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 Zach Hill, who plays our gullible yet honorable farmer samurai, Suzume Shintaro. He hired Yuki for the journey because she was such a good sailor. This is Yuki’s version of events.
Yuki couldn’t believe her good fortune. She had found the one samurai gullible enough to let her aboard a ship. This was her chance to improve her lot in life. She was born to a dockside prostitute but the Kami be damned if she was going to remain on those disgusting docks. She was born for something more important than scraping by for survival. Her mother was a worthless sow, but the daughter would rise above her origin.
Tying the knots was much harder than she thought it would be. She had watched countless sailors tying many kinds of knots and she thought she had a good idea how to do it. But actually doing it was much more difficult.
“You don’t have that knot tied yet?” The ronin Hisao called from where he was working on the rigging.
“The rope’s greasy!” She said.
The rope wasn’t greasy.
Working on the ship was hard, but she liked the rest of it. She loved the feel of the salty air on her face and the wind running its fingers through her hair like a gentle lover. Not like she had ever had one of those.
The men who paid for a warm woman on the docks were never patient enough to be gentle. Again, she had her mother to thank for that wretched skill. She had wanted her daughter to grow up like her. Mother was very mistaken. She’d die before she became like her.
She finally got the damned knot tied and stood back to view her handiwork. It wasn’t the prettiest knot and somehow looked bulkier than the others, but it would hold.
Yuki was about to call out to Hisao that she had finished when she saw the samurai named Uso come up on board. She backed away out of sight.
There was something wrong about that man. It was in his eyes. He smiled and laughed a great deal, always telling amusing stories. But the smiles never reached his eyes. She had seen eyes like that.
Her father had eyes like that. Those were eyes that held no warmth or compassion. Uso wore a mask and none of the other samurai seemed to notice. Perhaps it would have slipped by her if she hadn’t been so well acquainted with eyes like those; eyes that would not hesitate to inflict pain.
He wore a mask as any kabuki actor would. Only his was less obvious. How did the other samurai not see that?
The more Uso smiled the more frightened she became. She prided herself on being fearless and willing to take any risk if it promised reward, but she was afraid of him. Every time she looked at him she saw her father and could still feel the pain he could give out.
Once Uso’s back was to her she scurried by to the door and hurried down to the kitchen. Uso, like the other samurai never bothered themselves with the kitchen. Such things were beneath them. All except Shintaro, the fool who hired her.
What did that say about her that it took a fool to hire her? Was she that worthless?
Then Uso stuck his head through the door. She froze in place as those lifeless eyes slowly scanned the kitchen and finally rested on her. She gripped her knife with both hands and held her breath. The air in the kitchen grew thick and cold.
She wanted to recoil and hide somewhere: anywhere else but here.
His eyes looked at her like a wolf would see its prey. Those eyes did not see her as a person. They only looked for threats and weaknesses.
“Yuki! There you are. What are we having for dinner tonight? I must say that your meals are the highlight of my day,” he said with a smile that remained as frozen as a corpse trapped in the ice.
“Thank you, Uso-sama.”
“Oh, our dear Isao has had a long night. Could you bring him some hot tea and rice?”
A long night? The maniac had spent the entire night strapped to the mast screaming like an Oni giving birth. “Of course, Uso-sama.”
He then left and the air became breathable again. Her grip relaxed on the knife’s handle.
She made some tea and some rice with mango slices and brought it to where Isao still lay in his bead. He looked pale and sickly and after last night’s show she couldn’t blame him. He looked like a half drowned cat.
His eyes opened up a crack as she came in.
“Isao-sama, I brought you some tea and refreshment.”
He nodded and she came in and placed the tray down on her lap. A weak hand reached out and she helped him with his tea.
“That’s good tea,”he said.
She bowed in response.
“I guess you heard me last night,” he said with a weak laugh.
All of Rokugan had heard him. She nodded.
“Don’t worry. There won’t be a repeat performance.”
“As long as the noble samurai is feeling better that is all that matters.”
Samurai like to hear themselves being called “noble.” But in reality they were anything but. Someone who was noble wouldn’t sneer at a starving woman. Someone who was noble wouldn’t buy themselves a new horse while his people were crushed by taxes. She had seen her share of samurai and they had all excelled at disappointing her.
One thing she did notice about this samurai was that he didn’t look at her like most men. His eyes didn’t linger on her legs that were on display by her short kimono. They didn’t shoot to her chest when she bent over. Perhaps he was one of those boy loving samurai.
“I do feel better. I feel much better,” Isao said.
He didn’t look better.
“Would Isao-sama care for anything else?”
This is when most samurai asked for her to climb in bed.
“No, I’m well enough as is,” Isao said.
