The Drowning Empire, Episode 7: Mountain Born

If you’ve not read any of these yet, you really should check this one out. Brad Torgersen is a great writer.

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:

This week’s episode is a couple days late because I was at the LTUE writing symposium.

Brad Torgersen is playing Tamori Isao, a young shugenja (wizard equivelent) from the isolated Dragon mountains. This was the first thing he wrote for our campaign, and it just goes to demonstrate why Brad has been nominated to win the Campbell, the Hugo, and the Nebula. Brad is a great author, and I’ll include some links to his stuff at the bottom.

Continued from:

Letters of Tamori Isao

….late in the evening, after most of the other Topaz Championship participants have retired, Tamori Isao, Shugenja of the Dragon Clan, mountain-born, sits at his room’s tiny desk and prepares to write. A single oil lamp illuminates the rice paper in front of him as he closes his eyes, brush hovering over its companion pot of ink. His lips move in silent reverence. He dips three times, carefully pads off the excess onto the lip of the pot, then applies the brush tip to the page…

Most honored Mother Natsumi, bride of my Father Kenta, you who now dwell in the eternal mountains of the dead of the Tamori line, I must tell you tonight that I have killed a man. I did not know his name. He was not a Topaz competitor. Of his lineage or his pedigree I cannot speak. He was not a bushi, but rather, a speaker to the Kami as I am, and as Father is, and as Grandfather was before him. I struck the enemy shugenja down like young bamboo before the harvester’s blade. Father was right. I am not well suited for the Topaz games designed specifically for the bushi. But I think I have at last shown these men and women that a speaker to the Kami, especially of the Dragon Clan, can be as formidable in battle as any samurai.

…Isao pauses and sighs deeply, rubbing the bridge of his nose between two fingers, then continues….

Yet I cannot feel pride in this. The others in my cohort look at me differently, and I am grateful. But a man is dead by my hand. I saw his body contort in agony as I willed the Fortune of Fire to pierce the enemy’s flesh with burning power from the cloudless sky. There was little left of him when it was over, and the smell of his charred passing still haunts my nostrils. Who was he? We had no quarrel. In another time and place, we might have been companions or even friends.

Yes, I did as I have been trained to do. I acted quickly in concert with the men of my cohort. We defeated those who would ambush us dishonorably in the midst of our Topaz task, and we were acknowledged by the Shogun herself. An unexpected honor that will make Father proud when I return to our home and report on all that I have seen and done.

But the shedding of another man’s blood, unto his death, especially an unknown soul… I cannot say I like it.

Doubtless I will get used to it. Here in the heart of the Crane I have seen amazing things, as well as the terribleness that lurks in the shadows. I would say I am homesick if not for the fact that the tournament gives us little time for reflection. There is peace and beauty in our mountains that seems too far away while I am surrounded by men and women of the other Great Clans. Especially the powerful and most fearsome bushi of the Crab, the Spider, and especially the Lion.

One Lion Clan bushi in particular has noticed me. And not in a good way. Tetsuru Akodo is the kind of merciless samurai Grandfather spoke of from his many travels in Rokugan: given over totally to hostility and combat, such that he looks upon everyone with the same contempt. Were it not for the fact that my cohort has two honorable young samurai of the Lion, who fight and speak with power and grace, I would think the Lion are no better than the Crab who revel in endless warfare against the evil of the far south.

Of my cohort I can say that each of them is particularly exceptional in his own way.

Ikoma Uso is as skilled a fighter as he is a storyteller. I hear wisdom drifting in his words. His Lion brother Akodo Toranaka wears his honor like the morning sun, unashamedly and with quiet competence. I admire it. Were it not for the wise counsel of these two Lions, I fear their cousin Testuru might have tried to punish me with fists as well as words.

Toranaka guides a Unicorn warrior who was the first to extend me the open hand of friendship. Moto Subotai is gentle and kind to his allies, and as stubbornly indestructible as a cherry stump in combat. Grandfather was right. The Unicorn are unjustly spoken of among the courts of the other Great Clans.

Likewise we have a Sparrow among us. Suzume Shintaro was absolutely superb in the wrestling arena. None but the fearsome and bloody-gazed Testuru could stand against this austere bushi who prides himself on his humble roots. And it was the humble Sparrow who finished the beast that was to be our final challenge this day.

