The Burning Throne, Episode 36: Magatsu at the All Mother

The events at the volcano known by the Yobanjin as the All Mother were a big deal in our campaign. We destroyed the sword, lost some of our characters.

Continued from:

We were in their base, killing their doodz. 🙂

This bit is by Paul Genesse, who plays the mad, terrifying shugeinja, Kuni Magatsu. If you’ve not read Paul’s novels, you really should give them a try. Here’s the first one in his epic fantasy series:

The Journal of Kuni Magatsu, Crab Clan Shugenja

The earth kami have abandoned me. They are teaching me the error of my shameful ways. I cursed at them when they failed to heed my repeated calls as I lay broken, enraged, and half-mad with pain on the rim of the volcano the barbarian tribes call the All-Mother.

Over and over again I entreated the kami to come and tear the mountain apart. I wanted them to crack the stone down to the roots where the magma waited for release. No less than five times I called to them, but they did not come, for they knew that my request was madness, and a shugenja in my mental state should not be listened to. If they had answered me, a terrible earthquake would have torn through the volcano and wrought devastation in the tunnels below, collapsing them and burying my enemies . . . and also killing the innocent women and children they had taken as hostages and slaves. It would have been a great shame, to kill so many, even though they were barbarians.

In my grand delusion I had seen tens of thousands dying after the volcano erupted. Tribes from all over the north who had gathered at the base of the mountain would have died in their camps. They would have been casualties of the All-Mother’s pent up anger, and would not be able to invade Rokugan.

But the Yobanjin are not the true enemies of Rokugan. They are pawns, manipulated by the servants of the Oracle of Dark Fire. We have met his minions and we shall meet them again. There is one we call the Branded Man, who bears many burn marks on his body and is nigh indestructible. He is our truest enemy now for we have spilled his blood and he has spilled ours. The Branded Man has chased us on the plains and tried to take the Shame Sword Penance from me, but we eluded him, for a time, and defeated his fire magic.

But we have tasted defeat at his hands. The Branded Man and his witches and fire sisters forced us to retreat from a chamber deep in the mountain where they used dark magic to create fire warriors that explode in flames when they die.

I would have died in that burning hot cavern, and perhaps I should have, but my loyal bodyguard, Tamori Fubatsu, made his way to where I lay wounded, and carried me on his shoulders to safety. My hip was shattered and blood pooled inside my thigh until the skin nearly burst. I wanted to call the kami to help heal me, but the injury and the witches lingering madness befuddled my mind. All I could think about was rage and murder.

I never should have gone into the fire chamber below the mountain without Fubatsu, my stalwart friend and bodyguard. Only the brave Fosuta Zuko and I infiltrated through the tunnels, leaving our other companions, Makoto, Fujo, Tsuze, and Fubatsu behind to deal with dozens of Yobanjin warriors, and to help free the hostages, mostly folk from the tribe of the Sky Riders.

Many weeks ago I promised to help the Sky Riders regain their stolen kinfolk if they helped us fight the Oracle of Dark Fire and his minions. They kept their part of the bargain and flew us to the volcano under the cover of darkness, helping us to bypass the camps of tens of thousands of warriors.

Much madness was in me once we entered the tunnels of that mountain. I hungered for slaughter and I crushed the skulls of Yobanjin. I now know that it was partially the Shamesword of Penance that caused me to leave my loyal bodyguard and go off alone with Zuko.

With Fubatsu gone, I could wield the sword with no risk of him killing me, as I had asked him to do if I gave in to temptation and picked it up. In the back of my mind, I must have wanted him not to accompany me.

I will never make that mistake again. What sane shugenja goes into the lair of dark witches and fire sisters without his yojimbo? I thought Zuko and I were to face three or four of them and rescue an important captive, but there were twice as many of the fiendish women, torturing one of the greatest heroes the Crab Clan has ever known: Hiruma Tadori. He lay bound on a stone table in the depths of their vile mountain on a small island surrounded by molten rock. They were branding him and chanting vile incantations when Zuko and I arrived. I fear they were going to turn him into a weapon of the Dark Oracle of Fire, make him into another Branded Man.

What pity I felt for this esteemed hero, brought so low. For many days we had searched for Hiruma Tadori on the plains north of Pale Oak Castle. He had been captured by the Branded Man and his followers. I wish we had searched for Tadori so we could simply free him, but this was not the case. We searched for him because he had to die.

Not for a crime, but for the salvation of the Emerald Empire. According to Togashi Satsu, the Champion of the Dragon Clan, Hiruma Tadori had to perish if the Shamesword of Penance was to be destroyed. Tadori was the last man to wield this Shamesword, and half of his soul was within the blade. Only when his soul was whole again inside the sword, would the metal become breakable. And if it fell into the hands of the Dark Oracle of Fire, it would doom the Empire. The sword had to be destroyed.

We had only one choice. Find Hiruma Tadori and ask him to commit seppuku. He himself had to wield the blade and take his own life. That was the only way for his soul to join with the sword and make it vulnerable to destruction. If one of us had used it to kill him, our own soul might fragment and render the sword indestructible yet again. With heavy hearts we began our search for a righteous and stalwart hero.

