The Drowning Empire, Episode 49: The Hunt is On

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 a recap from Paul Genesse.

Continued from:

Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Nineteenth Entry
First Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Yumi
Twenty-first Day of the Month of the Boar
Teika Pass, Crab Lands in the Ivory Kingdoms

I followed Utaku Yanai into battle yesterday, and we killed our enemies side by side. She led her cohort of one hundred Unicorn cavalry, and our group of six samurai against the Sons of the Tiger, savage men who worship the dead goddess, Kali-ma. These men must be allied with our enemy, the tiger demon known as Doji Chonitsu. I suspect they knew we were coming, and had decided to slay us before we could oppose their masters. They may have succeeded if Yanai and her warriors had not been escorting us, as six samurai could not have survived against so many.
The Battle of Teika Pass began when several terrified peasants were seen fleeing down the road, coming straight for us. The peasants spoke of Ivendi men, brutal savages with whips and curved knives, who had just descended upon their village, and killed the handful of Crab samurai stationed there to protect them.
The Sons of the Tiger had then rounded up the peasants who had not escaped and began a blood magic ritual, using the poor villagers for a Maho spell fed by innocent blood.
Dozens of Ivendi horsemen pursued the fleeing peasants, trying to capture them all, as they needed more victims for the dark ritual.
The Sons of the Tiger did not expect Utaku Yanai, her Battle Maidens, and Master Byung-Chul with his Vindicators to arrive in such force. Yanai led her cavalry boldly, decisively, and we charged into the enemy, riding uphill as fast as our mounts would run. My horse is small, but he knew my heart, and somehow he kept up with Yanai’s giant mare. I was determined to fight at Yanai’s side, and I slaughtered half a dozen of the enemy while guarding her right flank. I guided my horse with my knees as Subotai had taught me, keeping the reigns in my teeth as I wielded my sword with a firm grip, all the while wishing I was a whole man, with two arms instead of an ugly stump covered with burn scars.
It all happened to quickly, as most skirmishes do, and fortunately, I was able to save the life of an unhorsed Unicorn bushi, Shinjo Khodai. I struck down a pair of Ivendi who were about to cut Khodai’s throat. He has since thanked me, and I will count him as an ally in the times ahead.
The enemy horsemen were routed quickly, and we rode hard toward the village at the Teika Pass. What we found will haunt all who saw it for years to come. Eerie storm clouds had gathered above the village, called by dark magic, and rain fell hard from clouds that glowed with an unnatural green light. Peasants were being slaughtered by the Sons of the Tiger, and giant oni, similar to ogres, were being summoned. The demons crossed into our world through spheres of water, which floated in the air at the center of circles of the Ivendi warlocks.
Yanai and her Battle Maidens, aided by Master Byung-Chul and his Vindicators engaged the demons guarding the perimeter. After seeing what was happening, Byung-Chul ordered me to lead my companions through the line and stop the Maho rituals. The Sons of the Tiger were summoning more of the giant demons by killing the peasants, and they had to be stopped.
We crossed the river at the edge of the village where the enemy lines were weakest. Subotai was the only one able to leap the river on horseback. The rest of us had to use the small stones poking out of the current to reach the far bank.
I led my friends and we immediately took the high ground, a mound of earth in the center of the village where we slew a large ogre and the Ivendi warlocks who had summoned it. With Tamori Isao’s powerful earth magic, and the rest of us using our steel, we pressed our attack as time was against us. Subotai-san used his horse to dominate the entire length of the battlefield, and Oki-san’s deadly aim stopped several of the rituals, while the rest of us attacked the Sons of the Tiger without mercy.