…dipping his brush into the pot, Isao pauses again and closes his eyes, feeling the visceral memories of a few hours previous…

The final task today was a hunt. My cohort and I were lead by a Scorpion of extremely unusual temperament, and together we ventured deep into the marshlands near the tournament grounds to seek fell beasts brought north from the Ivory Kingdoms. We did not know what to expect, though Subotai seemed somewhat familiar with what we faced. I drew the whisperings of the Kami to my soul and asked for a revelation that might guide us as we tracked through the moon-lit water. I saw a creature more massive, more horrible than any of nightmare. But worse, I saw a dark wave of the sea sweeping over all of us. Like death itself.

…Isao shudders, and is forced to put down the brush. He wraps his arms around himself and repeats the slow mantra that his Grandfather taught him shortly after his mother’s death – when Isao could find no solace in sleep and cried, heartbroken, night after night, at the memory of his drowned mother Natsumi.

I believe the wave is my own fear, of what happened to you, of what may yet happen to me. It would have been easier to stay in the mountains and pursue a life in spiritual quest with the Kami. But Father is correct: for the Tamori Shugenja, life is what happens between prayers. I cannot rid myself of my dread of the water any more than I can rid myself of the memory of your passing, Mother, but I can learn to master it. And so I left our mountains. And so I found myself in the mud and fetid water of the swamp – up to my thighs! – when my cohort and I and our teammates faced the dragon.

I have no skill with blade or bow. Until that moment, I am sure I seemed a poor representative of our family in the eyes of the other Topaz competitors. Even, my cohort? There are not many instances in the tournament where a Tamori Shugenja can show his quality. But the monster was huge, and horrible, and it might have taken the lives of many if I’d not prepared as a Tamori should. Having concentrated the force and power of the Kami into my phials, I was ready. From the bowels of the marsh I brought forth rocks of the Earth large enough to crush any man. Thus wounding the monster terribly, so that my comrades – specifically Shintaro of the Sparrow – could finish the beast in true samurai fashion.

But it was a ruse. From the mud erupted a host of betrayers. A ronin who had belligerently approached my cohort on the first day of our arrival, had elected to seek his revenge on my cohort’s lone Mantis Clan member, Yoritomo Oki. The Mantis are sometimes accused of being little more than brigands. Sea-going bandits. Oki enjoys women, and he enjoys drink even more than girls. In this regard, he lives down to the Mantis reputation. But his skill with bow and arrow is masterful, as if the Kami guide every shot. Oki nearly killed the ronin with a single arrow, thus signaling to the ronin and his hirelings that while our cohort is of disparate origin, we are united in honor.

Thus the melee that saw much blood spilled into the waters of the Crane marsh, to mix with that of the beast whom Shintaro had slain. It fell to Toranaka the honorable to take the ronin’s life, shortly after which I extinguished my shugenja opponent. When the fighting was done we were relieved by the host of the Shogun – whom we’d earlier learned had been sent to keep watch on us during the hunt. We returned victorious, and our honor before the Shogun was so great that I believe even Tetsuru the Terrible was forced to acknowledge it.

…Isao yawns. It is far past the time when he too should have retired. He dips his brush, and finishes his work…

We will soon complete the Topaz tournament. I am far from the best contestant here, but I am also not the worst. Father’s words to me upon my leaving the mountains were, “Look not to the tournament for richness and glory, look to the hearts and honor of the few bushi, shugenja, and other men and women you will meet. For they are the true koku of Rokugan, and it is in them you will find value when all else fails.” I believe he is right. And I wonder about the old man my cohort and I stumbled across when we first approached the tournament grounds. Was he flesh? Was he spirit? What was the meaning of his pronouncements on all of us who first fell in as travelers, and are now bound by battle and blood?

We shall see, blessed Mother. We shall see.

As always, you are missed. My heart is still broken.

Your loving and dedicated son,


…Tamori Isao quietly picks up the pieces of rice paper and puts away his writing implements. Though his calligraphy is skilled and displays the careful attention of a scholar, no living eyes will read what he has written. He quietly steps through the boarding house until he finds the kitchen. Coals still glow in the hearth, though the serving men and women have all gone to bed for the night. Approaching the hearth, Isao kneels reverently and places the pages onto the coals. He bows low with palms steepled, eyes not seeing the pages as they smolder, catch fire, and burn quickly to ash. Isao implores the Kami to transport his message to the dwelling place of his mother’s spirit. Where she might read Isao’s words, and understand them, and know that her son loves and misses her very much.


To be continued next week:

You can check out some of Hugo/Campbell/Nebula nominated Brad Torgersen’s stuff here:

or here:

Back from LTUE
Hugo Nominating

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