The Burning Throne, Episode 25: Night of Assassins

This week’s serial from Writer Nerd Game Night is by me and Paul Genesse. My guy, Makoto the delusional warrior, is still trying to hook up with the girl of his dreams, and had to make some hard choices about whether to be honorable or not. And then Paul’s prophetic Kuni madman saved the day.  

Continued from: 

Seventeenth Entry

From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan. 

I am furious. I write this in an attempt to clear my head and focus my thoughts, but I stare at this scroll as if I am about to enter combat. Truly, all I want to do is take up my tetsubo and kill… It does not even matter who, simply point me at an enemy and unleash me. Tamori Shimura would do nicely.

For the first time, I feel I understand the berserkers of my clan. O-Hinku is the berserker in our family, and I have never before grasped how her anger could fuel her so effectively in combat. Now I can see the appeal. Let it go. No pretensions of honor. No lies. There is only kill or die. Repeat.

There is a simple beauty in that.

But I will not give in to my anger. I will remain strong. I have a mission. The Fortunes have placed me on this path, and I am determined to see it through. I am pathetically unworthy of Otomo Yuni, but the Fortunes disagree. I am unworthy to serve Ide Todo, but this is where the Heavens have directed me. All I really want to do is smash Shimura’s face in and then burn Shiro Tamori to the ground, but I will refrain.

After the rage, there is duty. There is always duty.


Thoughts collected, I will attempt to record the events of the last few days. After speaking with Togashi Satsu, Ide Todo consulted with the astrologers. The constellations in the heavens draw away from each other. A strange darkness follows the moon. The sun is ahead of where it should be. I do not understand these things. Personally, I would think that since the sun is a Crab, then he should be ahead.

Apparently my harsh words against Togashi Satsu have brought dishonor to my name… The Dragon speak of honor, but they are quick to forget the other principles of bushido. Amongst the Crab, loyalty works both ways, and a wise leader serves his people, just as his people serve him. Satsu leaves his clan to burn. I do not expect him to go out and lead his army from the front. I am not so naive anymore to think that all leaders are warriors. Ide Todo does not fight, but he is a great leader.

The eyes of the starving refugees of the Dragon lands haunt my sleep. They need him, but he ignores their pleas. It may have been a breach of etiquette, but sincerity and honesty demanded I speak. Let them say that I am the uncouth Crab. I only had the courage to say what the Dragon have been afraid to say themselves.

For this I will accept their scorn. I am used to it.

We ate breakfast with Tamori Shimura. At the time, he was of no consequence to me, interesting only due to the purity of his hatred for the Phoenix. He is a young man, adopted by the Tamori daimyo. I do not think he has ever seen battle.

Several new samurai arrived and presented themselves to Ide Todo for membership in the Paper Lanterns. They told a tale of a magnificent battle against bandits, wherein one of their number, a Matsu deathseeker, was killed.

There was a Daidoji Iron Warrior of the Kakita family, who was so large and carrying a tetsubo that at first I thought he was a brother Crab. I know little of the Crane but this Kakita Fujo looks like a warrior rather than a tea sipping, flower arranging, geisha like the rest of them. But then I remember the Iron Warrior in Shiro Shinjo, and I had to break both of his arms and one of his legs before he quit fighting. Hopefully, Fujo will be of similar caliber.

Tamori Fubatsu is a melancholy swordsman. However, he is an acquaintance of Kuni Magatsu, and Magatsu-sama vouches for his dedication to the point that he asked Fubatsu to serve as his yojimbo. I think that is an excellent idea. As it turns out that I am not particularly suited for body guarding, since I prefer to be in the front, which is a terrible place to drag your shugenja. I was happy to see that Fubatsu is an accomplished musician, as the Lanterns could use some entertainment, but all he seems to play is sad songs.

Yoritomo Buwa… Hmmmm… I do not know. I thought he was a monk, and a particularly strange one at that, but the others said he could fight rather well, so I can find a place for him. Then he contemplated a peach for quite some time… so I am unsure where that place may be. Perhaps he can enlighten the Yobanjin to death.

Then there was a young Crab bushi of the Yasuki family. Boketsu is inexperienced, but I am always thankful for more Hida trained Crab. It is not a party until there are Crab. At least now I have someone to drink with. The idea of Magatsu drinking too much frightens me.

The final recruit was another Crane, and she appeared to be much more what I expected from the Crane than Fujo. Kakita Chiyoko is a tiny girl. I will be very surprised if she can fight at all. Ide Todo however, was very impressed at her credentials, and immediately took her on as one of his personal yojimbo. She was the Topaz Champion, which is apparently a rather prestigious addition to the Lanterns, and quite the compliment from the Crane. My understanding of the Topaz Championship is that it is a gempukku ceremony where a bunch of samurai children from privileged families recite poetry against each other and then duel with wooden swords. My gempukku consisted of being cast into the Shadowlands to wander through a hellish swamp of fire sludge, poison fog, tainted leeches the size of your fists, and trees that wept blood, until I managed to find a goblin to beat to death.

I will reserve my opinion of Chiyoko until I see how she fares in battle. Maybe she will surprise me.

After I got the new recruits settled in and introduced to the rest of the order, I received word that Ide Todo had been invited to lunch with Otomo Hoketuhime… This seemed to strike more fear into his heart than that time we’d fought the bloodspeaker.

Perhaps I should explain. I must remember that I do not know who may end up reading this journal after I am dead. Otomo Hoketuhime is the daimyo of the Otomo family, and as such, she is probably one of the most influential and powerful people in the Empire. She could crush Ide Todo like a bug and not even realize that he was stuck to the bottom of her sandal.

She is also to be my future mother in law, but she is not aware of that fact yet. It was up to Ide Todo to broach that subject with her. At the time, I had very high hopes. Those hopes were dashed when he reported back to me later…

Despite Magatsu-sama and I praying at the shrine to the Thousand Fortunes on Ide Todo’s behalf, lunch did not go well. Ide Todo returned, saying that he had good news and bad news. The good news was the he had not only survived, but that he might have even gained some small bit of favor for the Paper Lanterns with the noble Hoketuhime. This was even more interesting, since it was revealed that she was maneuvering herself to take the vacant throne and become empress.

The bad news was that she had offered Otomo Yuni’s hand in marriage to Tamori Shimura.

It is still very difficult to control my rage as I write these words. The Fortunes have commanded me to seek her hand. She is not aware of this yet, but Shimura will not thwart my destiny.

Ide Todo ordered me not to speak with or harm Shimura. He tried to explain how everything would work out, but all I could hear was an angry buzzing noise. A messenger then called Ide Todo away.

I am filled with despair. Kenzan said that I was a fool, that I was crazy, that my vision was a result of the oni breaking my skull… Is my brother right? Is this all for nothing? Am I wasting my time here while my brothers die on the Wall?

No. I must not think of such things.

I must stop writing. Dwelling on this only makes me want to murder Shimura. I will summon the men. We will spar. My current duty is to the bushi of the Paper Lanterns. May my frustrations help them train harder.


I pause to write this last brief note, mostly so that if my will fails during the challenge that I will shortly face whoever reads this scroll will know how I met my end. If this is the final entry, then it can be assumed that I have been killed by the Dragon Clan as a result of my murdering one of their daimyo’s sons.

I fought all of the Lanterns. They are as noble a group of warriors as any in the Empire. I am honored to serve with them. Our practice was interrupted by a messenger from Tamori Shimura, who spoke highly of my reputation as a soldier, and that then requested me to meet with Shimura for a sparring session.

Ide Todo told me not to speak with Shimura, but surely this is a sign. I have said a prayer, asking for wisdom. Is it the will of the Fortunes that I kill this man?

My only hesitation is that I do not wish to bring dishonor onto my order, my lord, or my clan, but I must face this challenge. I will use the courtly skills Ide Todo has taught me. I will speak with Shimura and try to understand what I must do. His responses will dictate whether he lives or dies, but he will not steal the woman that is to be my wife.

Having the excuse that I am to put on a display of the Hida bushi school, I have dressed in my armor, collected my weapons, and now I go forth to meet with the man that stands in the way of my destiny.

May the Fortunes guide my hand.


