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
Paul Genesse wrote this one. This session was the end of the second act of our campaign. The group takes some losses.
The White Tiger Journal, Part II, The Jungle of the Three Mothers
(Part I covers the journey from Second City to the jungle trek—and can be found in the White Tiger Memorial Shrine in Second City)
All Entries by Akodo Toranaka, Commander of the White Tiger Expedition
Day 1: The Jungle of the Three Mothers is a haunted place of bloodsucking insects and oppressive heat. It was a difficult day of hacking through brush and vines, but the White Tigers will endure. Our long journey of many weeks across the Ivory Kingdoms to this deadly place has brought us together as an army. The group training days and maneuvers have taught us all how to work as one. We are strong and sharp, our feet toughened, and our morale high.
All the logistical preparations were successful and we should have enough supplies to find the Waterfall Temple and return. We will hide some supplies along the way for the return trip through the jungle. Superior logistical preparation wins most campaigns and the White Tiger Expedition has arrived at full strength to this final barrier, this terrible jungle.
Sadly, we must leave the horses behind now, which has upset Subotai especially. Bringing them into the jungle would be unwise. We go forward now with 150 samurai, 20 ronin, 11 Ivindi, 20 Eta, and 300 peasant porters, all divided equally among 7 squads. My official log contains the names of all the White Tigers, precise number of beasts of burden and supply tallies.
This is an official record and I must include the unsettling news from the Crab holding of Kosomura Dokoro, which sits at the edge of the jungle. Hiruma scouts ranging from one of their watchtowers spotted a force of approximately 100 men passing through here a week ahead of us. They were believed to be Rhamalist cultists, but some of the scouts saw Rokugani men, including a man with distinctive Togashi tattoos. We suspect this is Togashi Tozaru, one of the Ten Killers Gang who thinks he will find enlightenment through the destruction of the Empire. If I find him, I will show him enlightenment with the edge of my katana. In the next world he will learn the error of his ways.
Day 2: We have made slow progress, and I fear that all of the formations and drills we performed as a large group on open ground will be nearly impossible to execute in this thick jungle. The small squad formations we practiced will serve us well, but I dislike spreading my forces out so much. The White Tiger Leadership Council and I, and all of the Gunsos, have begun to plan and train for whatever may come at us here. Communications will be essential as our force will be a stretched out column of porters and samurai. Drums will be used, in addition to the horn calls. We shall fight as one army, but each squad will be independent and their place in the column will rotate so the same squad is not always breaking the trail. Each squad has their own supplies and their own porters to protect as well.
Day 3: One of the porters blundered into a nest of vicious stinging insects today. His body immediately swelled up and he died choking on his tongue. The peasants are afraid, but I have asked the monks and priests to bless them tonight and use incense to cleanse any evil spirits from the camp. I do not know if such things will help, but the peasants believe they will, and that is all that matters now.
Day 4: Rain, but decent progress.
Day 5: More rain. The mud is sucking off our sandals, and we managed only a few short miles.
Day 6: The terrible rain and mud today was eclipsed by a demon. An Elephant Destroyer Demon was found trapped in a muddy bog. Our archers and shugenja had minimal effect, but the White Tiger Leaders attacked. The Fortunes smiled upon Shintaro-san and may they bless him always in the future. He slew the demon with his large bisento, Swamp Dragon. Once the demon was slain, we collected its ivory tusks and gave them the Ivindi gurus to purify so they could make them into weapons later. Arrowheads and daggers of ivory will serve us well.
Day 7: The day started with one death and ended with hundreds more.
Before midday we buried one unlucky samurai. He was the first samurai killed on this expedition. A Toku bushi of the Monkey clan slipped and drowned while crossing the swamp. I did not know him personally, but I recognized his face when his friends dragged his corpse out of the muck Toku Zanaru, the leader of the Minor Clan Alliance was distraught, but those under his command will carry on. They are samurai. I will speak with Zanaru about keeping his face when we are confronted with terrible events. He must maintain his composure or the men under his command may lose heart.
