Hoookay. This one is a little bit different. Shinjo Braga is one of the NPCs, and he is either completely delusional or the greatest hero of all time, and he talks… a lot. Dan Wells is the GM and he loves him some Shinjo Braga. This one is all Dan Wells, and is a good glimpse into the mind of the sort of man that could write the goofiest novel ever, Night of Blacker Darkness.
The Tales of Shinjo Braga, Part 24: The Golden Scarab of Al-Qatat
Another time, when I was on patrol in the Burning Sands, we were attacked by a giant scorpion—three stories tall, with another two stories of pagoda perched up on its back like a saddle. It crashed through our camp like a living wave, claws snapping and tail slashing. Do you have any idea how big the stinger is on a three-story scorpion? As big as a man, but still as sharp as the finest Crane Katana. That giant stinger skewered three men with every strike, and then three more men died just from being too close to the poison. I chopped off one its claws, so big I could have rowed it like a boat, and right before my eyes another claw grew back in its place, even bigger than the first one. Our entire army was destroyed, and the last thing I saw was a pair of yellow eyes looking out from the window of that big pagoda on its back, and then something hit me from behind and everything went black.
When I woke up I was rocking back and forth, like the whole world was swaying, and the desert was moving past me all wobbly and drunk. I thought for a second that I was drunk, and that I’d dreamt the whole thing, but when I looked up I saw that my hands were tied, and I was hanging from the back of that giant scorpion like a rabbit hung up for dinner. I was up pretty high, tied to the roof of that pagoda, and now that I got a better look at it I could tell that it was some kind of a house, like a fortress, built right onto that scorpion’s back. There were a couple of other bushi hanging there with me, but they were either dead or so sound asleep I couldn’t wake them up without alerting the whole fortress. Luckily for me, this isn’t the first time I’ve been tied up, so I kicked off my boots and raised my feet up to my wrists and untied the knots with my toes. They’d taken my scimitar, of course, so I was unarmed and shoeless and dying of thirst and heat under that hot desert sun, but there was nothing else I could do: I crept around the roof of that pagoda, found an open window, and climbed inside, ready to kill them all and rescue my brothers in arms.
If you think the outside of a giant scorpion is scary, let me tell you, it’s nothing compared to the inside of an evil pagoda on a giant scorpion’s back. That first room was full of severed hands, and the next was full of severed feet, and the hallway running between them all was hung with human skins like tapestries, covered with paintings made of what I could only assume are human blood. I heard some kind of loud whispers, like a hissing and a chanting all rolled into one, and when I crept down the stairs to take a closer look I saw a circle of robed men, their heads all wrapped up tight, with just a few tiny holes for their glowing yellow eyes and their dark, twisted mouths. That wasn’t a fortress, it was a temple, to some dark god of the burning wastes! That’s when I felt lucky I had no shoes, because it made me quiet, and while those yellow-eyed demons were chanting their little ritual I crept around the side of the room, back in the shadows where they couldn’t see me, and got to the spot in the corner where they’d stashed all of our weapons. Now, you might think this was the end of the story, because once I got my scimitar back they didn’t stand a chance, and normally you’d be right, but these yellow-eyed boys were magic—some kind of dark magic, like blood magic mixed with bone magic mixed with some even worse kind of magic we’ve never even thought of, thank the Fortunes. One of them heard me, and he hissed some kind of spell and the scimitar in my hand turned into a snake and tried to bite me. I threw it across the room and grabbed another, and he turned that one into a snake too, and then I grabbed another and he turned that one, too, and finally I’d decided I’d had enough of these dark sorcerers so I just attacked them with the snake, whipping it out right as it tried to bite me so that when it’s teeth came down there was a sorcerer there instead of me.
