This week’s episode was written by Steve Diamond of Elitist Book Reviews: http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/
Steve normally plays Ide Todo, the group’s peaceful, diplomatic leader. Kakita Fujo was his B Team night character, and Fujo is a Daidoji Iron Warrior honorable face wrecker of destruction, so it was a chance for Steve to mix it up. Fujo is a Crane that was considered too big and burly to be a duelist, so they gave him a club and sent him off to war. When we did the epic session culminating in the destruction of the Shame Sword (see last week’s episode) Steve was able to use Fujo to great effect.
Fujo’s Stand, Penance’s Fall
A Letter from Kakita Fujo to his brother
If you are reading this, brother, then I am gone. I have entrusted my final thoughts in this letter to the esteemed Ide Todo, whom I have been following for the past few months. I’ve put my words to paper as quickly as possible, for I leave shortly to enter into the heart of a volcano on a rescue mission.
I was visited in a dream by our parents a month ago. They looked well, and I am not ashamed to admit shedding tears for them as they embraced me. I know you miss them as terribly as I do, but they seem to be well in the heavens. What more can we ask for than that?
In my dream, I stood at the foot of a large mountain. The land immediately surrounding it was blasted and desolate. The ground beneath my feet rumbled intermittently, the source of which obviously came from within the bowels of the mountain above me. Our parents appeared before me, eyes filled both with sadness and pride. It was a dream, I was sure.
They told me they were proud of what I had made of myself in this life, and that they looked forward to being with me again shortly. They said my time was coming to prove to the Fortunes beyond all doubt that I had given my all. My destiny or my doom was at hand. They gestured at the volcano and I felt the rumbling at my feet increase. I did not fear. The top of the mountain exploded into a column of ash and fire, and that fire cascaded down the slopes. As it flowed closer, I saw in the fire figures—Yobanjin and demons both—riding the tide. At the head was a man made of brands. His glowing eyes sought me out, and he extended a hand to point at me. I could hear his words as if he were standing next to me, and he told me flee. To abandon the quest I was set on to destroy a Shamesword of Penance. I roared my defiance, and I heard our parents’ voices join mine as we stood in the way of the unturnable torrent of flame.
But I do not back down. From anything. I am like the forged katana. Unyielding.
My dream ended and I awoke feeling more calm than ever before. I admit I doubted that it was anything more than a dream. Nothing more than my ancestors reminding me of what I had been taught.
And then we arrived at the foot of a volcano far to the north in Yobanjin lands. It was surrounded by an endless seething mass of the honorless dogs. It was the mountain from my dream, and at that moment I knew that my time upon these lands was coming to a close.
Destiny is a funny thing, brother. So many samurai believe that it binds them like a prisoner, but that is not the case at all. Destiny gives us a chance to make the most of our life. It eases our minds so we can focus all our efforts on the glory of the Empire and in doing our ancestors proud. I know that my death is coming at the hands of the Branded Man whom I have already seen and fought. But I will not back down. I will stem the tide of evil so that others greater than I can save the world from utter destruction.
Honor guide my heart
I can but choose to protect
Death brings life to all
Kakita Fujo swung his tetsubo again. The spikes drove deep into the face of the closest Yobanjin, then the force of the blow caved in the side of the dog’s head. He ducked low and swept the feet out from another charging barbarian then rose and brought down his weapon onto the back of that man’s neck. Fujo could barely hear the crack over the blood pounding in his ears.
For the moment the cavern was empty of the living aside from Fujo, Makoto, Tsuze and Fubatsu. Dozens upon dozens of Yobanjin bodies littered the ground.
“You fight with the force of the kami behind you,” Makoto said clapping Fujo on the shoulder. “We will stack the bodies high this night.”
Fujo felt his mouth split into a smile. This was glory. This was his last day, and it was exactly how he wished it—protecting friends and the Empire in the frenzy of battle. “None shall pass us, Gunso. I will not allow it. The Paper Lanterns will succeed.”
“How much more time do we give Zuko and Magatsu?” Fubatsu asked.
