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Sarenith 23, 4713 (morning, Well of Demons)
Our second run at the well was considerably more successful than our first. This time we could prepare our defenses and devise a strategy before finding ourselves dodging blobs of acid, resisting telekinetic shoves, and worrying about who was suffocating. This is the sort of pertinent combat advice that I like to share here, as your time is valuable and you should get value for it in return.
This was about the perfect setup for omoxes: water everywhere, a one-hundred-and-fifty-foot drop to get to it, and a waterfall so loud you can't think with no way to turn it off. Whoever put them here knew what they were doing. We generally deal with oni, so that's not something we see a lot of.
So far, the Well of Demons has not disappointed when it comes to names but that is about all it has going for it. Unless your tastes for interior decorating run towards dark and dank. According to Onoko, this is where the less savory emperors of Minkai are allowed to manifest, just in case some future degenerate feels the need to commune with them. Though, personally, I think allowing that is an extraordinarily bad idea. It should really be the acid test for claiming the throne. Like, if you feel the need to come down here for advice, maybe you shouldn't be on it. But no one asked me for input when they set this whole thing up.
Onoko wasn't exaggerating when she said something is amiss down here; the omoxes were not mere manifestations, and neither were their hezrou buddies. The obvious question is, how did they get here? Followed closely by, who are "they"? Last time I checked, demons and devils don't have a strong working relationship. If Maemi is in here, and she's one of the latter, then who brought the former?
(slightly later morning, Well of Demons)
I have to write quickly as we are moving soon.
The answer to at least one of my questions is "Teikoku Sokai". According to Dasi he was one of the first and worst autocrats of Minkai, who preferred the title "shogun" over "emperor". I am sure that says quite a lot about his management style. It's certainly in line with his charming personality. He had enough ego for all of us.
We've allied with him temporarily because his narcissism is exceeded only by his hatred of Maemi. Why does he hate Maemi? Who knows? Who cares?
The situation is this: she holds the north end of the cavern, and he holds the south. Gods, it's the damned House of Withered Blossoms all over again, only this time the warring sides are fire-retardant.
The idiot thinks we're here because his family has finally risen to power and we're here to pay deference to him. Sometimes it's like we don't even have to try. When we told him we were here to kill Maemi, he naturally assumed that was the whole truth. We conveniently left out the part where he's next on the list.
He's lending us three hezrou for the assault. I am sure they'll turn on us as soon as Maemi and her erinyes are evicted, so it's in our best interest to ensure they die for the cause.
It's time to go.
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Sarenith 23, 4713 (morning, Well of Demons)
Sokai had warned us that Maemi's handmaiden—that would make her the handmaiden's handmaiden, a level of recursion that I can appreciate—was a trained assassin when she was alive. Now that she's dead, and trapped in here along with Maemi and everyone else, she had little to do but hone her skills. Quoting Sokai again, "Death gives her time to practice."
Most of that practice seems to be done on hezrous. I base that on how quickly the first two of them died. While this does make our job easier long-term, we were hoping they would contribute more directly to the proceedings.
Not that I should be complaining too much. The erinyes could see those of us who were hiding behind invisibility (which was inconvenient, to say the least), but the handmaiden could not. So, the hezrou were her only obvious targets when the assault began. Sometimes, things just go your way. After she killed the second one with a single blow, we figured out where she was hiding—which was, astonishingly, in plain sight—and I lit her up with some magical glitter. It was an appalling fashion statement, but sometimes you have to go with what works.
The key to defeating an opponent is to play your strengths against their weaknesses. In the assassin's case, she bet it all on not being seen, and once we deprived her of that advantage her options were limited to who would kill her. She had a few tricks left, sure, but none of them played well against a barrage of arrows. By the time Ivan was done with her she looked like a hawthorn tree.
The third of our hezrou "allies" had administered a severe beating to the remaining erinyes so their defensive line, if you want to call it that, shattered as soon as we hit it. Maemi, herself, seemed to realize early on that she was in trouble, and she tried in vain to strike some bargain that would keep her alive. Sorry, lady. Not interested. Are there any scenarios where making a deal with a literal devil works out in your favor?
If I'm being honest here—and what's the point of writing in this thing if I'm not being honest—I have to admit I don't understand the whole tizzy around Maemi's presence in the Well. Amatatsu Onoko played her up as this horrible figure, but really, what did she do? According to Dasi, she struck a bargain with Hell to extend her life. Big f*~+ing deal. Yeah, okay, back when she was on the throne maybe those 200 years were something of a bummer, but even the worst Suishen had to say about her was that she put herself ahead of throne and empire. So what? That just makes her a crappy leader. Compare that to her next-door neighbor, Teikoku Sokai, who instituted a eugenics program and forced the lesser nobles of Minkai into slavery. On that scale, Maemi doesn't even register.
