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 Paul Genesse. If you’ve read my story in the Kaiju Rising anthology, you now know where the story of the Great Sea Beast and the drunken samurai archer came from. 🙂
From the Personal Journal of Akodo Toranaka
My time as the Lion Clan Ambassador in Second City has come to an end. My good friend and ally, the esteemed Matsu Hachiro has been given the position, though I have retained my rank and privileges. Akodo Shukan Hisao will remain with Hachiro as his retainer, and I know they will perform their duties with honor and competence. The treaty of support I have made with the Minor Clan Alliance, led by the Sparrow Clan, will undoubtedly be finalized by Hachiro, and the network of informants in Second City who will someday give up information on the Kolat will be further cultivated. The recruitment of new White Tigers will also go forward, as we seek to replenish the ranks and grow the size of our order. These duties will be done by Hachiro-san now.
My superiors at home in Rokugan have decided my skills are needed elsewhere. Tonight I learned what has been decided. I received a message to meet outside the White Tiger memorial shrine at midnight. I went in full armor and arrived along with Tamori Isao and Yoritomo Oki.
Doji Shunya was also present when we arrived. He is a White Tiger brother, and a brilliant swordsman. His presence was not entirely a surprise, and a welcome development. Without Subotai-san with us, I believe we are in desperate need of a samurai of Shunya’s skill with a blade. His connection in the Crane clan also make him invaluable to us.
The message to meet had come from my superiors in the Shogunate, but I was shocked when Bayushi Kuronobo-sama himself appeared. I had no idea he was in Second City. He informed us that the area around the White Tiger shrine had been secured and that the Fortunes themselves had brought us to this moment. We who were present had been called together to face yet another threat to the empire, and face it now. Kuronobo also informed us that a previously unknown to me Scorpion Clan bushi, a man named Bayushi Kenshiro would also be joining our group of chosen champions. The Fortunes had ordained this.
I admit, I was taken aback by this development. I respectfully questioned Kuronobo-sama, unafraid of insulting him about this order to invite an unknown man into our inner circle of brothers. Kuronobo-sama vouched for Bayushi Kenshiro, and was concerned I might kill this man for what I assume was some future betrayal. Kuronobo ordered me personally to make a vow to not harm the mysterious Bayushi, and I swore on my Akodo ancestors, and my honor, that I would not harm him-myself. I pray I will not regret this promise to Kuronobo. If this Bayushi does betray us, I will let my displeasure be known. If the Bayushi spy is challenged to an honorable duel I do not believe I am honor bound to prevent it. I am certain Shunya would relish such a chance to strike a blow against the Scorpion and antagonize Kuronobo. I shall not advocate for this, as we need all the swords we can get as there is a war with the gaijin coming. I have made all the preparations possible, and a Lion expedition is being organized to go over the land route the Unicorn have patrolled to Rokugan in the north. I know a blow will come there soon enough. A storm of steel and lead is brewing.
Last night, the winds of chaos began to blow. During our meeting in the courtyard, a disturbance was heard inside the White Tiger shrine. I entered the building and found a ragged beggar lifting Ikoma Uso-san’s no-dachi from the weapon rack under his blessed memorial. I felt molten rage at this horrendous offense to the memory of my deceased friend. I drew my sword and leaped to kill the thief. I stopped my strike a hair’s breadth from the burglar’s neck, for I heard him speak and recognized a voice from the grave.
Ikoma Uso appears to be alive.
Though I do not know if the man I met last night is indeed the Ikoma Uso I once thought I knew, or something much worse, which is hard to fathom. Have the Lords of Death sent back a revenant for some nefarious purpose?
I wish I had never found and read Uso’s journals. The man I thought him to be before his noble sacrifice at the Battle of the Waterfall Temple is not the one I discovered in his personal writings. I look at him now and I know he has been twisted by some dark influence long before I met him at the Topaz Championship.
The Lion Shadow are a valuable and essential weapon of our clan, but I wonder if Uso’s mind has crossed into Jigoku on far too many occasions. I was counseled to overlook some of the strangeness about him years ago by my father, but I cannot overlook it now. He has considered how to best kill me and my friends in his personal journal, if we were to become troublesome to him. Could his murderous tendencies be corrupted by our enemies and used against us in the future? To whom does he owe allegiance now? Who sent him back?
I saw one of the Lords of Death rise up beside Uso when we fought the Rakasha Tiger demon. I thought Byung-Chul had summoned the deathly power, but I know it was Uso alone. He is their Champion. He frightened the Rakasha demon with his aura of terror. Uso frightens me now.
The man who says he is Uso speaks little to us. Isao-san has said it is indeed Uso, having verified some secret only Uso knew about, something not in the journals. He sounds like Uso, but this man does not look like our friend. He is scarred and disfigured, his face half destroyed and now covered by a mask to spare people the horrific sight of him. The explosion which caused the defeat of the Destroyers has turned Uso’s body into a ghastly creature of ugliness. His frightening visage matches the soul I believe may be inside him.