The accidental death was a portent of a much more dire circumstance. Soon after the burial of the samurai I was given extremely disturbing news. The advance Spider scouts I had dispatched found signs that the Rhimali Cultists, servants of the Tiger Demon we know as Chonitsu, were preparing to raid our camp. The Spider Clan have been invaluable so far, and this information saved countless samurai. I did not know how many of the enemy there were, but we knew at least 100 had gone ahead of us.
I decided we would surprise the cultists, and the leadership council agreed. I had the far edge of our camp appear to be an easy target. I ordered elements of the 3rd Squad: 14 Crab samurai, 7 Badger clan, and 3 ronin to hide inside tents or otherwise pretend to be unaware in their seemingly unprepared camp. Suzume Shintaro-san was also among them and I had the Tsuruchi archers led by Oki-san ready to attack. I also ordered the Spider and Hare clan to hide in the jungle and prepare to wreak havoc when the Ivendi cultists began to flee.
The enemy were fooled and many of them fell into our trap, thinking us unaware. We slaughtered the Ivindi savages and I took two heads. Then news came from our all-seeing Spider scouts that a much larger force of Ivendi was attacking from the north. Our preparations saved us, and the other valiant squads, especially the Crane and Monkey of 7th squad held the line until I personally led a counterattack and rallied the brave samurai. The men stuck together, despite the darkness, and the chaos.
Shintaro-san stayed to hold the flank with a few Crab and ran into Sesho the Monk, Killer #10. Fo
rtunately, the Crab brawler Hida Shomonai helped Shintaro, and they slew the villain, taking his head.
Oki and the Tsuruchi archers shot many Ivindi as Uso-san and a pair of Ikoma scouts cut their way through the cultists to reach the enemy general, an Ivindi man. Uso would have killed him as well, but Tamori Isao crushed the legs of the general with his new spell Jaws of Earth. Uso’s battle lust was denied the general’s blood, but he spilled much last night.
The enemy made one final stand with their Rokugani leader, Togashi Torazu. We gave him many wounds, but his mystical tattoos kept him alive. Uso opened a large gash on Torazu’s side, and I found my opening and took his head.
I took five heads last night, and wounded many more of the enemy. When the battle was won, Uso-san began chanting at me, leading the men as they honored their commander, “Headsman! Headsman!” The samurai and the peasants alike took up the chant until it echoed in the jungle. I have gained a new name War Name amongst the White Tigers.
Day 8: The first big test of the White Tigers was a thunderous victory. We routed our enemies. We counted nearly 300 dead Ivindi. Some of our men were slain as well. Our losses were light. Only a handful of the minor clan samurai were killed, and they fought so bravely, bringing much honor to their clans. Dozens of the men are wounded, but all will be healed by our shugenja in two days time. We will stay and rest at least one more day. We will bury the dead, and honor them with the ritual prayers. All of the samurai died as heroes and their names will not be forgotten. When this is over, even if I am dead, a memorial shrine will be built to honor the dead White Tigers.
Our victory was won because all of our samurai were ready, armed and armored. Advance warning from the Spider scouts saved us from having a much more difficult battle.
Last night, the Spider and Hare pursued the survivors and today Daigotsu Iko brought me two large sacks filled with heads. Iko and her samurai have been the most valuable squad in our army. The scouts also found the cultists supply cache, and we have gained a large amount of food, which will undoubtedly help on our return journey.
Day 9: The three Ivindi gurus finished purifying the Destroyer demon’s ivory. They made 5 arrowheads for our best archers and a dozen rough daggers. I passed out the daggers to the samurai who distinguished themselves in battle. I offered one to Daigotsu Iko, but she revealed that her black steel sword is some form of potent magical nemurani, so my gift wasn’t necessary.
We will begin our march again tomorrow. We are no longer an untested group. We have shed the blood of our enemies together, and buried some of our friends. Now we fight not only for our noble cause, but for our brothers.
Day 10: We traveled far. Morale is high. The men have become very friendly with each other after our latest trials. Even the three Ivindi gurus have begun to speak to Tamori Isao, and even the pair of Phoenix Clan archeologists. Isawa Akihiro and Tanaka have learned much and have brought the leadership council more information about the Red Hunger, the beast we have been afraid to meet, as we are now very close to the territory it is rumored to inhabit.