(later morning, Well of Demons)
There's this spell that impairs your mental functioning to the point where you're not capable of rational thought or reasoning. That spell is basically my worst nightmare since rational thought and reasoning is pretty much all I do, and it's why I've been wearing this ring for the past several months. It has that spell inside of it, and if that same spell is cast on me then the one in stored in the ring immediately counters it.
Today it finally happened, and I have never been so grateful to have planned ahead.
From that, you might gather that Sokai was less than thrilled with our betrayal. And you would be correct. My only regret is that he didn't survive long enough to really bask in it.
We've searched the caverns and there's no sign of Shigure's body, and that tells us that it probably washed downstream into the caverns below. What's down there? No idea. We can see an underground lake and not much else. I'm taking bets though. Our experience up here was almost literally going through Hell and the Abyss, so I am putting my money on Abaddon to round out the set. Though that does leave us one or two royal families short, assuming that the Well is a whole thing.
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Instead of daemons we got undead, though there’s still more to do here so my theory may yet pan out. And undead does seem to fit the theme of “things that happen to vile people after they die.”
And speaking of vile, allow me to introduce Shojinawa Ito. According to Dasi, as emperor he bolstered Minkai’s army by creating undead from the soldiers who died in battle, and then disguised them behind illusions so that they looked like normal people. Eventually, his military commanders noticed that something was off, and he addressed their concerns by giving them the same treatment. The only thing he couldn’t hide was his unnaturally long life, courtesy of becoming a lich. His reign was finally ended by a sovereign dragon who had apparently had enough of his antics.
If that charming personality wasn’t enough, he was also holding on to Shigure’s corpse because why not. I guess that obsession with death and bodies has really stuck.
We didn’t even bother talking to him. I mean, what would have been the point? It was already a long morning and there was no reason to drag it out.
He also seemed unconcerned about his eventual destruction, going so far as to announce to us that he’d be back. That’s not how this works, ghost or not. But, on the other hand, he did seem pretty sure of himself so I don’t think we can rule it out. Assuming the lich story is true, his phylactery must have been destroyed or he wouldn’t be here at all, but maybe he has something else that ties his spirit to the Well, or to the shrine or island in general.
Of course, that is easy to say. The real trick would be finding it.
(even later morning)
I am lucky to be alive. Extraordinarily lucky.
There was this moment in Nobinuro’s cave where he did something, and I saw a flash of light through the cloud of fog around me. There was this sudden chill, and…I am not sure how to describe this, but it felt like tug at my soul. As if it were being ripped from my body.
I didn’t even have time to panic. Out of sheer instinct, I held on to it with…I don’t even know what. My will? My sense of being? Whatever it is that anchors us to this existence, it held. But only just.
Later, we deduced that Nobinoru was a thanadaemon. They trap the souls of others in gemstones, which they can crush to restore their life force. This is when I felt the bottom drop out, and a horrible wave of sickness washed over me. There are some deaths that cannot be undone.
In life, Nobinoru was the last emperor from the Sugimatu family. So great was his ego that he ordered the end of his family line so that his achievements would never be surpassed. His most loyal samurai set out on this task, exterminating each and every descendant and relative until almost none remained. Only the intervention of the other four families stopped this senseless slaughter, but so many had been killed that the family line never recovered. And, of course, the Five Storms later finished what he had started.
But it’s done. We have scoured the Well of every trace of demon, devil, daemon, and undead, and in the process have prevented the worst of the royal families from offering their counsel or blessing to future emperors. Something that the world simply does not need.
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Sarenith 23, 4713 (late afternoon, Imperial Shrine)
Paranoid? Me? Maybe just a little. Occupational hazard, I suppose. I was thinking about Ito as we climbed out of the well; if he did have a phylactery of some sort here on the island, where would he hide it? Somewhere out of sight. Somewhere difficult to reach. Somewhere most people wouldn’t think to look.
Somewhere that we were actively discouraged from going earlier by Amatatsu Onoko. If that’s who she really was.
OK. That’s who she really was. But at the time I wasn’t trusting anyone but us.
We weren’t out five minutes when Koya came up to Dasi. “Do you know, there is not one single urn with the remains of the Shojinawa clan anywhere to be found? Isn’t that peculiar, don’t you think?”
“Peculiar”? That’s not the word I would choose. I’d probably settle on: “suspicious”.
