If you’ve not read any of these Friday game night serials, read this one. I’m rather pleased with how this battle sequence turned out. This is one of those that I will probably be stealing bits of for some actual paying work.
Somebody asked if these would all be collected in an easier to read manner, I’ve got them all linked to each other here on my blog, but I’ve also been posting them to the L5R forum where they are all in one easy to read thread if anyone is interested. http://www.alderac.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=295&t=94523
The battle for Pale Oak Castle was a big, epic, pivotal event for our characters. We are getting close to the end of this campaign. Continued from: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/the-burning-throne-episode-37-magatsu-redeemed/
Twenty Fifth Entry
From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan
The battle for Pale Oak Castle is won. The Yobanjin horde have been defeated. The Paper Lanterns were pivotal in the defense, and without them, I believe the castle would have fallen. The Son of Fire was destroyed.
We lost many men in the battle. The Lanterns who perished did so with honor and courage. However, I was the one that sent them to their end. Every death was a result of decisions that I made. Koma, Boasta, Naritsuga, Naritaka, and Braga of the Shinjo family, Khano, Domogo, Kaopanchi, and Karu of the Moto family, Matsu Abiru, the monk Koetsu… All dead.
Why could I not have fallen instead?
Braga, who I originally considered an annoyance, turned out to be one of the bravest and most dedicated soldiers I have ever known. Yoritomo Buwa was with Braga when he died, and he sent back a gift for me. A straw hat that Braga said he had taken from one of the Lords of Death, himself.
I will cherish this priceless gift.
I do not wish to think about the Lanterns at this time. A Crab should not be seen as having second thoughts. The gunso must not ever be seen as having doubt. I will remain strong for the survivors.
The Mountain does not weep.
In The Shadow of a Pale Oak
Hour of the Tiger
The shrine to the earth kami was silent except for the labored breathing of Hida Makoto. Time was short, so he had run the entire length of the steep mountain pass to get here in time. The sun would rise shortly, and its arrival would ignite the fires of war, and only a fool would willingly go to war without his strongest weapons.
Makoto had to catch his breath before addressing the humble shrine’s other occupant. “We need you, Magatsu-san. The battle will be fierce.” Fierce was an understatement. They were hopelessly outnumbered and would more than likely die before the day was through. The best they could hope for was a glorious death. If Pale Oak Castle were to burn, it would only do so as the funeral pyre of ten thousand dead Yobanjin. “I need every samurai I can get.”
Kuni Magatsu knelt before the shrine, heedless of his fractured bones, in the same uncomfortable position he’d already been in for hours, beseeching the earth kami that had forsaken him at the All Mother for their forgiveness. His face had been scrubbed clean of the traditional Kuni face paint. It was the only time Makoto had ever seen him without his mask. Magatsu’s voice was hoarse, the voice of a man that had been broken. “I am fumiyo. I am dishonored. I must stay here and pray for five more days.”
Makoto walked around his friend, noting for the first time that some of the heavy carved stones representing the kami had seemingly moved by themselves, and now one of them was next to Magatsu, propping him up, helping to sustain his vigil. It was a sign. The earth kami may not have approved of Magatsu’s murderous intent at the All Mother, but they would never forsake such a loyal servant. Armor clanking, Makoto knelt next to Magatsu, and bowed to the little statue before continuing. “The Paper Lantern’s will need their shugenja.”
“I am afraid I may no longer be a shugenja…”
“Perhaps you are only a man… But you are still a Crab… “
A tear rolled down Magatsu’s cheek. “Hai.”
“I would be honored to die in battle beside you, Magatsu-san.”
Magatsu grunted and nodded as he thought that over. “Have a drink with me, Makoto.” He reached for the nearly empty bottle of sake. “Maybe I can divine the future in the bottom of another empty cup.”
Every minute spent here was one less minute spent preparing the men, but running down the mountain would not take quite as much time as running up it had. Besides, if they were to die that day, he would enjoy one last cup of sake with his friend. “I better pour.”