Weeks after we had begun our journey, Fosuto Zuko and I made our way to the place where Tadori was being tortured and branded by the fire witches. We launched our surprise attack, though we faced twice as many opponents as I thought were present. Boulders struck three of them and Zuko leaped across the pool of magma with strong magic the kami had provided to him through me. After a fight with a fire sister he was able to leap back with Tadori in his arms.

There was little time to explain, and I am forever saddened by this simple truth. The witches and fire sisters were coming for us and they would take the sword and Tadori back if we did not act. Even worse, Tadori was in terrible pain, as if removing him from the stone table was causing him to die before our wide eyes.

I put the Shamesword in his hands and aimed the blade at his solar plexus. I told him what he had to do. To save the empire he had to commit seppuku. He did not want to touch Penance again, and the sword resisted mightily this act, but Hiruma Tadori proved his quality and honored the Crab Clan, the way of Bushido, and all his ancestors. He plunged the sword into himself, and though I helped, as he was weak from his torture, he embraced death and jerked the blade into his abdomen making the ritual motions. He died knowing that the sword would be destroyed, his honor regained, and the Emerald Empire saved.

When Tadori’s spirit left his body the sword was afraid, but our task was not done. Zuko held off the witches and fire sisters singlehandedly. I did not know what to do. Smash the sword with my tetsubo as Hida Makoto was going to do? No, it was as if I had seen this before in a half-remembered dream, and I could hear the honorable leader of the Paper Lanterns, Ide Todo telling me to drop it in the lake of molten hot rock. Todo was correct, as he had read the histories of distant lands across the sea, and he knew the proper method for destroying objects of great power.

The Shame Sword had to return to the earth from whence it came.

I lifted Tadori’s body and the sword piercing him with a block of levitating stone and sent them both into the pool of lava. Penance and Tadori sank beneath the molten rock. The sword whispered to me for help and I taunted it one last time before it melted and was destroyed forever. I thought our contest of wills had come to an end. It was gone, and the Oracle of Dark Fire would not have this powerful nemuranai weapon. Rokugan would be saved.

Do I wish I had held Penance in my hand and wielded its power just once before it was destroyed?

Some rude samurai will ask me the answer to that question, and when I am hobbled by old age and too many battle injuries, I will write about my thoughts on wielding Penance; but let it be known to all that I am a Kuni of the Crab Clan. My ancestors have guarded the Kaiu Wall for centuries and we raid the Shadowlands to prove our worth. We enjoy carrying the tetsubo into battle, but we do not need weapons in our hands to kill our enemies.

I know that I will be asked why I have a limp, and in the likely event that I do not live to be an old man, I shall record that detail here and now. After the body of the Hiruma Tadori and the Shamesword slipped into the lava, our enemies came for revenge.

Zuko and I were outnumbered. They attacked his mind, and he fell prey to their spells, as I soon would as well. I thought Zuko and I were escaping our enemies together, our task done, but Zuko struck me down from behind as the witch’s rage spell controlled his mind.

I would have died but for a small piece of obsidian that I carried in a pouch on my hip. The kami told me I should carry it into the volcano and it saved my life. Zuko’s tremendous blow would have hit me in the back of my spine, but instead, he struck me and broke my right hip. The bones shattered into splinters, but I was alive, barely, as the Fates had other plans for me, and so did the witches. I had resisted them many times, and the Shamesword too, but as I lay hurt they broke through my defenses and if I could have, I would have killed Zuko right there.

Thankfully, I was too weak and collapsed. I was in agony and angry at Zuko until we escaped that terrible place. The injury kept me from summoning the kami as I had planned and destroying the mountain with an earthquake. A hundred thousand people may have died if I had been successful and caused an eruption of the mountain. Instead, the tribe of Skyriders led by the barbarian chief, Naraan carried me and my friends to safety. So filled with rage, I did not want to go, but the kami were not listening to me, and for this I am thankful.

I would have carried the shame of what I had done into the next life and beyond. My karmic debt would have set me back a thousand lifetimes had Zuko not struck me. He feels guilty for what he did, but what is a limp in one life compared to paying penance in a thousand more? That vile sword did not win, but I shall feel its bite for the rest of my days.

I know what I must do now. I must be cleansed at the mountain shrine behind Pale Oak Castle. I must pray for five days, fasting and asking the earth kami for forgiveness. If they will return to me, I will become an earth shugenja once again. If not, it will be time to begin my new life. My only hope is that when I am reborn, I will be born as a Crab.

To be continued next week, when we begin the epic battle to defend Pale Oak Castle. 

You didn't make that

2 thoughts on “The Burning Throne, Episode 36: Magatsu at the All Mother”

  1. I’d say it sounds like an “Angry Man’s Guilt Trip” combined with a good bit of proper soul searching. Also, isn’t there a rule about going into combat against the bad guys without back-up? I’m pretty sure it’s something as simple as ‘don’t do it’.
    Looking forward to the next episode and just wondering how many of the previous characters we have met will be involved.

  2. Hmm….. sounds ominous… tell you what, Paul. You don’t kill off my boy, and I’ll buy one of your books. 🙂

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