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
Last week Zach Hill told part of the story from the perspective of his character’s serving girl. Not to be outdone, this week’s episode gets a little weird as Pat Tracy tells part of the story from the perspective of his character’s horse. Bear with me, because it is awesome. :)
We went into the wooden prison and across the long water. The others were frightened, but I was not. The men atop came with us, and sometimes they came to see us, so that we would not forget their faces. The old man brushed me sometimes. We ate, but poorly. Our legs grew weak, and there was no day, no night, no field in which to run. One of the men made terrible noises for a long time. It seemed as if someone was pulling his innards out, or that he had caught a foot in a hole and was trying to bite the leg off to escape. This eventually faded, and things grew quiet.
Later, there was the sound of much battle and shouting, but we were not part of it, and my spirit ached to rush against enemies. This, too, passed.
The prison began to shake and move much harder. The sound of the others screaming was difficult to stand, but I did not lose myself and join them. I could not bear it. Just as the men atop have their ways, I must have mine.
The purple man came, and his words had power. They were good, and all of us felt much better, though the wildness of the prison’s movement were so awful that it was hard to know which direction the sun once shined. The walls of the prison began to collapse, but a few of the men atop pushed them shut and held them. The long night of terrible trashing finally grew still, but our hooves were deep under salty water by then. I felt that the prison would fill up, and that we would drown. Perhaps the purple man and the old man would, as well. I did not wish for this to happen, but I was not able to change things.
The water slowly got worse, but the prison stopped moving at last. We were let out on flat land for many days. We did not see our men atop much, but having a stable that was not kept darkened and shaken back and forth was good. Eating fresh hay was also good.
Soon enough, though, we were made to go back into another one of the wooden prisons, this one bigger than the other. Some of the others balked and fought, but this was shameful. I went to my trial with head high and mane shaking in the sun, as is proper.
The time within the wooden prison was long. I know that I chewed through three hitching rails during our second journey. I came to doubt that I have ever been elsewhere, that I had ever seen the sun or galloped across the open land, the clean scent of the desert after a rain filling my nose. It became hard to remember that I was a horse, not a rat or a mole.
When the light finally came in and we were allowed up, many of us were too weak to leap to freedom. I was not. I jumped from the wooden prison and onto the wooden road, then onto the real land. In that moment, I remembered everything, and was a horse once more.
The air was thick and wet and hot. Every tree and every bush smelled and looked different. I knew that I was far from where I had been. Everything was unfamiliar. The people here were different, as well, their decorative skin not like what I was used to seeing, the sound of their language foreign.
It did not matter. I was free again, and though my legs shivered and my muscles ached from being still so long, I would be strong again.
I had been so long away from the lands of the purple men that I was used to being the only Hontō no uma, the only true horse present. There were purple men here, though, and some of them had brought my brothers and sisters with them to this distant place. I felt the fire rush inside me, and wanted to bite and kick the other horses to show my strength. The man atop and the old man would not allow this, though I did so when they were not present, when I was able. I am a true horse, and it is this way with us. Were there no men atop, we would go to battle alone.
The town on the coast was small, and soon we were away, into the strange forest. Unknown sounds were all around. I saw animals hanging in the trees that were like little hairy men. They hooted and screeched at us as we passed. Birds swooped in the branches and called out to each other. I could not see far, but I could smell large beasts, things filled with fangs and made of hunger.
Though the land was not known, and danger was all around, it was good to be on the road, with the man atop and the old man, and all the others. I had come to like the Han uma, the half horses, and the sound of their men atop was comforting. I liked the big one who laughed much and chattered on like a squirrel on a branch all day. I liked the one who had died a torturous death on the first journey, but had come back from death.
The man atop put his heels against my flanks and we went forward on the trail. There was a predator somewhere. I could smell him. Something huge, something that hungered for horse meat.
There was a blur, then I felt something against me, leaping on the man above. It was so fast, so big. My hooves left the ground and I felt myself fall, my belly exposed. The pungent smell of the creature filled my nose, the view of its striped hide so near me. I heard my man atop fall hard, the wind cough out of him.
Then the other men atop were there, all around, their weapons cutting the air. There was a roar and growl, then the sound of their metal hitting flesh, as I had heard before. The sound of it made me rise, made me burn for the battle and the charge, like we had done for all those dry, hot seasons in the past.