Then she asked, “Do you know of anything in this country’s history to account for such a thing?”
Do we ever. And that’s when my thoughts turned to the lake, and “Onoko’s” insistence that we not mess with the water level. What was she hiding?
OK. That was just a coincidence. But. We weren’t wrong about the lake. For generations, it seems that the other royal families of Minkai expressed their opinions of Shojinawa Ito by tossing the remains of the entire Shojinawa family into the water. And one of the sealed urns we found down there was lined with lead, and just happened to contain Ito’s phylactery.
Olmas and Hatsue hacked at it until the wooden box was reduced to splinters, then Ivan burned it to ash. So, no more Ito.
Ameiko is interring Sigure’s remains as I write this. Hopefully he will be more agreeable—and considerably less choleric—after that’s done.
I am not holding my breath.
(later afternoon, Imperial Shrine)
I had this crazy idea as Ameiko was wrapping up with her relatives.
“What if we were to kidnap Renshii Meida?”
Everyone looked at me like I was out of my mind.
“I’m serious. Hear me out. If…if I get that meeting with her handmaiden—the one that’s looking for a midwife—what if I do more than just try to get information from her? What if I can actually get a meeting with Meida?”
I am not above using magic to pull this off. As distasteful as it is, it’s less so than killing a pregnant woman. It’s what mom would call situational ethics. That, and Shelyn gave me this ability for a reason.
“All I need is a piece of extravagant jewelry. A brooch, a ring, a necklace…something I can keep hidden until I meet with Meida’s handmaiden.” Then I reveal it. Put it on, uncover it, whatever. At that point, she would find me fairly persuasive without questioning why. And, it wouldn’t require me to do something as obvious as cast a spell in her presence.
“If I could get alone with Meida, and if Radella was close by, and Ivan was with her and keeping tabs on me with that spell of his…I could suppress her magic, and Radella could jump to us using the coin. We could capture her, and then use the coin again to get away.”
It is a lot of “if’s”. And the timing would have to be perfect. But we could do it. We could knock one of the pieces off the board (a metaphor Ivan and Hatsue would appreciate). Why bother trying to sow discord when we can just divide them up directly?
I’d need to go there in disguise. A mundane disguise, because I have to assume that Meida can see through magic, or at least detect it in her presence. I’d have to darken my skin, whiten my hair; basically look like someone who trained in Pharasma’s church and dresses accordingly. And I’d have to do it without any of my magical protections or enhancements. I’d need to look the part of someone that is not me well enough that even Meida wouldn’t suspect.
The others think I’m crazy. They point out it’s dangerous not just for me, but for Radella, too. And that if it goes wrong, we weaken ourselves considerably. And it depends on several factors that are outside our control.
These are all excellent points. But, part of me really, really wants to try it. Sometimes you just have to aim big.
(evening, Imperial Shrine)
We met the Raven Prince tonight. He was waiting for us at the docks of the Imperial Shrine.
So I guess he read our letter.
He didn't have a family Seal with him, so he was just a ghostly image at first. We had to circle around the island in the boat and dock again, something he seemed to expect as he was not the least surprised. He came alone, and was just sitting there, waiting patiently. So this was apparently a temporary truce.
Dasi and I approached.
"You've been causing quite a bit of trouble."
I answered in Tengu. "We're going to keep causing it. I didn’t expect to see you here, but I suppose I am not surprised.”
"I wanted to see for myself the ones responsible. She is the last of the Amatatsu heirs?”
“The Amatatsu family survived the journey across the Crown. It is possible there are others we aren’t aware of, but as far as we know? She is the last.”
That he was here talking to us at all, almost certainly without Anamurumon's or Takahiro's knowledge, implied there was some angle we could work with him. So I decided to show him some of our cards. "Soto Takahiro has the other families' Seals in the vault below the palace. They can be used to start new family lines."
“I see. Interesting.”
“How much do you know about Anamurumon’s history?”
"Would you agree that information has value?"
"It does. But I will not betray my employers.” Another hypothesis confirmed: his relationship with Anamurumon is strictly business. And, the Emerald Branch was right about him having his own code of honor.
"I assume you care about the future of Minkai. I don't think the same can be said about your employers."
"I do. Loyalties and allegiances can change, of course, but I will not violate my contract. And what do you know of this Amatatsu? Is she a good leader?”
And there's the rub. We certainly did all of this for her because we know her, trust her, and value her as a friend. Mom once called this a crusade, and I've come to the conclusion that she's right. It may have started as something else, but the farther we've come the more glimpses we've been given into Minkai's future. This isn't some hack's play about a noble-born child, hidden away for their safety, growing up in a foreign land only to return to their ancestral home as an adult, and fight to restore their birthright. The future the people are facing here is bleak and terrifying in the way only real life can be. We've rallied behind Ameiko because we know her and believe in her, but...can we prove that she's a good leader in absolute, not relative, terms?
"We are being honest with one another here, so...I don’t know. I can only tell you what I believe. I have seen true leadership from her. She cares about her empire. She has heart, strength, wisdom, and cunning. I don’t think Soto Takahiro can say the same.”
And, finally, he got to the heart of this conversation; perhaps the real reason he was here. “But would she be willing to…employ someone like myself?”
That's when I knew our letter had gotten through to him.
“Only she can answer that. Would you like to meet her?”
They had a brief exchange, with Olmas nervously watching from a polite, but not foolish, distance. I wasn't worried, though: if he intended to move against her, or us, he wouldn't have announced his presence. Especially so brazenly.
He clearly liked what he heard from her. Both of them, in fact, seemed satisfied as she walked back to the boat. Maybe, just maybe, we had accomplished something here. Obviously, given what he said we don't expect him to turn on Anamurumon, and we will likely still be facing him in battle, but he can certainly choose the manner and means of his support without breaking the terms of his contract or tarnishing his honor. Note to self: if Ameiko does employ him after taking the throne, remind her to be very specific.
"One more thing," he said, as we were preparing to leave. "I would like the rest of the play."
This actually took me by surprise. "The whole thing? But...there are thousands of pages. There are stacks and stacks of revisions!"
"I would like to burn it."
Well. That explained that.
It was hard to give it up, of course. But it helped to know that it was being donated to a worthy cause.
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Sarenith 24, 4713 (morning, Imperial Shrine)
We stayed the night. This wasn’t the original plan but our unexpected meeting with the Raven Prince put us behind schedule. We were already going to be tempting fate by putting in to port at dusk, but the delay meant arriving well after dark, and according to Isao, after the newly imposed curfew as well. So here we are.
We’ve been given another task. Because what we need right now is another thing to do.
What we told the Raven Prince yesterday about the Seals? That was all true. Ameiko learned about them while communing with the spirits of the Five Families. “We can still feel their presence, somewhere deep under the Palace in Kasai,” one of them said. “The burden lies with you to find four worthy families to be elevated in our places. The Seals have the divine power to establish new ruling families in such a case as this, by Shizuru’s infinite wisdom.” The future of Minkai is in your hands; you’re our only hope. And so on.
So all we have to do is raid the palace and recover the Seals. I guess I’ll add that to our list.
We’re not stupid. It has occurred to us that we could just go for the throne right now and put an end to the whole thing (or try to, at any rate). In solving the one problem we more or less solve the others. In theory. What has been holding us back has been the hostages: as long as they are there, it only takes a single alarm or message to kill them all faster than we can intervene. So as tempting as it is to just go for broke, it would do us no good to put Ameiko on a throne that’s sitting in a pool of blood…blood from the people she is supposedly liberating.
And now we’ve added this. We don’t know if he can destroy the Seals, but we have to assume that he can. We have to assume that Anamurumon wants Minkai badly enough that he’s willing to torch its future if it’s taken from him.
Of those two problems, the hostages are the more immediate and best defined. Can Anamurumon destroy the Seals? It seems unlikely, though as I said, we have to assume the worst. But there’s no question about what he can do to prisoners. We need to get them out, and we need for them to come out unharmed. That will eliminate much of his leverage over Kasai, and in the process boost confidence in Ameiko as a liberator and the rebellion in general. Of course, there are other things Anamurumon can do about the former, but his options will be more limited, more costly, and narrower in scope.
Sarenith 25, 4713 (small hours, Kasai)
The hostages are home safe but it was a harrowing raid that almost left two of them dead. Normally we are a lot more careful than this, but we had only a few moments to observe the floor of the palace where they were being held which meant we had to fill in the gaps with guesswork. And by and large we guessed wrong. A few sloppy tactics on our part, combined with a gross misunderstanding of the guards’ sense of duty, nearly cost the women their lives.
Fortunately, we had agreed early on that getting them out, not fighting their jailers, was the goal. As soon as I had the opportunity, I teleported the prisoners to freedom, four at a time. This meant leaving my friends to handle the fighting with only limited magical support, but considering how many close calls we had this strategy was almost certainly the difference between life and death for the captives.