The statue representing the earth kami was just an inanimate piece of rock some monk had roughly carved a smiling face on, but nonetheless, it seemed to Makoto that the statue approved.
Hour of the Hare
The sun had risen to reveal the Yobanjin horde stretched across the plain before Pale Oak Castle. Their numbers seemingly endless, a plague infecting the Empire. The Rokugani forces arrayed before them seemed tiny in comparison, and the Paper Lanterns were a tiny part of that tiny army. Eight men wide, three ranks deep, supported by a small group of horsemen and an even smaller group of archers. Hida Makoto looked to the right. The Fourth Imperial Legion would hold that flank. To the left was what was left of the Phoenix forces. The Lanterns were barely noticeable in the center, but they held a place of respect.
It was a few thousand men versus twenty times that number, with only a small fortification to fall back to. Pale Oak Castle wouldn’t even qualify as a minor fort in Crab lands, but Hida Makoto could not afford to think about the big picture. The only thing that mattered was the squad of men under his direct command and their job to spill Yobanjin blood for every single inch of ground. Because when they ran out of ground to give, Pale Oak Castle would fall, and perhaps the rest of the Empire with it.
Behind the army, the shugenja finished their incantations atop the battlements, culminating in a spectacular display as the decoy shame sword was destroyed. Makoto smiled when he noted that Kuni Magatsu was among them, shielding his bleary eyes from the brilliant light.
It was all a ruse, the real sword having already been impaled in Hiruma Tadori and plunged into the lava of the All Mother, but Ide Todo had hoped the display of their might would frighten the Yobanjin. There was a sudden flash and a crack of thunder as the assembled holy men drew upon the strength of the kami and Isawa Fosuta announced to the world with a magnified voice that the deed was done.
The Yobanjin horde marched forward with a rumble that shook the world. Their mighty siege beasts roared as magical smoke tendrils encircled and hid the approaching force. If the horde had noted the sword’s destruction, it wasn’t apparent. That was disappointing, but expected. This battle would not be won through trickery, but through unyielding force.
They had left the decoy sword to distract thieves and assassins from their true mission to the All Mother. Three of his men had perished protecting the decoy sword from assassins and thieves, but the Lanterns had prevailed in their duties. That very morning they had found Shinjo Braga still guarding the decoy, having been awake for three days straight, totally incoherent, yet so unyielding that he had pinned his armor to the wall with his wakizashi so he could stay standing. Braga had not gone to sleep until Ide Todo had ordered him carried back to camp. He would surely be disappointed to learn that the battle had started without him.
He took one last look over the assembled men. Soon the arrows would begin to fall like rain and there would be no more time for contemplation. The Paper Lanterns were as fine a group of bushi as Hida Makoto had ever seen and his heart swelled with joy at the opportunity he had to serve with them… Now he had the responsibility and sacred honor of leading more of them to their deaths. I will not fail.
They looked back at him, nervous but ready. “Order of the Paper Lanterns!” Makoto bellowed as he raised his tetsubo overhead. “Today we will achieve victory for the Empire!”
“Chouchin Otokadate!” the brotherhood of the Paper Lanterns shouted their name as one.
Hour of the Dragon
They were swimming in a sea of blood and fire. The Yobanjin were nothing but an endless wave of bodies, spurred onward by the madness of the Dark Oracle… But the Paper Lanterns held the line.
Makoto’s tetsubo crashed into another Yobanjin. The barbarian screamed as ribs shattered. My arms tire. Makoto barely noticed that he had struck another man down. Luckily neither of those two erupted into flames. Thank the Fortunes.
Not all of the Yobanjin were cursed with the Dark Oracle’s foul explosive death magic. Most of these barbarians had not yet undergone whatever foul ritual made their blood burn upon death. They were far easier to kill that way.
