Kali's Journal (a Jade Regent Campaign)


Campaign Journals

151 to 200 of 253 << first < prev | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | next > last >>

UnArcaneElection wrote:
Yeah! Finally caught up! Keep ‘em coming

I am glad you have enjoyed these so far. And you flatter me with all those fav's. Thank you!


2 people marked this as a favorite.

If somebody does all that work to put something like this online, and it's good, I am sure going to Fave it.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Pharast 28, 4713 (late morning, The Penance)

Now I can add “copulating hobgoblins” to the list of things I neither want nor need to ever see again.

Ichirou was one of Munasukaru’s children. The hobgoblin women he was…ahem…entertaining said as much when we descended on them. They avowed that we would never take the great spawn of the even greater Munasukaru from them, and bravely fought to the death, giving their lives to shield him as he even more bravely begged and pleaded to not be killed, and surrendered and bound himself at Radella’s demand. While the battle raged on. Yes, you read that right: he surrendered at the beginning, while his concubine fought and died in his honor. What madness is this?

In the interest of accuracy, only one of them actually fought. The other one was caught up in the web from my spell, and she burned to death in her lover’s bed after we set it ablaze. Incinerating her was more satisfying than watching the aranea roast, though it was probably no less disturbing. I think. Yuka’s memories are pretty clear on what the hobgoblins had done to her so it’s hard for me to look at this objectively.

I overheard the others talking earlier and someone, I am not sure who, said “Kali seems more bloodthirsty than usual”. That is definitely true. It’s hard not to be when you see what I have been shown. And I know I should, but I just can’t feel bad about what I’ve been doing. Or her memories won’t let me.

Ichirou kept referring to himself as the greatest or the chosen spawn of Munasukaru. I have my doubts about that. Not about him being her son, but about that bit where he is “chosen”. Given how quickly and readily he surrendered, how desperate he was to spare his life, and how he was all too eager to sell out his own mother—an Oni of the Five Storms—in return, it’s difficult for me to see what’s so great about him, and why anyone would choose him for anything of any importance.

I didn’t sit in on most of the interrogation because Yuka was more or less urging me to burn him alive, so I had to settle for the executive summary. He was supposedly the “overseer” (those were his words) of this level of what his mother calls “The Penance”, but his official duties seemed limited to bedding hobgoblin women. The answer to every one of our questions apparently got sidetracked into women in general, the Sisters of the Broken Path specifically, and when and where he’d rendezvoused with all of them. Even the map he sketched out for us was more or less referenced in relation to his sexual escapades. Do I need to keep going on here? No? Good, because I have had enough of it, too.

The Sisters of the “Broken Path”. That’s what he said the hobgoblin monks (all of them women, obviously) are called. What does that even mean? The path to where, exactly? And how or why is it broken? The name is as ridiculously arbitrary in Tien as it is when translated to Common, seemingly chosen for its edginess and mysteriousness.

Ichirou wasn’t the only one passing the time here with romantic interludes. His mother has, apparently, been busy herself. Ichirou says he has siblings, and there may even be some he doesn’t know about since he doesn’t get downstairs too often. He talked a lot about his two sisters. They are “mean to him” (gods, it’s like talking to a child), and more helpfully, that they are large, snake-like beings with faces. We put our heads together on that one and concluded they are naga of some sort.

So Munasukaru lays with hobgoblins and gives birth to naga. How does that work, exactly? I mean, sure, oni are demons in the flesh, but the biology just doesn’t make sense and even magic has limits. And, is it a failure or a success, anyway, when an oni mates with a hobgoblin and gives birth to a naga? On the one hand, her daughters are apparently still alive so that points to the latter, but on the other hand, Ichirou was still alive, too, so that’s not much of an argument. Maybe we’ll ask Munasukaru when we see her.

Ivan shot and killed Ichirou after we were done talking to him. While he was still bound. I should probably be feeling bad about that.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Pharast 28, 4713 (noon, The Penance)

Why are there so many oni still here? Why is Munasukaru still here? I mean, what is the point? The Kami said they couldn’t enter the House as long as even one oni remained. Well, we are up to our ears in oni here: Fujai, Ichirou, and of course Munasukaru and however many other oni she has spawned over the years. If it only takes one, why do they all stay? They can obviously get out because the rest of the Five Storms did it, so what’s keeping everyone else here? Can’t they take shifts or something? This makes no sense.

The only explanation I can think of is that Munasukaru has gone completely mad. She must want to stay here, and that means she is out of her gourd.

The rest of this place makes no sense, either. There are all these hobgoblins down here, and they are living in filth and squalor like it’s paradise. Why? To be closer to their “living god”? What god chooses a garbage pit for their domain? Who follows their god into a sewer? What could she possibly be giving them that is worth being trapped underground in your own refuse? Maybe we’ll ask her that, too.

______________________
And with that, I am caught up to our game. I'll no longer have a weekly or near-weekly cadence from this point on as we play monthly and it can take me a couple of weeks to get an entry completed.


With all this account of crazy Oni, suddenly I have this vision of Deadpool making a guest appearance in the campaign . . . I guess I really need to watch The Gamers and its sequel . . . .


3 people marked this as a favorite.

I wrote this together with Qatana's player.

Magnimar, Early Spring, 4710

Kali considered the oil paintings. In all, there were seven songbirds, the holy symbol of Shelyn, of different varieties all done in a mixture of styles and settings. The little artists’ shop was small but more cozy than cramped, and behind her Qatana was casually browsing through a series of more traditional paintings, almost absentmindedly. She had picked up a landscape depicting the Lost Coast Road and the sea beyond but gave it little scrutiny before hanging it back in its place.

“I didn’t know you were a follower of Shelyn. I never even thought of you as being religious.”

Kali was still deciding between two of the paintings that she liked the best; she didn’t respond immediately so Qatana continued.

“Shelyn is a strange choice for a Vudrani.”

Said the way one might remark upon the weather: “It’s hot in the sun” or “The wind is picking up”.

Qatana was like that. Kali found it oddly comforting. Yes, she could be blunt and occasionally rude, but she was honest and said what was on her mind, and she never did so with malicious intent. You always knew where you stood with Qatana. For years, she, Ana and Ameiko had been the only friends that Kali confided in.

“I’m only half Vudrani.”

“Still.”

Qatana knew how Kali viewed herself, and was not going to let her avoid the subject like this.

“The texts of Irori are as much an elaborate series of fitness manuals as they are spiritual guides. I tried when I was young. I really did. I even read Unbinding the Fetters when I was thirteen and attempted to follow everything in it: the diet, the meditations, the exercises…all of it. I couldn’t do it.”

She followed it strictly for many years—she still did, more or less, save for the exercise—and it had had a profound effect on her health and her mental discipline, but almost none at all on her physical strength.

In the Church of Irori, it was not enough to try. You had to progress.

“Self-perfection of both mind and body,” Qatana remarked, quoting its best-known tenet. She was idly inspecting another painting that she had no interest in.

“Yes.”

“You haven’t the strength.”

“No.”

Qatana had picked up a pendant from a small display rack, the first item to genuinely intrigue her. The pewter disc was strung onto a simple leather necklace, and carved into it was a scene of a leafless tree in front of a barren landscape. It reminded Kali of the dead of winter.

“Why Shelyn?”

“Why Pharasma?”

Qatana gave her a blank stare.

She is not going to let this drop.

The truth is, Shelyn appealed to her. A lot. The goddess of art, beauty, love and music embodied almost everything Kali cherished about her Vudrani heritage. Music and art were integral parts of the culture. The ornate architecture and ever-present music in Jalmeray, the aureate textiles and fabrics, the fine and intricate details in carvings, paintings and sculptures. Even her clothing was a celebration of art: sarees in rich reds and golds edged with sophisticated patterns in contrasting tones. Kali had gone so far as to line them with pockets, and she wore her sarees in place of the more traditional wizard robes favored by others (the morning after altering her first, she awoke to a brilliant Scarlet Tanager singing at her windowsill).

Followers of Shelyn were even encouraged to produce artwork and music of their own, to the best of their ability. The emphasis was on self-expression, not on a constant need to improve. This, too, resonated with her deeply.

“The art. The music. And, unlike Irori, with Shelyn it’s the journey that matters.”

Qatana considered this for a moment and then nodded, apparently satisfied.

“Why Pharasma?”

Qatana was silent for some time, fingering the pendant, turning it over and over in her hands.

“She brings us into the world and then sees us out. She does so dispassionately and with little thought or concern for what happens to us between. There is no pretense, no good or bad, and no judgment. It is a brutal and ugly existence, and I found her disinterest appealing.”

She stopped, and Kali thought she had finished and was about to comment when Qatana continued.

“It is sometimes hard to find meaning in such world, and yet here we are. I thought that a life in service to Pharasma would lend meaning and purpose, but as much as I respect her, she leaves little room for hope.”

Her words sank in.

“You’re considering leaving her Church.”

“I am.”

This was significant. It was almost expected for someone like Kali, still young and merely a follower, to have some uncertainty in their life before settling on a deity, but Qatana was pursuing the clergy. It was not unheard of, but it was rare and it would have consequences.

Kali was holding a painting of a stylized Cardinal with a flourishing tail, perched on a stone wall covered in ivy. She recalled that Tanager in her window and the choice seemed obvious now. This was the one.

“Pharasma leaves little room for hope. Irori leaves little for contentment. We have something in common."

“So it would seem,” Qatana said.

“I hope you find what you are looking for.”

____________________________________

We rolled for stats in this campaign. One of my early challenges was making sense of a wizard with a high Con and a Str of 7.


3 people marked this as a favorite.

Pharast 28, 4713 (early afternoon, The Penance)

The farther in we go, the more I see the echoes of a long-lost grandeur. I hesitate to describe anything the Five Storms have touched as magnificent, but this place has the feel of a once-great hall that's deep into its decay. How long were they held prisoner here? Hundreds of years? Thousands? That is a lot of time to excavate. The rubble in the hall suggests there was a collapse at some point. How much more was there? Are we just scratching the surface?

What did they do here? Did they entertain visitors? The kami said they were forbidden from leaving, but it was a prison with no guards save for the complicated rules that kept the oni from leaving. There was nothing stopping outsiders from coming and going as they pleased. You could build an empire that way.

It really begs the question, “why so lax?” Was it assumed the oni would just sit in here and rot for all of eternity? Clearly they had other plans. Whoever created their jail (and more crucially, this arrangement) was afflicted with a startling lack of imagination. And Minkai is paying the price.

Whatever this place once was it’s more mausoleum now; a crumbling monument to another time. It’s dark, dank and depressing. Even the oni that remain are depressing. The guardian of this checkpoint, as he called it, was as decrepit as the hall itself, though at least he was reasonably aware of the pathetic nature of his role. There was this moment when I was invisible, hovering just close enough to see him when he called out to us in the darkness. Qatana, for her part, managed a very credible impression of Ichirou’s voice and insisted on passing through. He tried to talk “Ichirou” out of this decision, reminding him what had happened the last time he’d visited his sisters. When “Ichirou” insisted on going anyway, he buried his head in his hands and just shook it sadly.

Can you imagine? Proud samurai Oni of the Five Storms, reduced to babysitting. Such tales of glory and fortune he must have had.

Wretched though he was, he was in our way. And he was mounted on a gorgon because of course he was, which also made him dangerous. We went for a reprise of yesterday’s trick: Qatana cast her spell, I walled them off behind a barrier of ice (because they can’t fly), and we let them beat each other to death while we took pot shots with arrows and bombs.

His living quarters was the height of elegance with its lice-infested bed and living, wall-to-wall carpet of beetles. I swear I am not making that last one up. What was even keeping them there? This place keeps challenging my notion of “the worst thing I have ever seen”. Repeatedly. It is not supposed to be a competition.

Speaking of “worst thing I have ever seen”, the decor in this hall includes an image of a hobgoblin nursing two snakes. Just in case there was any doubt about that.

_____________________
The last six of our monthly game sessions have been almost exclusively combat. This does not make for either lengthy or compelling journal entries.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

(midafternoon)

One down, one to go: we found the bonsai tree, discarded and forgotten in a dark storage room that is leading the race to dilapidation. Like everything else here the tree is barely clinging to life, probably from days or weeks without sunlight. If it wasn’t for the water leaking through the walls and ceiling it probably would have withered and died.

Yet again, I am left wondering what the plan was here. Why bring a plant—one which quite obviously needs sunlight to live—to a place completely steeped in darkness? How were they planning on keeping it alive? The only light in here is in the fire pit, and even if that were sufficient it’s two stories up. The would-be gardener was obviously not thinking this one through.

Now that the tree is safely in our possession maybe we can afford to be more indiscriminate in our methods. (OK, fine, we were hardly careful up in the pagoda. But there were no hobgoblins there, and no hobgoblins meant no tree. It was solid logic, and as it happens, we were right.)  Or maybe not. Yuka’s memories suggest Munasukaru gets personally involved when it comes to her prisoners, and that means there may be some down below. I’m guessing we’ll have to do this the hard way.

I probably should have thought of that sooner, before I sent a cloud of poisonous gas down that hallway. Fortunately, it was just a few hobgoblins, a hill giant, and these bizarre lizard things that were far more dangerous than anything else we’ve come across. Which makes me think they weren’t part of the original plan. That, and the pile of hobgoblin bones. They reminded me of that thing that attacked us up in the arctic. These lizards were blind, too, and they tore into us with huge blasts of sound. Except like everything else down here, they couldn’t fly (so maybe they were part of the original plan after all?)

Gods, it’s been a long day. I am spent. Qatana looks exhausted. Dasi’s voice sounds like it’s going out. We even lost Zosi’s puppets: they tried to walk across the bottom of the lake and something—we never saw what, but it was something big—extirpated them. They are utterly gone; there aren’t even any remains! I shudder to think what must be in that murky water that’s capable of (I assume) swallowing them whole. The pool is closed until further notice.

This underscores how unprepared we’ve been for water. We’ve mostly avoided it so far but it’s been a consistent theme and I wonder if our current tactics will hold. At the end of that hallway, where the lizards were, water pours in through cracks in the cavern walls and flows down the steps into a drain at its base. Which means we will have water to contend with down below, too. What if there’s something in the water that we have to confront?

The good new is that we have a few hours to figure this out as we are going to shelter in this hall for the rest of the day while we recover. Is this safe? Not really. Is there someplace safer? Not really. Not unless we want to leave and come back, which seems particularly unwise. If anything tries to come up from below, or descend from above, we need to be here for it.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Our monthly game was this past weekend but writing a journal entry takes a bit of time. If you want something to tide you over until then, all of our group's journals are online, organized by game date, along with other goodies. Seeing these same events from multiple perspectives can be entertaining.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Pharast 28, 4713 (evening, The Penance)

There is nothing to do here but sit and wait. And, I suppose, prepare for the next day, but that is just one of many hours that we have to pass. So most of us are making ourselves busy. We've gotten good at making ourselves busy. We had months of practice.

Ivan set up some traps around the collapsed bridge while I and a couple of others searched the artwork for...anything, really. Clues or hints or some sort of story that might tell us what we are facing. My hope was that this would be a pictorial history of the Five Storms, but there is no story here. The vast majority of it is simply fantasies put to stone and ink: depictions of hobgoblins torturing humans, conquering humans, performing unspeakable acts against humans, all intermingled with images of oni doing much the same, with an obvious obsession for Minkai. They don't just desire it, they lust after it, and that lust is on display in every square inch of these walls. I've seen such an excess of depravity in so little time that I have become numb to it.

