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 first part of this week’s episode was written by Paul Genesse, and the second half was written by Brad Torgersen. Paul and I had worked out beforehand that his character was going to get maimed during the first few episodes, because he wanted his character to go from golden boy, to somebody with a lot of challenges. Paul had no idea how I was going to do it though, so making him saw his own arm off to escape a sinking barge was pretty darn awesome. 🙂
Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Fourth Entry
Seventeenth Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Hoketuhime
Seventeenth day of the Month of the Dragon
Two days after the attack on the Imperial Barge
Tent for the wounded outside the ruin of the Village of Tsuma in the Crane Lands
I have brought great dishonor to my family, as I have lost my katana, my wakizashi, and my left arm. All three are at the bottom of the Tsuma river. Some will think it would have been better if I had died in the river, in the wreckage of the imperial barge. I have had these thoughts myself, but even as I suffer agonizing pain, I know that my destiny was to live through that Night of Evil.
I finally have the strength of mind and body to write in my journal again. The Topaz Championship is over, but it was of little consequence compared to the events that transpired after the competition finished.
Many have lost more than I have, and many accounts will tell of the destruction of the village of Tsuma, and the people killed there. The dead are in my prayers, and so are the living, and especially those injured like myself.
I live, and I will fight again. But I must record what happened to me personally, and will send a letter similar to this entry to my father as soon as I have the strength to do what I must, and formally resign my posting as Gunso in the Fourth Akodo Army.
My decision to resign is a heavy blow against my spirit, but it is a decision I must make. I have only one arm, and I may never be a good enough swordsman to lead at the tip of an assault, as would be required of me as Gunso. It is not easy for me to admit this, but I will not endanger the lives of my men, or the success of the Lion Army because of my ego.
For my entire life, and especially three days ago, before I had completed my gempukku and become an adult in the eyes of the people of Rokugan, I knew I would become a strong swordsman, one of the best in the empire, but now I have little faith in that. There will be many who see me as a liability, better suited for assignments that do not test my mettle as a warrior. I wonder if they are correct. Right now I can barely lift a brush and writing this much has taken all of my strength. I shall rest, take some milk of the poppy, and return when I am able.
The pain is better now after the poppy. . . I see chrysanthemums on the ceiling, spinning. The blossoms open and they become lion mouths telling me my father and all of my family is ashamed of me.
Forgive those lines from my addled mind. I have regained my wits now and told the healers I do not wish the milk of the poppy any more today. I must finish this entry so it is not weighing upon me any longer.
As a samurai, it is my duty to be honest. I try to keep my face calm in front of the healers, but I have so much unrelenting pain, and not all of it is from my arm. I have lost my swords, which is a great misery to me. In truth, the agony of losing my arm is worse. The Crane surgeon has used heavy black stitching and pinched the skin together in an ugly stump of angry flesh that looks like the wrinkled lips of an ox sown shut. He says it would not hurt so much, but the burns make it very sensitive. He says I would have bled to death had the wound not been cauterized as it was.
The competition ended and I was invited along with: Ikoma Uso, Suzume Shintaro, Moto Subotai, Tamori Isao, Yoritomo Oki, and Hiruma Akio to dine on the royal barge with Hantei Mikki, the son of Hantei Yuni, who is the daughter of the Empress Hoketuhime. One day Hantei Miike will be emperor, and this invitation was a great honor.
In the most opulent chamber I have ever seen in the center of the barge, I watched Hantei Miike enter the room. I realized the young man before us had been known by a different name during the competition, Bayushi Arashii. Miike had been masquerading as a Scorpion courtier and had become our friend as a fellow contestant.
When I got over my shock, I followed the example of my friends, mostly Oki, and allowed myself to laugh for the first time that day. Miike is a dear friend to us all, and I vowed to never endanger him again, as he was on our hunt for the swamp dragon and was taken hostage by the vile ronin. I apologized to Miike again, and he said there was nothing to apologize for. His time at the gempukku was the best time of his life. He had truly lived as a samurai, and not the divine one chosen by the gods, pampered and protected from all hurts. Our friendship to him was a great treasure, beyond anything he had ever been given in his entire life.
The dinner was excellent. The best food I’ve ever eaten, with wonderful company. Since my friends and I had killed the swamp dragon with Mikki/Arashii as our leader he chose to reveal to us, his true friends, the truth of his parentage.
