I’m heading down to Salt Lake City for ConDuit 23.
I don’t know what’s up with their counter, because my first panel is at noon.
Drop by and say hi.
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 by Steve Diamond is also from our two year time break. Steve is playing Ikoma Uso, who on the surface appears to be just an honorable bard who lucked into winning the Topaz Championship, but who in reality is a secret agent/spy/assassin. Very few people in his extremely honorable clan know that his order, the Lion Shadow, exists.
This is a long episode, but man, it is awesome.
It was a punch to the face that woke me.
This wasn’t the first time my beauty rest had been interrupted this way. It’s a bit like having a bucket of icy water dumped on you…only more painful. And more bloody.
They key, I’ve discovered, is not letting the pain and disorientation overwhelm your senses. No easy feat, especially when that punch connects straight onto your nose. I felt my nose crunch. I felt the blood gush. The shock of the hit triggered my mouth to gasp open in shock, and that mouth was filled immediately with my blood.
My eyes filled with involuntary tears, making visibility a major issue in the short-term. Fortunately, I had longer than the “short-term”. Otherwise I’d already be dead. That I wasn’t…well that had been the gamble in the first place. Their curiosity.
There’s a saying about curiosity.
The second punch came at me from my left. There’s an art to these types of interrogations, and if you’ve been here before, you know the way tough guys like to act. They tend to fall in similar categories. They want you so disoriented, so overwhelmed, that you will do anything they say. I know this. As I’d heard my friend Oki say, this wasn’t my first boat ride.
I wondered how he was doing. Last my sources had said, he was…fixing things…for a Scorpion.
Hopefully he was having a good time.
Ah, that second punch. They usually aim for the temple. I don’t know why, only that nine times out of ten, that’s the thug pattern. I’d already experienced the exception to that count a few weeks ago, so my odds were good.
I slumped slightly, right before I knew that punch would hit. It took me on the crown of the head. My Fortune’s blessed hard head. It was an effort not to smile when I heard the guy’s pinkie knuckle pop, followed closely by his pain and swearing.
Like I said, I’ve been in this play before. It’s all a matter of controlling the pain, not letting it control you. Of controlling the fear, not letting it control you.
Next would be the questions.
“Who sent you?”
The words were at my right. Close. What an idiot.
I didn’t spit out the blood in my mouth. No. That was a weapon here. I didn’t answer right away. No. My apparent lack of coherency was a weapon as well.
Time? That was on my side as well.
My ancestor, Satsujin, chuckled darkly in the recesses of my mind. He loved this part.
I shook my head in an exaggerated fashion. They would see it as an attempt to clear the punches from my mind when really, I just wanted to blink away the tears in my eyes and get a better look at my surroundings, and the number of people I’d need to kill.
My eyes cleared.
Ten men. More than I expected. But they weren’t well armed, and none were armored. Why should they be? To them, I was just dressed a simple ronin. And I was bound. Pathetically. I hadn’t even been practicing slipping bonds—traveling companions look badly on that sort of thing from a Topaz Champion—but they were practically giving me the chance to get free and massacre them. I began working my right hand, getting it prepared.
I assessed the situation. I decided…well, they’d all need to die.
“Who sent you?” the man repeated.
To my left I caught a glimpse of a wagon stamped with the Akodo mahn. I could see just the hint of rice spilt around it. I’d been correct. These were the bandits I’d been looking for.
Ikoma Kage wanted their organization crippled.
I looked to my right and saw the man who’d asked me the question. He didn’t look like the bastard son of a pig, which made me smile. He looked like a samurai who’d lost his way. I could see the once proud lines of his birth beneath the dirt and weathering. This would be their leader. The last group of bandits had given me his description and name. Peli. A simple name for a man no one would remember. It was almost poetic.
“My name,” I said thickly, talking through the blood, “is Peli.”
He jerked back like I’d slapped him. The next instant he was right in my face with a tanto held at my throat. He was practically spitting with rage. That will happen when you screw with an idiot’s head but give his name as your own.
It was almost too simple.
“Is this supposed to be a joke?” He screamed. “My name is Peli! If you lie to me once more I will gut you—”
I spit the blood into his open eyes. Having that happen is more of a psychological blow than a real one. It’s blood. In your eyes. Parents scare their children with stories about maho all the time, so it’s easy to prey on that innate fear.
Peli—who’d been gracious enough to confirm his identity to me—literally dropped his tanto right into my lap as he raised his hands to his face. The others were starting to move, but too slowly. My right hand slipped free of the rope restraints, and in a single motion I grabbed the tanto and disemboweled the bandit leader.
There were nine of them left to worry about, and it should have been easy for them to subdue me. No matter how skilled you are, nine, decently skilled men working together should succeed. But these men were not terribly skilled. Nor did they work together.
The first man, one who did look like the bastard son of a pig, died with my blade in his throat. I relieved him of his own knife and went to work on the rest of them. Some say that time slows down for the skilled. Maybe. I prefer to think of it as I speed up.
I was quicker than their clumsy strikes. My blades cut groin and neck of one. I dodged. Then I significantly widened the smile of another before stabbing him through the armpit. I dodged. Two blades through two eyes. I dodged. Backs of the knees, then into the neck again. All the while my ancestor howled in glee.
It was over far too quickly. I don’t even remember killing the latter half of them, but there they were. Puppets with their strings cut.
I turned at the coughing behind me. Peli was curled into a ball, trying desperately to keep in innards…uh…in. I stepped over the corpses and around the blood pooling beneath them. I walked by the stolen wagon and was pleased to see that there was no blood spray on it.
Good, Satsujin said. You know how it bothers Kage when there is blood on his rice. The ancestor chuckled.
“Who are you?” Peli asked again. His voice was weak, barely a whisper.
“As you said, I am not Peli,” I said crouching beside him. “Thank you for clarifying that for me earlier. Maybe you’ve heard of me. My name is Ikoma Uso.”
“The Topaz Champ…Ch…Champion?” He coughed, blood appeared on his lips. “But…I thought…”
I cut his throat in a quick motion. “That I’d be taller? I get that a lot.”
Ikoma Kage set my nose with a pinch and a pull. It hurt worse than having it broken in the first place.
“You burned down the building they were hiding in, killing them all, and caused extensive damage to the warehouses around theirs.” Kage sighed. “Don’t you think you could have been a little less…destructive in your task?”
“No.”I answered, bowing my head in respect, and to hide the pained expression that must be decorating my face.
Ikoma Kage sighed. “When you said you would execute this mission with…how did you put it? Oh yes. ‘Magnificence’! I thought you just meant you’d do it well.”
“I did do it well.” I replied, head bowed. “You said to cripple the bandits. I crippled them. Permanently.”
“You burned them alive.”
“No,”I corrected, “I killed them all first. Then I salvaged the stolen goods. Then I burned down their warehouse. It had to be visible. I even talked up the fellow that did all this terribleness in the sake houses.”
“It had to be visible,” I repeated calmly. “It had to be public. Any other people even considering stealing from the Lion—and rest assured, they were in those sake houses—needed to know exactly what would happen to them if they crossed that line. Do you know what I saw in the eyes of those who heard the rumors I was spreading?”
“Fear. They are scared out of their minds that some deranged avenger is out there massacring anyone who crosses the Lion. This crazy person knows no mercy. His honor can be sacrificed. He is brutal, and maybe even enjoys killing.”
“I see,” Kage said quietly.
Nothing was said for several minutes, but I was accustomed to waiting. Patience was ever one of my virtues.
“This was a difficult mission,” Kage said finally. His voice was level, and his words came out like they were rehearsed. Forced. “The Lion Clan thanks you for your service. As a token of our appreciation, and a reward for your success, I have been authorized to give you this.”
I looked up for the first time and saw a look of wariness on Kage’s face.
He fears you now, Satsujin said.
In his extended hands was a battered journal. Something about it looked oddly familiar.
“Your father wanted you to have this when you had completed your training,” Kage said. The wariness faded, and was replaced by sadness and reverence. “He gave it to me the morning he protested the Spider receiving Great Clan status. He said, ‘Uso loves a good story. Tell him he will love the one he reads here.’”
I took the journal with trembling hands.
This was the greatest gift I had ever received.
“Ikoma Kage-sama,” I said, voice cracking. “Thank you. I will be forever in your debt. I will make the Lion eternally proud of me like they are of my father. I promise you.”
“Uso,”Kage said, “you will do things your own way. And that is good. Your father was a dear friend, and I miss him every time I look at you.” I was shocked to see a tear sliding down his cheek. Ikoma or not, I’d never witnessed such emotion from him before.
“You have already become your father’s son,” he continued. “Though perhaps a bit more…outgoing.” I could swear I saw a hint of a smile.
“What can I do to repay this gift?” I asked.
“You already know that answer,” Kage said. Emotion was gone. Empathy was gone. Sadness was gone. “You will do your duty to the Lion, no matter the cost.”
A curt nod was my response.
“I have another task for you,” he continued. “Let me be very clear. I do not want this to be the spectacle that the bandits were.”
“As you say.”
“I have a man I need you to kill.”
Gifts – Part 2
Everyone wants to hear a story.
To the masses, the story is always better than the reality. That is the way of people. Samurai to peasants, children to adults, they are all the same. Status, class and age mean nothing once a story is being told. I am convinced this is because people prefer to hear the enjoyable lie rather than the boring truth.
The crowd in the sake house was already becoming bored with the story being told by the samurai at the bar. He appeared to be a young Ikoma Bard—not a true Ikoma in the sense of following Ikoma’s actual teachings…but only a handful know that truth. His story lacked the dramatics. It lacked emotion. I had to keep myself from shaking my head in disgust. I caught glances directed my way from other samurai in the room.
Likely they wished I was still telling a story of my own.
Before the current Ikoma began telling his dull tale of some famous duelist, I’d just finished a rendition of the most recent Topaz Championship—though they did not know I was the winner of that contest. My dress was that of an average clan samurai of the Lion Clan. In my story I had embellished everything, from the chaotic melee to the cold and calculating duels…and the winner, of course. I painted them a picture with my words of the man I was sure was the Dark Oracle of Water. All they had to do was look outside at their wilting crops and the dust storms to see how dangerous water—or lack thereof—could be. They applauded my story and rewarded me with free food and drink.
At a table to my right sat a group of shabbily dressed men. Their clothes were worn and dusty, faded from hard work under the harsh sun, the colors leeched from their armor like water from Lion-land fields. The bulges of hidden knives were evident in their garb. A casual word here and there, then pieced together, told me they were regulars here. More words told me they were the unsatisfied. Always hungry. Always thirsty. It was a common sight in the sake houses in Lion lands.
A serving girl brought me another sake, courtesy of a beautiful woman whose kimono identified her as Kitsu. I smiled my thanks, then pretended to take a sip. The sake smelled good. Clean. Free of poisons. A bit watered down. I let the liquid touch my lips, but no more. The Kitsu caught my eye again. She was stunning, with sharp, regal features. Her hair was long and bound at her neck with a single yellow cord. She tried to be sly, but I saw how her eyes would drift from me to the upstairs where she doubtlessly had a room.
She’s too honest, my ancestor whispered in my mind. Too innocent. If she is willing to take you to her room after a simple story—poorly told, I might add—then she isn’t worth your time. There’s no danger with her. You wouldn’t have to work for it.
I tried to refocus my attention on the Ikoma and his storytelling while attempting to clear the rasping scrape of Satsujin’s voice from my awareness. True to his promise, he looked through my eyes. Heard through my ears. He was a complete ass.
But he was right.
A shame that. It had been a while since I’d last been in the company of a woman as good looking as that Kitsu. But I knew she would bore me. I needed an intellectual challenge. Sadly, there weren’t many of those to be found in the Lion Clan, not even amongst my fellow Lion’s Shadow.
If you aren’t frightened that the woman you sleep with could cut your throat, descendant, Satsujin said, then she isn’t worth your time. It adds…spice…to the relationship.
Lovely. Relationship advice from a blood thirsty ancestor.
His laughter, once again, filled my mind.
Movement at the entrance caught my eye. A ronin entered the sake house, and I felt a brief moment of surprise. No matter how prepared you are, there are moments that take you by surprise. Call it intervention by the Fortune of Luck. Whatever. A samurai in my position soon learns to embrace those shifts in fate. They often can be the difference between living and a knife in the back.
Through the door walked the ronin formally known as Daidoji Okuda.
Okuda. The man whom Akodo Toranaka had promised to kill the day their paths crossed. Okuda. The man who had attempted to murder the Spider Bofana in the Mass Battle contest at the Topaz Championship.
Just when you think everything is under control, the Fortunes deign to remind us that we are just pieces in their celestial game of go.
He sat down and motioned for a cup of sake. Okuda looked as if he had aged five years in the short time since his banishment. His armor was worn, but well maintained. From the way his eyes scanned the room, I had to wonder if he’d had some…encounters…in places like this.
I stood, and intercepted the order of sake going to his table. The Kitsu got a hopeful look on her face before she realized she wasn’t the object of my attention. She actually looked crestfallen.
“I do not wish any company, Lion,” Okuda said as I sat down across from him. I passed him the cup of sake. “And I don’t accept drinks from strangers—”
He cut himself off, and his eyes narrowed as he studied my face.
“You don’t look like a man of your…title…should.”
Good, I thought. He’s showing discretion. This bodes well for him.
“Sometimes it is better for people to go unnoticed,” I said. “Surely you understand.”
His expression tightened a bit at that.
“At least you came to kill me yourself,” he said respectfully. “The last Topaz contestant sent idiots. I still haven’t figured out who the coward is. That kind of anonymity has no place in the Empire.”
“Perhaps not. Best to kill the person face to face, yes?” I asked. “And who says I am here to kill you? Friend, you have a fairly high opinion of your worth. I’m sure there’s a saying about the dangers of pride…how does it go? Hmm. Oh well. Must not be that important. Not worth my time, I suppose.
“Now,”I continued conversationally, “my mind can always be changed. My father had a saying—this one of the utmost importance, I think. He would say ‘words are the most subtle and dangerous of all weapons’.” I smiled at Okuda. “So let us exchange some words. What’s the worst that could happen?”
He blinked, trying to reason through what I’d said. I really hoped he took my words seriously.
The Fortunes had placed his fate in my hands.
Okuda leaned back, putting just a bit more distance between us. Smart man. Also, pointless. He took a sip of his sake and glanced at the Ikoma still blabbering on.
Is this the first story that fool has ever told? Satsujin commented. Ikoma would have poisoned his sake and let him choke on his vomit. Then he would have told an epic tale of how the man had choked on his own fate. Then…
I let my ancestor rant on. The smile never faded from my face.
“So,” I said. “How’ve you been?”
His mouth thinned into a hard line. “You know, for all your skill, you are not my match in a fight. Your new title means nothing with my spear in your guts.”
“Indeed,”I agreed. “My father traveled with one trained by the Daidoji. His name was Fujo. Maybe you’ve heard of him. So I know all about your skills. Speaking of skills…what have you been doing with your skills of late? Killed many Spider?”
“Good, good,” I said. “Have you heard of my father?”
The sudden change in subject had him confused. “I’ve heard of him. Everyone has. Why?”
“Do you know how he died?”
“It’s an interesting story,” I said and gestured to the droning Ikoma. “Far more interesting than this story, in any case. You see, once upon a time—”
“I’m not interested in some fairy tale story…”
He trailed off as a knife appeared—as if by magic to his eyes, I’m sure—in my hand. He eyed me, reconsidering.