I will record the legend here, though the Isawa archeologists will undoubtedly have more details.
There are three legendary witches from Ivindi folklore: The Mother of Tears, The Mother of Blood, The Mother of Nightmares. Over 500 years ago there was a war between the Mothers and the Great Maharaja. It was a terrible, brutal war. This area was once lush and beautiful, the pride of the Kingdoms. But the war unleashed terrible magic and horrible curses which twisted the land. The Great Maharajah defeated the Three Mothers, but the struggle had turned the Maharajah from a righteous leader into a bitter, angry man, who saw plots and conspiracies against him everywhere. And soon the whole of the kingdom was plunged into a terrible civil war, called the War of the Maharajahs.
The legendary Red Hunger, the giant snake capable of swallowing whole elephants, was created as a magical weapon by one of the Mothers during this war. Each of the mothers had one. The Mother of Nightmares created the Dream Eater. The Mother of Blood created the Red Hunger. The Mother of Tears created the Great Sea Beast.
Oki-san was very interested in the sea beast created to destroy the Maharaja’s fleets. The leviathan of the sea was slain and its body used in the ritual to create the Great Sea Beast. The leviathan’s horn was taken and hollowed out into an instrument, which through playing specific notes on it, could control the Beast, or put it to sleep when it wasn’t needed. When the guru was asked how it could be killed, he didn’t know, because nobody had ever succeeded in doing so . . . But the gaijin Cabral’s journal said that the Dark Oracle had successfully controlled the sea monster and put it to sleep.
What all this truly means, I do not know, but I would like to have the leviathan’s horn, which might allow us to control the sea beast ourselves. The gaijin fleets could be wiped out if we had control of such a monster.
Day 11: Another long day, but we traveled far. If our cartographer’s calculations are correct, we have traveled 37 miles into the Jungle of the Three Mothers.
Day 12: Some of the peasants saw a ghost in the jungle this morning. They threatened to stop, but Shintaro-san convinced them to stay firm. He told them funny stories about ghosts and made them laugh. Perhaps they were afraid of the ghost and the fear made their feat move faster, but we covered almost 20 miles today. We found a perfect route along an elephant trail. I have had the entire troop re-briefed on the plan if we encounter the Red Hunger. A small force will draw it away from the main column. The main column will disperse if attacked and rally at the last camp where we stopped.
Day 13: More scouts have been sent out in all directions. No sign of the Red Hunger, but one of the peasants gathering water was mauled by a tiger. I sent Oki to hunt it down and he killed the man-eater. Subotai also went hunting and shot a little bear in a tree. Two wild boars were killed as well. Oki had his porters bring the dead tiger into camp and the peasants rejoiced and beat the dead animal with sticks to teach it a lesson. Tonight we cooked the animals we killed and the peasants ate all the meat in a grand feast. They seem to have forgotten about the ghost now.
Day 14: We traveled far, nearly 15 miles. A good trail along a river was used. We travel fast, but very warily now.
Day 15: The Spider scouts came across an Ivindi camp. I suspected the Ivindi were in league wit
h the cultists. I asked Daigotsu Iko to secretly capture a few of them and question them.
Day 16: Iko has reported that the Ivindi from the camp are actually refugees who escaped from captivity at the Waterfall Temple. They were slave labor used to excavate the ruins. Cultists came and went, but most of the time they were simply being watched by one man, who fits the description of Doji Chonitsu. I was mistaken about the Ivendi settlement, and regret the deaths of the Ivindi who were questioned by the Spider, but they were only peasants, and likely would have died in the jungle regardless, as they are starving and lost.
I have asked Jagdish, our best Ivindi guide, to have one of his men stay with the refugees and help guide them back to Crab lands. Also, I have given him permission to access the supplies we left in the jungle and to use the supplies we captured from the cultists. We know how far we must go now, and the extra supplies would have been unneeded.
Day 17: We made good progress, ten miles, using the knowledge of the Ivindi refugees to speed our progress, though I am still wary of a trap or ambush.
