The Burning Throne, Episode 32: Road to Pale Oak Castle

The stakes have risen. There is a war in the celestial heavens and it is spilling over into the mortal world.

Continued from: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/the-burning-throne-episode-31-the-toymakers-craft/ 

Kuni Magatsu is played by Paul Genesse, who is an awesome author. If you’ve not read his series of fantasy novels, you are really missing out. http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=monshuntnati-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B006PU7PIE

 

Twenty First Entry

From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan.

I write these words while on the path to Pale Oak Castle deep within Phoenix territory.  We travel to find Hiruma Todori, and to persuade him to kill himself with the shamesword for the good of the empire. If he is unwilling, then I will do it for him, but he is Crab, and therefore I know he will do the honorable thing.

The morning after the death of Lady Moon, we gathered in a war council at Shiro Tamori. Otomo Hoketuhime was present, and Mirumoto Kai, daimyo of the Dragon had arrived during the night of madness. Ide Todo reported the entirety of what we’d seen and what had been told to us by Satsu. Hoketuhime demanded to see the shamesword.

This was nerve wracking. I know that the evil sword has a powerful pull, tempting even the mighty will of Kuni Magatsu, and now we were to display it openly in a room full of courtiers? I would stop anyone that attempted to pick up the blade. Hoketuhime will be my mother in law someday, though she does not know that yet, so being forced to club her would be particularly awkward.

But the courtiers surprised me with their wisdom. No one attempted to lay hands upon the sword. There was some debate over whether we should take the sword to Todori, who was serving in the Fourth Imperial Legion in Phoenix lands, or take the sword to Hoketuhime’s palace for safe keeping and send a messenger to bring Hiruma Todori to us… In the end, Ide Todo decided that time and distance favored going to Todori directly at the war front.

Hoketuhime surprised me with her generosity, and provided thirty of her Seppun guardsmen to accompany us. I believe Ide Todo thinks those Imperial guard are more to keep an eye on us, but I like to think that the Fortunes are softening my future mother in law’s heart. The Tamori house guard provided six bushi, and we will be travelling with Bayushi Ujiro and his twelve men. The decoy sword was placed on a palanquin and I ordered Shinjo Braga to protect it all costs. With Braga’s tendency to run his mouth, the whole of the empire will soon think the shamesword is in that box. We departed immediately thereafter.

Even moving quickly, the journey will take many weeks. While we ride I will continue to speak with every one of the Lantern bushi. I have much to learn from them, and will listen to their experiences in battle, and try to apply those lessons to my own plans as Nikutai. I will coordinate with them so that when the time comes for the Lanterns to enter combat, they will know how to react without hesitation.

We will provide glory and honor to the name of Ide Todo.

Oh, I almost forgot. Should we not die battling the Army of Dark Fire in Phoenix lands shortly, Otomo Hoketuhime has invited the Paper Lanterns to stay at her personal court. This is an incredible honor, and Otomo Yuni will be there. My reputation as a warrior has grown greatly since I was sent on this quest by Kisada, I have learned much about the ways of the court, and with Ide Todo himself serving as my nakado, I will be sure to win Lady Yuni’s hand in marriage.

I would like very much not to perish until I do that.

Twenty Second Entry

From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan

I must be brief. I take only a moment to update this scroll. As the moon fell a few days ago, today the sun fell. I fear Lord Sun is no more.

The sun did not rise this morning. It was not hidden by clouds or fog, it simply did not rise. It rose late, and then we saw similar erratic behavior as last time. I write this in futility, for surely everyone in Rokugan witnessed the events. The sun was cast down from the sky and fell somewhere far to the south east of us. A new sun took its place.

Hida Yakamo was Lord Sun, a mortal Crab champion who died and lived again, raised to the status of a god in the celestial heavens upon the death of Lady Sun many years ago… My mother is a distant cousin of Hida Kuon, direct descendent of Hida Yakamo, so thus I was related to the Lord Sun. If there is truly a war in heaven, then I fear that with Lord Sun cast down, the heavens have lost their greatest warrior. I am certain Yakamo fought a battle worthy of the Crab Clan. As soon as I know for certain who is the other side in this celestial war, I would very much like to kill a multitude of them.

#

From the Private Scrolls of Kuni Magatsu, Crab Clan Shugenja

Phoenix Clan Lands, at Pale Oak Castle

We have arrived and found out that Hiruma Todori has gone missing behind the lines of the Yobanjin horde. In three days the castle may be under siege and we have few options. The path around their lines through the mountains would take too long. The path out across the plains would also take too long, so we are faced with one option, break through their front and find him. I sense that he still lives, but my powers of prediction are not infallible, though the vision I saw in the bottom of the bowl of sake was clear: Todori’s covetous eyes staring at the sword I laid at his feet.

If the generals agree, we will stage a maneuver done often at the Wall, a false feint. We will build up our forces, allowing the enemy to see some of our movements—not too much or they will be suspicious. We will force them to draw men away from the area where we will sneak through the line. If they fail to reinforce their line at our area of strength, we will burst through there instead. If they attack in the area where we were going to go through, we will turn, meet them, and crush them there, as they will be drawn into a trap as the reserves will be waiting for them. As our forces kill them, we will slip through in the fog and rain.

The drums and horns of the Crab Clan will announce our attack, and many banners—to confuse them and exaggerate our numbers—will wave in the twilight before we launch a false attack. Archers will volley and there may be a charge, but we will draw them close and I will strike with all the strength of the kami.

I will use the Fury of Osono-Wo to sow fear and chaos in their ranks. Thunder clouds and their kami watch us every day now, for it is their time of the season and they think themselves triumphant. They will not expect my hand to reach so high and pluck them from the clouds, tearing them loose from the heavens as if they were eyeballs that I so easily ripped from a dead oni.

After the chaos of the attack, some of the Paper Lanterns and I will go behind the lines of the Yobanjin with or without the help of the warriors guarding Pale Oak Castle. We will find Hiruma Todori and allow him to save the Empire.

