The Drowning Empire is a weekly serial based on the events which occured during the Writer Nerd Game Night monthly Legend of the Five Rings game. It is a tale of samurai adventure set in the magical world of Rokugan.
If you would like to read all of these in one place, along with additional game related information, here is the L5R forum: http://www.alderac.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=295&t=101206
This week’s episode was written by Paul Genesse.
The second session of the Topaz Championship was a very busy one for the players. They competed in contests designed to test their fitness as Samurai, law, heraldry, athletics, sumo, (we will be hearing more of this from the other characters) but the big contest came on the evening of the second night, hunting, and this is the one that Toranaka was by far the most interested in.
Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Second Entry
Seventeenth Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Hoketuhime
Thirteenth day of the Month of the Dragon
The Village of Tsuma in the Crane Lands
I cut off a dishonorable man’s head tonight. Yukinori, a ronin, formerly of the Mantis clan was the first person I have ever killed. He was known to be an honorless pirate and I am saddened that his name appears in the pages of my journal, but the Emerald Empire is better off without a treacherous thief like him polluting our people and preying upon them. I am also loathe to mention this next detail, but I must record the truth here, as honesty is an important tenant of Bushido. Before Yukinori attacked he boasted of accepting only twenty koku to murder me. TWENTY!
I am only seventeen, and have not completed my coming of age ceremony, but I am the top graduate of the esteemed Golden Plains Dojo, and am a dedicated student of the Akodo Bushi School of combat. When I leave the Crane Lands I will serve as Gunso in command of fifty warriors in the 1st Lion Army—a position I earned after seven years of hard study under the greatest military minds of the Lion Clan. Someday, I hope to honor my ancestors by serving in every leadership position in the army and then earning the rank of General. I wish to serve the Empire until I am too old to perform my duties, or I am killed in battle.
I do not wish to seem too immodest, but for what I have done, and for what I shall do, I am worth far more than TWENTY KOKU!
(unreadable kanji covered by large ink blots appear to have been profanity)
I admit freely that I am still young, and somewhat impatient, and woefully inexperienced. It is also possible that I, like many young men, that I have an inflated sense of my own destiny, but I believe that I will be a defender of the Emerald Empire for many years, and when the next enemy threatens my homeland, I will rise to meet it with an army made up of warriors from all the clans. I wish to someday unite the Great and Minor Clans into a force that is unstoppable. We must all learn from the Destroyer War and the vast history of Rokugan, and put our petty differences aside and serve the Empress with unswerving loyalty. My grand dreams might not come to pass, but I wish to honor my clan and family, and serve with honor and distinction for many years. My life must not end now.
I wonder if perhaps my unknown enemy who hired the vile dog, Yukinori was merely trying to insult me with this paltry sum, by sending such an inferior foe against me and my brother samurai.
It is obvious that someone with little experience themselves may be the one who hired this unscrupulous ronin to kill me. Yukinori admitted it was a young woman, and the serving girl who poisoned my food said it was as well. This enemy may very well be a contestant in the Topaz Championship. One of the dainty courtiers could be the culprit. I must look at this possibility and find out why I am the target of these attacks. My father has made many enemies in the past, and perhaps there is a blood debt someone has sworn to pay.
May the Fortunes bless me so that I shall find out who my enemy is in due time, but now I must recount the other truths in case a third attempt is made tomorrow and proves successful.
First of all, I was not Yukinori’s only target tonight. Yoritomo Oki, my new friend, a Tsuruchi archer of the Mantis clan with an unhealthy need for sake, was also to be assassinated tonight. Yuknori blamed Oki’s father for changing the way the Mantis clan conducted their raids at sea, and Oki was to pay for his father’s decision. Only certain ships, Gaijin ones, would now be their targets, not the ships of the other Great Clans. Yukinori insulted Oki two days ago when we first arrived here in Crane lands, and Oki ignored the offense. I am not surprised that this ronin and his bottom feeding henchmen agreed to make an attempt on our lives.
The Shogun herself, Hida O-Hinku had announced the final contest of the day. The Topaz contestants were to break into three groups and go into the nearby swamp to hunt for several mighty beasts she had brought back from the Ivory Kingdoms. They were great, dangerous reptiles. Bayushi Arashii had been designated our Captain for this hunt. He is a friendly and easy to get along with Scorpion courtier, and judging by all the deferential treatment he has garnered from our Crane hosts, I know he is the son of an important samurai.
