Part 1 can be found here: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/the-burning-throne-part-i-diary-of-a-crab/ as well as the explanation of what this is.
This week’s serial post is c0ming a few days early because I’m going to be very busy Friday. The following fiction is from one of our early sessions.
Included in this week are a part written by Nick Dianatkhah, who is playing Togashi Shichiroji AKA ZukoZuko. Who is now a wanted criminal, which is not known by his travelling companions. Meta-game, the characters are not aware that the Spider Clan they meet are actualy servants of evil, tasked with infiltrating the empire. The Spider are actually orchestrating the pirate attacks that way they can look good when they swoop in and save the day.
And the guys bursting into flame at the end? That’s because Zuko got his flaming fists on, only Makoto was too busy to notice.
Coming next week, the Ballad of Ide Todo, by Steve Diamond. Which is when this writing thing started getting a little crazy.
From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan.
I have decided to keep a record of my journey. Should I die, I would hope that this scroll would be delivered to my half-brother and village magistrate, Hida Kenzan, so that he may know that I died as a Crab should, battling evil and defending the honor of my clan. Unless I died doing something really stupid. Then never mind.
It has been a busy few weeks, ridding the river of pirates. It was a good morning. I killed many pirates. I’ve never been shot by arrows before. It was enlightening. That is all.
Hmmm… Perhaps I should add more details. After all, the glory is in the details. Very well.
I have volunteered to serve the Unicorn courtier Ide Todo in his duty to move supplies to the war front. He is a small, quiet man who does not believe in violence. I do not think much of him, but he answers to the regent, and through him, I hope to impress the Otomos.
Besides Todo-sama’s contingent of Unicorn bushi and Mantis archers, he is accompanied by a strange Dragon named Kitsuki Tsuze. He is some sort of “investigator”, whatever that is supposed to mean.
The leader of the archers is a man named Tsuruchi Machio, who as far as I can discern comes from a wealthy father. He is a strange one, fascinated by odd gaijin things.
The last of our group is a ronin who has distinguished himself from the rest of the troops by his fearsomeness in battle. His name is Zukozuko. He is missing one eye and at some point lost half his face in battle. He does not talk much. I like him the best.
The others had been travelling together for some time before I joined them in Lion lands. They had participated in some intrigue between the Dragon and the Phoenix before Ide Todo was given his current assignment. I do not know what happened there, as the others are not fond of speaking of it, but apparently a murder was committed, a Dragon was framed, and in the resulting mess Tsuruchi Machio got himself into a duel, and is only alive because some insane flaming-fist Togashi monk interfered in the duel and murdered Machio’s opponent. The cowardly criminal monk fled and has not been seen since.
From those events, they have managed to gather a Mirumoto named Rei (who was somehow disgraced by the events) and a pretty Doji girl. Now clanless, they have been useless thus far, merely taking up space on our barges, but we could probably put the swordsman to work. I could probably find some use for the Doji girl too.
Hmmm… That came out wrong. For whoever is reading this journal, know that my heart belongs to another. The Doji is safe.
“Thoughts Over Tea” – Reflections
-Written by Togashi Shichiroji, known as Zukozuko, on the ride to war with the Army of Dark Fire.
Upon the cliff face,
Small tufts of grass may take root.
Across the grass lands
A few large stones may be found.
The broad back of Ningen-do
Finds neither of them distant.
I feel at ease tonight. There is something soothing in my habits, that quiets the discomfort in my soul as we head to the warfront. It would be a lie if I told myself I was not afraid, for I nearly tremble with terror at the thought of what we, and I specifically, will face there. I do not fear the flame’s touch, nor Yobanjin spears. No, I expect that will come during the battle. Or it may not… No, today I find myself in fear of killing. Of putting blood on my hands again.
My master taught me all that a man should know to live a right life, and the path to search for enlightenment. I feel like he was honest in his endeavors, and that he prepared me to the best of his abilities. He did not tell me what enlightenment is, as it is different for everyone. He merely gave me the tools he had and set me on my journey. I do not know whether I have lost my way, or whether I have found the path to my own personal enlightenment. I suddenly feel as though my teaching and experiences have not been enough. I have broken the laws of my country and hide in plain sight. I have committed murder, and reveled in bloodshed so much that I could pass for a Lion Deathseeker. And I don’t feel I am wrong.
Tsuruchi Machio is a friend. Or was one. I know the laws and customs of the glorious Empire, but in my heart, I could not let the man die. I have thrown my goals, my clan, and my honor to the dirt to save that samurai, and I don’t understand why, but I don’t feel that it was the wrong choice.
But it was murder. That much I know. The laws were set forth by the Kami, or those who spoke in their stead. The iaijutsu duel is sacred, and to interrupt it, dishonorable, to kill a man in a duel is murder of a most heinous nature. But it wasn’t wrong.
I find it difficult to speak with my companions. In no small part for fear of revealing my identity. But more so for the fact that I do not believe they will understand. Ide Todo, a man much regarded for his accepting nature, and honest attitude, is a man I find myself more and more willing to follow. I find myself more and more inspired by his actions and his words. He is a natural leader, a surprise for many, I think, because of his affinity for the courts and not the blade. Rokugan does not revere, respect, or coddle the weak. Ide Todo is a weak man. But perhaps only in body. His spirit remains strong. I wonder if he is a man who will truly protect those he gave his word to defend, whatever the cost. I do not think, for all of his pure intentions, that is he that man.
Kitsuki Tsuzi. I once knew, with all my being, that there was something of great import regarding him. The vision I saw was clear as the mountain lakes near my monastery. The portents obvious. And now… I see chaos during my meditations regarding Tsuzi-san.
I find myself drawn towards Hida Makoto more and more. The man is a killer. That is to be sure. He kills without remorse, and without hesitation. The man is a brutal machine. Does he feel the same tsunami of spirit within him? The same confusion? Killing and murder are not the same. I am not ignorant. But I wonder if he can help me understand.
And then there is Aiko of the Spider Clan. While Makoto-san exemplifies violence. Aiko exudes it. There is something primal and something dangerous about her. I believe, while I have not seen her kill, that she would understand the pull on my soul. But she is like my mountainous homeland. Difficult to navigate, forbidding, and unforgiving.
Perhaps none of them can assist me in quieting my discomfort. After all I am the one who has sinned against the heavens. I am the one who must come to grips with my actions on my own. I know what I have been taught. I know what I am supposed to feel. I know what my duty dictates that I do.
But I cannot do it. Perhaps this makes me weak. Until I have come to an understanding of the subject I cannot allow myself to be taken. I feel that my Master has not achieved his own goal of enlightenment because he has not been seeing the broader picture. A man must experience and conquer all aspects of himself and the Five Rings.
However, does this revelation mean that a man, sometimes, must commit murder to protect that which is important? Must a man commit sin to achieve his larger goals?
From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan.
The Lion Clan have been of little help in our mission. They are more worried about the Scorpion Clan scheming across the river, than they are of the Red Sun pirates controlling the river. The Scorpion say the pirates are coming from the Lion side and the Lion say they are coming from the Scorpion side. Who cares, I say? Find them and smash their heads.
One of the pirates we intercepted earlier was bearing a coded message. Kitsuki Tsuze was able to decipher it, and it gave us a list of targets and times. A small village was listed for this morning, but if we rode hard we knew we might be able to reach it in time to catch the bandits.
However, we arrived to the sound of battle rather than the sounds of a defenseless village being slaughtered. (trust me, they sound very different). A group forty black-clad samurai bearing the unfamiliar mon of a spider had engaged the bandits and were utterly destroying them. We joined the fray late, and I was only able to kill a few pirates before the fight was over. That was very disappointing.
The leader of the strange samurai approached me. She had assumed by my armor and fierceness with the tetsubo that I was our group’s leader, but sadly I had to point her toward Ide Todo, who is easily overlooked. She said that her group were a minor clan known as the Spider, and that they were also focused on defeating these bandits. Her name was Iko.
I interrogated the one surviving pirate. He gave up the location of their base and said that they answered to someone known as the Moonless Night. They say that intimidation is a peasant skill, but I disagree. I am a fearsome Crab warrior and I still had fresh brains on my tetsubo. I can’t help but be intimidating. Having given my word not to kill the pirate, I told him to run away and find a respectable trade.
Since we shared the same mission, Ide Todo asked the Spider to join forces with us. We then travelled to see the Scorpion daimyo at Three Pillars Fortress, but it only had two pillars. Scorpions are annoying, but they are good hosts. Ate fish. Drank sake. Wrote in my journal, but now my eyes grow heavy. Hopefully tomorrow we will get to kill more pirates.
From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan.
As I expected, the Scorpion are of no help. I enjoy their hospitality, even as I wonder if my sake is poisoned. The leader here is the least offensive Scorpion that I’ve met. He has a fat, playful dog that took a liking to me. Over breakfast, we learned from a messenger that the Badger Clan was defeated by the Yobanjin hordes of the Dark Oracle of Fire. Shiro Shinjo has been besieged. The war grows worse while we waste our time guarding supply barges. I wonder if this is what the Fortunes really would have me do? But I must persist.
While Ide Todo was speaking with the Scorpion Daimyo and pleading for men to aid in the war effort. I was approached by one Bayushi Ujiro. He is a slimy little man, who had some dealings with Ide Todo and the others during their earlier misadventures. He seemed to know too much about me, and even spoke of my acquaintance with the Otomos. He knows too much. Someone at home must have spoken about my conversation with Kenzan… Wringing Ujiro’s chicken neck would have been gratifying, but I played stupid until he went away. If the Scorpion think Crab are dumb, why rob them of their preconceived notions?
The next expected attack on the deciphered list was against several river barges heading for the front. Our group and the Spider travelled to the banks where the barges had been tethered. We were surprised to find that these barges were filled with goods from outside the empire, and they were piloted by gaijin. As odd as it seemed, their papers were in order. Truly, we live in strange times.
The main force of Spider and our archers hid in the tree line, while Ide Todo, Kitsuki Tsuze, Iko and their yojimbo watched from a small boat on the river. Zuko surprised me with his compassion. He didn’t think we should leave the gaijin so unprotected. That was very brave of him… Of course, that was where the most fighting would be, so I wasn’t going to let him get all the glory by himself. The two of us took cover on one of the gaijin barges.
There were far more pirates than expected and Iko wisely held her men back until the enemy were totally committed. I killed them until my arms grew tired and even managed to take one man’s head clean off with my tetsubo. That was fun. I discovered once again that arrows really hurt. Finally, the Spider swept in and crushed the pirate force to the last man.
It turns out that the gaijin barge’s captain, Aramoan, is the woman engaged to Tsuruchi Machio, who was off delivering a message and missed the whole fight. The marriage is part of some strange Mantis diplomacy, but Machio-san often speaks often of his love for her. She only lived because of Zukozuko’s defense. The gaijin was rather thankful. Maybe they’re not all bad.
Something strange happened during the fight. A few of the pirates that Zuko was fighting burst into flames upon death. I did not witness this firsthand, but saw the corpses burning afterward. We believe that this may mean that the Army of Dark Fire has agents amongst the pirates. Iko seemed very surprised by this development.
Forgive my poor handwriting. I write this while riding on a horse. Now we are on our way to track down the rest of these wretched pirates.
Continued next week with the Ballad of Ide Todo http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2011/11/04/the-burning-throne-episode-3-the-ballad-of-ide-todo/