Another fur clad barbarian tried to sweep past Makoto’s guard, swinging one of their wickedly curved swords. “Gunso!” Danjuro was at his side, and deflected the incoming blade with the back of his katana. The ronin instantly countered and sliced the Yobanjin’s legs out from under him. Makoto was so detached that he was able to appreciate the purity of the Taoist Sword style. The movement had been fluid perfection, a moment of poetry amidst the chaos.
But as all perfect moments must do, it ended. The barbarian hit the ground with a scream, blood pumping from his kicking stump. The blood droplets burst into droplets of liquid fire.
“Burner!” Makoto bellowed loud enough to be heard over the crash of battle. The Lanterns knew exactly what to do by that point. Regardless of what they were doing or who they were fighting, the entire line automatically leapt back as one, just as the Yobanjin’s body came apart in spray of meat and flame. A wave of intense heat washed over the line, but it did more damage to the normal Yobanjin around the accursed Burner than it did to the Lanterns. Makoto had learned this lesson at the battle of Shinjo Ridge and drilled it into the Lanterns.
“Return!” The Lanterns charged forward, regaining the few feet they’d just surrendered before the Yobanjin could press the advantage. The shocked and scorched Yobanjin were scythed down mercilessly before them.
The Yobanjin fought in loose groups. They were not a unit. They did not fight as one. Occasionally there would be temporary breaks as one group or another tried to push their way through to the front in search of glory. They were uncoordinated. Most were ferocious but unskilled and they died by the pile. If there hadn’t been so damn many of them, Makoto almost could have felt pity for the Yobanjin horde.
Makoto kept swinging the tetsubo. Rise and fall. Rise and fall. Counter. Block. Sweep. Rise and fall. I am the mountain. Countless blows were turned aside against his heavy armor. Strike as the avalanche. He snapped a neck, broke a hip, then an ankle, two arms, shattered a sword, all while glancing back and forth across the fighting Lanterns. They were beginning to falter. Spears cracking, sword arms tiring, lungs straining. Makoto fought as earth, but he led as water. The river does not hesitate. “Second line!”
“Second up,” Akimi shouted. The nikutai’s voice did not carry quite as well as Makoto’s so she waved her war fan overhead twice. The waiting Lanterns sprang forward as the fighting Lanterns stepped back through them. As water flowed through the mountain, the Lanterns found their path. It was seamless. Coordinated.
It should be. Makoto couldn’t even remember how many times they had already done that maneuver so far today. Each line would fight for about five minutes, then step aside to drink, rest their aching arms, and have the monks tend their wounds. Makoto drank the first thing that was offered to him, not even capable of tasting it over the copper in his mouth. He examined the men. By a miracle, they were all still alive. Praise the Fortunes.
Second line was still holding. Akimi was a good judge of the men, but he wanted to make sure she didn’t try to hold for too long. Third line was ready and waiting. Misato was cursing a new chip in his naginata blade. There was a crack of thunder and rocks rained from the sky, pulverizing a group of approaching Yobanjin. It was good to see that Magatsu had sobered up and was keeping busy. He’d known that the kami would not forsake such a man.
Makoto was tall enough that he could see over most of the combatants, but it did little good. Most of the battlefield was cloaked in a thick obscuring smoke. The bulk of the Fourth Legion could barely be seen, and the Phoenix were just shapes in the murk. He’d already heard from Tsuruchi Machio that the smoke limited the archer’s ability to pick off commanders. It was surely making it difficult for the many waiting Phoenix shugenja to do the same. If they could accurately bring their magic to bear…
He had been pondering about what to do about that smoke for three turns through the line. It was obvious where it was coming from, spiraling outward from a point on the plains, and from the way it moved it was surely created by wicked Yobanjin shaman.
Makoto watched the flow of battle, studying the movement of the newest groups of enemies as he recalled the shape and contours of the plain. This group was bigger, pushing other tribes of Yobanjin aside in their haste, leaving a disorganized mob in their wake, and Makoto saw his opportunity. They would have to move quickly. When opportunity arises, strike with the swiftness of air. “Khano!” He shouted for the senior Unicorn Lantern.
