Kali's Journal (a Jade Regent Campaign)


Campaign Journals

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(late morning)

Maybe, just maybe, we have crossed a line here. I don’t know. Part of me thinks this idea was genius, while another part thinks we’re, perhaps, too eager to employ the sorts of tactics that a normal society would object to. Of course, this isn’t a normal society right now and desperate times call for desperate measures. I think. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

It all started with Zosimus. Maybe that should have been a hint.

He pointed out that leaders often employ body doubles when they have to appear in public as a form of misdirection. While having Ameiko travel in disguise is a sensible way to keep her hidden, it does encourage the Five Storms, or whoever might be watching, to look more closely for her and there’s only so long we can win that game. Ameiko traveling in disguise alongside a body double, on the other hand, shows them exactly what they are expecting to see. The best way to fool someone is to get them to fool themselves. Zos suggested—and this is where things got weird—that he could, um, reshape a corpse to make it appear like Ameiko. And then animate it.

He was thinking of the body of the dead man we brought back with us, but that was out of the question because Qatana and I were going to raise him. So that left only one reasonable option. For varying definitions of “reasonable”.

“So. Where’s the city morgue?”

Everyone turned to look at me.

“Well, where else are we going to find a corpse?” Without making one ourselves, that is.

Ameiko objected rather strenuously at first, and she eventually only agreed to this—reluctantly, I might add—if said body would receive a proper burial afterwards. Qatana, in contrast, found the whole idea hilarious, and she was all too eager to make the supply run. In retrospect, this probably should have been a hint, too.

So now we have, not one, but two dead men. It has just been that kind of day.

Our assassin took a shot at one of us again, though this time with a lot less flash. Dasi was out shopping for enchanting supplies and our friend just happened to have tied up the owner of the shop he was visiting. Which is a pretty amazing coincidence, since it would mean that he either knew our plans in advance, or spotted Dasi, correctly guessed where he was headed, and then both formed and executed a plan on the spot before Dasi got there. Either one is a pretty impressive feat.

He tried to poison Dasi. Or, more accurately, he tried to get Dasi to poison himself. Dasi figured out that something was wrong and didn’t fall for it. I have to wonder, though: why so coy? Why not just be direct and get it over with? Maybe openly murdering someone in a crowded market attracts too much attention.

In what’s become a daily routine, I spied on him again after Dasi had returned and filled us in on the day’s events. This time our would-be assassin was meditating in a darkened room, so it seemed like a good time to interrupt.

I have to admit I am curious. How big of a price is it?

Without opening his eyes, he said, “You would be amazed.”

Wow! I. Am. Flattered. It is hard to believe we are worth all this trouble.

I tried to get him to talk a bit more about the contract, but he wasn’t having it. All I got was, “I know where you’re going to be.”

At the time, I thought he was referring to our meeting with the Three Monkeys, but now I am not so sure. Would he risk offending the other clans by coming after us there? He might. Or, maybe he knows about the Fort. Or, maybe, just maybe, he knows about the Nine Pawns and their plans at the resort. It’d be pretty smart of him to wait until after we had spent our resources fighting someone else. This is something to keep in mind.

(night)

On a hunch, Qatana tried her “nightmares” spell a little early tonight and got him right away. Hahahaha! There is no escape!

We got Dasi in on our act. Both he and Qatana tried to spy on him this afternoon. Qatana’s worked; Dasi’s didn’t. She saw him dressed as a longshoreman, working down at the docks. He was meeting with someone who has been feeding him information. All in all it’s not surprising that he has a network of contacts, but it is a good reminder that anyone we have to interact with may be supplying him information. Assuming he wasn’t exaggerating about how much money he stands to gain, he can afford to spend a small fortune to keep tabs on us.


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Sarenith 8, 4713 (night, Enganoka)

Their meeting with the Three Monkeys went on without any interruptions. Our primary concern, of course, was that our assassin friend would invite himself to the proceedings, but he didn’t even leave his bed. I know that because part of our plan was for me to start scrying on him after they left so that I could provide adequate warning in case he turned up. Instead, I got a view of a dark room with him sound asleep. I immediately told Qatana about this, who sent another batch of nightmares his way. He went from a calm, peaceful slumber to tossing and turning as I watched. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of knowing you are making a difference in peoples’ lives.

According to the others, the three ninja clans are generally…apolitical, but are willing to make an exception for us because the Jade Regent has a scorched earth style of management. What’s bad for the country as a whole is also bad for them. But there’s a catch, because there’s always a catch. And that catch is: they can’t enter into a formal agreement or contract with us until this matter with the assassin is concluded. They will not interfere with another clan’s contract, even one from the Oni’s Mask. Assuming he’s not going to just give up, and we’re not just going to roll over and die, that pretty much means we have to either kill or permanently incapacitate him. Good times.

The cost of doing business with them is going to be steep. Five thousand gold to each clan just to for that clan to stay neutral, and four times that if we actively want their involvement. We have a lot of money, yes, but not enough to hire all three. So we’re going to have to choose who gets to play, and who has to sit on the sidelines. Personally, I’d prefer the Emerald Branch over the other two since they at least seem to be driven by a moral code, but I am only one voice in the chorus.

We raised the merchant from the market tonight. Qatana started things off by rudely announcing, “I would rather perform the ceremony in private, with only those who tried to help the deceased present.” I mean, I get it, but deliberately antagonizing everyone in this manner is not going to make things better. I held my tongue, again, and silently went to her room for the ceremony.

The pale blue diamond we acquired crumbled away to dust as the merchant awoke with a gasp.

“I have some good news and I have some bad news,” Qatana said. “Which would you like to hear first?”

His name is Kimoto Kiomasu, and he was from the village of Kokomugi which is apparently not to far from here (and, I might add, quite real). We’re going to check on it in the morning, but he’s pretty convinced that it’s been razed to the ground. For someone who just lost all of his friends, his family, and most recently his own life, he was taking it quite well. I am pretty sure that’s because he’s still in shock. I think it’s going to be a rough morning.


Would like to find out what Kimoto Kiomasu's answer was . . . .


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Ask and ye shall receive:
This is the raw and mostly unedited scene that took place over email, with our GM playing Kiomasu of course. It is a little rough and ends abruptly.

He stared wild-eyed at Qatana, like his brain is struggling to make sense of too many things at the same time. “Oh, by the gods… I… was… Did I dream it? I have a fading memory of… no… no, it’s gone.  What is that you say? If there is news, I better hear it, does it matter which comes first?  But right now I think, on second thought… I… oh, I don’t remember feeling half of these aches and pains before… what were you saying again?"

Qatana answered, grimly. "Well, the good news is that you have a really good excuse to go back home and visit your family. Now. Right now. Some other good news is that you are alive. That brings us 'round to the bad news. There was about twenty four hours there where you weren't. You know, alive.

"What was your name, again?"

“I… I am Kimoto Kiyomasu. I…” He swallows hard and looks straight at Qatana. “Was it true, my memory of the Daikan Tetsuku confronting me in the market? Oh… you said I was dead. So…”

His eyes defocus as he looks into the vague distance past Qatana, tears welling. “I left Kokomugi a month ago on a trading journey. My family, friends, home… When the soldiers said it didn’t exist, that can mean only one thing. They were, I’m certain, telling the truth. Kokomugi does not exist… any more. I wonder what my village did to displease the governor…"

Kali, who had remained silent up until now, spoke in response. "We have heard shocking stories about your governor, including that he has ordered villages burned for not meeting their tax burdens. It is even more shocking that he would extend this punishment to its residents, and go as far as to hunt them down.

"That being said, we should check on your village to be sure. If it has been razed..." Her voice trails off for a moment. She sighs sadly and then adds, "We can send you somewhere safe, here in the north, but out of reach of your daimyo. And we are sorry about  your family. And your friends."

Qatana looks at him and asks, "How far is Kokomugi from here, and in which direction? If you could sketch a simple map with directions from here to there my friend and I can go check it out."

She turns to Kali. "Someplace safe... are you thinking Sokakabe, or maybe someplace more remote, like an island?"

"I'm thinking the fortress for now," Kali said.

"The fortress?" Qatana replies, raising an eyebrow dramatically, "That's an interesting choice, given that it may be attacked. But a trip there will give me a chance to set up some defensive spells around the perimeter."


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Sarenith 9, 4713 (small hours, Enganoka)

Late last night, Dasi used his spell to learn more about our assassin, feeding into it all we have learned over the past few days. What he got back was a portrait of loneliness.

Kaibuninsho—the only name he is known by—comes from an unassuming background and a family of no particular significance. He grew up in Sakakabe where he built a reputation for himself as a talented spy. Eventually, he was recruited as a ninja into the Oni’s Mask clan where he branched out from espionage to assassination. From that point on he withdrew from the world, living as an island in the sea.

He’s a man who has no one and nothing. All there is to his life is what he does: the next contract, the next kill, and the waiting between them. The only thing he cares about is making others miserable. It’s rumored he even moved against members of his own clan when it suited his purpose. At least Kimandatsu had friends.

How do people live like that? Why do they even bother living at all?

(night, Seinaro Heikiko)

Kiomasu’s village was little more than blackened remains. We descended into a patchwork of char and ash that bordered a mass grave. This was Sennaka’s leadership, laid bare.

The story Kiomasu told us was unfortunately not new. Sennaka is demanding more and more from the people he rules: more money, more tribute, absolute veneration, and so on. If you don’t comply, if you even falter, his men-at-arms show up and crush you. And this isn’t just about morality: Sennaka is also a fool. Dead men and burned villages don’t pay taxes. If you want more money from your subjects, you don’t also spend that money cutting off your sources of income.

We held a brief burial service for the victims, and the man from Enganoka whose corpse served his future empress. Kiomasu is still in shock and his grieving has only begun, but only time can heal that.

We’re back at the fortress now. Kiomasu’s been temporarily settled in the growing refugee camp which Jiro and Hatsue set up to house villagers that are likely to be in the path of the looming attack. We have a couple of days before we need to meet the Nine Pawns at the resort, and if we’re here we can at least contribute while we pass the time. Qatana will be placing wards around the courtyard and the guard posts we used to gain entry, and Olmas has some ideas to help prepare the still-untested soldiers for the battle.

Me? I reached out to Kaibuninsho again in part because I was bored, and in part because I don’t want him causing trouble for us in Enganoka. We still need to go back there to meet with the other ninja clans.

The image in my mirror resolved to show him in a nondescript room, packing for a journey. I guess word travels fast.

I just wanted to let you know that we’ve left town.

He didn’t say anything in response. This man is in serious need of a friend.

