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.
12 Angry Bu
Yuki was surrounded by giggling courtesans. One painted her nails, another did her hair and another painted her face. She hadn’t moved for over an hour. She was sure she’d end up looking ridiculous and all this torture would be for nothing.
The girl with the white painted face and green eye shadow stepped back from painting her face and chewed on the end of her brush.
“What do you think, girls?”
All the courtesans stopped what they were doing and moved away to get a look at her. Their faces lit up like lanterns in expressions of joy and surprise.
“Oooh! I like it!”
“This is an exquisite work of art.”
The green eye shadow girl leaned forward.
“Yuki, you wanted to make an impression. You don’t have to worry about that.”
They better not have made her look like a hooker. That was definitely not the impression she wanted to make.
“Mirror,” Yuki said.
A mirror with a carved ivory handle was placed in her hand and Yuki brought it up to get a look.
She didn’t recognize the face that looked back at her. The eyes were larger, the lips fuller and she looked (she couldn’t think of another word) beautiful. She wasn’t done up like a stage actor like these courtesans were. She looked like a lady.
“She likes it.” Green eye shadow said.
“She loves it.”
“I love it.”
Yuki continued to look at herself. She moved the mirror up to where her hair was done in an elaborate bun with decorated sticks poking out almost like a peacock. Small silver medallions hung from each stick.
She was about to compliment the girls when the door slid open. She looked over to see who it was and her hair decorations jingled.
Shintaro stood in the door way in his best kimono. He was cleaned, no fresh wounds, and he looked every part the samurai he was.
“Where is…” Shintaro started to say but stopped when his eyes fell on her.
Yuki stood up, almost tripping over the long kimono. She was used to much shorter clothes.
These clothes, not only were silk and long, but they were bright red with green leaf designs like bamboo stalks. Her lips were the same red and the shoes they showed her earlier were also the same red and green.
“What do you think?” She asked.
“Beautiful,” Shintaro whispered.
“Will it make an impression?” Yuki asked.
“That it will,” he said. “It’s a work of the finest art, but isn’t it a little…ostentatious? Back in Sparrow Lands…”
“Hush up,” Green eye shadow said. “She’s supposed to look ostentatious. I don’t know what poor lands you come from, but here in the colonies, wealth is power and to show you have power, you have to show your wealth. There’s no better way that with a beautiful lady dressed in the finest at your side.”
Shintaro only nodded but kept his eyes locked on her.
“Is it time?” Yuki asked.
“Indeed. We need to leave now.”
Shintaro regained his composure and escorted her to the door where their shoes awaited them.
Soon they were outside in the streets walking toward the embassy where they would meet with the Minor Clan leaders.
It was midday and everywhere vendors were shouting out and carts pulled by peasants ran by. She noticed how people stopped and stared at her. For the first time in her life, people were awed by her.
It was all fake of course, but for now she could at least pretend she was a fine noblewoman.
“You do look stunning,” he said.
“Thank you. But more importantly, do you know what you’re going to say to them?”
“More or less.”
“This is important.”
“I know it is.”
“Then tell me what you’re going to tell them.”
“I’m going to appeal to their honor and…”
“Wait, wait. That won’t work.”
“Honor won’t get them to risk their men on a dangerous mission.”
“But they’re samurai. Their honor will demand it.”
“Honor won’t win against practicality. You have to make it in their interests.”
Shintaro fell silent as he thought. She could always tell when he was thinking. He rubbed his chin and furrowed his brow.
He was very bad at hiding his thoughts at times.
“You want me to give them what they want,” he finally said.
“So, I have to sit there and listen while they list off all their selfish demands.”
“More or less.”
“Perhaps Uso should be doing this.”
That would never work. No matter how smooth Uso’s tongue was, they wouldn’t listen to a Lion. Lion treated small clans like samurai treat peasant. Shintaro didn’t see this through his opaque fog of honor.
They arrived at the embassy and were shown into the meeting room. Shintaro had protested about arriving late but she had insisted and when she insisted he listened. Arriving late meant they weren’t too eager or desperate.
She had seen the same tactic done by several gang bosses on the docks. They weren’t samurai but they were masters of getting what they wanted.
Time to see if the make up and new clothes was worth the torture.
When they walked in she saw that the faces of the gathered samurai did not look happy. They were silently sitting there glaring at one another, but when they walked in their glares sharpened until their eyes saw her. Then they widened. Some of their mouths fell open.
Yes, the make up and days of geisha training had definitely paid off.
She had met these men before and had taken the time to memorize their names and know as much about them as possible.
First, there was Toku Zanaru of the Monkey Clan. If anyone would support this insane mission into the jungle, it was Zanaru. He was desperate for some respect at court and having his men go with a dangerous and high profile mission would go a long ways.
Then there was Usagi Akino of the Hare. He was going to be a problem. He does not like this idea and from what his maid servants say, he thinks Shintaro is being tricked into sending the Minor Clan Alliance out to do all the dirty work while the Majors get all the glory.
Unfortunately he had a very valid point.
All the other Minor Clans were represented with the few Sparrow samurai bowing deeper than usual to Shintaro.
Shintaro greeted them all in the proper way and they took their seats.
So far, no one had questioned her presence there. Good. She was too distracting.
That was an odd thing to think. She had never considered herself in a position to distract anyone with her beauty. At best she had distracted guard dogs with meat.
Was this really her?
“Let’s get to business, Akino said.”
“Indeed. We all know why we’re here,” Shintaro said in a clear voice. Good. He was taking charge. “We’re organizing an expedition into the jungle and need strong men to go with us. I won’t lie to you, this will be dangerous.”
“And that is why I won’t send my men out,” Akino said.
“We are with you,” Zanaru said. “This is an important mission and we Monkey will be proud to participate in its riches and prestige.”
“Zanaru, you’d risk your men so the Lion and Crane won’t soil their kimonos with a little hard work?”
“No, we’re going because we need to show them that we can.”
Akino turned back to Shintaro and pounded the table.
“You’re a fool Shintaro. Your Clan friends are using you to get cheap sword arms.”
“Watch your mouth, Hare!” One of the other Sparrow said. “That’s Shintaro, master of the Swamp Dragon you’re speaking to!”
Was that what they were calling him now? Last week it was “Hero of Black Sands Village.”
Shintaro raised his hands and his zealous Sparrow comrades sat back down.
“Please, let’s hear Akino out. He’s worried that he’ll be sending his men into danger for no reason other than to serve the pride of the Major Clans.”
“I don’t see how it is otherwise,” Akino said.
“Shintaro is no fool,” a Tortoise said. “He works with the other clans, not for them. He saved Black Sands village and fought beside his friends. He fought in the Topaz Championship with his friends. Never was he a servant or caused to be beneath them.”
“I doubt their friendship extends to our clans,” Akino said. “If you send your bushi, prepare to ask your homelands for replacements.”
Shintaro was rubbing his chin.
They waited for him to speak and grew impatient. She looked to Shintaro and saw that he was still thinking.
This wasn’t going well. She would have to speak up and distract them with some triviality or minor detail.
As she was about to open her mouth, Shintaro spoke.
“Do any of you know why I was sent here?”
The samurai around the tables looked at each other, confused.
“I was authorized by my clan to establish a Sparrow Colonies here. I have never failed a mission before. I always do as I say and I say we will have a colony with your Clans’ help or not. I’d prefer it, but it is not necessary. I have the power and authority to see it done myself. I’m not asking you for your help because I am in desperate need of it. I ask because you are in desperate need of mine.”
Akino’s mouth dropped open.
“D…desperate? How dare you!”
“No, how dare you continue here year after year with no progress. And why is that?”
Shintaro looked around the table at all the gathered samurai. When they didn’t answer he continued.
“They do no respect you because they do not need you. Or rather, they do not know they need you. Right now they are all locked in place by a power struggle that none of them can break out of. You have to show them that with our samurai, they can break this stagnation and reach the places of power they want. You have to show them your strength. Akino, I ask you, how have you been doing that?”
“Strength? We haven’t been permitted to…”
“Permitted? You need permission from the other Clans to show your true spirit? You are all samurai!” Shintaro said, hitting the table. “Start acting like it. Show these so-called Major Clans what hearts beat in our warriors’ chests.”
Silence filled the room like a banging gong.
Akino and the others were stunned. They had never seen Shintaro without a smile, let alone shouting.
She had to admit, she was stunned as well. This was her man and right then she was more proud to know him than any of the other more powerful samurai. He was twice the man they were.
Shintaro nodded toward Akino.
“You want the Major Clans to listen to you? Then you need friends in the Major Clans. I’ve saved you this step because I do have friends in the Major Clans. They do not use me and they do not treat me like an inferior. I trust each and every one of them with my life and more importantly, my honor. They will listen to me and their Clans will listen to them.”
“A winner of the Topaz Championship is not easily ignored,” Yuki added.
Akino mumbled something but fell into silence.
“Now, honorable samurai,” Shintaro said. “Tell me, do wish to join our cause and strengthen the standing of your Clan? Who is with me?”
They all raised their hands, even Akino.
Yuki sat back and smiled as she watched them work through all the boring details. The hard part was over. She hadn’t even had to step in, really. Shintaro did it and no one else.
It was well after sunset when they finally left the embassy. They walked side by side through the streets in no hurry to return to their lodgings.
“You were amazing, Shintaro.”
“I appealed to their honor, just like I said.”
“It’s just that some samurai confuse honor with worldy gain.”
Did Shintaro just say that?
Perhaps his fog of honor wasn’t so opaque after all.
To be continuned next week: http://monsterhunternation.com/2014/06/27/the-drowning-empire-episode-57-letters-from-second-city/