Blood splashed against the ground, against my foreleg, and it was done. I kicked at the striped thing, but they pulled me away. It was too late to prove that it had only been surprise that allowed it to knock me down, something that had never happened before. I was filled with anger. I wanted to go away from these stifling forests where things could hide and rush and ambush. I wanted the open land I knew before, the dust rising from the dry plains, the horizon to race.
The land opened up at last. We were able to go faster, but the men atop would not let us run. Sometimes my man atop would let me go ahead, but then we would have to come back for the others.
There was a day when the sound of my brothers came to me. Many many. I was glad within, but also wondered what would happen. Could I best these new horses? Would they be greater than I?
When they drew close, I let my head dip and looked at the earth. Some of them were Kyōdaina uma, the mighty horses. These I knew from my youth, knew I could not best in strength, even if they were not so swift as I. The Kyōdaina uma. This meant that we were again in the lands of the purple men. The smell of the mighty horses filled me, and there were mares among them. One, the largest and strongest, threw aside one of the half horses with a brush of her chin. I feared her, but wished for her also. The muscles on my flanks tensed and quivered. The Kyōdaina uma mare would soon be in season. She would never allow me to do what any stallion wished to do, but the scent of her drove me mad.
It was good that the group soon turned, and that I was far from her. It was good that, when we got to the city of the purple men, I was in an different stable.
The more I looked at the huge gray thing, the less I understood what it was. It was old, its skin hanging and wrinkled, and its huge head misshapen, with flopping ears. It seemed to have a snake attached to its head somehow. And it was the largest living thing I had seen. If it had been swift and agile, I would have taken affront to its existence. Because it was ponderous, a sad and clumsy creature, I chose to feel pity for it and otherwise ignore its presence.
The man atop came back from the noisy market with a boy for me to have. It was a happy day. I now had both an old man and a boy to care for me. The boy, being small, did a much better job of brushing my legs and forelocks than the old man, who didn’t like to bend down for very long. The old man gave the boy an apple. I approved. He gave me an apple as well.
I did not see the men atop for many days. I was able to break free of my stall and fulfill a stallion’s role a few times before there was a lot of shouting, and the old man came to take me back. Purple men with tools made banging sounds around my stall for a time after that, and made it so that I was unable to kick to door down again.
We left the city with many other riders, most on true horses or Kyōdaina uma, the alluring great mare among them. At last, they let us run. We went far across the land, and we traveled fast. It was like the days when I was not yet grown. It was like the memories from all the ones who came before, the herd-dream that we all feel in our bones and skin and blood.
The people came in the other direction, running, smelling like fear and death. I felt the man atop tense, felt him gather and flex his thighs around me. There would be a fight.
Then we were galloping, even faster than before. Enemies rushed us. I moved as the man atop wanted, and I could hear the sound of thrumming. I could smell blood and hear screams. I stepped on a fallen enemy and his innards burst from his sides.
It was over in a moment, and we carried on, galloping again.
The place in the high pass appeared. The smell of something wet and evil came. I could see a man-thing that was not of blood and bone, a not-right thing. There were many. We galloped past the first group of them, where the Kyōdaina uma and their women atop fought.
I rushed hard and jumped. The water of a small river was under me, and then I was on the other side. My man atop made his war sound, and I rushed, turned, stopped. He made his thrumming noise, and feathers appeared in one of the enemies. We bolted away before they could attack.
I could feel the man atop’s legs on me, and they told me where to go, when to stop, when to wheel. The thrumming death sound happened again and again. Men grew feathers where there had been none, and crumpled to the ground.
We leaped over a wall and into the midst of enemies and frightened people. There were many dead, their necks open and their blood in puddles on the ground. One of the enemies was in front of me, and I reared, catching him with both Hooves and knocking him down. I could feel his body break as my rear hooves smashed his chest bones in.
Another jump, another rush and turn. The sound of the man’s killing device, the feel of us running forward and back. The man atop was bold, and the enemies hit him with their cracking whips and their weapons.
The running went on and on. It lasted only a moment. Things were quiet at last, all the enemies dead, the man atop sagging in the saddle, the froth on my face and sweat upon my coat, the blood up to my belly from the fighting.
It was a good day. It was my favorite day since the wooden prison.
To be continued next week: