The Drowning Empire, Episode 8: Shintaro in the Swamp

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 was written by Zach Hill, who is playing our backwoods farmer samurai of the Sparrow Clan, Suzume Shintaro.

Continued from:


Shintaro looked down the maw of the most enormous, viscous, demonic animal he had ever seen. The giant lizard had a mouth as big as he was, and it was filled with dagger sized teeth. It was beast of pure death.

And Shintaro had to kill it.

It had been a strange path to this point of his life.


Suzume Shintaro was from the Sparrow Clan, a small, poor clan that few people paid any attention to. It had been a surprise, to say the least, when he had received an invitation to the Topaz Championship. No one remembered the last time a Sparrow had been invited.

It was a great honor to represent his clan. Shintaro knew he had no chance of winning. He would be surrounded by warriors far more skillful and noble than he was. Just being in their presence was enough honor for him.

During the first competition, a massive melee, he had solidified friendships that had been forming on the road to the championship. His mighty bisento had knocked several opponents out of the battle but in the end it had been an arrow from the Mantis Clan that had felled him. If he were going to fall, it was good that it was by Yoritomo Oki. Though the Mantis had much to learn about how to comport himself as a true samurai, he is skillful and dedicated.

His father, before he had gone off to war and never came back, used to say that he should spend more time learning how to manage the lands and less time reading. He had proven that advice less than perfect when all his history books had allowed Shintaro to answer the law and heraldry questions correctly. From his books he knew the stories of the great battles and the great men that flew those banners. He had witnessed those battles countless times in his mind and had imagined those heroes so often that he knew them by sight.

Still, it had come as a surprise to learn that all his hours of reading had pushed him into third place. When he saw the board with everyone’s score he had wondered if there had been another Shintaro attending the Championship. He had almost gone to the judges to ask if they had made a mistake.

Then there was the wrestling competition. Back home he had often had to force stubborn cows and bulls into their pins. They did not go easily and often had to be forced to obey. He had learned how to use his weight and leverage against larger and stronger foes. Everyone he had faced in the competition had been tossed out as easily as a newborn calf, except for the Unicorn Clan warrior, Moto Subotai, instead of toppling over and falling to the ground had stood as a brick wall. No amount of pushing or pulling would budge the honorable samurai from far off lands. Back and forth they struggled, neither giving in, each having the same determination as a stone.

The boulder sits still

Rain and sun beat down on it

Still it does not move

Finally though, the boulder did move and somehow Shintaro had won second place in that competition. He’d written a letter home that night detailing everything that had happened. Shintaro did send a celebratory bottle of sake and a poem to a certain young lady courtier for having won a match. It was not a romantic gesture, but one of good will. His mother had taught him to honor the victories of others and always pay extra courtesy to women.

The Topaz Championship had being going surprisingly well for him, until the night of the hunt.


The Shogun had released several swamp dragons into the wilderness and they were in a race to hunt one down and bring back the tail. Bayushi Arashii of the Scorpion Clan had been picked as one of the four leaders and had chosen them as his companions. Shintaro did not understand why no one liked the Scorpion Clan, as Arashii was a most amiable fellow.

Fortunately they had several hunters in their group and with little difficulty they found the monster. It was enormous and thrashing and no one dared get too close to it. Their Shugenja had used his powerful magic to wound the thing with rocks and their archers had fired into its vulnerable spots, what few there were.

Seeing the end, Shintaro had rushed forward and brought his bisento down onto the creature’s neck with all his strength, cutting a gash so deep that a geyser of blood had erupted.

Shintaro stood there, panting, holding his bisento and looking at the dead beast. He looked around at his comrades to see if they were well. They all stood tall with honor and courage. Even Arashii had fired his bow at the beast and attacked when others would have fled.

As dangerous and fearsome as the monster had been, it had seemed too easy. The beast had been trapped and if it had not been for that, it would have been much more difficult. As he was about to comment on a job well done, he heard a voice. It was a man telling them to surrender.


He looked over and saw several figures emerging from the mud of the swamp. In the moonlight they looked like horrible mud spirits rising from the ground. But they were ruffians, brigands and nothing more. Their leader had seized Arashii and placed a knife to his throat. If anyone moved forward he would surely kill the young man.

Again the bandit leader demanded our surrender or we’d all be killed unless we handed over our companions. They had come for Akodo Toranaka and Yoritomo Oki.

“No, you will loose for you have no honor!” Shintaro said. “A true samurai has honor and will always overcome the honorless!”

Oki shot an arrow into the bandit leader’s face, freeing Arashii. Toranaka drew his sword and ordered the attack. Toranaka knew that they would never surrender their friends to spare their own lives. Never.