From the Private Journal of Kuni Magatsu, Crab Clan Shugenja

The Month of the Serpent at the Clan Stronghold of Shiro Tamori

Tasks to be done before Ide Todo meets with Otomo Hoketuhime today:

1. Tell Ikoma Katsu of the blue jar of tongues my master kept.

2. Ask the cook to prepare goat tongue for myself and Ikoma Katsu’s lunch.

3. Write letter absolving Tamori Fubatsu of any crime if he has to kill me.

4. Inspect all of the boulders in the garden suitable for killing a man

Fifth Entry Since Accompanying the Paper Lanterns

I’ve seen many young warriors die on the Wall and in the Kuni Wastes from wounds that should not have killed them. A graze from a goblin arrow or slight scratch from an oni’s claw turns deadly when the poison takes effect. Lingering death is no way for a Rokugani warrior to die. Give me a thrust through my chest or an avalanche of rock that crushes my bones and entombs me forever. I would much rather be buried alive than die from poison,

I will not stand by and watch when my friends and allies are brought low by such a dishonorable weapon as poison, and now the new Dragon Clan Daimyo, Tamori Shimura owes the Crab Clan his life twice over.

My friend, Hida Makoto saved him during an attack on Shiro Tamori, and I was fortunate to save him after the attack when he was dying from some rare poison that may be somehow connected to the Void, which was probably used by the Goju Takei assassins who attacked the castle.

The ritual to heal him took an entire day, as I bled all of the poisoned blood out of him and replaced it with some assistance from Dragon shugenja. Some type of toxic metal was inside him, but I was able to use leeches, magnetic stone, and most importantly, prayer, to find it and remove it from his esteemed personage. The Dragon family shugenja were afraid I was using blood to fuel the ceremony, but Maho had no part in what was done, and I taught the head of their shugenja the Kuni family spell how to Purge the Taint from a place. I knew the magic could not eliminate Taint from him if he were afflicted, but hoped the metal inside him would not be able to stay inside his blood.

Mountains of Praise to the Fortunes, as the young man, Tamori Shimura has been healed. It is my hope that he will become a strong leader for his clan, which has been weakened by the Yobanjin attacks and internal lethargy by their supposed champion, the Dragon of Somnolence, Togashi Satsu.

Now I have promised to help Shimura gain revenge for the deaths of his adopted parents, Tamori Shaitung, and Nakamuro, her husband. They were both slain in the attack though we do not yet know who is responsible. I suspect the Dark Oracle of Fire. Time will reveal the leader behind the assassins and I have faith that The Paper Lanterns will uncover the truth.

Lies are often more powerful than truth, and because of this fact we have recently accepted a member of the Scorpion Clan to our group. She is a young bushi and I trust that Shosuro Kage will have access to her clan’s vast information gathering network, which may help reveal many things. She has beautiful hands, but is far too young my tastes.

It is worth noting here that Ide Todo is becoming quite close to the Scorpion Bayushi Ejiro, and I hope this relationship will become one of mutual advantage. If the Scorpion betray us I shall curse their tongues and make them see the error of their ways. It would pain me to have to start a blood feud with them, as I very much enjoy their Geisha and their exceptional sake, but one must make sacrifices for the Emerald Empire.

Our time in Shiro Tamori has not been uneventful, but I am anxious to move on to the Phoenix lands. I know I will go there with the blessing of young Shimura. He is a fine young man, and as he lay dying I wondered if I should let him pass to the other side. If he were dead, my friend Makoto would not have to compete with him for the hand in marriage of Otomo Yuni. But this would be a stain I could never hope to wash away, though thankfully, the many stains on my black robes are hard to see.

Still, I see darkness around the Otomo family. They attract it to them and I don’t think a man like Shimura could withstand the onslaught of the dark forces if he married Otomo Yuni. She needs a much stronger husband, one who will not blow over in a stiff wind or fall victim to the scratch from a poisoned blade. I am almost certain that if Shimura marries Yuni he will be doomed.

My powers of prophecy are suspect, and I know of no other shugenja who sees the future in empty sake bowls, but I believe the Otomo family will always be under attack. They are cursed.

I also believe that Hida Makoto has not saved Shimura’s life for the last time. Makoto will do so again if he marries Otomo Yuni, and I intend to tell Shimura this before I depart the castle.

I cannot say how long Makoto will survive the marriage to Yuni, for the dark forces will come after him as well, but when they do come, he will be ready and a Crab’s shell is hard to crack.