Time will tell, but Oki, Isao and I are very concerned. We lost Subotai, and Shintaro has other responsibilities now and is unable to journey with us. This is the most vulnerable I have felt since losing my arm.
I feel like the heart of our group has been destroyed, and our friends have been replaced by an honorless killer, a mysterious scorpion, and a Crane duelist who would like nothing better than to test his skill against Kuronobo himself-damn the repercussions to the Empire.
Shunya insulted Kuronobo overtly during our meeting, and I do not trust that the pride of this deadly Crane will become a liability in the future. His own quest to become the best duelist in Rokugan may get in the way of the mission to save the Emerald Throne.
Right now I feel I can only trust Oki-san and Isao-san. The three of us are united in our unease about the reappearance of Uso, gone all these months, and the forced inclusion of the Scorpion bushi in our midst. Bayushi Kenshiro says little and hides behind his mask. I have a sense he is avoiding us, me in particular. He and Uso seem to have some connection, as if they know some secrets only they are privy to. I do not trust this alliance.
It is not proper for me to question the will of the Fortunes, nor my superiors. We are samurai brought together for a purpose. All of us our killers of exceptional quality, and we have been destined for great deeds since birth. I think perhaps it is best if we all perish from our wounds after saving the Empire. Then the secrets would die with us and our honor would be preserved.
A samurai must endure all hardships, but I find myself in quicksand now. I fear that with my one arm I will have to choose to hold onto my honor or let it go and drag myself from the muck and save the Empire.
I shall do what is best for Rokugan and follow my orders. I wish I felt differently about this new development and these companions I do not fully trust. I now feel like I am not the Angry Lion or the Headsman of White Tiger Fame, or the respected Ambassador of the Lion Clan in Second City. I feel alone. Without Subotai I am truly a samurai with one strong arm. I wish my best friend had survived more than anything now. I also wish Uso had stayed dead.
From the Personal Journal of Akodo Toranaka
The weight of my desires are not important. Shunya, Kenshiro, Uso, along with Oki, Isao and I have come together for a purpose. Kuronobo has told us the dreaded Sea Monster we have heard rumor of has appeared near Kalani’s Landing, as have several ironclad gaijin ships. We will go there now to do battle. Oki has a fire in him like I have not seen for some time. He will not be denied this chance to slay the beast that killed his father.
I have urged Oki-san not to advocate the commitment of the entire fleet of Mantis ships to fight this monster. I saw the Red Hunger in the jungle. It is the kin of this Sea Monster and cannot be defeated with any number of ships. The Mantis fleet must not be destroyed, or Rokugan will starve.
Oki does not appear to be concerned with this and we travel south on the river to Kalani’s Landing as quickly as possible. Admiral Naota is following us and we have secured his support.
From the Personal Journal of Akodo Toranaka
Kalani’s Landing is a burning ruin. The Sea Monster has attacked hours before we arrived. My fears have been realized and most of the Mantis fleet is destroyed, as is much of the town and the all important docks and warehouses. The dead seem to outnumber the living. The gaijin have been reported to be in control of the Sea Monster, manipulating it with the use of an ancient artifact. They possess a giant horn that when blown allows them to direct the beast.
We have seen the footprints of the kaiju on the beach and in the town. One print is the size of a large house. Swords do not appear to be a viable weapon, but we must fight it somehow, as the Sea Monster and the Gaijin are still close and may return.
We have had a war council with Admiral Naota and the only tactic I could suggest is capturing the device which controls the monster. Four ships will sail after the enemy and we will assault the metal gaijin ship and take possession of the horn.
From the Personal Journal of Akodo Toranaka
Despite the truly incompetent sailing of the Mantis ships accompanying The Friendly Traveler, we have found some measure of victory. We boarded the ironclad en masse after Isao used a fog cloud to hide our approach in the early morning hours. Two of our four ships failed to come alongside the ship and were destroyed by gaijin canon. They had apparently run into each other in the fog, despite our preparations. We attacked with one fourth, and then finally half of the strength I had anticipated.
Two ships full of angry Mantis samurai did get onboard and slew many of the enemy. I managed to kill the gaijin captain and helped Shunya slay a powerful gaijin wizard, who we later found out was the one in command of the Great Sea Beast. Shunya’s courage was inspiring to me and together we make a potent team of swordsmen. I believe there is no swordsman who could survive an attack by both Shunya and myself. If Daidoji Masafuni were with us, we would be nearly unstoppable. In the battle Masafuni became separated from me as I took far too long to climb the net and get aboard the ship. My one arm hindered me greatly in the climbing, but when I got onto the ship, I found myself in familiar territory. Kill quickly and live.