One pillar in the hall did stand out, though. Instead of the usual violent and obscene portents, it depicted five oni. The one at the top was the largest and most distinct, very clearly a wind yai looming over the others. Below that were three more oni, more heavily stylized but almost certainly yai of some sort. And at the bottom sat the unmistakable, but heavily stylized, image of Munasukaru.

What does this tell us? For one, it's pretty obvious where Munasukaru stands, and that's "at the bottom". As we've long suspected, we will be facing the runt of the litter here shortly. It also suggests that the leadership of the Five Storms might, literally, be five oni. Whether that's just a coincidence or the name is intentionally descriptive is anyone's guess, though common sense would suggest it's the former (If it was the latter and you had to add a sixth oni to the leadership ranks how exactly would that work? Do you have to rename the organization? Print all new business cards? Change the company letterhead?) But then again, common sense has not exactly been a theme so far.

The image at the top also, rather heavily, implies that a wind yai oni sits in the coveted executive position. That...is bad news. The yai take the form of giants, generally those with a connection to one of the elements. Giants based on air tend to be tougher than their brethren, so if that holds with oni, too, then there is that to worry about.

For now, though, the focus is on tomorrow. None of us likes the idea of blindly dropping through the drain at the base of the steps. That means scouting ahead, and the safest way to do that is with the spell I used to explore the pagoda (gods, was that only two days ago?) That means an early start to the day, as Qatana will need to know what we are facing before she begins what passes as prayers to Groetus. And, no, you don't want to know.

There was this moment when she and I were hovering over the drain, staring down into the darkness. The sound of rushing water echoed around us and it was almost hypnotic. I could feel myself being swallowed by the inky void, the din of the cascading water fading as I descended.

Qatana's voice snapped me back to the present. "You haven't had to pee in years."

And it was such a random, bizarre statement—directed at no one because we were the only ones there and she wasn't talking to me—that I looked over at her reflexively. She was still hovering at my side; still staring down into the hole below. She must have noticed my surprise and confusion as she met my gaze and said, simply, "Beorn".

"Ah."

She kept mice more or less as pets when she was living in Magnimar. I say "more or less" because that sounds more formal than it was. It's more like, she was living somewhere and that somewhere had mice and so she had mice. She talked to them when they were alive, and she still talks to them now. Each of them has a distinct personality: Beorn is aggressive and unpredictable, Star is equally aggressive but rude, Badger is sneaky, Huffy is friendly, and so on. Sometimes she asks them for advice, sometimes they just offer it up. It...took some getting used to as she has these conversations out loud. At the start of this it was more than a little unsettling, but now it's just Qatana.

Are her mice really talking to her, or are these voices just aspects of her personality asserting themselves? In other words, is she being driven mad, or is this her madness? I don't know, and I am not even sure the two are mutually exclusive. We've certainly been witness to our share of the fantastic and paranormal and on those scales Qatana's affliction is mere noise. But, my suspicion is that those who seek out Groetus either are mad to begin with, or are driven so by his providence. The price of drawing spiritual power from him is to make that madness essentially incurable. Cutting it away from Qatana would be excising a significant part of her identity and existence. So here we are.

What does it say about us that this passes as normal?


You'll be relieved to know that: Should you choose to accept another mission to faraway places about a year a half in the future, your primary long distance means of transportation will have bathroom facilities.


I follow that campaign journal, too!

Beorn was thinking recreationally. This bit actually came from Qatana's journal, so I incorporated it into Kali's. Every now and then, I hold off on sending out my journal so I can see what others in our group write in order to look for connections or inspiration.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Pharast 29, 4713 (early morning, The Penance)

We have a much clearer picture of where we are headed. With my spell, I was able to explore three chambers below us until the eye could go no further. I sketched a rough map for my friends based on what I saw, pointing out potential hazards and foes. Now we’re just waiting for Qatana to prepare her spells.

We were right to worry about water. That much seemed obvious already but I always welcome validation where it can be found. In the cavern directly below us the water is only a foot deep, but it drains into another where it’s easily four to five. The former is merely an inconvenience, but the latter is trouble. Or would be, if we didn’t know in advance.

Even without the water it’s going to be a challenging descent. I could see two ja noi oni in the first cavern, torturing human or humanoid prisoners held in cages that are suspended from the ceiling. These oni are almost certainly more of Munasukaru’s spawn, much like Ichirou (though possibly not as spineless). In the second cavern I saw two naga that must be her daughters swimming in the water. Or undulating. Or whatever it is that snakes with human heads do in water. They are more dangerous than their oni brothers; before we face them that water will have to go.

The final chamber is actually a room of carved stone. The water from above doesn’t drain there, but it leaks in through the ceiling so the floor and walls are wet. More problematic than wet floors: the near end of the chamber is crisscrossed with metal chains and blue-skinned human-like beings lurk among them.

Kytons.

You can’t spend time in Shelyn’s church without learning about her brother and the thing he has become. While not all kytons are his servants, there are common themes of torture, mutilation, and an affinity for chains. That is enough of an overlap to get my attention. I don’t know what arrangement Munasukaru has with these things but I don’t really care: they have to go, too.

At the far end I saw prisoners hung in metal gibbets along the walls. I couldn’t tell if they are dead or alive. That is…not a good sign, and it’s put me in a somber mood. Some of the others, too.

This will be over soon.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

(continued)

Munasukaru tried to buy us off. Or rather, a ja noi oni samurai that claimed to speak for Munasukaru tried to buy us off. That tells me two things. First, Munasukaru is clearly concerned because otherwise why even ask? Every single oni we’ve encountered so far, including to some extent Ichirou, has bordered on egomaniacal and you don’t try to cut a deal when you’re convinced you’re winning (or too stupid to realize that you’re not). Second, she doesn’t understand us at all. Which, I suppose, is not too surprising. From what we’ve seen so far, rational thought was an early casualty around here.

On the off chance we were, I dunno, morally bankrupt or something, she offered us riches and rewards once Minkai falls to the Five Storms. What riches and rewards? Her spokesperson didn’t provide details, but I imagine we can take hints from the decor.

It actually took some nerve to stage a formal ceremony in the middle of a gods-be-damned torture chamber in order to make the offer, especially mere seconds after a cloud of poisonous gas had rolled over them (I’ve been having fun). If I was in their position I’d not be in the mood for diplomacy after that, which suggests Munasukaru has a pretty strong grip on her faithful. I can almost hear her saying to them, “Suck it up.”

Dasi responded that we represent the Amatatsu family. That put an abrupt end to the negotiations. Then Ivan put four arrows in the oni, putting an equally abrupt end to Munasukaru’s State Department. Cleaning up the kytons and the hobgoblins took a little longer, but only because there were more of them.

Four of the prisoners hanging from the gibbets were still alive. Like the others, we can heal their wounds but there’s nothing we can do for their memories.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Pharast 29, 4713 (evening, the Forest of Spirits)

Munasukaru, The Least is dead, and with that the voices in my head have finally silenced. I'd grown so used to them that I was nearly startled by the sudden stillness. As Munasukaru's body fell to the ground, Yuka's thoughts coalesced into a single, coherent voice: My tormentor is dead. I can finally leave in peace. And then there was nothing.

Almost nothing. I was staring at the naginata still clutched in Munasukaru's lifeless hands, and I knew right then that I could use it. Yuka may have passed on, but somehow she left this macabre gift behind. I could sense the naginata's balance, time it's swing, see it flowing and dancing around me as it cut and sliced...and I wanted it. And now that we know what it is? I want it even more.

How exactly did Munasukaru come across one of the ancestral weapons? That's probably another entry on our list of mysteries that will never be solved, though I suppose in this case the "what" is more important than the "how". Dasi examined the symbols engraved in the naginata and said they identify the House of Sugimatu, one of the five imperial families of Minkai. Like Suishen, the naginata even has a name—The Thundering Blade—though unlike Suishen, it can't talk. Which, as far as I am concerned, is a point in it's favor. One talking ancestral weapon has been more than enough.

I am holding on to it. For now, anyway.

Munasukaru, The Least. They actually called her that. The oni kept a library of sorts, shelves filled with everything from carved tablets to silk scrolls to rice paper tomes. The most interesting of these is an enormous volume that serves as a historical record of the Five Storms—turns out it's just some stupid, arbitrary name—written in a beautiful and meticulous tien script. Munasukaru, it seems, was part of their leadership, or officers, or one of the board of directors, or whatever you want to call it, and "Munasukaru, The Least" appears to have been her official title. We see it printed here, over and over again. I bet they even called her that to her face. Can you imagine?

This record doesn't end with their escape. The handwriting abruptly changes to a sloppy script that degenerates over time into nearly incomprehensible scribbles on the final pages. It must be Munasukaru's writing—it seems she was The Least at penmanship, as well—chronicling her descent into madness after being abandoned here. She was ordered to stay behind for the sole purpose of keeping the kami out, so that they wouldn't learn what the Five Storms had done or what they were planning. Finally, the Five Storms had found a job that Munasukaru could handle: sit and stay. Good girl!

If I am reading this correctly, she was obsessed with the leader, Anamurumon. She desired him, lusted after him, and also hated him for ordering her to stay here. Why am I not surprised to learn that the oni have mastered the art of abusive relationships? And, ever the victim, Munasukaru obeyed without question, probably hoping that he'd someday care.

It's all just so overly dramatic and pedestrian. The more I read, the more obvious it becomes that what the Five Storms do best is undermine each other. It's page after page of betrayal and infighting. Like they learned how to be human from bad theater, the sort that makes Kikonu's play into an aspirational goal.

Yet, despite all that infighting, Anamurumon has always been the head of the snake. That in itself makes him pretty dangerous, and then there's the whole "wind yai oni" aspect on top of it. We'll almost certainly have to go through him to put Ameiko on the Throne. So there is that to look forward to.

The kami say that Munasukaru was not originally part of the oni that make up the Five Storms: she came along later. She and her hobgoblins were just some wandering nuisance in the Forest that eventually found their way to the House of Withered Blossoms, and once she entered she couldn't leave. I am guessing she wasn't expecting that. (Neither was I, but I guess it's nice to get a question answered for a change: the screwy rules that kept the Five Storms imprisoned applied to newcomers as well. Hence why her spawn couldn't leave, either. The whole family was basically stuck with each other for eternity. I don't even know where to begin with that. We may have accidentally done them all favors.)

The next few days should be interesting. The kami didn't pay us for our services, of course, so we are claiming everything we found as compensation. Which is a polite way of saying we are looting the House and everything underneath it. That means we are carrying an enormous pile of sheer random crap: opium, ancient coins, carvings, shoes, gold- and silver-plated whatsits, porcelain whosits, and enough morningstars and tatami-do armor to equip an army of hobgoblins. I haven't seen a pile of junk this big since Snorri Stone-Eye's funeral boat.

It will take the better part of a week to liquidate it all, and the only city for hundreds of miles is Muliwan. Which means going back to Muliwan. It's been long enough that I'm not really worried, but if there were another option I'd choose the other option.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Summer, 4702

"Gods, Kali! What happened?"

Kali shook her head but said nothing. Ameiko could see she had been crying: her eyes were puffy and red, and there were smears of dirt on her face where she had been wiping away tears.

"You're bleeding."

Kali nodded her head twice, but still stared silently at the ground, not looking at anything at all. Ameiko, concerned, sat down beside her to get a closer look at the cut on her left cheek. It was still weeping but for the most part, it looked like it had clotted.

In a whisper, so soft Ameiko almost couldn't hear it, Kali said to her, "I can't go home like this."

"I'll walk with you to the cathedral. What's left---"

"NO!" she yelled out suddenly, startling Ameiko. "I am not going there again."

Ameiko thought about this for a moment, remembering how that had gone the last time, then said, "Yeah, OK. Niska then. Or Koya."

Kali was silent for a while but eventually nodded her head and stood up. They would ask questions, too, but they wouldn't try to get involved.

Ameiko got up with her and they walked slowly into town.

"Kali?" she asked tentatively after they had been walking for a couple of minutes.

"What?"

"Tell me."

____________________

    They were laying in wait for her as she rounded the corner of the tannery on her way to the bridge. Marlena and Ianca stepped out from behind the building and blocked her path.

    "Where are you going, Kaaalllli?" Marlena drew her name out in a patronizing tone.

    Kali turned to run, but found Dimir was just a few paces behind her. She hadn't even known he was back there. She spun back around looking for another way to get out of this: the tannery was to her right, the ridge to the boneyard at her left...and then she realized there were more than three of them.

    "Hey! I asked you where you were going!" Marlena said sharply, shoving Kali's shoulders. She stumbled back a couple of steps, and someone—she assumed Dimir—shoved her forward again. She saw one of the Theern twins on her left now, and two more girls out of the corner of her eye on her right. They had her trapped in a circle.

    "I said, 'Where. Are. You. Going?'" Marlena shoved her a second time, only much harder, and Kali staggered backwards. Then she was roughly shoved again, sending her across to someone else, and then again and again until she lost count, followed shortly by her balance. She remembered falling down, and the impact of something hard to her cheek.

    Kali looked up to see Marlena looming over her. She was saying something, but Kali wasn't listening: the space that Marlena left in the circle had Kali's complete attention. Marlena pivoted around to address her chorus; Kali's fingers closed around sand and gravel. When Marlena turned back, the handful of shot was already on it's way to her face.

    Before Marlena's shock could turn to rage, Kali leapt to her feet and bolted through the gap. No one even tried to stop her. They just stood there, dumbfounded.

____________________

It took less than half an hour. Koya's spells not only healed Kali's cut and scrapes, but also mended the tears in her clothes. When Koya was done, and Kali had cleaned up, there was not even a hint as to what had happened.

"You should tell your parents, child. I know you won't, but you should."

"I can't," Kali said quietly.

"It will just make it worse," Ameiko added.

"They need to know. And you should trust them," came Koya's reply, but she didn't press it further.

____________________

Ameiko walked Kali home. They made the journey in silence and it wasn't until her house was in sight that Kali finally spoke.

"Thank you."

Ameiko stopped them both and gave Kali a hug. "You're welcome," she replied. As they pulled apart, Ameiko looked at Kali, her expression very serious. "What you did...Marlena...she's going to make you pay for that. You know that, right?"

Kali nodded solemnly.

"I can help."

 

§


3 people marked this as a favorite.

Pharast 30, 4713 (morning, the Forest of Spirits)

We head back to the caravan today. Given the option we wouldn't walk, but with sixteen rescuees to escort to safety we are simply too many for magical shortcuts. Not without splitting us up, anyway, which we don't want to do. And that's fine. I am actually looking forward to it. We spent too much time literally in the dark.

I was able to talk to mom earlier. We found this crystal ball in Munasukaru's den and I figured, why not use it and save myself a spell? It's got a flaw in it, but it's not one that keeps it from working. "Working" is pretty much all that I needed.

I was hesitant at first to tell her about Yuka; about what happened. But then I did. I am not sure why. Maybe I just needed to talk it out. Maybe I thought it was the right thing to do. Maybe I felt she deserved to know. Whatever the reason, I did it.

You'd think that it'd be something of a shock hearing your daughter tell you about that time she was possessed by the ghost of a woman who was brutally tortured and murdered at the hands of a demonic spirit, but the number of times I've seen mom be surprised by something falls in the low single digits. She was all casual, as if this sort of thing just happens. Like, oh, you were possessed by a spirit, huh? Was she nice?

I told her about the dreams, the images, the whispers, the memories that weren't mine, and about the effect it had on me.

"What bothers me most is that I knew what I was doing. I made those choices. She wasn't forcing me to do anything."

Mom was silent for a while. Then she shook her head sadly and said, "Did you really believe you could do this...this thing...without getting your hands dirty? Is that what you thought?"

"What? No! Of course not! It's just...I don't want that to define me. I guess."

"Stop pretending the 'how' matters. Whether you kill someone yourself, or merely help your friends to, in the end? Dead is dead. This line you've drawn...it doesn't really exist."

"I don't believe that."

She shrugged. "And that's why you're struggling. Just accept the fact that some lives are so corrupt that they're not worth saving."

"That's rationalizing, mom. It's how zealots justify crusades."

"Isn't that what this is?"

It was not the encouraging conversation I was expecting.

Pharast 31, 4713 (morning, Forest of Spirits)

Complicated plans are kind of a thing with us, though this time it's born out of necessity. We have sixteen former prisoners that we can't take with us to Minkai, and a mountain of stuff to sell. Dasi thinks we can settle the former in Muliwan while he works on finding buyers for the latter, so that's what we're going to do.

Obviously, we're going to use magic because backtracking in the caravan will take too long, and unlike yesterday we don't need to go all at once. Over the course of the next couple of days I'll teleport our settlers there in small groups. Dasi will come with me on the first trip so he can get things rolling. Some of the others, including Ameiko and Shalelu, want to go into town for a couple of days, too, so Qatana will bring them in using a spell that lets you travel on the wind. When they're ready to come back to the caravan I'll take them on one of the return teleports.

Got all that? Clear as mud, right?

I can do two round trips in a day, unless of course there's a mishap. I'll take the scrolls with me in case that happens at the end as the last thing I need is to get stuck over night, alone, in some random part of the Forest or Hongal because I botched the landing.

(morning, some random part of Hongal)

Well, s**t.


Gozran 3, 4713 (evening, Muliwan)

I brought the last of the rescued into town this morning and took them to where Dasi has been staying. He's worked diligently over the last couple of days to get them all settled here, setting them up with the money we provided and, in the case of those who need it, people to care for them while they recover. He's done well putting this all together. It helps that he's charming, more or less native to the area, and a good judge of character. Normally, I'd worry about townspeople taking advantage of them after we left, but I don't think that's going to be a problem here.

Despite its small size, Muliwan seems to be the right sort of place for them. As a trading town, it's got plenty of foreigners and none of the hostility towards them that seems pervasive on the plains of Hongal. It's also far enough from Ordu-Aganhei to not be under its influence, and I don't think I have to explain why that matters.

I'm spending the night here again because I feel like it. We've got over a month of travel ahead of us, and I'd like another night in a real bed before we go. That, and I want to be around people for a little while longer, the sort that are just going about life without some sort of mask on. You go outside here and talk to someone who says they are a baker and odds are pretty good that they're just a baker. They're not hiding a mysterious past or living some double life. You can almost feel like you're normal when you're surrounded by it.

Qatana asked if I could make a large tureen and some bowls in the usual Groetus motif. She's setting up an impromptu soup kitchen in a couple of nights to help the needy and homeless here—human settlements are pretty much the same no matter what part of the world they're in—so I said yes. I have often wondered what Shelyn thinks of this sort of thing. It's not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last, that I've whipped something up in this theme. She obviously doesn't disapprove as there'd be no question about that if she did, but that does not necessarily imply approval. Or maybe I am overthinking this. Maybe art is still art, even when it's creepy, grinning skulls.

And then there's Nihali. Am I flaunting my nonconformity? Heretical is probably a little strong, but entering a Shelynite temple with a black raven on my shoulder has to at least qualify as eccentric.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Gozran 7, 4713 (early morning, The Forest of Spirits)

Zosi looks nervous. We’re leaving for Minkai—again—in the next hour or two and his anxiety suggests he is not eager to go. He doesn’t talk a lot about hinmself or his life before joining up with us so I don’t have any idea what it could be, but clearly it’s not his first choice. Which means he more or less signed on with the wrong crowd. If we are successful, we’ll be there for a while. If not? We’ll be there a lot longer.

Gozran 27, 4713 (evening, The Forest of Spirits)

We crossed a major river today. It was a lot easier than that time we forded the Taraska at the Crown, when we had to find shallow waters, wait for low tide, and float the wagons across the icy river. This time we had the benefit of spells and literally built a bridge. It won’t win any awards for design, but it did the job.

So this is it. We’ll be out of the Forest in just a couple of weeks.

We asked Miyaro for advice, as just rolling through Minkai in a caravan so obviously not from this side of the world seems unwise. She suggested seeking out a band of ronin in the Osogen grasslands. It appears that the nascent rebellion has begun in the north, which makes sense since that’s about as far from Kasai as you can get.

Since Dasi is actually from here, and has lived under the Jade Regent, we asked him what he knew. He remembers Emperor Shigure coming to the throne, but being sent into hiding for his own safety when rumors of an assassination plot came to light. Most of the people in Minkai are waiting for him to return.

Of course, we know that’s not going to happen. We told Dasi about the visions we had in Brinewall when we found the Seal. To say he seemed concerned would be an understatement. He was probaby holding out hope, but I am convinced that, deep down, he knew. We just stripped away the veneer.

Desnus 17, 4713 (afternoon, Minkai)

After nearly ten months and some 9,000 miles of travel we have finally arrived in Minkai. The caravan emerged from the thinning forest into rolling grasslands.

There was this moment when I had a flashback to the visions from Brinewall. I was standing here, or somewhere very much like here, as legions of oni descended into the country spread out before me, storms raging overhead. It was a metaphor, obviously, but the view was real. The place is real.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Desnus 23, 4713 (morning, Osogen Grasslands)

Miyaro is guiding us to a series of farms and rice paddies near the Kosokunami River, just below they Kyojin mountains. The ronin Hirabashi Jiro is known to live here, and is potentially sympathetic to the idea of an uprising. That we're somehow going to find literally one person in thousands of square miles of landscape strains credulity, but Desna is no stranger to Minkai so I'll just have to trust that she's laid the path.

We have passed a number of villages and farms, and with each mile they become more frequent and more populous. After so many months of isolation it's a welcome change.

(afternoon, Osogen Grasslands)

Finding Jiro's camp was so easy we practically stumbled into it. After several hours passing farm after farm and village after village, each one looking more and more like the one before it, I thought we'd be stuck wandering out here for weeks. But the funny thing about rebel armies is that they have to train, and you just don't see many farmers practicing in their fields with bows and arrows. Not dozens of them, anyway. In the same place. All at once. So you might say this kind of stood out. It really was as ridiculously easy as Miyaro had suggested: follow the river and look around.

Part of me wonders if it's wise for them to hold military-style drills like this so brazenly, even up here in the north. But there is, I suppose, the notion of hiding in plain sight. With bandits plaguing this region, and an unsympathetic (if not outright hostile) daimyo overseeing it, people do need to protect themselves, their families, and their homes. How unusual would it be for a ronin and samurai to help teach the common folk to defend themselves? Aren't there stories of ronin wandering the countryside, saving villages from threats both mystical and terrene? What better cover could they have?

Their commander, Hatsue, is a serious if not humorless woman who is not one for idle talk. Figuring we had the right place—because how could it not be?—we stopped and watched them practice for a while. Eventually, she figured out that we weren't going to leave, which I am sure she didn't find suspicious or alarming at all, and started walking our way. That's when Olmas and Dasi rode out to meet her.

I had no idea what they were saying to one another, and was just wondering what version of the truth she was getting when Olmas waved me over. So I guess it's the merchant story, then?

I've lost track of how many times I've spun these lies. Enough that I can almost believe them myself. I don't even have to try to be convincing anymore. All that mastery was lost on Hatsue, though: she was quickly distracted by my naginata. She kept glancing at it while I spoke, and I could see that moment when recognition dawned. What can I say? I like to save time.

"How did you come across that?"

I let Dasi answer at first. "We came across a hold in the Forest of Spirits. We investigated, and found it deep inside."

Then I added, "We took it from a ja noi oni that was living there."

Hatsue was not exactly impressed. "It was obviously stolen by the oni, and it should be returned to the noble house that it belongs to."

And there's the rub. We know the noble houses are all extinct, save for the Amtatsus. And I said as much, leaving out the latter, crucial detail of course. "How do we return it to a house that no longer exists?"

Hatsue answered that the daimyo here would be the appropriate owner, but her eyes kind of clouded over and her expression hardened as she said it. I was not in the mood for bull**** so I called her on it. Lacking a good answer, and somewhat taken aback by my impeccable social graces, she suggested we meet with her commander, the one and only Hirabashi Jiro, and discuss the matter.


3 people marked this as a favorite.

(continued)

I think I am making this sound worse than it really was. Honestly, she was just suspicious: of us, our intentions, and I suppose even our story of the Forest. I would be, too, in her position. Given how abruptly her day had gone from routine to peculiar, I was impressed she held her composure.

That may have something to do with her dedication to Irori. It took only a few minutes with her to figure that one out. I mean, I would know, right? She had the kind of discipline that only comes from the constant study and training. The kind I wasn’t capable of, myself.

I was surprised to see a Shogi board set up in the command tent. There are countless variations of this game around the Inner Sea: Chanturanga, Samanty, and Senterej come to mind, so naturally it caught my attention. When I asked about it, her whole demeanor changed and we kind of got lost in a discussion of rules, play strategies, and even her game in progress. Clearly, I had found her passion. We were still in the weeds when Jiro entered, glanced over at us, and then shook his head while muttering something under his breath. I don’t know what he said, but it was clearly the manner of someone who had seen this scene play out dozens of times before.

We gave Jiro a more complete version of our story, including the tale of the Amatatsu family fleeing across the Crown of the World to safety, and the surviving heir to the throne. You might say that he was skeptical, the way one might say they like breathing. I was half-expecting him to laugh in our faces. Then Olmas pulled out Suishen—who of course remained stubbornly silent because that’s just the way it is—and that changed the tone gods-be-damned fast. Just wait until you find out who Ameiko is.

After a long silence, he said, “You seem to be collecting ancestral weapons.”

I wisely didn’t say anything. The first two responses to enter my mind were unlikely to move the conversation in a positive direction.

He took our measure by giving us a thought experiment of sorts: A samurai, loyal to her daimyo, is brought before a peasant. She is given two blades, and ordered to test them and see if they can behead a man in a single stroke. What is the honorable thing for the samurai to do?

The obvious answer, of course, is to refuse to obey, and leave the service of her daimyo because honor does not trump morality. But there is also the peasant, who is presumably an innocent man, whose life is now in danger, and who the samurai has also sworn to protect. So she must ensure his safety, which may mean killing her daimyo in defense of the peasant’s life.

Of course, real life isn’t this simple. In Ordu-Aganhei, the Prince did something very much like this, and no one stepped up to stop him. Why? Because they feared for their lives, and their family’s lives, and probably the lives of anyone they knew. So an act of defiance may have repercussions far beyond your personal exigency.

Zosi pointed out that, in an honor-bound culture such as Minkai, such actions can stain your family for generations. In which case the correct answer is for the samurai to kill the daimyo to protect the peasant, and then herself to preserve her honor. Except, again, in the real world I don’t think it’s this simple. Honor isn’t a shield. There’s no guarantee your family won’t be punished just because you did the favor of punishing yourself. And “death” and “death with honor” both start with “death”.

Jiro and Hatsue fell on different sides of this debate. Hatsue was all for killing herself to preserve her honor, while Jiro took the more reasonable stance that a dead man can’t help people. It’s probably an old debate between them, just rehashed with fresh voices.

It was a lively discussion, but it did little to convince Jiro that we could produce an heir, or rally anyone behind us in a march on Kasai. So, as I had predicted, he’s asked us to prove ourselves and our commitment first. I wonder how often this is going to happen. Is everyone we meet between here and the Five Storms going to demand we do them some favor? It will be an endless chain of “just this one thing”.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Desnus 24, 4713 (morning, ravine near the Kosokunami River)

We’ve spent the last 12 hours camped in a dense region of the woods away from the fortress the bandits have occupied, under cover of a spell that suppresses our light and sounds so that we don’t attract attention. The ones who came here by Qatana’s spell are also taking turns scouting the fortress, keeping an eye on the guard changes and any new arrivals (or departures). Unless something significant changes, we’re going to take it tonight—or more precisely, early in the morning—after the owl shift comes on duty.

Jiro calls this place Seinaru Heikiko. Apparently it was built by his ancestors generations ago, and they served one of the royal families. He wasn’t forthcoming with a lot of details, like what it’s doing in the hands of bandits, which is a sign that either either doesn’t know or doesn’t want to talk about it. My guess is it’s the latter. But it’s still a good question. We’re told they’ve since renovated the place, repairing and reinforcing some structures so that it would serve as a suitable fortress for themselves. A quick look when we got here confirmed that. As long as you were trying to approach from the ground, you’d be hard pressed to make it inside.

We won’t be approaching from the ground. Do this right, and we’ll make it inside without making a sound. Whether we can keep it that quiet remains to be seen, but the farther we can go without raising an alarm the better.

I can’t help but draw parallels to Ravenscraeg. The cliffs of this ravine are less intimidating, and the fortress itself is on the ground, but there’s enough in common to put them in the same category. It’s yet another “break in to the fortress in the middle of the night” deal, made easy by their defensive strategy which is seemingly based on a frontal assault on the ground. In another life, maybe instead of attacking we could sell them a better security plan.

Why is this even necessary? Apparently, the daimyo here is a real piece of work, which explains why the normally-disciplined Hatsue had trouble hiding her contempt. These bandits operate here, and grow in strength and numbers, because literally no one is stopping them. Which means the daimyo has given them tacit permission to do as they please. It’s a good way to keep the people living in fear, and probably to also keep them from organizing.

Part of me thinks the daimyo is going to have to go, too. That’s pretty seditious of me, but isn’t that why we’re here? Mom would say that politics tend to be local, and that average person is more concerned with living day to day than who sits on some throne. If that’s true, then solving their immediate problems here might build the support Ameiko needs. This is obviously Jiro’s theory as well.

We may get more than just good will out of it. Jiro says there’s a vault of sorts somewhere inside and that vault can, supposedly, only be opened by a member of a royal family. Take the fortress and open the vault, and we’ll be proving to Jiro that we can produce an heir of the Amatatsu family. That would give Ameiko more than just public support: it’d be giving her legitimacy. Of course, Jiro doesn’t know that there are, in fact, six of us that can do that (ten, if you count Ana, Etayne, Sparna and Kelda), but I don’t see the need to concern him with this pesky detail. Especially since we’d then have to explain it, and I am not sure I’m ready to go there. Maybe we’ll test it first to see if it works and to avoid any potential public embarrassment (dad would call this a “soft opening”), then bring Ameiko and Jiro over for an official unveiling.