If Todori is already dead, or we are overwhelmed by our enemies, I shall face a dark decision. The sword must not fall into the hands of the Oracle of Dark Fire. My companions will undoubtedly die gloriously in oceans of blood before they let that happen—except for Makoto, as he is too stubborn to die now, and has a different fate altogether; but Fubatsu will fall before he sees me killed.

After my grim yojimbo is gone, and only Makoto and I remain with our tetsubos covered in the blood and brains of our enemies, I will have to draw the blade myself. It will corrupt me someday, but before it does and I am slain, there will be a Unicorn Vizier serving a Crab who sits on the Emerald Throne, and the Emperor will be the grandson of an eta who killed more than twenty goblins one winter in the Shadowlands not so long ago.

#

To be continued next week when the characters head outside of the Empire for the very first time.  http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/the-burning-throne-episode-33-leaving-the-empire/ 

Prometheus Captain’s Log

I quit reviewing movies here on the blog when I started selling stuff to Hollywood. The last thing I wanted to do was insult somebody that could potentially give me money for a book. However, I’ve just got to comment on Prometheus.

I really wanted to love this movie. I really did. It is gorgeous. This is one of the best looking movies ever. The acting from the main characters is remarkable. Michael Fassbender turns in an amazing performance. Idris Elba can do no wrong. Charlize Theron was great (especially the way she emoted in the flamethrower scene)… Noomi Rapace did a great job. The cast was awesome.

But despite all that good, Prometheus made my head hurt. I’ve heard some people try to say that it is a “thinking” movie for “grown ups”… No. And quit being a pretentious wannabe English professor. The problem with Prometheus being a Thinking movie is that the more you think about it, the less it makes sense. The more I think about it, the more things I have a hard time with. (you’ll notice that you never hear anybody complaining about the plot holes of the Avengers, because it didn’t try to be a Thinking movie. It just says shut up and enjoy your awesome).

Instead Prometheus was written in such a way that it required the cast of supposedly intelligent characters to make decisions like unto the cast of a low budget B horror movie. It was one step above “hey, we’re in the haunted murder mansion with a serial killer, let’s split up and wander around in the dark!” “Great idea. Let’s have sex and smoke pot so the slasher can murder us faster while we’re distracted!” I expect that kind of cheap cop-out writing from movies that cost $100 and the actors were paid in beer, not $200,000,000 gorgeous movies starring a bunch of great actors.  

SPOILER ALERT! Seriously, this is spoilerific. Stop reading now if you don’t want spoilers.

I warned you…

Captain’s log. Star date, Dec 23, 2089. This is Idris Elba, Captain of the Prometheus. We are on a mission to the faraway planet LV-223 because a couple of archeologists read Chariot of the Gods. Apparently with the bazillions of stars you can see from earth from different hemispheres and across thousands of years this was the only place in all of outer space that five dots lined up just right, and I’m not going to think too hard about that any more. Charlize Theron is our requisite corporate ice bitch and we’ve even got an android. There’s a bunch of other crew, but I’ve got a sneaky feeling that none of us are going to bother to learn their names.

I’m currently in hypersleep while our android is demonstrating that if this was a better movie he would totally win an Oscar.

Dec 24. We all got decanted from hyper sleep. Charlize did pushups to demonstrate her corporate hard-ass-itude and the archeologist with the dragon tattoo barfed a lot. The crew got to know each other so the audience could easily determine who was going to die first. I think the Weyland Corporation must not give a crap about this mission since they hired Insane Clown Posse to be our science team. (Rainbows! What do they mean?)

After a briefing where everyone was needlessly cruel to our android, we discussed our plans to find the Engineers that made mankind by melting themselves into our oceans. Our Fassbenderbot learned the Engineer’s language by mooshing all of Earth’s languages together… Okay… Since there was a beautifully shot opening bit where a totally ripped big white dude melted into DNA and fell in the ocean, then logically that means those single celled organisms would totally speak the same language and then pass that down to us today. Insane Clown Posse doesn’t seem convinced.  Hey, whatever. I’m just a spaceship captain. It isn’t like I know “science”.

On that thought… If the big white buffed guy melted into DNA, and then that DNA evolved for the next 300 million years, from bugs to fish to dinosaurs to chimps and whatnot, I’m assuming that our DNA would no longer match the Engineer’s right? Oh, wait… I’m getting ahead of myself.

In one of the rare displays of logic thus far, Charlize warned the archeologists not to make contact with the Engineers…  So of course they got all butt hurt about it. Because you know, it is only the most important thing ever in all history, so why shouldn’t we just rush into it and screw up our first meeting with a hyper-advanced alien species? It isn’t like they’re going to get pissed off and drop mutagenic goo on Earth or something.

Dec 25.  After all of the other characters have been total dicks to Fassbender the Robot (really, I wouldn’t blame him if he decided to murder all of humanity, because we really are being pricks) we found a road and a big alien ruin. So, since this was the biggest and most important sciency type discovery ever, we approached carefully and probed—HA! Just messing with you. We said f*&k it and swooped right in there and started poking that shit. We learned our archeology from the University of Indiana Jones.

So while our science team went in and started dicking around, Charlie the archeologist decided that the air was good to breath inside the ruin, so he took his helmet off… Never mind potential viruses and bacteria, or hell, maybe the aliens really liked to decorate with asbestos. Are you freaking kidding me? You’re in a space alien ruin and the first thing you do is take your helmet off? Are you smoking crack? Man, public education in the 2080s is completely useless.

They found a door and a headless alien dude that totally terrified the Insane Clown Posse so much that they ran away like little girls, they then promptly got lost, (even though one of them was the guy in charge of mapping the place) and since I run a pretty loose operation we sorta forgot about them…

Meanwhile the Fassbendroid poked some things and opened the door. Personally I think I would’ve told the robot to quit freaking poking mysterious alien buttons and opening murder doors in the mysterious ruin, but hey, whatever. Science. The room was filled with all sorts of mysterious stuff, that didn’t really make sense, but was arranged to feel vaguely like the egg chamber in the first Alien movie. “Hey, this looks organic! Cool! Let’s poke at it!” Geniuses. But then they all had to bail before a big super storm, that we probably should’ve noted before it was only a mile away. What am I paying all of you people for?