Moto Khano reached him a few seconds later, still using a rag to wipe the blood from his scimitar “Hai, gunso.”
He pointed one armored gauntlet to the area behind the newest force. “There is a shallow path there. Do you know it?” Khano nodded. “Take the horsemen, ride as the wind, push between the tribes, and destroy the source of this smoke.”
Moto Khano was studying the field. The crafty old Unicorn knew right away what was at stake, but also what the cost would be. Even if they could use their mobility to make it to the shaman, they probably wouldn’t be able to make it back out before the army closed around them. “We will not survive,” Khano said simply.
I know. “There are very few Unicorn here today, but all will know that it was the Unicorn Clan that turned the tide of this battle.”
The Moto was fearless. “We will not fail,” Khano told Makoto before turning to the waiting Shinjo archers. “Come, my brothers! We ride!”
The Unicorn cheered. Eager.
Makoto ordered third line to merge with second. The additional bit of chaos helped break a hole for the Unicorn to drive their mighty steeds through. Makoto watched the brave Unicorn of the Order of the Paper Lanterns charge into the smoke until it was his turn back into the fray. He would be sure to give thanks to the Moto Lords of Death later for inspiring such brave warriors. “First line. Form up!”
Hour of the Serpent
The smoke had dissipated, but their cavalry had not returned.
There were only two lines now. Casualties and fatigue had seen to that.
To one side, the Phoenix were breaking, beginning to crack and fall, even with their mighty shugenja hurling the magic of the elements into the horde over and over. The Fourth Legion was faring even worse. Some of the gigantic Yobanjin war beasts had charged into their lines, flinging men high into the air before dying in a hail of spears. The Lanterns had picked up more bushi and ashigaru that had been separated from their own units as their flanks had come apart. He didn’t even know their names, but he tossed them into the lines with the others. They would learn the Lantern’s tactics quickly or not at all.
Makoto shattered a Yobanjin’s skull. He didn’t even remember warning everyone that it was a burner, but he must have, because they all fell back as one. The explosion washed across them, but they were slowing, and weren’t able to retake those precious few feet.
Again. More fire. And again.
The line was threatening to break. It was too much. They needed to trade time for a chance to breathe.
His neck cracked as he turned his helmet. The Legion was retreating toward the castle. The Phoenix would not hold with that side lost.
“Lanterns! Fall back,” Makoto ordered. “Fall back to the castle.”
Hour of the Horse
Makoto looked up at the sun. It had climbed high into the sky. How much time had passed? It seemed an eternity. He tried to wipe the blood from his eyes, but there was so much of it on his sleeve that it made no difference. Every joint of his armor had turned into a gutter for blood. It ran in rivulets down his body.
There was only one line now.
The crab warrior cursed the Phoenix clan as the Yobanjin clambered over the short walls and the wooden beams around them were ignited by flaming arrows. “You call this a castle!” His tetsubo ripped a Yobanjin’s jaw off. “The Kaiu would not let their dogs live in something this indefensible.” Ten feet away a barbarian struck Mirumoto Hiro in his chest plate and knocked the dragon to the flagstones. A ring sword was raised to finish the job, but Makoto flung his tanto and impaled the Yobanjin through the throat. The ring sword fell from lifeless fingers as Hiro scrambled back to his feet. “Crab children make better forts than this!”
“Yes, gunso. This is not a very good fort,” Matsu Abiru agreed. He lunged forward and disemboweled a charging warrior with his spear. “We heard you the first ten times.”
“This wall is insufficient,” Makoto shouted. “Lanterns, we will be the wall!”
There was a tremendous crash which shook the castle to its foundations. Blocks of stone tumbled from the nearby wall and the Legion archers manning that position were flung to their deaths. Cracks spread through the stone as some incomprehensible creature roared.
The cry went up all through the courtyard. “Siege beast! Siege beast.”
Another crash and a twenty foot section of stone came cascading down, sweeping the defenders aside. “Prepare to counter—” but a chunk of stone struck Makoto in the helmet, twisting it hard to the side and slamming him to the ground.
