The Drowning Empire, Episode 17: Isao on the Dragonspire

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 convenient place, along with a bunch of additional game related stuff, behind the scenes info, and detailed session recaps, I’ve been posting everything to one thread on the L5R forum,

This week’s episode is also from Brad Torgersen, and picks up right where last week’s left off. At this point of the game all of the characters had a 2 year time break. So everybody wrote fiction explaining what their characters did over that time until we got back together to continue the game. These give us some of our best pieces of fiction.

Continued from:

Tamori Isao fidgets before his Daimyo.  Tamori Shimura’s reputation for sourness precedes him.  The presence of Isao’s father, Tamori Kenta, is of little comfort.  Both the father and the son were made to wait over an hour in the genken of the Daimyo’s residence, before being admitted.  Whether the Daimyo is just that busy, or just that rude, is not something Isao can determine.  Shimura is getting silver-haired at the temples, with streaks of gray beginning to infuse his beard.  His eyes are heavily lidded and unhappy.  He glowers at Isao and Kenta.  Though all three men are skilled shugenja of the Tamori line, and Kenta essentially Shimura’s peer in ability, if not in station, there is little love lost between them.

“You want the boy to assay this task, instead of an experienced man?” the Daimyo says, somewhat incredulous.  Having heard the gist of Kenta’s brief on the events following the most recently concluded Topaz Championship, Shimura is visibly dubious about assigning such an important mission to someone so young and inexperienced as Isao; who keeps his tongue locked up while his father speaks.

“Shimura-sama,” Kenta says reverentially, “I believe the Fortunes have decreed it.  My son now enjoys the favor of the Heir himself.  He has proven his prowess in both simulated and actual combat, and brought honor to the Tamori while in Crane lands.”

“And what of the deep fear that makes the boy wet his futon every night?”

Isao resists the urge to retort, sensing Kenta’s mortification at the Daimyo’s unkind reference to Isao’s phobia of deep water.

“Fears can be controlled, Shimura-sama.  Conditioning can acclimate any man to anything, provided that there is proper training.  Isao has faced this new enemy and is more intimately connected to it than any of us could hope to be.  I believe my son is meant to be the one who will carry our mon against the foe.  I only ask that you give my son and I your approval; that we may begin Isao’s regimen immediately.  It will require additional participation from some of the dojos and sensei I am familiar with.  It may even require some extended travel beyond Dragon lands proper.”

“Look me in the eye, boy,” the Daimyo commands.

Isao slowly lifts his head, and stares directly into Shimura’s face.

The old man and the young man size each other up.

Tamori Shimura sighs, and turns away.

“See that he gets the best possible instruction, Kenta-san,” Shimura says.  “He bears the name and the pride of all the Tamori now.  He barely acquitted himself during the Topaz.  He’ll have to do much better than that in the future.  Or it will be both of you answering for it.  Now get out of my house.”

Isao follows his father’s lead, bowing almost to the floor, then the two of them hurry out.


            Isao struggles to push himself up onto his fists, elbows locked.  He is naked from the waist up and sweat pours in rivulets off his shoulders and back.  He has lost count of his repetitions, and merely groans in cadence with the rest of the students in the dojo.

“Down!” commands the sensei, her face passive but her voice stern.

Isao nearly collapses as he lowers himself back to the bamboo mat.

“Up!” commands the sensei, her rod of instruction ready to slap the flesh of anyone failing to maintain properly rigid form.

Isao’s abdominal muscles are quietly screaming, as are his pectorals, triceps, and biceps.

Nevertheless, he wills himself to regain the starting position.  In unison with the other students, he calls, “Hachi!”

One more repetition of the push-up, and it’s, “Kyu!”

Still another repetition, and it’s, “Jyu!”

Then back down to the mat, where the cycle begins all over again, ascending up through the numbers.  Isao wonders how endless push-ups—or jiujutsu—are going to help him fight against the gaijin shugenja the menaces his memory.  He decides he doesn’t have the energy to waste on hypotheticals as the cycle finally grinds to a stop, and the sensei commands every student to his or her feet.

The push-ups are grueling, but they are merely a formal warmup prior to katas and, eventually, the day’s throwing and sparring.

Some students are slower than others to get to the position of attention, including Isao.  He is visibly shaking from exertion.  That he is both senior to the other students in age, as well as a Topaz veteran with combat time under his belt, is immaterial to the sensei.  She slaps Isao’s shoulder with her wooden rod and barks at him to move more quickly.

Somewhere, Isao suspects he hears his father is smiling.


            The bokken clips Isao on the leg so hard, he is sure there will be a bruise in the morning.

Just one, to match all the others from that week’s instruction on mixed weaponry tactics and technique.  The padded-but-heavy wooden pole in Isao’s hands is no comfort as the junior sensei of the dojo calls for Isao to step out of the ring, bow to his opponent, then step back in—center stance, ready to attack or defend.

The oversized toy in Isao’s hands is theoretically weighted to feel like a real tetsubo.  He is familiar with the basics, though this particular dojo is not for dilettantes.  Isao’s father Kenta has had to rely heavily on Isao’s expanding reputation from the Topaz Championship to earn him a place with such experienced Heavy Weapons experts.  The woman opposing Isao is a cross-trainer from one of the Mirumoto dojos.  Her movements with the bokken are as smooth and silky as her kimono, though moisture covers her brow, along with several indelicately loosened hairs.