Day 18: Seven hard miles today through difficult hills. Our nerves are on edge. We can all sense the jungle has changed. Something lives here and we are interlopers.
Day 19: The Red Hunger was sighted today. The men are shaken. We made camp very quietly and with no fires after doubling back and taking a different route that will hopefully avoid the monster. The column took cover as the gigantic snake passed some distance ahead of us. Luckily, we were downwind. I can hardly fathom how large this creature is. From the trail we saw, the Red Hunger is at least as wide as a pair of elephants, but fast like a striking cobra. We would have no hope of defeating it in battle.
Day 20: We have taken a different route to the mountain pass that leads to the Waterfall Temple. So far, we have avoided the Red Hunger and have made excellent progress. We must not let down our guard now.
Day 21: Today we camped early, to regain our strength. We have stopped at the base of the mountain pass that leads to the valley that holds the ancient temple beneath the waterfall. It is difficult for me to believe, but in the past three weeks since leaving the Crab lands we have managed to travel 116 miles. We are so close now, but our enemies are trying to stop us.
I sent some scouts, mostly Spider and some of Jagdish’s men to explore the pass while we set up camp. A tremendous explosion echoed from above us, and a huge rockslide crashed down into the pass. Many of us ran up the hill to check on the scouts. Jagdish was unhurt, but a few ronin, a couple of Ivindi, some Spider, including Daigotsu Iko were buried alive under large rocks. Tamori Isao lifted the rocks and saved many with his magic. Iko would have been killed, but Isao swam through the rock and found her and many others. I think the fortunes are watching over her, but suspect her black steel numurani sword may have saved her. Still, she should have been killed judging by how much weight was on top of her.
Oki and Uso did find a clue about who exploded the gaijin pepper and caused the rockslide. They found small, female-sized footprints, made by Rokugani style sandals leading away. They think this is the work of Kakita Yodo, one of the Ten Killers, who had fooled Oki shortly before we left Second City. She pretended to be his lover, a vapid courtier, but she is clever and very deadly.
Day 22: A traitor in our midst revealed himself at last, and two of the leadership council were almost assassinated today. On the eve of what could be the final battle of the White Tigers our army was in danger of being torn apart. The rage I felt at this betrayal burned like a hundred suns in my belly. I was not going to let anything tear us apart after we had endured so much and traveled to far.
The day began well enough. We made it across the nearly blocked pass and made early camp near a river in the valley of the Waterfall Temple. The scouts reported we had arrived at our destination. Only a short march was required and we would reach the Temple Beneath the Waterfall.
Many final preparations were underway when in the early evening I received an urgent summons. I arrived at the tent of Usagi Akino of the Hare Clan, who was second in command of the Minor Clan Alliance, under Toku Zanaru. I remembered that Akino had spoken against joining the White Tigers, and I had always kept an eye on him.
When I arrived, I learned that my good friend, Suzume Shintaro had challenged Akino to a duel. It was well known that Akino was an exceptional duelist and I had seen for myself in our daily training sessions that Shintaro was little better than an ox when it came to iajutsu combat. I had banned dueling among the White Tigers and was very angry when I learned of this challenge. Shintaro knew better, and he would die if he crossed blades with Akino.
I quickly learned that Shintaro had demanded to duel Akino because Akino had said that the great clans were using the minor clans, and that the minor clans would be the ones dying in the battle to come, and the great clans would leave the jungle as heroes to claim all the glory. Akino proposed murdering the great clan samurai once the mission was over and other nefarious schemes to make the minor clans the saviors of the Empire.
Enraged, Shintaro argued against this treachery. They left the tent to fight and Shintaro told the crowd what had happened in detail. When I arrived I heard what Akino had said, and Toku Zanaru bore witness against him, as did Shintaro.
Shintaro had already convinced the crowd that Akino had spoken treacherous words, and I took action as the Commander of the White Tigers, and the final judge of guilt and innocence. I had Akino seized and put on his knees. I had heard enough from him and I trusted the words of Shintaro and Zanaru. Both are honorable samurai and souls above question.