“When I tell a story about my father,” I said quietly, my smile slipping, “I don’t like to be interrupted. All your strength and skill with weapons and tactics would mean exactly pig shit if you were to be found with your throat cut in the alley behind this fine establishment. Or maybe not right now. Maybe in a day. Or a week. Or a year. Whatever. I’m not picky. Are you?
“I’m sorry,” I continued, smile back. “Where was I? Oh yes. My father. Once upon a time, a young boy was sitting on Ikoma Katsu’s lap, listened in rapt awe to a story of the Paper Lanterns. The Lanterns were this boy’s heroes. The lengths they would go to, honorable or not, to save the Empire were the things that made this little boy first pick up a bokken.
“On this particular night, Ikoma Katsu seemed sad. The young boy asked, ‘Father, are you alright?’ To which Katsu replied. ‘Yes.’ Now, this young boy was very observant, and he knew his father was bending the truth. But it is not a boy’s place to question his father.
“Ikoma Katsu stayed up late with that boy. Far later than was usual. Far, far later. He kept saying, ‘How about one more story?’ The young boy readily agreed every time, even when sleep was threatening to overcome his senses. The boy would remember that day as the ‘bestest day ever’… and that day persists as that boy’s—now grown—fondest memory.
“The following day,” I continued, “Katsu took his son before the Lion Clan Champion. You see, there had been a nasty rumor going around that the nefarious Spider were being made a Great Clan. The boy, even at his young age, understood that this was not right. True heroes, like the Paper Lanterns, did not force the Empire to do what they wanted before helping. True heroes offered their help, never caring if they would receive a reward other than an honorable death. The boy watched his father’s face as the pronouncement was made that the Empress would give the Spider what they wanted. The boy had never seen his father so angry.
“Katsu looked to the boy, his only son, and said, ‘Son, just remember that the Empress was forced into this. When you are older, you will understand what I am about to do. Do not be angry with me. Be angry with those that forced this upon the Lion. Most of all, Uso, do not let fear rule you.’
“He looked at that boy. At me. He knelt down beside me and said, ‘Uso, I am afraid.’ It was a shock. The boy had never…I had never heard my father utter those words before. So I said the only thing I could think of.
“I said, ‘Father, fear is only a weakness when we let it weaken us. Fear works for us. We do not work for it.’
“It was a thing he always told me,” I said to Okuda. “It was, perhaps the one lesson he wanted me to learn above all others.”
Okuda swallowed hard. He took another sip of the drink I had brought him. “What happened?” he asked.
“My father left my side and presented himself before the Clan Champion,” I said as I spun the knife in my hand in a slow, smooth circle. “He took his wakizashi, and without hesitation plunged it into his abdomen. My father wasn’t afraid in the least. It had all been just words. Words to focus my mind on one thing while something else entirely different was happening. My father didn’t scream once.
“The only sound in the courtyard was the sound of the blade tearing through his internal organs. Of blood spilling onto the ground. Then, of him hitting the ground as he slumped sideways. My father was the first to protest with his life, but he wouldn’t be the last. Lion lands were watered with our blood that day. With more blood than the water we had received in that drought.
“But most of all, I remember him being a perfect example.”
“So,” Okuda said slowly, taking another sip of sake, “what is the moral of your story?”
I sighed. “You disappoint me Okuda. My story was about a son losing his father. My story was about a boy who grew up hating the thing that took his father away from him. The Spider. There is no moral to my story, Okuda. Real life has no morals. It has only duty.”
He frowned at that, but then began to nod slowly. “I think I see.”
“Do you?” I asked.
There was a commotion in the sake house as the blathering Ikoma began clutching at his throat. At first the other patrons thought it part of the story, but when the man’s face began to purple, the screaming began.
I didn’t need to look to know exactly what was happening.
Okuda, though…Okuda watched with a look of fascinated horror. Poison is not the best way to die. It is reserved for those who held no honor. The onlookers would see him clawing at his throat, tearing bloody gouges into it as he suffocated. The terrible thing about the death was that the victim made no sound. It was like he was being struck mute by the Fortunes as they cut the thread of his life.
And that was all they would know.
No other cause would be found.
A terrible way to go.
As the Ikoma crashed to the floor, body twitching even though he was already dead, Okuda looked back at me. That was when he noticed that I had been watching him the entire time.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I can’t quite understand you.”
He tried to speak, and realized that he couldn’t. I looked pointedly at his hands and raised an eyebrow. Okuda blinked and tried to raise them, but to no avail.
“What’s wrong?” I asked smiling. “Lion got your tongue?”
The sake house was in chaos as the owner tried to console the patrons. The Ikoma was positively dead, and the stink of his bowels was filling the air.
“The point here, friend Okuda—for I do think we can become good friends—is that if I wanted to, I could kill you right now. No one would even blink an eye. No one would care. Do you know why? Because right now, you are worthless.
“But I don’t want you to stay that way,” I said, leaning back. “In a few moments you will regain feeling in your arms, and you will be able to talk. I advise you do so with caution.”
I waited as his finger began to wiggle, then move. He bunched his hands into fists over and over. All the while, etas had been summoned to remove the corpse. I imagined that local magistrates would be here shortly.
“Why did you kill that man,” Okuda asked slowly, words slurred. His voice was mercifully quiet. It would have been quite the bother to have to silence him permanently after all that.
“Because my Lord commanded it,” I said with a shrug. Then I smiled again, and took a small measure of satisfaction when Okuda flinched. “Oh, and he wasn’t actually an Ikoma. He was Spider. We don’t take kindly to people spying on us without permission.”
“What do you want of me?”
“Finally,” I said. “You ask the right question. I want you to continue killing Spider. How does that strike you?”
For the first time, Okuda smiled. “Magnificent.”
I pointed at him, “I thought you would like that. As it happens, the shadows tell me that the Crab have a twenty-goblin winter approaching. You don’t have anything against killing goblins do you?”
“Not a damn thing.”
“I thought not,” I reached into the folds of my robe, looking for a small vial. “I wonder why the Crab, after the Shadowlands have been quiet for years are now looking to swell their numbers… All at a time when the Empress has given the Crab permission to settle in the colonies where the Spider make their nest. If you ask me, it all sounds like a terrific time for one such as you.”
I pulled the vial out and quickly emptied it into my own cup of sake that I hadn’t touched. I then slid the cup to him. “Drink that. It will counteract the rest of the substance in your body.”
I glanced to where the body of the false Ikoma had been sprawled a moment before. I put my hands out to calm him down as I saw his face go white in fear. “It was just a precaution. Look, remember when I said that my father traveled with a Daidoji? Yes? Well, I wasn’t exaggerating my respect for your old family. The thing is, I have no issue with you killing a Spider. None. My Topaz companions however, should they come across you, would have a much harder time killing someone who was under the protection of another great clan.”
He drank the sake in one swallow. I took it as a sign that he was coming around to my way of thinking. More or less.
“I will do as you say. And…” He hesitated. “And thank you for giving me direction. I will remember this gift.”
Some people just need that direction in life. Give them that path, and they will thank you, and remember you well…no matter the method you use to convince them.
“You are an interesting man, Uso,” he said.
“Me?” I asked. “Hardly. I’m just a bard.”
I got up and left.
Gifts: Part 3
I stand before Kyuden Bayushi as the sun rises. I take it as a good omen. The Scorpion have requested my presence for Winter Court, and you never reject a “request” from the Scorpion. I heard a bit of wisdom once that said, “If a Scorpion wants to screw you over, he’ll do it regardless of your actions. You don’t have a choice. However, if the Scorpion isn’t planning on screwing you, you probably shouldn’t put the notion in his head by being an idiot. You may as well play nice. Who knows, maybe they won’t kill you…this time.”