“You cannot defeat the katana by using the club like a katana,” says the senior sensei, an ancient-looking fellow with an impressive scar down one cheek, and a stump where his left arm formerly attached at the left shoulder.

Isao winces at the sudden memory of his friend Akodo Toranaka, and he wonders just how well the Lion Clan bushi has been getting on since their split, following the attempt on the Heir’s life?  Did their mutual friend Uso deliver Isao’s plea to their Daimyo?  Isao has to hope.

Meanwhile, Isao wishes he had Toranaka-san’s finesse with edged weaponry.  The tetsubo feels stubborn and clumsy in Isao’s fists as he tries to wield it against his Mirumoto bushi, who again makes her point with a stiff jab through Isao’s defenses, planting the bokken squarely into his sternum.

The woman bushi smiles slightly as Isao stumbles back, momentarily out of breath.

His only consolation is that he’s not alone; many other trainees are enduring similar humiliation at the hands of their bushi sparring partners.

“Now then,” says the senior sensei, “having been properly humbled, let me begin to show you how to use the tetsubo the way it’s meant to be used.”

The old man effortlessly snaps up a padded sparring weapon from the rack on the dojo wall, and leaps into position against the bushi trainee nearest him.  Within three strokes he not only smashes the trainee’s bokken to pieces, but flattens the stunned bushi to the ground.  The sensei raises his tetsubo to land a crushing blow… and settles for a tap on the cringing bushi’s stomach.


            “It’s been a productive three months,” Tamori Kenta says as he and Isao sit on the veranda of Kenta’s house in the Dragonspine mountains.  “I see from the exhaustion in your face that my effort on your behalf has been well worth it.  You’re being pushed beyond your limits.  Shihan-san at the dojo tells me that you’ve become one of his best students on the tetsubo.  He thinks you might even become an instructor yourself one day.”

“I like the war club better than fighting with fists and feet, arms and legs.”

“No doubt,” Kenta replies.  “As your Grandfather might have said, by the time it comes down to beating the enemy with your knuckles or the edge of a straight palm, it’s too late.”

Isao nods, watching a trio of humming birds flit around the veranda railing while in the midst of dive-bombing a cluster of potted flowers hanging from one of the veranda’s roof beams.

“Speaking of your Grandfather, there’s something I’ve been meaning to show you.”

Kenta reaches to a cloth-covered parcel that he’s tucked close to his cushion on the veranda floor.  He hands it across to Isao, who takes it.  Isao’s eyes go wide at the weight of the thing, which he slowly unwraps to reveal a particularly wicked-looking tetsubo sporting jad knobs interspersed with iron spikes.  The wood has darkened with age, and iron bands wrap the weapon’s circumference.  Having learned a thing or two from Shihan-sama, Isao guesses that the tetsubo is of the finest native Dragon manufacture.

“Where did you get it?” Isao says, running his hands along the handle.

“Your Grandfather took that with him when he journeyed to Crab country.”

“Settling a dispute?”  Isao asks.

“With the Shadowlands, perhaps,” Kenta replies.  “Your Grandfather swung this weapon while serving on The Wall.”

Isao boggles.

“Grandfather was on the Wall??”

“For three weeks, give or take, according to what your Grandmother once told me.  Grandfather didn’t like to speak of it.  I think it had something to do with a Kuni challenge to Tamori dignity.  Anyway, your Grandfather had a point to make to our Kuni friends—he survived, and brought this back home with him to prove it.  It’s been in my keeping since your Grandfather’s death a few years ago, and now I’d like to give it to you, my son.”

Isao reverently stands and tests the weapon’s formidable mass.  Part of Shihan-sama’s training includes tetsubo weight drills designed to beef up the muscles needed to wield the thing at better-than-average proficiency. Isao is pleased that he can maneuver the old weapon with ease.  It is comfortable in his hands.

“We should keep it safe,” Isao says.  “It’s too precious.”

“Nonsense,” Kenta says.  “I think Grandfather would have been proud to see you wield it, and would have demanded you take it, once he learned how well you were doing at the dojo.  I was never much good with, nor interested in, war-clubbing.  But you?  I think you’ve managed to get the knack of it.  Besides, it would cost a lot of money you don’t have to purchase an equivalent tetsubo from a skilled Dragon smith.”

Isao lowers the weapon, sits back down, and re-wraps it in its cloth.

“I shall always swing with the memory of Grandfather on The Wall in my mind,” Isao says, half-awed.  He feels a quiet thrill of energy run up his spine at the thought of his kin wielding such a formidable weapon against the denizens of Jigoku.  If Isao was stunned by the news that his Father, Kenta, had once bedded a Unicorn woman bushi, he is doubly stunned to learn that his Grandfather once stood with the Crab on the demarcation line at Rokugan’s southwestern gate.

“See that you do, my son,” Kenta says, pouring their tea.  “See that you do.”


To be continued next week:

And if you want to check out Brad’s paying work, here is the story he won the Analog Reader’s Choice Award for

Ask Correia #13: Ripping Off Ideas
Snippet from an old story, That Which We Fear

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