The Burning Throne: Episode 6, Crab Duel

Continued from:  http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/the-burning-throne-episode-5-aftermath/ 

For those of you familiar with the game setting, a few events occured without Makoto’s knowledge. The magic mirror that Kitsuki Tsuze is given is one of the Oni’s Tears, a magical communication device. The players are unaware who is actually communicating through it, but it is more than likely the Kolat, a gigantic conspiracy that wants to overthrow the empire.

Zukozuko was healed from his burns by one of the Spider clan leaders named Fosuta. The Spider clan is aware that Zukozuko is actually a wanted criminal/former Togashi monk, and are trying to recruit them. For those of you that aren’t familiar, the Spider clan actually work for the lord of evil in secret, but right now are pretending to be heroic good guys in order to get everyone to like them and to infiltrate the empire.

There was a whole lot of intrigue and politics going on during this session, but sadly, the only game journal came from the character who is the most oblivious to that sort of thing.

Ninth Entry

From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan. 

Today I had to knock my lord unconscious in order to protect his dignity. It was either that or let him embarrass himself further. Mother will probably be displeased, but as of now I do not know which one of us she will be more angry with. Him for being a drunken idiot, or me for usurping his authority because he has the right to be a drunken idiot.

First I must catch up. My companions and I spent the morning after the battle searching for clues as to who had substituted the battle map. Ide Todo had been called in to speak with the Unicorn Clan Champion. Because of his success in gathering reinforcements for the war, and his diplomacy in the battle tent this morning, he has been appointed to the office of clan magistrate.  Normally, this would be cause for celebration, but all I could focus on was how we could use his new status to track down the traitor.

One of the Kuni shugenja communed with the kami around the battle tent. The water kami was most helpful, and said that a ‘white bird’ had been the last to do anything around the map table. This was most interesting, because it then referred to Kitsuki Tsuze as a big lizard and Ide Todo as a pointy horse. There are no Crane forces in the combined armies defending Shiro Shinjo, and certainly none in the battle tent. I do not know what the Crane have to gain for sabotaging the war effort, but it is a clue.

Later that afternoon I was summoned to Kenzan’s tent. He had been stripped of command and O-Hinku had been placed in charge of Crab forces, so I knew that my brother would be in a foul mood. Not only was he angry, he was also rather drunk, and Kenzan can be very mean when he is drunk. I knew that this would be unpleasant.

“Do you know why we failed this morning?” he asked.

“Someone tampered with your maps? I promised to find the traitor, and I will.”

“Not that… Everything was fine until you came along.”

I grimaced for I knew exactly what was coming.                                                        

“Some of the men say you’re bad luck. I think they’re right.” His words are slurred. He is stupid with drink.

I love my brother. He is a good man that is befuddled by failure. He is not familiar with failure like I am. This is the sake talking, or perhaps from the stink some foul fermented draught a Unicorn milked out of a horse. I bite my tongue. I will keep my place in the celestial order. I will not smash his idiot face in. But things have changed since I left home. Before I would have bore his words in silence, but I can them no longer. Against my better judgment, I speak in my defense. “You heard of my performance on the battlefield. Your defeat would have been worse if it hadn’t been for me.”

“No!” and then began a tirade against me, against my cowardly father, against my entire line. He insulted me, mocked me. It took all of my willpower not to club him, but I have heard these things before. I am a blight, a curse. Of course I have heard these things, just never from him, and never like this. Two Crab guards came to see what the commotion was, and they just stood to the side with their heads bowed as their leader ranted, pretending not to listen.

I could not help myself. I argued back. I will no longer bear my father’s shame. He was the coward. Not me.

Then Kenzan shocked me. “I challenge you to a duel!”

“A duel?”

“To the death!”

This was certainly a new development. Iajutsu is a Crane art, like flower arranging. I have no skill in either. Kenzan is a far superior swordsman, but I have no doubt in his current state I could beat him… But I do not desire to kill my brother because he is being a fool.  I laughed at him and that surely made it worse. “Mother will be upset if you kill me.”