I’ve earned my place amongst the true Ikoma. I am the Topaz Champion. With ease I have slaughtered bandits who thought to steal and profit off of the current crisis in Lion lands. I’ve killed spies with little difficulty. On top of all of this, I’ve been reading from my father, Ikoma Katsu’s, journal. It turns out he was a true follower of Ikoma as well. Between his words—which I have been reading in his private journal—and the guidance of my ancestor Satsujin, I feel confident as I stare at the high walls of the Scorpion fortress.
I am not some stupid, gullible Phoenix. I am Ikoma, and I am ready for whatever they try to throw at me.
From the Private Journals of Ikoma Uso
Are you sure about that?
Written beneath the prior entry in a perfect, feminine hand.
It seems that I am fated to wake up into bizarre situations. Sometimes I plan for them, but in others, like this one, I find myself fully at the mercy of whoever has woken me.
Only my second night in Kyuden Bayushi, and already I am being stalked in my room, I think to myself. Well, if my attacker thinks he has me at a disadvantage, he’ll soon find my knife at his…
I reached for the tanto I keep up the sleeve of my sleeping kimono and realized with some confusion that I’m not wearing my kimono. At about the same time, I realized that my reaching isn’t accomplishing much. I looked up and to the right, noticing my hand is bound to the head of my bed by a silken rope. I looked to my left hand and found it in a similar state.
This was certainly a new development.
A glance down confirmed that I was indeed naked.
The silken ropes had no give in them, not matter how I tugged. I kept my mind calm, and my outer appearance as smooth as possible. It’s usually best not to let a captor know that you are beginning to worry.
Soft laughter from the shadows pooling in the far corner of the room pulled my attention. Soft, playful laughter. Feminine.
“You look so cute when you struggle,” a sultry voice said from a different corner of the room. It comes like a whisper on the wind. “It reminds me a bit of a fly right before a spider sucks the life from it. Fortunate that I am not Spider. I know how you hate Spiders, Uso.”
She knows my name.
She materialized from seemingly nowhere at the foot of my bed. I’d never witnessed a person moving that quietly before in my life, and I’ve trained under some of the best Lion Shadow in the Empire’s long history.
The woman was stunning. Moonlight spilling in through the open window seemed to caress the curves of her body. Long legs were visible through a slit in her kimono, as were her pale shoulders. One delicate hand held the clothing in place at the waist. Her dark hair, shimmering in the soft light, was kept from her shoulders and neck, exposing an expanse of her neck and chest that was barely concealed. It looked as if…
It looked a lot like she had just gotten dressed.
I was about to congratulate myself when my eyes took in her face. It wasn’t that her face was repulsive. Quite the opposite, actually. A mempo covered the upper half, and I could barely see the gleam of her eyes through the holes in the mask. Light whorls of dark porcelain danced around those eyes, drawing me in.
I looked again down at my naked form.
Fortunes curse me. Did I sleep with a Scorpion? My eyes took in her stance again. The way her hand held the robe. It all looked a little too perfect. Maybe it’s all just a mind game. Maybe she wants me to think we slept together to put me at a disadvantage.
“I will deny any of this ever happened, of course,” she said. My mind spun. How could I be so confused with so few words? Just her suggesting that we had slept together—well, “together” suggesting I had any choice, which I didn’t—had me alternately pleased and utterly frightened.
The woman bent down and picked my gold kimono from the floor at her feet. “I suppose you will want this back.” Only her lips and chin were visible, and for whatever reason I found I was staring at those red lines of perfection, wanting them to keep speaking. There was something almost erotic in their movement, and what I couldn’t see of her face somehow made me dizzy.
She threw the robe at me, its billowing mass obscuring my view of her.
When my kimono hit my chest, she was gone. The curtains at the window of my fourth-floor room stirred as if by a breeze.
But there wasn’t any breeze.
The bokken slashed through the air, a blur of hardened wood. Bayushi Sakai didn’t seem to show any strain of having swung the practice sword with any strength, but I heard the sound of my own bokken cracking under the force of his blow as I blocked.
Sakai halted his relentless attack immediately and shook his head in disgust as he eyed my bokken.
“This is the third bokken I have cracked,” he said motioning a servant forward. “Perhaps someone should have a word with the maker of these pieces of driftwood.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bushi slip from the training hall at Sakai’s words.
I had to suppress a shudder. Showing any emotion was the best way to get yourself into trouble here in Kyuden Bayushi.
The servant Sakai had motioned to brought another of the training weapons forward and presented it to me. I tossed the flawed bokken I was holding aside and grasped the new one, sliding the weapon through my sash.
Sakai nodded and grinned. He slid his own practice weapon into his own sash.
“I enjoy sparring with you, friend Uso,” Sakai said, hands poised on the handle of his weapon. “Your mannerisms and technique are far different than those I am used to.”
“I’m just a bard,” I said.
He smirked, his expression telling me how little he believed my words. “I hear my sister visited your room last week,” he said. “She never did understand the concept of ‘boundaries’. Did you sleep with her?”
The question caught me off guard, and my instincts were dulled. He drew his bokken and struck in a single move, the wooden blade catching me on the side of the head. The blow wasn’t hard, but it was enough to drop me to the ground. My bokken hadn’t even cleared my sash. I reached a hand up to my temple and probed for broken skin. Nothing. Sakai had pulled his blow.
“Oh brother,” a familiar voice said from behind me. “Using me as a distraction to slow your opponent? So devious.”
Sakai smiled and walked past me. His bokken was back through his sash, and his arms were spread wide to accept an embrace from his sister. The same woman that had been in my room the week before.
I pushed myself to my feet, straightening my robes before bowing to Sakai’s sister. “I have not had the pleasure…uh…” Shit. Bad choice of words. “…the…privilege of formally meeting your sister.” I kept my eyes down, focused on the floor.
You are the worst Ikoma in the history of the Ikoma, my ancestor, Satsujin, said in my mind. He sounded amused.
A low swishing of silken robes approached me, and a pale hand, skin achingly beautiful, appeared in my field of vision. I wanted to take that hand and press it to my lips, but I didn’t. I didn’t fancy getting poisoned by something she put on her hand just to screw with me—Scorpion are like that. I also didn’t think that being stabbed in the neck by Sakai would be an enjoyable experience—he’d do that.
Her fingers touched under my chin and lifted my gaze to her own.
She was so beautiful.
I wanted her.
I wanted to run from her in terror.
“Uso, this is my sister, Bayushi Maemi,” Sakai said. His voice suggested he was rolling his eyes, but I couldn’t verify it. My eyes were focused on Maemi’s face.
She wore the same mempo she had in my room. I wanted desperately to know what she looked like beneath that mask.
“To be fair, sister,” Sakai continued. “I was seeing how easily Uso could be distracted. He cannot be a true duelist until he learns to let those things wash over him and off of him. Any conversation you wish to have will need to be postponed. Father is here and seems to wish to talk with us.”
It took me a moment to register what Sakai had just said. Father is here…
I tore my eyes from Maemi and glanced over my shoulder. There he was, shifty mask and all. He stood a few steps into the practice hall waiting for us. The implication was clear, even for his children. We were to walk to him, he would not walk to us.
Keep your stupid mouth shut, my ancestor said. Speak only if he speaks to you. Satsujin sounded frightened. It was the first time I’d ever noticed that emotion from him.
“I see you practice with our guest, Sakai,” Kuronobo said. “How does the…Topaz Champion…measure up to the Scorpion?”
Sakai stood perfectly straight. I imitated the pose. Courts were not foreign to me. Important and high-ranking individuals were nothing new. But Kuronobo made me feel insignificant. Just his presence made me want to run and hide. I summoned up every scrap of willpower I had to stand there and keep my expression neutral.
“He measures up better than any Ikoma should,” Sakai said bluntly. “There is a promise of greatness in him should he wish to pursue it.”
“You didn’t answer my question, son.” The menace in his voice would have driven peasants and ronin to their knees.
“He would not have disappointed my sensei.”
Kuronobo grunted, and for an instant the mouth line on his mask twitched up. Maybe it was my imagination. Maybe he wanted me to think I caught it. He turned his regard in my direction.
“What of you, Uso? How do you think you stack up against the Scorpion?”
“In terms of iajustsu,” I said slowly, choosing my words carefully, “I think perhaps I can learn much here. In terms of…other…ways of dueling, I wouldn’t hazard a guess as of yet.”
This time his mouth line did curve up. It was unnerving. A nemurani, surely. There was a laugh behind me, soft and whimsical.
“Don’t scare the poor Lion, father,” Maemi said stepping around me to give embrace her father. The curve of his mouth line increased, like he was more than pleased to see his daughter. There was far less formality between them. I didn’t relax. Not one bit.
“Have you already made this Lion your latest plaything, Maemi?” Kuronobo asked. “If so, this is likely to be a long Winter Court for our young guest. Be nice.” He turned to me again and said, “Ikoma Uso, you would do well to learn from your time here. The Empire can always use one of your particular skill set. You are not quite refined. Yet. Get better.”
He turned and walked away.
Once he was out of sight, Maemi leaned in close and whispered in my ear. “I think he likes you.” She left the room by the same way as her father.
Sakai grinned at me. “It seemed my whole family has taken a keen interest in you, friend Uso.”
The Fortunes were obviously laughing at me from their place in the Heavens.
“What did…” I hesitated. “What did your father mean by ‘latest plaything’?”
He waved a hand at me before pulling me back to the center of the room to resume our sparring. “My sister occasionally becomes obsessed. You are not the first guest of Kyuden Bayushi to attract her attention. See that you keep her interest.”
“Yes,” he nodded sadly. “I’d hate for you to be poisoned after drinking tea, or suffocate for no reason, or even fall from your window…all on accident of course. You are the most interesting person I’ve met in quite a while, and I’d rather not lose our friendship so quickly.”
“So,” Sakai smiled eagerly. “Shall we see if you can manage to strike me this time? Tenth time is the charm, right? Or are you going to concede that you are just a bard, and have no chance?”
Inside, my ancestor growled like a feral animal.
I felt a smile grow on my lips, and I poised myself to draw and strike.
Two months. Two long months. That I was still alive was a small miracle.
I was lost. This habit they had for moving walls around was impossible to become accustomed to. Of course that was the entire point justifying their methods, but I found I was longing to return to the directness of my own clan.
I was attempting to find the bath-house after spending three hours in my daily sparring session with Sakai. Every time I thought I was beginning to understand his tendencies, he changed them all. It was like he was toying with me. If he was anything like his father, then he most definitely was playing with my mind. Sakai in his youth was already far superior in dueling to any of the bushi I had trained with at Honor’s Sacrifice Dojo.
I respected him more than most any man I had ever met.
Where I saw Sakai daily, my interactions with Maemi were more infrequent. The only thing predictable about her was her unpredictability.
I feared her more than almost any person I’d ever met…and still I was intoxicated by her.
I turned a corner and found myself facing a dead-end. I sighed and turned around to head back to the last intersection of corridors, and nearly bumped into Maemi. It was like my stray thoughts had summoned her.
“Hello my little Lion.”
“Maemi,” I said bowing. “I apologize. I seem to have become turned around. I was looking for the bath-house.”
“The bath-house? Mmm. That sounds…delicious.” She was suddenly pressed against me, and I felt bands of air wrap around me, immobilizing me. She pulled a small knife from her sleeve…
I narrowed my eyes as I looked at the knife. It looked strangely like one I’d hidden amongst my belongings. No. It didn’t look like my knife. It was my knife.
“I accidentally found this amongst a guest’s belongings.” Maemi said. She slide the blade down my arm, not hard enough to cut. Then she moved it up and I felt the blade nick my cheek before coming to a rest on my bared throat. “Would you look at how sharp this blade is? Well maintained. Non-descript. That such an average knife should be seen in this way speaks volumes…if you know how to look at it.”
“Sometimes the best weapons are those that others dismiss.”
My words were rewarded with a wide smile. Stunning. Chilling. She leaned forward, and I felt her tongue flick softly against my cheek where the blade had made the smallest of cuts. She spun, robes flaring around her. The knife vanished from her hand, and she walked away. When she was gone, her voice drifted to me on a breeze.
“Take the first right to go to the bath-house. Then come to dinner. It should be…fun.”
The bonds of air immobilizing me dispersed. I ran back the way I came and immediately found the corridor she was talking about.
I was positive it hadn’t been there five minutes ago.
She’s insane, I thought.
I like her, Satsujin responded.
Sakai greeted me at the entrance to the dining hall. The table from which we would eat was massive, holding dozens of guests. I identified the mons of Phoenix, Dragon, Crab, Crane, Mantis and Lion. The Miya family was also present, and lack of a Spider banner was unsurprising. The absence of Unicorn did give me pause.
“My sister says you are to sit by her,” Sakai said with a smile. “It pleases me that you have not bored her.”
“She told you that?” I asked.
“You made it to dinner, didn’t you? Hmm. I don’t recall cutting your cheek in out sparring session.” Over the last few weeks, I’d picked up on some of Sakai’s quirks. His tone as he spoke that last bit suggested he didn’t want a response. He already knew the answer.
I followed him to the table and lowered myself to the cushion. Sakai excused himself to go speak with some dignitary. Almost immediately an older gentleman sat in the cushion to my right. His once dark hair was almost completely gray, and the wrinkles on his hands and at the corners of his eyes spoke his age to me. But his eyes were bright. Intelligent. I imagined that my father, had he lived, would look similar.
“You remind me of a man I once knew,” he said, amusement thick in his voice. Unlike his appearance, his voice sounded young and strong. “He traveled with a good friend of mine, Ide Todo. I think you know him by Miya Todo now.”
“This man you once knew,” I said, playing the game. “Was he a storyteller?”
The old man laughed. “One of the best. You have his eyes. The same angles on your face. I was sorry to hear what his duty required, but I was impressed by his unflinching manner through which he accomplished his…protest.”
I bowed my head in thanks to his compliment.
“I will not trouble you any longer, young Uso,” he continued. “I wish I could witness the journey you have, but I fear I must leave that to those with younger legs. I but wanted to meet the son of a man whom I respected. Thank you for humoring an old man. I’m glad to see you getting along with my nephew and niece so well. It hasn’t gone unnoticed. Could I ask you to help me up?”
I stood quickly and pulled the man gently to his feet, then bowed before he walked away.
Maemi was sitting in her place next to me when I turned around, as if magicked there. I returned to my seat before speaking.
“I didn’t know Bayushi Ejiro was your uncle,” I said. “My father told me many stories about him.”
“How do you know that was Eijiro and not some other Scorpion?” she asked innocently.
“Not many Scorpion were encountered by my father and the Paper Lanterns. He’s the only one that fit the clues he gave me.”
“Sakai and I wondered if you would catch on,” she said with a quick grin.
“I everything a test or a game with you?”
“Of course. That’s the way life was meant to be played.” She leaned in close to me and poured me a cup of tea. “That’s all any of this is. A game. A test. Someone is always testing us.”
“It’s just a matter of how quickly we learn the rules?” I asked.
“Exactly,” she said. “Because the quicker we know the rules, the quicker we can exploit them.”
I shook my head. “Then what is all of this?” I waved a hand to the dinner. “What game is being played?”
“Oh, Uso. The best kind.” With her eyes she gestured to the end of the table where a sullen Phoenix sat. The man was talking to the Dragon next to him. “Tell me what they are saying.”
“I’m no shugenja.”
“Neither are the majority of the Scorpion in the room. But every Scorpion courtier present, regardless of where they are in the room, could have answered my question. Why do you think so many of those courtiers cover the bottom half of their faces?”
“You read their lips?”
Maemi sighed and patted my arm. “For one so clever, you are often so slow at picking up on hints.”
She nodded her agreement. “Likely. And I do find a measure of your helplessness adorable. But, Uso, do you know what I would like more?”
“What’s that?” I asked, dreading the response. Wanting the response.
“I would…love…for you to learn my game. Otherwise all of these dinners will be dreadful. And boring. I hate boring.” Her smile seemed to grow sharper, if such a thing were possible. “You don’t want to bore me. I would hate to have that wonderful tongue of yours cut out. On accident, of course. I mean, I did just find the sharpest knife earlier…”
“So how do I become skilled at this game of yours?” I asked. I was pretty sure my voice wasn’t shaking.
Maemi’s smile softened and turned genuine again. “Good. I think you’ll be a quick study.”
“You survived Winter Court, Uso,” Sakai said. “That suggests you are a worthy foe, or maybe even a friend.”
“I’ll hope for the latter,” I said as I walked down the road from Kyuden Bayushi.
“Where will you go next?”
“You don’t already know?” I asked, not unkindly. It was another game we had developed. Always games and tests.
“A bird told me you were heading across the river to Lion Lands,” he said. “And you have to give back that ridiculous Topaz Champion armor. I don’t think I saw you wear it more than once.”
“You have the wisest birds, Sakai,” I said grinning. “Showing off that armor would only lead me into more trouble. I’d rather let others soak up the attention.”
“Let me know how that goes,” he laughed.
A breeze picked up around us, and suddenly Maemi was there next to her brother. The mask she wore today covered only her left eye. It was the most of her face I had ever seen. It was gift, to see that much of her face. I wanted to reach out and touch that cheek, but knew I’d likely not get my hand back if I tried. She smiled at me, and for a heartbeat I considered staying longer.
I was sure that I would miss these two.
“Not all Scorpion are the devils of the Empire, Uso,” Sakai said.
“Not all Lion are filled with a Fortune’s portion of pride,” I replied.
“But all men say stupid and boring things,” Maemi said with a sigh.
Sakai pulled a small wrapped bundle from his bag and handed it to me. I refused as custom dictated, then took it from his grasp. “This has been in our family for a few generations. It was my mother’s before she passed into the Fortune’s embrace.”
I untied the twine and found a tea set. Black and red lines wrapped around the lip of each of the cups. The pot was red with black and white spiraling and twisting lines. It was a work of art.
Sakai bowed to me. “May you find health and strength in the bottom of every cup, my friend,” he said. “When next we meet, we will spar again. There are so few who actually make me work like you do. Until that time.”
I returned his bow, and then he was walking away, back towards Kyuden Byushi.
“It is custom to give a gift,” Maemi said, looking at a wrapped package of her own. “Just the fact that you didn’t die should be gift enough, but I still like you. I still find you interesting. None have held my interest for quite so long. So…a gift. And if you go through that silly custom of making me offer you this gift three times, I will rip your spine from your body and use it to flail little children who disobey me.”
I took the package without a word.
“What to get a man who wishes he were less noticed,” Maemi said as I opened the cloth. “It is a difficult thing. But, I am nothing if not brilliant.”
Inside the cloth was a full faced mempo. Black spirals spun around the eyes,reminding me of the mask she had worn in my room that night so many weeks ago. The spiral on the right eye spun out over the white material of the mask and resolved into an abstract Lion. Over the left eye it resolved into a similarly designed scorpion. There was a little of the other creature in each likeness. The mouth line…was it smirking?
“This is priceless,” I said quietly. “Thank you, Maemi. I wish I had something to give you in return to remember me by.”
“You mean,” she replied, “like this knife?” She held up the non-descript knife that she had taken from my belongings earlier. “Have no fear, Uso, my little fly. I will remember you. How about one last game? I’m going to walk up that road behind me, and when I get far enough away, I’m going to turn and say something. Sound like fun?”
She walked up the road, further and further, then finally turned around. She was at least a hundred paces away. I focused on those exquisite lips.
I will miss you, Uso, her lips moved. We will meet again, I promise you. One last rule for our games: don’t die.
She bowed, and I returned it.
When I straightened, as expected, she was gone.
I walked down the road towards the docks, my steps light. I suddenly felt invincible.
“I am just a simple bard,” I said aloud to no one in particular.
I am the Lion’s Shadow, I said inside to my ancestor.
For once, Satsujin said, I agree.
To be continued next week:
Check out Steve’s Hugo nominated book review blog here: http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/
Apparently CNN—a sucky, biased, boring, news channel which is only watched in airports and doctor’s waiting rooms—has a website with blogs on it! Of course, their blogs are of the same high quality that we’ve come to expect from CNN on TV.
Recently I was able to participate in a Twitter fight with one of CNN’s professional bloggers, though I hesitate to use the word fight to describe it, as it was really more like some drunken Norwegians brutally clubbing a baby seal. Most of my regular readers aren’t on Twitter, and the ones on Facebook just got snippits as the day went on. So this blog post is here by popular demand. Because I care.
I’m Twitter friends with Nick Searcy and Adam Baldwin. Both of these guys are great actors, and some of the few out of the closet conservatives in Hollywood. Because they are famous, active on the internet, and go against accepted group think they get attacked by caring liberals all day. Adam debates with them and Nick just makes fun of them.
I found this CNN blogger through one of these guys, but can’t remember which one now. His writing is your usual smug lib nonsense. Guns are bad, m’kay. Why are you guys such hatey hate mongers? Republicans don’t believe in science and hate all the binders full of womens. That sort of thing. I’m always looking for dumb articles to fisk, and this one from last week in particular had entertainment potential.
The CNN bloggers name was Dead Obeidalla and the article was titled Is Rush Limbaugh Still Relevant?
But because I have to write books for a living, I didn’t get a chance to fisk it. The hilarious part was later that day the President of the United States of America complained about the terrible influence of Rush Limbaugh. So, gonna go out on a limb and say yes. Still relevant.
Nick was laughing at the CNN blogger, who was all butt hurt and smug (and moving right down the Liberal Arguing Checklist “well, you’re not a *real* actor! You sound angry!) Since I’m not a *real* author to liberals, I take special joy in my solidarity on that one. It had been going on for a long time before I tweeted that it was kind of ironic that CNN would be asking all 15 of their readers if something was relevant.
(I yanked the weird formatting and all of the names that were tagged in these)
Correia: Blogs about pet grooming get better traffic, and they don’t even have a James Earl Jones voice over.
Dumbass CNN Blogger: Great point – very well written and insightful. Thank you for taking the time.
Correia: What did you expect in 140 characters? (well, we could fit in most of your reader’s names I suppose)
Nick Searcy: Actually @monsterhunter45 our mentioning @thedeansreport might generate the most traffic he’s ever experienced.
Correia: The day @thedeansreport fought with @yesnicksearcy was the most important day of his life… To Nick, it was Tuesday.
Dumbass CNN Blogger: Yes it was – a day I will always treasure. I circled it on my calendar and its in my time capsule.
Correia: Is the other day circled on that calendar when RuPaul’s Drag Queen beat Piers Morgan in the ratings?
Correia: One show is make believe where a man shows his pretty pink panties. The other is about RuPaul.
For the record, all references to Pretty Pink Panties is due to Nick’s mission of getting liberals so angry on the internet that they show the world their panties. And if you’re not watching Acting School, you are wrong.
So that was the first time I ran into Dean Obeidalla online. (and I even got to quote Street Fighter The Movie!) He’s supposed to be a comedian, but in his writing he comes across as your typical, self righteous, smug, humorless lefty. He tries to talk smack, gets beat up, gets all surprised when conservatives don’t roll over to have their belly’s scratched like a good little John McCain. Once he starts getting beat on then he tries this weird self-depreciation turtle tactic that almost makes you feel sorry for him.
But sadly, I was born incapable of feeling mercy for dumbasses.
So fast forward a week and we get his new article… All about how Twitter is just like Fight Club! (no. I shit you not!)
He makes a valid point. There are racist assholes on the internet. Shocking. I love how these people are a huge problem when they don’t like liberals, but when they’re telling me that I’m stealing all the white women or that they’re going to shoot me in the face because I support the 2nd Amendment, then that’s just caring liberals exercising their rights to free speech. Nick has never said anything even vaguely racist and has an adopted black son, but he still gets called racist every day on Twitter because he thinks Obama sucks.
So conservatives are used to Fight Club. The difference is, we know how to take a punch.
And the ironic thing is I’ve now been reading this guy’s Twitter feed for a while, and his definition of hate seems to be “Oh, no, these conservatives don’t like when I say that they are all stupid hate monger racists! And some of them call me on my bullshit! HATE! HATE! HATEY-HATE-HAAAAAAAAATE!” As a guy who gets death threats from caring liberals every time I write a political blog post. I find that hilarious. (and I share all my best hate mail with you guys, because I care so hard)
Now writing an article like that is sort of like chumming the water for sharks, Adam Baldwin posted the link, and this time around I got to spend some quality time with Dean. These went all day in so many different threads, with so many being posted simultaneously that I’ve probably got them out of order, and I’ve surely left out some really funny ones from other posters. These are only the ones I was tagged in to follow, because twenty other conservatives were also taking turns on the Dean Piñata (Deanata?) at the same time.
As you read this, you may start to think that we were being too mean… A lopsided beating will tend to have that effect on the tender hearted. Whenever you begin to experience that feeling I want you go to back and read some of Dean’s blog posts, ranging from such brilliant topics as Barack Obama, Dreamy or Just Super Awesome? Or Why Do All The Stupid Conservatives Not Believe in Dinosaurs?
To keep things orderly, I helpfully added the names (and titles) of who was speaking in bold. Because I care.
Nick: Dean’s blog post “After I Call People Racist On Twitter, Then They Should Shut Up” is poignant.
Correia: It is just like Fight Club, except no punching, and Dean is a wuss.
Correia: If this is fight club what a sheltered pansy life he has led.
Dean the pansy CNN Blogger: U need to write better tweets if u really want me to respond
Correia: U need to write more blogs so we can continue to club u like a baby seal.
Dean: I’ve been writing for CNN weekly for 2 years Where have u been?!
Correia: I’ve been a NYT bestselling novelist sleeping on a big pile of money.
Random Crazy CNN fan on Twitter: – insert a whole bunch of random bullshit posts about Nazis are the NRA, and some links to google images to pictures of confederate flags, and then some rambling craziness about evil gun owners that is barely understandable as English. All wrapped up with threats about how FEMA should round us up and put us in camps… You know. The usual.
Nick: Nothing damns @deanofcomedy more than the drooling idiocy of his 2 or 3 fans.
Nick: Hey, @monsterhunter45 don’t all hilarious “comedians” tout writing a blog for CNN as their #1?
Dean who makes minimum wage to the guy second billed on Justified: I hope to 1 day be a glorified extra like u on a basic cable show
Hermit Wizard: @deanofcomedy, you could become one of @yesnicksearcy’s bitches. More respectable than CNN.
Bitches is a reference to Nick Searcy’s Acting School. Just go to Youtube and watch them. Good stuff.
Correia: Whoring is more respectable than CNN… Wait… Never mind.
Dean, with delusions of his importance: can’t u guys get Michelle Malkin to join this?
Correia: I wonder what “CNN blogger” pays? Points on his Subway card?
Kurt Schlicter: Fun Fact! I lose more money responding to a @deanofcomedy tweet than he makes writing a CNN column.
Correia: If Dean writes two more blog posts he can get a foot long teriyaki chicken!
Dean, trying the Battered Trailer Park Wife Defense: Actually I have to write 3 more if I want to afford cheese on it
Correia: While you are there you should fill out an application and get some gainful employment.
Dean who is very proud of his participant ribbons from T-ball: My article just came out on CNN Espanol – maybe I can afford cheese
Correia: I’ve book deals in German, French, and Chinese. Please, continue to wow us with your fame.
Dean who thinks he’s clever: That’s impressive – Im going to Google u later so I will know how famous u are
Correia: CNN’s new slogan: “Hold on. Let us Google that.”
Nick: It is amazing how unfunny @deanofcomedy is when he tries to add to the joke and act like he’s in on it.
Correia: it is the “perhaps if we’re nice they’ll go away” defense. Sort of like Obama’s foreign policy.
Ace of Spades: Who told him he was funny, and what could cause that level of *hatred*?
Dean who has grown delusional: Nick – as long as ur laughing – at me or with me – I’m doing my job as a comedian
Correia: Man, you really suck at your job!
Correia: You are to comedy what Nickelback is to music. Kind of sad, because they try so hard.
Dean who is sad that nobody loves him: I love Nickelback – that is a really cheap shot. They are the soundtrack of my life.
Nick: That’s why he’s killing them on the CNN blog, and not on a basic cable, or any, show
Correia: Judging by CNN’s ratings, he’s better off on the blog.
Dean who mistakenly thinks we give a shit: that’s actually true. CNN com is top news website beating even Fox. But no in TV ratings
Correia: So you are bragging that your TV channel sucks on TV, but has a nice website…
Dean demonstrating “comedy”: Im much better when ur drunk
Correia: I don’t know if there is booze sufficient. I’d have to huff paint to suffer through CNN.
Jeff: Isn’t @deanofcomedy the guy who tried to make a name on Limbaugh’s back last week?
Dean’s hurt feelings: Yes and it worked out great. I’m hugely famous now #idiot
Correia: He said TRIED. But since you suck at writing, it didn’t stick.
Laura: Can’t stop laughing! Priceless! You should have talk show on #CNN
Correia: CNN better have their checkbook ready. Or Subway card for Dean.
Dean, whose crying pillow smells of lilacs and shame: Looks like I really pissed off Nick w/ glorified extra comment on basic cable
Correia; Nick’s pool cleaner makes more than you do at CNN. Surely he is heartbroken.
Dean, grasping at straws: Nick has a pool? I didn’t realize they had those at the nursing home
Ace of Spades: Wow. You’re really, really frighteningly untalented and unsuited for this work.
Correia: For CNN? Naw. All you have to do is insinuate racism and you’re good to go.
Nick: He doesn’t have work.
Dean, who is Occupying Some Street: This is so much more fun than having a job – I think we can all agree on that
Correia: Why? Nick, Kurt, and I have jobs. I’m collecting royalties while I make fun of you.
Sean: All the H8 on Twtr. WE SHOULD BE SUPPORTING THIS! The bullying, I mean.
Dean, demonstrating the definition of the word Oblivious: Funny – but actually they fight with me to see if they can match wits and #fail
Correia: You have a very odd definition of “match wits”.
Ace of Spades HQ: If you’ve got anything beyond 2nd grader rubber/glue jokes, we’re all waiting.
Dean, demonstrating his university education: u truly are the human version of #epicfail
Jay: Easy there waterwings. Mommy left the inhaler in the minivan.
Correia: I kind of pity @deanofcomedy now. He doesn’t even realize how dumb he looks. Sad.
Jay: I want to know how his waterwings fit under his academic gown.
Meanwhile one of my fans, a 16 year old by the name of Donovan posted to this mess. By the end, Dean of Comedy, CNN Wonder Blogger, was reduced to making fun of a teenager’s choices in music. It was sort of like watching a slow motion train wreck.
Donovan: I have to thank @monsterhunter45 and @deanofcomedy for this after-school battle of writers. Just one makes books and not blog news.
Correia: Heh… I bet my blog gets more hits too.
Sean: No bet.
Donovan: Wait. Dean can make Twitter rainbows and unicorns?
Donovan: Dean, I’m only 16 and even I can tell the IQ of CNN which is equal to ants.
Dean, whose only role in Fight Club would be the punching bag: that tweet didn’t even make sense. Pls take a moment, collect urself + try again
Donovan: Wait. Do you need me to repeat the same thing seven times like CNN?
Correia: Well, you get slapped around by writers and actors, might as well go after a kid.
Dean, under delusions of competence: I treat all who fight me equally be they Men, Women, kids, or right wing idiots
Correia: You treat all equally, by asking them if they would like fries with that?
Dean, who probably wears skinny jeans: Cmon Larry ur better than that-Take a moment and try again. Thanks.
Correia: Says the guy doing lame ass old folks home jokes.
Dean, turning his considerable CNN debating skills against somebody who just got their driver’s license: Isn’t there a Taylor Swift listening party u should be at?
Donovan: I listen to metal and rock.
Dean, channeling Woodward and Bernstein: Sure u do.
Donovan: Proof? Hey – (flags a bunch of friends from the mosh pit, so now Dean is being insulted by an entire high school worth of kids listening to Slayer)
Correia: Making a 16 yr old prove what bands he listens to. That’s the hard hitting journalism we expect from CNN.
Dean the Concern Troll: Im worried about u now – those bands look scary- go back to One Direction music.
Donovan: If this is comedy, I’ve seen funnier things in Twilight.
Dean… okay, I got nothing: And ur a Twilight fan as well?! Best of luck with puberty
Donovan: So? At least I can admit it. Anyone else just think Dean’s a pedophile now?
Dean who was just outmaneuvered by a teenager: Sorry u will have to leave now-come back when ur acne clears up. Deal?
Correia: And this is what you’ve been reduced to @deanofcomedy? You sad, pathetic little man. Welcome to Slap Fight club.
Donovan then had a bunch of hot girls show up and fall at his feet like an Axe Shower Jell commercial.
So there you go folks, one Twitter clubbing compiled for your amusement. I for one can’t wait for Dean of Comedy’s next hard-hitting CNN blog post titled How to Remove a Boot from your Ass.
Today’s Book Bomb is for A Walk in the Abyss, a new anthology about orcs, giants, and sasquatch, featuring stories by not one, but TWO members of Writer Nerd Game Night!
The goal of a Book Bomb is to sell a bunch of books in one day in order to bump that book up in the Amazon sales ratings. The more books we sell, the higher it goes in the rankings, the more lists it shows up on, the more books sell, and the more the writers GET PAID.
I just got my hard copy yesterday. I’ve already read Paul Genesse’s story No Tusks, and it is awesome. It is possibly one of the grossest, nastiest, funniest stories ever, so of course it is about Orcs. No Tusks is Skippy Approved.
Pat Tracy has written the story of Mungo the bumbling giant. And now that I think of it, there are illustrations from Zach Hill in here, so that’s 3 members of Writer Nerd Game Night in one anthology.
They are doing a live action reading/game for the release at ConDuit, featuring Paul as No Tusks and Pat as Mungo. I think that Paul is going to draft me to play a bigfoot or something. I’m not quite sure.
Right now we are at: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,946 Paid in Kindle Store
And I’ll update through the day as that changes.
EDIT: hang on, my Amazon link isn’t posting…
EDIT 2: Okay. I think I got it. For the record, if you buy anything through my Amazon affiliates link, I get a percentage for the advertising refferal. So if you want to buy a refridgerator or a car while you’re over there book shopping that’s totally cool too.
EDIT 3: I forgot to ask you guys to spread the word! Twitter, Facebook, grafitti, sky writing, yelling at random hobos from the window of a passing car, the more people who spread the word, the more books get sold, the more it helps out these authors.
EDIT 4: Amazon has tweaked their algorhythms to screw with Book Bombs. I can see the clicks and I know people are buying it, but they the ranking has barely moved. Curse you, Amazon! But hey, making the numbers jump is only part of the fun. The important thing is that the writers GET PAID.
EDIT 5: So after not moving at all, all day: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,532 Paid in Kindle Store. Thanks, Amazon!
EDIT 6: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,527 Paid in Kindle Store
EDIT 7: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,559 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
Amazon has tweaked how they do things. Looking at the click throughs and sales on my affiliates link from yesterday I’m pretty sure normally this one would’ve gotten a lot higher.
ConDuit is this weekend in Salt Lake City and I’m the guest of honor. This is my schedule:
12:00 PM – Writing the Comic Scene (How to make the reader laugh without seeming forced)
2:00 PM – The Best Advice I Was Ever Given (with Paul Genesse)
5:00 PM – Guest of Honor Address (whatever you want to talk about)
10:00 AM – Reading
11:00 AM – Signing
1:00 PM – Keeping Readers Glued to your Book (with Paul Genesse, Eric Swedin)
3:00 PM – MST3K (with Nathan Shumate)
12:00 PM – Write About What You Know (with Paul Genesse)
1:00 PM – Writing a Fight Scene
4:00 PM – Gearing up for the coming Zombie Apocalypse (with Brad Torgerson and Justin Rouviere)
On Wednesday I’m going to be doing my next Book Bomb for A Walk in the Abyss.
This is a fun anthology put together by a couple of friends from Writer Nerd Game Night. It is about Orcs, Giants, and Sasquatch. I’ve read the Orc portion and it is gross, hilarious, and simply awesome.
ConDuit is this weekend in SLC and Paul Genesse will be running a sort of live action reading/game for the release. I will be involved. Oh yeah, if you’re in SLC, come to ConDuit. I’m the guest of honor!
So on Wednesday I’ll be launching a book bomb. If you’re not familiar with how that works, it is where you get as many people as possible to buy a book on the same day in order to shove it up through the Amazon rankings. The higher it goes, the more people see it on lists, the more people buy it.
However, I’ve learned (and seen from our last few book bombs) that Amazon has gotten wise to that sort of thing, and they’ve changed their algoryhthm. I’m not sure how, but the results now seem more delayed and spread out. But either, way it still helps, and my last few book bombs have still gotten people up to the tops of their genres by the end of the day. We just don’t have the crazy hourly jumps like we used to, even though we’re selling more books.
Mark your calenders!
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: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/the-drowning-empire-episode-21-gifts/
If you’ve ever wondered who Bayou Renaissance Man is from that quote on the back cover of MHI, this is the guy. I’ve known Peter Grant for a long time, and he’s a good man.
He’s released his first science fiction novel on Amazon:
Now I’ve not read this yet. I just found out about it yesterday. But I did read an early rough draft of another novel of his from several years ago, so I know that Peter can write. He’s got skills.
Also, Sarah Hoyt, who I know and trust, and who is an excellent writer, enjoyed it enough to cover quote him.
Many of you from around the gun blogo’sphere may know Peter from: http://bayourenaissanceman.blogspot.com/2013/05/my-first-novel-is-published-at-last.html
So I’d encourge you to take a look. Peter and I were moderators together over on The High Road. The last guy I know from there who published a book on Amazon, Marko Kloos, got his book Terms of Enlistment clear to number 1 in all of sci-fi. It must be from all of those times we had to write responses to morons or trolls, but apparently THR mods have a gift for writing books.
Up first, another killer steam powered robot for my Warmachine army.
Next, this is desk decoration for my old boss. I retired last week and she was the best boss ever. She knew that I painted minis, and had asked for one a long time ago, so I’m giving this to her. The blue is the company color.
And check out the base. That’s the company logo. Made that “stone slab” with a challenge coin, insta-mold, and some green stuff putty.
The PDF for the Monster Hunter International Employee Handbook and RPG is now available for download for all the Kickstarter backers. If you were one of the KS backers you should have received an email with the instructions.
For the actual books we are just waiting for them to be printed. That’s out of our control, but we are getting really close to this project being fulfilled. You guys are going to love it. The book came out great.