Zosi is making some thunderstones for us. I want Nihali up on one of those rooftops tonight, ready to drop a stone or two if we stir up trouble. A little added confusion might help us out.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

The next journal entry is coming, but I wanted to digress with this story about Kali and Qatana because it has become very relevant to their current situation. I wrote this together with Qatana's player, and the idea for it came when we learned that our characters' backgrounds could place them both in Korvosa at the same time, shortly after Qatana's rescue (her campaign trait, with Shalelu as the NPC choice, for those who are familiar with the AP). Kali is ten years old here, and Qatana is nine.

Qatana's player also produced a short story of their own that took place a couple of days before this one.

Mid-Gozran, 4700 (Korvosa)

Kali had been tossing and turning under the covers for over an hour because sleep just would not come. Every time she felt herself slipping under, her mind would start racing and she'd be awake and staring at the walls. Again.

It didn't help that the Flood Moon was shining through the window directly onto her bed. Her room at her grandparents' house was on the second floor and faced southeast, providing a grand view of Midland, the Jeggare River, and East Shore beyond. Normally, that was a breathtaking sight, but right now she just wanted the light out of her eyes. So she got out of bed, walked over to the window and pulled the curtains shut. As the room darkened she became aware of voices coming from downstairs.

I will never get to sleep, she thought.

The voices grew louder, briefly, and then quieted down quickly. Another argument?

She opened the door slowly and checked the hallway: it was empty. Down below, the voices grew louder and then cut off abruptly for a second time.

Kali quietly and cautiously crept down the stairs.

"---barely 10 years old. She's still a child, for gods' sake!"

"It's still Midland, mom, not The Shingles."

Kali sighed to herself. Mom and grandma, at it again.

Her grandmother snorted, loudly and derisively. "West Dock. Close enough! A bunch of thieves and laborers. And you want to take her there."

Their voices quieted again and Kali couldn't make out what was said after that. She risked tiptoeing down the last few steps to the main floor. She could hear her grandfather's words now.

"—about Kali's safety? She can't protect herself."

His words stung. Kali had a large scab on her forehead, still, from the previous week. Marlena and Ianca had cornered her, and when Kali finally got away she ran half-panicked and tripped. It was just a scrape, but it was large, and it was taking too long to heal, and of course her grandparents had fretted over it. They, too, thought she was fragile and she resented it.

"They're friends, dad. They have been for years. That hasn't changed."

Her grandmother spoke again.

"And what about what she'll say? You shouldn't expose your daughter—my granddaughter—to that."

"Not expose her to what, mom? The world?"

Another long silence. Uncomfortably long.

Her father's voice broke it. "She will find out soon enough. They are to return to Sandpoint in the coming weeks. But right now, Qatana is here, and she wishes to—"

And that's as far as Akmal got because at the sound of Qatana's name, Kali burst into the sitting room.

"What do you mean, 'Qatana is here'?"

______________________

Kali opened the door and stepped in.

Her parents had prepared her. She knew the whole story of what had happened to the Marchands, where Qatana had been for the past several months, and what she had endured. They did not elaborate on the details, but they didn't need to. Kali understood enough. She knew what Kaer Maga was.

Her father said to her, solemnly, "She has changed since you last saw her. And I mean more than just her age and her appearance. She is not the same girl you knew. But it is important to remember that it is still her."

Her mom added, "And that she needs her friend, not an inquisitor. Just talk to her. Tell her how you feel about her."

Kali nodded.

And she thought she was prepared, but when she stepped inside and actually saw Qatana, she froze and drew in a sharp breath.

Qatana was sitting on the bed. The first thing Kali noticed were her eyes, which seemed huge and wild as they stared into hers. The second thing was her hair, which was not just short but shockingly short. She could pass as a boy in the right clothes.

The room was small and sparsely furnished: a worn but comfortable-looking bed, a small table that doubled as a nightstand, and a wooden stool for sitting. Heavy curtains could be drawn to block the window which overlooked the street below. It was small, but not cramped.

Kali took this all in, recovering quickly from the shock, and bounded across the room, tears welling up as she embraced Qatana in an awkward, tight hug.

"You're alive! Gods, you're alive!"

She sobbed into Qatana's shoulder for what felt like several minutes. Inside her arms, she could feel another change: strong, firm muscles. Like Anavaru, she thought, as she pulled away, drying her eyes by wiping the tears away with her hands.

"It's really you," she said. Then, her voice breaking slightly, "I...I thought I'd never see you again."

Qatana appeared to be startled, and Kali just now realized how tense Qatana had felt in her embrace. Maybe I shouldn't have done that, she thought.

She stepped back to give Qatana space, and herself some time to gather her composure. She fumbled with the stool, clumsily pulling it out so that she could sit at what she thought was the right distance.

"Kali," Qatana said, barely above a whisper. "They said you were here, but I was afraid to believe them."

She looked at Kali, actually looked directly at her, with watering eyes. She shook her head, turned away briefly, and when she returned her gaze to Kali her eyes were dry.

"Your parents came by earlier and were so nice, and when they asked if you could come visit it took me a while to realize what they were asking, or even why they were asking it."

Qatana flashed a fleeting half-smile.

"I've never been to Korvosa before, but I've not seen much of it yet. Mostly just this room and the Gray District."

The Gray District?

"I lit a pair of candles for my parents." She became quiet again, fidgeting with a loose tie on her jacket.

Kali shifted uncomfortably in her stool. What am I supposed to say?

And then Qatana continued again, so softly that Kali had to lean forward to hear her.

"One of the clerics told me that our loved ones can speak to us from beyond death, but after all that has happened, I don't think I want to know what my parents would have to say to me."

"I...I don't think I would eit---"

"So when are you going to show me the town?"

Kali sat back quickly, startled by Qatana's abrupt change in tone. This was not going anything like she expected it to. The question was surprising, to say the least, and it just didn't seem to fit. It would be fun, but was it the right thing to do now? She didn't know.

Maybe she just needs something that's normal. Maybe doing that would help?

"Um...Well...I'd have to ask permission, but...I...We could go...tomorrow?" Mom and dad would let me...wouldn't they?

She continued, hesitantly at first, then more excitedly as she went on. "We're...just below The Heights. We could...walk up there. On the way, there's this huge bookstore, the biggest one I've ever seen in Varisia. And...at the top is the museum, and the big temples, and the amphitheater. There's also the tower; the Sable Company—they're the military here—keeps hippogriffs up there, and you can see them flying in and out! And on the other side are the Merciless Cliffs above the bay. On clear days, you can see all the way to Veldraine.

"Do you...Would that be OK?"

"Sure!"

Qatana actually looked excited at this idea, and for a moment, it was just the two of them ready to explore the city together like Qatana had never been gone. Like the past few months had not happened. But, that's not how it is at all, is it? There was something very wrong about Qatana's reaction, but she didn't understand what. She replayed the conversation in her head, trying to figure it out.

"So, tomorrow, then."

Qatana's voice snapped Kali back to the present. She was smiling.

Is that it? Are...are we done?

"Yes! Tomorrow. I'll come by...assuming my parents are OK with it....I'll come by...around 11 o'clock."

Kali stood up. She thought about giving Qatana a parting hug, but she had stayed seated on the bed. So instead, Kali walked over to the door and opened it. She looked back at Qatana one last time—she was still smiling at Kali, so Kali smiled back—exchanged an awkward good-bye, and left.

In the common room on the main floor, she found her parents were seated at a table with Shalelu. Kali hesitated at first—she was not very comfortable around the elven woman (though she did not know why)—but overcame her anxiety and walked over to where they were sitting. Their conversation came to a halt when they saw her, and all three of them turned their heads to watch as she crossed the room and sat down next to her father.

Akmal glanced up at Denea briefly and they had a silent exchange before he turned his attention back to his daughter.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm fine. She..."

Kali hesitated.

"What is it?"

"She...she wants me to show her the city. I...I said I'd do it. Tomorrow. If you and mom said it was OK. That I'd take her to The Heights."

Akmal looked up at Denea, who had been watching Kali intently. She met his gaze and then nodded once. He turned to Shalelu next, and they had a short conversation in Elvish. It ended with her nodding, too. Finally, he turned back to Kali and spoke in an even, serious tone.

"And do you want to do this?"

"She asked to go. I think she really does want to see the city. And, I think she needs it. That it will help."

"Kali. Do you want to do this?"

"Yes. I do. And, I want to help."

He nodded and Kali relaxed, realizing for the first time how tense she had been.

"Very well," he said. "We will make arrangements for—"

"Where is the Gray District?"

All eyes were on Kali again, and it was so long before someone spoke that she was afraid she had said something wrong. Denea and Akmal both looked up at Shalelu, and they had another exchange in Elvish.

When it ended, Denea stood up, gently took Kali's hand and said, "Come with me, and I'll tell you about it."

"Am I in trouble?"

"No, Kali. You're not in trouble."

______________________

After Kali and Denea had gone, Akmal and Shalelu sat facing one another.

"You are sure you are OK with this?"

"Yes. She needs a friend. Someone her age that she can trust. And they'll be safe in The Heights. Especially with me keeping an eye on them." She paused before adding, "Discreetly, of course."

Akmal smiled at this.

"Of course. If you need anything more, do not hesitate to ask. We will be here for another week at least. You know where to find us."

 

§


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Desnus 25, 4713 (small hours, Seinaru Heikiko)

Qatana has gone to a very dark place and I don’t know what to do about it. Or even if I should do anything about it because, let’s face it, I am hardly an impartial judge here myself. I was visibly shaking not an hour ago, and my hands are still trembling now. The farther we travel the more it’s obvious that people are the same pretty much everywhere. We color our skin, dye our hair, change our clothes, but it’s all just a veneer over a core that is no different from one place to the next. In the face of anomie, people revert to their worst qualities and those qualities are as sure as the setting sun.

I fear that maybe mom is right. What if there really are souls that aren’t worth saving?

There were seven women held in slavery here. And not just held in slavery, but imprisoned in it, jailed at night in bamboo cages “because they had to sleep somewhere”. They range in age from their early teens to their mid twenties, all of them captured and forced into servitude, some with their families killed in front of them, and their villages burned. When we rescued them, one of the first questions they asked Radella was if we were their new owners. They literally thought they had been sold like property.

It’s no wonder Qatana is in a state. Hishasi’s guided tour of the fortress led her through Kaer Maga and emerged thirteen years in the past. That he’s still alive is not a measure of any sort of restraint, either hers or mine: it’s purely a practical decision, and even then, for me, it was a struggle. In a way, all the surviving bandits are fortunate that I prepared my spells to subdue rather than kill. Any attempts at instant justice would just ring hollow, and that played a significant part in my internal debate.

One of them was not so lucky. After we saw the defaced shrine, both Qatana and I had reached a breaking point. She acted first, and ordered the remaining bandits into one of the bamboo cages. One of them hesitated. She did something with her hands while speaking the words to a spell, and he screamed in abject terror and died on the spot. You might say it had a sort of chilling affect on the others. The insurgency ended before it even began; with a newfound obedience, they stepped inside and we locked them up.

And then, by gods, it got worse. Qatana brought in the recently-freed slaves and asked them if any of our prisoners had taken advantage of them. They were in no condition to answer anything, even seeing their tormentors locked in cages, but Dasi had a spell running and it told us enough. They’d all been abused, even the youngest of them, and every one of the men had taken liberties with someone. It was impossible to know who had victimized whom, but at that point what did it matter? If I’d had prepared my spells differently, I could have incinerated them all on the spot and walked away with a clear conscience.

And I probably am fortunate, there. Maybe. If I am being honest, I am still undecided. Maybe I should have done it, anyway.

Except that the others would have objected. And then I’d also have to explain myself to Ameiko. Not that she wouldn’t understand given that business with her half-brother, but it would be more the principle of the thing. I am supposed to be better than that, even if I’m not.

Would Ameiko understand, though? I have to wonder. Everyone knows Qatana’s story by now, and Ameiko knows it better than most, but only Qatana lived through it. Only Shalelu got to see it first-hand. And as far as I know, only she and I heard the stories—and only I got immersed in them, the details slowly trickling in over the years the followed.

It took months for Qatana to even open up at all. When I first saw her in Korvosa she was still in a state of denial over what had happened. I didn’t know what it was at the time, of course—what 10-year-old understands these things?—I just knew that it wasn’t normal, that she seemed both fully aware yet blissfully ignorant of what had happened in the preceding months. I didn’t know exactly what had happened to her, but I knew it was bad. Worse than what I had been going through. Worse than I was capable of imagining at that age. (Now? Not so much.)

So who would understand? Almost certainly not Olmas. He and Qatana had a very long talk after the incident at the cage. I don’t know what they said to each other, but neither left looking particularly happy so I can probably guess: he expressed concern that she was taking the role of jury and executioner against prisoners who had surrendered to us, and she didn’t understand why there was a problem. Rationally, I know he’s right, but I am having a hard time being rational. Maybe that’s the point, though. Do we really make the best decisions when we can’t separate ourselves from crime and victim?

But it’s not like we’re serving up vigilante justice here, either. She even said their fate would be decided by Jiro. As the ancestral owner of this place, and in the absence of a daimyo who gives two s%#~s about his villeins, I think that’s more than fair. And, so what if she had to make an example of one? It was obviously necessary. I mean, if killing almost everyone here wasn’t proof enough that we should be taken seriously, then gods only know what they would have tried to do when we weren’t watching. At least now we can be relatively certain they won’t push their luck. Or test our limits.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

(continued)

We’ve had enough surprises for one day as it is, so my patience for those is paper-thin. The women we rescued said there was another girl being held captive, one they referred to as the “cat lady”. She was, of all things, a were-tiger, kept as the personal slave and concubine of the “scary man”, the druidic shaman Kamuy-Paro. Turns out? She wasn’t a slave, or held against her will. So. Surprise!

She put on a good act, though. Zosi found her chained to a bed in Kamuy-Paro’s personal quarters, and she played the part of the unwilling prisoner and play thing of Kamuy-Paro to a tee, even going so far as killing one of the bandits that got in her way. She had convinced all of us of her story, captured and forced to be bitten by a were-tiger to inflict the curse upon her for his amusement (for all we know, that might actually be true). But, really, she was just biding her time, looking for a chance to strike. Considering she was a willing submissive in whatever depraved sexual fantasies Kamuy-Paro was living out, she took the evidence of his death—that would be his still-bleeding-out corpse—rather well (which, I suppose, should have been a clue). It wasn’t until Zosi and Dasi informed her of their plans to make maps from his skin (eesh!) that would “reveal his secrets” that she couldn’t sustain the ruse any longer. I guess they weren’t specific on what those secrets entailed, and there were secrets she wanted keeping. Like, who she f*****g was.

She attacked us while Olmas, Radella and Qatana were on their tour with Hashasi. She probably thought she could take us. She was wrong. Surprise! I conjured a pit underneath her, and then Ivan gave her a push with a spell, and down she went. She couldn’t get out, especially after I covered the walls with sleet and snow. Zosi dropped bomb after bomb on her until the screams went silent.

Good riddance.

Gods, these people. Kamuy-Paro was a lunatic who we’re told set people on fire. Their chieftain, Gangasum, built his fiefdom like an Ulfen raider short on manners. The guards used their slaves as personal toys, and killed them out of hand (the women said that they haven’t seen the stable boy in a while; when asked about that, Hishasi said, “We need a new stable boy”). And, of course, all of them found sport in desecrating a statue of Shizuru, which tells you plenty about where they stand.

And the daimyo turned a blind eye to all of it. So to hell with him.