She began to get up but Isao’s hand raised, making her pause.
“Yes, noble samurai?”
“Yuki, have you ever been in love?”
Love? What was that? Oh, yes. It was that idiot game children played where they pretended to care about people more than their own wants. Yeah, she’d heard of it and didn’t care for it. Maybe that was why this samurai didn’t look at her like the others. He was stupid enough to convince himself that he was in love. How adorably pathetic. Didn’t these samurai live in the real world? She didn’t have time to play that game.
He laughed. “You should try it some time. It’s the most wondrous thing and the most terrible.”
“Sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.”
“Not at all. A great deal of trouble, yes, but definitely worth it. You must continue struggling with it though.”
She had better things to do than be lectured by a samurai about love. Samurai only loved their damned honor. The world could burn in flames or be swept away in a tsunami and they wouldn’t care as long as their honor was safe.
She left Isao alone and returned to the kitchen where she sat on the counter and ate an apple.
In the evening when dinner was simmering in the pot she made her way up to the deck in time to see the sunset. The sunsets in Broken Wave City were the only good things about that miserable place. She’d often sit on the cargo lying on the docks and watch the sky turn red and gold. Sailors liked calmed, cloudless days, but the beauty only came from the troublesome clouds. It was her favorite part of the day. It was the pause between the hard toil of the day and the hard vices of the night.
She loved the sunsets but she was glad to get away from that city. It was her first step away from the fate her mother had given her. It was a fate she did not accept. She didn’t know what awaited her in the Ivory Kingdoms, but whatever it was would be different.
She looked over and saw Toranaka playing Go with one of the other samurai. Toranaka’s brows were furrowed in a look of hard concentration, but then, they always were. He was a man that did not know how to relax and enjoy himself. He saw life as an enemy to be conquered.
That was something she could respect.
But he was also the kind of samurai to cut off a farmer’s head if he did not bow low enough and that was something she could not respect. He was one of the ones that led armies through towns, burning houses and fields as they went. He was a hard man and softness was something to be scorned
One of the samurai was playing the drums. She looked over and saw the Unicorn playing an unfamiliar beat. It was faster and wilder than what she was used to hearing on the docks. She had always heard that the Unicorns were uncouth barbarians, but from what she could see, this Unicorn remained in his own mind far more than the others. This man was a thinker. He was calmer than the others and seemed to fall into introspection over the littlest things, like how he held his chopsticks or how the wind blew in the sails. And when he wasn’t thinking he was writing. She didn’t know what he wrote because it “wouldn’t be her place to ask.”
At first she didn’t know why he examined everything so closely but one day she realized that it wasn’t the world he was looking into, but himself. The man was in a constant state of self-examination.
Then Captain Oki came out on deck with one hand in his waist sash and the other holding a bottle of sake. He was the kind of person she recognized. He didn’t act like a samurai. He acted like the countless Mantis sailors that passed through the docks.
After the sun set (it had been a particularly good one) she went back and finished dinner. She brought it up on deck and served it out.
Only Shintaro thanked her.
Yes, he was a fool, but he was also the only one that treated her like anything approaching an equal. He didn’t use big words or stiff, formal language like he had a bamboo shoot up his backside. Sometimes he even used street talk that she wasn’t familiar with. True, most of it had to do with farming in one way or another, but she appreciated it anyways.
Shintaro was also her carriage away from the docks. He would probably never marry her, though such things have happened before, but if she could be his mistress and be set up in a comfortable house somewhere, she would take it.
It was a sloppy plan, but it was the only one she had.
After dinner she went down to the kitchen, cleaned up and then rolled her tami mat out between the counter and the stove.
As she was crawling under her blanket, Shintaro came in. The man always wore his armor and she wondered why. He couldn’t think someone would stab him in the back on this ship.
“Turning in for the night?” He asked.
“Right, well, pleasant dreams, Yuki.”
“You too,” she said.
And to her own surprise, she meant it.
Yes, she was going to use this gullible samurai, but she didn’t wish him ill. She kind of liked him. Simple but honest. Too honest to survive on the docks though.
Shintaro smiled and gave her a bow as he left.
A bow? Since when did a samurai bow to a peasant? He must not have been thinking. If the other samurai had seen that they would have ridiculed him at best.
A couple of nights later she was awakened in the dark. She reached for her knife but saw that it was Shintaro. Had he finally come for her as every other man did? About time. She had began to wonder if he realized that she was a woman.
She welcomed it, but also felt disappointed. Somehow it made him seem just like every other man that just wanted her to warm their bed. Still, she would accept him with open legs.
“Yuki, get up and get a weapon. Bring buckets of water up to the deck,” Shintaro said.
Well….that wasn’t what she had been expecting. She felt relieved and disappointed at the same time but now for the opposite reasons.