I whipped and poisoned that whole room, since it was a pretty long snake with a pretty good reach, but suddenly I heard a horn, like a war horn, but the loudest war horn in the history of the world; a wise man told me later that whenever we hear thunder in Rokugan, it’s just the echo of that giant horn in the desert. When the sound stopped and I could uncover my ears again I looked out the window and saw a giant stone pyramid in the middle of the desert, as tall as a mountain, with a giant horn twisting down one side of it like a tornado turned to stone. A man stood on the top and blew, and by the time it got to the bottom the sound was so great it shook the world. He blew the trumpet again, and over the dunes I saw more scorpions coming, some as big as the one I was riding on, and others so big they made mine look tiny. That’s when I started to get a little worried, but I figured everybody who knew I was awake was dead, and everybody outside couldn’t see me, so I slipped up to the front where the last sorcerer was pulling on the scorpion’s reins, and I killed him with my snake and tried to steer the scorpion myself, but no matter what I did that thing wouldn’t budge. We all converged on that giant pyramid, dozens and dozens of giant scorpions with evil pagodas and bound men swinging from their rafters, and then a giant door opened up in the side and we all went in, clicking and hissing, and then the door shut behind us and I wondered if I’d ever see the sun again.
As big as that pyramid was, the entire thing was hollow, top to bottom, and inside it everything was green, like a giant jungle, with trees and vines growing all along the floor and up the walls and right onto the ceiling in the center of the cavern was a steep hill, smoking like a chimney, and hanging over it was a golden idol as big as a castle—the Golden Scarab of Al-Qatat. These sorcerers worshipped it, and that yellow light in their eyes is a reflection of that brilliant golden sheen, so bright and powerful it grants them long life, and when the reflection finally fades their life slips away. The scorpions stopped around it and the sorcerers started cutting down their prisoners and carrying them up to the top of that mountain. I didn’t know what to do, but the priests at the top were looking at my scorpion like they were waiting for something, and I didn’t want to make them suspicious so I put on a sorcerer’s robe and wrapped up my face and cut down my brothers, slinging them over my back and hiking up the hill while I tried to think of some way I could get out of there. At the top of that hill was a giant pit, filled with bubbling red lava so hot I think it might be the furnace that burns the burning sands, and when we reached the top the other sorcerers started chanting to the scarab and throwing in their prisoners. I wasn’t going to stand by and let that happen, not to my brothers or to any of the other prisoners, but I’d left my snake back in the pagoda and didn’t have a weapon. Luckily I’d left the ropes tied onto my sleeping brothers arms so I tied them together into a giant pair of nunchaku and started laying into those evil priests, knocking some off the volcano and others into it and all the while using my toes to untie every prisoner I could reach. Pretty soon we had an army, and we charged back down the side of that volcano and back toward the door, desperate to free ourselves.
As you can imagine, the giant swarm of giant scorpions made that a pretty rough proposition, and try as we might we could never reach the door and now the sorcerers were getting closer, and that’s when I saw the river—a wide, deep river of cool water running right through the middle of that hollow pyramid jungle. There were no rivers outside in the burning sands, so I knew it had to go underground somewhere and I figured that was our best bet for escaping if only we could find something to use as a boat. That’s when I remembered the scorpion claws. I grabbed a fallen sword and chopped off the nearest scorpion’s claw, as big as a rowboat, but there were too many of us to fit on there so I waited, and the claw grew back bigger and I cut that off, as big as a fishing boat, and then it grew back as big as a war boat and I cut it off again, and then it grew back as big as a shipping freighter, and then it grew back as big as a battleship, so big the scorpion couldn’t even lift it, and I cut it off again and we shoved it into the river and hopped on, right as the sorcerer army ran up to meet us. The current was fast, so we hung on tight and I found I could steer that giant claw by pulling on the tendons in the back, opening and closing it to send it right or left. The river plunged down into an underground tunnel, filled with bats and ghosts and sharks and even, I’m fairly certain, a ghost shark with bat wings, though it was hard to tell exactly in the dark. The rest of the prisoners hung on tight, and I steered the best I could, and the current got so bad it sucked us right down under the water and the claw got ripped away and we held our breath until our lungs were about to burst and then all of a sudden my brothers and I popped up, bobbing in the water like three little apples, in the lake right next to Shiro Shinjo. The claw never came up, so I guess it got lost, and the rest of the prisoners were lost as well, but since they weren’t Rokugani I figure that’s just as well. Maybe they got back to their homes like we did. This was about the time my brothers woke up and asked what happened, but I was too humble to tell them the whole story, same as I’m too humble to tell it to you: I didn’t even mention the Tiger-men. But now that you mention it, there was another time when I was . . . .
And now you can see why I assigned the great Shinjo Braga to be Rob’s bodyguard.
Continued next week, two letters to Ide Todo, all about one of our “B Team” games. http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/the-burning-throne-episode-24-two-letters-to-ide-todo/