My group tracked the beast for hours before we found it. I assumed the Shogun had bound the swamp dragon for our benefit. I assumed that the Shogun had one of her shugenja bind the three thousand pound monstrosity, so it could not escape into the deeper reaches of the bog or hide in the river. I assumed that it would come free and attack us as we approached. I was such a fool and endangered the lives of my friends.
The ronin had used the Shogun’s contest to set a trap for us in the swamp. A clumsy one I should have seen through, but they were cunning, and drew us in as we rushed forward to face the swamp dragon. The ronin knew we would hear the thrashing of the beast and would come quickly. As we approached our prey, we stepped into their ring of death.
Never again will I fall into such a trap. This I vow to the Fates, Fortunes, all the Gods, and my esteemed Akodo ancestors.
We rushed forward as young fools, with me the biggest, and began to feather the swamp dragon with arrows. Then I witnessed the true power of Tamori Isao, who has not done well in this Gempukku so far. My quiet shugenja friend stunned the swamp dragon with a slime-covered boulder he called from the muck with his power. Isao hurled the rock through the air using the strength of the earth kami.
We thought ourselves unbeatable then, and Shintaro approached the beast with his bisento, preparing to give the death blow with his pole arm.
I anticipated that the swamp dragon would charge us and prepared a rope by tying it to a tree, with plans for Subotai to lasso the monster’s jaws and bind it, and keep it from escaping into the river after we wounded it. My plan was foolish, as the creature would have broken the small rope we had available. My ill-conceived plan blinded me to the real danger.
Before the enemy struck I saw a man at the edge of the reeds waving to someone, but I thought it a Daidoji scout, signaling to his friends, as they watched us fight the monster. I was very wrong.
At that moment, Yukinori and his dozen ronin henchmen surrounded us. Yukinori took Bayushi Arashii hostage. I should have stayed closer to him and served as his bodyguard. It was another of my terrible mistakes, which I realized as I turned around. Yukinori held a kama to Arashii’s throat, using the young courtier as a hostage. The ronin said that all of my friends could leave unharmed . . . save for Oki and I, as we were their targets.
I would not speak for my friends in such a moment, and merely put my hand on my sword, preparing to draw. Suzume Shintaro of the Sparrow Clan spoke first and said he would not abandon Oki and I. Shintaro-san represents the Sparrow clan with much honor. He is considered to be a lowly Sparrow by many, but I see a man who might win the Topaz Championship. He is in third place, only two points behind Ikoma Uso and I, who are tied for first. There is no telling how high this Sparrow will fly.
In that moment when we knew were duped, Arashii kept a brave face as the blade pressed against his throat. My friends did not flinch. I saw Ikoma Uso, my Lion brother, Tamori Isao of the Dragon Clan, and Moto Subatai of the Unicorn all stepped forward to stand with Oki and I. They would not abandon us to die at the hands of such men. I know that my friends would fight and die alongside me, or avenge my death if necessary.
Yukinori grinned, confident that his dozen men had us outnumbered and outmanned. We are young, all teenagers, yes, but we are not without skill, and were not asked to compete in the Topaz Championship by mistake. I engaged Yukinori in conversation, distracting my enemy as I was taught by the great master Akodo. My friends readied themselves as we spoke, and Oki set his feet and turned toward Yukinori. The other ronin were gathering all around us with weapons drawn, like sharks ready to feast.
Our torches had been set in the mud, but Yukinori did not see my hand signal to Oki in the darkness of the swamp. I waited until all my friends were ready, even Hiruma Akio, our brave scout stood with us with her hand on her sword. Then I gave the signal. Oki drew his bowstring and released a shaft that punctured Yukinori’s right cheek and allowed Bayushi Arashii to escape from the blade at his throat and dive behind Subotai and I.
The dozen warriors and Yukinori attacked at once and their Shugenja across the small river used Earth magic to immobilize Subotai in hands of dark swamp mud, which wrapped all around his legs, keeping him from moving, just the same as the swamp dragon had been trapped. Subotai had moved to defend Bayushi Arashii and I, but now he was immobile and our prospects for victory dimmed.
