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 is also from our two year time break. Yoritomo Oki, having displayed that he was a drunken, lecherous, greedy, morally flexible individual at the Topaz Championship, was assigned to work under cover for Emerald Magistrate, Bayushi Kuronobo, in Zakyo Toshi, also known as Pleasure City.
This week’s episode was written by Tony Battalingo. Tony was the one guy in Writer Nerd Game Night who wasn’t a professional writer. Instead he defuses bombs for a living. However, Tony caught the writing bug, and produced this to explain what his character was up to during the break. It turns out that our one non-writer is actually a pretty darn good writer too.
Oki wakes up choking on mud and blood. He clears his throat, and is brutally reminded of the arrow in his chest. He rolls over onto his back, curses and assesses himself. The first thing he checks is the attendance of his weapons. He has his katana and wakizashi, he even has his little tanto in his sleeve next to his emergency supply of sake but his prized bow is missing. He lays his head back in the mud, trying not to breathe too deeply, lest the fiery bolt in his chest grows. He opens his eyes, looks up at the stars and curses. “Kuronobo is going to be very upset…”
There was a gruff response. “Look at me when you speak, Mantis!”
Oki knew he didn’t stand a chance against the three large gaijin that stood above him. He also knew he wasn’t going to die, not here, not now. He slowly climbed out of the muddy ditch. Most samurai would have accepted defeat and died an honorable death. Hundreds of thousands of Samurai throughout history had died honorable deaths. Oki never was one for tradition.
As Oki struggled to the soft grass at the top of the muddy ditch on his hands and knees, he paused and looked at the distant lights of Zakyo Toshi. Some people called it Pleasure City, Oki called it home.
The leader of the three gaijin barked at him like an untamed dog as he walked from the wagon to Oki. He drew a sword taller than himself as he walked. “Stupid samurai, you have gotten in our way too many times. You killed four of my men today, I am not letting you leave this place alive. We will rule Rokugan, it’s only a matter of time. Stand up and face me so I can kill you.”
The gaijin were coarse and harsh. Their accents were rough and hard to understand. Oki knew he wasn’t a very courteous, mannerly person but these gaijin made him look like a imperial courtier. Oki stayed on his knees and sat back on his feet. He reached into his sleeve and grabbed his sake, he closed his eyes and took a long draw from it. It burned like fire when it went down, instantly reminding him about the arrow piercing his chest. He looked up at the gaijin and outstretched his hand in a gesture of kindness. He figured he would offer the gaijin one last drink before he killed them.
Oki spoke, confidently; “Here my friends, you will need this to ease your pain.”
The leader of the group of gaijin looked at him, cocked his head sideways and laughed.
“You samurai are pathetic! You are defeated and yet you still honor me?” The gaijin reached out and smacked the sake out of Oki’s hand. He then held his sword over his head and shouted. “How stupid can you be, Mantis? You will die!”
Oki was enraged by the sight of his sake lying on the ground. He very quickly gathered his composure as to not show any weakness to his enemies. “So be it…” He then whispered to himself; “Only a fool stands in the path of a storm.”
Oki and the gaijin quickly swapped places, with the gaijin in the ditch and Oki standing above him. Only this time, the gaijin was defeated.
Oki turned his katana to the remaining two gaijin; “Which of you want to die next?”
The barbaric gaijin looked at each other with wide eyes and nodded. The larger of the two removed the enormous hammer from his back. The smaller produced a Yobanjin ring blade to wield along with his torch. Oki just stared at them, The two gaijin stared back. The air was tense and the only sound that could be heard was the bleeding of a dying gaijin in the ditch behind Oki.
Oki studied his opponents carefully. He knew they were Yobanjin from their armor and manners. They were obviously just hit men, sloppy ones at that. They were dirty and disheveled. Their foreign armor was scratched and tarnished. They were just low level grunts. Oki figured he had already killed five of them today, he might as well as finish the other two.
