he hung back in battle, allowing the captains and soldiers to play out the skirmish as he watched, he could count on Yukimura to lead his troops to victory.
"Oyakata-sama!" As if his very thoughts had summoned the young warrior, Yukimura had broken away from the training group and run to visit with his lord. "Has your condition improved?" He asked, remaining hopeful even as the inevitability of his lord's fate loomed ever closer. Dispite this, Takeda refused to put a damper on the boy's fiery spirit. He was so young and worried far too greatly for his ailing master. The great lord could not in good conscience allow Yukimura to fret as he did. The saying 'be as a bird, show not your weakness in good company or bad' came to mind. It was errily fitting. "I shall not let this take the tiger out of me, Yukimura, I assure you." He answered, voice still raspy from a night of unyielding coughing fits.
The boy was understandably pleased by the news - So pleased that he'd failed to note the gruff wheeze lacing his lord's words. Overjoyed, even, as it brought tears to his eyes. "Oh, Oyakata-sama! I am so glad to hear it!" The boy's tendency to be reduced to blubbering tears often irked his lord; a mighty captain wasn't to cry so easily. He remembered the day he had earned his adult name where he had cried openly in front of his fellow vassals, so grateful to be given such an honor. It was endearing, however, to see him so jubilant over the prospect of a potential recovery for his lord, no matter how futile such a prospect could be. Takeda toyed with the idea of punching the boy in the jaw just to knock him out of the tearful spell, as he often did just to attempt to toughen the boy out of the habit, but let it slide, for now.
"Yukimura, return to your post. You must remain in top shape if you are to one day lead the clan against our enemies. Do not disappoint me!" Takeda bellowed, the effort itself causing him to cough. This went thankfully unnoticed, and Yukimura quickly hopped to his feet, determined. "I will make you proud, Oyakata-sama!" He announced before skittering off with the energy of a hyperactive kitten. Tiger Cub of Kai, indeed.
Takeda continued watching over his students, smiling fondly as they continued to improve their skills with one another's aid. He contemplated sleep until another subordinate appeared before him, swift as a night breeze.
From the trees came a man clad in the green and camouflage typical of his troop, the green markings across his face meant to help keep them hidden in the forest. Takeda did not look his way as he spoke, "Your report, Sasuke."
"It is as you suspected, Taichou." The ninja began, his head bowed and body crouched as he gave his report, "There is definitely activity in the area surrounding Aoba Mountain… I believe he is involved."
His suspicions confirmed, Takeda grew impossibly paler. "Of all times… Why must he emerge now?" Even the normally strong and poised leader was overcome with despair at the thought. He immediately turned to the ninja, barking orders. "Sound the horns. Tell the captains to assemble all able men with their best gear. We cannot allow history to repeat itself!" Takeda lumbered to his feet, intent on donning his own armor and joining the front line. The ninja looked up with a faint sense of worry, "Oyakata-sama, perhaps you should reconsider…"
"There is no time for reconsideration when that one is involved! Yukimura!" belted Takeda, standing at full height in the doorway to his quarters. "Ready yourself for battle! We head to Oushuu immediately!"
"Oushuu…?" Perplexed, Yukimura blinked at the man. Oushuu was an abandoned land, forbidden by the surrounding lords to even trespass through without permission. What could they possibly do there? But Yukimura was not about to question his lord's orders; he had sworn loyalty to the Takeda just as his father before him and would follow him until he took his final breath. His practice robes were traded for his red battle armor, his harmless sparring rods for his trusty spears, and Yukimura joined the rest of the troops.
That eve, Takeda stood atop the grassy knoll that overlooked his fortress, thinking of what was to come, and what would become of his people. Knowing that the battle would be arduous, he had sent Sasuke's team out to scout the area ahead of time. The man could cover thrice the ground he could in half the time, and was a vital member of his team.
When he returned, however, his word was not as he would have hoped.
"Taichou, I come with news."
"What is it, Sasuke?" the general replied solemnly. He did not turn towards the ninja, his eyes fixed on the field, the town. His troops, brave men ready to fight for their lord's cause, gathered in the courtyard for their briefing. Three hundred men whom had been roused from their beds would head for Oushuu this night, travel one week's time to the cursed northern city and drive the hellish dragon back into the darkness.
These men who would die for him, at his command, for the hope of a better Japan now kissed wives and children goodbye while they still dreamed soundly in their bedrolls, some never to be seen again. The thought worried deep lines into Takeda's brow, creased his aging eyes and tensed his enormous form. His great crossed arms tightened their hold, his grip on each arm increased. Was the price worth the reward?
Sasuke spoke. "My scouts inform me that Date is not far off. Just two miles from here."
"What?!" Takeda exclaimed in a whisper so harsh a cough was caught in his throat. He squashed it down, swallowed thick to keep it at bay, lest it become a fit. This could not work. He was too far gone. "How did he elude us?"