Before this weak attempt at treachery could continue, I cut off Akino’s head as he once again tried to deny his guilt. The samurai were shocked, but they understood that I am a decisive leader and will not tolerate treachery such as this. Bloody sword in hand, I asked the men if there was anybody else who wished to tear apart the White Tigers. None stepped forward.
We soon found in Akino’s tent proof of his real allegiance. We discovered one of the Dark Oracle of Water’s communication bowls. Akino had been reporting to his true master for our entire journey.
I spoke to the leaders of the White Tigers and most of the samurai earlier tonight. I explained what had happened and showed them the proof. It is a grim night, but the stakes are high and we all know to what length our enemy will stoop.
Shintaro would have been killed in a duel with Akino. I could not let this happen. Despite my quick action, Shintaro and Zanaru nearly died. Akino had served them poisoned tea, and likely planned to tell any who would listen that both had been murdered by the Great Clans, to weaken the Minor Clans. Subotai told me both Shintaro and Zanaru were given an antidote to the poison, but he kept the identity of their savior a mystery.
Akino was a member of the Ten Killer Gang, and he is but another of their number who has fallen to my blade. Akino was likely Killer #2, one of their most deadly. His head sits on a spear outside my tent. I have slain over half of their gang myself, but it is not over yet. If I die tomorrow, I will spend my life to inspire the White Tigers toward victory, but I will not fall until my sword is broken and a pile of bodies surround me.
Day 23: Several of my closest friends are dead. It has been a day of bloodshed and glory. The Battle of the Waterfall Temple is over, and five members of the White Tiger Leadership Council have given their lives to buy our victory and save the Emerald Empire from destruction.
It is almost dawn on the 24th day since we entered this terrible jungle, but I cannot sleep until I record some of the events of yesterday. The bards will tell of this battle for as long as the Emerald Empire stands, and I must preserve some of my own recollections.
Before we began our march to the temple a body was discovered. One of the Phoenix samurai had been murdered in the night, his throat slashed in his sleep. His shugenja charge, Isawa Akihiro was missing. I had spoken to Isawa Akihiro several times, and he was one of the archeologists working for Agasha Ryo at the Great Library in Second City. He was also the man my friends and I had observed one night when we were out searching for the Ten Killers with Matsu Hachiro. We decided afterwards that Akihiro was probably innocent, but it is well known to us that Killer #1 was a powerful shugenja, and Isawa Akihiro is likely that man.
We all realized that the final two members of the Ten Killers were ahead of our expedition and were waiting for us.
We marched soon after sunrise and quick burial of the Shiba yojimbo. We followed the river to our destination. I had instructed all the samurai to prepare for battle, and we were fully armed and armored, wearing our White Tiger bandanas on our arms and across our brows, each squad proudly displaying their banners.
We arrived at the waterfall after a short march. We were on the edge of a plateau, on the precipice of a sheer cliff, which extended for miles on either side of us. Far below we saw the vast ruins of the Ivindi temple on the shore of a small lake, held in check by a crumbling dam that kept the water from flooding the ruins and the plain beyond. The river continued into the vast jungle, which was shrouded in thick mist. I was afraid of what might be hiding in the misty jungle, and did not want to take the entire expedition into this potential trap, as our escape route could easily be cut off.
The Hiruma scouts had not gone into the jungle below, but had gone down the steep goat trail and returned. I wanted to send out more scouts, but there was no time. Two of our shugenja, the most Honored Tamori Nasuo of the Dragon Clan and his student, my good friend, Tamori Isao, swam through the earth and scouted near the temple. They returned with news that the seal holding the Tiger Destroyer Demons in their otherworldly prison was about to be broken. We had no more time to scout or hesitate any longer. We had to rush down to the temple and stop what was happening or face another Destroyer War and a possible end of our beloved Empire. The Fortunes had delivered our army to this place on the exact day necessary. If we had been arrived only a day later, it would have been too late.