It was a great honor that I shall never forget.
When the dinner was complete we walked onto the gangplank in fine spirits. The air was quite humid, and the river seemed wrong, roiling with some hidden malice. I could tell from the anxious look in Isao’s eyes, he sensed immediately, as he can sense when the kami are agitated. That was when the attack began. A shugenja of godlike power assaulted the imperial barge. The Daidoji Iron Guards on the dock were slain, their bodies turning into muddy water and flowing into the ground. They will have empty graves, and their spirits will wander aimlessly in the next world.
The Seppun guards on the barge were next to die, and my friends and I retreated to the interior of the ship to defend Hantei Miike and perish if necessary.
We were powerless as the barge rose into the air on a pillar of water. I thought of grabbing Miike and jumping down into the river. However, I did not. Instead I watched a man, the monk I had seen when entering the village by the stream, then again I’d seen him on the bridge in the village. He told us to remember what he had said: “Fear the water.” He also said he was not surprised to see us on the barge, for our paths are intertwined.
The burly monk disappeared, turning into water himself and flowing away as the barge crashed down and broke apart, tumbling on its side many times before beginning to sink into the Tsuma River.
Knocked unconscious for a short time, I found myself in the dark, my arm crushed and trapped under a large wooden beam and water filling the room at an alarming rate. I called for Subotai, for any of my friends, but I was alone and the water quickly rose over my head. I pulled my arm as hard as I could many times, and every time I tried to wrench it free I felt sharp pain as the shattered bones grated together. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
As I struggled to free myself from that place of death, I realized I had one option. Though I had lost my katana, my wakizashi remained at my belt. I drew it in the darkness and placed it against my already broken arm intending to cut through the flesh where the bones had snapped. My courage failed me for a moment, and I could not do it even as brackish water entered my nose.
Almost out of air, my lungs burning, I decided that I had to survive. With one sharp sawing motion, I cut through the meat of my arm. The blade cut through the nerve and my entire body rang like bell as white hot agony paralyzed me. One more cut from the blade and I was free.
The pain drove me to kick my legs and I escaped the wrecked barge and broke the surface of the river. Gasping for air I could barely stay afloat as the strength left my body one spurt of blood at a time. The Emerald Magistrate, Bayushi Kuronobo pulled me to him by my hair and helped me grab hold of a bit of floating debris, or I would have sunk back into the water in the expanding stain all around me.
Blood pumped out my arm and I knew that I would soon die unless something were done. I would die like that ronin in the swamp who lost his arm to Shintaro’s strike. He gave up and died, resigned to his fate, but I am not that man.
Tamori Isao came to me then, his eyes mad with fear. He clutched at the debris, trying to keep his face out of the dark water, which he fears above all things. I showed him my arm and asked him to help. He mumbled about using his healing powers, but I knew they were limited and would not suffice for what had to be done.
Isao was going to try regardless, then I asked him to cauterize the wound. Only flame could stop the bleeding. He found one of his ceramic vials and broke it open, letting the fire kami surge onto my bleeding stump. Flesh crisped and blackened. I screamed and passed out from the pain. Isao, my friend, stayed with me, and kept me from letting go and drowning in the river, keeping me afloat until we were pulled to safety by Kuronobo and others. When I see him again, I will apologize for forcing him to do such a difficult thing.
My life was saved, as were the lives of most of my friends. Hiruma Aiko, the Crab scout, and the only woman who went on our hunt for the swamp dragon is missing, presumed dead. Hantei Miike survived as well, though he was wounded and I will not record here what Subotai told me of that grim event, as I do not believe I am authorized to do so by Imperial Family.
Now I will go to my Daimyo, Akodo Shigatoshi, the father of Tetsuru, and do what I must. For failing to protect the grandson of the Empress, and for losing my two swords, the embodiment of my soul, and my left arm, I will ask him for permission to commit seppuku. I will prepare myself to die honorably like Sensei Daidoji Kenru.
My Daimyo will likely refuse my request, because even broken I will be of use to the Lion Clan. In this case, I will ask for a different assignment in the army. If I cannot be a Gunso in the Fourth Akodo regiment, and clearly I now cannot, I will find another place to serve the Empire.