There was a flash of steel, then Oki paused to clean the dirty gaijin blood off his blade. He looked back at the two men he had just killed. He never did understand why they fought like they did. Why would they rely on brute strength and force when speed and logic was always the better choice? A large hammer is no match for a speeding arrow he thought. That reminded him of his missing bow.
Oki coughed and nearly collapsed from the pain. He put his katana away and picked up the torch to look for a place to sit. He picked up his small sake bottle and hobbled to the gaijin wagon to sit down. His bottle was empty, “Great…” he said with a sigh. He looked around the wagon. He knew there were a lot of smugglers around town that transported sake. He found a bottle of Friendly Traveler sake in a bag near the wagon.
“Fortunes favor upon me!” He drank a large mouthful from the bottle. It truly was the greatest sake in the land. He looked to the stars and chuckled then let out a large contented sigh, followed by some more coughing that nearly killed him. As he was hunched over the wagon he noticed a large tapestry covering something in the back. He removed the tapestry to expose many rows of clay pots. He instantly knew what it was and what he had to do.
He carefully picked up one of the pots and made a hole in the bottom with his tanto. A black sand slowly flowed from the bottom like the sand from an hour glass. He slowly walked away from the wagon holding the pot in one hand and the torch in the other. Most of Rokugan was oblivious to the growing gaijin numbers. They would come to Rokugan looking for fortune but they would end up working in the underbelly of crime fueled cities. Luckily, those were some of Oki’s favorite places.
Oki sat down on the cool grass under a tree and looked up at the stars again and laughed. He brought out the bottle of Friendly Traveler sake and studied it. “It was worth it for this.” He said, as he took a long drink from the bottle. He tossed the torch he had picked up from the dead gaijin. The trail of black sand from the pot caught fire. The flame raced the line to the wagon full of gunpowder. Oki just lied back, drank his sake and enjoyed the show. The fireball was bigger than any of the ones he had seen a shugenja summon.
“Father!” a young Oki cried out. “Please take me with you!” He cried as he ran up the dock to his father’s ship. “You need more men, I have done well in my school, I can help you fight! My bow is strong.”
Oki saw stars after his father backhanded him.
“Do not dishonor me, son! I have enough men. We are just delivering supplies. Go home, Oki. Expect my discipline when I return.”
Oki bowed deeply. “My apologies father, sail swiftly!”
Oki’s father walked up the ramp. The ship was cast off the docks. As they sailed away, Oki’s father yelled to his men one of the Mantis’ motto; “Only a fool stands in the path of a storm!”
Oki awoke to a young scorpion tending his wounds. He was back in his bed. He could smell the udon from the noodle shop he lived under. He looked up at the dirty basement ceiling. His stomach growled fiercely. His mouth was like dried rice.
“Good morning, Oki-san!” exclaimed the Scorpion girl.
Oki’s head throbbed at every syllable. Not only was he wounded but he was hung over too. Why did she always have to be so cheerful? She didn’t seem like a normal Scorpion Clan member, she was way too happy and attractive.
Oki grumbled, “Masumi… what have I told you about being loud in the morning?” Oki studied her through weary eyes, she was short. Her short black hair was haphazardly tied up into a bun.
“Don’t be silly, Oki-san! It’s nearly nightfall.”
Oki was slightly confused. How long had he been sleeping? He spied the bloody dressings next to the bed.
“Blood… are you hurt?” Oki asked.
“No, just my feelings. You worry me Oki-san. If our scouts didn’t find you this time… Well, you need to stop doing this to yourself. I am not going to be around every time you get injured.”
Oki realized that it was his blood on those rags. He looked down and noticed that the arrow had been removed from his chest and replaced with bright white bindings. He also noticed that he was completely naked. Luckily he was partially covered by a blanket. He must have passed out after blowing up the wagon. He didn’t know how he got back to his bed.
“You will be okay this time, Oki, but you still need to rest and heal. When you have enough strength go see Kuronobo. He is eager to hear if the job is finished.”
Oki just nodded and lay back while Masumi gathered her things and left. She stopped in the doorway and without looking at Oki said; “And please, lay off the sake, for me?” She turned and looked at Oki and gave a slight smile before putting on her mask and walking through the door.
Oki didn’t know how long he had been asleep. He figured he would get up and get some of the delicious udon noodles he craved. Naked, hungry, injured and hung over, Oki looked for his kimono in the dark basement he called home. It was freshly cleaned and folded on the table next to his bed. His weapons were hung on the wall near his armor. He immediately recognized his precious bow along his possessions. He didn’t know how it returned but he didn’t care right now. He was hungry.
Out on the street, the setting sun was blinding. Oki reached into his pocket and pulled out a small ornate box. During his travels of the sea he traded some goods for two round, flat panes of smoky quartz. He had them mounted to thin metal that would rest on his ears and hold the quartz over his eyes. Oki normally wore these lenses to conceal his eyes when he would talk to Scorpion. Today they would deafen the visual noise from the sun. They might even conceal his identity from any wayward assassin.
It was getting late. Oki finished his noodles with the commoners. There were some benefits and some hazards to pretending to be ronin. On one hand he liked being treated like a normal person. He didn’t really like the customs and courtesy that came with being a clan samurai. On the other hand, there was no honor amongst these commoners.
Oki gave a slight bow, more of a nod, to the noodle maker. He reached for his coin purse. The noodle maker shook his head and motioned to the door. The cook was a rather large man for his older age. He always wore a jolly expression on his face. His hair was a sputtering mix of silver and black that transitioned into a short beard.
“This one is on the house.”
Oki nodded in acknowledgment. It’s always on the house, but that didn’t stop Oki from trying to pay every time.
“Rough night?” he said as he slid Oki a small choko of sake. The noodle maker is one of the few in town that knew his secret. Oki lived in the basement of the noodle house in exchange for protection against the local gangs. Oki spoke without looking up through his dark lenses.
“Yes Yori-san. From what I remember.”
Yori the noodlemaker was an honest man, stuck in a dishonest situation. He moved to Zakyo Toshi to make noodles many years ago with his family. Two years ago a few gang members had killed his wife and daughter because Yori refused to pay them protection money. He now ran the noodle shop with his son. There was always corruption in Zakyo Toshi, but the last few years have been exceedingly bad. Nearly a Year ago Yori hired Oki as protection from the local gangs. After one scuffle with Oki, they had yet to return.
“Masumi came by. I figured you were dead this time. She used nearly all of my rags tending to you. She seemed pretty concerned.”
“I’ve had worse…” Oki grumbled, enjoying his sake.
Yori looked around and softly spoke, “Kuronobo’s scouts were fishing around again. They are getting pretty sloppy. They wear plain clothes like a commoner but if you have a keen eye you can tell who they are.”
“I guess that means he wants to speak with me. Good, I have a lot of questions for him. Hopefully his mask is smiling this time…” Oki let out a sigh before finishing his sake and standing up. The sun was down and the cool night air was rolling in. He removed his lenses and put them back into his ornate box. He took a deep breath of the night air and was once again, reminded of his chest wound.
“Get some sleep, ronin.” Yori said as Oki was starting to meander down the dark city street.
Oki, without turning shook his head and said, “No, my night is just beginning.”
Oki rarely slept anymore. That is, unless he was drunk. Fortunately for him, Oki had a companion. Pleasure city never sleeps either. No matter the hour, there is always something, good or bad, taking place. One could say that Oki and Pleasure City had become friends.