I was forced to make my most difficult decision of the entire campaign, and chose to divide our forces, a very risky strategy, and one I second-guess even now. I left the twenty ronin, 275 of the porters, and Seppun Washi in charge of the men who would stay on the plateau, while about 200 of us total, roughly 150 samurai—almost all of them, went down the goat trail to the temple below. Yasuki Dokunsuto, and my exceptional scribe, Tsuruchi Futoshi, stayed with Washi. In truth, I put the honorable ronin, Shukan Hisao in charge, as he was the most competent military commander among all of them. Leaving most of the non-combatants on the top of the plateau would give them a chance to flee if necessary. Some had to survive if the Fates went against us.
Many of the peasants wanted to come, but I bid them stay. They were armed with spears, stones, and clubs and were ready to fight. What they lacked in training, they made up for in tenacity. These common men had traveled with us for many weeks now, and despite their low status, they were White Tigers, and had been trained to fight alongside us.
When our force arrived at the bottom of the cliff after navigating the treacherous goat trail, the spray of from the waterfall filled air, adding to the mist shrouding the jungle. We entered the foggy ruins and found we had been brought into a killing ground.
The voice of Isawa Akihiro, the leader of the Ten Killers filled the air, magic making him sound like a god. He said that we were too late, and since the Ivindi gods were dead, and all their ivory idols had been destroyed, the seal imprisoning the Tiger Demons has weakened. Failure of the seal was inevitable. He told us that the Dark Oracle of Water wanted the Rakhasha demons freed so that they would rampage across the colonies. Akihiro reveled in telling us that spilling human blood in this place would weaken the seal further, so all we samurai would accomplish was fulfilling the Dark Oracle’s plan and freeing the enemies our fathers had defeated and banished. Akihiro said we were fools.
It was then when we heard the sound of metal feet crushing the ground. An army of rusting Ironclad Destroyers came plodding toward us from the jungle, each one nine-feet tall, four-armed, and deadly. The metal monstrosities felt no pain, nor did they ever tire. They would crush every last White Tiger unless we found a way to stop them.
I wanted to face the Ironclads, but we all heard the chanting coming from the ruined temple. We knew we had to stop whatever was happening there. I gathered a small force and left Matsu Hachiro, my Lion brother, in command and told him to hold the line.
I took with me: Ikoma Uso, Suzume Shintaro, Moto Subotai, Tamori Isao, Yoritomo Oki, Daidoji Masafuni, Doji Shunya, Toku Zanaru, Bayushi Sakai, Bayushi Koji, Moto Byung-Chul, and Mirumoto Kawanari.
We rushed into the ruined temple and found a handsome Crane man waiting for us. All around him were the torn apart bodies of Ivindi slaves. A strange light seeped up through the floor, and we realized that we were actually standing on the ancient seal that imprisoned the Tiger Demons, the Rakasha.
The demon spoke to us in the voice of the man, Chonitsu. “So you are the samurai who have been following me across the empire and the colonies, getting in my way, thwarting my plans, and killing my servants.” He asked us to swear allegiance to him, but he knew we would refuse. Chonitsu gloated and said we were too late. He had struck a deal with the Dark Oracle of Water, Junzo. The seal had been crippled, and would fail. He said it was inevitable. The only question was how long would it take? The Destroyers the Ivendi slaves dug up in the valley would slaughter the expedition, and our blood would be enough to end the seal once and for all.
The Crane samurai disappeared then, and his true Tiger Demon form was revealed. He was nothing like the feral Tiger Destroyer we once defeated. He was an ancient beast of nightmares. Waves of terror struck us then. The fear made us question our commitment, but we all found our courage and attacked.
The battle was brutal and full of pain. Bayushi Koji was nearly killed by a backhanded blow from the demon. I would have been slain as well, but Subotai and Masafune protected me, and allowed me to attack the demon. Uso gave me the large ivory kukri knife he had been carrying, as my katana proved to be useless. Moto Byung-Chul used his magic and bestowed upon me the Strength of the Kami. We worked together, Oki putting arrow after arrow in the demon, and we wounded our enemy, but Toku Zanaru, the leader of the Minor Clan Alliance was struck and killed, his body nearly ripped in half.
Moto Byung-Chul began one of his throaty Death Priest songs and a dark figure appeared, rising up behind Uso-san. I do not know for certain, but I believe one of the Lords of Death, one of the Fortunes themselves, joined the battle on our side! For the first time in a thousand years, the immortal tiger demon became aware of its mortality. It was afraid!
