The Burning Throne, Episode 21: Arguing with Dragons

Continued from: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/the-burning-throne-episode-20-aerie-of-the-sky-riders/ 

After getting Machio back, hilarity ensued when he was assigned the most annoying NPC ever as his bodyguard. Then we got to court. Unbeknowest to Makoto, the Poison Dragon that is murdering Phoenix is one of the other PCs, Fosuta Zuko. Awkward.

After that is a little piece from Paul, because the cursed magic sword he’s been carrying is trying to drive him mad. And it wasn’t like he wasn’t crazy enough to begin with.

Sixteenth Entry

From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan. 

Two weeks have passed since I have last written. Ide Todo’s daily lessons on the ways of court have consumed much of my time. I believe Todo-sama becomes frustrated at times with me, but I am beginning to understand this war of words that courtiers wage. Perhaps I can be of some use to Ide Todo, for often there are things that must be said, but no “proper” courtier will say . They dance around the ugly truth. But since most courtiers simply assume that I am an ignorant brute, it enables me to speak plainly, and say that which none of them would dare. It has worked pretty good so far.

That reminds me. I should probably brush up on my iaijutsu dueling…

After leaving the Mountain Spirit village with our new recruits, Akimi, Danjuro, and Misato, we travelled to the ruins of the High House of Light to search for Fosuta Zuko and Tsuruchi Machio. They had still not returned from their scouting mission. There was sign of a struggle. Machio’s bow and katana were found abandoned in a pile of blood along with a giant eagle feather.

During the search, a wounded Yobanjin came out of the ruins and took one of our eta hostage. I do not know what he expected to accomplish, but his impudence angered me. I could have handled that incident better. Crab do not bluff, but apparently neither do Yobanjin, and our eta was stabbed to death. I am saddened by the loss of another servant.

A short time later several of the giant eagles and their Yobanjin riders arrived. I prepared the Paper Lanterns to fight, but they had come to parley. They are called the Sky Riders, and Ide Todo spoke with them. The Ide are especially skilled at dealing with gaijin. They had taken Machio prisoner, but they did not have Zuko. The Sky Riders have been enslaved by the Dark Oracle. He holds their women and children hostage to ensure their service. Todo arranged a trade of the lesser gaijin nemuranai for Machio’s life. The trade was completed amicably, and we parted, not as a friends, but perhaps as potential future allies.

Todo is wise, I had wanted to simply club them. Birds have hollow bones so a tetsubo should do a real number on a giant chicken. The Sky Riders said that they would call us Rokugani Crows. I do not know if that is an insult or a compliment.

Since Machio’s contrary nature had already caused the Paper Lanterns some trouble, and his rescue had cost us several valuable nemuranai, his welcome was perhaps not as warm as he had expected. Ide Todo was still displeased over his prior actions against the Mountain Spirits, so allowed Magatsu to heal Machio’s wounds in the most degrading way possible. By scrubbing him with ash and gravel, and then making him give thanks at every shrine we passed on our way to Shiro Tamori. There were seventeen.

In addition, as nikutai, I pointed out that Machio had a bad habit of almost dying. So I appointed Shinjo Braga, who is completely without humility or sense, to be Machio’s yojimbo. Ide Todo was very pleased by this. Braga vowed to never let Machio out of his sight. Braga will test Machio’s food for poison. Braga will watch over Machio even as he sleeps, relieves himself, or makes love to his woman. Braga vowed that he will be the greatest yojimbo in the history of the Empire.

There was no sign of Zuko. His tracks simply disappeared. The Sky Riders said that they saw him follow for quite some time, before they lost him somewhere in the mountains. I worry for Zuko. He is my friend. We would have searched for him, but duty demanded that we deliver the mighty shamesword to Shiro Tamori. Zuko is a crafty warrior and I have no doubt that what he does, he does for a good reason. I will ask the Fortunes to watch over him.

It took two weeks of difficult travel to reach Shiro Tamori. These damned Dragon mountains make my home mountains seem like hills. During this time I made sure to speak with every bushi in our group. With Zuko missing, it is my responsibility to lead in battle. If I am to lead them, I must know them. This duty weighs heavy on me. I look back at my years on the Wall, and remember the actions of the leaders that won our respect. I will do my best to emulate their ways.

I nearly fell off my horse when we reached the besieged Shiro Tamori. In addition to the Dragon, Crane, and Scorpion army banners on the walls, the banner of Otomo Hoketuhime flew. I recognized the mon of Otomo Yuni’s mother immediately. I signaled Ide Todo, but he was already aware.  Todo-sama is surely the best nakado ever.

The Tamori granted us our own compound for our stay. It seems that word of the Paper Lantern’s exploits have gotten here ahead of us. Perhaps Ikoma Katsu is handy to have around after all.  We would not be able to speak to Togashi Satsu until morning. Once we were settled, and a decoy sword had been set out under guard as if it were the real shamesword, Ide Todo gathered the men to discuss our mission. He invited all that travelled with us to become full members of the Paper Lanterns and spoke of the oath necessary.

Ide Todo gave a stirring speech. I watched the men’s eyes as he talked. They believe in him. They will lay down their lives for him without hesitation. I could barely hear the words. The idea that these bushi would depend on my wisdom on the battlefield consumed my thoughts. I made another vow that night in addition to the one I made to Ide Todo. I promised Bishamon, Fortune of Strength, and Hachiman, Fortune of Battle, that if these lives were mine to spend, I would not spend their lives foolishly.

All the warriors but Rei took the oath. The disgraced former Mirumoto did not feel worthy. I have watched him. He is mistaken. He is more than worthy and conducts himself with quiet honor. I spoke to him afterward. He will continue to serve as one of Ide Todo’s personal yojimbo. He is a Dragon warrior that loved a Crane aristocrat’s wife, and thus brought disgrace to the Dragon Clan. Personally, I think that if some foolish Crane husband was insufficiently man enough to satisfy his woman, he got what he deserved. Aiko is far better off serving as the Paper Lantern’s scribe than she would be married to such a pathetic husband. Rei did them both a favor as far as I’m concerned.

After Todo’s very stirring speech and oath ceremony, I spoke to the Lantern bushi. It was a simple affair to discuss a few military matters.

That night we left Kuni Magatsu and all the men to guard the shamesword, and Ide Todo, Ikoma Katsu, Kitsuki Tsuze, and I went to dinner at the palace. I was very nervous. It was doubtful that I would speak to the Otomo daimyo, and even more doubtful that her daughter would be there, but if so, I hoped to make a good impression. My clothing is shabby compared to everyone else’, but my family’s holdings are not rich. I tried to dress up with some of Machio’s fancy stuff, but there is an old saying that you can’t polish a Crab shell.

Luckily, Otomo Yuni was not present. Good. I think I look much better in armor.

At dinner, I sat next to our old pal, Bayushi Ujiro. The Scorpion was his usual conniving self. Ide Todo can’t stand the man, but it turns out that I get along with him well enough. I don’t play games. Ide Todo spoke with some Kitsuki woman named Iweko. She seemed nice enough. During dinner, I made sure to tell my finest and most entertaining stories of Crab valor. Otomo Hoketuhime was sitting relatively far away, but I made sure to speak with sufficient volume when I told about how I’d engaged the wielder of the shamesword in single combat, how we cleaned out the Red Sun, the killing of the Moonless Night, and our various battles against the Yobanjin horde. The sushi wasn’t fresh, but there was lots of it.

Then our perfectly good evening was interrupted when a high ranking representative of the Phoenix barged in, demanding to speak with Togashi Satsu. He said that the Poisoned Dragon, the wretched murderous mad monk, had struck again, killing more Phoenix. The Shiba was enraged, insinuating that since the Dragon hadn’t caught the mad monk, that they were somehow complicit. It is well known that Ide Todo was an acquaintance of this monk before he went on his killing spree. When the Shiba saw Todo-sama, he grew angry, and wondered aloud how come Todo had not captured the Poison Dragon.

As Ide Todo tried to calm the Shiba, I saw an opportunity. The Paper Lanterns have not been recognized in Phoenix lands yet, and thus we cannot travel freely there.  I stood and introduced myself to the crowd. I told them that I had not been blessed to serve with Ide Todo in those early days, but that if the Phoenix would recognize the Lanterns in their lands, then I would personally see to it that the Poison Dragon was captured. Then to add a personal touch, (to let him know that I really did care) I offered to bring the Shiba the head, hands, and feet of the Poison Dragon in a nice sack.