(predawn, Seinaru Heikiko)

The women warned us not to enter the secret garden at night. Come to think of it, the tiger woman said much the same. This was Kamuy-Paro’s rule, and he knew what he was talking about. Based on what we learned about him? I wouldn’t be surprised if he was somehow responsible.

I have no idea what those things were. It was like the a pile of firewood just stood up and attacked, ignoring all of our magic as if it wasn’t there (except, unsurprisingly, for magical fire). This makes me suspect they were some form of golem, but who knows? Now they are kindling and splinters so it hardly matters.

Ivan and Radella are talking to the women and helping get them settled in. I have not been included in that discussion because I am quite obviously not in a state where I can be a calming influence. Right now, I am not what they need, and even if I tried I’d almost certainly make things worse rather than better. It’s for the best I stay out of it.

It’s been a long night. The sun will be up soon, just in time for us to go to bed. Later today, I teleport with Qatana to fetch Ameiko and Jiro because we suspect we’ll need the Seal to open the vault. They will come back on Qatana’s spell since it’s faster than the chariot I can conjure. I’ll teleport back because I am impatient and not likely to be good company.

And we have a new problem to worry about. While we were fiddling around in Kamuy-Paro’s garden, my spell that detects magical scrying alerted me for just a couple of minutes.

Someone is watching us.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Sun up just in time to go to bed . . . sounds like my life . . . .


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Desnus 25, 4713 (late afternoon, Seinaru Heikiko)

Sandru is leaving. This is not really a surprise: he was hired to get us all here, and now that job is done. He and Ameiko are very close friends, but he still has a business to run and taking up arms in a revolution was never part of the plan. Bevelek and Vankor certainly didn't sign up for it, either, and they are eager to get back to their family.

Their return trip should be a lot easier. There are no crazed disciples of Sitthud commanding winter storms, no armies of the dead, and no enraged white dragons standing between here and Avistan. On top of that, he'll be crossing the Crown at the proper time of year. To accomplish the latter, though, he has to leave now. It will take over a month just to reach the Pass, and he needs to be on the ice by the middle of Erastus. That doesn't leave him much time to prepare, provision, and hire any help he'll need to get safely across.

The finality of the caravan departing is sinking in. For nearly a year it's been about the journey, but now we are here and there is no more going back. I mean, we could, but we'd either have to leave the Seal behind us or run away with what we can carry. Neither option is particularly attractive much less realistic, so here we are.

It took only an instant for Qatana and I to return to Jiro's camp. Heading back here took a little longer because we needed to bring the Seal, and that meant relying on Qatana's spells. And then we had to explain to Olmas why Ameiko wasn't with us (which didn't take very long, but sure felt a whole hell of a lot longer).

What can I say? She's not going to just sit quietly in her room while everyone else goes outside to play. She's an adult and capable of making her own decisions. If she's going to build support among the people here, then she's going to have to demonstrate that she's worthy of it. The Seal can only prove her claim—it can't rally people to the cause, or instill them with morale. And establishing trust with Jiro before he knows who she is does make a certain kind of sense. The impact of the Big Reveal, assuming this all works, will be that much greater when it happens.

That being said, we need to rein this in. Ambushing second-rate bandits on horseback is one thing, but some of the filth we get mired in goes way beyond that. Ameiko can't claim the throne if she's dead, and there are some forms of "dead" that can't easily be undone. If she's going to take risks, then we need to make sure they are measured ones.

Fortunately for us, and for Olmas, wiping out the raiding parties seemed to go off without a hitch. We had this elaborate plan in case any of those bandit teams made it back to the fortress, but ultimately we could have skipped all that work and just slept in, instead. Literally one horse returned. One. It was scratched up a bit but it had obviously fared better than its missing rider, whose blood was all over the saddle. Radella used a spell to talk to it (the horse, not the saddle) and we learned the raiding party had fallen afoul of ether Jiro or Hatsue. Just to be certain, Dasi used one of those creepy spells of his on the rider's blood and got much the same information, only with a lot more attitude.

It's been several hours and this whole place still smells like bacon. This is what happens when you put Ivan in the kitchen. Not that I am complaining about the food, but gods, that smell lingers.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

(evening, Seinaru Heikiko)

We needed to use the Seal. Obviously this was not a surprise but we weren’t really eager to pull it out and start waving it around. I mean, sure, it’s not a beacon or anything. It doesn’t actively alert people that it’s out of the box, but if anyone associated with the Five Storms happened to be looking for it at the exact same time then we’d be standing in the center of a giant bullseye.

How likely is that? We don’t know. A few months ago I’d be skeptical that anyone would spend the resources to search for it day and night, every day for months on end, but now that we’re sitting in their back yard? If it was me, I’d try my damnedest to make it happen. I can only assume they’d do the same. So, it was a huge risk and literally no one was comfortable with the idea. We spent quite a bit of time, in fact, grasping at straws for ways to avoid it, but we were just delaying the inevitable. The vault would not open no matter what Ameiko tried. It wanted a scion in possession of the Seal, and nothing short of that combination would do.

We had a long talk about the right way to do this. The worst thing that could happen would be that we’d find ourselves in the middle of small army of oni, so the idea was to prevent that from happening. With the right spells, they could see the room we were in and teleport straight to it, so we had to make that as difficult and unlikely as possible. Fortunately, I have already fallen into the daily routine of preparing a spell to detect this sort of scrying , and I prepared a spell that suppresses all magic (including my own!). These two together were about as effective a defense as I could prepare. Just to be safe, though, everyone readied themselves for a fight. Olmas even set Suishen ablaze. I am sure this did not make Jiro or Hatsue nervous at all.

That advanced planning may even have saved us. When Ameiko touched the statue with the Seal, the floor in the center of the room slowly sank down into a hidden vault. And within seconds, my spell alerted me to magical sight, focused somewhere in the room. I immediately cast my next spell, and all the magic around us when dark. Save for Suishen, whose flames continued to burn inside the field. I remember thinking, That’s interesting.

When my spell expired, the scrying was gone.

Jiro has pledged his service to Amatatsu Ameiko. Seeing that vault open, and finding his family’s ancestral weapon inside, were proof that he was in the presence of an heir to the throne (in fact he was in the presence of six of them, but we decided not to muddy the issue). I got the sense he had been waiting for a moment like this for a good part of his adult life, and it had finally arrived.

Building a rebellion, however, is going to be a lot harder than knocking two statues together. The good news is, the Jade Regent is as terrible a ruler as he is a person and that gives us a significant opening. He’s relying on brute strength to take and hold the throne since he knows he does not have a legitimate claim. A significant piece of his military is a private army that he calls the Typhoon guard, and of course armies, private or otherwise, must be paid. This has resulted in a plague of surplus taxes, and the internal strife in general has strained Minkai’s relationship with other nations in Tian Xia.

As Jiro sees it, Ameiko needs the support of the nobility, the military, and to some extent, the criminal underground to take advantage of this situation. Testing that theory through concrete action is, of course, the rub.

First, the nobility. Merchants are the key to Minkai’s economy, and Minkai’s souring diplomatic relations are putting a damper on trade. That, in turn, is driving Minkai into a recession which is clearly not endearing the government to anyone. The ruling class, in the mean time, is dealing with the additional tax burden, which they are either soaking up or passing on to their subjects.

The geisha of Minkai have some influence with the merchant clans (or guilds, or whatever they are called here), and political influence inside the nobility in general. Jiro suggests that this is the best way to start. There’s a renowned tea house in Sakakabe owned by a particularly notable geisha named O-Kohaku. It turns out, her uncle was the governor of Kasai…before the Jade Regent had him killed. We’d have to be outright incompetent to not get her as an ally.

As for the military, they see the Jade Regent’s private army as direct rivals if not an outright threat. This also means more political rivals for the military, all vying for leverage inside the government. Officers who once found themselves in positions of power may be seeing their influence wane as the Typhoon Guard takes their place.

Convincing the military to turn against the government in an honor-bound society, however, is tricky business. Before they will take any such step there needs to be a crack in the dam, and that crack takes the shape of the local daimyo in the north, Sikutsu Sennaka. Already locally famous for allowing these bandits to prosper, Sennaka has other wonderful qualities, such as using blackmail, intimidation, violence, and outright cruelty to maintain his authority, and using his power to bully the neighboring provinces. Cutting that thread may be the catalyst we need to bring at least part of the military on board.

The underground is the one that worries me most because I am not convinced they would be reliable support. One would, in fact, think that a corrupt government works to their advantage. Jiro, however, has suggested that the ninja clans may be sympathetic to a regime change; they have their own sense of honor and, morality aside, the Jade Regent’s government may be something of an affront to their principles. The theory is, even if we can’t get them to side with us, we might be able to convince them to not get involved at all. To do that, we need to travel to Enganoka where representatives of three of the more powerful clans gather every month during the new moon. It is one of the few times you can meet with them to discuss matters more complicated than hiring them for their “services” (and I am sure I don’t want to know what those include).

Of course, we’ve had some experience with ninjas that makes me skeptical of all of this, and I said as much to Jiro. We explained about Kimandatsu, the Frozen Shadows, and of course our good times in Ordu-Aganhei. Hatsue turned to Jiro and said, “Oni Mask?”

As you might guess, anything with the word “oni” in it gets our attention.

There are many ninja clans within in Minkai, but over the years four of them have risen to a level of prominence: the Black Lotus, the Dragonshadow, the Ruby Crypt, and the Emerald Branch (which is more of a vigilante group). About 80 years ago, however, a new clan emerged and quickly rose to the same heights through a string of ruthless assassinations and a penchant for targeting government officials. They call themselves the Oni’s Mask. The more he talked, the more it sounded like an extension of the Five Storms and of course the timing was right, both for the oni’s campaign against the royal families of Minkai and the appearance of the Frozen Shadows in Kalsgard shortly thereafter.

And let’s not forget the telltale sign of the Five Storms: the painfully obvious name, “Oni’s Mask”. Only the Five Storms could come up with something so dumb.

Where does all of this leave us? The new moon is two weeks away, and we’re obviously not ready to launch an assault on the daimyo, so that means starting with door number one.


Kali Nassim, message before last wrote:

{. . .}

It's been several hours and this whole place still smells like bacon. This is what happens when you put Ivan in the kitchen. Not that I am complaining about the food, but gods, that smell lingers.
Kali Nassim, last message wrote:

(evening, Seinaru Heikiko)

We needed to use the Seal. Obviously this was not a surprise but we weren’t really eager to pull it out and start waving it around. I mean, sure, it’s not a beacon or anything. {. . .}

At first I read that last part as "I mean, sure, it’s not bacon or anything" . . . .


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Not all beacons are bacon, but all bacon is a beacon.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Desnus 25, 4713 (night, Seinaru Heikiko)

Hatsue is a sohei of Irori. That took me by surprise. I tried to talk to her about it since we had some common ground, but she was a bit more focused on the sales pitch for coming back to his church than just talking. Honestly, I think this was my fault. I inadvertently made the focus about my experiences, which meant I wasn't really having a conversation in good faith. That little faux pas aside, this explains her rather intense (some might say “fanatical”) devotion to her deity. It probably also explains why Ivan’s infatuation with her soured quickly. He wanted to learn a little bit about Irori, but Hatsue doesn’t do “a little bit”. It’s like asking Qatana about Groetus, only less disturbing.

Desnus 26, 4713 (mid-day, Osogen Grasslands)

Zosimus and I are heading back to Seinaru Heikiko again. Yes, I said “again”. Zosi needs his wagon, and with Sandru leaving we had to bring it back ourselves. Technically, Zosi doesn’t need me for that, of course, but teleporting there shaved a day off of the round trip time which was in everyone’s best interest.

I could have just teleported back, but making him travel alone didn’t seem wise, or polite. And, in all honesty, I was interested in spending the day in his alchemy lab. It’s a little cramped, but there is no shortage of stuff to look at, and it’s another opportunity to let him rifle through my spellbook for whatever he can adapt to alchemical formulas. We just need to take turns up top to make sure the wagon is still headed in the correct direction.

We’re being pulled by an animated gorgon. The gorgon we killed back in the House of Withered Blossoms. It’s more than a little unsettling, and for all appearances we have blurred the line between hero and villain, but in a way this works to our advantage. Who is going to walk up to an armored wagon being pulled by the animated corpse of a gorgon? You’d have to be out of your damned mind.

We were both up top for a while, just talking about random things when he asked me out of the blue, “Have you ever died?”

It’s not the kind of question you’d typically ask in polite conversation, but we’ve been together long enough now that this is the sort of thing that passes for normal.

“Never, but there were times I thought I might.” I sensed he was looking for more, so I said, “I was knocked unconscious once. When I was younger. I was told I had a concussion.”

“What was that like?”

“I…I don’t remember a lot of it. When I came to, I had no sense of time and couldn’t put names with faces. I was hit very, very hard.” The way he had asked was all very clinical which made me uncomfortable. And I really didn’t like talking about it, anyway. “I…don’t really like talking about it.”

I was better conversation than this one moment, honest. But it’s what stands out.

(night, Seinaru Heikiko)

Okay. I just had to know. While Zosi was guiding the wagon, I climbed up front and asked, “Why were you so curious about whether I had…about what had happened to me?”

He turned to stare at the gorgon, or what he’d made out of it. “There is so much to life and the shells we occupy.” He looked out ahead at nothing at all, or something I couldn’t see. “I have enjoyed this cycle as a gnome. They are astounding for their size.”

Wait. What?

He shook his had dismissively, as if he knew what I was thinking. “No, I don’t have any attachment or recollection of my past incarnations. But I do believe that they did exist. Much like the power of Alchemy, we transform the physical and migrate the anima into the next shell. But this time? I plan to gather that information.”

He was talking about reincarnation.

It is widely believed among followers of Irori that those who achieve perfection in life go to his side to serve him in death. Those who fall short are reincarnated to begin the journey anew. That would make him the only deity that embraces it as part of his tenets. Most others frown upon it, though they don’t necessarily object to it, either (even Pharasma).

Otherwise, the practice is the domain of the druidic faiths and witchcraft.

Zosi turned to look at me. “Should something extinguish this shell, I don’t want to be anchored to it. My chosen method of restoration will be reincarnation so that I may experience the transformation of matter but retain this stream of consciousness. My plan is to purchase a scroll and keep it handy.”

I nodded. “I understand; we'll honor your wishes.”

“The only problem I see is…the one who is all fixed on endings.” Qatana. He shook his head, “Groetus. I don’t know much about the divine; I appreciate all they did to create this world. But this Groetus, if the crazy one speaks truth about it, will be the undoing of it all. It’s a dark god with a dark path and I don’t want her involved in my return.

“I don’t trust that her very own transformation is not happening right now, moving her anima toward a destructive darkness. Her delight in the death of others is unsettling. It is one thing when it is a monster from another realm… but fellow humanoid races.” He shook his head sadly, “I know my words hold little weight. You’ve traveled for so long that you are mostly blind to the madness that dictates her conduct, but someday, I think this veil of trust will be lifted. I just hope it is before she turns on Ameiko.”

Why does Qatana always have to make things so complicated? It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times, and it’s one with no answer.

I know why he was worried. And I get it. I really do. But, it was a skewed perception, one that didn’t accurately reflect who she was.

“I grew up with Qatana. I probably know her better than anyone, though admittedly that is not difficult and sometimes I feel I don’t know her at all. I understand why you’re worried. Perhaps this will help put you at ease.

