The entity that stands before you is full of rage and hatred, unresolved anger and frustrated bloodlust; eventually you manage to calm it enough that it provides a report, such as it can. A Great Wall, it says, a Great Scar stretches across the land; they hide behind it, the humans, the mokosh, the wemics, the avians, they stand together on it and they cast pain through the air on wings of wood and steel. And they are organised, they are cared for, there was one leading them; eventually you manage to coax out a name, James Nixon, a human, staying away from the front lines with telescope in hand.

Your entire force of Restoring Spirits appears to have been shredded by ballista fire, repeatedly, from some kind of great fortification while attempting to move through Desert Province - Shaitan's Dance in the People's Republic of Southern Kamakura. One returns briefly with a little more satisfaction, licking the imaginary remains of blood from its terrible rending claws, but even it only managed to claim a single victim; you would be surprised if as many as half a dozen the extensive-sounding enemy force had perished.

---

many forms and claws
destroyed with your watchful care
harbinger of spring

The Great Wall is tested once more. Twisted spirits, oni of the native gods, pour out of the southern plains and throw themselves against the walls at Desert Province - Shaitan's Dance. But the walls hold. James Nixon directs the local patrols to keep the clawed, clambering monstrosities down beneath the walls, outside the peaceful interior.

---

many forms and claws
stalk under your watchful eye
harbingers of spring

there is something moving in the distance; something forming, something gathering, something swarming. you call the troops together, the area's patrols assemble, you watch nervously as they gather. the enemy do not walk in ranks, yet they do not swarm like myrmidons. these are individuals, very individuals, not one of them wearing a form like the next - and you say a form, because symbols burn from every forehead, worn proudly by these twisted creatures.

army of oni
darting nearer, drawing close
with the midnight sky

they stop, and watch you; they send fast runners, quick scuttling forms, up and down. they do not want to face you; they look for a way around. there is no hierarchy you can discern, no obvious communication, but suddenly they have made a decision. in the dead of night you wake as many troops as you can find; the enemy are no respecters of the clock, in the darkest hour they are running full-tilt towards you, sprinting with tireless energy, disregarding their forms' safety.

tired soldiers rise
take their appointed places
ready on the wall

it is a long distance to sprint. the ballistae are ready for them. Celestial Dragon is ready. Loyal Dragon is ready. Hidden Dragon is ready. White Crane is ready. White Crane Strike Force is ready. the defenders muster around them. Raging Tiger is ready. Lotus Guard is ready. Tai Ling's Striking Serpent is ready. all stand together on the wall; feathers and fur and skin, muzzles and claws and beaks, it makes no difference here; the People are one, the People are ready.

overlapping fields
of steel and wood on feathered
wing flies straight and true

there is no safe place for them, no gap in the field of fire, no space between ranges; each place they could divert the charge is covered. still they come and come and come, making a ladder of their discorperating forms, scrabbling and climbing and reaching; Loyal Dragon holds firm, Hidden Dragon holds firm, scooting their weapon backwards and shooting into the wave of claws and teeth and clubs and axes and spears even as it breaks across the top of the walls.

suddenly, silence
we check our wounds and weapons
and honour the dead

it is strange how they disappear. fade to nothing in the morning mist. ichor-splattered armour cleans itself. scarred trail up the wall is free of scraps, is clear of blood and entrails. only the blood of the soldiers remains, the blood of two humans of the Hidden Dragon, two mokosh of the Loyal Dragon, torn to pieces on the floor. in life, in death, there is balance; the enemy gone, the freezing fog clearing with the dawn, the world crisp and clean and fresh; the wall holds, the wall can hold, the plan is good.

many forms and claws
destroyed with your watchful care
harbinger of spring