My own future is hard to see, but if I have somehow survived the manipulations of the Shamesword of Penance, and the Oracle of Dark Fire, I will be at Makoto’s side, or rather running to catch up to him as he charges into combat.

I can only hope that before Makoto dies he will fill the womb of Otomo Yuni, for if my vision is correct, this child’s deeds will save the Emerald Empire from destruction.

I must tell Ide Todo of this so he can continue his work as Nakado for Makoto, and though I do not crave one, I must have another bowl of sake, for only the Fates and Fortunes know what future I will see in the bottom of the bowl.


Eighteenth Entry

From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan. 

Much has happened since I was last able to tend to this scroll. As I write the wind carries the stench of smoke through the city. Foul assassins fell upon Shiro Tamori, and though the Paper Lanterns fought well, the Tamori daimyo was murdered. I saved the life of my nemesis once, only to have him poisoned, and then Kuni Magatsu saved his life again. Shimura owes his life to the Crab twice over, and yet somehow as soon as I open my mouth I manage to make things worse again… I really should stick to killing. I am far better at killing than talking.

When last I wrote, I was about to leave to speak with Tamori Shimura. I can’t believe that was only a few days ago. When I first arrived in the sparring area of the castle, my urge was to simply break Shimura’s skull. However, such an action would bring shame upon the Paper Lanterns and Ide Todo, so I refrained and listened to his words.

The foolish boy wished for Ide Todo to be his nakado. He hoped that Ide Todo could arrange a more equitable marriage for him to the woman that I am supposed to marry. (not that Shimura was aware of such things, which is the only reason I did not crush him on the spot).  I told him that marrying Otomo Yuni was a bad idea. He did not understand, but before I could persuade him, I spotted shadows moving on the walls above us.

A Crab never hesitates to sound the alarm. Do you know what a watchman’s primary responsibility is on the Wall should a Shadowland’s attack happen? Scream before you die in order to warn your comrades.  Anything you manage to do after that is a bonus.

So I shouted for help, grabbed the foolish Shimura (who I am certain has never seen battle) and dragged him under cover. Several shuriken were hurled at us before I was able to get Shimura into the hands of the Tamori House Guard. He beseeched the earth kami to protect me from poison, and then I went ninja hunting. Now, some may say that ninjas are tales to scare children. Fabrications. I can tell you that they are not.

I killed several, and then gave chase to some that were carrying a prisoner. I expected it to be one of the many noble or important samurai staying at Shiro Tamori, but by the time I caught up, I discovered they had been carrying a servant to distract me from their real target. By the time I returned to where I’d left Shimura, his guards had been incapacitated, and he had been struck in the legs and poisoned.

Here was the man that was attempting to thwart my destiny, dying because of his own foolish weakness. It would have been so very easy to simply walk away… But I did not. If the Fortunes have placed a destiny before me, then I am certain they will provide a way for me to fulfill it that does not ask me to act in such a dishonorable manner. So I tended to Shimura’s wounds with my limited knowledge of field medicine (recently acquired from training with the Lantern bushi) and then carried him until I found one of the Tamori priests.

The castle was in a state of chaos. There were assassins everywhere. Just as I reached the courtyard, the great bell tower exploded. The concussion swept us from our feet, and fiery debris rained down on the grounds. Later, I would be told that Tamori Shaitung and her husband had been the cause of the explosion. Otomo Hoketuhime had been abducted by the ninja and taken to the bell tower. The Tamori daimyo had sacrificed herself to save Hoketuhime. Their deaths were most impressive.

Otomo Hoketuhime had to leap from a window, only to rescued by Kitsuki Tsuze of all people. Apparently, he had received word of the attack and had raced into the castle to help. I am impressed. I did not know he had it in him.

I would also learn later of the events that happened at the house provided to the Paper Lanterns. Akimi gave me a full report upon my return. One or possibly two mystical shadow creatures attacked the house in an attempt to kill Ide Todo and capture the shamesword. However the Lanterns fought with bravery and coordination, did their duty, and destroyed the shadow ninjas.