I have only one arm, but it is my dominant sword arm, and for that I am grateful. Right now I could barely lift a small tanto blade to defend myself, so pale and weak I have become, but someday my strength will return.
I have told myself repeatedly that I still have the spirit of a samurai. If Daimyo Shigatoshi refuses my request to end my life, I will ask him to have a new set of swords crafted for me. They must be lighter, and balanced for a one-handed grip.
Until I can defend myself, I will carry no weapons. If an assassin comes and thinks to find me an easy mark, they will learn quickly the error of their thinking. My hostage, NO, my friend, Moto Subotai, winner of the recent iaijutsu dueling tournament, sits at my bed writing his poetry and the long letters to his betrothed in the distant Unicorn lands. He claims to enjoy sitting in the tent with me, as it is far away from river and overlooks a grassy plain, but I know that he guards me from assassins who have twice tried to take my life. Perhaps now my father will assign another of our clan to be his ward, but I hope that Subotai will stay with me for many years, and together we can heal the rift between our two clans. I may not be the warrior I had hoped to become, but my life cannot be over. I refuse to submit to despair.
I am Akodo Toranaka of the Lion Clan, son of Akodo Goro, top graduate of the Golden Plains Dojo. The agony I now feel will teach me how to endure pain, and to rise above physical limitations. As long as I have my keen mind, I will not be denied the destiny I seek. I believe the Fortune of Battle has blessed me, and I wish to serve the Emerald Empire and be known as the general who united the Great Clans.
My enemies will see me as weak, and it will be their fatal mistake.
A letter from Tamori Isao to Akodo Shigitoshi, Champion of the Lion
My name is Tamori Isao, shugenja of the Dragon Clan and competitor in the Topaz Championship alongside the most brave and honorable Lion bushi, Akodo Toranaka. I have entrusted this letter to the hands of Toranaka’s friend and fellow Lion bushi, the Topaz Champion himself, Ikoma Uso. I do this because I believe Toranaka will not pass to you my words, so great is his sense of shame and responsibility for the near drowning and eventual stabbing of the Imperial Heir, Hantei Miike.
Toranaka’s left arm is maimed. There is little of it remaining below the elbow, and what does remain is both painful and twisted. I trust that time will ease the physical sorrow, but it is Toranaka’s mental and emotional sorrow which concern me most. For I was the one who burned the severed flesh of Toranaka’s arm, that he might not bleed to death in the cursed waters of the Tsuma River. And now I feel a personal responsibility to implore you: do not permit my friend Toranaka to take his own life in a misguided attempt to appease Akodo and Lion Clan honor.
I was there that night, when the Heir’s barge was attacked. Of the specifics I cannot say, only that we were all beset by a force so wicked, so heinous, that no Topaz Championship bushi, however well prepared or anticipatory, could have prevented any of what happened. I believe Toranaka acted properly to save his own life, and I am saddened that I could do little more with the kami on behalf of my friend.
Know that Toranaka’s strategic skill may be an even greater asset to the Lion Clan than his tactical prowess as would-be Gunso. Knowing my friend’s ambition and desire to lead Lion samurai in battle, I believe you must not allow Toranaka to waste himself in seppuku, nor as a dojo functionary living forever on the ashes of the Topaz Championship itself. He has but one arm left to wield a katana for the Emerald Empire, and if you could have seen him orchestrate the battle of the Topaz against Daidoji Kenru and his Iron Warriors, as I and the other shugenja saw, you would know that within Toranaka there is the potential to be a great captain of armies.
I do not know if the word of a Dragon Clan sheugenja carries any weight with the masters of the Lion Clan. If I had the power of the kami to restore Toranaka’s flesh, whole and strong, I would do it; even to the ending of my own life, if required. So I ask in humility and desperation that Toranaka be found a new role, with fresh challenges. Allow him no time for weeping and anguish. Call him to an office sufficient to his talents. You will not be disappointed. The Lion will thus gain a tremendous leader. Someone to make every young lion bushi stand up and shout with pride.
May it be enough to ease my friend’s pain and recall him to himself during this his darkest hour.
I say all of this on my honor as a Tamori, beseeching.
To be continued next week: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/the-drowning-empire-episode-16-evening-on-the-dragonspire/