The Drowning Empire, Episode 28: Just a Bard

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,

If you use the link above I always post a huge behind the scene’s GM play by play.

This week’s episode was written by Steve Diamond, who is playing Topaz Champion, Ikoma Uso, who is just a bard, and totally not secretly a borderline ninja assassin.

Continued from:

Just a Bard…?

“Hello, Uso. Did you miss me?”

“Like a victim eventually begins to miss his torturer, Maemi,” I said from my bed. Her scent drifted in on the breeze that had been admitted into my room through a now-open window. I ached for her, yet I also wished that she would just leave me and my emotions in peace.

Her voice was like the sirens of myth; alluring and full of best and most deadly promise.

Yes, I had missed her.

“Such sweet words, my Lion,” she purred. I tilted my head to the right to see the Scorpion resting in the window sill. Her legs were propped up, robes pooling around her waist to reveal pale, perfect skin and the delicate curves of her calves and thighs.

She is perfect, Satsujin said in my mind, and will likely kill you. Just…perfect.

I had to concede that he was probably right.

“I see you’ve been having fun with my friends,” I said. I had a hard time keeping the smile off my face as I spoke the words. “Oki can handle himself, but Shintaro? The poor guy…did you see the look on his face when you walked in with your father?”

“Oh, to have a Crane artisan there to paint that moment,” she said giggling. “You understand don’t you, my sweet?”

“The deception? Of course.”

“I knew you would,” she said. “There are so many layers to you. I wish I could just carve them off one at a time…” there was suddenly a knife in her hand…

Dammit, that’s my knife again…

“Well,” I said licking my lips. “The first layer is free of charge, but subsequent ones would cost you in equal coin.”

Her laughter—genuine in pleasure—brought another smile to my face.

“So you go to the Ivory Kingdoms?”

“Yes,” I replied. The idea stirred excitement in me. A land full of new shadows just waiting to be explored.

“As it turns out,” she said, “I have been assigned there too.”

“What are the chances?”


“Goodbye for now, Maemi,” I said. “I expect I will see you soon.”

“Goodbye, my Uso,” she returned. “Please stay out of trouble. It shouldn’t be too hard. After all, you’re just a bard.”


I didn’t sleep that night. After a brief walk to the stables…to check in on Tentu and my own pony, of course…I decided to look over my journal.

As I did every night where sleep evaded me—an occurrence more common these nights than not—I flipped through the pages of information I had accumulated since the Topaz Championship. Drawings of the gaijin gun, both in pieces and put back together. Notes on how the gaijin pepper seemed to react in it to propel an iron ball through the air. Names of people who we had met—both for ill and good. Samples of handwriting to compare against in the future—false orders masquerading as real ones happened far more often than my honorable companions would permit themselves to admit.

I set to writing down—as accurately as my mind could recall with the aid of my ancestor—the events of the last few weeks. On the road there had been precious little privacy to make a detailed account.

As I paged through my journal it struck me how alike I was to my father before me.  I kept his journal in my pack, and only read from it once a week. His words were to be savored like the finest of meals, not downed like Oki with a cup of his cheap sake. In his day, Katsu played the role of hero because of the access it gave him. Because even when a Lion’s Shadow doesn’t have a specific mission, he is always tasked with bettering the position of the Lion Clan.

It was almost dawn. The shadows would fade for the day, and I would put on my mask for my companions to see. The storyteller. The bard. I closed my journal, carefully wrapped it, and placed it next to my father’s. A Lion’s Shadow doesn’t let anyone see his journal. When it was full it would be sent home to go into my school’s hidden library. Honor’s Sacrifice Dojo is full of our records, and they are for our eyes only. The journals are required as part of our continued life within the school. We only had two rules:

The first duty of Lion’s Shadow is to complete the mission to which he is assigned.

The second duty is to do anything to make that success a reality.

We did’t have the luxury of wallowing in the past like the other samurai. We learned from our past. From our mistakes. From the mistakes of the other fools who let honor get in the way duty. They had their role, true. But while they trumpeted their adherence to relics of the past, the Lion’s Shadow realized one thing:

Nothing ever stays the same for long.

When I was reading my father’s journal a few weeks ago, I discovered that he used to repeat a litany of sorts to himself. The words were good. The meaning even better. So I took them for myself.

I learn.

I adapt.

I will never fail.

Because I am not just a bard.

I am Ikoma Uso, Lion’s Shadow.


To be continued next week:

Looks like the Warbound eBook is up early at Baen
Reminder: Only a few days left for Hugo voting

One thought on “The Drowning Empire, Episode 28: Just a Bard”

  1. I really like Steve’s chapters. The guy needs to be writing books. He does an amazing job on the Son of Fire, Son of Thunder series. Can’t wait for the final chapter in the Crimson Pact to be released.

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