“What’s going on?” She asked as she rubbed her eyes.
“We found them. Or more accurately, they found us.”
“Who found us?”
Her blood froze in her veins. All her life she had grown up with stories of bloodthirsty pirates having their way with captives until they finally grew tired of them and killed them.
Yes, these were samurai, but there was no way they could take on an entire crew of pirates. She had seen pirates come into the docks and they were not men she wanted to be around.
She jumped up and threw her sandals on. She grabbed her “kitchen knives” and “Meat tenderizer” and followed Shintaro up to the deck. He pointed out over the stern and at first she didn’t see anything.
Then she saw three dark masses near the horizon.
“It will not be an easy fight,” Shintaro said, sounding like every other damned samurai.
“Easy? We can’t fight three pirate ships.”
He smirked and patted her on the back, seemingly unaware that she was a young woman.
“Don’t worry Yuki. No harm will come to you. You’ve never seen how true samurai fight.”
He then sent her down for the buckets. She ran back up with four buckets hanging from each arm. She lowered them into the ocean and pulled them back up.
Meanwhile, Shintaro and the others were preparing some strange machine at the bow. She didn’t see how some contraption could help them. Then she felt the ship turn. It was turning and giving the pirates the opening they needed to run up onto their side.
What were these idiots doing? Shouldn’t they be forcing every bit of speed from their sales in a chance to flee? These samurai were either super cocky or super ignorant about how vicious pirates could be.
All she could do was hold on to the rails as the three (not one or even two, but three!) pirate ships bore down on them like a pack of wolves over a rabbit.
Then a horrible sound came from the machine at the front of the ship. She turned to see a giant stone ball flying through the air. She’d seen birds and even arrows fly, but never something as gigantic as that. She couldn’t lift that thing and yet it sailed through the air with a slow gracefulness that a bird would envy.
And then it smashed into an enemy pirate ship, sending broken planks and men flying into the air in a single violent moment.
Oki, Subotai and Hisao were firing flaming arrows at the pirate’s sails in an attempt to slow them down.
Then she saw how Samurai fought. They planned the fight out to their advantage. They fought like she did. They waited for the right time to strike and waited for the right place. Three men, each much larger than herself (not hard to do) had felt her blade before. She got had got them close and made them feel as if she were in their power. When their guard was down was when she struck.
These samurai had done the same thing. When one small person fought a larger enemy, they couldn’t fight fair. Fight fair and lose. They let the enemy get in close and feel secure in their chances before launching their attack.
Surprise was underestimated by large, cocky men.
The strange rock thrower continued to fire. She watched from a distance as Shintaro lifted those enormous stone spheres onto the contraption. The man was as strong as a bear.
Then she really wished he would visit her in the night.
The arrows caught one of the pirate ships on fire before it ever had a chance to reach them. It turned off to the side and began to list.
The entire ocean was lit up by the fires on that ship and a growing one on another. Arrows rained down on them and she hid in the doorway ready with her knives and buckets of water.
Then one of the ships came up on their side as if to board them. But a stone ball from the rock thrower smashed into their deck, knocking them off course as their crew struggled to keep a fire under control.
The one armed Toranaka was somehow steering the ship like an expert sailor and saw that he was aiming for the smallest pirate vessel. Before she could laugh at the genius of it, the Friendly Traveler plowed into the smaller ship, knocking it onto its side with an air rending crack of wood that momentarily silenced everything else.
The pirates of the doomed vessel tried to climb aboard but Shintaro with his “Swamp Dragon” began reaping them like wheat. He moved with such deadly efficiency that she couldn’t help but stop and stare.
So, this was what he had meant by “how true samurai fight.”
Perhaps he was a fool, but the man had power of his own.
Shintaro cleaned off the blade of “Swamp Dragon” in the light of the burning pirate ships. He didn’t know how much Oki had paid for that catapult, but it had been worth every koku.
Perhaps the Sparrow fortress should get a few of those, could come in handy someday.
Then he saw small Yuki standing in the doorway. She was gripping a knife in one hand and the doorframe with the other. Her eyes were wide and staring right at him as if in a trance. Then she seemed to come into her senses and looked away.
He walked over to her as the other samurai surrounded the single captive they took.
“It’s all over with, Yuki. I told you it wouldn’t be a problem.”
“Oh, yes. Of course.”
“You’re not still frightened, are you?”
Shintaro laughed and looked back out at the burning sea. It had been an interesting night indeed but the work was not yet finished.
Early that morning, before the sun came up, they found the pirate’s base. It was a small island in a bay with a few tents and filthy huts.
“How many pirates are we expecting?” Shintaro asked as he strapped on his gauntlets.
“Around fifty,” Toranaka said.