I figured, we’re all professionals here. I didn’t want you to waste your time.

He snorted in response.

I admit, I am kind of sad that you won’t talk to me anymore. I thought we had thing going on here. Plus, you look lonely. Who else do you have to talk to?

Kaibuninsho pulled out a leather pouch and unrolled it on the bed, revealing a number of vials filled with a variety of colored liquids. So this was all I was going to get from him. Idle threats.

I watched him finish packing and then let the scrying drop. I got what I needed, anyway, which is that we can forget about him for the immediate future. First, he has to figure out where we are, then he has to get here, and he can only travel so quickly. Especially when he isn’t sleeping well, something we’ll be seeing to again tonight.

While I was visiting with our would-be assassin, Dasi was spending some quality time with Sikutsu Sennaka. He used the spell from the samisen to learn what he could about the man. What he got back was that Sennaka was a famed daimyo, accomplished soldier and general, and competent naval commander. He earned that fame through a number of skirmishes and conflicts with not just other daimyos in Minkai but also other nations of Tian Xia, and for personally engaging on the battlefield. After the emperor went into “hiding”, the Jade Regent tasked him with maintaining order in the north and he has done so rather efficiently and ruthlessly. Though he’s only the governor of the Enganoka province, it’s an open secret that he has influence over the Sakakabe province as well as governor there is weak and easily intimidated.

Off the battlefield, Sennaka is viewed by the populace as the epitome of honor, something that we found rather surprising (though in retrospect, it explains some of what happened at the market). Less surprising? His forte is military campaigns, not administration. This is probably why he responds to problems with military force. The man only has one tool and by the gods he is going to use it.

After his magical research, Dasi got a good look at Sennaka by scrying on him. It’s a technique we’ve honed to a fine edge, and I’ve long since lost my aversion to it…in certain circumstances, anyway. Like turnabout being fair play, and people who are morally bankrupt. Dasi didn’t get much more than the man eating dinner, though, which is unsurprising given the time of day. He was surrounded by his elite, samurai guard, and they were telling stories about some battle or another. Dasi tried to produce a sketch so that others could play, too, but…well, Dasi has many talents, but drawing is not one of them.

How Sennaka is able to maintain this reputation for honor is beyond me. In some ways, I think it speaks to a larger issue of class divisions within Minkai. If you are nobility, then different rules apply to you and you have the authority to harass and castigate those beneath your station. Honor is not an ethical standard here, but rather one of cultural norms. An amoral daimyo can abuse their authority without tarnishing their reputation since unwavering loyalty to one’s lord is expected, not earned. There are also plenty of ways to hide your less savory activities so that your facade stays clean and this is exactly when Sennaka is doing. Of course, a true leader is also supposed to protect their subjects, but around here it seems that bit is viewed as optional.

What’s most disturbing is that this is not the work of the Five Storms. It’s just how things are here, and it isn’t sitting well with me. At all. Olmas and Qatana are struggling with it, too. And no one really knows where Ameiko stands. I understand that she has to work within the system for now, but is this how it’s going to be when she’s on the throne? It has me worried because I can’t ignore it any more. I was lucky to not have to grow up in a caste system. Why in the names of the gods would I choose to live in a different one?


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Sarenith 10, 4713 (noon, Seinaro Heikiko)

The refugees are growing restless. I can understand that. They are living in a small tent city in the clearing behind the fort, and though that clearing is rather large it is still a lot of people in close quarters instead of their homes, dependant on others for pretty much everything. They are all here basically on faith, and faith will only get you so far. There are rumblings that the rumored attack is just that, and when that sort of talk starts spreading people make up all manner of conspiracy theories.

Of course, we know better because we have seen the message that Jiro’s men intercepted, but that’s not something we can share because I am sure there are spies among the camp. So, instead, we’ve let it slip that a small army is marching north. It’s the worst sort of lie: one of omission where the words are technically true, but the last thing Jiro needs is discord among the people he’s trying to protect. So hopefully this will put a stop to it, or at least slow it down.

I’ve sent Nihali off to scout with Qatana and Radella. Ivan and Hatsue have set out on the wind to find Sennaka’s army, and ensure it’s where we expect it to be. That leaves the rest of us here, literally minding the fort. To pass the time, Dasi used the samisen to check in on Sennaka again and saw him tinkering with his armor. You’d think Sennaka would have people to do that for him. What exciting lives soldiers must live.

Earlier this morning, Olmas asked me if I could help him with a military exercise to help train Jiro’s troops. I’ll just let that sit there for a moment.

“Can you create a realistic illusion of an enemy creature for them to fight? One that reacts to them? Or perhaps summon a creature that you can control, and prevent it from using lethal attacks?”

He wanted something they can fight for real, that would be a surrogate for an actual battle. Summoning would certainly work, but I felt uncomfortable creating a creature for the sole purpose of target practice. Granted, summoned creatures are not “real” in the metaphysical sense: they are temporary constructs which are generic members of a species, not actual beings transported from some other place. But, “real” or not, and temporary or not, they are still infused with life and experience the world through their senses, and they still feel pain. It is one thing to create life and use it to aid you in battle, and another entirely to create it merely to be destroyed. I wasn’t sure how to explain that, or why the difference mattered, so I gave him an excuse instead.

“A summoned creature would actually be dangerous. Someone could be seriously hurt, as the control I have over them is limited. An illusion, however, can be very realistic. It will smell, sound, and feel very real even if they get close enough to touch it.”

“Can you make it react to being ‘injured’?”

“If I am watching the battle, yes. It will be very convincing.”

This seemed to be good enough for his purposes. And it might actually be fun.


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Sarenith 10, 4713 (evening, Seinaro Heikiko)

We went with an ogre mage. We’ve killed so many of them now that I know how they move, fight, heal from injuries and, of course, die. That, and they serve the purpose of a supernatural foe that can still be taken down with sufficient effort. Jiro asked us to ambush one of the patrols, so I had the illusion emerge from the trees as they passed through a small clearing. From up above, I watched them form a firing line and pelt it with arrows, over and over as it advanced, shrugging off its “wounds”. The men and women scrambled to bring down their foe, several calling out in surprise and frustration, “Why aren’t these stopping it?!”, “It should be dropping!” and “It won’t die!”

I tried to keep it as real as possible. They got several good shots in so I had the ogre mage collapse as it reached their positions. Then Jiro, who was observing from somewhere nearby, called out that it was a training exercise and we all returned to the fortress to debrief.

“Real oni will be a lot like this,” Olmas said. “They can shake off attacks, and heal rapidly from injuries. When confronted with them, you want to concentrate your fire and stay focused on one target at a time.”

While good advice, it is in all honesty probably not enough. Without magic weapons, most oni just aren’t going to go down very easily. But, the exercise was as much about mindset as it was tactics: weapons won’t matter if they can’t even keep their wits about them in the fight. On that front, Jiro had obviously trained them well. I was actually quite surprised at how quickly they recovered from the initial shock of the “attack” and how disciplined they were in coordinating their defense. Maybe they’ll actually live through this rebellion.

Radella and Olmas plan on a nighttime exercise, too, by surprising the guards pretty much the same way we ambushed the previous occupants: with a sneak attack on the guard posts up above. That sort of thing takes some serious mettle because while the two of them can hold back enough to make non-lethal strikes, Jiro’s men won’t be in on the secret and they will be swinging flor blood. Radella and Olmas can more than handle themselves, obviously, but…anyone can get lucky and I certainly wouldn’t want to be skewered as part of a training exercise. Hopefully this little stunt will not get out of hand.

Ivan and Hatsue returned and informed us that Sennaka’s army is exactly where we expected them to be. He’s traveling with a small battalion of about 200 soldiers. Either he takes his personal security very seriously, or he’s compensating for feelings of inadequacy. We expect him to arrive at the resort in three days. We’ll be there tomorrow afternoon to ensure we are ready for him.

Sarenith 11, 4713 (late afternoon, Shuryo Onsen)

We have our first meeting with the Nine Pawns tonight. I told Nihali what we needed, and sent her to perch on the roof of the resort. After a couple of hours one of the former samurai, disguised as a tradesman, approached her.

“What are you doing here, little raven? Are you lost? Are you looking for shiny things?”

“I’m not lost,” she answered.

“Is your home in the woods?”

“West of here. We arrived early.”

Nihali said he seemed unfazed talking to a magical creature in the form of a bird. That is good news, as it means we won’t have to waste time convincing them of our capabilities, or getting them to take us seriously. So, points to Itsuru for getting that message across.

“They’d like to go over things,” she added.

“Under cover of night.”

So now we wait.

Kaibuninsho spied on us a couple more times, once last night and today a little over an hour ago. We’re moving around again, so he’s going to have to make a decision: continue to try and play catch-up, or make a guess as to where we’re going to be at some point in the future and then get there first. When I checked in on him myself yesterday, he was poking around the tea house and learned we hadn’t been there in a while.

He looked like he hadn’t gotten much sleep the previous night. Qatana’s spell caught him in the small hours that morning (and then again late last night).

(night, Shuryo Onsen)

S!#~! We don’t have much time. We’re going as soon as Radella, Ivan and Zosimus get back which I hope is very, very soon.

I checked in on Kaibuninsho and he’s in a refugee camp of some sort and at first I was like, “there are so many of those, it could be anywhere” but while talking that out it dawned on us that there’s one at the fortress. So now―

They’re back!


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(late night, Seinaro Heikiko)

We got him!

We packed up camp and were standing in the shrine room of the fortress in just shy of 10 minutes. I brought most of the group with me, and Ivan brought the rest using a spell that teleported himself and the others to his designated sanctuary…which he had just happened to name here.

The conversation I spied on between Kaibuninsho and the other refugees was not 15 minutes old which meant he was probably still out there. We gathered Jiro and Hatsue and hastily explained the situation, then with a combination of magical disguises and invisibility, we went hunting. I stayed in the air above the crowd, waiting for Dasi and Hatsue to sweep the encampment for hostile intent. It took time, and there looked like there might have been a potential false start, but they managed to find someone who was hiding their true intentions. Someone who felt like our man. I descended just close enough to see without giving myself away―no one ever looks up―and recognized his disguise. It was him.

I hit him with a spell to anchor him to the material plane. There would be no quick escapes this time. Bathed in a glowing green light, he was now an obvious beacon to the others, and Radella was on top of him in seconds with Olmas and Hatsue close behind.

Kainbunshisho looked terrible and it was not just part of his disguise. He had clearly not slept well in several days, almost certainly thanks to the nightly deluge of nightmares we had sent his way. Wanting to make the most of this, I hit him with another spell, this one leaving him physically exhausted. Within seconds he was surrounded, blinded, and unable to escape. Ivan dealt the killing blow.