“I’ll be doing her a favor. Do not speak of her. You know what the worst thing that ever happened to her is?”

No. But I was certain he would tell me.

“Marrying your father and then bearing his spawn. You are a disgrace. A reminder! Your existence shames the entire family. If you had any honor you would have killed yourself long ago because of the burden you’ve been to her.”

That was enough. I would not have him insult our mother any longer. “Fine.” I looked at the guards. “You are witnesses. I accept this duel, but because I am the one being challenged, I set the terms.”

“As long as it is too the death!”

“Very well… We fight with our bare hands. If you kill me, you win. If I win, then I will beat you senseless and drag your sorry carcass to your bed so you can sleep it off.”

To call this a duel would be to insult the concept of dueling, and should some little Kakita read this they could get their feminine undergarments in a twist, so I will say it was more of a brawl, this drunken Crab fight. I tackled him and we wrestled. I should not have neglected my jujutsu training, because he got away. We stood in the middle of the tent, two mountains, punching each other in the face. Kenzan hits like an oni. My teeth still hurt as I type this.  However, I was finally able to knock the stubborn brute out. The two bushi helped me carry him to bed. I suggested that they not mention this to the others, so as to avoid bringing any further disgrace to their already disgraced commander, and I suggested especially strongly that they shouldn’t say anything to O-Hinku. There is no need to drag our berserker into family squabbles.

I visited my wounded companions in the healer’s tent. Tsuruchi Machio was still in bad shape. However, Zukuzuko was doing remarkably well. I am a quick healer, but he makes me look like Princess Dainty Doji Tea-Party in comparison. The ronin is very resilient. Despite being badly burned this morning, he was ready to get back to work.

Upon returning to the Ide family estate, we were informed that Tsuze-san had found some sort of magic mirror. It is apparently a communication device that was being used to send messages out of the city. He did not yet know who was on the other side of the mirror, but he claims to be on our side. The mystery voice said that a Daidoji spy, disguised as a Crab bushi, was about to flee the city through the east gate. The Daidoji are the least useless of the pampered Crane, so this could be a challenge. I did not trust the voice, but what choice did we have?  Ide Todo sent runners to secure all the exits and our group hurried toward the east. The gates would be sealed, but no further information was given so as to not tip off the spy. 

Zukozuko took to the rooftops. I do not know how he got up there so quickly, but he was able to parallel us in our search. I am unfamiliar with city life, but I used a map of the city as if it were a battlefield, and used that to pick out choke points. I chose wisely (or got lucky) and Ide Todo was astute enough to spot the spy in the passing crowd. He saw us and fled into an alley. We gave chase. Todo-sama surprised me by commandeering a peasant’s horse to ride the spy down. That was rather dramatic of him, but I forgot that all Unicorn learn to ride before they learn to walk. Personally, I do all right on horseback only if the animal goes in a straight line… slowly. 

By the time that I caught up, (it is hard to run in heavy armor), Ide Todo had blocked the end of the alley, Zukozuko had jumped off the roof and was wrestling the Daidoji, and Rei (who now serves as one of Ide Todo’s yojimbo) had disarmed the spy.  We needed him alive for questioning. I have to hand it to the man, he was holding his own, but I was tired of this foolishness, so I smashed one of his legs with my tetsubo. I dislike running.

Even with a broken leg and being strangled by our ronin, the Daidoji managed to reach into his armor to fling something into the darkness.  Kitsuki Tsuzi went after it. I told the Crane to surrender, but he shouted back that he was no Crane. He drew his wakizashi and tried to kill himself, so I shattered the bones of his arm. So then he tried to draw his tanto with his other arm. By Kisada, that is persistence worthy of a Crab! But Zuko is a very skilled wrestler, and was able to choke him out. 

On that thought, I should ask Zukozuko to teach me some jujutsu. That could come in handy for future visits with my family.

