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 convenient place, along with a bunch of additional game related stuff, behind the scenes info, and detailed session recaps, I’ve been posting everything to one thread on the L5R forum, http://www.alderac.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=295&t=101206
This week’s episode was written by Pat Tracy, who is playing our “barbaric” pseudo-Mongol. The title is from my oldest daughter (also a gamer who plays L5R, and when she heard that Pat’s character won the dueling championship, that’s what she said) And don’t worry, as we go forward, that’s kind of what the whole empire said, and it has brought him nothing but trouble.
Letter to Shinjo Namori, Subotai’s betrothed:
The roar of the crowd has now abated, and the chatter and back-slapping has come to an end. The Topaz Championship is completed, and I have found a moment in which to put brush to paper.
To say that I am surprised at the turn of this final day’s events would be a great understatement. I cannot account for what the Fortunes have chosen to do through me, and through the fine young men with which I have been blessed to make company. Never, even in dreams, did I envision what has come to pass. To imagine that I finished the tournament a mere one victory point behind Ikoma Uso, a man of such surpassing talents that I cannot easily convey them, shakes me as the autumn grass before the wind. The manner in which I attained second place in the tournament to such an august individual confounds me all the more.
Early yesterday, the bulk of us imagined that we would be trundled down to the dueling academy grounds and made to do our courtly tests, the trials in which most of the bushi felt they were ill-equipped lambs, to be torn asunder by the words of the courtiers.
Instead, the Shogun’s new entertainment, the mass battle, was to be first. The most potent and canny Toranaka-san, about whom I have written in the past, assumed the mantle of leadership, while the mighty Akodo Tetsuro and a Crab Clan warrior of tremendous size acted as his two gunso.
I found myself at the battlefront, the wild commotion of fighting all around me. I had an opportunity to guard a Monkey Clan warrior, Toku Zanaru, while he arose from a hard blow. Later, I managed to hold the line against a hard assault from the Daidoji “enemy” skirmishers. However, mine was a small part in the mock battle. The true accolades rested upon Torakana-san, whose battle tactics were faultless, and saw us moving toward quick victory when one dishonorable individual chose to darken the day in a cowardly and wretched fashion.
As you may be aware, a Spider Clan representative attended the Topaz for the first time this year. This, as you may imagine, had many people up in arms. The Spider, Daigotsu Bofana, has been under heavy guard the whole time. There are no guards in the mass battle, however. A wrathful individual chose this moment as a time to dispense what he imagined to be justice, stabbing Bofana in the chest with a tanto he had secreted upon his person.
Many of us saw what happened, and were shocked to see a spray of bright blood in what was, ultimately, a practice bout, an exercise. The noble and compassionate Tamori Isao was at Bofana’s side in an instant, sealing the wound with his magic and surely saving Bofana’s life. “It matters not that he is a Spider. He was wounded, and I would minister to anyone’s health, no matter their background or station, if they fell victim to such a dishonorable attack,” he said. Isao-san is a fine man, and encourages me to think more deeply about the nature of the world, and our place in it.
The Topaz has proven to be a most perilous event, my love. I have now been witness to three attempted assassinations in the same number of days. Powerful and dark forces loom just beyond the horizon. We must all be prepared to deal with them when they choose to strike, it seems. Bofana was saved, though he was sorely injured and it will be many weeks before he regains his full strength once again.
The aftermath of the attack, though, was grim. Because of one wrathful act, three lives were changed. Bofana will bear the scar of an assassin’s blade on his chest for all his days. The perpetrator of the crime, whose name has been stricken from my mind and from all honorable discourse, will wander the land as a ronin. Any who recognize his face will relieve his shoulders of the weight of a head, should we find him. And a great man, Daidoji Kenru, found it necessary to wash the sin from his clan’s mon with his own blood. My heart is still heavy from it, despite all that came after. May I never enact a deed that requires someone else to pay for my honor with their life. May my heart clench and beat its last before I am driven to such ends.
Let us leave that topic and go back to the Topaz, though it may seem of little import beside the events I have just spoken of.
I had joked to friends that I was bound for great placement at the courtier test. It is well known to all who have spoken to me that I am no great hand at argumentation, and that my interpretation of laws and edicts leaves much to be desired. The spirits of some silver-tongued ancestor must have inhabited my body for a moment, however, and I managed to do well enough to earn a nod from the judges in this test. None were more shocked than I.
From there, we went straight into the poetry competition. Here, at least, I have made my fumbled attempts and have some trivial skill. Again, Fortunes favored me, and I placed second to the formidable, clever Uso-san, whose lead in the points was growing to an insurmountable level. Walking away from the competition that day, many gave me lingering, confused looks. What was this coarse Moto doing, scoring points in the courtly aptitudes? What was he doing, tied with the titanic Akodo Tetsuro in points? I had no answer for the unspoken questions. I was as surprised as anyone. Other than the horsemanship and the athletics competition, I imagined that I would be, at best, a mediocre competitor.
I will share my poems for that day, if you wish to read them, love. The topic I was given was beauty. I hope that they may please you in some way.
Winter noon, frozen
a single flower preserved
The bamboo rustles
there are eyes in the gloom
meet the tiger’s gaze
The muscle beneath
a vapor upon her skin
After the events of the day, Toranaka-san and I went to pay our respects to Kenru-sama’s spirit at the shrine. Many were gathered there, as would befit a man of great honor and the faultless courage of his convictions. Though I felt that the world was a colder, lesser place for the loss of such a good man, the fact that his was a life of duty, and a death that shielded others from dishonor, was some small comfort.
This morning saw the competitors at the dueling academy once again, this for the final, and critical test of the whole Topaz: dueling. There were five of us in contention to win the Topaz at the outset of the duel, but my prospects were abysmal. In the first round, I drew arguably the finest duelist in the group, Doji Shunya. It appeared as clear-cut as a hawk fighting a barn swallow. We faced off, and I knew in an instant that Shunya-san’s dueling technique was faultless. The practice blades parted the air, and I somehow twitched out of the way, feeling my hair rise with the wind of his attack. Before I knew what had occurred, I had touched him across both thighs with my own blade, and the match was ended. I stood there, shocked, gazing at the wooden sword in my hands. Luck will have its games with us, I thought. I supposed that I would be brought low soon enough.
The unfortunate draws continued. I was paired with a lightning-quick Kakita duelist, and again, I was able to dodge a fast first strike and touch my opponent. In the next round, I was to duel Uso-san. I knew then that my improbable run of victories would come to a halt. We focused and coiled for the attack…and Uso conceded to me. To me? I protested. I asked the judge’s intervention, but Uso’s concession stood. I still cannot fathom why he chose to do such a thing, but I can only take it that he had some secondary motive, for he surely had nothing to fear from my relatively paltry dueling capabilities. If anything, it was I who should have conceded to the greater duelist and good friend. Alas, had I only thought of it, perhaps I could have done so before he got a chance to.
Thus, it was the final round, and it saw me against Tetsuru, the best pure swordsman in the group. I had already drawn his ire in other events, and I was none too pleased that we would be competing directly once more. I have no ambition to make a permanent enemy of a man of such ill temper and brutal sword. Again, fate chose, and I could only do my part. My head reeling, I did my best to concentrate and fight one last duel to my highest ability. Given Uso’s concession, how could I do otherwise?
We met, and the swords came whistling from their scabbards. Our blades hit simultaneously, and we stood back, awaiting the judge’s’ decision. My legs turned to water when they declared that mine was the better hit, and that I had won the dueling event. I am still unable to fully grasp it. I worry that this will lead to wrong-headed ideas about me. I am not a duelist. I have never aspired to be one. That is for the Crane and the other courtly clans. I am but a humble horseman, a coarse bushi who was raised in a yurt. I will now have to practice dueling with greater attention, if only to preserve my life and honor against those who would imagine me to be some test of their skill in that area.
But I cannot be such a fool that I complain about my own good fortunes. I have, at least in some part, done well in the name of my clan, my family, and my school. I hope that you find it comforting to know that your betrothed is not an perceived as an utter dunce.
Well, Namori-san, a few of us have been invited to visit the Imperial Barge and have an audience with the Heir. I will admit to being filled with trepidation at the idea, as I feel that I am only one moment away from my next ill-conceived oration at all times. Still, it is a rare honor, and I will do my very best to act properly.
My dear, I hope that I have not bored you too badly with my long-winded stories of our little game of swords and words down here in Tsuma. Life will find its rhythm now, I suppose, and things will grow to be more mundane. I will send you letters when I can, of course, and tell you of all that I can remember of my life’s events.
I continue to hope that we can mend our differences and find happiness together someday. It would mean a great deal to me, should you see fit to send along even the smallest hint that you had received my letters. Perhaps it is too soon for that, and your anger at my foolish deeds and words too fresh. I have time, my heart. As much time as you require.
I hope that this message finds you in good health and fine spirits. May the Fortunes watch over you, and my your ancestors whisper great wisdom in your ear.
Yours with great regard and affection,
To be continued next week: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/the-drowning-empire-episode-13-everything-changes/
To check out some of Pat’s regular fiction: <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=B008OJITTS