“Just a few more minutes,” Makoto replied. “They need time to destroy the sword and –“
A scrape on rock behind them. Fujo spun and was confronted with the Branded Man. He was alone, but Fujo knew the evil barbarian needed no help. Fujo stepped forward, blocking the path to the cavern below where his fellow Lanterns did their part. Makoto and Fubatsu joined him at either shoulder.
The Branded Man laughed and began to glow like molten rock. Cracks of it spread along the man’s exposed flesh, then consumed him in a roar of flame and smoke. The Branded Man vanished, and a gush of hot wind blasted past the Lanterns into the tunnel behind them. Fujo turned in time to catch a glimpse of the scarred barbarian rematerializing in a bloom of flame. There was nothing between the Branded Man and the other Lanterns with the Shamesword.
There was no thought of remaining in the current cavern. If they didn’t stop the Branded Man, everything would be lost. Fujo charged into the cavern in pursuit with the others behind him. How far down the winding tunnel were his companions? How much time did he have?
Fujo could hear the steps of the Branded Man just ahead. Just around every turn. The sounds of fighting grew louder ahead. Adrenaline flooded his senses and he willed his legs to pump faster. Suddenly he was on his knees clutching at his ears as a scream seared his mind.
The scream cut off abruptly. His ears were ringing, but Fujo forced himself to his feet. He was needed. The Lanterns ahead needed him, he could feel it in his bones. His feet were moving. Faster and faster they took down the corridor until it opened into a slightly wider space. Fujo took in the whole scene in a glance. Magatsu lay broken at Zuko’s feet. From the room beyond were approaching a few crones who waved their hands and chanted in blood-chilling unison. Women armed with knives assaulted Zuko with deadly precision. The Branded Man vanished again and reappeared only a few steps from the fallen and besieged Lanterns.
“As you destroyed the sword, I likewise will destroy you all,” the Branded Man promised. His eyes glowed brighter—two small suns of wicked intent. Fire began to gather around his hands.
Fujo threw himself in front of his companions as the Branded Man threw a ball of flame. It splashed harmlessly off his warded armor. Fujo heard triumphant laughter echo in the caverns around him and realized it came from his own throat.
“Lantern’s withdraw!” Makoto bellowed.
From the corner of his eye he saw Makoto hoist Magatsu over his shoulder. The Crab would leave no samurai behind if given any choice. It would be the group’s undoing. It was all clear in Fujo’s mind. He saw the scene in the space of half a heart-beat. One by one the Branded Man would hunt them down in the winding paths of the volcano. The Shamesword was but part of the Lantern’s destiny. If they died, chaos would rule the Emerald Empire.
So I will make sure they live.
Fujo gathered the moisture in his mouth and spat it into the face of the Branded Man. The Yobanjin flinched as it struck him in the eye. Behind the Branded Man the crones and knife wielding sisters howled at the insult. Fujo put on his best mocking smile and gestured them forward.
The Branded Man snapped his fingers, and a wall of flame appeared behind Fujo, cutting him off from the group.
Every second he stalled the Yobanjin was one more second the Lanterns had to escape. One more second closer to ultimately fulfilling their destinies. They were honorable men and women. They would understand his sacrifice.
Fujo had no regrets. He had fought demons and lived. He had been part of the group to destroy a Shamesword. He had done his family name proud…
As that thought crossed his mind, he glimpsed the hazy figures of his parents behind the oncoming Branded Man. They nodded their approval. Fujo was content. Calm.
Calm like the heart of a storm.
The Branded Man pointed at Fujo and said, “You should have fled with the others. I will end you and then your friends. We will wash over the land and burn it to ash.”
Fujo felt sweat slide down the side of his face. The heat of the wall of flame behind him grew more and more intense. The ward on his armor was dwindling. With a shriek the crones threw spell after spell at him. The knife-wielding sisters leapt forward, spinning in a dance that paled in comparison to the dance Chiyoko could spin with her katana.
These barbarian women were nothing.
Fujo flowed to the side letting two of the knives pass inches from his face. He grabbed the approaching wrist of the second woman and squeezed as he twisted. He felt the bones grind together and shatter in his grip. Fujo punched out with his hand wielding the tetsubo and felt his fist connect with the now screaming Yobanjin woman’s mouth. Teeth gave with no resistance, then the jaw. He punched again, hard this time, and the woman’s skull caved in beneath the iron of his glove. Her screaming cut off as she collapsed, a soulless animal.
A knife plunged into a gap in his armor at his left shoulder. It bit deep, so Fujo wrenched his arm forward and to the right. The knife stuck, ripping it out of the hand of the remaining Yobanjin fighter. He used the momentum of his movement and spun, bringing the tetsubo around with added force into the frightened visage of the woman. Her head exploded under the strike.
Numbness began flowing down his left arm. The blade protruding there was poisoned. These barbarians had no honor.
One spell of fire splashed harmlessly off his armor, but another caught his tetsubo, engulfing it in flame. He threw it at a crone and caught her with a glancing blow. Not hard enough to kill, but enough to stall. Fujo drew his katana.
It was a beautiful weapon. A work of art. His father had presented it to him a week before sickness had taken both him and Fujo’s mother. A series of cranes flying were etched into the blade. He looked again past the Branded Man and saw the spirits of his mother and father drawn to him and his drawn blade.
“You will die now,” the Branded Man said.
“And should the Paper Lanterns not kill you in vengeance, I will beg the Fortunes to send me back to rip your head from your body,” Fujo replied with a smile.
The Branded Man flowed forward like a flickering flame. Fujo roared his defiance, and heard the spirit roars of his parent accompany his own.
Fujo stepped forward and embraced his destiny with katana swinging.
Ide Todo read Fujo’s letter one last time. This was the eleventh time he had read its contents. The Lantern’s he had sent into the volcano had yet to return, though they had set free hundreds of captive Yobanjin women and children.
Fujo’s letter to his brother was heart wrenching and pride inducing. Had he just sent one of his best to his death? Had he sent them all into the next life?
The last few hours had been unnerving. Ide Todo had passed the time memorizing terms and speech in the Yobanjin language. He would never be an expert unless he spent weeks with them—weeks he would never likely have. But at least he could understand the basics. The language was rough, but simple. Like that of foreign island peoples he had met in his travels.
A beating of wings drew his attention. Todo put the letter into a pocket in his rode and walked towards the sound. In the darkness from the east came a small group of eagles. They carried his Lanterns. Most of them.
Fujo was not amongst them. Todo reached up and touched the letter in his pocket.
Makoto was the first off the eagles. His eyes sought out his Lord, and Ide Todo raised a hand to motion him over.
“Ide Todo-sama,” Makoto said bowing low. “Magatsu destroyed the Shamesword. The Dark Oracle is deprived a tool. But…”
Makoto’s armor was scorched. His posture was one of failure despite having succeeded in the impossible mission tasked to his group. “But what, Makoto?”
“We lost Kakita Fujo.”
“He guarded our retreat and faced the Branded Man on his own.”
Ide Todo felt emotion swell in his chest. The Crane had been right in his words to his brother.
“I think he knew we could not escape without it,” Makoto said quietly. The other Lanterns had gathered behind him. Bruised, broken, burned. They all had heads bowed. “He fought though he knew he would lose, I think.”
“He had a vision,” Ide Todo said, forcing his voice to remain steady. Now was not the time to show any weakness. It could break them. “He knew it was his destiny to meet his end here.”
“He met it bravely then. Honorably. Gloriously,” Makoto said. His voice was stronger. Ide Todo noticed for the first time that Makoto held a bag.
“What is in the bag, Hida Makoto?”
“The only remains of Kakita Fujo we have,” Makoto replied. “His head. The Branded Man threw it at me to gloat. I vow to you, Ide Todo-sama, I will see the Branded Man’s head mounted on a spike and his body fed to oni beyond the Wall.”
Ide Todo put his hand on Makoto’s shoulder and looked at his Paper Lanterns. “The Branded Man thought to insult us, but he knows not our ways. We will take strength from this. We will take the remains of a hero to Pale Oak Castle and cremate them there in a way befitting those most honorable and glorious. We will rally around it and fight Army of Fire. They will not succeed.”
“They will not succeed!” The others said in unison.
To be continued next week, with Kuni Magatsu being very depressed that he was not able to commit genocide. http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/the-burning-throne-episode-36-magatsu-at-the-all-mother/