I said that we should cut the Daidoji’s feet off to persuade him to talk. Zukozuko pointed out that the spy was unconscious and thus unable to hear us. Poor Zuko assumed that I was bluffing to scare the prisoner. Nothing of the sort, you just don’t need feet in order to talk. Some city yoriki had arrived, and Ide Todo had the Daidoji drug off for questioning. I volunteered to be present at the torturing. Some samurai would look down upon being in the presence of something so distasteful, but I had made a promise to my brother, and despite him acting the fool, Hida Makoto keeps his promises. I would observe the eta as they did their business.

The spy was very strong. He did not speak despite hours of pain. In another time I could have had great respect for someone of such will, but now he is my enemy, and I despise him too much to spare any admiration. The item that he had tried to hide in the alley was a dagger bearing the Daidoji family mon, but he would not speak about it either. Also in his possession were the false maps that were used to ruin Kenzan’s battle plans.

I was eager for him to give up his masters, because that would tell me who I needed to kill next. However, there was nothing I could do when the spy suddenly began to convulse and gasp for air. The Unicorn healers tried to bring him back, but he died anyway, and it was obviously not because of his wounds. I suspect some sort of slow acting poison. This was a very disappointing turn of events. Now I am unsure who to kill, and that is rather annoying.

I met the Unicorn Clan Champion, Moto Chen. Ide Todo showed him the mirror. Moto Chen ordered Todo-sama to continue seeking out the traitors in our midst. We are to attend a meeting of the war leaders tomorrow morning to report our findings. As a favor to me, Ide Todo was able to point out that the spy bore the false maps, and therefore Kenzan was innocent of the accusations against him. Moto Chen was not pleased and said that there was no proof that the Crane wasn’t really a Crab. I dislike this Moto Chen. Some of the Scorpion told me that his wife had hatched from a Naga egg. Preposterous, I know, but I still do not like him. Moto Chen is no Hida Kuon, that’s for sure. Now he is a real Clan Champion.

Tsuze received word through the mirror of another spy, only this one was trying to slip out over the lake through the Spider camp. We rushed over, woke Iko, and enlisted her help. I think she likes me, but she does not seem overly fond of my travelling companions. The leader of the Spider heard we were in their camp and requested our presence. Isawa Fosuta is a former Phoenix and he seemed very interested in Zukozuko. Fosuta spoke as if all the Great Clans were lazy and scared, and only the Spider had the courage to do what was necessary to protect the empire. What a pile of dung. I mentioned that he might not have noticed the big wall to the south keeping out the legions of demons. I will not tolerate such talk from a minor clan.

Ide Todo tried the fancy talk, but the Spider remain a tough nut to crack. Since the Spider get along so poorly with the other clans guarding Shiro Shinjo, and because Zukozuko is respected by both sides, he volunteered to serve as an intermediary between the Unicorn and the Spider. I grew tired of diplomacy, had no patience for Fosuta’s games, trusted Iko-san to catch the spy, and was still recovering from the morning’s battle and my fight with Kenzan, so I retired for the evening.

I write this now by candlelight in the Ide compound. The paper walls are thin and I can hear the others moving about. I miss the solid stone walls of  a proper Crab holding. I miss much about my homeland, but after today’s events I fear that I may never be able to return to my village again. So much has changed. It would be hard to bow to a lord you have punched in the face, and it would be harder still for the lord to accept it. Hopefully Kenzan won’t command me to commit seppuku, because that could be awkward, what with me having to fulfill an assignment from a Fortune first. Kisada guide me, you wished for me to come to this place, you told me to make myself worthy to marry Otomo Yuni and make her a daughter of Hida. I have done my best. If I have to strangle the Dark Oracle of Fire to death with his own intestines in order to become worthy, then I will do so. I can only trust that your wisdom will continue to guide my path.

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For next week’s episode I’ll post  No Middle Ground by Steve Diamond, a battle scene written from the perspective of the gaijin invaders.  http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/the-burning-throne-episode-7-no-middle-ground/ 

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