The Drowning Empire, Episode 3: With the Nod of a Head

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 place, along with additional game related information, here is the L5R forum:

Today’s episode was written by Steve Diamond.

Steve is playing Ikoma Uso. Most samurai think of the Ikoma as the bard and historian family of the extremely honorable and tradition bound Lion clan. However, the Ikoma have other duties as well, and a very small group of them are trained in the arts of espionage.

Our first few sessions took place at the Topaz Championship, a competition of the best young samurai in the empire competing to show their worth.

Little did the other players realize that Uso actually had a secret mission to complete during the championship. Akodo Tetsuru is the youngest son of the Lion Clan Champion, 4th in line of succession, and for some unknown reason Uso has been tasked with keeping Tetsuru from winning the prestigious champsionship, and he must do so in secret. The reason becomes apparent quickly, when a brief conversation reveals Tetsuru to be a violent sociopath, and the elders of his clan do not wish for him to receive any more glory and importance than neccesary. Uso’s work is cut out for him.

Uso is also haunted by the spirit of his ancestor, Ikoma Satsujin, but you’ll get to know him more later.   

Continued from:


With the Nod of a Head

It is amazing how much can be accomplished with just the nod of a head, Ikoma Kage thought. The Ikoma Clan Tei-yotogi sat comfortably in the stands surrounding the field where the Grand Melee was progressing.

And progressing well at that, he thought with a smile.

The morning was cool, and the noon-day sun had yet to reach the young hopefuls of the Topaz Championship. On further reflection, the Lion decided that the coolness he felt was limited to the stands. Down there on the field, the contestants would be sweating, bleeding…and likely one or two would even be pissing themselves. No one would notice. It was of no consequence.

The Melee was a cruel but insightful way to start the Topaz Championship. Many of these young samurai had never even witnessed this may people in one location, much less having even fought with any degree of seriousness. Fortunes take me, he thought with a smirk. There’s even a Sparrow here.

The Melee had begun in terrible fashion for the Lion. The random draw had placed them all in terrible places. Unlucky that, but then it was a samurai’s responsibility to create his own luck.

His master’s pupil was the focus of Kage’s attention. Before the Melee, Ikoma Uso had spoken with Akodo Goro’s son, Toranaka. Kage had been unable to approach closer under his disguise as a normal clan samurai, but he had read his pupil’s lips with clarity.

I will have your back, brother, Uso had said with a hand on the shoulder of Toranaka. We will bring glory to our Clan like our fathers before us. Perhaps we will even cross bokken for fun when the rest are down.

Kage had liked that, and his Daimyo, Ikoma Hagio, would like it even more. Confidence. It was a trait that had been nurtured in the young Lion after his father, Katsu, had committed seppuku in protest of the vile Spider.

Uso was no normal bard. He could tell a story—typically laced with so much outlandishness that it was near impossible to tell the truth from the embellishment. Just like his father there. But he had trained hard with a katana, bow, and no-dachi.

I will let the world know that the Ikoma are not only for stories, sensei, Uso had said with complete seriousness. The next moment he grinned. But have no doubt that I will compose a story that will make the Fortunes applaud.

The melee had begun for his pupil before the event had officially commenced. Uso was in a bad spot, and would likely leave the melee early unless he did someth—

With the nod of his head, Uso directed Akodo Tetsuru’s attention to the Crab at the Akodo’s left. Uso then said something to his neighbors and received nods of affirmation. Suddenly the space around the Ikoma was larger, and no one was paying much attention to him. Kage laughed at that, and the Lion around him gave him odd looks.

To them I am no one, he thought smiling. Just another Clan samurai here to cheer on the contestants. Some among the other clans would consider his disguise dishonorable, but what did they know of honor? They bowed and scraped. They fought in irrelevant duels. They talked. But did they have the courage to see what life was like amongst their inferiors? Would they listen to the teeming masses whose decisions were not made solely based on whether their robes were appropriate? No. But few understood that pragmatism. Kage did. The student, Uso did.

The crowd of Lions—the Championship’s second largest contingent behind the hosting Crane—roared their approval as Akodo Tetsuru knocked another from the melee. It was his second in mere moments. Uso was…running?