The man with the mask, Kuronobo, had a secret retreat on the docks of the river just outside Pleasure City. It was only a few hours by horseback but Oki, after falling off the horse and shaming himself at the Topaz championship, swore off horses for a while. It was okay, he didn’t mind walking. It would give him some time to clear his head and think of the gaijin pepper incident that nearly killed him. Oki walked along the road to the docks. With every step there was a dull pain in his chest that reminded him of the arrow that had almost killed him. Funny, he thought, he had taken several lives with his bow only to be nearly killed by an unfamiliar arrow. He held his bow and ran his hands along it deep in thought. He could feel his arrows on his back. It was a good feeling.
He was deep in his own mind, oblivious to the outside world. Only his basic instincts carried his feet on the path. His feet led the way to give his mind a rest. He thought of his mission given to him to intercept a seemingly routine wagon shipment into Pleasure City. He pondered the meaning of the Yobanjin transporting Gaijin pepper through Pleasure City. They would never risk being seen lest they were killed on sight. Now they were freely traveling the outskirts of the city. Something big was happening. Kuronobo has the answer.
As Oki walked he took in the air, glad to be able to breathe deeply without too much pain. He was grateful for Masumi, the young scorpion girl that he knew very little about. It seemed that anytime Oki was gravely injured, a few Scorpion clan would “stumble upon him” with aid. He knew this wasn’t just chance. He knew that Kuronobo was watching his every move. He understood why, Kuronobo had a lot invested in him. It was almost comforting knowing they were there, quietly moving in the shadows. Oki still didn’t like being followed.
Oki enjoyed the beautiful countryside outside of Pleasure City. It seemed that the filth of the city had not yet spread here. He walked all night, passing the occasional farm hut and field. Oki liked the open country. He preferred the open sea to the open fields but working in the city was his duty now. He thought it would be refreshing to see some water at the docks.
The sun was just peeking up over the horizon when Oki arrived at the docks. He reached into his sleeve and put on his dark lenses. The docks were vast, growing every day to fatten the glutton they called Zakyo Toshi. Oki headed to the far north side of the docks toward the old storage house that Kuronobo had claimed. His stomach growled in anger. He realized he had been walking and daydreaming all night, he should stop and eat before he met with Kuronobo. He figured he would need his strength.
Oki stopped at a small fish and noodle shop on the docks. He looked at the sign; Fish and Flame it read. Interesting name, he thought. He took in the smell of the fresh cooking fish. His weary stomach ached in excitement. As he pulled back the cloth covered entrance he saw a quick flash of sun off a silver object behind him. Instinctively, he jumped back and placed his hands on his katana, ready to fight.
He saw two men in matching outfits with swords drawn, chasing an older man down the busy street of the docks. They cornered him and the old man cowered. Oki stood and watched, not wanting to get involved. There were many factions down here that would cut you down with not much more than a word for interfering with their business. Oki knew these two men were street thugs, ronin who were cast from their schools and family that came here to be mercenaries.
The old man cowered, short of breath. He looked around for any escape from his coming fate. He was cornered on a ledge, nothing but murky water behind him. The two Ronin approached him. The first to speak was a young man, very short, with a crimson handled katana.
“You stupid fisherman, we told you to not return to our docks without fish or koku to pay your debts.”
He placed his sword on the old man’s neck. The second ronin stepped forward. Completely bald, He was much older and taller than any other man on the dock. Oki sensed he was no ordinary thug. The right sleeve of his kimono gently fluttered in the morning breeze, barely concealing his missing arm. His cheek carried a scar that ran down his neck and hid in his kimono. He spoke softly:
“You understood the deal, yes?” His accent was rough and weathered like ancient stone. He looked like he was from Rokugan but spoke like he was Gaijin.
The fisherman’s voice sputtered like a lamp running out of oil, “Yes, Katsutoshi-sama, please give me more time. The fish of the river are no longer abundant. I… I have no money to feed my family. I need more-”
He was cut off by the short ronin.
“Silence your mouth before it tastes my blade! I will strike-”
There was a loud smack as Katsutoshi slapped the short ronin in the back of the head with his good arm. The short ronin rubbed the back of his head and lowered his crimson handled sword.
“Calm yourself. Let me speak with him.”
Katsutoshi knelt down next to the old man. His gaze seemed to pierce the heart of the fisherman like an icy spear. He spoke, clearly and precisely:
“You have had your time, yes? You disrespect us. You anger us. You have failed us, for that there is no more excuse. You must pay, this time with blood. Make your peace with the fortunes.”
Oki knew what would happen next. How could he let these two ronin kill this old man that had done nothing wrong? His hands flew to his bow and he stood watching Katsutoshi down the shaft of an arrow. He hesitated, and lowered his bow. Not now, he had somewhere to be. He didn’t have time to remove his arrow before he saw a flash of steel.
“Such speed…” Oki gasped.
The old man fell, in two pieces, off the ledge. He landed with an explosion of dirty water and blood. The murky water accepted the offering and the old man sank quickly.
Oki put his bow away, hoping no one witnessed his hesitation. He looked around and noticed that the street was empty. He looked back at the two ronin, they were walking up the dock back to the street. Oki ducked inside as to not be seen. He felt the glare of the one armed ronin’s eyes as he walked through the threshold of the Fish and Flame. He hoped they hadn’t seen him, his gut knew they did.
Oki sat in the corner of the busy Fish and Flame facing the door. He ordered some fish dumplings, noodles and sake. Listening to the white noise of the commoner’s idle chatter he started thinking again. He cursed himself for being seen, he didn’t want to get involved. He had somewhere to be. He was upset about his hesitation. His hand instinctively touched his healing chest wound. He quietly cursed under his breath.
“You stupid samurai, hesitation nearly killed you last time.”
He rubbed his chest, it still hurt his pride. He knew the Tsuruchi archer school taught him to never hesitate with an arrow. He remembered something from the past. Hesitation leads to death in all forms, the arrow knows the way, let it fly. It was a verse from an ancient poem his sensei make him memorize. He cursed under his breath, that was a long time ago. He was startled back to reality when a young woman placed down the tray of food and sake before Oki.
Oki finished the last of his noodles, happily slurping them down. Oki had recently developed a love of noodles. He was satisfied, and had nearly forgotten what had transpired earlier. He was drinking more sake than usual this morning and it was catching up with him. With shaky hands he carefully poured more sake for himself. He knew it was still morning but he figured he would need the liquid courage to talk to Kuronobo. He was not afraid, merely nervous. He still did not know if he should trust Kuronobo. Scorpion were shady by nature, they used all manner of people for their schemes. He had a feeling Kurnonbo was displeased. Granted, he did blow up an entire wagon of Gaijin pepper just outside of a major city but Oki felt confident he could defend his decision.
There was commotion at the door. The two ronin were back, accompanied by several others. Katsutoshi briefly glanced at Oki when he walked in. Oki felt his gaze through his dark lenses. The young woman that had served Oki earlier had a terrified look on her face. The ronin were loud and rowdy, throwing cups and trays whilst demanding food and sake. Disgusting pigs, Oki thought to himself. They take what they want because no one will stop them.
The ronin sat randomly around the large square room, laughing and cursing with each other. Katsutoshi sat by the door opposite the corner Oki was in. He was casually sipping some sake with his one hand. He looked to be the one in charge of these reckless animals. He obviously didn’t care about their behavior. All of the common people had quietly left. Oki knew he could not get up and leave without crossing paths with the one armed Ronin. Oki was not afraid, he just didn’t want to get involved. It wasn’t his fight. He had somewhere to be. He just quietly sat in his dark corner flirting with drunkenness, enjoying his sake.
One of the mischievous ronin grabbed the young woman when she tried to serve them some sake. The tray fell from her hands and crashed onto the table where three of the ronin were sitting. The short ronin that had held the sword to the fisherman’s neck stood up and backhanded the young woman. As she fell to the ground he drew his sword and yelled;
“Stupid bitch, you covered me with sake! You will pay for this with your fat hands!”
The other Ronin in the room laughed as two of them grabbed her and held one of her hands down. Oki had seen this before. The local gangs liked to hurt people for fun. It was disgusting, there was no honor among these cowards. The Ronin held the sword above the woman’s hand and looked around for approval from his friends. He locked eyes with Oki in the dark corner. This was the first they noticed him due to their loud, rambunctious diversions. The ronin with the crimson handled blade stopped and shouted at Oki;
“Hey you, why don’t you get the hell out of here before I do you next? This is none of your business!”
The table obstructed the view of Oki’s bow sitting on his lap.
Some of the other ronin threw sake cups at Oki, none of them very accurate. Most struck the wall behind Oki. One crashed into the small pitcher that was in front of Oki. Sake splattered everywhere. Oki didn’t flinch. He kept eye contact with the ronin.
Oki stared down the pathetic ronin. Oki was fuming. He took his time speaking. He knew he was involved now, he might as well make the best of it.
“You have spilled good sake, that is unforgivable.”
The ronin peered at Oki through squinting eyes, then erupted in laughter. He looked around the room and shouted;
“Who is this man that covets sake so much?”
More boisterous laughter.
“He sits in the dark corner and hides behind his dark lenses. He drinks his troubles away, barely noticing the passing of the world. How pathetic! So tell me, drunk pig, what is your name?”
Oki kept staring at the ronin. Oki could feel the silence making the others uncomfortable. Oki focused and calmed his rage. He slowed his breathing which felt like he was slowing the passage of time itself. Oki took a deep breath. He knew he was in a bad spot, once again. Oki removed his dark lenses from his eyes and carefully placed them back into their box. He smiled and let out a long chuckle while thinking about how he kept getting stuck in these situations. The ronin’s expression changed when he saw the corners of Oki’s mouth turn up. Oki filled his lungs and loudly proclaimed;
“I am Yoritomo Oki! Remember it, fools!”
The ronin had no time to react, the arrow was inches from his face before he saw Oki move. The ronin stood there, motionless. His dying eyes crossed and confused, trying to comprehend the arrow stuck between them. He collapsed onto the table like a drunk falling into his bed.
There was silence. The rest of the ronin thugs were stupefied at what just happened. None of them had seen Oki’s bow until their friend was dead. Visibly shaken, they all haphazardly jumped up and drew their weapons. Katsutoshi remained sitting in the corner, sipping sake. He acted as if nothing had happened. Oki counted four men standing with swords drawn.
Oki glanced at his bow. He had already notched another arrow and chose another target without realizing. It was instinct. His school had taught him to be reflexive, and he was happy for it. He made a promise to himself there, in that quiet still moment. No more hesitation.
Katsutoshi broke the piercing silence. Without looking up from his sake he spoke:
Oki stepped over the burning sign to the Fish and Flame. How fitting, he thought. He paused to take off his dark lenses. He then wiped the mix of blood and sweat from his eyes with the scorched sleeve of his kimono. As he put his lenses back he looked back at the burning remains of the Fish and Flame noodle house. He laughed, knowing the thug that started the inferno trying to use Gaijin pepper to kill Oki was still in there. His misdeeds being cleansed by poetic flame.
Oki killed two with his bow that night, then one with his sword before the fire started. Now he had a bigger obstacle to escape. The one armed Katsutoshi was before him, sword in hand along with his two remaining men. The wind was howling down the empty street, causing Katsutoshi’s empty sleeve to flutter like koi in a net. The mix of fire and moonlight reflected off the thug’s blades.
Oki knew he wasn’t the best with a sword. He could hold his own against thugs but he didn’t stand a chance against the speed of the one armed ronin. He had his bow but it was useless, as the string had been singed by the fire. Oki locked eyes with Katsutoshi. The white, hot flames from the burning building were reflected in his dark, cold eyes. Katsutoshi looked calm as always. He gave off an aura of impossible strength. Oki knew he couldn’t cross swords with him and come out alive. The speed that Oki witnessed when Katsutoshi killed the old man made him shudder. Oki looked for a way out. Fire to his right, water to his left, thugs in front of him; He was trapped. Oki had no choice. He decided to finish what was started in the noodle house. He would go down fighting.
Oki pointed his sword at Katsutoshi. “So, what now?”
Katsutoshi produced a small smile as he drew his sword. He brought up his katana and ran the hilt down the scar on his face before pointing it at Oki. Katsutoshi’s eyes made Oki feel icy inside.
“Your bow is swift but your sword shakes. You get in our way, yes? Why do you do this?” Katsutoshi spoke calmly and precisely through his rough accent.
“You live for nothing. You have no purpose in life, Yoritomo Oki. Tonight I will kill you and you will die, nameless, like your coward father.”
Oki was stunned,
“How dare you! What do you know of my father!”
Katsutoshi’s expression was blank and serene,
“I know how he screamed when he died. I watched his blood flow as he cried your name. I fought alongside your father. I know who you are, Oki. I am glad to run across you today. Tonight you will die, I will be happy.”
The fire was growing rapidly, jumping to the adjacent buildings. The smoke was thick, the moonlight piercing. Oki was furious. He breathed deep and gathered his thoughts. He was going to kill this man, or die trying. “You know, I have a good friend that has one arm. He is twice the man you are. Now, let’s dance!”
Oki ran at the remaining two thugs ready to cut them down. Suddenly, a whisper of sound, only perceived by Oki flew on the wind over his shoulder. Oki immediately recognized the sound and ducked. As the ronin charged, they were immediately riddled with arrows. Oki looked at the shafts half buried into the dead thug’s faces, he recognized the arrows.
“Damned Scorpion…” Oki muttered.
Katsutoshi heard the sound too and ducked behind a pile of burning rubble. Out of the shadows came several masked scorpion with weapons drawn. Oki tried to call them off but immediately he choked on his breath as a massive pair of hands closed on his throat from behind. The huge hands lifted him in the air, Oki struggled as his eyes went dim. Katsutoshi was nowhere to be seen. Oki watched the fire slowly fade into black, into nothingness.
There was a massive crash as Oki’s world was turned sideways. Everything was hazy. Blood ran freely from his head. Oki wiped the bloody seawater from his eyes and sat up. He looked down and realized he was now sitting on the wall, not the floor of his father’s ship. Oki in a daze ran to the surface deck, he hesitated. His father would kill him if he knew Oki was aboard his ship. Oki made his decision when the water level began to rise.
On the surface, or what was left of it, there was chaos everywhere. Several parts of the ship were scattered in the water like a child’s toys. The sky was dark as night but Oki knew it was midday. Seemingly everything inside the ship was now floating in the water, including the mangled bodies of his father’s men. The ocean was swallowing the ship quickly, much quicker than Oki had ever seen anything sink. He stumbled to the top of what was left of the ship wondering what had just happened. He ran to the few remaining sailors on the top of the ship, standing like the stones around a fire, weapons drawn. His father was there! He cried out to him and started in his direction. His father turned and locked eyes with Oki across what was left of the ship. His face looked sick and pale. Oki had never before seen that face on his father.
Oki saw his father glance upwards, then look back at Oki with just enough time hold his hand out and shout;
He was cut off in a split second. Oki barely looked up in time to see something, massive and evil, coming at them. There was deafening crash then Oki saw nothing. He felt the cold embrace of the ocean water. It was comfortable, he knew he was dying. He closed his eyes and let the cold icy water take him.
The icy wetness jolted Oki awake, he jumped to his feet and reached for his sword. His hand grabbed nothing but air. He looked around, he was in the dark damp corner of a storage warehouse. Breathing heavily, he regained his bearings as his eyes adjusted to the moonlight emanating from the rice paper door. A man as large as a building stood in the darkness before him. His head was bowed, to avoid touching the ceiling. He stepped forward, he was carrying a sword as tall and broad as Oki. He was dressed in a black kimono the size of the sails on a ship. This great ogre was wearing a metal mask, dark as a moonless night with two massive eye holes. His mask had a large spike that protruded from the nose, his mouth was not covered revealing a mischievous smile full of sharpened teeth. The great ogre bent down and picked Oki up with one hand like a children’s toy. Oki’s heart raced like the drums of a festival. They were face to face when the great beast spoke, with the squeaky voice of a child;
“Hello Oki-san! Good it is to see you! I am Koji! Sorry for making choke you sleep, Kuronobo want to see you! I bring him you!”
Oki chuckled, not expecting the voice, or intellect of a child.
“Say Koji-chan, can you let me down? You are hurting me.”
Koji frowned. “Is sorry Oki-san! You are little like baby, Koji is big. Move heavy things I do.”
Koji released Oki. He fell to the ground but landed on his feet. Oki looked up to Koji and sighed.
“How have you been Koji? You seem a bit bigger than the last time we met.”
“Is good Oki-san! Kuronobo says I’s almost a grownup now!”
“Good for you Koji.” Oki said, still trying to slow his heart. Oki reached into his coin purse and produced a single coin.
“Hey Koji, I brought you something.”
The massive child-like beast’s eyes lit up. He snatched the coin from Oki’s hand, nearly breaking all of his fingers. The beast squealed in delight.
“Koji, can you show me the way to Kuronobo please?”
The monster smiled; “Come we go to stairs! Follow Koji!”
The walked to the other side of the dark warehouse. Koji moved a large crate with ease, revealing a hidden staircase to a cellar.
Oki looked down the dark passage, then back up to Koji.
“Can I have my swords back?”
Koji smiled again. “Oh! Oki-san! Sorry I am, let me get swords for you!”
Koji stomped over to the corned and retrieved Oki’s weapons. They looked like small knives in the hands of the giant.
Oki put his swords back on his belt. He reached into his sleeve to put on his dark lenses before walking to the edge of the staircase. After a small nip from the bottle in his sleeve, he straightened his hair and brushed the dirt off his clothes. This was an important meeting, he figured he would try to look professional when he walked down the stairs.
“Time to go down Oki-san!” Koji said as he shoved Oki down the stairs. Oki rolled and landed on his face and knocked over a table with a crash at the bottom of the stairs. He looked up and realized Kuronobo was standing over him. Oki sighed and mumbled to himself as he stood;
“So much for looking professional…”
Bayushi Kuronobo’s mask was neutral. Oki knew the mask’s expression would magically change depending on what mood the Scorpion spymaster wished to show. Kuronobo didn’t say a word as he reached into his sleeve. Oki was half expecting a knife to be put to his throat, instead Kuronobo handed Oki a scroll.
“This came for you today. It appears you have been summoned elsewhere.” As usual, Kuronobo’s voice was calm and flat. “The Emerald Magistrates are thankful for the work you have done in Zakyo Toshi. I would caution you to never speak of it.”
“So that’s it? I can’t say it has been fun.”
“Yes…” Kuronobo gave him a small bow of acknowledgement. “But before you go, Oki-san, I have been informed you have been asking every sailor that passed through Pleasure City about rumors of a certain, specific sea monster…”
Oki sat on the edge of the dock watching the sun set over the horizon, contemplating the meaning of his life. He was holding the letter in one hand and his bottle of sake in the other. He let out a deep sigh and finished what was left in the bottle. He set the bottle down and read the letter. When he finished, he tore it up and threw it into the water. He looked to the dusk sky and chuckled before letting out another sigh.
To be continued next week: