The Drowning Empire, Episode 45: The Duel

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,

I have missed a few Friday’s of WNGN serial, but that was because I was travelling or at a convention on those Fridays, so now I’m way behind. Tonight is actually the finale of this campaign, and I’ve only posted half the fiction. 🙂 

This week’s episode is 2 parts, first Steve Diamond’s narration of the events of our murder frame up and ensuing duel, and Pat Tracy’s poem about it.

Continued from:

“I require a duel to the death!”

Toranaka’s voice rang out in the silence. I could hear the gasps of alarm in the room. Within my mind, Satsujin howled in delight. It was a sound not unlike that of mountain wolves come upon a lame deer.

I could already smell the blood.

The fear.

My heart did not pound any faster. My breathing did not quicken. No. Calm settled over me like the comfort gained by holding a familiar katana. I had prayed for this moment the prior evening. It brought to mind words from my father, Ikoma Katsu’s journal:

Pray for your prey. Pray that that they see their death in your eyes. Pray that their bowels are loosened, and their muscles weakened in terror. Pray that their own prayers are those of hopeless desperation knowing that their life ends this day…

My father was such an interesting man. Everyone thought he was just a mild-mannered, boastful bard. How he kept it together all those years is still a mystery to me. I wish I had known him better. I wondered what he would think of my wickedly gleeful anticipation of this duel.

I looked pointedly at the woman who would likely be my opponent. She looked weak. Frail. Scared.

Fortunes help me, I thought, this will be a public assassination.

In a way my anger was equally kindled over Xiong’s ineptitude at assassination—and her pathetic and false indignation now that she was caught and accused—as it was over her thinking that her yojimbo could hope to stand against any person from our group…myself especially.

The yojimbo, Shinjo Baeshuko, must have felt my eyes on her. She turned her head slightly and returned the glance. For just an instant I let all the control slip from my face, and showed her exactly who she would be dealing with. I let my zeal for death wash over my countenance, and felt something other behind my eyes, looking at the poor, poor yojimbo. At my prey. It seemed one of the Lords of Death truly was with me.

Baeshuko paled. The result was immediate and obvious to every person in the room except the woman she guarded. She began trembling like a dead leaf in a breeze.

I let my…mask…return and found I, in turn, was being studied by the Death Priest, Byung-Chul. He nodded his approval to me, and I returned the compliment with a slight nod of my own.

“So be it,” Moto Kohatsu said in resignation. “It will be this evening. Retire to your rooms to prepare.”


We returned to the same room that evening. I was announced as Toranaka’s champion—a wise move politically, with the added bonus of my being allowed to indulge in what amounted to a more subtle torture and execution.

I suddenly found I was speaking, addressing Kohatsu, before I was even aware of the fact. When are you going to learn to keep your stupid mouth shut, descendant! Satsujin screamed at me. “Moto Kohatsu-san. May I address those gathered before this duel begins?”


“I want it known that this duel is not between the Lion Clan and the Unicorn Clan,” I said. I’d been taught in Honor’s Sacrifice Dojo to turn every situation to my—and to my Clan’s—advantage. It was time for a bit of politicking. “Yes the Lion have been insulted, but it was not by the Unicorn. The Unicorn I know, and those I grew up hearing about from the mouth of my father Ikoma Katsu, would never have let this level of insult continue. No, this is not even about the family of this impulsive wretch. They did not insult the Lion.

“Xiong did, and Xiong alone.”

I purposely omitted her family name. A calculated insult to her while simultaneously—hopefully—keeping the Unicorn and Lion from going to war over a stupid duel. My only acknowledgement was a brief nod from Kohatsu and a slight softening about the eyes.

I turned and faced Shinjo Baeshuko.

I took one, deep, calming breath, and the duel began.

Every detail, the very minutiae of the surrounding scene, filtered into my consciousness. The ground was perfectly flat other than a slight rough patch to Baeshuko’s left. It would slow her just a fraction if she moved. The yojimbo’s cloth-wrapped hands shook and were covered in a fine sheen of sweat. Her grip wouldn’t be solid. Another delay. Her expression was tight, and terror registered behind her eyes. She wasn’t looking at my stance, my bearing, or how I seemed to be preparing. She was looking at my eyes, and she was surely becoming lost in the inevitability of her coming death.

Another advantage.

In less than heartbeat, I knew everything about her. The way she stood, and her inability to focus showed me her flaws…and they were many for one of such inexperience. I pitied her. She had been thrown to a predator maimed and bleeding.


Yet another advantage.

I took in the crowd surrounding us. Xiong wore a self-confident sneer. I had witnessed that look on many a face in my young years. Always it was followed by blood and surprise…neither of which were my own. She had no idea who she was dealing with here. No one here did, not even my own companions.

Baeshuko was helpless, and she would die for her master’s idiocy.

I pictured a dozen ways the duel could go. They flashed by in a Fortunes’’ given moment. In one I drew and decapitated the girl, then sheathed my katana before she even understood she had been killed. No, too fast. Not punishing enough.

I envisioned driving my blade through her middle, then shoving her back until my blade also shoved through Xiong’s sneering throat. No. I probably couldn’t talk my way out of that one.

That was when my visions became creative.

Slashing her throat.


Cutting off her hand as she drew.

Hmm…there is something to that last one.

All the while I absorbed the look in her eyes that had turned from terror to resignation. She had accepted her death. She knew she was already done. At this point it was just going through with the motions as best she could.

And behind her, Xiong continued to sneer in ignorance to the coming end of her own life.

I made no move, even as Baeshuko drew. It was a slow move, almost clumsy by the standards I was used to. Had I ever been that terrible? I’d have to ask Bayushi Sakai the next time we met. Baeshuko’s blade cleared her scabbard, and just for an instant she seemed to think she was going to pull this off.

Within my mind, Satsujin laughed.

I drew my katana, a steel blur with no wasted effort or movement. I’d learned under one of the best, after all, whether anyone here realized it or not. Baeshuko had yet to even start her swing, and already my blade was streaking towards her own. I struck the tsuba, the impact ripping the blade from her hands and sending it arcing into the air. I counter-cut smoothly, nicking her cheek, then sheathed in one motion.

Baeshuko’s blade landed after my own blade had been put away, her katana burying itself, point first, into the floor a finger’s width in front of Xiong. At the same time a thin line of blood from the cut I had given her appeared on Baeshuko’s face. A simple cut. The lightest I could give while still drawing blood. My Bayushi teacher would have been proud of my control.

The yojimbo slowly fell to her knees, knowing just how thoroughly beaten she was. Her life was forfeit. Behind her, Xiong stared in disbelief at the quivering blade in front of her. I swear I could almost hear my Sparrow friend Shintaro thinking of how to make this an actual dramatic telling for our future sake house visits.

The gather crowd remained motionless and silent, stunned at the development. Xiong had been found guilty. There was only one thing left to do.

Instead, I spoke up again.

“Moto Kohatsu-san. Moto Subotai-san,” I said, bowing to the both of them. I gestured to Baeshuko. “This Shinjo has done her duty with honor. Indeed she is the kind of Unicorn I would be proud to fight beside. Surely, with all the death we have already seen these last few days—and in the history between our two clans—we have had enough. Shinjo Baeshuko has done her part admirably. Must we require he life as well, or is not one so honorable worth more alive to your Clan, and to the Empire.” I bowed again.

For once, Satsujin didn’t berate me.

Subotai stood. “The needs of this duel are fulfilled. Shinjo Baeshuko has done her part with honor, and as our guest has said, there will be great need for samurai such as her in the future. Her life is not required.

“For Xiong,” he continued, “death is required. She will be taken from our presence and will be allowed to demonstrate her devotion via seppuku tomorrow.”

I strained to contain myself. Subotai was a friend, but this was demonstrative of an overly kind soul. Xiong deserved nothing. I would not allow her an honorable end. I would poison her, cut off her hands and feet, remove her tongue and pull her intestines up through a hole I would cut in her miserable deceitful throat.

Utaku Yanai moved to remove Xiong from the room, and mercy of all mercies to my mind, Xiong slapped away Yanai’s hand. Yanai drew her scimitar and hammered down on the disgraced shugenja’s neck, decapitating her.

The Fortunes had a sense of justice after all.

The crowd began to leave, and at their rear stood master duelist Doji Shunya. He looked surprised, and gave me a respectful nod.

Both Satsujin and I had the exact same, simultaneous thought.



With Blade In Hand

By Moto Subotai

Poem written for the occasion of the duel between Ikoma Uso and Shinjo Baeshuko, acting as champions for Toranaka and Xiong. Poem takes the form of a free verse allegory, as seen in historical Ivendi writing.

There is truth in a blade
in the edge, the way it glows
in the light of the torches
within the darkened swamp,

In the calloused hand
who wields it, in the
drumming heart, shaking
the confines of a
warrior’s breast.

In the beginning of
our journeys, we wear
boots new-made, our
tunics clean, our
hands free of blood

But the road is long
and the dust of our
horses hides the

Only our honor and
the vestiges of our
hope remain, these
small scraps we cling to
as the angry waves of the
ocean shake and crash
about us, our ships
foundered and our
comrades lost;
presumed dead

The best of us, the
finest always hold steady
in their belief, those hard
convictions we learned
in the far-flung journey tent
and upon the polished floor
of the dojo

Those convictions, like
unconscious movements
within the body, are so
indelibly written upon our
souls that we could no more
hide them than we could
fail to recognize the blaze
upon our horses’ brow.

And then there are
all the others, those
who cannot hold close
upon their honor,
who burn unchecked
and ultimately fall
like fragile, dying stars
before the dawn…

Let us always hearken
to the echoing voices of
our ancestors,

Their wisdom and
sacrifice our model,
their honor our judge,
their deeds our far-off
target as we take aim
at the long fields of
our future.


To be continued next week:

Gaming for a Cause, next Friday
Sad Puppies 2: The Debatening!

One thought on “The Drowning Empire, Episode 45: The Duel”

  1. Seems Uso just can’t help drawing attention to himself, he’s just too good at what he does to not be noticed no matter how hard he tries.

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