A vast shape moved through the dust.
Blinking the blood from his eyes, Makoto tried to understand the immense shape that was trampling the defenders beneath its feet. He had seen the siege beasts only from a distance. They were far uglier up close. As big as a house, with huge tusks jutting from its blunt head, with bumpy grey skin, six limbs, and dressed in coarse Yobanjin hide armor, the thing rose up on its hind legs while its two larger fists smashed more of the wall down.
The horde would flood in behind it.
Makoto tried to stand, but the world was spinning, siege beast, retreating soldiers, siege beast, Matsu Abiru…
“Wait—“ Makoto gasped, but Abiru had already covered the distance, spear extended before him, charging between the crashing debris, screaming a Lion battle cry as he went.
The siege beast brought one huge fist down, but Abiru moved with the speed of the Matsu Berserker. He dodged to the side, lunging forward, driving his spear up into the belly of the rearing beast. It shrieked in pain as the spear found a soft spot in its armored hide. Abiru drove onward, levering the yari deeper and deeper into the monster’s guts, searching for its great heart.
The Matsu found it.
There was a torrent of blood through the wound. “Die, wretched beast!” Abiru cried. “Die!” The siege beast groaned in stupid confusion, took one halting step, and then collapsed. Its corpulent body blocking much of the hole. The impact rocked the defenders from the feet.
Matsu Abiru was crushed beneath it.
Hour of the Goat
Time no longer had meaning. There was only the time before the killing started, which was nothing but a pleasant, fuzzy memory, then the time of the killing, which was eternity, and then a faint hope that there would eventually be a time when the killing stopped. But there would be no end, for Makoto knew that they must no longer be in Ningen-Do. They had somehow entered Toshigoku, the Realm of Slaughter, for there could never be this much blood and madness in the mortal world.
Is this how the berserkers fought so well? Did they embrace this? Fueling their strength with each death? Or was this how the Dead Eyes came to be, so used to death that they were little more than weapons made of flesh.
Hida Makoto had to force himself to return to reality. There would be no blissful escape into rage fueled madness for him. He could not afford to embrace the ways of the berserker. The remaining Paper Lanterns were counting on him to lead.
Somehow, Pale Oak castle still stood. The walls were crumbling. The gates had been battered down. There were Yobanjin on all sides. The outer inner keep was scorched, only kept from igniting by the shugenja’s prayers. There were no sides, only a general melee of small groups of fighters killing each other. Should they fall here, all that remained was the inner keep, and then it would be time for all of the remaining Phoenix to commit seppuku to keep from falling into the hands of the barbarians.
Time was running out.
The last of the Lanterns were blocking the final gate. They would die here to the man. Kuni Magatsu was at Makoto’s back, swinging his own tetsubo like a madman. “This is very much how I envisioned dying.”
“Excellent,” Makoto answered as he brained another Yobanjin.
“I am glad you talked me into this,” Magatsu declared.
“The Son of Fire draws near,” someone shouted. Makoto looked to one of the archery ports above. The samurai was pointing toward the north gate. “He’s before the gates!”
Magatsu desperately grabbed Makoto by one armored shoulder. “This is our chance. There is one last prayer I can call upon. Should the earth kami see fit to grant it, I can make our strongest warrior have the strength of the earth. You will be strong enough to strike the down the Son of Fire!”
“Good…” Makoto muttered. “What must I do?”
“You will become as indestructible as the earth, but you will not be able to move quickly across it. We must attract the Son of Fire’s attention while I prepare the spell. He must come to us.”
“And we will fight him in the shade of the Pale Oak itself…” There was an emperor buried under that tree. They would give him a fine show. Makoto surveyed the general melee that had consumed the courtyard. A pillar of black smoke on the other side of the wall marked the presence of the dreaded avatar of the Dark Oracle of Fire. Surely, if he were to be felled, the Yobanjin’s spirits would break. “Lanterns! What do you say we kill a blasphemous monster today?”