And just like that, it was over.

Only now we have a new problem, this one potentially much bigger than the assassin, himself. He was carrying what Dasi called a “fuhonsen”―an ancient, Tian coin that no longer has a monetary face value but is prized by collectors and sometimes worn as a charm. This particular one, however, is much, much more than that. I went to examine its magical aura and it was like reading the sun. It’s an artifact. A minor one, granted, but an artifact nonetheless. This went a long way to explaining Kaibuninsho’s bag of tricks. He had very powerful help.

Dasi used a spell to learn more about it. According to legend, it was the first coin used as payment for a ninja’s services in Minkai. Over generations it has become infused with magic, its powers emblematized by the symbols on each side. It would be a boon for us in more ways than one, except there’s a catch. Because there’s always a catch.

Now that I was prepared for it, I was able to work out its talents after studying it a bit more carefully. And I uncovered some very nasty surprises.

"As Dasi's spell told us, each of these symbols represents a...ninja-related skill, for lack of a better term...and corresponds to a power granted by the coin. The two blank spaces on the reverse side of the coin are powers that have not yet been…developed. Assuming they are worthy—and I’ll get to that in a minute—the coin creates a new power that is related to a skill embodied by its new owner,” I explained.

Its potential powers are not set. They represent a relationship between the coin and its owners: past, present and future.

“The bad news is, you must excel at all of these skills, and you must excel at a skill of your own, for the coin to find you ‘worthy’ as an owner.”

I could see a couple of my friends were about to ask the obvious question, so I answered it preemptively. “It decides what that means. I can’t put it into words. But I do know this: you are judged at the new moon. If you are not found worthy by then? It vanishes and seeks out a new owner.”

I slumped back in my chair and sighed heavily. I was suddenly very, very tired. “The really bad news is…that it has a corrupting influence on its owner. The process can take months, possibly a couple of years, but it slowly pulls your heart towards darkness.”

And therein lays the problem.

We can’t take possession of it because using it would, eventually, corrupt the owner. We can’t keep it out of circulation because it will seek out an owner if it’s not claimed. We can’t destroy it because, according to legend, only a sovereign dragon can do that and we don’t have any of those on hand. And we shouldn’t sell it because that will put it in the hands of someone who will most likely become a problem for Minkai in the future. Oh, and legend also says that a great calamity will befall the world once its full powers are realized, which is just two owners away.

So, we are completely screwed. There is just no good answer here.

We argued over this for what felt like hours. Do we keep it and take our chances, until we find a way to destroy it? Do we sell it to one of the ninja clans, turning it loose on the world with even more power? Do we just let it vanish, and hope it doesn’t turn up in the next few generations?

I don’t know what we should do.


My thoughts...from Kali's description it only teleports away to find a new bearer if it doesn't think the current one is worthy. Didn't say it teleports away if nobody is wearing it after a set time.

Unless it means it makes a judgement every new moon based on it's current situation. If it's this...well...you're screwed.

If it's not though...teleport it into space.


^And if you can't do that, put it in a strongbox thoroughly lined with lead and noqual. Actually, maybe enclose it anyway, because if you teleport it into space without proper containment, it is probably just going to find its way down onto the nearest world.


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From the description the GM gave us, it's not exactly clear happens at the New Moon if it's not "claimed" and there's not really anyone we can ask. We're more worried about losing track of it than anything else.

I have a whole rant about why I hate this item from a game design perspective, but it mostly boils down to: it's really obnoxious to drop an artifact into a game and then slam the door on all of the players' options for dealing with it while also putting it on a timer. This sort of thing is great in literature; not so much in a cooperative game.

We did come up with a reasonable plan, however though it wasn't without consequence. <INSERT FORESHADOWING HERE>


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Sarenith 12, 4713 (morning, Shuryo Onsen)

I don’t know how I am going to pull off this charade today while I am sick to my stomach. It’s been several hours now and Qatana still hasn’t returned, and I have no idea what’s going on with her. I’ve got this sinking feeling that she’s just not coming back.

When I came into the dining hall this morning most of the others were already there and they were still mulling over what to do about the coin. Which means we’ve made no progress since I went to bed last night when we were waffling over whether to sell it to one of the clans, try to take possession of it, or just hold on to it for the next couple of weeks while we figure out what to do. That last one is basically just stalling; avoiding making the decision because that’s easier than agreeing on one. And who knows? Maybe we’ll figure something out. Before he turned in, Dasi said something about researching sovereign dragons which means the plan could conceivably be: find where one lives, drop in for a visit and ask it politely if it wouldn’t mind eating a minor, evil artifact.

If that sounded absurd then, it seemed even more so this morning. Qatana came into the room in the middle of that discussion and I guess she had finally had enough. “This is ridiculous,” she said. And then she vanished.

She didn’t turn invisible—I would have still seen her—so she was definitely gone. Knowing what I know about her spells? She must have shifted to some other plane. It’s the only explanation that fits. I imagine this was her way of expressing her opinion on the debate.

At the time I just figured she wanted a break from it all, but after an hour or so went by and we were getting ready to leave and there was still no sign of her? That’s when I started worrying. Still, she knew where we were headed and when we’d be there, so I thought to myself, Maybe she’ll just catch up with us later, but of course now it’s later and there’s still no Qatana.

I know she has been unhappy with how events have played out, and given her history she has little tolerance for what we’ve seen since our arrival here. The past few days have been a poison in the air, choking the life out of us and maybe she is just done with it all. I guess there’s a part of me that would not be surprised if that were so, and perhaps has even wondered why she’s stayed as long as she has. She spent the worst part of her life in a city where people were frequently indulgent of the worst of humanity. Here, they are willfully ignorant of it because their society values doctrine over ethos; it’s codified into their culture and leafed in gold. The ideal is that you become a good servant, not that you serve good.

A few do manage to rise above this. Certainly Jiro. The Nine Pawns as well (though classism is alive and well there). They see blind adherence to this archaic code of honor for what it is: an easy way out of personal and societal responsibility. As long as you can say you are doing your duty, you don’t have to make any hard choices. It’s a system that lets people like Sennaka commit atrocities with legal authority and no consequences. How messed up is that?


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Sarenith 12, 4713 (late afternoon, Shuryo Onsen)

One of the Nine Pawns gave Dasi and me a tour of the resort under the guise that we were artisans hired to do something-or-other as part of the renovations. We didn’t really have a story beyond me being a sculptor and Dasi being…whatever it was he was supposed to be. Because, really, no one cared. We looked a part and that’s all that mattered. What few workers even paid attention to us probably just figured “they’re here to do a thing” and never gave it a second thought.

Radella, Ivan and Zosimus stayed behind because they took the self-guided version last night while I was casting my spell to eavesdrop on Kaibuninsho. The point of doing all this was to get familiar with the facility, figure out where Sennaka would most likely be spending his time, and where guards would likely be stationed. That took us all of about 10 minutes, but to avoid suspicion we needed to stretch it out. It took Radella & Co. quite a bit longer, mostly because they were skulking around in the dark trying not to be seen.

Like most luxury properties in Minkai, this one sports shoji walls and doors. Paper is great for interior lighting but lousy on privacy. I can’t imagine trying to have an intimate moment with someone when you can literally be heard, and possibly seen, from across the building. Not that this is going to be an issue for me personally—I don’t have time for that sort of thing, even if there were someone around to provide an opportunity—but that’s not really the point. Though I guess if you can afford to build your house out of washi paper, you can afford to pay people to pretend to look the other way.

We meet with the Nine Pawns again tonight to finalize the details for tomorrow now that we have a rough idea of how we’re going to pull this off. It won’t require precise timing but if our parts are more than a couple of minutes out of alignment we’ll either be facing a prepared Sennaka or a rather large and presumably violent army. Back when it was just them, the samurai were arranging events such that they’d have their best possible shot at taking down their ex-daimyo, but they didn’t really expect to succeed or live through the attempt. We intend to do both, so we need to make sure everyone knows their part.

There’s still no word from Qatana.

Sarenith 13, 4713 (morning, Shuryo Onsen)

Qatana’s sending came early this morning. “Cannot support Ameiko. In Magnimar. Found group setting out on grand sea voyage and may join. Will keep contact if you desire. Pookie says ‘hi.’

The problem with this spell is that it catches you flat-footed. You’re busy doing your thing and then surprise! There’s a voice in your head that isn’t yours, followed by a mental sandpaper that chafes until you reply.

So this was it. How do you respond to something like this? In two dozen words when you aren’t able to gather your thoughts?

Magnimar?! Fast trip. Was afraid you were leaving for good. Understand why though. Will miss you. Stay in touch. Tell Pookie, ‘waiting for your novel.’

The latter was an old, inside joke, but I guess she didn’t remember it.

Take care of yourself. Watch your back. Just realized I have lots of wands and diamond dust in pack. Pookie says, ‘Book is good idea!’

So, yeah, she is not coming back. Damnit!

______________

So, about that...:
Qatana's player quit the game. It wasn't quite a rage-quit, but they did leave rather abruptly. They had been unhappy for a while and the encounter at the market and this thing with the coin became the final straws. They were never really excited about this particular AP to begin with, but figured they would enjoy it if they had an interesting enough character to play. That worked for a while—46 game sessions in three-and-a-half years—but as the AP got closer and closer to the end, the handling of Ameiko and the NPCs started to get on their nerves enough that it stopped being fun.

There are a lot of complaints about this AP and the way it manages the NPCs and I believe those are justified. While I don't quite agree that the NPC's are Mary Sue characters, it is true that the AP does a poor job of making and keeping them relevant. The problem here is that they don't really have any meaningful roles except to serve as a connection to the PC's. As the AP progresses, the future becomes more important than the past, and those connections lose their importance. Even Ameiko, who is central to the story, is not really given anything to do. She exists only to be rescued in books 1 and 2, is sidelined and all but ignored in books 3 and 4...and then suddenly, in book 5, is thrust forward as someone for the people of Minkai to rally around. That change is jarring, and IMHO it's handled badly. In theory, the GM can address all this, but one of the reasons we choose AP's is that we don't have a lot of time to spend on custom campaigns; AP's make it easier to juggle gaming with a career and a family. It's not unreasonable to expect the AP to do the heavy lifting.

All that being said, I and the other players are still having fun. It really comes down to a matter of preference: if the above is not a deal-breaker, then you accept it and move on. Part of why the AP works for Kali is that Ameiko is her official NPC relationship (surprisingly, I was the only one who made this choice) and her entire character concept was built around it. This makes me more heavily invested than most.

Though Qatana was a frequently disruptive character, we're going to miss her and her player at the table. It is sad to see her go.


That's unfortunate. Maybe they'll return for the next one.


Our group's been playing since February of 2003, so yeah, it was was a sad moment. They'll return for the next one, but that's probably another 8 to 12 months away.


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(afternoon, Shuryo Onsen)

Calling this a “plan” is being fairly generous. They literally want to just pop inside and start swinging. I don’t want to say it’s insane, but it certainly lacks our usual subtlety. Normally we take the time to come up with something a bit more sophisticated that doesn’t have us fighting everything at the same time, but for some reason they’re all hot for this new approach.

“I could summon something native to this region. An animal large enough to get their attention without being suspicious,” I offered.

“Why? Save the spell.”

“Don’t we want a distraction?” I asked

“Why bother?”

Well, OK then. Plan “Big Dumb Fight” it is.

Equally dubious is this obsession with giving Sennaka a chance to surrender honorably. When the idea was first floated I thought they meant “before we executed him”, which made a lot of sense to me. But what they actually mean is “right at the start” which seems…unwise. He has no reason to be afraid of us, so it’s just going to give him free time to prepare when he should be dodging steel. But I’m just part of the supporting cast here so it’s not my call. His guards are all fair game from the get-go, so I’ll be busy, anyway.

(night, Seinaru Heikiko)

Operation “Big Dumb Fight” was both big and dumb, as predicted. It also put me in the middle of the action, where I had to cast my spells while people were swinging in my face. I am not kidding: at times I had to completely ignore the person trying to kill me because I had more important things to do. But it worked and Sikutsu Itsuru has been informed of his brother’s untimely death. I am sure lots of tears were shed at the news.

Amazingly, Sennaka’s army literally just stopped fighting after word had spread. I have never seen anything like it. Even the guards we were engaged with—the ones that weren’t oni that is, as most of those fled half-way throughstopped and pledged allegiance to Itsuru right there on the spot once we told them he was their new daimyo. It seems no one was willing to fight to defend the name of a dead man that they didn’t like very much. And by “very much” I mean “at all”.

All of them knew he openly consorted with demons. It’s kind of nuts when you think about it. The implication is the only thing really keeping Sennaka alive was their oaths to defend him. Gods, this country.

Tomorrow we are paying Itsuru a visit ahead of our second meeting with the Three Monkeys. We’re hoping he can help subsidize the plan to buy the support of the Emerald Branch and the neutrality of the other two, because it would practically bankrupt us to do it ourselves. If he cares at all about the future of the country we are trying to take back, he’ll find a way to pitch in. Especially since we did the heavy lifting that put him in the governor’s seat.

From this it should be obvious that we are not going to be using the coin as either a bargaining chip or a fundraiser. We don’t want it to end up being used against us, and we don’t want to lose track of it, so that only leaves trying to claim it. A couple of us are potentially good fits for the skills that are emblemized on it, so we’re going to give it a go. If it works, then we buy all the time we need. The only catch is the stain on the soul, but Koya can intercede with Desna if necessary to undo any damage…so long as the new owner doesn’t get carried away.

Yeah, it’s risky, but what else can we do?

____________

We never, ever do a straight-up fight if we can avoid it, and I still don't know why this was the plan.


All that was missing was for somebody to say "Sometimes finesse is no substitute for brute force".

As for the evil coin, I'd say put it in a strongbox lined with lead and noqual, and then keep very good track of the box.


UnArcaneElection wrote:
All that was missing was for somebody to say "Sometimes finesse is no substitute for brute force".

The journal and obituary threads are littered with the bodies of PC's who went in through the front door. :)


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Sarenith 14, 4713 (late afternoon, Enganoka)

One of Itsuru’s more immediate problems is that there are dozens if not hundreds of oni infesting his province. It’s like finding weevils in your pantry. Sennaka used them for his personal guard, as his advisors, and of course to project his power when exacting punishment on his subjects so they are quite literally everywhere. Since several of his guard ran away from the fight that removed him from power—and from this world—it’s a good bet that most of the oni up north learned of the regime change long before we had a chance to spread the news ourselves. The rabbits smelled blood on the wind and went to ground, and now Itsuru has to root them all out.

I met with his court wizard. He is capable enough, and he has the right spells, so he should be able to see those oni that are relying on a human appearance to escape notice. That is half of the battle, but unfortunately it is also the easier half as all it requires is a modest sum of gold and a bit of time. The tricky part will be taking action once the veils are lifted; the kind of action that proves fatal, but without spooking the others into running.

Itsuru actually came up with a pretty good plan for that and I honestly wish I could be there for some of it because there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of killing an oni. Except maybe tricking them into walking up the gallows and putting the noose around their own necks, then killing them. Which is more or less what he has in mind. I can’t believe I’ll be missing out on all the fun, but I guess we have larger matters to attend to.

One of those matters was, apparently, making treasure maps from Sennaka’s skin, as has become a grotesque custom of ours. That Itsuru actually agreed to this was pretty stunning, but then again Itsuru was, himself, stunned to find the ancestral weapon of the Higashiyama family sitting in the Sikutsu family vault. So Sennaka had been keeping all manner of secrets, and I guess Itsuru wanted to know if there were others. (There weren’t.)

Our meeting with the Emerald Branch is tonight. Thanks to Itsuru’s generosity, we have a bit more money to spend which means we can actually afford to hire one of the ninja clans. We universally agreed that, if we are going to do this then we should go with the good guys; unlike the others, the Emerald Branch is more of a vigilante group. That’s something that is near and dear to us since vigilantism is pretty much our whole thing. That, and presumably they have Minkai’s best interests at heart, and are thus motivated only somewhat by money.

Dasi spent a good part of the day making good on his promise to research sovereign dragons. There’s a whole nation in Tian Xia that’s ruled by one, of course, but that’s probably a bit impractical so he’s looking for something closer to home. He uncovered a bit of mythology (or perhaps history?) that was interesting, but nothing that brought us any closer to our goal. So that particular search goes on.


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(night)

This stupid coin is causing all manner of grief and I am itching to be rid of it. While the Emerald Branch was more than happy to accept our payment for their support, their representative spent a lot of time pelting Dasi with questions that suggested they knew more about Kaibuninsho’s secret than they were letting on. How did he acquire such magical talent? Did he have any unusual items or talismans? And on and on. Eventually Dasi just had to tell them that we weren’t spilling all the details because we are not idiots, though he used more diplomatic terms.

Their parting comment was a warning to us about items of power having motives of their own, and to be careful. Everyone’s an expert. While I won’t be so bold as to claim that we know what we’re doing, we do know what we are dealing with so we are in a better position to be handing out advice. Especially since I did the gods-be-damned work that got us there. But, sure, go ahead and share your copious wisdom, gleaned from rumors, legend, and hand-me-down stories. I am sure that’s all very valuable.

To be fair, they do want what’s best for Minkai, and that includes us not becoming the enemy. And, they are the good guys so their motives are genuine. But, still, we didn’t get where we are by being careless so is it too much to ask that you give us the benefit of the doubt?

On the up side, they offered their services for half their originally quoted price, which was pretty stunning and equally generous. Our direct involvement in the coup that put Itsuru in power seems to have gone over well with them. It’s nice when things randomly go right.

Call me a pessimist, though; I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.


. . . . or waiting for the other coin to drop?


We dropped a lot of coins, all right...


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Sarenith 15, 4713 (night, Seinaru Heikiko)

The other shoe dropped. Twice.

Both the Dragon Shadow and the Black Lotus clans upped their fees, significantly, after they learned we had hired one of their rivals. They actually used that word, “rival”, despite the fact that the three representatives get together once a month for a dinner date. Supposedly, we had “altered the terms of the original agreement”, despite the fact that there were no such terms. Dasi was able to talk one of them down a bit, but the other would not budge.

I guess we should have reversed the order. But it’s done. We have one clan on our side, and the other two on the sidelines.

Tomorrow we head towards Kasai. That’s about several weeks or months sooner than we were expecting, as the original plan was to wait for Itsuru to consolidate his power here in the north while Jiro raised and trained an army to stand behind Ameiko. That all changed when Itsuru sent to Jiro and asked if “her majesty had received the blessings of the old emperors yet?” To which we all were like, “Huh?” Because I am pretty sure they are all dead.

So that would be a “no”.

We turned to Dasi for an explanation, and even he sounded uncertain. Supposedly there is this shrine on an island near Kasai, and all emperors must visit there to pray for the blessings of a bunch of ghosts. Or something. This culture gets weirder by the day.

We have no idea what we’re going to find there because of course no one knows anything about it save for the past emperors of Minkai, and they are all dead and thus not talking. It also seems like a good place for a trap since the Jade Regent knows about us, about Ameiko, and it’s a fair bet he also knows the same stories. So the plan is for us to go on ahead (with the Seal, just in case it comes up on this little errand), make sure it’s reasonably safe, and then teleport back to get Ameiko in the hopes that we can avoid unpleasant surprises.


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Sarenith 16, 4713 (late morning, Seinaru Heikiko)

The unpleasant surprise came to us. Several oni and their fire giant lackies attacked the fortress this morning, rudely interrupting breakfast. Unlike the oni we’ve dealt with in the past, these were no pushovers and it took a bit of effort to bring them down, especially with our spells bouncing harmlessly off them. So the Jade Regent is finally taking us seriously, and has stopped sending in his second stringers.

The fire giants, as it turns out, were just hired help. How do you hire a giant? Is there some job fair where you can go to find fire giants that are looking for work? Do you put up enormous “Now hiring!” signs in the mountains? Maybe being the errand boy for a fire yai oni is a coveted position. I am sure they thought this was going to be an easy gig where they smash a bunch of humans and then go home with whatever it is a giant takes for payment. And they certainly did manage to kill a few of Jiro’s troops, but only one of them will be returning and he wasn’t in the mood to talk about his career goals.

Speaking of Jiro’s troops, they performed surprisingly well especially considering what they were up against. Though they did have some help from Shalelu and Ameiko, his archers nearly took down one of the giants on their own while we were tangling with the atamahuta oni and their fire yai leader. It’s not easy seeing people die defending your cause, but the rest of the budding soldiers here are looking ahead, not behind. To them it’s not a somber moment, but rather a cause for celebration and those that died will be remembered for their commitment, sacrifice, and accomplishments. It’s a little weird, celebrating someone’s death, but I understand where they’re coming from. It’s not often you can say, “we repelled an attack from giants, demons, and giant demons”.

Radella is taking possession of the coin and it was a little unsettling seeing a new symbol appear as it accepted her. So here we go. This will buy us the time we need to figure out how to get rid of the damn thing.


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Sarenith 16, 4713 (night, Seinaru Heikiko)

We put our trip to Kasai off a day so that we could celebrate tonight with Jiro’s army. I was a little too anxious for a party, but we needed to be seen along with Ameiko so I stuck it out until people stopped caring about who was where and then called it a night. Of course privacy is close to impossible here especially with half the countryside still living in the back yard, but any change from throngs of people was a big improvement.

This whole celebration thing feels premature to me. Yes, we repelled a fairly significant attack, but all the Jade Regent has to do is send another oni or two up here after we’re gone and Jiro will be doing more than repairing the gate. Of course, the theory everyone is working under is that the Jade Regent cares about the more immediate problem which is us, not this place—the ramblings of the atamahuta oni implied as much (there are so many kinds of oni it’s like bird watching; someone should write a book)—and it’s not like he has an unlimited supply of heavyweights to throw at it, but I can’t help but worry. One skirmish is not the war. It’s not wise to celebrate too much until after it’s over and you know you’ve won. Gods know plenty of the villains in this saga have gloated to our faces only to learn that they were horribly, terribly, and fatally wrong.

This business in Kasai seems premature, too. Everything we’ve done up here in the north has been about building Ameiko’s support slowly and carefully, allowing the rebellion to grow organically. What’s the point of all that if we end up racing towards a confrontation with the Jade Regent now? Yes, I know the goal here is to get some blessing from the past emperors of Minkai, however that works, but Kasai is right there. Once we’re in the city, will it be so easy to leave if it is as bad off as we’ve been led to believe? And if my suspicions are correct and the Jade Regent has laid a trap for us on the island, what then? Our arrival is not going to be something we can hide.

I realize we don’t have unlimited time, but the Enganoka province is still in turmoil, and Sakakabe isn’t faring much better. Wouldn’t it make sense to wait for things to settle down?


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". . . there are so many kinds of oni it’s like bird watching; someone should write a book . . ." -- win.


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Sarenith 17, 4713 (night, Kurozawa)

We spent the day sailing on the wind over Minkai, the rippling hills, farms, and lush grasslands of the north giving way to the forest and marshes along the Tagiryu River. The Kyojin Mountains grew taller and more rugged with every mile. One could almost mistake this place for Elysium. All problems vanish given enough distance.

We haven't traveled in this manner since Qatana left. I can't help but wonder how she is doing, and what journey she is on with her new companions. I also can't help but wonder how they are coping, as she is so much worse now than she was when we began and they don't have the benefit of experience to help them out. Almost reflexively, I tried to imagine what it must be like for them to be...contained to a ship with her at sea, and then I realized I more or less already knew: the caravan across the Crown was little different, just longer, colder, and almost certainly less comfortable.

She said she would check in from time to time, and that I was welcome to do the same. I eventually will, assuming we live long enough, but it's too soon to do it now. For one, she needs time to adjust and settle (as do we), and for two, with our accelerated schedule we can't really afford to engage in personal indulgences. So that will have to wait. The stories will be more interesting later, anyway.

We're not far from Akafuto, which is tomorrow's port of call. We couldn't travel that far in one day, so we needed a layover and chose the first substantial village we saw as we passed into the heart of the province.

Hatsue is traveling with us. She's been to Kasai before and is pretty sure she can help us make contact with the resistance movement. And I can't believe I actually wrote those words; it reads like something from bad community theater. But regardless of how paltry it sounds, that is what it is and it is help we can use.

We're taking a slower route from this point on—visiting Akafuto for sure, and possibly another village or two in order to get a feel for the people and the politics—so Hatsue and Ivan are headed directly to Kasai tomorrow morning. Why her and Ivan? She needs him for the spell we used to travel here today, and also because I think he has a crush on her.

And I can't believe I actually wrote those words, either.


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Sarenith 18, 4713 (Kurozawa, late afternoon)

Kurozawa is close enough to Akafuto not be insular but far enough away to have its own identity, and that made it nearly perfect for getting a little information on what people know of events both up north and down south. That being said, no one was particularly forthcoming when it came to the subject of Kasai so it took a bit of gentle coaxing from Dasi. The most telling comment of the day was, “At least we are up north where we’re free.”

To warm the village up to us, Dasi and I put on a few performances, mostly music and dancing inspired by stories of the old emperors. It’s the sort of thing that people love; the old stories are always the best stories (which is obstensibly why they have endured for centuries). It is also a subtle way of reminding people how the empire used to be, and how different it is now.

Rumors of an heir up north—the real north, not the relative-to-Kasai north—have made it this far but, in what was far from a surprise, no one really believes them. So Olmas chose to make a bit of a splash by calling attention to Suishen and its status as an Amatatsu ancestral weapon. (As a side point, we need to talk to him about the best way to start this sort of conversation. Talking to a young child then asking them if they wanted to “see his sword” lacked prudence.) Suishen, for once, actually supported that by calling attention to himself. (As another side point, we need to talk to Suishen about that, too. Scaring the s#%% of a young child that isn’t expecting a talking sword lacked common sense.)

I had to go pick up Ivan at, of all places, the fortress. The plan was for him to meet us in Akafuto, but that plan did not survive even five minutes in Kasai. He and Hatsue were both okay, but to quote Ivan, “Wind walking into Kasai is a bad idea.” After dropping Hatsue off so that she could enter the city on two feet like a normal person, he tried to keep an eye on her from above. He was spotted right away, and the very organized response included marking his position with magical lights so that the archers on the ground knew where to shoot.

We got hints of this sort of thing from the villagers here. Not Ivan specifically, but on the regimented, militaristic lifestyle that has enveloped Kasai. The other quote of the day was, “The emperor loves order.”


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Sarenith 19, 4713 (Akafuto, noon)

Akafuto is the second largest port city in Minkai, a major trade hub, and home to a number of shipyards. It reminds me a lot of Magnimar that way, though of course it is much larger and significantly less…diverse.

So far, what we’ve heard from the people here doesn’t differ much from Kurozawa, though the conversations about Kasai were a bit more pointed. Today’s quote was, “Go there, keep to your business, and come back fast.” Something about large cities like this makes people more willing to speak their minds. I suppose that’s because a sense of anonymity comes from being a grain of sand in the desert.

Dasi and I repeated our performances last night at the inn where are staying. That went well, but not exceptionally so. Connecting with people who aren’t looking for a connection is always a challenge.

We head to Kasai this afternoon. From both Hatsue and the few people here that we talked to at length, we’ve learned that soldiers there—almost certainly the Typhoon Guard—are searching everyone who enters and that they are paying particularly close attention to women. Which normally would just be creepy and uncomfortable, but now is those things plus unsettling. All that means we need to enter in disguise, and specifically in mundane disguise since we don’t want to be lit up like a signal tower under a cursory inspection with magic.

The problem with mundane disguises is that they are hard to pull off, so there is quite a bit of risk here. What if one of us gets caught? Or even just taken aside for questioning? What if that happens to more than one of us? It’s that last one that worries me the most, as I’m not confident I’d be able to get to everyone to pull them out. And it would be absolutely suicidal to try and fight a bunch of guards in broad daylight in their own city.  So quite a lot is riding on what amounts to makeup and wigs.


"We must respond personally! A universal translator would be recognized!"


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(Kasai, evening)

Obviously, we made it here, though it was not without incident. We were waiting in line to enter the city when two Typhoon guards descended on a woman and interrogated her right there in the middle of the street. Through magic they either compelled or falsified her confession, and took her away. This brought back fairly ugly memories of the market in Enganoka. I don’t know what’s worse: not being able to intervene in time, or knowing that you can’t intervene at all and are forced to watch it play out.

In Akafuto they described Kasai as being under martial law. “There is heightened security there,” they said. “If you’re about peaceful, lawful business, you’re fine.” These accounts are either magical thinking or willful ignorance as Kasai is nothing short of a police state. People are questioned indiscriminately for the crime of existing. The guards rule through fear and intimidation. Punishment seems to be summary and brutal. And I don’t doubt that many or most of the people here would sell one another out to avoid having the lens turned on them.

One glance up confirmed what I suspected ever since Ivan returned: there were Typhoon Guard patrolling the skies under cover of invisibility, and probably watching the watchers. There weren’t a lot of them, but enough to form a regular patrol. It is yet one more thing to have to keep track of. It helps quite a bit that I can see them, though, and we can use this to our advantage.

Our contact for the resistance movement is Asachi Isao. He is not just an old friend of the Amatatsu family: he actually knew Ameiko’s great grandfather, and was entrusted with the bulk of the family’s wealth when they fled over the Crown of the World. Suishen actually recognized him and was practically giddy to the point where I thought maybe Olmas had brought in the wrong sword. But then Suishen made some backhanded compliment to which Isao replied, “I see you haven’t changed” and I relaxed. (It’s also nice to know that it’s not just us.)

As the footcab-in-residence, it was my job to teleport to the fortress and bring Ameiko and company back with me. As soon as she was here, Isao got down to the business of explaining just how bad the situation in Kasai really was. Because what we needed was more gods-be-damned challenges.

He broke it down like this:

— The city is experiencing food shortages, which means most of the common folk are starving. One of the primary sources of food is rice, but the Typhoon Guard has appropriated the main granary in the city and is keeping the bulk of it for themselves.

— People are questioned on the street and accused of being supportive of the rebellion. We, of course, witnessed this first-hand. The “guilty” are dragged away, interrogated, and the really unlucky ones are publicly executed.

— Daughters of several of the noble families, including Isao’s, have been taken prisoner, presumably to be used as hostages. The goal is obviously to keep the nobility in line.

So just those problems, then.

Ameiko is itching to take action. I was pretty dumbfounded by that given how she reacted to my little stunt in Enganoka, but maybe something has changed in her. Either that, or there are just too many indignities here to ignore. Either way, this translates to yet another change in plans: instead of walking into the ambush at the shrine on the island, she wants to raid the granary and liberate the rice.

I’m all for it. I reached my breaking point long ago, so any opportunity to tear down pieces of the Jade Regent’s empire is more than welcome.


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Sarenith 20, 4713 (Kasai, early morning)

Ivan, Radella and Dasi scouted the granary last night so that we’d have a better idea about what we are getting in to. So far, it doesn’t look like anything we can’t handle; it’s what comes after that will present the real challenge.