Ide Todo had a strange look on his face when I finished, as if he’d been stricken mute with surprise. I’m not sure if I my move was tactically brilliant or incredibly stupid. Court is so very complicated.

The next morning we were allowed to speak to Togashi Satsu. The Dragon was quite literally a dragon. Apparently Satsu has the ability to turn into a dragon, and has been spending almost all of his time in that form. He was rather intimidating, and I have no doubt that he could have swallowed even me in one bite.

The Tamori we had spoken to had all seemed hesitant about Satsu. The Mountain Spirits had cursed Satsu. And now I understood why. He barely spoke, and when he did, he spoke in riddles. He had a small cryptic message for Tsuze about bewaring the oni’s eye. Then he mostly ignored us. Satsu’s mind is in the heavens and his head is up his ass. Ide Todo tried his best. Kuni Magatsu tried his best. But the damnable monk-dragon would not take the evil shamesword, nor would he tell us how to destroy it. All he told us was that no one was watching the heavens.

I am afraid that I lost my temper. How can his people watch the heavens when their villages burn, their armies are slaughtered, their stomachs growl, and their children are massacred by Yobanjin? How can the Dragon clan survive if their clan leader will not lead? My sensei often told me that he thought I would amount to nothing, but this morning I told a reincarnated Kami that he was a failure as a clan champion, nothing compared to a real clan champion like Hida Kuon, and that I could see why so many of his samurai would rather live as little more than bandits than serve him.  Oh, if my sensei could see me now.

Satsu did not answer me. Nor did he eat me. So I call it a draw.

We left in disgust. Ide Todo requested some astronomers. Hopefully they will be able to shed some light on what we are supposed to be watching for in the heavens.

From the Private Journal of Kuni Magatsu, Crab Clan Shugenja

The Month of the Serpent at the Clan Stronghold of Shiro Tamori 

It has been whispering to me more often now. The voice of the Shame Sword of Penance is in my mind promising me power and glory to defeat the lords of the Shadowlands.

I let it speak to me. I encourage it, for perhaps it will let slip its secrets and reveal its weaknesses. Perhaps it will let me see what is truly inside it so that I may destroy it and free the dishonored samurai within.

I wish to see into its core of metal, to the place where its true power resides. I was tempted to pick it up when I met with the Dragon Clan Champion himself, Togashi Satsu. It was in my mind to strike the dragon with the sword and wake him from his slumber. Perhaps I will attack him the next time I am in his presence.

Does Togashi Satsu not remember his friend Hitomi Akaui, who is trapped in the blade? Does Satsu not regret what happened? If Satsu had not counseled surrender to Kokujin, the sword would have never been forged. I wonder if Satsu is somehow allied with Kokujin, or was enspelled by him at the time?

Our meeting with Satsu was beyond frustrating. Words did not waken the dragon to action and all of us tried. Hida Makoto made a strong speech and if his impassioned words did not raise the dragon’s will, perhaps none will. Next time, we need action.

The dragon did tell us to look toward the sky and made some other warning I did not understand. We shall consult with the best two Dragon Clan astrologers. If they cannot help us, then perhaps we shall travel to the Phoenix Clan lands, for they have the most accomplished Shugenja Schools in the Empire. Most importantly, the Phoenix are not afraid to act like the Dragon Clan are.

In the meantime, I shall keep the sword close and guard it carefully, and in the deepest of night, I shall whisper to it.

#

To be continued next week, with one of my favorite pieces of fiction, Tenets of Bushido, which chronicles Makoto’s little motivational talks with the recruits. Honestly, it is one of those bits of fiction that is too darn good to waste, and will probably get tweaked into a real novel one of these days.  http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/the-burning-throne-episode-22-tenants-of-bushido/

Booksigning, Sugerhouse B&N April 7th (1st time with Mike Kupari)

http://store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/store/2941  Mike and I will be signing at the Sugerhouse B&N on April 7th, starting at 11:00 AM. This is the first time we’ve gotten to sign together, and in fact, this is his first actual book signing ever.

So if you are around Utah, come on out and make Mike Kupari’s first book signing extra awesome.

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