We all did our part, and much glory was gained during the battle by all of us. Peasants died at the hands of the barbarians, but we saved many of them, and stopped our enemy from summoning more of the deadly ogres, who melted into water when they died.
I found Yanai after the battle, sword in hand, as she rode her black and chestnut mare toward me, passing over the bodies of the fallen. The rain had washed some of the mud and blood from her skin, but she was resplendent, a Goddess of War sent by Hachiman, the Fortune of Battle.
I forgot myself for a moment and smiled, as Yanai is most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She is not like the perfect flowers in the courts of the Empire, so delicate you must not touch them for fear of smearing their rouge or wrinkling their clothes. She is a naked blade, a razor sharp edge wet with blood. Someday, if my life is not required to defeat the Dark Oracle of Water and his vile allies, Yanai will be my wife.
We spent the rest of the day, and the evening together, but it was not enough time. We had ridden side by side for five days after leaving Journey’s End Keep, arguing tactics and battle for endless hours, but last night we spoke of lighter things: where to camp an army, ways to improve the morale of soldiers, how a commander should speak to those of equal rank, and how often it was appropriate to write letters to loved ones.
Yanai-san and I enjoyed a simple meal together with her entourage later that night. We were quieter than we had been in the camps on the road to Teika Pass. We all knew something was ending.
At the end of the evening, we agreed that soldiers who fought only for duty or their daimyo, were not as strong as those who fought for something more. Of course, all true samurai fight for glory and honor, but those who fight also for the promise of the future, the promise of love, and for their friends and family, they are the most dangerous opponents.
I did not want the night to end. Before we parted, long after midnight, I gave gifts to Yanai’s two stalwart yojimbo, and her body attendant. The three of them never left our presence in all the days we had been together, and for good reason, though I would never seek to have improper relations with Yanai. It is not common knowledge, but a Battle Maiden must protect her virtue at all times, as it is a great source of strength, and only maidens are permitted to ride the Utaku Battle Steeds.
Yanai is well taken care of and I wished to honor her three best companions. To the tall and imposing Utaku Yidisai, and the strong legged-Utaku Agtani, who some nights appears quite close to Utaku Chuoko, Yanai’s body attendant, I gave a slender tento knife of the highest quality. Small enough to hide under a pillow, but long and sharp enough to cut a man’s throat.
Her companions were quite touched by my thoughtfulness, and though it is hard to tell, I believe all three of them have come to appreciate my presence, and may even approve of my interest in their mistress.
To Yanai, I also gave a tento blade, and I have kept its twin. I had the knives made in the days before we left for Teiko Pass. The handles have the purple of the Unicorn Clan, interlaid with the gold of the Lion. Gold and purple truly are majestic colors.
On my knees, I presented Yanai with her gift. She accepted it, a very satisfied expression on her face, and ran her fingers over the handle before examining the blade. I knew I had chosen an appropriate gift.
“Yanai-san,” I said, “I have no doubt your companions will keep you safe, but please have this tento close at hand, as your protection is very important to me.”
She nodded and bowed to me.
“I then respectfully showed her the twin of her blade, which I had kept hidden.” Her bodyguards did not even flinch, as they were so comfortable with me in the presence of their mistress.
Emboldened by Yanai’s reaction, I looked her in the eyes, “These blades are an exact match, and I shall always keep this tento close. I will think of you when I put it under my pillow each night.”
Her eyes misted over as she knelt in front of me, eye to eye. For the first time in the mere two weeks I had known her, we touched. Her bodyguards did nothing to stop me as I pressed my lips pressed against Yanai’s.

Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Twentieth Entry
First Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Yumi
Twenty-second Day of the Month of the Boar
Shiro Makoto, Crab Fortress in the Ivory Kingdoms

Today I bid farewell to Utaku Yanai and watched her ride away from me. I did not show my sadness, but there is a great emptiness within me. My duty is far from her side, but she will not be absent from my thoughts in the times ahead. She has other responsibilities, and led her cohort back toward Journey’s End Keep at the head of the Battle Maidens, with her hand on the tento she now keeps on her waist.
Once she was gone, my companions and I made the short ride from our camp at Teiko Pass to Shiro Makoto. The Crab Clan fortress is not much to look at, but it is worth noting that the Crab are building up their military strength, and a large store of supplies. War seems imminent, and as the Unicorn are their allies, I can only surmise the Spider Clan are their target. Daigotsu’s bastards are the only opponents close to Shiro Makoto, and though I hate to see war between any of the Great Clans, I believe the Spider must renounce their ties to the Lord of Jigoku who is their patron.
The ramshackle and stinking village outside this remote Crab fortress was the foulest place I ever set foot in. Sewage pools in the muddy streets, and I have already spoken with the engineer in charge construction. If something is not done, disease is likely to run rampant among the villagers and then spread to the warriors of the castle. I only set foot in this place because we took the boy, Sumaji to find his family, who we thought might live in the Ivendi section.
Shintaro has a way with peasants and was able to locate Sumaji’s family with relative ease. We found their tiny shack, and it was a poignant reunion as Sumaji’s mother hugged him close. She had apparently believed he was dead, and the little boy would have been killed for thievery had Subotai not taken him in. Ikoma Uso refrained from shedding a tear, as it is inappropriate, even for an Ikoma bard, to weep in the presence of such low born folk, but we all felt the relief and joy of these destitute and starving people. Shintaro’s servant, Yuki, did weep loudly, as she had become a foster mother to the little boy for the past two weeks and had grown fond of him.
Little Sumaji embraced his grandfather, Gopti, who apparently lay dying of old age and what I assume was starvation. His time in this world was coming to an end, but he was eternally grateful that we had brought his beloved grandson to see him before he passed. He was more than willing to tell us what he knew about our enemy, Doji Chonitsu. Gopti is considered a teacher and a wise man among the Ivendi, and they called him a Guru, a title of great respect.
Sumaji translated his grandfather’s words, with some help from Subotai, who is becoming proficient in the Ivendi language. We learned that Guru Gopti has the ability to see demons for what they truly are, even if they masquerade in the form of men. When he first saw “the man in blue” Doji Chonitsu, he saw him for what he really was, “a tiger who walks on two legs.” Gopti could not help himself and called out Chonitsu, rather than let him pretend to be a man. I believe Gopti, as his words echo those of Yogo Tanaka, who also believed Chonitsu might not be a man.
Guru Gopti said that the being who calls himself, Doji Chonitsu is an extremely powerful, shape-shifting demon, called a Rakhasha in the Ivendi language. The people of the Ivory Kingdoms believe the Rakhasha race were imprisoned thousands of years ago by Vishnu the Protector, but a few escaped his gaze and have been causing trouble in the world ever since. It is said that Vishnu and the rest of the Ivindi gods were destroyed by Kali-Ma the Destroyer, and the Rakhasha are trying to free themselves from their prison.
We also learned that the priests of Vishnu left behind artifacts of power, like the small ivory statue of the elephant-headed got we recovered in the Teika village, and Guru Gopti believes these could be destroyed to weaken the Rakhshasa prison. I believe that Chonitsu has been acquiring the artifacts to weaken the prison and free his demonic brethren. The gate to this otherworldly prison is supposed to be inside a secret temple, which is hidden beneath a huge waterfall, deep within the jungle. We have heard of this temple before, as it was the place where a certain dagger was found long ago. A dagger used to attack a person of much importance.
Gopti does not know where the temple is located, as it is only a whispered legend among his people. Other Gurus may know, but Kali-Ma nearly eradicated them in the past and few remain. The Destroyer Wars were an apocalypse to the people of the Ivory Kingdoms, and only a fraction of the people who once lived here yet survive. Our Rokugani peasants and our samurai are filling the empty lands of this place, but what evil are we awakening here?
Gopti’s words have made so many things clear to us now. The Dark Oracle of Water has been allying with different foreign powers to sow unrest and destroy the Emerald Empire. He is also in league with a gaijin tiger demon, a Rakhshasa who wants to free its demonic race from a dead god’s prison.
The warning of the old woman, the Ra’Shari soothsayer called Drinka seem clearer now, and I do not doubt the veracity of her words.
“I see the great tiger arise from the jungle, awoken by the man who would drown the world. Upon the tiger’s face is the visage of your folk, the folk of the yellow skin and slanted eyes. The tiger dreams of its kin, locked away at the dawning of time, locked away by one now dead. It dreams of the day when they shall spring forth to hunt once more, ravaging the world and drinking the blood of all men. Close, now, close is the day when the tigers will be free and the world shall become their hunting ground. The shadow of the tiger lies upon your spirits. Perhaps you are destined to stand against it, to hunt it in turn, or perhaps you are destined to be its prey. The signs are unclear. The signs are unclear.”
Her words are perfectly clear now. The man who wishes to drown the world is working to release the tiger demons. He met us when we rode into the village of Tsuma for the Topaz Championship. He gave us a warning and told us to “Fear the water.”
Why would a man of such power warn us then when we were not yet men? I believe he knew our fates and his were linked, and he wished to see us, and take our measure. I assume he did not kill us then because he believes we will advance his cause someday. Does he think we will help bring about the destruction of the Empire we have sworn to protect? Does he think we will accidentally help release the Rakhshasa demons? I can only guess, but our path ahead will be difficult to survive.
We shall need many friends, and though Guru Gopti will soon be dead, his family will not starve. My companions and I have given them many koku, which will feed them and many others for the months ahead. They will recruit other Ivendi, and we will have eyes across this vast land, searching for the hidden temple deep in the jungle, and watching for our enemies.
Much is uncertain, but I have no doubt that someday, these men: Moto Subotai, Yoritomo Oki, Tamori Isao, Ikoma Uso, Suzume Shintaro, and myself, Akodo Toranaka will find this temple. I fear we will go there as fools, and will risk opening the gate to the place where the Rakhshasa have been imprisoned. Or perhaps we will close it forever.
We will not wait for our enemies to strike again. The demon who wears the face of Doji Chonitsu has been marked, his evil nature revealed. Let there be no doubt, we are hunting him.

To be continued next week:

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