There was only a handful of them still standing, but he already knew what the answer would be. “Chouchin Otokadate!”
He would need to send men to draw the Son of Fire here, but he would need a bushi insane enough and crafty enough to cross the courtyard of slaughter. “Yoritomo Buwa.” The mad Mantis appeared, missing most of his clothing and carrying a peasant’s rake. “Get the Son of Fire’s attention.” The Mantis gave him a lopsided grin. He would do. “Excellent.”
“I demand you send me.” Makoto turned to see who had spoken. It was Shinjo Braga, the only remaining Unicorn of the Paper Lanterns. Braga paused long enough to hack down an approaching Yobanjin with his scimitar. “I will face this Son of Fire for my fallen brothers! I will stand before the Lords of Death and they will heap glory on the name of Shinjo Braga! The Lords of Death took something from my family and I will take it back! I demand you send me to my death!”
Makoto nodded. “Yes.”
Shinjo Braga laughed heartily as he and Yoritomo Buwa set out on their suicide mission. “Death owes me a hat!” Braga called out.
Magatsu began his supplication to the kami, reading loudly from the scroll wrapped around the handle of his tetsubo. Kuni Magatsu had been wrong earlier. He was not fumiyo, dishonored. For the earth kami answered his prayer and granted their might to a mortal. Makoto could feel the strength of the earth flow up from the ground to course through his limbs. His heavy tetsubo suddenly felt as light as a katana. His armor was as a kimono. His aches and wounds faded into a background hum. Magatsu had spoken of this prayer before, the Strength of the Kami. Makoto knew that he was now temporarily faster, tougher, and stronger, though it felt as if his feet were stuck to the ground, and only with effort could he lift them away long enough to take a step.
I am the mountain.
The battle parted as samurai and Yobanjin alike fled before the approach of the Son of Fire. He approached, making a sound like a crackling forest fire, leaving a trail of sparks and ash. Ten feet tall, the demon was shaped like a man, only wreathed entirely in licking flames, and embedded through his chest was the scimitar of Shinjo Braga.
It was the most intimidating thing Makoto had ever seen. This was the avatar of a dark god.
I am the mountain! I will not fail!
“I am Hida Makoto of the Crab Clan! Face me demon!”
The Son of Fire’s expression was inscrutable through the inferno, but he seemed eager for a challenge and strode toward the defiant Crab. Waves of heat shimmered between them. The temperature rose, charring Makoto’s clothing and scorching his skin, but he knew the kami would protect him.
Fire clashed against earth.
Makoto struck, tetsubo lashing through the air far faster than any mortal should have been able to . CRACK. The blow was hard enough to obliterate one of the siege beasts, but it barely moved the Son of Fire. The demon lashed out and a flaming fist slammed into Makoto’s heavy armor.
The impact should have thrown him across the courtyard, but instead his feet remained planted to the earth. His bones should have burst, but the kami shielded him from most of the injuries. Makoto gritted his teeth as the waves of fire rolled across him. The tetsubo rose and fell. CRACK.
The two traded blows. Striking each other over and over again, each impact harder than the one before. Makoto was in a fog. Events unfolded around him, but he was only partially aware. There was only the strike and then the resulting counterstrike. His body was weakening. The kami would not stay with him much longer.
The edges of his armor were glowing from the heat. CRACK. One of the monks and Magatsu were trying to channel their respective healing magic into him to keep him alive. CRACK. The monk was burned to a crisp. CRACK. Fosuta Zuko attacked the Son of Fire from behind. CRACK. Zuko was sent flying, one of his hands wreathed in flames.
He could feel the kami fleeing. The spell’s duration was almost up, and when it lifted, Makoto would be consumed. He called upon his ancestors, his grandfather Junaro the hero, and the thousand fortunes, and Kisada who had sent him on this quest, and swung with all his might.
And then the unthinkable happened… The Son of Fire faltered.
“CRAB CLAN!” Makoto’s next attack swept the Son of Fire’s legs out from under him, and the avatar toppled to the earth. The inferno fell.
