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, http://www.alderac.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=295&t=101206
If you use the link above I always post a huge behind the scene’s GM play by play.
This week’s episode is by Paul Genesse. The PCs have been sent on a secret mission by the Shogun to the colonies. On the way they stop at the Mantis Clan island and Oki’s hometown of Broken Wave City. It was a busy session, what with a storm, facing down an elemental dragon, Oki getting set up by smugglers, a ninja attack, and Isao committing adultry with the wife of a pirate admiral.
Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Eighth Entry
First Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Yuni
Broken Wave City in the Mantis Clan Holdings
I killed four dishonorable men tonight. I was a guest of the famously wealthy man Yoritomo Naota, and was sleeping on my mat when an assassin, dressed all in black, face covered, loomed over me with a blade in his hand meant to cut my throat. His toe must have touched the edge of my sleeping mat, for I awoke and before I could even think I had drawn my katana and slashed across his chest and spattered the rice paper wall with his blood. My second stroke cut through his throat and I was on my feet, standing beside Subotai, who was still half-asleep. I shouted the alarm and Subo grabbed his sword and stabbed an approaching assassin right through the thin wall. More assassins lurked in the hallway and I burst out through the wall itself and killed another, roaring the Lion Clan war cry and inviting more assassins to face me.
The fight was joined by my friends, Shintaro and Isao. Isao wrestled with a man, and Subo helped him, while Shintaro slew one assassin and pursued more up the stairs toward Naota’s rooms. Two assassins were right on Isao’s trail. I sprang forward and cut both of them down. I admit that I wanted to kill more of the gutless dogs. I was in such a rage. The thought of those men sneaking into Naota’s household and attacking in the dead of night infuriated me. I later learned that many of his household had been killed. Woe be to whoever instigated this attack, for I shall not forget this insult.
Somehow Oki and Uso had already made it to the floor above us, as they must have suspected the attack and went to investigate. My friends and I turned the tide, and we slew many of the assassins. Naota and his wife, Kakeko are alive, and very grateful for our help. We quickly discovered that one of the other guests of Naota, a Crane named Doji Chonitsu, may have been part of the plot. For he was seen fleeing the estate and was likely the man who was seen jumping out a window. He is probably the one who stole an elephant headed idol that Naota had taken from the Ivory Kingdoms and had kept in his vast collection of art and artifacts. This is the second time we have heard of this happening. The Oracle of Dark Water must be involved.
No sign of Chonitsu was found on the premises, and we pursued him after sweeping Naota’s house for more assassins. He has likely escaped the island. We did find one other clue that night. Near Naota’s home we found the body of an old man, torn apart as if he had been mauled by a wild animal. He was a Scorpion named Yogo Tanaka. We had briefly met him at an inn the day before, and he had approached us and asked to be invited to Naota’s home. I suspected a plot, so I rebuffed his request, but we soon found out that Yogo Tanaka was a good and decent man. I’ve read from his journal and learned that he was pursuing Chonitsu, who he suspected may not be human, but a pawn of evil.
We shall find out someday, as we too will pursue this Chonitsu. I intend to ask Yoritomo Naota to help fund this endeavor, and I have no doubt he will be more than willing to provide us funds. We are in need of this money for we are now in the possession of a ship. More precisely, Yoritomo Oki is the owner of the ship, which he has named after his favorite brand of sake, Friendly Traveler. Oki’s ship was a gift of a friend of Oki’s father, Yoritomo Al-Zayan. The Friendly Traveler is of course, quite old, and supposedly cursed, as it is the only ship that remained of a contingent commanded by Oki’s father.
Oki was given this gift partly so that he, and the rest of us, would quickly the leave the island. We are not a welcome sight, as when we arrived, we were promptly accused of smuggling. Oki was asked to bring two casks of what he thought was sake to unknown friends on the island, but it turned out the sake was actually gaijin black pepper, jade petal tea, and obsidian powder. Contraband such as that will get a man killed, and I almost lost my temper and struck Oki down myself for tarnishing our honor with such low behavior.
I spoke with him, and though I still have reservations, I believe that he did not know what was in the casks. If he had known, I believe I would have let the authorities take him and execute him. I admit I would have been tempted to kill him myself, but he is my friend, and I do not want his blood on my hands, though I am very disappointed in his behavior. He drinks excessively, and his judgment is often impaired. How else would he have agreed to bring casks from men he did not know with him?
Oki and I have spoken and I explained that our enemies would attack us again by exploiting our weaknesses. We must stand together in those times, and think of our friends honor in those moments, for this is not some frivolous adventure. We have been sent to the Ivory Kingdoms for great purpose, and the fate of all of Rokugan may hinge upon our success.
I only hope that with Oki in command of his own ship, he will become the man I think he can be. Responsibility may change him, as it changed me when my father told me what he expected of me. I intend place my life in his hands, and will defer to his judgment on the ship, though I will ask him to put me in tactical command of our defenses, if the ship is attacked. I was gifted with a treatise on ship defenses written by one of the best Mantis Clan admirals, and will study the text in the days to come.
I do not look forward to our journey south, as the fickleness of the sea is not to my liking. Our three day journey to Broken Wave City was one I shall never forget. Getting Isao to board the ship was not an easy task, and the journey almost ended in disaster. A terrible storm, perhaps conjured by one of our enemies, beset our ship. We were almost sunk and I found myself holding the steering tiller as everyone else tried to keep us from being swamped, or whatever sailor call it. I still do not know how I managed to keep our ship turned into the waves as the might of the ocean fought against us, but I credit the fates for giving me the strength. It is not my destiny to drown in the sea at such a young age. There are many more battles to fight, and our Empire must be saved.
My friends and I worked together and saved the ship, the Profitable Salmon, which lost one crewman, who was swept overboard. Unless there is no other choice, I shall not set food on that ship again.
Now I look toward the Ivory Kingdoms and I ponder what the future may bring. We shall be attacked again, by the sea itself, or perhaps by men who wish us dead. I still have an enemy who wishes me personally dead. I have included a note I found in my saddle bag on the day we left Toshi Ranbo. I shall transcribe the text here, and have included the note in my journal as well, as Uso has finished going over it.
Here is the note, penned by a steady hand that does not betray who wrote it.
“To the One-Armed Lion
I recently had opportunity to stumble upon a feral cat that had been trapped. Its left-front paw was mangled in steel jaws that kept the creature from escaping. The beast was ragged, and it had begun gnawing away at the trapped limb so it could escape, and perhaps even feed itself to a small degree. I watched it from afar for several days as it did this, curious. Twice other predator attempted to get a free meal. Even with one limb—perhaps because of that fact—the feral cat massacred the other creatures. I admired it. However, the cat was unable to survive the ordeal of chewing off its own leg.
I shot it dead from a distance.
It was just a cat, after all. When creatures become useless, they should be put down.
You wish to know who seeks after your death. I would expect nothing less of you. You bear the insult of the price put on your head well.
I am in position to offer you information. My network is vast, and you will need it where you are going.
The individual who seeks your life goes by the name of the Mad Bear, or even the Angry Bear depending on who translates it. The kanji are as near to the ancient as they can be while still being decipherable. This style isn’t used anymore, which should be informative in and of itself. This is not much, but it is information I felt you should have before your trip to Broken Wave City and to the Ivory Kingdoms. When I have more information, it will find its way to you.
I have people everywhere.
Lastly, keep an eye on your Unicorn. Things are about to become unpleasant for him
The note is cryptic and fascinating. I have learned that a Kimera is a creature with many faces. I wonder if this is a Scorpion who wrote this. A spy-master of some power, who knows about our mission. The metaphorical part of the note must refer to my own maiming, but the last part, “I shot it dead from a distance.” Is this meant to be a threat? Or perhaps this refers to me being denied my appointment to the army, given a letter that said I could no longer join the regiment I was selected for. I was shot dead from a distance by a message, a piece of paper that ended the life I would have. I have become useless to some, and I have been “put down” in more ways than one.
I hope this Kimera is a friend of sorts, and that this letter is not some plot to harm me and my friends.
Regardless, I will carry on and now I will ask about this Mad Bear who supposedly is after my life. Is he old? As the note suggests? Is he some sort of nigh immortal who uses ancient styled kanji? I will find out, for the way I see it this Mad Bear has outlived his own times, and when an animal is useless, it must be put down.
The Angry Lion, Akodo Toranaka
Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Ninth Entry
First Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Yumi
Broken Wave City in the Mantis Clan Holdings
We have begun to look for a crew to help us sail the Friendly Traveler. Ikoma Uso has had much success recruiting, as our former Topaz Champion is very popular. So many men wish to sail with us.
Yesterday, a man came to the dock where we were working on Oki’s ship and asked for me. I recognized him immediately, though I had seen him only once before. Honorable Hisao, the ronin, had found me. He is much older than I, and he must have seen his thirtieth year, and many battles judging by the scars on his arms and the one across his forehead. Was the one under his eye there when I last saw him? I had not seen him in over two years, not since the Topaz Championship. I had paid him many koku to secretly escort a servant woman and her daughter to a safe place where they could begin a new life. The servant woman had been paid to poison me, and I did not want her killed for this offense. Hisao was recruited per my request, and was said to be a most honorable ronin with an excellent reputation.
Hisao stood on the dock and when I approached he bowed very low. I returned his bow, and asked him to walk with me along the wharf.
We did not speak for many steps. When we were alone, out of earshot of anyone, I looked him in the eyes and asked, “What of the woman and her daughter?”
“They are safe, and they own and run a small tea house far away from the borders of the Lion Clan lands.”
I let my face slip then, and showed him my relief. He knew I spoke the truth, and I knew he did as well. I bowed to him again, lower this time. “I am in your debt.”
“No, honorable Toranaka-san, I am in yours.” He bowed to me.
We walked again for a long time without speaking.
“Hisao, what has brought you to this city?”
“I arrived two weeks ago after taking passage on a Mantis merchant ship. I served as a guard aboard the ship, though the journey was uneventful.” He gave me the name of the ship, though I had never heard of it.
“You have experience guarding ships, then?” I asked.
“Yes, I have done this work many times. I like the sea. I have even been to the Ivory Kingdoms, once, though it was almost two years ago.”
He looked at me, and I wondered if that’s where he took the woman and her daughter, but I did not ask.
“Mostly I’ve sailed from the Mantis islands and the coast here. I’ve been to Broken Wave City many times, but I never stay long.”
“Hisao, it has been good seeing you today,” I said.“Tomorrow, when the sun rises I shall do my sword exercises on that point of land, there.” I pointed to the breakwater for the bay. “If you wish, join me there, I will welcome your company.” I bowed and left him.
Later that afternoon I spoke with the captain of the ship Hisao had said he worked on. The captain, who had known Hisao for several years, had only praise for him and told me more about this ronin, who carried himself like the most honorable of samurai. I had little doubt about his character already, but our enemies are many, and I have been taught that it is better to gather as much information as possible before trusting any man.
I learned that Hisao was third generation ronin, his goal in life to earn a place in a clan so his descendants would have a better life than him. He thought he’d achieved his goal when he’d gone to work for a Lion warden named Ikoma Daro, and he’d served him for a couple years, very capably, and they even became very good friends, until Daro was killed in a border skirmish. Hisao killed the attackers, recovered Daro’s daisho and returned it to Daro’s lord.
However, Daro’s lord thought that this was surely some ronin trick, and that Hisao had probably just murdered Daro and was trying to collect a reward. So he had Hisao tortured for days trying to get a confession. Luckily, some of Daro’s men appeared, having survived the battle unbeknownst to Hisao, and collaborated the ronin’s story. Daro’s own wife even vouched for Hisao, risking her own life, when she heard he was being tortured.
I had learned all I needed to know.
The next morning, I mediated on the breakwater, just before the sun rose. When it did I saw Hisao standing near the water’s edge. He joined me, standing at my side. We drew our blades, not saying a word to each other. We went through the oldest of the Lion katas, the one said to have been created by the first Akodo himself. Hisao knew every move, and we were as one, brothers of the blade.
We sat together afterward, watching the sunrise.
“Soon, I shall sail away from this island on the Friendly Traveler.”
“Yes, the wind is right, but the season is late for such a voyage.”
He was right. If we didn’t leave soon, we would likely find terrible storms and we might not arrive at our destination.
“Toranaka-san, it is said that you are in need of crew for this journey.”
“No. I am not in need of crew.”
We sat as the wind blew the waves and brought us the fresh smell of the sea. He did not flinch or show any emotion. Surely, this man was worthy of being a samurai. Why had the Mantis not asked him to join their clan? Could not see his potential? “Hisao, what is it that you want out of this life?”
He bowed, his forehead touching the ground, “To become a clan samurai so that my descendants will have a better life than I have had.” He sat up and stared at the sea.
“Hisao-san, you are an honorable man with much experience. I am a young man, a samurai who has been cast aside by his clan. I am maimed, and have only the future I will make for myself. I am not in need of crew. I am in need of an ally. A friend who I can trust with my life, and more importantly, my honor.”
“I am such a man,” Hisao said.
“You will join our expedition to the Ivory Kingdoms,” I said, “and will have a full share of whatever profits the ship brings in, equal to my own. Serve as the leader of our guards, and advisor to us all. Do this with honor, and if I am ever in a position of authority in the Lion Clan, and I intend to command an Akodo army someday, I will grant you samurai status.”
“Yes, Toranaka-san. I accept. I will sail with you.”
Our recruitment is nearly over now, and I have presented Hisao to Captain Oki, my friends, and the rest of the crew. Hisao has sworn to follow Captain Oki’s commands, as I will.
If the wind is right, we sail to the Ivory Kingdoms tomorrow. If the wind is bad, we depart anyway, and I will see how well a man with one arm can row.
To be continued next week: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/the-drowning-empire-episode-31-letters-from-broken-wave-city/
To check out some of Paul Genesse’s work, he recently edited an anthology series: http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=monshuntnati-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B00E83GGOO