With the Strength of the Kami coursing through me, I leaped in the air and struck the demon, landing a nearly fatal blow, lowering his defenses as the ivory Kukri slashed open the demon’s throat.
Tamori Isao’s Jaws of Earth latched onto Chonitsu, and the Raksasha died from all the wounds we had inflicted upon it. The body melted and turned to black slime. We were all hurt from the battle, and none more than Bayushi Koji. Oki saved Koji by giving him his last healing draught.
We all felt like we had achieved some sort of victory, but we were wrong. I could hear the battle with the Ironclads raging on, but before I left to join the fray Moto Byung-Chul knelt down, and placed a hand on the Raksasha prison seal. “It is failing. Quickly, gather all of the shugenja!”
All of the shugenja came to examine the failing seal. It was very bad news. Unless something very drastic was done, all of the Raksasha race would be freed into the world. Tamori Nasuo conferred with Moto Byung-Chul, and they came up with an idea to stop what was thought to be inevitable by the Tiger Demon.
Nasuo-sama and Byung-Chul-sama decided they had only one recourse. They would sacrifice their lives to make sure seal would not break. It was our only hope.
Isao offered to give his life instead, but Nasuo forbid it, saying that he was an old man, and this was his fate. Byung-Chul said goodbye to his son and our two most powerful shugenja began their final sacrifice.
Byung-Chul told me they would need one full hour to complete their spell. The Destroyer Ironclads must be held off for that time, or the spell would fail.
I promised we would hold and the two shugenja knelt down and began to pray to the kami.
Outside, Matsu Hachiro had been leading a valiant fight against the Destroyers, but the machine men were nearly unstoppable. I assumed command and summoned all our remaining men from the top of the plateau. I could see there was some delay, but I had faith they would arrive, hopefully in time to save us.
Our forces in the valley were almost all wounded, and our shugenja had exhausted all of their magic, and we had nearly a full hour to go. I failed our men. We were pushed back toward the temple, but at least our left flank was aided by the ancient dam holding back the river. I set the edge of our line right up against the cracked wall of stone.
We paid in blood for every moment we gave Nasuo-sama and Byung-Chul-sama. I failed to hold the Ironclads from advancing. The Mantis, Scorpion, and Spider had taken heavy casualties already. We were about to retreat once again and reform the line.
It was then when Ikoma Uso noticed something happening on the wall above the ruins. Kakita Yodo, Killer #2, was setting another bomb. She had to be stopped, or she’d blow it up, causing rocks to rain down on us. Uso and his two Ikoma scouts went after her, dodging between the swinging Ironclads. Yoritomo Oki saw his ex-lover and the bomb, and called upon every single archer to aim at her and loose a volley at the same time. Yodo was struck by five arrows and disappeared behind the rocks. The state of the bomb was unknown.
The Ironclad Destroyers in the rear ranks began hurling rocks over the front lines. Uso’s two Ikoma scouts were struck by flying rocks and taken down, so he was now on his own. He reached the dying Kakita Yodo just as she was trying to light her bomb, and he ran her through with his no-dachi.
Our line was about to fail. Samurai were exhausted and many wounded were all around me. I had rallied the men for nearly half an hour, but we were spent, completely exhausted and with little hope of victory.
When we could hold no longer our salvation arrived. The 20 ronin led by Shukan Hisao, along with a handful of samurai, and nearly 300 peasants charged into the fray. Shintaro and Isao leapt into the middle of the fight and kept our line from breaking. They pushed the Ironclad Destroyers back from the temple and most of our samurai were given a moment of rest.
I know Uso-san was above the battle at that time. We saw him carrying the cask filled with explosives. He must have seen the futility of our situation. There was an endless stream of Ironclad Destroyers coming into the valley. Hundreds more were marching toward us. It must have been at this moment when Uso decided to enact his desperate plan.