“Wait…could you say that again? I thought you said fifty. You meant, fifteen, right?” Yuki said from where she sat on the railings of the ship.
“Fifty. Ten, five times.”
“How are the twelve of us going to fight fifty?” Yuki asked.
“We’re not,”Toranaka said.
“Only eight of us are going. Don’t worry, you’ll be one of the four remaining here to guard the ship.”
As they got ready to disembark Yuki came up to him and grabbed his arm.
“There are fifty of them out there,” she said.
“Yes, I know.”
Why was she so fond of stating what was already known?
“Be careful. Do not hesitate. Hit hard and hit fast. Don’t do anything stupid and get yourself killed.”
“Relax, Yuki. You saw how samurai fought on water. We’re even better on land.”
This didn’t calm her down and her glare only grew in intensity. Had he said something wrong or was she just always angry?
“Hey, Hisao,” Oki called out.
“Aim my beautiful catapult at the largest hut. When you see our bursting sky, fire. I want to see death rain down from above.”
“Don’t forget that there are prisoners to rescue,” Shintaro said to the gathered samurai. Shintaro liked this plan. These raiders weren’t honorable warriors. These were animals that preyed on the weak. They deserved no pity and no mercy. He also liked the catapult. Every plan needed a catapult.
With Swamp Dragon in both hands, he and his companions waded to shore and marched silently to the first tents.
One by one they fell upon the sleeping pirates and slaughtered them like the animals they were. They were to the wooden huts before anyone alive even noticed them. By then it was too late.
It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t glorious but it was ridding the world of terrible people that preyed on others. Some pirates fled and others charged at them. They were not bushi and fell to their skilled blades.
Then the pirate leader came out. It was a woman who looked as if she had at one time been a samurai but now had tattoos or paint on her face and was carrying a giant spear. She was a well-seasoned warrior that wouldn’t fall like these rabble. No, this woman was going to a challenge for any of them and perhaps all of them. She would not die without making her enemy pay for it with their blood.
The woman’s snake eyes looked down at them and wasn’t impressed. He could see her assessing their threat and knew that they came up short. This woman was dangerous.
Shintaro gripped his bisento and readied himself to charge.
Then Isao sent the bursting sky spell up into the air.
Shintaro didn’t know what to expect but what he saw was more beautiful than he had imagined. It was like a thousand sparks from a blacksmith’s hammer bursting at once. A second later he heard a whistling sound and looked up in time to see a stone ball flying through the early morning light. It seemed to linger in the air longer than it had a right to.
Then the chieftain’s hut exploded, sending her flying through the air. Her spear disappeared and she landed face first in the mud. Shattered wood flew off in every direction and a cloud of dust and smoke rose up above the battle field.
Yes, when he got back to Sparrow lands he would definitely look into buying a catapult.
But then he saw someone go into the prison. If they were there to kill the prisoners then he had to stop them. “I’ll see to the prisoners,” Shintaro called out as he ran for the hut they called a jail.
Inside he saw a sickly woman struggling with a large, filthy pirate. He turned to see who the newcomer was. Shintaro didn’t hesitate and charged forward. His bisento slammed into him, impaling him against the wall. He screamed out until Shintaro drew his katana and cut the man’s head off.
Shintaro then noticed three dead pirates lying on the floor, including one that had chopsticks sticking out of his neck. Whoever this woman was, she was one not to be trifled with.
Then he saw the clan mon on her kimono. He had been all over the Empire in service to the Imperial Heralds and didn’t recognize this mon.
“I am Suzume Shintaro of the Sparrow Clan. What is your name and what clan are you from?” He asked.
“Hotaru Kuroko. Firefly clan.”
“I’m unfamiliar with this clan.”
“Yeah. There are more pirates. We need to take care of them now.
“Of course. Right.”
He picked up the pirates rusty katana and tossed it to her.
By the time they got outside the pirate leader lay dead on the ground with only one hand. Toranaka was bleeding but looked well enough.
When he got back on board Yuki ran up to him and for a moment looked horrified.
“Don’t worry. It’s not my blood.”
She let out a sigh and took out a rag. She began cleaning off his armor and wiping his face.
“You need to be more careful, Shintaro-san.”
“I had my friends to protect me. And I had Swamp Dragon to take care of me.”
“I should be the one to take care of you.”
“But you can’t fight.”
She scowled and looked him in the eye for a moment.
Why did she call him a fool? Her temper changed faster than the days. Perhaps it was not meant for man to understand women.
To be continued next week: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/the-drowning-empire-episode-39-a-new-kind-of-currency/
If you want to check out some of Zach’s regular work that wasn’t slapped together in a few hours after a game session, check out his Italian zombie story: 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=1618080571