“When she was nine years old, her parents were killed in front of her and she was sold into slavery. I thought I’d never see her again, but she was rescued by Shelalu, and she returned home nearly a year later.

“A year is a long time. For most of it she was forced to do…terrible things. I’ve heard the stories. They are horrible enough that I don’t feel I have the right…they are her stories, and not mine to tell. But believe me when I say they were worse than I could imagine, even many years later when she started opening up to me.

“She doesn’t delight in killing people. Not exactly. But she has developed a strong, if not extreme, animosity towards those who would abuse and exploit others. Her attachment to Groetus is…a coping mechanism, I think. She is only one person. She knows she can’t save a world that is filled with misery. She welcomes the end times not because she relishes in destruction, but because it will do what she cannot: end all suffering, everywhere.”

I don’t know if this helped her case or hurt it.

We ended the day on a much lighter note: I listened to stories about his cat.

_________________________________

Among the narrative challenges for new characters that enter mid-campaign are establishing their history and motivations organically, and forming meaningful relationships with the others who are, arguably, already a tight-knit group. Right after Zosimus joined, his player sent out a list of questions that Zosi would probably ask our characters and most of us picked one or two. Since Kali and Zosi were spending a full day together, I went back to that list and grabbed one that no one had touched. This is what came out.

His player had been sitting on this gem, waiting patiently, for nearly a full year.


^Looks like it worked.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Desnus 27, 4713 (night, Sakakabe)

Someone continues to spy on us. My spell alerted me earlier this evening as we were looking for an inn. With a bit of experimentation I was able to determine that the target was Ameiko, which is just f**king great. It means whoever is watching us probably knows who she is.

I tried to get an image of the spell caster but it didn’t work. Which is also just great. Magic can be so unreliable. One wonders how casters rise to such positions of power when spells don’t work correctly half the time.

Desnus 28, 4713 (late morning, Sakakabe)

Another day, another attempt to spy on us. Once again, I tried to reverse the conduit to get a look at the voyeur, and once again it failed. This time we didn’t terminate the offending spell, but let it run its course as a rough gauge of the other caster’s power and it lasted a quarter of an hour. Which is quite a bit longer than I can manage, and that has me nervous. Very, very nervous.

Should it? Maybe. Maybe not. I know what my capabilities would be if I were that skilled, and suffice it to say that I expected more. A lot more. Either they are content with just watching us, or they have help. Help that is powerful, but limited in its scope.

We found a decorative samisen to present to O-Kohaku as a gift. I used a spell to etch the tea house’s logo—a cherry blossom—on it to give it that added personal touch. Hopefully this will be enough of a gesture to secure an audience with her.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Desnus 28, 4713 (night, Jikko River)

Gods, what a day. We are now searching for a missing geisha by the name of O-Sayumi. As I feared, establishing Ameiko’s legitimacy is requiring us to prove our honor through an endless string of favors.

That being said, O-Sayumi’s story is rather disturbing, so we are pretty motivated to get to the bottom of it. She worked as a geisha in the Kiniro Kyomai tea house and was apparently very popular with a long list of regular clients who ask specifically for her. One of these clients was a rather well-known pearl merchant named Yugureda Shosaito, only he was more or less obsessed with her and kept inviting her to his home for a “private performance”. For the longest time she refused, but then one day, without warning or explanation, she accepted…and she hasn’t been seen since.

Strangely enough, she seems to have predicted her own disappearance. I would have found this unusual many months ago but now? I just accept as fact that she may be a talented seer. She left clues behind in the form of notes, verbal messages, and curiosities: a strange puzzle box or inro, and a vase.

The inro is filled with three items that are obviously important but in a bafflingly obtuse way. In other words: we don’t know what any of it means. Either she was too clever, we’re too dim, or we haven’t come across whatever it is that will make sense of it all. I am hoping for the latter, but worried it’s the former. What if it never makes sense to us?

We traced the inro back to its sculptor, who then brought out the vase. It depicted an image of a kappa, and when we turned over we found cucumber-scented bath salts stuck inside the unusually deep recess in the bottom. The sculptor explained that he made these items at her request and to her exact specifications, and that she told him to give this vase to the honorable people who were seeking her. Which implies she foresaw her future weeks in advance, to a level of detail and precision that I had not thought possible.

The vase led us to where we are now: the home of The Wise Kappa, Numataro-sama, whom O-Sayumi had referred to as her uncle.

Obviously, they are not related by blood. From Numataro-sama, we learned that O-Sayumi’s mother had been killed by a monstrous tiger when O-Sayumi was just an infant. Her mother knew she was being hunted, and she hid O-Sayumi’s basket under a bush before the tiger caught up to her. The kappa found the infant, and raised her as his own until she was old enough to need the company of other humans.

The kappa believes it was Shosaito that had O-Sayumi’s mother killed. He also believes the merchant is a powerful wizard and an all around s@+#ty person. Which would, of course, follow from the whole “killed her mother” thing. And by the way? I have to agree with the “wizard” assessment. We can see the island where Shosaito lives; it’s surrounded by dark shadows and the landscape there seems drained of color. Whatever he is up to I am betting it is to no good, because come on. Can you be any more obvious?

Why did O-Sayumi agree to visit this person? That is the big mystery, the question that everyone who knew her has asked and that no one can answer. There is more or less universal agreement that Shosaito was creepy and made everyone, especially O-Sayumi, uncomfortable in his presence. There is also universal agreement that she would never willingly agree to go to his home. Which suggests that she wasn’t willing, which in turn implies that she was coerced or blackmailed.

Obviously, that’s just a theory, but it’s the only one we have and it’s one that fits the facts.

We now have a dilemma on our hands. We must go see this pearl merchant-turned wizard-turned kidnapper, but we also have Ameiko with us because we’re currently being hunted, and she’s arguably safer with us than sitting in an immobile fortress that is far from being a secret. And because we have Ameiko with us, we also have Shalelu and Koya with us, and there is absolutely no way we are bringing Koya into something this dangerous, and I have strong reservations about Ameiko as well. But, we can’t leave them alone, either, because see above.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Kali Nassim wrote:
{. . .} We can see the island where Shosaito lives; it’s surrounded by dark shadows and the landscape there seems drained of color. Whatever he is up to I am betting it is to no good, because come on. Can you be any more obvious? {. . .}

Awesome.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Desnus 28, 4713 (late night, Jikko River)

One way to help unravel the mystery of our missing seer was to involve another seer, so I took Koya aside and asked her if she could do a Harrowing. I could manage one myself, of course, but as I explained, “I am a little worked up. I’m not sure I can focus.”

“Of course,” she said with a smile. “What is the answer you’re seeking?”

“The best path to finding, and if necessary rescuing, O-Sayumi”

She considered the question, then spread nine cards in front of me for the Choosing. I turned over The Lost.

“Not the best beginning to any journey, to be sure. See the bleak on the card? He’s mad, lost in a world of lunatics, insane asylums, and worse.”

“It signifies a loss of self and identity.”

She nodded. “Whatever is ahead, be mindful not to lose your place in chaos.”

She gathered up the cards and cast nine of them face-down on the table. “Now let’s see the past,” she said as she turned over the left-most column. “The Locksmith. The Foreign trader. The Juggler. Interesting.” She held up the middle one.

“Deals and bargains?” I asked.

“These have certainly been part off your path here, my young, foreign trader. You’re no stranger to a bargain with high stakes. That may yet prove important.” She was suggesting the future was a reflection of the past.

Next she turned over the center column, representing the present: the Unicorn, The Snakebite, and the Cricket.

“The Unicorn offers what you seek, but it’s not in a strong position.”

“So don’t count on it.”

“Correct. The Snakebite, though, is troublesome. I wonder, is it literal…? There are many kinds of venom in the world, in the ambitions and machinations of those who seek power over others for their own gains. Beware of trust betrayed.”

The Cricket sat as an opposite match, and misaligned, but I couldn’t reconcile it. “And the Cricket?”

“Probably nothing, despite its position. It does not match the present.”

Finally, she overturned the last column, representing the future. The Joke. The Wanderer. The Demon’s Lantern. The former and the latter were true matches.

“The Joke, in its true position. A terror will need to be overcome, but it reminds us that not all of them can be beaten with strength of arms alone.”

“I’ve been here before. Some solutions are…unconventional.”

She nodded again, then continued. “The Demon’s Lantern, also in true position. The will-o-wisps represent traps and tricks of a particularly devilish sort.” She closed her eyes for a moment as she reflected on this. “I can’t say exactly what this means, but there are many clever spiders who weave webs of deceit in order to ensnare the unwary.”

I sat quietly for a moment, too, trying to put this all together. Past, present, and future seemed to fold in on one other, the divinations of O-Sayumi mixed in with my own. Had she been forced to come here? Was Shosaito seeking something that only she could provide? It would explain his apparent obsession. At the same time, she left clues for us to follow, and the cards reflected that as well.

“What is the spell telling you?” Koya asked.

“It’s not encouraging any particular course of action,” I said. “More importantly, it’s not discouraging one, either. Though it seems to think we’ll need to be…fluid. Adaptable to a changing situation. More so than usual.”

We had O-Sayumi’s inro and her note, both of which contained clues to…what? Her disappearance? Or how to find her? Or maybe they are one in the same. The answers lay in  Shosaito’s home.

And, now, we also had this odd shogi piece from Numataro-sama, the angle-mover. It jumps out at me because Jiro had jokingly referred to Hatsue this way when we first met them. As she was explaining the game to me. The kappa said, “it can summon the greatest shogi player in all of Minkai when broken”. Shogi keeps coming up. This piece keeps coming up. Is there a connection here?

Is the sky blue?


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Desnus 29, 4713 (morning, Namikadame Lagoon)

Agrand magnolia tree sits on the shore of the Jikko River just upstream from where it empties into the Namikadame Lagoon. It’s nearly in full bloom, with flowers large enough to cover my hand and a creamy, sweet fragrance that would be the envy of bath houses in Magnimar. We never stop to enjoy wonders like this. Not anymore. Nature’s grandeur has become a backdrop, a measure of our progress as we travel from here to there. How sad is that?

Yugureda Shosaito’s home lies on a small, private island in the middle of the lagoon. The surrounding landscape is unnaturally muted, drained of color, bathed in gloom and breathing stagnant air. Leaving Numataro-sama’s home for Shosaito’s is not a fair trade by any stretch. We’re told his pearl divers have a small village over there. How anyone at all manages to live within that umbra and maintain their sanity is anyone’s guess.

Qatana and I can see there’s magic pretty much everywhere. Not anything overt, but a sort of faint aura that permeates everything. Why do people do this sort of thing to themselves? By all accounts Shosaito’s pearl business is quite lucrative, and he’s clearly a wealthy man: you don’t spend your money on geisha and private islands unless gold flows like water. Yet his home is draped in malaise. What’s the point of opulence if that’s how you live?

One possibility is that it’s a reflection of his means. Some actions leave scars on the world. That thought is certainly disturbing, especially because it’s far from wild speculation. If Numataro-sama is correct, this is a man that killed O-Sayumi’s mother, knowing that she had an infant child. We’re also reasonably certain that he is O-Sayumi’s father, which would mean that he intentionally murdered his wife or lover. What kind of person would do these things? (Uncomfortable answer? Lonjiku Kaijitsu. Which may in part explain why Ameiko has taken a personal interest in the matter.)

We’re leaving Koya here. With someone spying on us that was not an easy decision, but we can, at least, mitigate the risks and it’s arguably less dangerous than her tagging along. Numataro-sama has agreed to let me cover his home with my spell that will keep it, and them, hidden. That way if they try to come for us, it won’t be so easy to do it through her. At least for the immediate future. Long term, we need a better solution.

_______

Magnolia tree sketch


1 person marked this as a favorite.

(late morning, Yugureda Shosaito home)

Sometimes, a coincidence that is far too unlikely to be more than just a coincidence really is just a coincidence. And sometimes that magical trap that you see, which is quite obviously a magical trap, and that you’re told outright is a magical trap, is, in fact, a magical trap. These are the valuable lessons I have learned today.

Honestly, I thought the shogi board was important because shogi just kept coming up: meeting Hatsue and her passion for the game, the large set in Numataro-sama’s home, the piece he gave us that could summon a great shogi player when broken, and even Shosaito himself. So there had to be more to what we were seeing, right? Wrong. It was just a trap for the unwary (or, I suppose, for people with a penchant to out-think themselves); retaliation against anyone motivated and clever enough to come looking for O-Sayumi, but careless enough to casually touch things as they explored.

The shadow realm we were trapped in may not have been entirely real, but the undead shadows that stalked us were no illusions. One of them touched me, and I felt my strength draining away as a horrible chill pierced my heart. It was an unwelcome reminder of my own fragility and mortality.

One odd thing did happen while we were in there. OK, fine, the whole thing was odd, but I mean relatively speaking. Zosimus broke the shogi piece Numataro-sama had given us as soon as we realized we were trapped in giant shogi board made of shadowstuff, and Hatsue appeared. Not her, but a spectral image of her, as though it were some sort of projection. She looked at me and asked, “What are you doing in my dream?” I didn’t really have a good answer.

She may have saved our lives. Her image or projection, or whatever it was, was real enough to the shadows. She tore two of them apart with relative ease.

Curious. I’ll have to ask her about this later.

The shadows were not our only encounter with undead. I recognized his housekeepers as being manananggal, though only after we found them curiously difficult to restrain, both physically and magically. From what I remember of the Tian legends, they are far more formidable (and significantly more hideous) by night, when they tear away from their lower torsos and fly around to feed on the living. This is something we didn’t get to see, though I am not really broken up over it.

Normally, I’d say that invading someone’s home is best done after dark. That makes this the exception that proves the rule. At the same time, our original intent was not to break in, but rather just go see the man and ask a few pointed questions, but things got pretty weird from the moment we landed on his island and they entered a downward spiral soon after.

Yesterday, I asked who would choose to live in this faded landscape, and the answer to that turned out to be “no one”. The pearl divers were lacedons, which implies rather strongly that there was an outbreak of ghoul fever in their village at some point in the past.

I would not be surprised to learn that this was also Shosaito’s doing, because just look at his cleaning staff. It’s not like he could not know, which makes him either complicit or responsible. Ironically, Zosi and I were making offhand remarks (perhaps in poor taste) about using undead, or at least animated dead, for pearl diving. We had no idea how right we were. It seems Shosaito figured out long ago that his pearl business could benefit significantly from employees with no overhead, no upkeep, and no need to breathe air.

All of this went a long way towards answering my other question from yesterday: we more or less know what kind of person we are dealing with, and that’s someone who cares little for human life, or for anything beyond his own self-interests. It’s still not clear how his daughter fits into the picture, but it’s a fair bet that he needs her for something. For what, exactly, is still not clear, but…the fact that they are related by blood must be the key.

Earlier, we came across a set of cards from the Minkai game uta-garuta. I was thumbing through them idly as we explored, and noticed that several of the cards had arcane writings mixed in with the poetry verses. It took me a little time to decipher it all, but the writings were similar to a spell I am vaguely familiar with, though I don’t know myself because it is abhorrent. This spell transfers a person’s consciousness from their own body to a receptacle of some sort, typically a rare gemstone of modest value, which can then be used to forcibly possess any nearby, living body. What I was reading, however, seemed both different from this spell and incomplete in some fashion.