The tetsubo of Moshibaru Junaro rose a final time. “For the Paper Lanterns.”
The sky opened and a deluge of water created by a dozen shugenja flooded the earth.
Hour of the Dog
The sun had set. The battle was over.
Of the bushi that he had dispatched on various missions during the day, only Yoritomo Buwa had been found alive. He had found Makoto afterwards, given him a big straw hat that Braga had proclaimed he had taken from death itself. Buwa said that Shinjo Braga’s last words had been to deliver it to their gunso. Makoto would wear it proudly.
The Phoenix Clan were an odd people, consumed with alien concepts such as mercy. They did not delight in killing anyone, even honorless barbarian dogs that followed a blasphemous false god. Many of the Yobanjin had been taken captive after their army had collapsed in the wake of the death of their Son of Fire. The Yobanjin survivors had been moved into a field to be watched over by guards with bows. It was unknown how many of these had the Dark Oracle’s fire magic upon them, so it was best not to get too close.
There were hundreds of Yobanjin here, laying about or squatting on the ground, many of them wounded and bandaged by their Phoenix captors. Hida Makoto shook his head at the strangeness. If this battle had happened in Crab lands, there wouldn’t have been any prisoners at all, just a big bonfire of corpses to light up the night.
However, the Phoenix’s strange concept of mercy would prove valuable for his needs. Makoto walked between the rows of prisoners as they glared up at him, sullen and defeated. There were fearful whispers as he passed. Even outnumbered and surrounded, none would dare lift a finger against the large blue samurai who it was said had dispatched the Son of Fire. Their weakness disgusted him. Makoto wanted nothing more than to strike every last one of them down. Maybe their death fires would cleanse his anger.
With his tetsubo resting on one shoulder, Makoto reached the center of the field, surveyed the Yobanjin from beneath the shadows of his huge straw hat and used his command voice to ask, “Who here speaks Rokugani?” There was no answer. Just muttering in the barbarian tongue. “No one?” Makoto grunted with disapproval. “Too bad. I don’t know what is going to happen to you. Surely most of you will be executed.” Makoto would gladly behead every last one of them himself, and he’d use the scimitar of Shinjo Braga to do it. “I only know one of your fates… If one of you spoke Rokugani, that one would be free to go. The one that speaks to me, I would order the guards to simply let you walk away, free.”
“Free?” one of the nearby barbarians asked. The word was barely understandable.
“Free,” Makoto agreed. “I’d even make sure you have enough rations to walk back to your territory.”
“Blue samurai, you are one who slay Son of Fire. Why let me free?” the same Yobanjin asked suspiciously.
Makoto walked over until he towered over the man. “Because I need a message delivered…”
The barbarian had a bloody cloth pressed against a gash in his scalp, but the blow hadn’t left him stupid. He regarded Makoto with cunning eyes. “Me, Kweng Hao of Tall Trees. Who deliver message to?”
“Do you know the one they call the Branded Man?” Makoto made a gesture as if he was dragging claws across his face, parodying the Branded Man’s extensive scars.
“Servant of Fire.” The barbarian nodded, then snapped something in his own language.
“What’s that mean?”
“Is name of Branded Man. Means Finds Them And Kills Them. He is made of fear, but Kweng Hao of Tall Trees vows to give him message of the blue samurai.”
“Good, Kweng Hao of the Tall Trees. You go and tell him this. Tell him that he will suffer for the death of Kakita Fujo at the All Mother, and that he will pay for every single one of my men that died here today. Tell him how we struck down your Son of Fire. Tell him that when the seasons turn and he comes again to make war on the Empire…” Makoto’s eyes narrowed in the dark shadows cast beneath the Lord of Death’s hat. “Tell him that Hida Makoto of the Crab Clan, Gunso of the Paper Lanterns, will be waiting.”
To be continued next week with the aftermath of the battle. http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/08/10/the-burning-throne-episode-39-burdens-of-leadershipone-last-story-before-bed/
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