Introduction and Background
The weekend before the
New Zealand Kotei in Auckland, I was working a gaming convention for the store.
Between working and demoing L5R, I realized that my Ronin theme deck concept
could be applied to my Dragon deck and should try for the theme deck
competition. Theme decks are notoriously poor tournament decks. I still hadnít
decided on a final deck list, so instead I listed every possible card that was
in the deck or an option of being in the deck and then spent my ďlow keyĒ
time at the convention, writing a story. The first draft was complete on day one
of the convention. I have a theme deck based on my Last Step Castle tournament
deck, which not only incorporated every card possible in the deck, but also some
real world references that related to my deck and my Adelaide* performance. (In
brief, before I left for Adelaide, my youngest daughter wished me well and gave
me her smiley badge for luck). At the convention, there were a number of
dealers, one of which inspired an idea for my theme deck format. On the last day
of the con, I finalized the story and theme format. A day prior to leaving for
NZ, I have a finished story, printed as a 4 pages A5 full colour booklet. My two
youngest children are my test audience and love it. Still, I expect they are
biased. I have since updated this theme deck presentation for Brisbane Kotei
2010 to 8 pages).
A Day in the Life .... of Kitsuki Taiko
by Joseph Italiano
The Empire had seen better days. I remember the Festival of Cherry Blossoms some years ago, when Tamari Shaiko an I shared some Friendly Traveller Saki at the Kitsume Den. Relaxing, pleasant days, enjoying the sun, vibrant lush green terrain and the Peaceful Discourse, (sigh). Now, even Shaikoís time has passed. I miss her and that reminds me of my own mortality. Daily life today is but a ghostly imitation of what it was. Even The War of Dark Fire was only a shadowy forewarning of even darker times to come.
As Winterís Embrace approaches, I commence my duties, which are now more wide ranging than ever before. With so much devastation, there is so much more to do and even less people able to engage to do so. My heart aches as all these events sink in again. Despite my logic of thought, I proceed to inspect the Gold Mineís. Koku is a necessary evil and now we need more than ever to rebuild and rearm. Settling the Homeless, is a huge task itself, as so many lost their homes, their families, their lands and even their livelihood. Next I visit the Debt Collector, to access our progress on recovering our loans, but even that result as depressing is as that I received from the Counting House. Koku is short for everyone. Deeds and Words may be the honourable way, but Koku is "The Thriving Light" that fuels us all.
As I go on my way I am
greeted by a Beautiful Young Maiden. "Honourable Samurai, I know you have
much to do to protect and serve the Empire, but I beg for a moment of your
time". She takes a Low Stance,
kneeling with her head bowed and arms out stretched with cupped hands. She is
most unusual, in that she has long red hair, which obscures her face in this
position. Her skin is almost snow white, but has a few red speckles on her arms
and cheeks. Her clothing is simple, with a while hood and robe, which flow like
a gentle stream from head to foot. "Please accept this gift as a token of
our appreciation for your near endless work and taxing duties, it will bring you
good fortune". I reach into her hands as I do her the Courtesy
of accepting her gift, without really looking at it at first. Once I pick it up,
I notice a small broach, apparently carved from wood. A small thing, it was
barely wider than my thumb. Carved into it, is a very simple face. Two small
puncture holes for eyes and a large semi-circle beneath that feature for a
smile. I respect all our common folk and for one to go to such effort in these
hard times, deserves and has earned my respect. As I clip the broach on, I lift
my gaze to thank her again, but she is nowhere to be seen. Did she flee for some
unknown reason? Is the broach Stolen Property?
I stop myself. What would Kitsuki Hanbei
say if he knew of my suspicions? She must be simply shy and I will leave it at
that. I must be positive and set a good example. Perhaps the Beautiful
Young Maiden's Mysterious Smiley Broach of Good Fortune will change
My next stop is the Last
Step Castle, one of our strongholds that survived the first War
of Dark Fire . Mirumoto
Meisetsu, ever vigilant, stands
guard at the Outer Walls. Despite our Well
Defended Border, these time require us to Reinforce
the Gates. I long for the days of peace past. In the eating hall, I
join Kitsuki Suiha. He seems much more
focused than I. He banters on, of recovery, rebuilding, honour gained (my deck),
and tactics for the war. His enthusiasm makes me fell ashamed. Am I just human,
or have I taken The Lost Path to despair?
Itís as if I harbour some Shameful Injury
of the spirit.
My thoughts are interrupted as the doors slam open against the walls. Kitsuki Yodo bursts into the hall, panting. Suiha instantly leaps to his feet, drawing his blade. "Whatís wrong?" he cries, as he scouts beyond Yodo. "Has the Border Keep been attacked? Have the Bamboo Harvesters fallen to the plague? All that comes to my mind, is why does Suihaís vocalizations mimic my erratic thoughts? Is all his bravado just that, but he normally keeps his concerns subdued? Yodo catches his breath, as we both go to him. He appears fine, if somewhat exhausted. "Nothing ...... like ...... that" he replies between gasps. "I have been sent by Togasgi Satsu under the Divine Oneís instructions. Yodo turns to face me. For a split second, our eyes meet and my heart skips a beat. [Dramatic Pause] Yodo then bows to me. "You have the Imperial Favour" he tells me as his breathing returns to a regular rhythm. " I have been dispatched to find you and give you this". He reached into his backpack and removes a short straight object wrapped in an oiled cloth. As he hands it to me, he bows again. I am dumbfounded, as I accept this great honour. Any gift from the Divine One is ,......., is ...., I am truly lost for words. "I do not know what the gift is. I was also told to pass on this message from the Divine One. "Follow your noble heart, for it will provide you a Wall of Honour, to protect you". A riddle? What does that mean? Yodo continues. "You may visit the Temple of the Shinsei, before returning to your duties. That is all". The last words seem to relieve him of a heavy burden, as he relaxes and drops his arms. Still in a daze, I begin to unravel the cloth almost unconsciously. What is revealed, only stuns me further. The Heavenly Daisho of the Dragon. Everyone is speechless. I pack up with barely a word and depart for the Holy Site. I try to focus my thoughts, but these events are hard to digest.
On the road to My
Fathers Shrine, I encounter a Travelling
Peddler. He stops his cart in the middle of the road when he sees me
approach, bows and waits for me to reach him. "Good day and good
fortune" I blurt out as I attempt to manoeuvre around him. "Thanks you
good Samurai, and may your Sun never set". With that, he runs to the back
of his cart and hastily pulls out some large object, which clumsily falls with a
resounding Ďclangí to the ground. "Thank you, but I an mot interested
in buying anything at this time. Relax and I will be on my way" I urge.
"Of course", he bows apologetically, "this is different, a
gift". It seems today still has more surprises. There is no need "I
instinctively reply. Although it is polite to refuse gifts, whether you want
them or not, want is not my intention". "Yes, yes" he mumbles.
"No time for courtly pleasantries. This gift is important and for you
Kitsubi Taiko". I am struck like a recently fished and battered carp.
"How do you know me?" I query. "No time, no time. Here, put it
on". He lay a set of what appears to be Scout
Armour at my horses feet. The armour does not seem remarkable in any
way that I can immediately discern. Before I regain my composure. the peddler is
back on his cart and galloping as fast as his old nag can drag him. My reaction
time has been dulled. In a dreamlike state, I know I should don the armour and
do so. Although not truly familiar with such things, the armour does seem
lighter and much sturdier than I would have anticipated.
I arrive at the Temple of the Shinsei before nightfall. My day has been unusual to say the least, and I am looking forward to some time to relax and mediate and seeing Togashi Miyko. To my dismay, she has already left on some assigned task. The grounds are quiet and sparse, with only Togashi Osowa standing guard, to indicate that there is any life at all. The temple itself is simple and empty as I enter. Too much has happened today. I sit myself down cross-legged and assume the lotus position, as I try to clear my mind. I expect the usual, slow process. However, something is different. I close my eyes, breathe slowly and to my astonishment my mind clears. Not the way I expected. There are no longer strange thoughts, no troubling thoughts, instead I feel an inner calm. There is no form to this state, except that of peace. It has the Ring of the Void. I donít know how long I remain in this blissful state, when I am brought back to reality by multiple screams and a thunderous roar.
I pick myself up and grab my
weapons, rushing outside to see what has caused the commotion. An Oni? Oh my
Ancestors, the size of the thing. An Oni, here! So far from the Carpenter Wall.
I draw my weapons and rush towards it, taking in my surroundings as I do so. Mirumoko
Bokusni is now here and seems to be the worse for wear, sporting some
injury to his left arm, which is in a sling. His posture indicating a Defensive
Nature, rather than assuming an attacking position. A young girl is
sheltering behind him. She has long white hair, a Crane?. I canít make her out
in he dim twilight. The fray did not wait for me. Many monks have surrounded the
Oni, but are obviously outclassed, even as am I. Regardless, I do not hesitate
to attack. The Oni is vaguely humanoid, but despite his appearance, it clearly
has the light of intelligence gleaming in its blood red eyes. The Oni barely
acknowledges the remaining monks that are not littered around the grounds like
discarded chopsticks, but instead advances towards Mirumoko
Bokusniís position. Whether he is after Mirumoko
Bokusni or the girl, I can not tell, but I know it must be stopped. I
change my direction and sprint to intercept the creature, putting myself between
it and its intended target. So intent is the Oni on its target, it ignores me
too. The Oni reaches over me, raises its clawed arms and swings them from
opposite directions, determined to clap Mirumoko
Bokusni and the girl between them. With only one functioning arm, Mirumoko
Bokusni canít possibly block both attacks. I am too far to
effectively intercept the Oniís attack, so I leap in front of the Oniís
right arm, using my body as a primary shield. For an instant, I question my own
actions, but whatever the cost, the Oniís mission must fail. As the Oniís
blow strikes me, I see Mirumoko Bokusni
block the other claw with his katana. The force of
its blow knocking him cascading back into the girl, who also goes
sprawling, away from the creature. Then the pain bites into me. The force of the
Oniís blow knocked the wind out of my sails. I fly through the air and just as
abruptly fall back to the ground, between the Oniís feet. My chest is on fire.
The armour plate has been crushed and constricts my breathing. My right arm, my
primary sword arm, has been slashed by the Oniís claws. Blood flows down my
arm and trickles between my fingers, which I can clearly see, but can no longer
feel. The creatures bellows in anger at being temporarily thwarted. Enraged, it
renews its advance on it intended victim.
As the Oni lumbers ahead,
ignoring the broken insect at itís feet, I am intent to let it feel my sting.
With all my remaining strength, I swing my second weapon, The
Heavenly Daisho of the Dragon. Green ooze sprays over me. A grotesque
bellow of pain ensues, followed by an equally resounding thud. The Oni falls to
the ground, screaming in agony. My blow struck its ankle as it strode over me
and I was lucky. He is Hamstrung. The Oni,
now semi-crippled, joins the unanimous collective of the wounded, except for the
girl we are protecting for some unknown reason.
The Oni hisses in disgust,
"Dakoski Oki", traitor,
treacherous infiltrator, you WILL die", as it struggles to right itself and
begins to hobble towards her. Mirumoko Bokusni
intercedes, with his wounded arm now swinging freely from its lost sling. His
katana held in a Defensive Stance.
"Hold" he confidently yells at the Oni. "No more bloodshed. Fight
me. One on One. If you win, Oki is yours, no one will try to stop you." The
Oniís laugh is worse than its scream of pain or rage. A high pitch squeal that
runs through my bones and resonates in my skull. What is Mirumoko
Bokusni thinking? I survey the area. We are all fallen. Only Mirumoko
Bokusni and I have any degree of mobility. It appears Mirumoko
Bokusni is our only chance. After its hearty laugh, the Oni replies.
"Is this a trick?" "No tricks, Oni. I am a man of honour. Just
you and me. A duel." Mirumoko Bokusni
replies. "An Impromptu Duel, very
well little one. Prepare to greet your ancestors". Daigotsu
Oki, the name finally registers. A Spider clan member. She seems
unfazed by this one sided arrangement, for which her life hangs in the balance.
The creature and Mirumoko
Bokusni prepare themselves. The Oni, now brandishing a crude club as
a weapon, which is almost the same size of Mirumoko
Bokusni. They stand opposite each other. Mirumoko
Bokusni advances and aims for the creatures bloated belly. The
Oni easily parries with its club and swings again with the other arm. Mirumoko
Bokusni dives to the ground to avoid the blow and rolls towards the
Oniís wounded leg. Mirumoko Bokusni
scrambles to his hand and knees and scurries away in a crawl, leaving his back
exposed. The Oni squeals his laugh and lunges forward for an easy kill, shifting
his weight as he advances, to his Hamstrung
ankle. The laugh abruptly changes to an agonizing cry as the wounded limb
canít take the creatures own weight and the Oni uncontrollably timbers. As
soon as Mirumoko Bokusni hears the change
in the Oniís voice, he rolls onto his back and back flips upright with a speed
that defies belief. Before the Oni even has time to wildly flails its arms in a
futile attempt to regain its balance, Mirumoko
Bokusni completes his manoeuvre. With katana and arm braced against
the ground, the Oni fulfils his plan, impaling itself though the eye on his
sword. The creature is suddenly silent as its brain registers it last thought. Mirumoko
Bokusni then spins out of the way of the falling dead hulk, leaving
his katana to penetrate even further and guarantee the job is done.
Breathing is still difficult
for me, but that now seems to be because the armour has been crushed into my
chest. I carefully remove the damaged plate and welcome the fresh nightís
crisp air into my lungs. Daigotsu Oki
comes to me, a slight smile on her face. Oki extends her hand and wipes off a
few drops of green ooze that have diagonally sprayed onto my wooden broach. Her
lips part and a hushed whisper ebb. "You will Turn
the Tide". "Pardon" I exclaim. I have so many
questions for her. What a day it has been.
As if on cue, once again, the
peaceful repose we were barely enjoying is shattered by the now familiar bellow
of the Oni. I turn to the creatureís last slumbering position, but it lies
still, unmoving. Daigotsu Oki intercedes.
"The second one has caught up to us". The SECOND one.! We are all
exhausted, battle weary, Mirumoko Bokusni
is unarmed. The remaining monks are all injured worse I, ....... but no. I must
not give up. Before an expression can form on my face, I get up, ignoring the
pain, brandishing the Daisho with my one good arm and prepare for whatever
comes, even though I know this move is Certain Death.
[PAUSE] Daigotsu Oki takes my arm.
"Stay your blade. This one is not for you. I have one more Final
Duty." Although puzzled by even more riddles, I somehow know I
should do as she instructs. Daigotsu Oki
moves towards the approaching sounds of the Oni. When it breaks through the
forest, it is likewise surprised to she her standing before him, alone and
unarmed. Daigotsu Oki has time to turn to
me and smile, before the creature raises it clawed talons. As it does so, Daigotsu
Oki literally explodes into a shower of pale cool blue light. I am
temporarily blinded by the spectacle. Then everything becomes deathly silent.
When my vision clears, the second Oni also lies still, without any obvious
wounds or marks. Oki is nowhere to be seen. No trace, no body remains. Is she
dead? This has truly been, a most, unusual .......... [PASUE] I dare not even
think it, lest something else manifest. Letís just say. I have survived and I
am Kitsuki Taiko, experienced.
The End for now Ö.
* See Adelaide Kotei 2010 Report
to be a Card!