Our men were about to be overrun. I saw Matsu Hachiro knocked down. He was about to be killed, crushed under the foot of an Ironclad, but Subotai saved Hachiro’s life, at least for a moment. Two of my friends were about to die, but I sent in a few wounded reserve samurai, and sacrificed their lives to hold the line and to save my two friends. It was worth the sacrifice, for we rallied, all of us, and pushed back the Destroyers to the original line.
We fought for some time, and I watched Tamori Isao bashing his tetsubo against an Ironclad. The Destroyer was about to kill him when Isao’s bodyguard, Mirumoto Kawanari, his reluctant yojimbo, stepped in front and accepted the blow, killing the already wounded swordsman instantly.
Kawanari’s sacrifice gave us more will to fight. I stood shoulder to shoulder with Isao and we beat the Destroyers back.
Isawa Akihiro had been in command of the Destroyers all this time, whittling us down and bleeding us dry. He thought his victory assured, but he must have finally realized what was happening in the temple, and that we were merely trying to buy time for our shugenja to reseal the prison.
A blazing meteor streaked across the sky, and landed with an explosion and shower of water and steam in the shallow part of the lake. Akihiro stepped out with a gigantic flaming whip in each hand. There was no doubt why he had been named Killer #1 of the Ten Killer gang.
I knew I had to face Akihiro. I inspired the men to fight on. My friends ran over to the edge of the shallow part of the lake, and took a different tactic. The strength of the kami were still strong in me and I leapt off Koji’s thigh, and over the dam into the lake, surprising Akihiro. He dodged most of my blade, but I left a red slice on his neck.
Masafune, Shintaro, and Subotai joined me and we attacked Akihiro, who was striking down everyone else who faced him. Masafune saved my life again, and Subotai drew the ire of the last of the Ten Killers. Once again, Subotai’s defensive style kept him alive and he gave me the opening I needed. I took Akihiro’s head and and watched his body sink into the shallows of the lake.
We all prepared to face the Destroyers again. From our elevated vantage point we could see there were hundreds more coming, and we knew that even if the spell worked, and the prison was sealed, the Destroyers would not stop.
We saw Uso running along the base of the dam, carrying the cask of explosives. He dodged many of the Ironclads, avoiding their grasping arms, and crushing metal feet. How he got through so many enemies to the center of the ancient dam is a testament to the blessing of the Fortunes upon him.
The explosion knocked many of us off our feet. There was a deafening roar as the entirety of the lake rushed free down the mountainside, crashing into the Destroyers and carrying them back into the jungle.
I did not see what happened to Uso, but I knew he could not have gotten far from the explosion.
Oki told me later that he saw that Uso’s body swept into the river. We did recover Uso’s no-dachi, as it flew in the air and landed at the edge of the new wide river which had saved our lives.
The last of the Destroyers were cut off by the water, and my friends and I rallied the White Tigers. We crushed all that remained and found many of them trapped in the rubble and mud unleashed by Uso. His sacrifice stopped nearly 200 of the metal warriors. He saves us all, and paid with his life.
We found Tamori Nasuo-sama and Moto Byung-Chul-sama still kneeling across from each other, their heads bowed, in the temple. They gave their lives to repair the seal and save the Empire. Isao-san has told me that as long as the Rokugani Fortunes dwell in the Celestial Heavens, the prison will hold.
The cost of our victory was high. Half of the White Tiger Expedition is dead. Almost everyone who survived is wounded. Everyone is exhausted.
I spoke to Tsuruchi Futoshi and the scribe explained that when those left above saw the Destroyers attack, they wanted to come help, but there was some “discussion” first and apparently during this, the honorable Seppun Washi drew his sword to lead the attack, but he tripped and fell and impaled himself on his own blad. It was very unfortunate. A horrible accident. Futoshi, Dokunsuto, and Shukan Hisao had to take command then, and lead the White Tigers down the path.
So many are dead. Hida Shimonai, whom we first met, and fought at Shiro Makoto, is dead, but he stopped many of the Destroyers himself.
There is no sign of Uso’s body. I will carry his sword to Second City, and it will be placed in the memorial shrine for the fallen White Tigers. My Lion brother will never be forgotten. Nor will all of our valiant dead.
To be continued next week: