The Drowning Empire is a weekly serial based on the events which occured during the Writer Nerd Game Night monthly Legend of the Five Rings game. It is a tale of samurai adventure set in the magical world of Rokugan.
If you would like to read all of these in one convenient place, along with a bunch of additional game related stuff, behind the scenes info, and detailed session recaps, I’ve been posting everything to one thread on the L5R forum, http://www.alderac.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=295&t=101206
This week’s episode was written by Zach Hill, who is playing our gullible yet honorable farmer samurai, Suzume Shintaro.
Yuki tapped on the door and then slid it open with her free hand. The other hand carried a tray of tea. Shintaro was at his writing desk. Whatever he was writing had to be important because he didn’t notice her enter. He was bent over and writing faster than she had seen anyone write.
“Shintaro? Tea’s ready.”
He looked up at her without a pause in his writing.
She padded over and placed the tea to the side of his black writing desk.
“They didn’t have any of those spicey rice balls you like. What are you writing that’s more interesting than me?”
“A poem to the most honorable samurai of our generation.”
Even hearing his name made the room feel colder. Uso. He was not honorable. He used honor the same way a chicken farmer used chickens to feed his family.
“And why is he the most honorable?”
“It was amazing, Yuki. His swordsmanship is the best I’ve seen. He was dueling a yojimbo that was so outclassed it would have been comical if it were in a play. But he spared her. He could have killed her in one stroke, but instead he disarmed her before she could finish drawing her sword. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”
“You admire him?”
“Indeed. I admire all of my companions. Each one has a trait that I find lacking in myself.”
“True, you don’t drink nearly as well as Oki.”
“I was thinking more about his archery.”
“And you can’t throw rocks around like they were paper.”
“I was thinking more about his courage and willingness to face danger, regardless if it be a horde of bandits or his own fears.”
“And your horse isn’t nearly powerful as Subotai’s.”
“You win. I definitely wish I had a horse like that.”
He smiled and pulled her into his side.
Shintaro was laughing, but she wasn’t. He still trusted Uso. But there was nothing she could do. If she attempted to watch him he’d spot her before she even saw him. She couldn’t hide in the shadows from someone who lived his entire life in them. All that would accomplish was gaining his attention and right now her only defense was remaining out of his sight.
“I heard about Toranaka and Utaku. Did he really propose a marriage in front of everyone?”
“In a way, yes.”
It was much too early to mention marriage around Shintaro and she wasn’t sure she wanted to dwell on her chances. She had learned early to never give her hopes any ground. They always failed her.
“Are they lovers?” She asked.
“I do not know, but I do know that Subotai is getting along very well with his fiancé.”
“And by ‘very well’ do you mean how we get on very well?”
“A similar manner, I’d imagine, though probably without nearly as much noise.”
“I am not that loud.”
“I believe they heard you back in Broken Wave City.”
“When are they getting married? If they don’t hurry she might find herself in a compromising position. No one wants to get married while showing.”
“Back on Sparrow lands,” he started to say. She never knew if she should fear or prepare to stifle a laugh whenever he started a sentence like that. “When a woman finds herself in an embarrassing situation and is forced to marry, we call that a “Shogun Wedding.” It comes from Shogun Ichi Nioshi back in 378. He got the Emperor’s daughter pregnant and was forced to marry her the next day.”
“So, you fear Subotai might be forced into a Shogun Wedding?”
“I’m not sure that’s a bad thing at this point.”
Over the past few weeks she had paid particular attention to his descriptions of Sparrow lands. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for a Sparrow samurai to marry a peasant.
She hated thinking about that. That was too high a target for her. She had to think about what was possible. His consort or mistress would be far more likely. She wouldn’t complain about that at all. Even that was far more than she had ever had.
Shintaro watched as Doji Shunya said his good byes. More accurately, he stood there impassibly while others bid him farewell. Shintaro couldn’t let the duelist go without saying his mind.
“Doji Shunya, I wish you well on your journey. I found you a most honorable samurai and even though you wish to kill my friend, Subotai, I would travel with you any time.”
Shunya looked around as if lost for words. Shintaro’s power of speech often had that affect on people. There were many a time that he had brought a whole room full of conversation to a stand still.
Shintaro’s power was with his bisento, but in second place was his power with words.
Now it was his duty to give Toranaka advice on how to keep the interest of a certain young Unicorn battle maiden. If there was one thing he knew as much about aside from fighting and words, it was people. He made a careful study of people and knew human nature as if it were a familiar scroll.
Clouds illuminated by an unnatural green light swirled over the village. His heart was still pounding from the battle with the cultists on the road, but it wasn’t nearly enough to get his battle vigor going. He needed more. His blade was still thirsty.
Killing unnecessarily or without just cause was horrible and Shintaro feared becoming a butcher as much as he feared losing honor, but this was a righteous cause. These animals were killing peasants and Shintaro could not abide that. Not at all. He despised people that abused the weak. That was the entire purpose of being a samurai; helping others. First his emperor, then his lord and then the innocent. Whoever it may be, Shintaro’s duty was to serve them like a true samurai.
And these men, whoever they were, would receive no pity from Shintaro. Unfortunately, many samurai would never die for a peasant. Shintaro would.
There was one peasant in particular that he would most certainly die for. And it so happened that she was also an amazing cook. That was wasabi on top of the sushi.
As they rode closer to the darkened village he saw many of the Unicorn scouts in combat with giant ogre. These creatures carried enormous blades and wore heavy armor of a kind he had never seen before.
The scout leader ran up to their group and pointed toward the direction of the village center.
“Stop the ceremony!”
Shintaro looked and saw more of the cultists. Some were towering over huddled peasants, a sight that made ‘Water Dragon’ thirsty for more blood. Other cultists were standing on a mound and chanting in an unfamiliar language. Orbs of moving water hovered in front of the cultists. It was some kind of water magic and that wasn’t good.
He gripped the haft of his bisento and charged forward on his mighty steed.
And promptly came to a creek bed that was too steep and deep to take his horse over. As he dismounted he saw a blur fly by him. He turned in time to see Subotai leap his horse over the creek and land on the other side. Shintaro had never seen a feat of horsemanship like that in his life. He would have to put that in the official history of this expedition…which he couldn’t write about yet because everything was a secret. If he managed to survive all of this, he would have to put this part in.
He scrambled to the other side and charged the mound where the cultists were performing their sickening ceremony. He wanted to go rescue the peasants but he was slow and there was a threat right in front of his face. He had to deal with the problems one step at a time. That was what his father had taught him.
The father whom he would probably behead to satisfy his clan’s honor.
Or was it his own desire?
Oki began hammering arrows into the cultists that were killing peasants while Subotai charged with his horse.
These were the pathetic peasant cultists they had fought earlier. These men had sharp knives and whips and knew the art of battle very well. Whoever they were, they were no cowards. Their masks were black and orange like tigers and whatever they were doing the swirling green clouds were centered right above them.
He swung at one of the cultists and knocked him down, but the wound was slight. They had armor under their robes. Very well. He would just hit harder.
Suddenly the chanting grew in intensity to an inhuman level and just as suddenly broke off. Shintaro blocked an attack by a cultist’s whip and kicked the man off the mound. One of the peasants dropped to the ground with a slit throat. The cultist off to the right raised his bloody knife and made some kind of gesture with his free hand.
The faces of the tied up peasants showed wild, searching eyes. They were practically begging for him to save them and he was failing them. He would not let any more down.
Something was breathing behind him. Something very big and loud. It smelled of rotting meat and decayed fields. Shintaro turned and looked up at one of the ogre creatures standing where the orb of water had been. Mist was coming off its dark hide and its angry, red eyes looked down at him with unmistakable rage. Where had that thing come from?
Cultist magic. He really hated cultists.
He didn’t pause even to let out a war cry. He swung at the beast with everything he had. He caught the ogre in the side and water gushed out the wound.
The ogre roared and swung its tree sized sword at their group. He felt the wind from the swing brush his face and after realizing he was still alive, swung again. Everyone was hacking away at the monster and soon it was on its knees, bleeding water out of its many wounds.
More cultists were charging forward. Many of his comrades were wounded and he didn’t know if they could face these madmen. So he placed himself in front and took the brunt of their attack.
Between Oki’s arrows, Usai’s hurling rocks and everyone else’s blades, they slaughtered the remaining cultists.
He was breathing hard and searching the nearby huts and woods for any sign of movement. The battle behind them had died along with the ogres.
“And then what happened, Shintaro?” Yuki asked.
“Some Crab samurai showed up. I told them epic story of our struggle and they seemed satisfied. We met our friends from the Jolly Crab and I think Oki bought the brewery.”
“Bought the brewery? The one you where you beat up that one armed guy?”
“That’s the one.”
“Is that wise?”
“What do you mean?
“Oki might drink up the profits.”
“Even he can’t drink that much.”
“But he does have friends.”
Yuki sat back on her knees and poured more tea for them. This Unicorn tea was different than anything she had had before, but it was good. She’d have to get the recipe.
Shintaro talked about his battle against magical cultists with the skill of a story teller but also the calmness of a monk. How did he face down such horrors and not come out shaken? He seemed just as content about life as ever.
She was good at appearing unconcerned, but that was from a lifetime of practice. Shintaro simply wasn’t hiding anything.
“Enough of ogres and cultists. I have a book I think you might like.”
“Yes. A philosopher monk wrote it five hundred years ago.”
“Philosophy?” She’d heard the term before but never understood the purpose. “We had a philosopher back at the docks. He served the noon time meal.”
“Read it and then tell me what you think.”
He handed the scroll over and she took it while looking at his face. Was this one of his jokes? But his face showed sincerity. He wanted her to read some ancient scroll.
Gullible? Yes. Naïve? Absolutely. Stupid? Not one bit. The man was almost bursting with knowledge. Whatever faults Shintaro had, ignorance and lack of education were not among them. Sometimes she was amazed at how much information was stored in that man’s head.
So, her education began.
To be continued next week: http://monsterhunternation.com/2014/04/11/the-drowning-empire-episode-51-tentos-tale/
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