We scanned the alien head. The scanner said it was “pathogen free” but then it came alive, swelled up with black goo, and exploded. Yeah… Note to self. Get that scanner calibrated. Oh, and that thing about our DNA being a match… Uh huh… We share something like 60% of our DNA with a banana, but I’m not buying that.

I think the robot may have slipped Charlie some mysterious alien goo, but then again, Charlie has been such an out of character whiney little bitch that who can blame him… This does however raise the question of how Fassbender knew what the goo would do. Really, since his entire knowledge of this species is looking at cave paintings of dots and smooshing words together, so how the hell… Oh, never mind…

So then Charlie whined to Noomi the archeologist. Here, let me condense this whole scene for you guys. “I’m really bummed and depressed, because even though we just made the biggest discovery ever in history, and my entire life’s work has been justified, and we found a dead alien that is only a couple thousand years old, which means their race is probably still alive, I’m going to be all mopey because I didn’t get to talk to one THIS MINUTE because they created life.” “I can’t create life, which came totally out of nowhere. Now I am sad too.” (hmmm… I suddenly have a premonition that Noomi is going to be pregnant with an alien in no time). “I am sad too. Let’s have sex.” “Cool.”

Meanwhile, back on the bridge. I was just chilling and playing with my accordion (no a real accordion, get your mind out of the gutter) and teasing the Insane Clown Posse that was trapped and alone in the terrifying alien death ruin. “Hey, look a life form… Aw, just screwing with you guys.” But then I abandoned them because Charlize Theron wanted to get freaky with me… Oh, come on. Don’t judge me. You know you’d do the same thing. (hmmm… Come to think of it, maybe I should have warned the ICP about the exploding alien head that was filled with black goo that they should avoid black goo… Nah… What’s the worst that could happen?)

MEANWHILE:  “Hey, since we got lost in these ruins because we got all terrified of one specific room, let’s go back and camp in that very same room!” “That’s a great idea. Plus, there are leaking jars of suspicious organic ooze. This is the perfect place to hang out. “Hey, look. An alien worm monster swimming in the organic black goo! Let’s pet it!” “Pet it? Did they teach you that at your fancy biologist school?” “Hey, cutie. Come to papa. Ooh, look, now it has spread open a cobra hood and is hissing angrily at me. Everybody knows that nature’s universal code for let’s hug. Come to daddy, come here pretty, come—AAAAAARRRRGGGHHHH! MY ARM! OH GOD! NOOOO! SNAP CRACK POP KILL IT! ACID!!! AAAArrglbrglgrlbl….”

Dec 26. Captain’s log. Yeah… about that last entry about the worst that could happen? Remind me to delete all that incriminating stuff.

The android went off by himself, but we’re all cool with that. It isn’t like he keeps on pushing random buttons and screwing with stuff or anything, so we totally trust the soulless abomination. We went back to the ruins and Charlie started getting all mutagenic on us. Charlize burned him to death with a flamethrower, which made everybody else sad, but was probably the smartest thing anybody on this whole expedition has done. I’m thinking Charlize might be the smartest person on board.

Then Noomi was suddenly 3 months pregnant with an alien that she picked up from mutagenic Charlie, and the now sinister Fassbendroid was going to freeze her (later. He’ll get around to it later). However, due to her archeologist-fu, she was able to fight her way to the really expensive medical thingy, got a C-section, and then walked it off… Yes… You read that right.

I remember reading an ancient Larry Correia novel in one of my Advanced Literary Important Literature of the 2000s class, and there being a negative review about how “terribly unrealistic” it was for a character to walk off road rash after an accident, even though the author had done it himself in real life… Meanwhile, Noomi got lasered open, had a giant combative squid removed, got 25 staples, and was able to run through the rest of the movie convincingly as long as she grimaced once in awhile.

Oh, and let’s not forget this exchange… “Computer. Perform a C-Section.” “I can’t. I’m a super expensive medical computer that is only programmed for men.” “Oh, ok. Perform a manual C-Section then.” “Sure thing!”

You know… Since now a bunch of us know about the alien squid monster that was removed from Noomi, and that is still sitting in the medical room maybe we should go check on it or something? Hell, that’s even in Charlize’s cabin. Surely, the ruthless corporate ice queen would go check to make sure it is dead. I mean, if we leave it alone it may grow into an 800 pound Cthuloid face-raping octopus monster or something… Naw… We’ll get around to it later.*

*- Note Idris Elba graduated last in his class at the Space Captain program from University of Phoenix.

However, we were distracted because ICP’s helmet suddenly showed up at our doorstep… Which makes me think, since we’ve got these helmets that read our heart beats, shouldn’t we have hooked those up to an alarm or something when we abandoned half our science team? You know, that’s a good idea… I should look into downloading that as an app for my iPhone or something.

Oh yeah, back to ICP. So the ramp comes down, and one of my team of brain surgeons sees the totally messed up body of our geologist all contorted into some very suspicious mutagenic crab walk, and what does he do? No… He doesn’t immediately burn it to ash… He turns his back on the death mutant, turns around and says to his buddy “Check this out!” So then the Zombie soccer hooligan murdered half my idiot crew. It probably didn’t help that we crossed the entire universe to meet an unknown species armed with nothing but pistols, a pump shotgun, and anemic flamethrowers that would barely pass as a weed burner in 2012.

Wow… I just realized this Captain’s log is over 2,000 words and I still haven’t gotten to all of the things that didn’t make sense in the third act. So I’ll try to hurry it up.

So Weyland is secretly on the ship. His plan is to meet the Engineers so they’ll give him eternal life and I’m really unclear how he jumped to that conclusion. Charlize telegraphs that he is her FATHER, which is really kind of pointless now and felt needlessly tacked on. So then Fassbender and the gang go down to meet the last Engineer that is in cryo, who then wakes up and kicks the crap out of everybody. I’m assuming when Fassbender said “Ergchook mahoopookalooka mim hoofaloop” which translated roughly to “We’re from Earth and we’ve come to ravish your porcupines.” Then the Engineer took off to mutagenicize Earth.

So at that point I decided, hey, I’m Idris Elba. I’m Luther. I’m mother f’ing Heimdall! Nobody messes with me! So I wrecked that Engineer’s stupid face. Since I exploded, it is probably hard to explain how I can finish the last few scenes of this movie in the format of this captain’s log, but that makes about as much sense as the rest of the plot, so bear with me.

Remember earlier when I said Charlize was the smartest person on the ship? Yeah… About that. Never mind. Or maybe she just suffered from really poor depth perception and spatial awareness. Noomi gets to the life boat (hey, did I ever send anybody down to check on the space squid baby? Crap. Forgot). So then the head of Fassbender warns Noomi that the Engineer is coming for her… Which doesn’t explain how Fassbender knew that, nor how the Engineer knew where Noomi was. Then Noomi gets out a wicked Klingon battle ax that is remarkably bad ass looking to just be a fire ax (on a space ship), but then she doesn’t use it because her baby octopus shows up.

And somehow the baby space octopus is now the size of a Ford Focus… Okay… Magic. Whatever. It then face rapes the Engineer to death. So Noomi escapes with Fassbender’s head. “Hey, Noomi. I have an idea. There are other alien ships filled with death mutagen. Let’s totally fly one to Earth!” but Noomi has a spark of brilliance and says “Maybe not totally untrustworthy robot that has tried to murder everybody, let’s fly one of these death machines to the Engineers homeworld to talk to them and find out why they are such douchebags….” Because I’m sure the super advanced Engineers will look kindly on that and totally won’t decide to utterly eradicate humanity as a result.

Oh, but you’re saying, Captain Elba, but the Engineers already were going to eradicate humanity? How do you know that? Maybe this one big white guy in cryo was just a real surly self-righteous prick that none of the other Engineers liked? For all we know our first contact was with the Engineer equivalent of Alec Baldwin. And then Fassbender had to go and threaten to ravish his porcupines, what did you think would happen?

And then at the end an alien pops out of Alec Baldwin. The end.

Who wants an MHI Employee Handbook? (feedback for book/RPG)

I’m pleased to annouce that there is going to be a new, special, very different MHI book. I’ve made a deal with a role playing game company (can’t announce who yet) and we’re going to release an MHI RPG.

However, this isn’t going to just be a book for gamers. It is going to be a big, heavy duty, book filled with all sorts of MHI related goodness. Like bits of original fiction, character bios, history, PUFF tables, and a ton of original artwork.

I need to get an approximate headcount of who is interested. There will be more details to come later, but please post in the comments here if this is something that you would like to buy.

The Burning Throne, Episode 31: The Toymaker’s Craft

I love this piece of fiction.

Continued from: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/the-burning-throne-episode-30-return-of-the-dead-moon/ 

This is a flashback sequence that tied a lot of our game’s backhistory into our current events. Junaro is Makoto’s grandfather, the lowliest of the lowest caste, who went on to become a legendary hero, and this tells part of his story. Then it moves forward a few years. Kuni Kiyoshi was Magatsu’s sensei.  And you may remember Yasuki Murato as the Crab caravan master that was rescued during one of our B Team games who then became an ally of the Paper Lanterns.

And I wrote all of this short story for one specific reason. Another L5R game supplemant book came out, and in it there was an item called Kaiu Armor that was super awesome, but very very expensive, and this was my justification to our GM that I really needed a set of it for Makoto.  Yes, I am that much of a dork. :)

The Toymaker’s Craft

I.                    The Apprentice

The village of Shinsei’s Last Hope was not normally this crowded, or so he had been told. Kaiu Gombei had never been here before, nor had he ever crossed the Wall and entered the Shadowlands before, and in fact this was the first time in his life he had been more than a day’s travel from Shiro Kaiu, where the young man had been born, raised, and trained at the forge. With his gempukku only recently completed, assisting in the repairs of the weapons and armor of the ronin competing in the Twenty Goblin Winter was the first task ever given to him by his daimyo. Gombei had been terrified to cross the wastes with the Hiruma scouts, but he had done as commanded. He was proud to be serving the needs of the Crab Clan.

The last few years had been difficult ones on the Wall, and the clan had taken heavy losses. It was rare for the clan champion to order a Twenty Goblin Winter held in order to increase their numbers. Any ronin that entered the Shadowlands and returned with twenty severed goblin heads would be allowed to swear fealty to the Crab and join the Moshibaru, vassal family to the Hida.  It was incredibly dangerous, but the prospects of being allowed to join a great clan was tempting to most ronin, and so they had come from across the Emerald Empire, flooding into Shinsei’s Last Hope. They were exotic, colorful, skilled, and bold.

Most of them would not survive the first day.

The other families of the Crab produced more soldiers for the endless war against the Shadowlands, but without the Kaiu provided weapons and fortifications, the entire clan would surely fall. Only fourteen years old, Gombei had not proven himself skilled enough to make anything worthy of a Crab bushi yet, but he could sharpen blades and hammer out dents with the best of them. Gombei had never had a talent for weaponry, but he had a real knack for creating toys. Crab children loved toys, but now was a time of war, and every skilled smith and craftsman was needed for more important duties. Gombei was here to learn from them.

A representative of the Hida Elite Guard gave a terse speech to the assembled ronin consisting of the usual warnings about how time was of the essence, the dangers of the taint, and about how some particularly nasty oni had been sighted nearby. It was recommended that they avoid it. Then the gates were opened and the ronin charged into the wastes.

For the first time in days, the village was quiet.

#

Kaiu Gombei had been working late into the night on a project and had been surprised to find a gigantic man searching through the scrap pile in the alley behind the forge.

“Can I help you?” the young smith asked.

“I need a weapon,” the giant replied, not looking up from his task.

Curious now, Gombei took a step closer. The giant’s arms were corded with muscle like unto those of a blacksmith that had spent years wielding a hammer. His clothes were tattered and dirty, barely more than rags, and his hair was long, matted, and unkempt. He was probably only a few winters older than Gombei. “What kind of weapon?”

The stranger shrugged. “Any will do. Preferably something big.”

“Why?”

He turned toward Gombei and grinned. Several of his teeth were missing. “The others have a head start, and if I don’t get out there soon, all the goblins will be killed and there will be no heads left for me. I should have left when they did, but my master had me flogged for asking to participate.”

Gombei noticed that there were several dried, rust colored stains on the man’s back. “Your master? I didn’t think ronin had masters?”

“Ronin?” The giant laughed. “I am merely an eta.”

Gombei was rather taken aback by that response. Normally the lowest of the low did not even dare to speak to their betters, let alone so brazenly. “An eta?”

“I am the torturer for Lord Genzo’s estate. He is here to watch the festivities… But Bishamon appeared in my dreams. I am to participate in the Twenty Goblin Winter and become a samurai… Ah ha!” the giant hoisted something triumphantly. “This tetsubo will do nicely!”

“That is a board with a nail in it,” Gombei pointed out.

“Indeed. But he told me to search here, and who am I to argue with the Fortune of Strength?”

It was rather obvious that the eta was quite mad. “Preposterous. The challenge is for ronin. They are already samurai, just without masters. Collecting the heads only enables them to join a great clan. It is impossible for an eta to do so.”

“Why?” The eta swung his board back and forth, testing the weight.

Gombei had to think about the lessons taught to him by his sensei about the Celestial Order. “Because eta are at the bottom of the Celestial Order! Your caste is unclean. You are below the peasants, below the merchant and the farmer, far below the lowliest of ronin, who are below the minor clans, and they are beneath the contempt of a great clan samurai!”

“And you are all bugs to the emperor and he is a bug to the kami…”

“Blasphemy!”

“Perhaps. I am no monk. How would I know? I’m a simple torturer, but trust me on this one, young master, samurai bleed the same blood as the lowliest of eta.”

“I should have you beheaded for such insolence!”

“If you believe that I’m wrong, then you can save yourself the trouble and let the Shadowlands kill me, because nothing is going to stop me from walking out that gate and fulfilling my destiny.” The giant glared at him, as if daring Gombei to call for the guards.

This eta had no training, no knowledge, no skills… Eta were not even allowed to possess arms, so surely he did not know how to use that silly club of his. The Shadowlands routinely chewed up and swallowed the greatest warriors the Crab clan could produce. This stubborn idiot was committing suicide. “You are a fool.”

The eta shrugged. “When I return with twenty heads, then we will see who is the fool.”

Gombei was not about to be contradicted by some mutilator of flesh. “You will need to do better than that. Twenty heads is sufficient to raise a ronin up one level on the Celestial Wheel, and you are no ronin. The Hida will be more likely to execute you for your disobedience than anything.”

He paused to count on his fingers. “Hmmm… You have a point. Bishamon did not specify how many heads… If it is twenty per caste, I’ll need twenty to become a peasant, twenty more to become a ronin, and twenty more to become a Crab!”

“You can count that high?”

“Of course. I have counted and numbered every bone in the human body. There is an order that I prefer to break them in… But sixty? Now I will need to find a cart to carry so many heads.”

Gombei laughed at the foolish eta, but he could not help but be amazed by the man’s tenacity. “Tell you what…” The apprentice unwrapped the bundle he had been carrying. This particular repair project had been a dismal failure. Sure, he had managed to return the broken old weapon to a perfectly serviceable state, but it was so ugly that Gombei was embarrassed to let his sensei see it. He had replaced the cracked wooden handle, tightened the steel bands, and replaced the lost rivets, in fact, he’d basically created a whole new weapon, but it wasn’t good enough. There was simply no art to this one. It was true that every weapon was valuable, but Gombei had too much pride to have his name associated with something so plain. Throwing it back on the scrap pile had been what had brought him back here to begin with.  “Take this instead.” He tossed the tetsubo to the eta, who caught the heavy thing with one hand. “It is hardly better than your board with a nail, but should be sufficient for a goblin or two.”

The eta marveled at the heavy spiked club. His hands began to tremble and his lip quivered. “Young master… It is beautiful.”

Beautiful? Gombei snorted. It was sixteen pounds of ugly. It was an embarrassment to the Kaiu family. Then the young smith realized that he’d just armed a disobedient and possibly delusional eta… “I command you to never tell anyone where you got that from!”

The eta fell to his knees and bowed until his hair was in the dirt. When he looked up, his eyes were filled with tears. “I will never speak of this. Thank you, young master. This is the greatest day of my life. I was told to come here to arm myself. You are my armorer. The heavens have declared that our fates are intertwined. Because of your mercy, I will succeed.” The eta rose, wrapped the tetsubo in more rags to conceal it, and hurried down the alley.

“Torturer!” Gombei shouted after him. “What is your name?”

“I am called Junaro, young master. And when we meet again, I will be Crab!”

#

Seven out of every ten ronin did not return from the Shadowlands at all. Half of those that did come back had failed to collect their heads, and a few had descended into madness, to be forever tormented by the things they had seen in the nightmare fog.  Two had been badly infected with taint and were summarily executed by the Kuni witch hunters. The few ronin that did make it back to Shinsei’s Last Hope carrying their sacks of heads were allowed to swear fealty to the Crab Clan.

Kaiu Gombei had been kept so busy at the village forge that he had not given much thought to the strange eta he had met nearly a week ago. Surely by now he was dead or consumed by Jigoku. Someone of such low caste could never be expected to succeed where so many of his betters had failed. The celestial wheel would continue to turn. Gombei could only hope that perhaps when that poor eta was reincarnated, he would be rewarded by the heavens for his faith and be reborn as something higher, like a farmer, or perhaps if he were really lucky, a peasant craftsman, and not condemned for his insolence and reborn as a… What was lower than an eta?

Yet, on the final day of the Twenty Goblin Winter, a lone figure appeared on the road leading into Shinsei’s Last Hope. It was the torturer, and he was pulling a cart that was practically overflowing with severed heads.

II.                  The Craftsman

For the last twenty years he had honed his technique and Kaiu Gombei was renowned throughout the Empire for his work. Though he hailed from a martial family, in the most martial of clans, Gombei had the soul of an artist, and his passion lay in creating intricate toys for children. A few periods of desperate warfare had pulled him away from his shop and back to building armor for the Wall, but other than those trying times, he had been totally devoted to his craft.

He was so successful that Gombei’s toys had been presented to the clan champion’s children. The Yasuki valued them so highly that they were constantly used as gifts in distant courts. Even the best of the Kakita artisans respected his abilities. It was not uncommon for a daimyo’s child even in far off Unicorn or Phoenix lands to be in possession of something made by Gombei’s hands. Each toy was different and better than the one before it, and the most prestigious of lords was prepared to pay many koku in order to be able to say that their child had something created by Kaiu Gombei.

And though he had brought riches and honor to his family, Gombei’s greatest happiness was found in the laughter of children… Especially his own.

The toymaker’s daughter would be happy to see him. He had been away, teaching for a time at Shiro Kaiu. As soon as anyone at the estate sighted him or the dogs began barking, she would run down the path of their estate to greet him as soon as possible, as she always did. And just as she had her routine, he had his, and as usual he had a surprise for her. He always brought back sweets from the city, and no matter how busy life became, he always found time to craft something special for his oldest child. This time it was a delicate bracelet of woven steel, which when looked at from only a certain angle revealed a tiny crab. Gombei knew that she would love it.

He travelled alone and on foot, caring not for horses or company, and though his status allowed for it, did not wish to ride in a palanquin. The estate was not that far from the city, and he reached it just before sundown.

Yet something was amiss. The toymaker’s daughter did not run down the lane to meet him. His dogs did not bark in greeting. No servants were in the gardens. No lanterns had been lit. The home was still. A baby began to cry… His infant son, yet no one came to comfort the baby. Gombei called out a hesitant hello, but there was no response, and now with dread turning his legs to water, he began to run toward his home.

Faster and faster, he forced himself down the path, until he came upon the first body. His daughter had been waiting for him after all.

They never learned where the beast had come from, if it had snuck across the Wall and made its way north, or if it had been summoned by foul magic and set free, or even why it had chosen this particular household to slaughter, but come to slaughter it had.

The mighty oni leapt upon him from where it had been hiding in the trees. It was made of hatred and things that tear. Teeth shredded his kimono and spilled his blood. Gombei fought, desperately managing to draw his katana, but his strike did not even pierce the oni’s hide. He lost the left side of his face to the swipe of a claw.

Gombei found himself on the ground in a spreading pool of blood. He tried to crawl toward his house. “My son… Must protect my son.”

The oni squatted next to him in the grass and hissed, “Already gone, Toymaker.” And then it tilted its head back and made a sound that was the perfect imitation of a baby’s cry. The oni mocked him with laughter, then turned and ran on all fours into the garden, never to be seen again.

From that day forward, the toymaker turned all of his attention to making the implements of war. The laughter of children sounded too much like the laughter of the oni.

III.                The Master

Decades passed, but Kaiu Gombei no longer paid attention to what year it was. It did not matter, because to the Crab, every season was war.

He hammered out blades in a quantity so great that he could not begin to count them. He built suits of armor, churning them out, working from his waking moments until fatigue forced his eyes closed. The intricate mechanisms he had used in his moving toys was used to improve the pendulum traps beneath the Wall. Gombei could no longer teach students, because he had no patience for even the slightest imperfection, and a temper that often led him into bouts of rage.

There were no comforts, no indulgences. He ate only to live, and no matter what it was, there was no flavor in his mouth. Sleep was a rarity for him, a weakness that had to be indulged, or so he told the other smiths. The reality was that the realm of dreams held mostly terrors, and it was a place that he did not like to visit. For the unknown period that made up the last portion of his life, there had been only the crafting, and only recently had that changed, and Kaiu Gombei had once again had a purpose in life.

He had only one friend, and it was that friend’s responsibility to kill Gombei if necessary.

“You haven’t been drinking your jade petal tea?” Kuni Kiyoshi asked.

“No.”

It was Kuni Kiyoshi’s responsibility to check on Gombei periodically to see if the curse in his blood was growing worse. The oni’s bite had left him tainted. It would consume him eventually, as there was no cure for the blight of Jigoku. His death was inevitable, and since that horrible day, it had been a race to see how many weapons he could arm his brothers with before the end.

The Kuni’s face was painted in their traditional and intimidating manner. “You have to drink the tea, my friend. It helps stave off the spread of the taint. Failure to do so is a direct violation of the Emperor’s laws, and for very good reason. If you fall under the sway of evil…”

“I know.” Gombei narrowed his one remaining eye. “But the tea clouds my mind. It makes my hands clumsy. I cannot finish this project if I’m drinking it.”

“What project?” Kiyoshi asked.

“My masterwork. The most important thing I’ve ever built.”

“Is it worth dying for?”

He did not hesitate. “Yes.”

“Show me.”

Kaiu Gombei got up, limped across his workshop, and pulled the oilcloth from the armor stand. “It is nearly finished.”

Kuni Kiyoshi remained kneeling as he studied the suit of heavy armor. “It does not look like your regular workmanship.”

“There is no art in this one,” Gombei said with a sad smile. “But that is on purpose.”

“If you will excuse my impertinence, master smith, but it is rather plain.”

“It is meant for a rather plain man.”

“Who?”

“Moshibaru Junaro.”

“The hero? The eta turned samurai?” The shugenja cocked his head to the side. “Junaro is dead.”

Of course he knew. The torturer had gone on to become a legendary warrior among the Crab, one of the finest of their time. Gombei sighed and patted the massive shoulder plates of the armor. “I have been informed.”

“So you are prematurely ending your life in order to make a suit of armor for a dead man?”

Gombei returned to kneel across from his curious friend. “The only peaceful dream I have had since my household was slaughtered has been from a time long ago, when I was a young apprentice and I met an upstart eta who had decided to challenge the celestial order. Have I ever told you what Junaro told me?” Kiyoshi shook his head. “He said that our fates were intertwined and I was to be his armorer.”

Kiyoshi did not laugh. “And this dream?”

“It has come many times since, more now that I know I do not have long left in this realm. I believe Xing Guo has guided my hand,” Gombei spoke reverently about the Fortune of Steel. “This armor is meant for Moshibaru Junaro and him alone. I believe that his spirit waits in the Realm of Thwarted Destiny. A man that willing to challenge the celestial order does not quit so easily, and when his spirit returns to this world, I will fulfill my duty.”

“How do you intend to find this reincarnated soul? If you expect to present it to Junaro’s son, there may be… issues.

“It is not meant for his son. The armor will find its way to the one it was meant for,” Gombei said. “It is made for one with a great destiny, and destiny finds a way… Long ago I made a foolish request based in pride, for my first tetsubo to not be identified as my work. I was ashamed of its simplicity, yet, that tetsubo has served our clan more than any other thing I have ever created. Today, I would make that same request to you, but this time out of humility. This armor will not bear my mark. My first creation and my last, both without art, yet hopefully, this armor will serve the Crab as well as that simple tetsubo.”

Kuni Kiyoshi was silent for a very long time, looking first at the humble armor, and then back to the Kaiu. Finally he spoke. “How long do you need?”

“One more month. And should I still live at the end, then I will be painting my mon with blood and joining the Legion of the Damned,” he spoke reverently of the tainted Crab warriors who chose to fight to the end, ”Or committing seppuku, as you see fit. I would prefer to join the Damned. There is a certain oni that I would very much like to meet again.”

Kuni Kiyoshi bowed. “I will allow this request, master smith.”

“You honor me, noble Kuni.” Gombei returned the bow.

After the Kuni had departed, Gombei returned to work. He carefully removed the steel bracelet he had made for his eldest daughter so long ago, from a silk bag and placed it near where he would fasten it to the breastplate. It was not much ornamentation for such a large suit, but it was the artist’s personal touch that counted. This armor would not be completely without art.

IV.                The Trader

Yasuki Murato, Caravan Master of the Jolly Crab Trading Company, waited impatiently for the gunso to continue with the equipment inventory. After arranging for the delivery of a large quantity of rice and lamp oil to the local garrison, the Jolly Crab had received permission to clean out this particular storehouse from the local magistrate. The gunso was checking off items on a long scroll as they moved down the shelves.

It had been years since anything inside the storehouse had been disturbed. Supposedly, everything in here was second-rate equipment, hardly worthy of the Wall, but even shoddy goods would bring top koku from the desperately besieged Dragon Clan. Luckily, everything had been packed in grease or wrapped in oiled cloth, so there was no signs of rust. Though Murato’s personal opinion on rust was that a heavy coat of paint and a suit of armor would look good as new… Sure it might not stop a spear thrust anymore, but the Jolly Crab did not offer refunds on armor.

There was one particularly large bundle of oil cloth standing on an armor rack, but the gunso quickly passed it by without even making a checkmark on his scroll.  Murato stopped in front of it. “What about this one?”

The gunso paused and bit his lip. “You do not want that armor Yasuki-sama.”

“Why?” Murato reached out and took hold of the cloth.

“Wait—”

But Murato had already ripped the cover free, revealing a complete set of heavy armor, not much to look at, but adorned in traditional Crab colors. “What’s wrong with it? It’s old, but seems perfectly sellable to me… There’s not a scratch on it. If somebody died in it, you can’t hardly tell.”

“Please, Yasuki-sama, trust me. You do not want to take this armor. Let’s continue on.”

Murato snorted. “The magistrate said that I could fill a wagon out of this warehouse with whatever I wanted… Are you trying to disobey your magistrate or are you just stupid? I know an acceptable suit of armor when I see it, and this, despite needing some decorative tassels, or maybe a plume, or some feathers, is perfectly sellable armor.”

The gunso bowed. “My apologies.” He glanced quickly at the armor. “You don’t want this one, my lord, because it is haunted.” The trader demanded an explanation, and the hesitant gunso had no choice but to continue. “It may not look like much, but it really is extremely well made. Nice as anything most of us on this section of the Wall have ever seen. Whoever built this knew a thing or two, but it doesn’t like being worn.”

“It?”

“The armor, my lord. It doesn’t like being worn…” The gunso looked around conspiratorially. “It whispers to you.”

That was the not the strangest thing Murato had ever heard about a piece of merchandise, and he was already thinking about how he could spin that to make it sound like a feature. “What does it say?”

“Nobody can understand really, since it is very faint. Nobody in the garrison even knows who put it here. We thought the first few that tried it on had got a case of Wall madness, but I tried the kabuto myself. I swear on the black balls of Fu-Leng that it told me ‘you are not the right one’. Our Kuni said there is no sign of taint upon it, and even a mighty ghost hunter, Toritaka Sujin, came in and sat with it for awhile. He said it isn’t a gaki or anything from any of the evil realms, but that somebody is still watching over this armor. Sujin-sama said it was safe to wear, but nobody likes their armor whispering to them… You can see why we stuck it in here.”

Murato rubbed his chins while he thought that over. Dragons were always being mystical and inscrutable. They would probably enjoy talking armor. “I’ll take it.”

# Photo taken at the MET’s samurai collection. Found a couple of days ago while in NYC for Book Expo. I refrained from shouting CRAB CLAN!

To be continued next week on the road to Pale Oak Castle. http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/the-burning-throne-episode-32-road-to-pale-oak-castle/

Hard Magic wins an Audie award

I am happy to announce that Hard Magic, narrated by Bronson Pinchot, produced by Audible, and written by Larry Correia (me) has won the 2012 Audie Award for Best Paranormal.

The Audies are like the Oscars of Audio Books. Paranormal is a new sort of catch all category that includes things like alternate history, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and that sort of thing that doesn’t really fit into regular fantasy or sci-fi.  That is a lot of books. Hard Magic was up against four other awesome eBooks in the finals, (including my Monster Hunter International narrated by Oliver Wyman). Bronson was also up for best actor.

Congratulations to all of the other winners and nominees. And thanks to the crew at Audible and Bronson Pinchot for doing such an amazing, kick ass job.

 

For mini painters & war gamers, 15 hours left on this Kickstarter

http://www.indiegogo.com/bushido  If you want to jump in, the stretch goals have been met, so if you grab like the $100 pack, you are getting quite a few minis for free no matter what. It ends tonight.

The Burning Throne, Episode 30: Return of the Dead Moon

Continued from: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/the-burning-throne-episode-29-b-team-night/ 

When last we left off, the Paper Lanterns had survived the Night of Assassins, though Shiro Tamori had taken a lot of damage. The dragon Satsu had given us a bunch of cryptic warnings about watching the skies, and then stuff started to get a little crazy. In the cosmology of the L5R game, the sun and moon basically have a god and goddess that stand in for them. This week’s entries are from me and Paul Genesse.

Twentieth Entry

From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan.

My hands are shaking so badly I can barely write. Tonight, I have seen a god die. Tonight, I have watched the heavens torn asunder. Tonight, our world has changed.

The alarm was sounded in the middle of the night. I awoke to strange lights in the sky. The moon was… I cannot explain. I lack the words. It rose. It set. It rose again. It set in the wrong direction. It waxed and waned, flashed and changed colors. It was as if it was in a battle against something beyond my comprehension. I fell to my knees and begged the Fortunes for mercy. Everyone in the compound saw the display as well, for if I alone had seen this, I would know that I had descended into madness.

Ide Todo had been joined by the Tamori astrologers and an Asako Loremaster. They had no explanation for these events either. They said it was similar to what was seen when Lady Hitomi defeated Lord Onnotanagu to take his place as the moon. Hours passed as the battle for the night sky continued. None could look away.

The moon was absorbed in an eclipse, as if a great hungry shadow was consuming it, but then a second identical moon appeared in the sky. They collided and I thought that the world would end. The shadow and the first moon were cast from the sky, falling like burning stars. The new moon took their place.

We could follow the descent of the old moon as it fell to Rokugan with our eyes. It struck not too far from Shiro Tamori. Fearful, we set out, dreading what we would find. The Paper Lanterns arrived first. There was a crater in the forest. At the bottom of the hole we could see a human sized form in black armor. Tsuze, Magatsu, Fubatsu, and I approached cautiously.

It was Lady Hitomi. The goddess of the moon had been cast down from the celestial heavens. Missing one arm and severely injured, her body was slowly turning to obsidian. With her dying breaths she warned us that the dead moon had returned. My mind was reeling. I was so shocked I do not think I understood what she was trying to tell us.

And then she was consumed and I witnessed the death of a god.

Magatsu was drawn toward the spirits of the evil obsidian, but I physically restrained him. I just wanted to flee. I have faced battle. I have faced countless foes, oni, undead, demons, gaijin, but this… This time I gave into the sin of fear. I do not wish to meddle in the affairs of gods.

The new moon leered down at us, impossibly bright, like a stark perversion of daylight. Tsuze was frightened of the new moon and wondered aloud what we could do. I told him that it was the moon. If it wanted to come kill us then we would die.

There was a gust of wind and a mighty roar. The dragon Satsu had finally been roused from his slumber. Having insulted him once, I removed myself from the scene, and bowed with the Lanterns. Satsu landed at the edge of the crater, told us that he’d warned us to watch the skies, that this was what he’d been trying to prevent, and then he gave us instructions before departing with the obsidian corpse of the goddess Hitomi.

Satsu commanded that the shamesword Penance be destroyed at all costs. Whoever held it would rule the Empire. Should it fall to the Dark Oracle, he would win the war. A portion of the soul of the hero Hiruma Todori, the last man to wield the sword, was trapped within. In order for Penance to become vulnerable, Todori had to die by its blade.

Is this how a peasant feels when he is levied to fight as a lowly ashigaru for the mightiest samurai warlord? We are soldiers in a battle beyond our understanding. I fear now we fight a war of the gods.

 

#

From the Private Scrolls of Kuni Magatsu, Crab Clan Shugenja

Dragon Clan Lands, at Shiro Tamori one day after “The Night of Assassins”

The Dragon Clan Champion, Togashi Satsu, has awoken from his slumber at last. He spoke to me and my companions last night as we stood at the edge of the crater where Lady Moon fell from the sky. Defeated and dying, she turned to obsidian before our eyes, but before she succumbed to the kansen poisoning her, she warned us of the return of a long dead enemy. She may have been lying about who it was, but it does not matter now, for Togashi Satsu has told us what we must do to fulfill our task and destroy the Shamesword of Penance.

I carry the cursed nemurani blade, a wakizashi, in a jade box over my shoulder and under my cloak, and it is as we suspected, the key to saving the Emerald Empire. Lord Satsu said that the sword must be destroyed and the only way to do so is for the legendary Crab Clan samurai, Hiruma Todori, to die.

Todori wielded the blade many years ago and because of his tremendous force of will, was able to give it up and leave it at the High House of Light, but his connection to the blade is not broken. For the blade to become vulnerable to destruction, he must not only die, but die by the cursed blade itself, for half his soul resides within it. Only when the two halves are reunited, will the blade be able to be sundered by the crafts of man.

Lord Satsu also told us that if the sword is not destroyed and the Oracle of Dark Fire possesses it, the Empire is lost, for with its power his forces will sweep across the land.

Lord Satsu also said that if the sword is not destroyed and one of us, or perhaps a member of one of the clans takes it up, they may control the Empire and gain the throne.

This is an intriguing proposition, but I am a Kuni, a servant of the Crab Clan, not some noble born Otomo or even fit to marry one of their daughters. I’ve squatted in the mud of the Shadowlands too many times, and my hindquarters are not fit to polish the Emerald Throne.

I will not lie to myself, for I am tempted in the dark of the night when the spirits inside the Shamesword offer me power. I do wish to know the source of it and bend its strength to my will. I have no doubt that if I were to wield the blade I would become the most fearsome shugenja who has ever served the Crab clan, but it would only last for a moment, as my grim bodyguard, Fubatsu would keep his vow and sever my head.

Our course is clear. We will find the legendary Hiruma Todori, and ask him to do what must be done. A man as honorable as he will do what is required of him, as he lives to serve the Empire, and he will fall upon the Shamesword of Pennance taking his own life. When he is dead, Hida Makoto will smash the blade with his tetsubo and the Oracle of Dark Fire will be denied the weapon that could change the outcome of the War of the Dark Fire.

#

To be continued next week with The Toymaker’s Craft: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/the-burning-throne-episode-31-the-toymakers-craft/ 

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