While everyone was focused on their individual battles, Uso was sprinting across the field, no-dachi in hand. He raised a hand and signaled to an archer on the other end of the field. Yoritomo Oki—obviously drunk though it wasn’t even midday—drew an arrow from his quiver and loosed in a single motion…

…catching the Hiruma hopeful in the neck. The tip of the arrow was blunted, but it would be painful nonetheless. Two other Mantis had joined together and were chasing after the Ikoma, but no one else paid his student any mind. It was as if they were so focused on the perceived threats, that they didn’t stop to look at the real ones.

The promising Akodo Toranaka had joined with a motley group of other samurai to hold a corner of the field. Leave it to the son of Goro to look for an early ally and strategic field. On the other end Tetsuru was devastating his foes. The Lion crowd cheered again as he rendered another foe unconscious. Kage tsked.

You’re not supposed to maim them you fool.

Uso slipped sequential attacks from his Mantis pursuers while Toranaka’s alliance sent the bleeding, Fortunes Cursed Spider from the contest.

Should have maimed him…

Then Uso was within the lines of the alliance. Around him the battle waged on, but Uso took no part. The Ikoma centered himself and watched as the other contestants were taken apart by Tetsuru, the Alliance, or Bayushi Sakai. Tetsuru dispatched the Mantis with ease and was turning his attention to Uso’s group.

With the nod of his head and a shout, Uso then misdirected Tetsuru’s wrath on Sakai who was charging from behind. The Lion cheered even louder at that. Lion helping Lion in the melee. Kage chuckled again, but no one noticed. How easily the crowd misunderstood.

Ikoma were known for their ability to control a crowd with their words, but no one seemed to think they could do so in battle. They are just bards, the other Clans said laughing. They’d sooner control a bar or pleasure house than a battle.

What the other Clans didn’t realize was that it was all the same.

All the while, Uso stayed centered, observing the battle around him.

The final bell rang.

The final eight.

Three Lion among them.

His Clan shouted their encouragement to Toranaka andTetsuru—they were the warriors after all—and began placing bets on who would be the last standing. There were even a few that gave grudging respect to Toranaka’s Unicorn ward as the barbarian bellowed his challenge to Tetsuru.

Uso stayed centered.

The Ikoma held his no-dachi at the ready and nodded to Toranaka then pointed at Tetsuru. Then Uso was moving towards the other courtiers and shugenja. Uso dodged an arrow from the laughing Yoritomo Oki. Uso saluted with his own laugh.

The Sparrow was the next to fall.

Uso sped in behind the falling Minor Clansman, shrugged off another arrow, pivoted, and slammed his wooden no-dachi into the Mantis once, then twice. The strikes were swift, merciless, but pulled just enough to prevent any real damage.

The Yoritomo withdrew after Uso helped the archer to his feet.

The Lion in the crowd were suddenly paying attention to this bard.

Uso’s next strike drew an audible oomph from Tamori Isao. The Dragon fell, then was also helped up by the young Ikoma. Uso laughed, and loudly proclaimed he would buy the Dragon a drink after the match.

Tetsuru hammered again and again on the Unicorn. The Unicorn took it well—in truth better than most anyone could have. When the Unicorn went down, it made the cheers even louder.

Three left.

Three Lion.

Uso bowed his head and indicated for Toranaka to fight Tetsuru.

The Ikoma centered himself again, and waited.

Ikoma Kage nodded his head in appreciation. Uso had learned well. His gempuku was proceeding satisfactorily.

In a renewed frenzy of shouts and encouragement, Toranaka struck down Tetsuru.

Then Uso struck.

Kage couldn’t help but chuckle and clap his hands as Toranaka fell. There was a moment of stunned silence, then the entire crowd roared their approval.

Ikoma Uso had won.

He’d only directly eliminated three people, but had caused the elimination of a dozen others.

It was perfect.


Ikoma Kage sat in the back of the Laughing Carp, not eating his meal. The food here was bland to his palette, and the sake watered down. Still, it was hard to be upset. His student, Ikoma Uso had followed up his performance in the melee with a good showing in the horsemanship competition. Uso had been laughing as he finished the course, obviously knowing he’d done better than he had any right to.