The granary itself is this enormous, marble building sitting along one of the canals on the north end of town. The front of it has massive double doors that face an open lot the size of several city blocks. Dasi says that four large statues depicting some sort of tiger stand next to them, two on either side, and they radiate magic. We put our heads together, having seen enough magical constructs in the past year, and in keeping with the local culture we are pretty sure they are taotiehs: large stone golems that swallow victims whole and trap them in an extradimensional space. These were apparently recent additions to the neighborhood, appearing about the time the Jade Regent took a direct hand in the distribution of food inside the city. To the average person this is a significant threat, though to us it’s just a matter of applying the right tool to the job.

Alas, we don’t have the right tools. Mighty though Suishen is, which is not nearly as mighty as he would lead you to believe, he is not quite up to this task so we’ve sent Isao in search of adamantine weapons. We’re not being picky: we’ll accept an adamantine anything at this point, though blades would be preferred since that’s what Olmas and Radella are used to. At first, Suishen objected to the idea that Olmas might need to use some “substandard thing” for pulling off this raid, but we have long since had enough of his hissy fits and just pointedly asked, “How do you feel about hacking into magical stone?” And that shut him up.

We’ve learned to enjoy these moments of relative peace when they come, as they are so few.

But the constructs aren’t really the problem. With the right weapons and the right spells (there aren’t many that will work on them, but I have a few tricks) we can reduce them to rubble. No, the problem will be what comes after: a warehouse full of rice is not something we can just walk away with. It will have to be loaded and distributed, and that is not a small task nor is it one that can be effectively enhanced by magic. It will require manpower and time, two things we do not have a lot of.

Our best bet is to organize a wagon brigade. One that can send in a steady stream of wagons to be loaded with as much rice as rapidly as possible, with each wagon disappearing into the night as quickly as it comes. Each of them will have to escape detection both before and after the attack. It is not a trivial order, which means we’re turning to the Emerald Branch for help. After all, we’ve paid a heavy price to put them on retainer, and by the Gods we are going to make them earn every damned copper of it.

Our long term plans are a bit murkier. There is still the Shrine, of course, but I am thinking even beyond that. What will we be facing when we stroll into the palace?

According to Isao, this whole mess started because the Jade Regent employs a Diviner, and she foresaw a daughter of the Amatatsu clan taking possession of her family’s Seal. The one Seal that he does not, in fact, already have. With all five Seals they can force the Jade Throne to accept him as a ruler, presumably because that blocks any true heirs from claiming it themselves: no Seal, no claim.

So who is the Diviner? A woman by the name of Renshii Meida. Dasi used the samisen to find out a little about her, and she comes from a long line of troublemakers. The family goes back centuries, and at one point they were loyal allies of a human warload named—surpise!—Anamurumon. He attempted to take the throne in a failed coup a few hundred years ago, and when his forces were defeated, and he was killed, the Renshii family scattered like roaches in the light. A few of the survivors went on to become geisha, some of them notable, and Meida is one of their descendants.

I checked in the journals from the House of Withered Blossoms, and the dates line up. It’s not a perfect fit from the death of Anamurumon-the-Tian-warlord to the appearance of Anamurumon-the-oni in the House of Withered Blossoms, but it’s in sequence and that’s good enough for me.

So. This is not Anamurumon’s first dance.


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(evening)

But wait! There’s more! Meida is the Jade Regent’s lover! Seriously, you cannot make this stuff up. I can’t help but think back to the journals and notes we recovered from the House of Withered Blossoms. From the day the Five Storms was first conceived, it has been plagued by infighting and backstabbing, all the way until the day they escaped. Because, of course it was, because they are oni. It’s in their nature to feud with one another and scheme and backstab. And, it took place on a grand scale, far beyond what you see even in human society. It was pervasive enough, and overt enough, and violent enough that it kept coming up. And this is what we gleaned from journals. What happened that was never recorded by their annalists?

Here’s the kicker, though: Anamurumon has always been their leader, which means he either doesn’t care what happens beneath him as long as it doesn’t affect him directly, chocks it up as a cost of doing business, or is simply unable to stop it.

I’d like to think that we can use this somehow; that we can take the pettiness and jealousy and self-centered nature of the Five Storms and get them to undermine each other. Though Meida is probably not an oni, she must know what she has gotten into and that means she is playing the same game and is cut from the same cloth. And whether or not Soto is aware of his heritage, he is still descended from one.

We asked Isao who else sits in the Jade Regent’s inner circle, and were surprised to learn of a fourth: the royal assassin, known as The Raven Prince. From the name, one can infer that he is a Tengu, but could he be an oni, too? Like Kikonu was, only, you know, less of a lunatic. I added it to my list of questions for the Emerald Branch, along with whether he works for any of the clans.

When we met with them, I didn’t even have to wait to get an answer.

“Oni? Oni… In the various tales of the Raven Prince I’ve never heard a hint of that. Tengu, yes, hence the name.”

“Is he affiliated with any of the clans? Does he have a code of honor?”

“He is known to all the clans, worked for most of them at one point or another, but never joined any. He’s been sought after for years by the highest and most powerful when debts or scores needed to be settled. I can’t speak for him directly, of course, or have personal knowledge of his state or honor, but I have no reason to doubt he holds to his sense of honor.”

“Can you get a message to him?”

“It would be easier if he was allied with us, but…there are still ways. What is your message? We will see to it and advise you of the answer. It just may take a little longer in his case.”

“I don’t have one yet,” I said. “I am just trying to understand what is possible.”

I have turned this information over in my head several times. Here’s what I’ve come to: of the four in this inner circle, he’s the odd one out. He must know who he’s dealing with, sure, but…what if this is just a job to him? What if he’s literally just hired help? That would mean he doesn’t have a personal commitment to the Five Storms. The Emerald Branch says he has a code of honor. Maybe he’s not beyond influence. Especially if he knows the honorable ninja clans of Minkai—the Oni’s Mask does not count—have either stepped aside or are actively backing us.

Isn’t that worth pursuing?

Sarenith 21, 4713 (Kasai, morning)

We go tonight. Isao has arranged the wagon brigade; the Emerald Branch will help run interference, both before and after. We’ll signal both using fireworks. The same fireworks we picked up in the Brinestump Marsh almost exactly a year ago. Like, nearly to the day. It’s strange how we’ve come full circle. Fireworks from Minkai are how this all started. Now they are the beginning of the end.


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Sarenith 22, 4713 (Kasai, small hours)

Not only did we strike at the heart of the Jade Regent’s empire of fear and control, Ivan and I also managed to spoil an abduction attempt by pulling off a daring rescue mission. I wrote the other day that this sort of thing sounds like bad community theater, but believe you me, I am beginning to understand the appeal.

It took some effort, but we crushed the constructs. The others reduced three to rubble; I turned the fourth to dust. Beyond that there is no trace of its existence; it is simply gone.

We were also lucky enough to have a patrol of Typhoon Guard stumble on the scene because destroying constructs simply did not provide the same sense of satisfaction as killing oni. As soon as they stepped into the square, hilarity ensued: the commander actually asked us to halt because we were out past curfew. Where do they come up with this stuff?

It was towards the end of the fight, as the taotieh were gone and the Typhoon Guard patrol was being hammered into paste, that Ivan came towards me and called up, “Hatsue is injured!”

He’s been using a spell to track her location and physical state; the same one he and Dasi use to monitor all of us (I assume that’s with her permission as that would be creepy otherwise; this was not the time to ask). “Tell me where to!” I said, and descended to the ground next to him. I watched him cast a spell that made his skin harden like stone.

He gave me a direction and a distance—about a half-mile and change to the northwest, I forget the exact bearing—and I said, “We’re going, now!” And by the Gods, I teleported us in the blind, aiming just 10 feet shy and hoping we wouldn’t appear on the wrong side of some wall. (In retrospect, this should not have been possible at all, but it worked. Neither of us stopped to think it wouldn’t, or wonder how and why it did, until much later.)†

We popped into the middle of a street. In the midst of three Typhoon Guard who were watching a fourth load Hatsue’s limp body into a prison wagon of sorts where a second woman lay motionless. The three Typhoon Guard around us moved to engage, but Ivan got the first shot off, sinking an arrow into the driver. Two of the oni closed in to strike but my spells protected me. Between their swings, I saw the driver pull on the reins, and the horse took off pulling the cart behind it.

Not on my watch. I maneuvered away from the Typhoon Guards and threw a wall of ice in front of the retreating cart; the horse quickly came to a halt. The two oni advanced on me again, their strikes finding my mirror images instead of me. Then the driver turned and pointed a bow and arrow at Hatsue’s head. “Leave now, or they die!

So I left…by popping behind him where he couldn’t see me. The driver paused just for a moment, thinking he had won the upper hand with this stunt. Ivan, though, had other plans and sent five arrows into his chest before he could react. The oni collapsed over his seat, his nocked arrow releasing harmlessly into the ground.

“Reach in and grab one of their hands!” I called to Ivan as the remaining guards advanced on him. I popped into the cage with the prisoners; Ivan threw up a wall of stone to block the remaining guards off. Then I reached deep into myself and found the strength to cast a teleportation spell that I did not have prepared.‡ We vanished and reappeared in the square in front of the granary that we had left only seconds before, Hatsue and the other liberated prisoner in tow.

Dead oni littered the ground. Zosimus had already set off the fireworks and the carts were on their way.

After all that had happened, I wanted to send a fairly pointed message to the Typhoon Guard. I looked at the remains in the street and suggested writing a message of defiance with their entrails (It’s more practical than you think because you can say a lot in Tien with just a couple of characters.) Dasi, however, objected to the idea. Somewhat strenuously.

“No! We don’t want people thinking we are as bad as, or worse than, the oni.”

Worse than evil spirits manifested in flesh? What, this is something we’re actually worried about?

“It’s not like they’re real people. Slaughtering oni is something the city will understand.”

The others were not convinced. So instead we burned their bodies to ash and etched the Amatatsu family seal in the stone walls of the granary. Sure, it’s still a statement, but it just doesn’t deliver the same punch.

_________________________________

This was totally a goof on everyone’s part, including the GM, as the spell was Teleport and not Greater Teleport. I offered to spend a Hero Point on it after-the-fact to make the impossible possible, but the GM graciously waved it aside. Which is good, because...

This is Kali spending a Hero Point.


Awesome. How many Hero Points remaining after all that?


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Thank you! It was one of our more exciting and dramatic sessions.

Since she spent only the one, she still had two left, though Ivan may have spent one, too (I think he did, but my notes from the session don't say). Kali is currently down to one, but that's a story for another time...


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Good stuff! Please keep them coming!