I also managed to capture an important prisoner named Salazar, who appears to have been an assistant to the wizard. I have sworn on my honor that he will be well treated if he cooperates with us. The information he possesses might be the difference in the coming war. He has a choice now. Live as a rich man in Rokugan until the end of his days, or die as a dog after the torturers extract whatever information they can. Salazar seems to be a smart man. We shall see.
It was a short and intense battle. The horn that controlled the Sea Monster was captured by Shunya and I, but proved to be useless. Salazar could not use it adequately, and we could not use it because the horn had been damaged in the fight. A large bullet hole has perhaps forever altered the sound it makes.
We failed several times to soothe the monster as it approached the Friendly Traveler, where we had brought the large horn. Our attempts to blow it only enraged the Great Sea Beast, which was rising from the depths to attack us. It seemed we had no chance to survive the coming onslaught, as the creature was a hundred times the size of our ship. We had won the battle against the ironclad vessel and her crew, but the vengeance of the gaijin might destroy us after all. For what chance did we have of killing such a monster? It was beyond us, an aquatic God, while we were the nothing more than ticks on a dog.
Unknown to all of us, Oki-san had a secret weapon. When Kuronobo met with us, Tsuruchi Futoshi, my former scribe, brought Oki a rare and powerful arrow. The tip had been crafted from the horn of the leviathan used to enslave the Sea Monster long ago.
As the Sea Monster neared our ship, Oki-san stood calmly at the prow of our ship, while much of the crew lost their face, screamed in terror and a few leapt over the side as the Great Sea Best rose from the depths. It’s gigantic eye fixed on our ship.
Tamori Isao prayed to the Water Dragon then, and I urged him on. Isao had been visited by the divine emissary of the Celestial Heavens before our departure, and Isao-san begged for his intervention now. Oki-san and all of us needed his help or we would die. Isao is strong. He has been chosen, like all of us, and I believe my friend will be the difference in this coming war.
I also predict that Captain Yoritomo Oki-san will become the most famous archer and ship captain of our time. As the monster approached us, Oki-san shot his arrow, tipped with the horn of a leviathan of the deep. The shaft penetrated one of the Great Sea Beast’s eyes and hit some vital spot inside its brain. The Water Dragon must have guided Oki’s shot, once again proving the Fortunes and the Gods are watching over us and our Empire.
The arrow penetrated deeply and the creature wavered. It began to fall toward us and though it was dead or dying, I feared the monster would still take our lives. The helmsman had abandoned his post and our ship was in grave danger. I seized the wheel and turned the ship directly at the monster. We caught the wind and the ship turned. I knew the wave coming would overturn the boat unless we met it head on. Even if we did that, we might all drown as the tsunami sized wave sped toward us.
We rode up and over the Great Sea Beast sized wave and when we had come down the other side of the mountain of water, some men had fallen overboard, others were broken as they were flung against the rails. Oki still stood in the front of the ship.
We went to him and I offered Oki-san a flask of his favorite sake, Angry Bear. I had one hope when he accepted it, and Oki did not disappoint me. His hand did not shake when he lifted the flask and poured out the sake into the sea. Perhaps he will never drink alcohol again. His demon was slain, by his own hand. The monster which had killed his father and haunted his nightmares for over a decade was gone. I have never been more proud of Oki then at that moment when we let the sea drink the sake.
Oki’s hands do not shake now. He does not need sake any longer, and it has been a full day since the slaying of the Great Sea Beast.
We made it ashore in the Crane Clan holdings after picking up the gravely wounded Admiral Naota and many sailors from the sea. The Crane have welcomed us now, Shunya’s influence changing their attitude quite significantly. There is also some talk of a new trade deal Shunya has arranged. I see wheels within wheels moving behind Shunya’s eyes. He is an astute tactician and I hope he will become my greatest ally.
When we left the Friendly Traveler I followed Uso to a sake house where Oki had gone. He did not drink a drop, but ate noodles and drank tea by himself. We all listened to Uso, the first bard to tell the tale of our battle. Countless others will repeat it I have no doubt. Uso told of Oki’s deeds with same Ikoma skill he possessed before. The crowds do not look at him with a favored eye as they did before he was disfigured, but they listen closely, enraptured by his voice. The best storytellers always seem to make their audience a little uncomfortable and afraid, and Uso does this better than anyone I have ever heard. Does everyone unconsciously sense his connection with the Lords of Death? Does their fear of Uso make them want to listen to his every word, which they hang upon as if each line is air to breathe?
Many will forget all the heroic deeds done that day when Mantis samurai along with my friends, Shunya-san, Isao-san, Uso-san, Kenshiro and I boarded a gaijin ship, but they will not forget about Captain Oki-san. What a thousand warships could not have done, Oki-san did with one arrow.
To be continued next week: http://monsterhunternation.com/2014/10/03/the-drowning-empire-episode-64-conflict-in-heartbeats/