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
This week’s episode was written by Alan Bahr, who joined for the last few parts of the campaign. Zach Hill (who played Suzume Shintaro) moved to Japan so we lost our lovable farmer samurai. Alan took Zach’s place, and since this campaign had such a ridiculous amount of back story and NPCs already, Alan took over long term NPC sometimes friend, sometimes antagonist, Doji Shunya, the Crane clan duelist.
Conflict in Heartbeats
The wind blew softly through the sculptured gardens of Shiro Katogama. Cherry blossoms alit on the trees, adding splashes of color among the green. Yet again, Doji Shunya no Katogama marveled at the skill of his gardeners. No matter where among the paths you stood, the cherry blossoms created guiding colors to the center of the garden. As Shunya sat on the straw mat and contemplated the trees, the soft tread of footsteps behind him signified the presence of his beloved.
“Watashi no jinsei no ai. (love of my life)” Shunya whispered as Doji Dainigon knelt beside him, and with the soft voice of the Doji courtiers,“I had believed you were occupied entertaining the Dragon envoy as Makoto-sama requested.”
“Hai, my husband. However, the honorable Mirumoto-san has learned you studied in the Kakita technique, and has requested the high honor of a duel with you.”
Shunya felt the familiar longing for competition in his heart as he considered the offer.
“Inform the envoy of my assent to his requests.” Shunya knelt and slide his daisho into his obi, before standing to bow to the approaching Dragon samurai. The familiar yellow and green, the placement of the daisho, and the stance the envoy took as he bowed. Such things were taught in the Kakita Dueling Academy, for the Kakita were well-versed in the techniques of niten, the two sword style.
“Doji-sama. I must beg forgiveness for my intrusion into your garden, but one does not often gain the opportunity to visit the beautiful gardens of the Doji.” Mirumoto Saikgo did not smile, and kept his on as befit a samurai of his station. “Much as one does not often get to test the Mirumoto style against the Kakita style.”
Shunya inclined his head, and gestured down the walkway. “The practice yard is this way.”
Shunya stood at the window, watching the port below. The Aerie was a beautiful port, a true example of the power and grace of the Crane outside of the Empire. As always, no matter how accustomed he was to travel on his champions behalf, he longed for his gardens. Sighing, for the work of a servant was never done, he stepped into the hallway. Quietly and quickly, Shunya walked to the library and knelt at the low writing desk. A dozen unfinished letters to his wife and daughter were scattered, intermixed with missives from his lord, details of troop movements, economic treatises and scraps of haiku.
“You are a man of conflict, Shunya-sama.” Saikgo’s words were quiet as the two men tread the paths of the garden together. “When you drew your blade, you had the eyes and fire of the true bushi in you. But as soon as your katana was sheathed, you had the hands and soul of a poet. You speak with the measured cadence of the courtier, but wear the katana with intent to shed blood. You are a cracked vase.”
Shunya chuckled quietly. “Ah, Saikgo-san, you do the stories of the Dragon justice. Perceptive and enigmatic. Is the life of a samurai not a life of conflict?”
Saikgo paused on the tiled path, his eyes captured by a living bird-cage, grown from the branches of a bush. “Impressive. I had never considered bending the branches of a living bush to grow into a cage.”
Shunya smiled. “My wife has a wonderful eye for art. It’s almost a pity she did not train with the Kakita Artisans.”
“Yes, you are right. Give her my compliments.” Saikgo gently touched a branch. “The bird, it is like the heart of a samurai. Trapped in a cage of living material grown around it. It doesn’t belong. It longs to be free. Some samurai, they are men bred and built for war. True servants of the Empress, ready to die in her name. Their hearts are that of the hawk. Some samurai, Shunya-sama, they have the heart of a nightingale. Bred for beauty and peace.”
Shunya nodded. “But what happens when a nightingale must go to war?”
Saikgo smiled grimly. “What happens when a sword must be drawn?”
Shunya looked around the dining table at his compatriots. The White Tigers. Friends. Allies. Brothers forged through death, life, and battle.
Suddenly a ghostly apparition flew through the windows, white wings carrying the spirit owl to it’s destination. The spell spoke with the voice of Bayusho Kuronobo, the Red Crane.
“The Shogunate is disbanded. Arrest warrants have been issued for the White Tigers. The Jade Champion and Voice of the Empress are either dead, in custody or missing. No one knows.” Barely controlled anger threaded the voice of the usually controlled Scorpion. “You must get yourselves to [Insert Village Name Here]. You will know who to meet. They will take you to the Firefly clan.” Without fanfare, the owl dissipated.
Sudden voices rose throughout the room, as the gathered samurai debated over their course of action.
“We must leave.” “By boat.” “By horses!”
With a gesture, Shunya called the nearest servant to him. “Fetch old clothes. We will disguise ourselves as ronin.” With a bow, the servant ran down the hallway.