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(written in Tengu)

Quote:

To: The Honorable Ninja Known as The Raven Prince

Honored Sir,

I hope this letter finds you in good health.

I write to you today out of professional courtesy. I and my companions—I will not insult your intelligence by assuming you do not know who we are—understand that you have allied yourself with the interim caretaker of Minkai, the man Soto Takahiro, who calls himself the Jade Regent, and with his advisor and ancestor Anamurumon, the wind yai oni that was once a human warlord, and who was defeated on the battlefield centuries ago in his first failed attempt to take that which he cannot have. I will also assume that you are not surprised to hear from us. You, no doubt, have a network of informants that is every bit as competent as ours.

Our first professional courtesy is to inform you personally of Kainbuninsho’s death. You should know that we found him a worthy opponent, one who was as professional in his work as he was skilled at it. I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with him privately on several occasions, even as he was hunting us, and was most impressed by his discipline, commitment and ingenuity. So great was his talent that one would never assume that the slim, unassuming Tien man with the short, fuzzy hair, was the legendary ninja and assassin that all of Minkai came to fear. Assuming they ever got to see his true appearance, as I did.

If you were the one who hired Kaibuninsho to assassinate us, then you deserve to hear this from us personally: his death, though regrettable, was necessary. Not because of who we are or what he had been tasked to do, but because he had allowed himself to come under the influence of dark magic that was beyond the reach of mortals; an artifact that turned him in on himself and away from the world, slowly isolating him from humanity, and occasionally eschewing the code which he was taught to uphold. It is a tragedy that this happened to one so talented, but there is good news: we have ensured this artifact which was claiming him can never again taint another soul.

If you were not the one who hired Kainbuninsho, then…you should be made aware that your employers went behind your back in doing so. I know that I would certainly wish to know if my trust were betrayed in such a manner, so I am extending that courtesy to you.

I can only assume that you know Anamurumon’s history. You are no doubt aware that his centuries of imprisonment in the House of Withered Blossoms refined his lust for a country that is not his to take. Since you are known to be a man of honor I must assume you still have respect for your country and to the ninja clans in which you trained. That suggests that your relationship to Soto Takahiro and Anamurumon is purely professional, as they do not value either of those things and lust only for power and control. In short, they are your employer, and beyond your assignments you have no special obligations to one another.

We have, as you are no doubt aware, secured the support of one of the honorable ninja clans of Minkai, and secured the noninterference of the other two. These were offers that were never on the table for your patrons. And as I said at the beginning, I write to you out of professional courtesy.

I advise you to find yourself a new employer. We intend to obliterate each and every oni and oni loyalist in Minkai. We will reduce them all to something less than dust.

If you doubt that we have either the conviction or the ability to make good on that promise, then I point you to the last year of history, and the string of oni corpses we have left in our wake, from the ridiculous Kikonu who, as a yamabashi tengu, was an insult to your race (several pages of the play he was writing are enclosed; I apologize in advance for what you are about to read) to the three oni who recently met their end at Seinaru Heikiko, and whose names we did not even bother to learn because we no longer care to waste any time pretending they matter. Or if you prefer a more recent example, to the nameless, faceless Typhoon Guards that were found reduced to ash in this very city. Destroying them wasn’t even one of our objectives that night; they merely got in our way.

We have gotten so good at killing oni that it has become boring. But a gardner eradicates an ants nest not for the challenge or the thrill of the battle, but because it is a nuisance. One which is taking up space that is needed for something important.

When Anamurumon and his tiefling offspring are ground up beneath us, and their “organization” with the ridiculous name is shattered and broken, who is it that you will work for?

If I may be so bold, may I suggest the legitimate heir to the throne, Amatatsu Ameiko? She will be interested in your services once she has taken her place atop it. There will be numerous challenges for the new emperor to overcome. Minkai is infested with oni today, and they hide in plain sight in the form of real people, human and tengu, alike. When they go to ground, it will take tremendous skill to root them out and send them back to the spirit world. Some of them may even have inserted themselves into high places of society, where their unmasking and death will have significant social and political ramifications. Or, perhaps nations in Tian Xia will view the regime change in Minkai as an opportunity, and make the mistake of thinking it weakened and ripe for invasion. These seem like the sort of opportunities that are aligned to your skills. This would, of course, require you to re-examine your current arrangement. If I may be so bold.

But make no mistake: regardless of where you choose to stand, the oni in this city will burn. We will cut a path through them that leads to the throne, a path that is paved with their remains, and then we will finish what we have started. As a man of honor, you deserve to stand on the correct side of this conflict.

If you feel that there is something to discuss, I am confident your reply will be received.

_______________________________

We submitted this to the GM as little Diplomacy mixed with Intimidate, just to see where it goes.

From the GM:
The Emerald Branch courier reports that the letter was delivered into the hands of the Raven Prince but under the circumstances there was no way to have a conversation about it or wait for a reply. However, should a reply be forthcoming, contact will be made and the reply delivered back to you or Isao if you are not here at the time.


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^The powder keg of restoration?


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*clap*

That's good.


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Thanks!

Spoiler:

Though I wrote the letter and presented the idea to the group, Dasi has the strongest face skills so IC he wrote it with an assist from Kali. We showed a lot of our cards here. Hopefully we chose the right person to show them to.

Also, I love any excuse to bring up Kikonu's play.


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Sarenith 22, 4713 (morning, Kasai)

Communing with a deity is like being cured of cataracts. All the haze and uncertainty and guesswork is replaced with this abject clarity, a change that is so stark that it is almost painful.

“Is Renshii Meida pregnant?”

YES.

“Is it Takahiro’s child?”

YES.

“Is she keeping this a secret?”

YES.

Again and again the answers came, each one a lightning strike of divine truth.

“Is Takahiro’s mother still alive?”

NO.

“Did Anamurumon have her killed?”

YES.

Koya was straining against her contact with Desna, or whichever servitor had answered in her place.

“Is Takahiro’s father still alive?”

NO.

“Did Anamurumon have him killed?”

YES.

I was practically shaking, feeling the weight of what we were learning. Answers from a deity come with a permanency and surety that makes them more real, more absolute than anything you know or have experienced. Like, you could come to question everything about your life, your place in the world, even who you are, but these truths would endure.

“Is Takahiro a descendant of Anamurumon?”

YES.

Does Takahiro know this?

NO.

After her spell ended, we sat in stunned silence.

When we first met with the Emerald Branch here in the city, we gave them a list of questions around Takahiro, Anamurumon, and Meida. Mostly, they were shots in the dark.

From the journals, we knew Anamurumon was obsessed with fathering an offspring that could pass as human. A half-fiend would likely be bound by the same divine laws as an oni, but a half-fiend that appeared human could mate with a human, and produce a child of their own. That would result in a tiefling, and being of mostly human blood the child could, in theory, fall outside the divine restrictions. If Anamurumon stayed close to this child, exerted influence over them, he could essentially take the throne by proxy.

Soto Takahiro refers to Anamurumon as his “grandfather”. In Minkai, this can be a term of affection just  like “aunt” and “uncle” back in Varisia, but…could they actually be related? We didn’t know. But, according to the Emerald Branch, Takahiro didn’t know, either. “Takahiro has made inquiries in the past about his parentage, but we do not know what, if anything, he discovered. This at least suggests that his grandfather also did not know, or was not forthcoming to young Takahiro with that information.”

Another question for them was how faithful Takahiro and Meida were to one another. They told us Takahiro is something of a philanderer, which we were more or less expecting to hear. Meida is quite a bit more faithful, though there was still a big surprise to be had: “One of our contacts is a samurai whose daughter is employed as one of Meida’s handmaidens. She recently asked her father about the possibility of quietly securing the services of a midwife who could be trusted for her loyalty to Minkai and willingness to be discreet.” You do not “quietly” hire a midwife who can be trusted to be “discreet” unless you are trying to hide a pregnancy.

Before this morning, all we had were these suspicions, but now? Now we have some idea of just how fragile the Jade Regent’s grip on power really is. How much does he really know about Anamurumon? Obviously, not very much, because his “grandfather” has been keeping a lot of secrets from him. Some very significant secrets, which include the murder of his parents. To say that is huge would be a ridiculous understatement. This is the sort of thing that makes enemies out of friends, lovers, family. And how much does he know about his lover? Again the answer seems to be, “Not as much as he should”.

As for Meida, herself, we don’t know what game she’s playing. Obviously, you can’t hide a pregnancy forever, but trying to hide one at all suggests a lack of trust between her and, well, everyone. Whatever her angle is, it depends on that staying a secret for as long as possible.

We met with the Emerald Branch again this morning and asked them straight out if this was information they could work with. You might say that their response was an emphatic “Yes”.

Which is good, because we’re going to need their help again. We’re taking Ameiko to the Shrine today and we don’t know how long we’ll be gone, mostly because we don’t know how big of a trap we’ll be walking in to. That means the Emerald Branch will have to keep the rebellion and the Amatatsu heir visible both in name and in spirit while we’re away.

It also means that the situation with the kidnapped daughters, also known as the hostages, is going to have to wait. Though we are pretty sure we know where they are being held, thanks to the posthumous interrogation of a Typhoon Guard commander, it’s deep in the palace and that’s not a raid we can just pull off without significant planning. If we can pull it off at all; we may have to take the throne first, or at least commit ourselves to that path, which is something we can’t do until Ameiko receives her blessings from her ancestors. However that works.

I am resigned to the notion that there will probably be casualties among the hostages. While there are no executions scheduled for today that we know of—the one that was seems to have been cancelled because the two prisoners escaped over night—that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any last-minute changes. And if we aren’t back before tomorrow…

Well, I don’t really want to think about that.


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Sarenith 22, 4713 (afternoon, Imperial Shrine)

We did find a trap waiting for us here, but like all things Five Storms it was so poorly organized and so obvious that they may as well have put up signs. I am not kidding: what gave it away was that we actually heard bickering. But I guess there’s not much else to do when you’re stuck on an island waiting in case, and I quote, “one of the other families shows up. How likely is that?”

How likely, indeed?

From the sounds of their adolescent squabbling, this was another one of Anamurumon’s famous “The Five Storms is known to keep their word” deals, where he promised to marry one of them or father their child or gods know what else and like idiots they believed him. They were even fighting over him in advance. Where does he find people this gullible?

Not that they were “people”. They were, in fact, what Dasi called rokurokubi, which is apparently Tien for “woman with a 20-foot-long neck”. It was creepy and disgusting, watching them stretch out and snake their heads around the room, like naga with a human torso. Anamurumon sure can pick them.

