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
If you use the link above I always post a huge behind the scene’s GM play by play.
I’m behind on weekly updates but that’s what happens with tour/GenCon/ComicCon all in a row. This week’s episode has two bits, the first from Pat Tracy and the second from Brad Torgersen. Note, in Brad’s section, I had to ask him to keep it to PG-13 because my kids read this blog, and for the record, all the nasty stuff is in Brad’s head and took place off screen. WNGN is not that kind of game group. 🙂
A letter to Shinjo Namori, Subotai’s betrothed:
I find that we are most alive when we can reach out and touch the face of death. Perhaps this is why men strive to do the things they do, why we have invented the reasons for bravery and foolhardy action. I have fought the sea, literally held it back as the broken side of our vessel poured water into the hold. I have felt the sickening churn as the back of our ship was broken against the mighty waves of the ocean. The wind shrieked for our deaths, tearing sail and canvas, drawing a sailor into the grasp of the ocean with such quick finality that it was as if he had never existed. This man, Sakuri, who had taught me of nautical rope bindings and the method of applying tar to the beams of our ship just the previous day. He is gone, this man with a crooked smile and kind eyes, who was on the treacherous sea late in the season because of us, because of an order to wait for our tardy arrival. Would you think worse of me if, even in his sudden absence, my heart surged as we leapt to the great pier on Broken Wave island? With the specter of doom lingering about us, with a shattered ship and a diminished crew, I was exultant. For, the secret of life is to live, and to live when the outcome is in doubt is by far the sweetest of feelings. Then again, I am mad, as all samurai must be mad.
It seems that we are a part of things we only vaguely understand, stones in a game of Go, placed by an unseen hand. When one great peril ends, another begins. Broken Wave City has proven to be a place of tumult and danger. No, perhaps the locale has nothing to do with it, but rather the gyre of violence and ill-tidings that seems to have swept us up. My friends and I have the touch of the Fortunes on us, and those fortunes are not the gentle sort. Were I a host or town functionary, I would tremble when we darkened the doorway or appeared upon the road, for anywhere we go, tribulation follows.
Without going into detail, it appears that our enemies have once again attempted to doom one or more of us with treachery. Our foes are like water, worrying away at every weak spot in us, every tiny crack in the foundations of our souls. Few of us are made of such stern bedrock that we do not succumb to weakness or have tender spots that can be exploited. I certainly have my faults, and know that there will be a day when a frightful test of my mettle will arrive. I think it shall be sooner, rather than later, my dear. I have seen a look on Toranaka-san’s face that indicates that he suspects something is amiss, as well. I would be surprised if Uso-san does not already know more about my own dark plight than even I do. As to the others, Shintaro’s soul is not meant for deceit, and both Oki and Isao have had far too much of their own plight to contend with recently.
In our group, the dangers we’ve faced have enforced an order upon us. Toranaka has become as our father, a stern disciplinarian and exemplar of how a man of honor conducts himself. Uso has become as a charming uncle, an apparent rascal whose deeper motives are often hidden beneath his good humor. Shintaro is our heart, the one who always turns his face to the sunshine and refuses to see the shadows. Isao…the world has yet to see him in his full powers yet. He has such great ability that it will take him some time to come to grips with it, I think. He is haunted. The Kami of water have frowned upon all of us, but they have turned their eyes upon him with hatred. Oki is a man trying to hold two horses who shy and try to bolt, pulled this way and that by the events of his life. One horse would see him ruined and stripped of his honor, while the other would see him remembered as the one who dared all, who could slay a ghost with an arrow launched in the deepest darkness. Toranaka has tried, in his way, to aid the man, but he speaks with the voice of Akodo Goro at times, and that voice holds little kindness. Only Oki can decide if he wishes to be the man he could be, or if he will be consumed by his demons.
And who am I to speak of such things? I, the great pretender, who hides behind the modest expectations placed upon a barbaric Moto, who finds himself praised for not spilling soup on his kimono?
These are good men I travel with, the best friends I could ask for. I won’t let my own limitations, the doom that rides upon my head, be their downfall. I try to believe that I will have the courage to buy back any debt of honor that I have incurred. I have seen it done. It is not the worst of fates.
I had been awake three breaths before I killed a man, and seven before I killed a second. I have seen a naked shugenja wrestle with a ninja. I have seen a one armed man cut two enemies to the bone in a single stroke. I have read the strange kanji of blood spatters on rice paper walls. Once more, I am alive. We are all alive, like ravens who arrive before the peace is broken and then draw bloodshed to ourselves, assuring the feast. Thus, we plunge out to sea once more, too perilous even for a city created by warfare, banished to distant hinterland filled with strange gods and demons. I do not know when I’ll be able to write again. Nothing is certain, not even the next breath. Know this, Namori-san: I love you, and wish only the best for you. I have ardently wished that a future with me would be some kind of a blessing. It still may be, as there is always a glimmer of hope for a cherished dream. May the fortunes smile upon you. May you have health and happiness in great measure, all the days of your life.
Tamori Isao, shugenja of the Dragon Clan, poises his brush over the empty page. A whirlwind of emotion spins within him. He feels he must commit his thoughts to paper, lest they burst his mind. He left the mountains expecting to face many threats and dangers, but he never imagined he would come face to face with his own flesh and blood.
Three deep breaths. Isao’s eyes close. Then they are opened.
The brush is applied to paper . . .
Most honored Mother Natsumi, bride of my Father Kenta, you who now dwell in the eternal mountains of the dead of the Tamori line, I am both pleased and distressed to report to you that there is an heir to Father’s house. Never in my deepest dreams did I ever suspect that my furtive union with Kakeko Yoritomo—at the Topaz Championship—would yield fruit. Yet I have learned that Kakeko has born me a son, Ichiro, who plays at the feet of his would-be father Yoritomo Naota.
If at first my heart leapt with joy, both for Ichiro’s existence and for the fact that he and his mother are the inheritors of tremendous wealth and power in Naota’s house, it has since been crushed with despair. For I have learned that Naota is an unloving and cruel husband. He dotes on Ichiro, believing the boy to be of Naota’s line. Yet he shuns and punishes Kakeko. For what reason, I know not. Kakeko is as strong and brilliant as ever. Made even more beautiful by the opulence and luxury of her surroundings.
But it is a gilded cage. And now I, your son Isao, shugenja, must contemplate extracting Kakeko and Ichiro from the hands of an Admiral of the Mantis fleet.
How this might be accomplished, I cannot see. I appeal to the Kami and to your own spirit for guidance. No one but Kakeko herself seems to know or suspect Ichiro’s true lineage. If Naota came to suspect, I fear he would do harm to Ichiro. Or perhaps Naota has known all along, and mistreats Kakeko for having dishonored him?
Whatever the case, I cannot leave Kakeko or our son to the devices of Naota. Perhaps I should not have lain with a woman bushi at the Topaz. Father has remonstrated me for this more than once. And yet Father also understands, in ways I think even you were not aware.
If I was near our home I would go straightaway to seek Father’s counsel. But I do not expect to see our beloved mountains for years. The Empire sends myself and my cohort to the colonies. The Ivory Kingdoms await us. I must find a way to use this voyage in distant lands to prepare myself for an ultimate return to the house of Yoritomo Naota, where I will confront my destiny as Ichiro’s father.
Ichiro is just a babe now. But he may be a boy, or even a young man, when I return. He is for all intents and purposes Naota’s heir, and I would leave him to that fate if his mother were not a silent prisoner. But because I now know Naota to be a hard and unloving man, honor demands that he be reckoned with. Sooner, or later.
Moreover, my longing for Kakeko has never left me. Try as I might to follow Father’s wisdom on this, I have never been able to banish Yoritomo Kakeko from my mind. Entering the house of the Admiral, my heart tripled its pace upon seeing her. She may be married to another, but I feel our spirits are wedded by fortune. She has confessed to me that for her it is the same. The ferociousness of her lust—right under Naota’s nose!—tells me that no mortal force can keep us apart. Especially not now. The future of Ichiro, our child, depends on it.
Thus whatever shame I initially felt upon bedding another man’s wife, has been replaced with the hot coals of anger. Kakeko is a woman bushi, as capable a fighter as any of my cohort. I have seen her shed blood in defense of our blood, and it grieves me terribly that this tiger is chained and beholden to a man who treats her like a stray cat. If Naota were a true man, he would bow before Kakeko and worship her like the illustrious gift of the Kami that she is. She deserves no less. A man who loves and cherishes her as much as Father loved and cherished you, Mother. For in our house I saw the proof of Father’s devotion, and I would give the same to Kakeko.
But now I face the next awful leg of my long voyage. The trip to Broken Wave City nearly destroyed me. Beset with a horrific storm, our ship near to sinking, I became mad within the hold. Just the sight of the waves now fills me with such unending dread that I cannot see continuing without doing something drastic.
My cohort prepare well. Yoritomo Oki is now captain of his father’s old ship. We have secured a crew and a crewmaster in whom I see Toranaka-san’s implicit trust. But everyone looks at me with pity. I dare not go on deck without spilling the contents of my stomach. My fear is my disgrace. We all know it. And my shame is made double due to the fact that we all know we face the Dark Oracle of Water in our collective path.
So it is. So must my fear be undone.
Upon disembarkation of our ship from Broken Wave City, I will have Toranaka-san and our mutual friend Moto Subotai carry me high into the rigging and lash me to the forward mast. So that come storm or waves or anything else that befalls us, I will not cower in the hold like a drunken fool. I will face the ocean and my fear together. The darkness that swept onto the land and took you has twice attempted to take me, and I have mewled before it both times like a coward.
But I am my Father’s son. I am a Tamori! And I will cower no longer.
Lashed to the mast, I will either conquer my fear, or die.
Either fate is preferable. I suspect that the ocean and its storms and its terrible depths, infested with monsters and slithering, swimming vermin of all description, pale in comparison to what awaits us in the colonies.
My cohort know this as well as I. Because I can see it on their faces as we prepare to leave. Oki-san wonders if he can command his new vessel to the satisfaction of both Mantis tradition, and his father’s legacy. Toranaka-san’s eyes quietly smolder with a restless desire for the honor of battle, and a chance to prove his worthiness according to the Lion code. Shintaro-san, the noble hero of the peasantry, seeks to unearth a mystery connected to his lineage, while proving the worth of the Sparrow despite the Great Clans. So too does Subotai-san seek to prove his worth, though I would say his comradeship with Toranaka runs almost as deep as kin. And Uso-san . . . he may yet have the most to prove of all. There is a
ghost that drives him. I cannot say who or what lurks over his shoulder at every turn, but there is a special destiny awaiting him. Something presaged by his victory and ascendancy to the Topaz Championship?
All of these bushi—and our crewmaster, the venerable ronin warrior, Hisao—have a legacy to secure.
For Hisao, in whom I see the hard-won wisdom of many years, I suspect there is a seat at the tables of the Lion Samurai. I do not know his quality in battle, but I trust Toranaka-san implicitly, and so I trust Hisao by extension. He seems to represent much of what is best and noble in the ronin, who often do the dirtiest and most dangerous work of the Empire while seldom receiving any of the glory traditionally reserved for the bushi of the Clans.
Which reminds me of the nature of the ultimate foe. The Dark Oracle of Water seems to wish the complete overturning of Rokugan—an utter end to our civilization and our way of life.
I admit sometimes to seeing hope for a different way of life in the eyes of the peasants I have met. But so far as I can tell this “Water Wizard” has been leading the common people down to death. They are his fodder before the swords and arrows of the Empire, and I do not doubt for a moment that the Dark Oracle cares not a whit for their sakes. They dishonor themselves in the Dark Oracle’s service and there can be nothing save chaos gleaned from a victory according to the Dark Oracle’s machinations against Rokugan.
Mother, I implore you to be near me as we make our way to the Ivory Kingdoms. Help me to be better than my best. Help me to become more than what I am now, so that I can uphold the name of our family and our Clan and so that I am stand shoulder to shoulder with my cohort and give them the confidence they will need to have in me, as their shugenja. These are a gifted group of men. I could ask for no finer set of companions. Yet I fear that my own weaknesses may be the undoing of us all. So please, assist me in passing through and beyond this fear, so that I can be strong where I now am weak, and command the Kami in your name, and in the name of the Emerald Empire.
Isao stops and bows his head onto the tips of his thumbs. As always when he is composing his sacred ancestral correspondence, it is very late in the evening, when all the rest of the men have gone to sleep. He is tired, yes. But also energized.
Just like . . .
For a moment Isao remembers Yoritomo Kakeko perched on his pelvis, her breasts and muscular stomach slick with sweat as they couple deliciously. How long had he longed for such a return to the pleasure first experienced during the Topaz? And yet how abruptly such renewed bonding had come to an end!
Isao thinks. The assassins, poorly armed and poorly trained, could not have been the best the enemy had to offer. Like so much else, the assassins were merely a prod designed to spur Isao’s cohort to action. He feels frustration over the fact that so much remains unknown, and that while he would like to trust the leadership of the Empire, why does he suspect that not everyone in a position of great power has the Emerald Empire’s best interests at heart?
Ah, for a return to the peaceful sanctuary of the mountains, where political deceit and treachery can be kept at arm’s length.
Isao remembers Kakeko again: her flesh warm and delightful next to his, as she lays beside him, stroking his face and whispering the truth of her existence to him. He feels the tears on her cheeks with his fingertips, and wonders what kind of man could treat such an amazing woman so terribly.
Their lips touch, and his hands pull her to him . . .
The room tilts ever so slightly with the tide. Reality reasserts itself with a vengeance. The lamp’s light wavers.
Justice, Isao decides. Yes. Justice for Kakeko. For Ichiro. For Mother. For Rokugan. For them all.
Isao mentally scratches the kanji symbol for “justice” across his mind, as if writing it on his heart with an iron brush.
Then Isao stands, collecting the finished paper in his hands. He walks quietly from his quarters onboard the Lucky Traveler to where the coals of the galley cooking fire are glowing softly. He places the message to his Mother upon the coals.
Smoke billows momentarily, and then the paper catches fire and burns quickly. Isao bows his head and steeples his fingers, imploring the Kami to transport his latest communication to his Mother’s waiting spirit.
And we are Book Bombing Brad Torgersen on Monday! http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.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=1614750742