Yukinori charged Oki, but the archer dodged aside and put two arrows in rapid succession in Yukinori as he tried to close on him. The archer failed to bring Yukinori down, and the ronin raised his kama to deal Oki a deathblow, but I leapt forward using a tuft of reeds to spring to my step. I jumped an instant too late, as a painful sting in my back told me I had been hit with an arrow, but it did not distract me then as I focused all of my chi as I prepared to strike.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Tamori Isao crush the enemy Shugenja to the ground with the same slime-covered boulder he had plucked from the mud before and hit the swamp dragon with. Once this happened, Subotai quickly escaped the grasp of the muddy earthen hands and raised his sword in the high guard position.
I shouted the battle call of the Akodo and Yukinori turned to me, his kama raising far too slowly to prevent my katana from killing him.
Strange, how easy my sword separated his head from his body. I felt the blade cut through his spine, but it was like the limb of a young tree.
Only the course Crab poetry my sensei detested describes the moment after a man is beheaded. Blood pumps into the air like surges from a fountain, and I tasted Yukinori’s blood as it sprayed out in time with the last few beats of his black heart. Then I watched his head arc through the air and bounce in the mud. Swamp water filled his gaping mouth and I wondered if he could taste it as he died.
If I should ever encounter his ghost, I shall ask.
The brief instant after he died played out slowly, as if time had slowed. My eyes locked onto the mud-streaked face of the man I had killed, while right beside me five men attacked Moto Sobatai who held my left flank. Subotai had drawn them to him, taunting them with a coarse insult so they would not attack me or Oki. I would have fallen in battle at that moment had it not been for Subotai’s bravery and skill. Their weapons could not penetrate his whirlwind of steel, and he deflected five or six blows, which came from all around him in the span it took me to gasp in a breath and turn to face them.
I forgot the pain of the arrow in my back as I watched Uso strike down a man with his long no-dachi sword, and Shintaro severed a man’s arm at the shoulder with his bisento, while Isao finished off the enemy Shugenja, setting him on fire with a bolt of lightning from above that rattled the trees and sent a jolt through the fetid water that covered our feet.
The men attacking Subotai, and the others fled in fear when they saw their leader dead and so many of their brethren wounded or killed.
Not all of the enemy could run away. I watched the man Shintaro had mortally wounded looking at his severed arm while it sunk into the swamp. Once it had disappeared the dying ronin rested his head on a tuft of reeds and bled to death in front of me, accepting his fate, and perhaps welcoming it. All of the fight had gone out of him. It was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen in my short life.
The other wounded ronin surrendered to us, then realized their mistake when the cadre of nervous Daidoji scouts that were supposed to be watching over us arrived. The Daidoji eyed the prisoners with hatred and the ones that had fled the battle were chased down and feathered with arrows as they ran for their lives.
One of the prisoners eyed his friend who was bleeding to death with envy, and whispered something to him, though I did not ask what.
The pain of the arrow made itself known to me then, and I wondered if the wound were worse that I thought. Moments later, Tamori Isao pulled the arrowhead from my flesh and healed my wound with the magic of the kami, preventing me from losing too much blood. Fortunately, the wound was not deep, and I can thank my armor, a gift from father, for slowing the shaft enough so that it did not pierce me more than a finger’s length.
There is much more to tell of this day, but I shall have to write more tomorrow, as the indignation that fueled my hand has gone out of me at last. For the first time in hours, my mind is not racing like wind across the Golden Plains. I feel the exhaustion from the competitions today and yesterday, and though the servants have scrubbed me twice, I still smell like swamp water and will bathe again in the morning.
I must not worry about the discomfort of my flesh, as the Shogun is pleased with our performance. Ikoma Uso told our hunting story and the fight with the ronin in grand fashion, and since we were the first to bring her the green and scaly tail of a large swamp dragon, she gave us extra praise, and much honor.
I must rest now, and I think I can sleep. I know I will dream. I will see the head of Yukinori sinking into the muddy swamp. I will also see the one-armed man bleeding to death and staring at the place where his arm disappeared into the mire. I have never seen a man lose his will to live and give up before, and this is something I will never forget.
To be continued next week http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/the-drowning-empire-episode-7-mountain-born/
If you would like to check out some of Paul Genesse’s regular work: 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=B006V5Q3PY
And a group shot! Left to right, Subotai, Toranaka, Shintaro, Isao, Oki, Uso