Uso had just caught an attempted poisoning of his friend Akodo Toranaka, and didn’t seem to be taking it too well. Kage caught how his nose wrinkled not in disgust over the smell, but in disgust over the amateurishness of the attempt.

The young bard vanished into the kitchen for a while, then returned as jolly as ever.

“Did I ever tell you all,” Uso said as he sat down, “about the time my father met a Fortune?”

“Is this an actual story,” Moto Subotai asked, “or another joke?”

Uso laughed and clapped the Moto on the shoulder. “Ha!”

“You confuse me,” the Unicorn said.

“The Fortunes are more confusing than I,” Uso said, nodding his head in commiseration. “It was after the famous Battle of Pale Oak Castle…”

As the story continued, it was amusing to Kage to see the faces of those listening in on the story. His voice captured the attention of those surrounding the table. The Sparrow was furiously writing down every word the Ikoma said. Kage already knew of that particular weakness in the Minor Clansman, but it was good to actually see it in action. The Unicorn’s confusion dissolved into entertainment, and he took particular enjoyment from the deeds of Ide Todo. As expected.

Kage sighed at that. If only Ide Todo could have kept the peace between the Lion and Unicorn. Some things were beyond even that great man.

The Crab in the crowd pounded their approval on their tables when Uso began to tell of the Paper Lanterns’ first meeting of Hida Kisada. The young bard had skill with a story, Kage had to admit. The ebb and flow of it drew in more and more listeners until Uso had to perch himself on the table so more could see and hear. The crowd laughed at his jests, cheered when their Clan’s representative in the Paper Lanterns was mentioned.

“Is it true that the great Hida Makoto was visited by the spirit of Kisada?” a voice called from the crowd. “Was he really told who he was destined to wed?”

A sensitive question, that. Kage made no move to help his student out of the potentially volatile query. This too was part of Ikoma Uso’s gempuku. The answer to this question was debated heavily between the Crab and Phoenix according to Kage’s sources, and had been the cause of dozens of unofficial duels to the death.

“Are not all great Crab visited by the Fortunes?” Uso asked the crowd. “Are not all great samurai from every Clan visited by the Fortunes and their Ancestors alike? The Fortunes, and indeed our Ancestors, require much of us, and often speak to us in riddles. I do not claim to understand their way of thinking.”

There were nods of acceptance at these words. It was a good answer. Demeaning no one, praising all great samurai and their Ancestors. Ancestors were best praised, their demands fulfilled.

Uso would know, thought Kage in approval. His Ancestor flogs him like a mule.

“My father, Ikoma Katsu—may his hero’s soul rest until reborn into our world—was instrumental in the negotiations with the Summer Court that year,” a single tear had slid down the bards cheek at mention of his father’s passing, but already his eyes were dry again. “But that is a different story, for another time.” The crowd sighed in good-natured disappointment.

“A salute to our Ancestors!” Uso continued raising a cup. The audience—many of which were Topaz Championship hopefuls—all did likewise.

Through the entire story, cups of sake were pressed into his hands. Uso apparently drank all of them, though he was not as drunk as he should have been. In fact he didn’t seem drunk at all. The crowd surrounding the Lion was drunk. Kage was pleased to see that Akodo Toranaka had not partaken in any of the drink.

The listeners downed their final cups as a herald appeared at the door.

“It is time for the contestants to report for the next event!” he yelled. “You will report to the interior of the Kakita Dueling Academy for your tests of law. You have one bell’s time to arrive.”

Kage had to stifle his laughter. There were a few in the crowd that would be ill equipped to do well in the evening’s contests with several cups of sake in them.

He does well, indeed.


To be continued next week:

If you want to read more of Steve’s fiction, check out Son of Fire, Son of Thunder:

On Huckabee tonight on FOX
I will be on Huckabee on FOX, Sunday 8PM Eastern

2 thoughts on “The Drowning Empire, Episode 3: With the Nod of a Head”

  1. Man, that’s some dirty pool, getting your opponents drunk before competing against them…

    Oh, wait. That’s standard business tactics.

    And I am still very jealous of your gaming group, Larry.

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