Ide Todo was wounded before the creature was destroyed. Kakita Chiyoko offered to commit seppuku for her failure in protecting him, but Ide Todo ordered her not to. That is wise. Seppuku of a perfectly good swordsman is a waste at this time. If you want to kill yourself, just walk north until you run into some Yobanjin, then do us a favor and take some of them with you in the process.

I learned that Magatsu had experienced some form of fit upon witnessing the explosion of the bell tower, and had begun to shake and foam at the mouth. Fubatsu was prepared to do his duty and execute Magatsu, but he confirmed that it was merely a form of ailment, and Magatsu had not fallen to the shamesword’s manipulations. Good. I like Magatsu. His fit caused one of the mystical assassins to underestimate him, and Magatsu summoned a large rock from the garden to smash the ninja into smoke. He made a real mess of the house in the process. There is quite the breeze in my room now.

While I was in the castle, a Scorpion arrived and petitioned for membership in the Paper Lanterns. Shoshuro Kage is a relative of Bayushi Ujiro. I do not trust Scorpions as far as I can throw them, but she is small, so I could throw her relatively far. Akimi told me that she performed well during the battle, and afterwards she was helpful in our investigation. As I have been judged so unfairly in my life, I will withhold judgment on Kage for now… But if I believe Scorpion trickery is putting the lives of my men in danger, then I will do what I must.

I found Kuni Magatsu and went with him to the castle. Tamori Shimura, who is now daimyo, was not recovering from the poison. It was like nothing the priests had seen before, and the Tamori are renowned for their alchemical skill. Tsuruchi Machio reported that the symptoms were very similar to what had caused the death of his own parents, and it was based in some form of corrupted metal in the blood.

Magatsu communed with the kami, only to discover that the metal poison was something completely beyond his understanding. Undaunted, Magatsu came up with an elaborate ritual to purge the poison from Shimura. We spoke privately, and Magatsu asked if I wished for Shimura to simply die. As a friend, he would do this for me… It was tempting, but I asked him to do his best. The ritual would take an entire day.

Over the rest of the night, we attempted to find clues as to the source of the assassins. I am not very useful in such things. Shiba Hikaru was murdered as well, so Tsuze and I went to check it out. We were denied entrance, and Ide Todo has cautioned me about threatening respectable people. Kitsuki Tsuze is very enthusiastic when it comes to investigation, so he suggested breaking into the shugenja clan’s compound. Luckily, I talked him out of it. Neither one of us is exactly stealthy, and I really do not want to be turned into a frog.

After a brief rest and inspection of the Paper Lanterns, I joined Magatsu at his healing of Shimura. When he said elaborate, he was not joking. (I do not know if Magatsu jokes). A team of Tamori healers had kept Shimura alive while our Kuni used leeches to suck all of the corrupted blood from Shimura’s body. Kanji made from the ashes of Shimura’s parents had been painted on his body, and the most sacred of spells were performed. Shimura was successfully healed. Even I was impressed.

Afterward, Magatsu, Shimura, and I went to a sake house to speak. Shimura was not yet aware of his new position or of his parent’s death. He is still a foolish young man, blinded by his hatred for the Phoenix. He is thankful for the assistance of the Crab and should prove to be a valuable ally for our Clan. Yet, when I broached the idea that he should concentrate on leading his people through this war, and not dwell on personal matters, he took that to mean that he should just hurry and marry Otomo Yuni to increase the standing of the Dragon.

At this point, I had to get up and leave, because I didn’t think Magatsu would appreciate going through an exhausting magical effort to save the life of this man, only to have me snap his neck like a twig.

It appears the Paper Lanterns must depart for Phoenix lands soon. I will go to the shrine again before leaving and ask the Fortunes for wisdom. Time is now of the essence. I must increase in glory and stature, and gain the favor of Hoketuhime, so that I am important enough to wed Otomo Yuni, and I must somehow do that before this political marriage occurs. Perhaps I should have let Shimura die, but I do not believe that is what they wish of me. Perhaps I was to be his death, and I was weak.

May the Fortunes guide my hand.


Coming next week, one of my absolute favorite pieces of fiction from this whole thing. Lessons from a Dojo of the Crab. It is awesome, flashing back and forth between ninja killing and Crab clan child abuse… err… training.  🙂 

An interview with me on the Otherwhere Gazette
BOOK BOMB today for Dave Butler

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