The Writer Nerd Game Night Serial continues. A small group of the Paper Lanterns has left the Empire, and traveled into Yobanjin territory far to the north, in order to rescue Hiruma Tadori and to destroy the shame sword, Penance.
Twenty Fourth Entry
From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan
The shame sword Penance has been destroyed, yet rather than triumph, I feel only exhaustion. I am no stranger to death, but today was a slaughter. I am no stranger to loss, but today was the first time that a warrior directly under my command has perished. It leaves a bitter taste.
Upon leaving the empire we continued following the trail of Hiruma Tadori’s captors. The lands north of the Empire may have appeared similar to the lands of the Phoenix that we had been travelling through, but they were different, alien. Not blighted and twisted as the Shadowlands, but the Yobanjin territory felt different than our home. Perhaps it is because the kami have chosen not to watch over this place. Do they watch us here now? I long to return to the land beneath the Fortune’s gaze.
We met many Yobanjin on the road north. There were far too many barbarians to hide and speed was of the essence. The Branded Man was surely pursuing us. Ide Todo decided to parley with one group that did not appear to be in league with the Dark Oracle. They were unreceptive, could only communicate in their harsh tongue, and when they attempted to threaten us Magatsu simply set them all on fire so we could move on.
The next group we encountered was larger and more fearsome. This time some of them could speak with proper Rokugani words, and after Kuni Magatsu presented them with a gift of summoned ore, they told us that all of the Yobanjin in the world were gathering at the All Mother. Their tribes had been summoned there by the Dark Oracle, surely as a staging area to continue their invasion against us. We learned that much like the Sky Riders, the Dark Oracle’s forces had taken many children other tribe’s children hostage, and they were all being held inside All Mother.
The All Mother turned out to be a mighty volcano. It stood at the end of a great valley, and within the valley was an uncountable number of Yobanjin. We had called our previous foes a horde, because their numbers seemed endless, but truly this was a horde and what we had seen before had been but a tiny portion of their numbers. And on the other side of that endless army was where Hiruma Tadori had been taken.
There was no time for despair. Ide Todo is always thinking, and noted that there were Sky Riders camped on the western edge of the valley. He had spoken to their chief, Naraan, once before, and we had traded nemurani to them in exchange for the return of Tsuruchi Machio. Ide Todo decided to seek their aid.
I do not know how Ide Todo does it. He can talk to anyone and make them his ally, and the Sky Riders were no exception. They welcomed us to their camp and we learned they had been brutalized by the Dark Oracle’s forces, and despite delivering the nemurani they had captured, he had not kept his word to return any of their women or children. Ide Todo told them that if they were to fly us to the All Mother, we would try to free the hostages, after all, we had one hostage of our own to find. Naraan, desperately wished to help, but knew that if we failed his tribe would be exterminated. To rise up against the Dark Oracle was suicide. Ide Todo promised to grant them some of his family’s territory in Unicorn lands so they could make a new home. Naaran saw the wisdom of this and we joined forces with the flying barbarians.
I have never ridden a giant eagle before. It is not very much like riding a horse… Not much at all.
Zuko and Naaran had gone first to scout, and we met them atop the All Mother while Ide Todo, Kakita Chiyoko, and Shiba Sougai remained in the Sky Rider’s camp. The eagles riders left, but would remain circling above, ready to carry away anyone who made it back to the top. The Yobanjin inside were all loyal to the Dark Oracle and included many of his shaman and witches. They were completely unsuspecting and we made it deep inside the tunnels, killing anyone who crossed our path, all without the alarm being raised.
Zuko had spotted Hiruma Tadori being tortured in a room beneath the area where the hostages were kept. He had only seen a few of the witches guarding him. I did not like the idea of separating our forces any more than we had to, but Zuko was adamant that he could get to Tadori before the witches spotted him. Magatsu would take the shame sword and go with him while the rest of us rescued the prisoners. Reluctantly, I agreed.
There were far more prisoners than I expected, and most of them were children. We freed the Sky Rider’s tribe first and sent them toward the top, and then decided to free all of the others in order to add to the chaos. Once the Yobanjin knew we were here they flooded into the prison. We had to hold the prison until Magatsu destroyed the shame sword. We had to hold at all costs.
It was a slaughter.
The walls were coated in Yobanjin blood. We stacked the bodies deep. They had been unprepared for a unit of armored samurai to appear deep in their midst. Fubatsu’s twin blades moved in a constant eviscerating blur. Fujo shattered bones at every turn. Tsuze took Fujo’s bow and the courtier shocked us all with his unrelenting accuracy. We killed everyone that dared face us until the Yobanjin were fleeing in terror.
Then the Branded Man arrived. He had come for the sword. Magatsu had not yet returned, so we had to hold him. Fujo and I struck him repeatedly with blows that should have turned his bones to splinters and I finally knocked him down, only to have the Yobanjin dog turn his body into flames and escape down the tunnel after Magatsu. We pursued him deeper into the All Mother, to an island in a lake of fire.
But by the time we caught up, Hiruma Tadori was dead, Penance plunged into his guts, and both of them hurled into the lava. Kuni Magatsu was near death, his hip broken. Zuko was severely injured, and they were surrounded by Yobanjin witches. Zuko had underestimated the number of guards. I felt the intrusion of the witch’s magic into our minds, fueling our rage, trying to turn us against our fellows. The Branded Man was standing in a wall of fire, healing from the wounds I’d inflicted on him and soon we’d be facing him again as well. Our goal achieved, I ordered a retreat.
We could only pray to the Fortunes that Naraan would keep his word and return to pick us up. It wasn’t until we’d fought our way back to the top that I discovered Kakita Fujo was missing. He had stayed behind to stall the Branded Man, bringing honor and glory to his family with that sacrifice. The eagles were gone. We prepared to hold as long as we could as could while Kuni Magatsu, despite being near death, attempted to enrage the earth kami enough to shake the All Mother, but they did not answer.
Let no one tell you that all gaijin are honorless, because the Sky Riders came back for us. As they landed around us, the Branded Man appeared from below. Enraged, he threw the severed head of Kakita Fujo at me as we fled.
The Branded Man will pay for taking the life of that honorable warrior. Twice we have met. The Branded Man will not survive the third. No matter what it takes, I will see to it that the Branded Man dies.
To be continued next week, with a story by Steve Diamond, Fujo’s Stand, Penance’s Fall. http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/the-burning-throne-episode-35-fujos-stand-penances-fall/