A man with a spear charged Shintaro. Shintaro steadied himself and prepared to counter.

A bisento was not a sword and required a different way of thinking. One had to strategize when and how to attack. It could not keep up with the speed or the close proximity of a sword, but if one could get a single hit in, it could often win the fight with just that one strike. The spear man trust and Shintaro tried to dodge, but the blade still cut his check. It was nothing and Shintaro ignored it, concentrating on his foe.

Moto Subotai stood in front of Isao and Arashii, protecting them from multiple attackers, again like the mighty boulder. And like a boulder, his enemies’ swords broke uselessly against his defense. The Unicorn’s technique was so flawless and Shintaro was almost tempted to stop and gape in awe, but then Toranaka charged forward and cut the bandit leader’s head clean off his shoulders and sent it flying in the air.

An owl flies high

It covers the moon in flight

A shape in the dark

Shintaro’s heart was pounding in his chest and he felt the blood rushing through his veins. He saw everything around him in startling detail. Somehow, in the briefest of moments he had managed to spot a small medallion, nothing more than a coin, wrapped around the shaft of the man’s spear. Shintaro noticed how it sparkled in the moon light even as it stabbed at him.

Then he saw an opening in the spear man’s defenses. With all his power and precision, Shintaro swung. The long, curved blade of the bisento narrowly passed the man’s raised spear and came down on his shoulder, cutting through lacquered bamboo armor and severing the arm.

He had barely felt any resistance to his blow.

Shintaro stood there looking at the bleeding man. The bandit took a halting step, and then collapsed into the mud. A second ago he had been a dangerous, mighty creature. Now Shintro looked on him with pity. He was a ruined, useless thing.

He had never killed a man before.

Shintaro felt a pain in his chest but it was no wound. The only wound was the cut upon his cheek.

But perhaps not all wounds bled.


To be continued next week:

If you want to check out some of Zach’s work, he recently had a zombie novel published:

After the fight in the swamp, this letter was found on the body of the ronin who attacked them. This same ronin talked smack to Yoritomo Oki on the first day. (he had been kicked out of the Mantis Clan)


The rumors are correct. I have learned that this evening the Topaz challengers will be broken into groups of eight and sent into the swamp to hunt the Shogun’s exotic gaijin beasts. If you hurry, you and your men should be able to get into position. I have included the scroll for your shugenja to use in order to trap the beast, and the agreed upon sum of twenty koku for the life of Akodo Toranaka.

The Mantis archer is often in the company of the Lion cub. My retainers tell me that his father insulted your honor. I have met this Oki. He is an eta pig dog, completely without respect or honor. Do with him as you see fit and I’m certain the Empire will be a better place without him.

However, I would ask that you try not to harm the other contestants that will be travelling with Toranaka. I have no quarrel with them. In fact, one of them is Goro’s hostage to keep the treaty of Rich Frog, a battle which we both know was only won only through treachery. Moto Subotai strikes me as easily confused, and perhaps a bit slow. Try not to hurt him, for it is not his fault that he is a hostage of the foul Lion.

When I saw you in the Laughing Carp, a warrior I knew firsthand was capable of such ruthless cunning, it only confirmed to me that the Fortunes truly wished Toranaka dead. You have performed excellent work for my family in the past, and I have no doubt that you will do so again now, and in the future. We will remember this favor.

The PCs do not recognize the archaic kanji used as a signature

Yukinori Letter

The water stains and blood were a nice touch I thought. 🙂

Geeky Hobbies: Sunday Afternoon Painting
Kickstarters I'm throwing money at

6 thoughts on “The Drowning Empire, Episode 8: Shintaro in the Swamp”

  1. Do like.

    Have I mentioned how jealous I am that you not only have time to game, but have such a cool group to game with?

  2. Swamp dragons, being viscous animals, don’t flow very well…

    Yeah, pretty certain Zach meant “Vicious”. Still, it paints a slightly surreal image… 😀

  3. I love the faithfullness to Japanese culture (Haiku, eta, honor etc) even though it’s a fantasy world. Also nice to see a Samurai use something besides a Katana. I love Katana, but variety is nice.

    1. I do love the lapses into haiku, but I am disappoint that he goofed on the second one, with the first line only having four syllables. Shall we mock him briefly?
      And the water and bloodstained computer-printed note made me laugh harder than it probably should have.

      1. Zach is from Virginia. Owl has two syllables. Oww-ell. So boom there’s your 5! (don’t worry, Zach, I got your back). 🙂

        And the computer printed paper is because 6 guys being completely unable to read my terrible handwriting makes for a fun night.

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