Uso looked at Shunya and raised a single eyebrow. Shunya sighed at the Lion and raised his hands in a subtle gesture of futility.
“Friends, if this is to be believed, there is not much time. The best course of action is to disguise ourselves and exit the city.” Shunya met the eyes of the group. “I have my servant fetching clothes. We will leave on horseback and appear as ronin. We can escape through the forest. There is a village about one days ride from here, where we can obtain a boat to carry us quickly to [Insert Village Name here].”
The gathered samurai nodded and quickly set of to gather their things. Within minutes the White Tigers had prepared to exit and leave the estate on horseback. Time passed, only measured by the Obsidian Moon above. The samurai traveled quickly, attempting to put as much distance between themselves their pursuers as possible. Toranaka signaled to the group, his sharp eyes catching sight of shadows ahead.
“There are people ahead on the path. One on horse, several on foot.”Toranaka’s voice cut through the silence, shattering the illusion of a swift escape. With a quick nod, Shunya edged himself out in front. Weapons were loosed in the sheath. Bows were strung. If these men wished to take the White Tigers alive, it would take an army.
“Halt!”The voice carried from the man on the horse. “Identify yourselves.”
Shunya considered quickly. “We are ronin. Formerly employed by Crane as merchant guards, we have recently decided to seek our wealth elsewhere.”
Kakita Tadanubo edged his horse forward. “Shunya-san.”
Oh by the seven fortunes. Of course.Shunya sighed inwardly. “I am afraid you are mistaken, honorable Crane-sama. I am a ronin.”
Tadanubo looked at the hilt of Shunya’s katana, and then revealed the chop of an emerald magistrate. “Perhaps, but we are looking for a group of samurai this size. You will come back to the Aerie with us to be questioned.”
“I am afraid we can not. Our business is pressing, and we would not break our word.” Shunya could see Uso and Oki slowly edging their horses out so they could quickly engage the flanking Daidoji that Toranaka had spotted.
Tadanubo smiled. “You remind me very much of a samurai I trained with. Doji Shunya. We had a bet, you see. He claimed he would be inducted to the ranks of the kenshinzen before I. I have not had the pleasure of telling him he lost.”
Shunya felt the thirsty pull in his heart. The pull to prove oneself against others. The urge to be deemed the greater.
Shunya bowed low as Saikgo and his company departed Shiro Katogama. As the leaving samurai rode through the courtyard and out the gates, he could hear as Dainigon approached slightly behind him.
“I find, I rather enjoyed the company of the Dragon.” Shunya turned towards his wife and smiled genuinely. “They have marvelous insights and wisdom.
“Hai, my husband.” Dainigon’s eyes were closed, and her on was sealed in the training of the courtiers.
“What is it, love of my life?” Shunya had never been able to pierce the veil of training that hid the emotions of his wife, never unless she chose to reveal them.
“A missive from Makoto-sama. He requires you back in the colonies. War with the Mantis is approaching.”
Shunya stood in the grass, three paces from Tadanubo. Both men bowed low and then went into the crouch and stance of the Kakita duelists. The back of their hands rested on the hilts of their katana. The eyes of the opponents stared into each other, attempting to read the soul of the other man. The moments were counted in heartbeats.
One.“You are a man of conflict, Shunya-sama.”
Shunya saw the intent in Tadanubo’s heart, and took a step forward.
Two.“When you drew your blade, you had the eyes and fire of the true bushi in you.”
Shunya’s hand reversed itself, and his palm gripped the hilt of his katana. Tadanubo had barely begun to move. A second step.
Three.“You are a cracked vase.”
Shunya slide his hand down to the saya of his katana and took a third step, this time moving to the right as he pulled the scabbard forward. Tadanubo took his first step forward.
Four.“What happens when a sword must be drawn?”
The hilt of Shunya’s blade stopped against the hilt of Tadanubo’s, pinning Tadanubo’s katana in the scabbard so it could not be drawn. Tadanubo’s eyes widened in surprise and both men ceased to move.
Five.“It must be sheathed.”
Shunya stepped back from Kakita Tadanubo and bowed deeply. “As you see, honorable Crane-sama. We are but ronin.”
Tadanubo shook his head softly. “You may pass. A word of advice, ronin. I hear the forest path is lovely in the moonlight. The bridge is always so busy.”
“Hai, Kakita-sama. Your advice is appreciated.”
As Shunya mounted his horse, the Daidoji parted, and the White Tigers rode through the night. As they passed the bridge, the wisdom of Tadanubo’s words was made clear, for guards and magistrates were stationed, questioning any who attempted to pass.
Arriving at the village on the coast, the horses were swiftly traded for a ship that Oki would manage. The White Tigers sailed the coast towards [Insert Village Name Here], renegades from their own allies.
Soul of peace.
Hands of death and fire
A servant waits
Thoughts of love
Deeds of violence
War in the land
War in the heart
This is what it is
To be samurai
To be continued next week: