Welcome to my weekly series “Designing from Bones”, where we use archaeology and the artifacts of human history to find and design stories. Join me today as we seek out two lost treasures and unveil the story potential they hold.
Come closer friends and step through the misty portal in search of two treasures bathed in infamy. The first can empower its finder to claim an Emperor’s throne. The second promises wealth beyond measure, so much in fact, that saints will sin to possess it.
The mists part and before us lies the Shimonoseki Straits, the burial ground of a child Emperor and the magical blade that ensured his rule.
Kusanagi, the Imperial Sword
Kusanagi (officially, Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi) is a legendary sword and one of the three Imperial Regalia of Japan. Legend says that this sword, beyond being an incredibly sharp instrument of death, allows its wielder to control the wind by moving it in the direction of the swords swing. The original name of the sword was Ama-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi or “Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven”.
Possession of this sword also equates to the right to possess the Imperial Throne of Japan.
According to a collection of oral traditions translated in 1371, the child Emperor Antoku died in a naval engagement at Shimonoseki Straits, drowned by a member of his own household rather than allowing him to be captured. In an act of extreme grief, the Emperor’s grandmother led the remainder of Antoku’s family members to drown themselves in the straits, taking the three Imperial Regalia with them. Soldiers managed to save some of the royal family and two of the Regalia, but Kusanagi, the sword of the Emperor, was lost to the depths.
What if Kusanagi were to resurface today? Given the long history of traditional mindset in Japan, it is highly possible that some would call for the one possessing the blade to be named Emperor. Others would vow to steal it for their own gain.
What if Kusanagi reappeared with it’s renown ability to control the wind? How would a modern populace respond to a magical effect? We can add an element of horror to this by reanimating the child Emperor Antoku who is set on reclaiming his throne, adding power from beyond the grave to that of his ancestral sword.
In a fantasy setting, Kusanagi becomes a magically endowed variant of Excalibur. What if we added intelligence to the blade, allowing it to act of its own accord? How would the sword resist unworthy wielders and converse with those it approved of?
Step with me now through the misty veil as we travel to Cocos Island in search of a saintly treasure, gained by avarice, lost by lust and waiting for discovery.
The Lost Treasure of Lima
After the defeat of the Inca in the 16th century, Spain seized control of Lima and large portions of modern day Peru. This control allowed the Spanish-backed Catholic Church to amass vast quantities of treasure in the region.
By the early 1800’s, revolution and a drive for independence threatened to overwhelm Spanish control and the treasures of Lima, which included two life-size solid golden statues of Mary and the infant Jesus, came under threat. Captain William Thompson of the ship Mary Dear, was tasked with gathering the Treasure of Lima and transporting it to safety in Mexico.
Overwhelmed by treasure lust, Captain Thompson and his crew turned rogue and hid the treasure on Cocos Island near the coast of Costa Rica. Later captured, the crew of the Mary Dear were hung for piracy, except for Captain Thompson and his first mate who offered to lead authorities to the treasure in exchange for their lives. Upon reaching Cocos Island the two pirates managed to escape and neither they nor the famed Treasure of Lima were ever seen again. The treasure is estimated to be worth $60 million dollars currently, if it can be found.
What if the treasure were there, waiting? What if it were guarded by the undead spirits of Captain Thompson and his first mate, cursed by the sanctified Madonna’s to protect them against all, save the faithful, for eternity? Would we make our hero one of the faithful, a potential convert or a callous treasure seeker?
Imagine a hiker finding the skeletal remains of Captain Thompson. His bony fingers having clawed a riddle or crude map into the side of a tree or painted in his blood on the side of a rock.
What would a modern treasure hunt be like? Can you see the chaos? Nations, religious organizations, wealthy individuals and criminal syndicates, all vying to possess this immense treasure. Who will be the one to find it? Will they be able to keep it against all opposition? What will they have to do to win?
Now my friends, we step back and let the mists draw us back to our place and time. A world filled with lost treasure, forgotten history and untold stories. What treasure will your heroes seek? Will they seek power by might or power by wealth?
Looking for more great ideas and information on writing? Check out my previous “Designing from Bones” entries. Join me next week when we take a look at a few recently arrived inhabitants of the Zoo Arcane, the creatures of mythology.