The rest of the shrine has been…disturbing. I don’t think it’s Anamurumon’s doing—not directly, anyway—but something here is definitely amiss, as we’ve been attacked by shadows and a giant construct made from gravestones. Somehow, I don’t think this is how visits to the Imperial Shrine are supposed to go. When the heir comes to receive blessings from their ancestors, I don’t think the island is supposed to try and kill them.

We were so desperate for information that we actually consulted Suishen. Yeah, I know. Don’t judge us. Not only did he not know anything about the Imperial Shrine, he literally had never even paid attention during the few times he was brought here. Why? Because there was “no fighting” and that made it “boring”. Ironically, this non-answer was an answer in itself, as it confirmed that none of this is supposed to be happening.

hate shadows. We were walking through a cemetery for the advisors of past emperors and other notable figures when they emerged from the graves to attack. We were completely surrounded from the start, which gave us nowhere to go. When one of them descended on Koya, I knew I had to do something but there was a shadow on top of me as well which limited my options. So I choose a radical and dangerous tactic: I cast a spell that suppressed magic and supernatural phenomenon. At which point I promptly fell 30′ to the ground. But it put me close enough to Koya to protect her from their touch, so mission accomplished.

It’s a good thing I’ve learned a thing or two about how to fall without dying.


Tales of Rokurokubi on Earth . . . (apparently at least sometimes a bit more sympathetic portrayal than in Jade Regent and Bestiary 4).


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Interesting. Yeah, that is quite a different take, enough that it has a "cultural appropriation" odor to it.


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Sarenith 22nd, 4713 (evening, Imperial Shrine)

We met Emperor Shigure today. What remains of him, that is, which is mostly an angry, impotent spirit raging at the living world. Thrust into a role he never expected to take, manipulated by the woman he thought he loved, then betrayed and murdered by his childhood friend. His reign was short and tragic, exactly as engineered by Anamurumon, and this half-mad ghost was the result.

He was barely rational when he appeared before us, verbally abusing everyone and accusing us of various crimes. Conspiring with his killers. Usurping the throne. Taking what was rightfully his. And on and on. I tuned it out because I just couldn’t even. His portrait was painted in fury and self-pity. We let Dasi do most of the talking since he’s good at that sort of thing, and because we were dealing with a petulant child.

“I will not give my blessing while my body remains dishonored!” he bellowed, acknowledging Ameiko’s status as heir but denying her the means to act on it. He demanded that we descend into the Well of Demons and bring it back, cremate it, and lay it to rest. Are you for real? This is what’s important right now? Yes, his anger was justified. But he was willing to sink the entire empire out of spite. Such a small, petty man.

Still, we agreed because—wait for it—we have no choice. Because nothing is ever simple or easy.

It’s not really his fault at any rate. Takahiro’s crime corrupted this place utterly and thoroughly: as Shigure’s body rots, so does the Shrine. This is almost certainly why the entire island is trying to kill us, but that is the smaller of our concerns. Until the Shrine is cleansed, the conduit between here and the spirits of the past is closed. No spirits; no blessing. Which means Ameiko’s path to the throne is blocked until we sort it out.

Why in the name of the gods is there something called The Well of Demons in the Imperial Shrine? I thought it was a pretty good question, so I asked Shigure during one of his moments of lucidity, but what I got for an answer was a nigh-incomprehensible tirade that boiled down to “some name I made up”. Whatever purpose the well originally served is a mystery, but it clearly wasn’t intended to be a dumping ground for the decaying bodies of former emperors, murdered in cold blood. Hence, the current state of affairs.

Shigure says he can feel the influence of whatever is down there, and more importantly, he can feel it spreading. It’s only a matter of time before it reaches the material world and infests Minkai.

That fool Takahiro has no idea what he’s done.


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Kali Nassim wrote:
{. . .} We let Dasi do most of the talking since he’s good at that sort of thing, and because we were dealing with a petulant child. {. . .}

This sounds disturbingly familiar . . . .


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Sarenith 23rd, 4713 (small hours, Imperial Shrine)

When I left Magnimar over a year ago I never imagined I’d be spending my nights studying the finer points of childbirth and prenatal care. The turns my life has taken since then have been so bizarre that they seem to defy logic much less prediction. When I see my reflection I wonder who it is that’s looking back at me. I want to know what she’s like. Where she calls home. Where our lives diverged.

Meida’s pregnancy is both an opportunity and a complication.

The complication, of course, is that she’s pregnant. Taking the Jade Throne from Takahiro and Anamurumon is almost certainly going to mean taking it by force, and using lethal force against a pregnant woman is just not a thing that’s going to happen. That is a hard stop. I will not take part in any such plan. And that immediately puts us at a disadvantage, because they certainly won’t be holding back.

Since we don’t have a good solution to that problem at the moment, I am instead choosing to focus on the opportunity. The Emerald Branch says she is secretly looking for a midwife, so why not give her one?†

This is not as ridiculous as it sounds. When you study the arcane you end up learning a little about everything, and humanoid physiology kind of comes with the territory. As you continue your studies you end up gravitating to things that interest you, and…well…there’s a reason why seeing Sefa again, and holding her baby, had the effect on me that it did. (You also can’t spend any amount of time around an acolyte of Pharasma without learning a thing or two about obstetrics. Even when that acolyte was Qatana.) To the others this seemed like it came from out of the blue, but in reality? I just never talked about it. I mean, it’s not like the subject ever came up before now. When, exactly, would it have been relevant conversation?

I am being realistic about this gambit. I don’t even think I’ll get invited into the palace much less hired by Meida, but I am pretty sure I can get an interview with the handmaiden that was tasked with the search and that’s good enough. To date, we know almost nothing about Meida and even less about the inner workings of the palace. A conversation with her handmaiden is the closest thing we’ll get to insider information, and it could prove fruitful. I just need to be credible enough to not raise any suspicions (and I’m also not above a little cheating, if necessary.)

All of that is moot, though, if we don’t succeed here at the Shrine first.

We descend into the Well tomorrow. We have no idea what we’ll find there, what we’re up against, how extensive this growing corruption is, or even what the nature of it is, and that makes it hard to prepare. Normally one would assume that something called a “Well of Demons” contains, well, demons, but given that this is just some name Shigure made up? Gods only know. I took some time yesterday to extend magical sight down to the bottom, but what I saw wasn’t particularly helpful: a dark hole in the ground, filled with water. Pretty much what you would expect from a well, only larger in scale.

Obviously there’s more to it than that, but there’s only so much divination magic can do in one sitting. If we did this again tomorrow I’d be cutting into spells we might actually need, and with no guarantee of getting better answers at that. And, really, at some point we’re just going to have to go in, anyway. So, as Ivan would say, save the spell.

Gods, it’s going to be a long day.

________________________________

This is Kali putting ranks into Profession (midwife).


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Sarenith 23, 4713 (early morning, Imperial Shrine)

Amatatsu Onoko is here. Why she wasn't here yesterday when we needed more timely information about what we are getting into is anyone's guess. Maybe Shigure's temper tantrum scared her away. I don't know if she had children in life, but if I was a mother and was granted immortality as an archon, the last thing I'd want is a front seat to the Terrible Two's for basically all of eternity. Your reward in heaven for a devoted, pious life is not supposed to double as punishment.

Ameiko spent some time communing with her in private and then opened up the conversation to the rest of us. I took the opportunity to ask her my new favorite question. "Why is there something called 'The Well of Demons' in the Imperial Shrine?"

Her answer was as unsatisfying as it was uninformative. "It doesn't have a name. That's just what Shigure calls it." Which is not what I was asking. I don't care about the name; I want to know why it's here. But bickering with an archon didn't seem like a healthy plan so I let it drop. And, to be fair, she did shed some light on what is down there, and what we have to do.

"The handmaiden devil Amatatsu Meimei and her handmaiden have infested this place. I can't bestow my blessing until she is dealt with." One guess as to what she means by "dealt with". Also, apparently the Well of Demons contains devils. Note to self: Correct Shigure on his terminology.

Who was emperor Amatatsu Meimei? It's a given that she was not a very good person if she was a petitioner to Hell, and if given form as a greater devil it's a fair bet that she was especially vile. Suishen confirmed as much, giving us a fairly pointed review of her tenure as emperor. "She was unnecessarily cruel and selfish, seeking her own power over what was best for the empire and its people." And she's had plenty of time to refine her personality since then.

Who is Meimei's handmaiden? No clue. Though I appreciate the recursion. Whoever she is, she has to go, too.

And, of course, we have to do this one thing in order for Ameiko to get Onoko's blessing. On top of the other thing that we have to do for Shigure. Maybe it's a blessing of its own that the spirits from the other families are blocked from communing in the Shrine until this business with the Well is resolved. I don't think I can handle each of them asking us to do yet another "just this one thing", too.


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(still early morning, still the Imperial Shrine)

Our first descent into the Well of Demons went poorly. This is the problem of not knowing what you are getting into and not knowing what to expect when you arrive: you can't plan for everything. You can only be so flexible, and if you get caught reacting instead of acting then odds are good you aren't going to recover.

This is particularly dangerous when dealing with beings that can teleport at will. The force that contains the demons and devils within the Well almost certainly saved our lives as there is generally no such thing as running away from something that can instantaneously appear at your side across any distance at any time. When you start this kind of fight, it needs to be one that you are sure you can finish unless you have similar powers of your own. Or, in our case, some weird barrier that keeps them from following.

It's been less than 10 minutes and Amatatsu Onoko has already gotten on my list. We went to stop the water from dumping into the Well because it was so loud we could barely hear ourselves think much less communicate, and she appeared and blasted us with her trumpet. Just in case it wasn't clear what kind of archon she was. Branding is important.

I had what many might consider to be a reasonable question: "What the s&#$, lady?!"

This was probably not the most respectful way of addressing a herald of Shizuru, but the whole thing caught us by surprise. Also, I was feeling kind of cranky.

"Why would you halt the flow of water into the well? The lake sends the cleansing water that contains the evil within!"

Uh...how about because, no one f@%*ing told us? Like, when we were asking about it? What is it with celestial beings treating information like caviar, anyway? Is there some divine rule that crucial knowledge pertaining to saving the world can only be doled out in small bites? If it's not a game of twenty questions, it's riddles and metaphor. No one can be direct about anything until it's smiting time. This is no way to run an organization.

"Because it's so loud down there we can't hear ourselves think. And because, we just got our asses handed to us. And also because we didn't know! How would we know?!"

Gods, I am just not in the mood.

But at least now we know what we're up against, and what we can (and can't) do about it.

___________________

And we are caught up to our game again. Next update coming in a couple of weeks or so.

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