It occurs to me now that we never asked anyone if Shosaito is married, or has a lover, or even any children (other than O-Sayumi). His home looks lived in and neat but…neglected. Hay is molding in the stables, there’s very little food to be found, and the bedrooms are unoccupied with only one showing any sign of use. It’s like he just stopped living here a few weeks ago.

This all occurs to me now because he has taken his own daughter, who he is related to by blood, and who has been missing for a few weeks. Because he was researching a variant of a spell that can transfer a person’s soul. A spell whose material component requires an object of value; a requirement that could quite possibly be satisfied by a pearl, of which I am sure he has plenty.

My gods. What has this man done?


Foreshadowing of The Thing on the Doorstep . . . ?


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Desnus 29, 4713 (early afternoon, Yugureda Shosaito home)

Shosaito obviously didn’t want anyone stumbling across his unseemly research, but living on a private island with a murderous pet nue while surrounding himself with undead of his own making apparently wasn’t enough seclusion. To fix this galling error, he created a maze in the shadow plane and linked it between his sake cellar and his laboratory. Because that’s where everyone puts their shadow plane mazes, obviously.

I don’t know what he was thinking. The shadow plane is dangerous, and leaving it open to the material plane like that is equal parts brazen and blithe. Shadows, kytons, nightshades…these creatures and worse could literally just wander through at any time, placing untold numbers of people in very real danger. But from what I can tell from his research journal and personal diaries, Shosaito did not have a strong grasp on the concept of consequences. Frankly, I am surprised he survived his own recklessness.

O-Sayumi’s clues led us almost straight to her. It was Ivan that figured it out. It wasn’t just the objects inside her inro, but their numbers: one silk cocoon, two rings, and three camphorwood beads. She had divined the correct path through the maze and left us a tactile map of the gates in their correct order. We have no idea what would have happened had we chosen a wrong path, but if the mirror traps were any indicator we would have been licking some wounds at best.

While we did find O-Sayumi, what we weren’t expecting was to see another woman with her; their bodies sat, unmoving, on the floor of a lavishly decorated sitting room. Ivan’s spell said they were neither alive nor dead, but I could tell there was a spell in place to prevent them from decomposing. We later learned that the elderly woman was Shosaito’s current wife, and that’s when the whole story came into clear focus.

He tried to place her soul in O-Sayumi’s body. In his journals, he comments on how much O-Sayumi resembles her long-dead mother, Kaori, the woman he had murdered. I don’t understand what goes through the mind of someone who would kill his first wife, then lust after his own daughter to the point of placing the soul of his second wife in her body. What is wrong with people?

Maybe it’s best not to ask because I really don’t want to know the answer. We’ve confronted many people who have corrupted themselves thoroughly for a supposedly higher cause, but none that had done so purely for their own, selfish reasons. And I am not sure which is worse. There’s no scale for something like this.

I was not surprised to learn that a man careless enough to create a portal to the shadow plane was also overconfident in his own abilities. His spell went awry, and though his wife’s soul was pulled from her body it did not enter the pearl he used as the magical jar. Unwilling to return O-Sayumi to her body, as that would permanently break the spell and leave his wife’s soul lost forever, he simply…kept them here, like this, and continued his work, desperately searching for magic that would safely reverse what he had done.

That magic was far beyond him, and it is far beyond us as well. We did the only thing we could do: forcibly break his spell, and return O-Sayumi. His wife is now lost forever, her soul condemned to wander the planes, unable to pass on, out of even Pharasma’s reach, and unable to return to life. It’s a terrible thing.

At first, I was upset about this, to the point where someone—I don’t remember who—asked why I was spending so much time trying to figure out how to fix it. I answered, “Because it was not her fault.” And that’s true. Shosaito’s notes show he tried to get his wife to support what he was doing, but she refused. But he did it anyway, without her knowledge. It’s sickening.

But, then we spoke with O-Sayumi and learned his wife knew that he had corrupted the lives of the others on their island. That she was complicit in turning the villagers and their house staff into undead. It was not that, but this business with her soul, that was the bridge too far. And that is what did it for me. “That was where the line was?” I said to no one in particular. “Not ‘let’s make undead from our house staff’, or ‘let’s unleash ghoul fever on the village’?” Eternal punishment may be disproportionate to her crime, but she was certainly no innocent.

Perhaps, some day, Ashava will find her and lead her home.

The island is empty now. Yugureda Shosaito is dead. His wife is dead. His nue companion, the one that killed O-Sayumi’s mother, is dead. The manananggal and lacedons have been destroyed. It’s probably the first time in years that this island has seen fresh air.

I can’t wait to leave it.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Desnus 29, 4713 (mid-afternoon, Namidakame Lagoon)

I stand corrected. Now, this island is empty. Much to our surprise, Shosaito’s personal barge was crewed by ja noi oni. Because of course it was. Oni are the flies in humanity’s garbage heap.

Destroying ja noi oni is something we’ve recently gotten pretty good at, to the point where it was impossible for me to take them seriously. There were only a dozen of them, which was about as threatening as a petting zoo. Of course they were too dim to figure this out, even as we were mercilessly grinding them up. But what really gets me is, they weren’t sent here to kill us. They didn’t know who we were or who was with us. The Five Storms wasn’t ordering them around. They were just some random oni, fighting to the last man to protect a barge. Did it not occur to them that this wasn’t something worth dying for?

Maybe, like goblins, they really think that, no matter how bad the odds, they’ll be the one that turns it around. That they’ll succeed where their companions have failed and died. It makes a certain kind of sense.

I wish I’d had more lethal spells prepared, and said as much after the last of them had been cut down. This earned me a number of looks, and a bizarre debate with Ivan when he asked me why I thought it was OK to kill oni but not, say, people.

“They’re not real.”

“What do you mean, they aren’t real? Of course they’re real.”

“They’re not from here. Not from our world or our plane. They aren’t real people.”

“They’re both outsiders and native to this plane.”

“They’re evil spirits, manifested in humanoid bodies. They don’t count.”

Obviously, he doesn’t get it. But then again, none of the others seem to, either. Except maybe Ameiko. And sometimes I wonder even about her.

There’s a saying about how if you can’t get anyone to see reason, then maybe you’re the one who is being unreasonable. This is not a comforting thought.

Desnus 29, 4713 (late afternoon, Namidakame Lagoon)

OK, now the island is really unoccupied. We were attacked by, of all things, dragon turtles on trip back. They were aggressive, belligerent and unwilling to listen to reason, so we ended up killing them. This sucks. I don’t want to be killing dragon turtles. Why are we killing dragon turtles?

The answer to that is about as surprising as gravity. It’s because Yugureda Shosaito made a deal with them. They said as much: they threatened us, and when we tried to explain his daughter was aboard, they insisted we were lying because we weren’t taking “the arranged way”. The “arranged way”? Are you f~+%ing kidding me? Was it not enough to own an island? Did he have to control the whole lagoon, too? How many boats did they sink? How many people did they drown or kill because this lunatic wasn’t satisfied with prosperity?

OK, fine. Dragon turtles can be a menace to anything both on or in the water. They are territorial and not above extorting “offerings” from sailors in exchange for safe passage. But encouraging them like this is reckless and dangerous, just like everything else in Shosaito’s life. And it encouraged conflict and violence that led to their deaths, too. It’s all such a waste.

For what it’s worth, we saved one of the bodies and Ivan is harvesting it for meat while Zos prepares that creepy treasure map spell. May as well put it to use. It’s certainly better than just letting them all rot.

Dasi is an endless source or surprises. Piloting a barge is not a simple matter of picking up oars and rowing, and yet he made guiding it out of the docks look pretty easy. He even kept it afloat as the dragon turtles were ramming into it, intent on sending everyone into the water. I could hear dad’s voice in my head, telling me how I’d regret not learning to sail some day. How do my parents keep being right about these things?

I finally got a good look at our voyeur. They were spying on Ameiko again, and this time I was able to trace it back to what I assume was Sakakabe. I got a vision of a man or woman dressed as a beggar, hunched over like they were sleeping on some street corner. I’m going to suggest that there’s more to this than appearances. You think?

We’ll be spending the night at Numataro-sama’s home again, assuming of course he’s up for extended company. We’re all pretty spent, and if Zosi’s map pans out we won’t be in any shape to pursue it until the morning. That, and everyone is just tired. It’s been a long day, and being scalded by steam several times over did little to help with that.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Desnus 30, 4713 (late afternoon, Namidakame Lagoon)

Zosi’s map led us to an enormous, underwater cave beneath the small island that neighbored Shosaito’s home. Inside was an extraordinary hoard of pearls, seashells and gemstones that was hauntingly beautiful even in the silty water of the cave. I’ve never seen anything like it.

My first thought was that these pearls were his end of whatever bargain they had struck, but I quickly realized that dragon turtles could get pearls far more easily than he. Since they didn’t need him for pearls, he must have been offering them something else. The range of possibilities here is limited, and most of them are awful. I am choosing not to dwell on it.

We’re spending another night with Numataro-sama. I am not complaining as the change of pace is welcome, though we made the decision out of an abundance of caution and not a desire for extended sightseeing. Our daily preparations were geared for any threats we might have faced under water—again, out of caution, though as it turns out there weren’t any—and not for safe transport back to Sakakabe. With someone out there watching for us, and potentially waiting for us at our destination, an abundance of caution seems like the right idea.

Ivan sent ahead to O-Kohaku to let her know when—and how—to expect us. I am sure she’s seen wind-walking before, but having a large group unexpectedly coalesce in the middle of her business would probably be equal parts alarming and rude. We are trying to make friends here, after all. That, and causing a small panic would seriously crimp our triumphant return.

Desnus 31, 4713 (evening, Kiniro Kyomai Teahouse)

O-Kohaku is arranging a series of meetings with notable figures in Sakakabe: from aristocrats to merchants to nobility to social and political mavens. Apparently, that list is quite long as there is no shortage of people who are fed up with Minkai’s economic decline and the leadership responsible for it. What they’ve been lacking to date was a credible alternative, and credible alternatives is basically our whole business.

Having their support is, of course, both welcome and necessary. But, I pointed out that it fell short in one, key area. “This is all moot if we don’t deal with the daimyo here in the north. He has to go.”

O-Kohaku shook her head sadly. “I can’t do anything there.”

Then O-Sayumi surprised us all. “I can help with that.”

O-Sayumi knows Sennaka’s younger brother, Sikutsu Itsuru. She assured us that he’s both an honorable man and a capable leader, and is itching to see Sennaka tossed aside. The problem is, the code of honor binds him to Sennaka’s service. He couldn’t take arms against his own family even if he had the military strength to do it, as that would be no better than Sennaka’s own disregard for the same. However, if Sennaka were to be removed from power? Then Itsuru would eagerly fill that void.

More importantly, Itsuru’s code of honor does not compel him to intervene should someone make that move for him, and he would be more than willing to look the other way. We can work with that. O-Sayumi is, you guessed it, setting up a meeting.

It occurs to me that I keep coming full circle. One of the reasons I left home, and wanted out of the family business, is that I didn’t want to spend my time in meetings.

I have spent the last few evenings studying Shosaito’s spell book. He specialized in illusion magic, but there is a load of necromancy in it as well. It makes me want to throw up. There are spells here to animate and create undead, and of course death magic because the first step when doing the former is the latter. That being said, some of what’s in here is actually useful. I’ll just have to hold my nose while I work.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Sarenith 1, 4713 (evening, Kiniro Kyomai Teahouse)

Olmas took O-Sayumi out for dinner last night. I am not the best judge of these things, but I got the impression he was on a date and she wasn’t. Not that it went poorly, or anything. Though I get the impression she gets taken to dinner quite often and has considerable experience at gently disappointing suitors.

We took Koya to one of the larger temples to Desna. For the immediate future, she will be staying there as a religious pilgrim from the west. Since that’s primarily why she signed on, we didn’t even have to lie to them, which is, of course, a plus. The way we figure it, there’s few places safer than being surrounded by clergy in a huge temple to a major deity. And they were thrilled to have her, too. It’s not exactly unheard of, but a visiting high priestess from Avistan is something of a rare event. It was clearly a red-letter day.

I got another look at our voyeur today. It’s just dumb luck I happened to catch it, too, as the last thing we need is me being tied to Ameiko every minute of every day. We both need space and privacy, and to not feed each others’ anxiety.

This time, he—or, I suppose, she—was dressed in generic, brown clerical robes and wandering through the woods about 10 miles outside of the city. So they are close, but they obviously left, so whoever this is they know who we are, but don’t have a good grasp on our schedule. Though that’s not really surprising: I don’t have a good grasp on our schedule, and I don’t think anyone else does, either.

We have a new sense of urgency about all of this. Dasi did this divination, just trying to get advice on our upcoming trip to see the Three Monkeys. The answer he got back? “End the scrying.”

I am not wholly ignorant about these sorts of spells. A response this direct is almost unheard of.

Sarenith 2, 4713 (evening, Kiniro Kyomai Teahouse)

In the Enganoka province there is a fishing village. This village found itself under a crushing tax burden, and when they could no longer afford to pay their daimyo he called nine of his best samurai and ordered them to raze it to the ground. These samurai were loyal to their daimyo, but they were also honorable men. Because there was no honor in burning a village and killing its residents as punishment for a debt, these samurai instead returned with the tax money that was owed. By satisfying the village’s debt, the daimyo was properly served and their honor remained intact. The daimyo, however, expected his orders to be followed, and the nine had deliberately disobeyed him so he insisted they they be punished. Though he had a reputation for cruelty, in a rare moment of mercy, the daimyo merely dismissed the samurai from his service.

This is the story that Itsuru told us. The ronin call themselves The Nine Pawns, and the daimyo is, of course, his brother Sennaka.

So why tell us this?

Because The Nine Pawns are seeking retribution for the years they spent, trapped by honor, serving an unjust and unworthy man. Because Itsuru is sick of his brother’s cruelty and the Jade Regent’s hubris. Because all of our interests are aligned. Because an opportunity has presented itself, and as foreigners, we are in a position to act on it.

We have limited time. Sennaka is setting out for a resort at a hot springs that he uses as a private retreat. The Nine Pawns have infiltrated this resort as servants while it is being renovated. We can coordinate with them—if they are willing to take a chance on foreigners that they have never met—and increase our odds of success. He’ll meet with them and get word to us, either personally or through someone bearing one of our talismans.

This meeting was important enough that asked Jiro to join us. Itsuru needed to see we were building a real army with real people, led by men of honor; that we weren’t just a group of miscreants taking advantage of Minkai’s instability. It turns out Jiro and Itsuru knew each other, or rather, knew of one another, and that helped give weight to our claims. Especially since O-Sayumi started things off with a hammer blow: “These are scions of the Amatatsu family.”

Note that she said scions, not scion. We haven’t told anyone that, which just underscores that O-Sayumi is the real deal. It caught us off guard, and we had to back up nearly a year to explain it.

Getting Jiro here was easy, but not without drama. He and Hatsue had intercepted a messenger carrying a request for troops to quell a certain rebellious ronin in the north. Combined with some other intelligence, Jiro believes the fortress will come under attack in the near future. This is, of course, the big problem with fortresses: they aren’t mobile. We’ve always been most vulnerable when we were sitting still. A fortress doesn’t have the option of moving around.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Sarenith 4, 4713 (evening, Kiniro Kyomai Teahouse)

Over the past few days, when we weren’t stuck in meetings, Dasi and O-Sayumi have been combining their skill at divination magic in an attempt to learn something about who is spying on us, and why. It was a fascinating process: with each casting, they’d get small pieces of information that could be fed back the next time to refine their sight. By the third or fourth day, an answer emerged, and in answering the question of who we so answered the one of why.

We’re being followed by a legendary assassin. One who is believed to work for the Oni’s Mask clan, and is rumored to have extraordinary magical powers. This would explain the disguises and the constant scrying. So far we’ve been able to thwart them by moving around and using magic of our own, but that has come to an end: we are going to be in Sakakabe for several days, and they will eventually figure out where we are. We are a pretty ripe target.

So there is that to look forward to.

Itsuru delivered the message to us personally: his brother leaves for the resort in just a few days, and will arrive in a little over a week. The Nine Pawns have agreed to ally with us, and they are setting traps in the forest to isolate the lodge from the company of soldiers that serves as his traveling “guard”. They will hold off the soldiers, giving us the time we need to deal with Sennaka and his retinue. It’s not a bad plan, especially for one that was put together in just a couple of days.

Now we just need to live long enough to pull it off.

Sarenith 5th, 4713 (Kiniro Kyomai Tea House, early evening)

So now we wait. I hate waiting, especially when it’s for someone that is coming to kill us. (That I even have a category for this says a lot about the last year.)

I am nervous and more than a little scared. We essentially know nothing about our would-be assassin except for his reputation, and that is basically nothing to go on. The problem with legendary figures is that the stories that surround them are equally legendary; truth wrapped in exaggeration and hyperbole, designed to both frighten and inspire awe. Dasi spent hours this morning trying to give us anything we could use, and the best we managed was that, if you were desperate enough to have someone killed, and rich enough to part with a modest fortune, our assassin would appear out of thin air, do the deed, and then vanish without a trace.

None of this is helpful, except to confirm that he exists. After all, to the common man, I can appear out of thin air and disappear into the same. In the right circumstances, half of us could kill someone without leaving so much as a mark. There are too many possibilities, which means we have no idea what we are defending against. The only advantage we have is determining where the confrontation will occur. Sparna would call this “defining the enemy’s choices”, though of course there is only the one.

Doing that, though, was easy enough. My spell alerted me to his scrying eye, and I casually let slip where we were. The scrying ended within seconds, which tells me he took the bait. Yay us?

O-Kohaku was less than thrilled when we warned her what was coming. “You brought this to my doorstep!?”

I was not in the mood and snapped back, “Did you think you could support a rebellion and there would be no consequences?”

“This is not what I signed up for. I agreed to help, not turn my business into a battlefield!”

She has a point. We have gotten too used to being on our own, and what we are doing here is putting others’ lives at risk. It’s even bordering on reckless. We are betting quite a lot on his reputation as a disciplined assassin, not some messy thug who leaves blood and bodies in his wake. Are we putting too much faith in that?

At least it’s only for tonight. We’re leaving Sakakabe tomorrow, so if this isn’t resolved by then? The Tea House will no longer be in the crossfire.

I got my first good look at him today. Dasi, Ameiko and O-Sayumi had given me enough details that I could spy on him the same way he has spied on us, and it worked. He was dressed as a monk in grey robes and a basket hat, walking along the streets of Sakakabe in one of the middle-class tiers—something we were able to establish from the clothing worn by passers-by. I followed him for a while. In a stunning coincidence that you might describe as “suspicious”, he shot a city guard with a blowdart laced with Blue Whinnis poison, just outside a shop that Dasi was visiting. You might say we found this alarming.

Why did he do it? We don’t know. Was he trying to flush us out? Test our reactions? We don’t know. Was it intended as a distraction? Did he know Dasi was there? Did he know Radella was? We. Don’t. Know.

Is he coming tonight? We’re more confident about that one. We’ve been moving too often and too quickly, and have been careful not to reveal our whereabouts, making this his first real shot at us. I doubt he’ll pass it up.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Sarenith 6th, 4713 (Kiniro Kyomai Tea House, small hours)

He didn’t pass it up. A wakizashi came within inches of my head. He literally took one stab at me through the shoji screen, and then vanished. Qatana found the slightest traces of his presence: footprints on the wall frames and ceiling, and an impression in the carpet, but no steps leading away. He came in, struck, and then vanished. It suggests a combination of both skills and magic…though, I think, mostly magic.

He obviously wasn’t after a fight, which is no surprise. He was trying to pick us off. Which is also no surprise, though it does at least confirm what we’ve suspected.

I was riled up. Once we determined he was gone I scried on him again, this time catching him somewhere in the city just before he conjured a portal to the shadow plane and stepped through (what is it with this region and the shadow plane?) My magical sight followed him, and he emerged into a forest where he changed disguises. Which means I got a good look at his true appearance: a slim, unassuming Tian man with short, fuzzy grey hair.

I couldn’t resist. I cast another spell, and whispered to his image in my silver mirror. “You missed.” You might say that got his attention. I baited him a few times and we traded some barbs before I pointed out that I knew what he looked like. “Enjoy this victory while it lasts,” he said. “You have a lot more to lose.”

There are a lot more of us. You only have to lose once.

Our conversation ended with him giving me a rude gesture. It seems those are somewhat universal.

After my spell ended, I spent some time reflecting on what we learned. He can travel through the shadow plane, teleport short distances, and scry on others. All are spells or abilities I possess, except…he’s not casting any spells. Curious, don’t you think?

(Enganoka, early afternoon)

We found an inn here that has solid walls. Ironically, that is not an upscale feature. If you have money, it’s assumed you value the exquisite dance between light and shadow over such intangible traits as privacy and safety.

I made a stack of “Have you seen this assassin?” posters this morning and we scattered them about Sakakabe before leaving. The primary feature is a drawing of the man who is stalking us—it is a rather good likeness if I don’t say so myself—and a list of his known disguises. I used a spell to speed the process. Though we did take the time to deliver some to the city guard, I am under no illusions that this will amount to anything more than a thumb in the assassin’s eye. But I wasn’t really aiming higher than that, either.

To get us here, I used the same spell he did; it was in Yugureda Shosaito’s spell book. Walking the edge of the shadow plan was every bit as disturbing as I expected it to be, but it got us here quickly enough.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Sarenith 6th, 4713 (Enganoka, night)

For once, Qatana was not responsible for the absolute s!#~storm that was this afternoon. This time, it was my doing. I was the one responsible. And you know what? I would do it again. I have no regrets. None.

It happened in the market. We were working our way through the throngs of people when a hole opened up in the crowd. A group of guards were confronting a man who was bartering at one of the stalls. As they surrounded him they asked what village he was from, and when he answered they accused him of lying because the “village doesn’t exist!” It sounded eerily similar to the story Itsuru told us about the Nine Pawns, and we all turned to look at Dasi since he’s from here. Quietly, he answered the unspoken question. “That’s a real place”.

I presumed wrong. They weren’t going to arrest the man: they intended to execute him. Right there. Using this insane accusation that he was lying about where he was from and therefore a spy. And…I just couldn’t let it go on. I mean, what was I supposed to do? Be a silent witness to a summary execution? So I intervened. Inconspicuously.

Or I tried to, anyway. There were just too many of them closing in too quickly, and the spells I had that might protect him weren’t practical in close quarters. I tried a deterrent, but the guards were not deterred and things got worse. Much worse. There was a brief moment where Qatana maybe created an opening for me, but before I could act one of the guards brought their sword around in a wide arc and took off the man’s head.

As I watched it tumble to the floor in slow motion, I remembered being in Ordu-Aganhei where the people lived in constant fear of their Prince and his whims. Where people were punished or even killed for the most trivial of transgressions. We turned a blind eye to this insanity it because it wasn’t our fight, but this here? This was our fight. No more turning away.

When his head hit the floor, I was hyper-aware of my friends behind me and what I was about to do. Ameiko had to get away from here, as quickly and discreetly as possible, and I could feel her moving; the others closing ranks around her as they melted into the crowd. I looked down and saw that my hands were already holding the bit of amber and ball of fur, the latter stuck with needles. An instant later, lightning erupted from my fingertips and arced from guard to guard in a brilliant, blinding flash. Then Qatana and Zosimus rained destruction down on them, and in seconds they were all dead.

And then their bodies transformed into oni. Because, as a random shopkeeper said to me, “that’s just the way things are now”.

The rest of the party was gone. Zosi turned invisible and eventually found his own way back. I grabbed Qatana and teleported us, and the body of the dead man, to the inn.

Qatana started raging almost the instant we appeared in the room. “They did nothing!” she said, pacing back and forth while gesturing angrily with her hands. “They were completely happy to just stand there and look the other way while an obviously innocent citizen was cut down. And Ameikio condoned and justified it!”

Said innocent citizen was still in a heap on the floor, head detached. She’d at least taken a few seconds to preserve the corpse with a spell before launching into this tirade.

“And what’s worse,” she continued, still pacing, stopping only long enough to look at me while she emphasized some point, “is that only you, me, and Zos took any action to stop it. And Ameiko ran away like a coward.”

She didn’t get it. She still doesn’t, though I tried to help her understand.

“I’m upset about this, too, but I don’t think Ameiko had a choice here. She’s bound by the same code of honor as Itsuru. It’s the same reason why he can’t just kill his brother and take over as governor. The people here won’t accept a leader that tarnishes their honor to become a leader.”

It would be different when Sennaka is gone. She will have the legitimacy to prevent such egregious abuses of power. But until then? She can’t be a part of this.

That being said, I was still shaken. I hadn’t expected so many of our friends to vanish with her. I sat down next to Qatana.

“I just thought…we’d have more help. Even discreetly. Ameiko needs us. While her hands are tied, we can do the things she can’t. But I guess not everyone sees it that way.”

Qatana didn’t want to hear it. Everything is so black and white with her. Direct action is the only action that matters. That’s…just not how this works. And I don’t know what to do about it.

________________________

What to say here? For over three years now, I've wondered if Kali would eventually crack under the strain of the AP as events and threats escalated, and this encounter proved the breaking point. I had Chain Lightning prepared mostly by accident—I was pressed for time and hadn't reshuffled her spells from a previous session—and when this event happened, I just couldn't ignore it.

This incident did cause more than a little strife among the players, and that's reflected in the characters' actions. But that was, I think, more or less the point of the encounter: to present players with a moral dilemma that had no good solution, and just play it out. After backing away from the last two, the AP finally committed to one by not putting the thing on rails. It let the players do as they will and then deal with the fallout afterwards.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

(Enganoka, late night)

Ameiko came to talk to me about it. I had been dreading this conversation all evening, but it ended up being okay.

“I’m not going to apologize for intervening,” I said when she walked in. “And if I had the chance to do it all over, I’d do it again.”

“I can’t fault you for wanting to help that man, but this wasn’t a case of stopping bandits from robbing someone on the highway. They were the legally appointed law enforcement acting on their real authority. He may actually have been guilty of a crime. Just attacking them for apprehending a criminal would make us criminals, too.”

Normally, she would be right, but the problem with her logic is that we witnessed the whole exchange. “We all heard what they said. This wasn’t about some random crime. It was a false accusation used as a justification for murder.”

“We can’t openly rebel against the local authorities without evidence of corruption that is obvious to everyone. Otherwise, we run the risk of driving the people to those same authorities for protection from us.”

“I can’t turn my back to it, Ameiko. I just can’t. Not anymore.”

“We have to win the whole war, not just every battle.”

I looked down at the floor. The wool rug in our room was old and fraying along one edge. Is that supposed to be prophetic?

“I know why you had to get away. I’m not angry about it.”

She sat down on the bed next to me and sighed, heavily. “I can’t say which of us did the right, or better, or best thing. I think the answer is that…we each did what we had to do.”

“Maybe we both did the right thing.”

We sat in silence for a bit. Finally, she stood up and said, “For what it’s worth, I do want to do a little investigating to find out what that merchant’s story really was. For my own peace of mind at least.”

“Well, you may get to hear his story first hand. I’m going to try and have him raised, even if I have to pay for it myself. It was my spells that failed him; it’s my responsibility to fix it.”

She looked at me for a while before leaving. I suppose it could have gone worse.

Earlier, Qatana and I took turns spying on our assassin. Both of us saw him as a wealthy, well-dressed woman. I caught him just after he had left the market.

You missed all the excitement.

He stopped to look around for the source of the voice. Seriously?

Please. Do you really think so little of me?

He shrugged and resumed walking. “Was that your handiwork?”

I wouldn’t dream of taking credit for such a heinous act.

“You do realize there’s a price on your heads?”

Of course. And we’re honored to be worthy of so much attention. Someone is obviously afraid of us. I hope you have a good night’s sleep.

I couldn’t resist. Qatana has a spell that sends terrible nightmares, and she’ll be using it on him tonight. I am looking forward to it.

________________

And so begins our harassment campaign against the assassin.


I am looking forward to this nightmare . . . Does Qatana's spell let you control and/or participate in the nightmare?


I wish it was more exciting than just the Nightmare spell from Core, but it's just the Nightmare spell from Core.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Sarenith 7, 4713 (early morning, Enganoka)

Qatana’s spell kicked in about midnight last night. From what she explained, when you cast it you go into a sort of meditative state until the…well, let’s call them the “victim” since that is what they are…goes to sleep, at which point you awaken and their nightmares begin. The more you know about them the stronger your connection, and the stronger your connection the more difficult it is to resist. It helps that we have both a picture of him and one of his former possessions: the poison-laced dart. This spell isn’t huge, but it’s not exactly insignificant either and it’s something we can do at little risk to ourselves. It’s also better than nothing at all, which is what we had before. It does require us to more or less predict when he’s turning in for the evening, though, as we can’t afford to lose hours to the sit-and-wait every time.

We meet with the Three Monkeys tomorrow night. Unfortunately, Qatana can’t go along because her description is being circulated as a result of our assault on the guards—I was a bit surprised that my own wasn’t included, though she was a more visible presence throughout the fight—but no one is keen on leaving her alone so I’ll be staying with her. We can keep an eye on the others from here. We’ll know if they run into trouble. We know where they’ll be. And I can get us there in an instant if trouble happens.

Obviously, it would be better if we could all stay together, but we can’t change the situation so we just have to make the best of it. And it does give us an advantage: the one person we are really worried about is the one we can spy on more or less with impunity. So if he tries to intervene, we should know.

We’re a little concerned about having Ameiko so publicly exposed, so Dasi is out gathering some supplies for enchanting a pair of hats that can be used to alter your appearance. One will go to Ameiko, and the other is for whoever else we think may need it. Zos and I can turn them out in just a few hours.

I’ve also made arrangements to get the diamond we’ll need for bringing the Tian man back from the dead. Qatana used a spell to commune with…well, I am not sure who, exactly…and is confident that his spirit wants to return. She has also very generously offered to share the cost, but that offer did come with a rather large “but”.

“We can’t afford to raise everyone the oni kill in our presence.”

“I know, and I don’t intend to. This one is…special.”

Because I tried and failed, which more or less makes it my responsibility.

151 to 200 of 253 << first < prev | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | next > last >>
Community / Forums / Gamer Life / Gaming / Campaign Journals / Kali's Journal (a Jade Regent Campaign) All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.