"That is unclear." The ninja spoke quietly, as if the night itself would hear their conversation and whisper their secrets to cause panic amoung the already wary troops. His eyes were on them as Takeda's were - on one particular one. The redclad boy of a warrior who was eagarly chattering with a few other men. Yukimira, Sasuke's charge and dear friend. He would not have wished for a boy so young to run headlong into a battle such as this, not like this, against the dragon of Oushuu. His worry was immeasurable, far outweighing his pride.
Nothing could be done for it. He was so strong already at his tender age of nineteen. There was no reason to keep him from the fight. In truth, it would have been more of a hinderance than a benefit to refuse him.
A soft, low rumble of a hum came from his lord at his side. Takeda, it would seem, had similar thoughts. His eyes were as Sasuke's were, on the young charge. His frown deepened. "Are the men ready?" The query held a secret question, one easily deciphered by the ninja - was he ready.
Sasuke turned his eyes finally sideways, to his commander, and offered a slight smile. "Yes, sir." There was no hope, no backing out. This was as it must be. Yukimura would have to be ready, for this battle and for his task. Takeda knew this well. He could not hope to defeat what lie ahead. All their bets for a victory lay with the crimson warrior.
"Prepare to move out, Sasuke. We take the demon at dawn."
This couldn't work. They were unprepared, so little time was afforded. But this was all that could be done. Now or never.
For the future.
Before the sun rose, the entirety of the Takeda Army was mounted and headed north.
But to where? Takeda had only given brief instruction before ordering their movement to the supposedly lordless castle. It was not long before the chatter of the worried soldiers rose among the troops.
"A demon… He's taking us to fight a demon!" One surmised, his voice shrill.
"A demon? Impossible, Nobunaga lies in the opposite direction!" Countered another, more confident soldier.
"Not him, you fool! Nobunaga was slain three years back!" The shrill man continued, "I heard from my father that a demon resides in Oushuu!"
"Your father must have had too much drink. I find no merit to that claim!"
"You there!" At the head of the troops, Takeda came to a full stop, turning to face his men to silence their chattering. "We are off to face the rival and sworn enemy of all the land; the Date Clan!"
The name caused a wave of murmurs to erupt among the soldiers. The Date Clan… No one had seen or heard of them for forty years! "In my youth, I fought alongside many proud warriors to push back the forces of the Date Clan, who seek the take our land and all others for themselves. We succeeded, and now shall do so again!"
The murmurs rose into a collective din of questions. If they had been defeated two scores ago, how was it they had risen in power now? Where had they been all this time? What did Takeda know that they didn't? "It is our duty to protect the land of Kai from those who seek to defile it. And so we meet our enemy by dawn and crush him! The purifying rays of the rising sun will send them back from whence they came!"
The men rose up in nervous, yet rancorous cheers. Even Yukimura did his best to rally the troops in spite of their fear and confusion. While no one voiced it, many thought their commander to have lost his mind from illness, or even old age, but they would follow him for their loyalty, if nothing else.
It was their duty as members of the Kai Army to stay by their lord's side.
As the moon traveled higher into the sky, Yukimura finally called for his lord's attention. "Oyakata-sama…" Takeda regarded him with a stiff nod, not daring to speak, as weary as he was. "You should rest. You have stood watch all night while still recovering from your illness." Yukimura urged, careful with words, knowing the tension among the group was already at its highest.
"Yukimura," Takeda's voice was rough as he called his protégée's name. He could feel himself swaying atop his steed in spite of his attempts to remain upright. "Do you believe yourself ready to lead the Kai Army?"
Takeda pulled his horses in front of Yukimura's affectively stopping the procession. "If I were to hand control to you, could you face a foe you know nothing of? Could you face someone who was said to have perished when I was a lad? Could you handle it, Yukimura?"
"O-Oyakata-sama..." The boy was taken aback at first by the man's sudden questioning, but wasted no time in reaffirming his willingness to fight. "I will, Oyakata-sama! For the honorable clan of Takeda, I, Sanada Genjirou Yukimura, will rise to the occasion and fight off the formidable Date Clan!"
With his words a smile stretched across the weary man's face. This boy, so determined in his ways, young and fearless…
Takeda had little time to muse about his protégée's naiveté before his balance suddenly left him, his hulking body tumbling from his horses onto the grass below. The army behind him erupted into an uproar of questions and fear. Their lord had lead them to the battlefield, then suddenly collapsed, leaving them to face an opponent they knew nothing about.
And Yukimura, whom was still a boy himself, was now to lead the army to victory. In spite of his commitments to his now unconscious lord, the young captain's resolve seeped away, replaced by toxic self-doubt.
There was no time to plan an attack. No time to strategize or contemplate maneuvers among his fellow captains.
As the sun was still more than an hour from rising, their enemy appeared.