Itsuru has moved quickly. He mobilized his army and built support in central Kasai much faster than any of us anticipated. Rumor is that an army is marching on the province and is just a few days away from Kasai. Since his own men didn’t cover 1,000 miles in a week and a half, that means that he’s got the support of Akafuto as well. The approaching force is reportedly large enough that Takahiro has committed much of his Typhoon Guard to meet them in the field.
Their absence from Kasai is visible. The city was on tight lock-down before, and in theory that hasn’t changed, but there are fewer guards to man checkpoints, enforce the curfew, and of course carry out arrests. According to the Emerald Branch, this thinning of Takahiro’s forces extends to the palace as well: they are operating with a skeletal garrison. All of this is, of course, good news for us, and probably why we had such an easy time sneaking our way in. That being said, we have learned first-hand that the ones who are left are not necessarily flunkies. The fight has been made easier, but it certainly hasn’t been made easy.
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Sarenith 25th, 4713 (mid-morning, Kasai)
Hatsue, Ivan and I popped into the middle of a field of ash and rubble. This was, at one time, the village where Soto Takahiro was born. I expected it to still be here, but I guess that was too much to ask.
We took in our surroundings. Whatever happened here? It happened some time ago.
It was Hatsue that spoke first, breaking the long silence. “I have not been to this village before, but it seems to be in the general region we were patrolling. From the looks of it, the bandits and probably not a few oni-led terror troops laid it to ruins.”
I sent Nihali up to keep an eye on us just in case, but there wasn't a living soul in sight, and barely enough rubble for one to hide behind. My teleportation spell brought us to what seemed to be the center of town, perhaps a marketplace with shops. We picked a direction and walked until we found what looked like the remains of peoples' homes.
I was frustrated, and I let it show as I pulled out the specially crafted incense. "Unless someone has some insight into which pile of rubble is the right one, here is as good a place as any other. Whenever you're ready, Ivan."
He cast a spell, and I felt good fortune flow through me. I soaked it in for a moment, then cast my spell: the one that was our whole reason for coming here. The incense was consumed in a brilliant flash, leaving only an aromatic smoke behind.
The world around me faded to darkness.
A woman lies abed in the throes of labor, attended by a midwife and her assistant. A middle-aged man stands nearby, intently watching, occasionally pacing impatiently. He has a forceful, commanding presence, but the two women pay him no mind as they focus on their task.
The mother is clearly exhausted and in pain as though she has been struggling to birth her baby for several hours. Each contraction is accompanied by an almost desperate lament, wordlessly pleading for it to be over. The midwife does her best to keep her comfortable, but there is little that can be done.
At last the child is delivered. He cries as he takes his first breath, and the assistant cuts the umbilical cord as the midwife inspects him and wraps him in linens. “It is a...healthy boy. Congratulations to you,” she says to the mother. The midwife’s smile and happy demeanor don't quite cover the slight falter in her speech. This escapes the notice of the exhausted mother, but not the watchful man. The midwife suddenly remembers him and looks up into his face, fear clearly in her eyes.
The man walks over to the midwife, eyes locked on the her until he is so close she can feel his breath on her skin. He takes the baby and says, without looking away, “He looks perfect to me. The very best any parent could want in a normal, healthy, human child. Don't you agree, midwife?” She shrinks visibly under the weight of his glare. “Y-yes, of course, m’lord, absolutely, as you said. Never in my years have I seen such a beautiful baby boy born to any woman in Minkai.”
Finally, after a painful few seconds that feel like an eternity, the man turns, still holding the child in one arm. He walks over to a table, hands the infant to the assistant, and pours a small cup of herbal tea. The two women are busy attending to the newborn baby, and neither sees him remove a pouch from his belt and sprinkle additional herbs into the water. He carries the cup over to the mother and offers some encouraging words. “Well, Yuriko, you have a perfect, wonderful son who will bring joy to you the rest of your life. That was quite a difficult labor, though, one that easily could have taken your life. You are fortunate to have survived such an ordeal." He hands her the steaming tea and says, "Your midwife has prepared this medicinal tea. It will help you regain your strength.”
He takes the baby back from the assistant again, looking closely at the boy as the mother drinks. There is something unusual about the child's eyes, but it is subtle. “Yes, you will do fine, my grandson. Very fine, indeed. You shall be named Takahiro.”
He looks up again at the sound of a tea cup shattering. The midwife's assistant cries out in alarm as the young mother convulses on the bed before going still. A trickle of blood runs from her mouth and nose.
Without emotion, the man says, “It seems I spoke too soon."
I was lying on the ground. At first, I thought I was on the beach in Sandpoint, Jefy Theern looming over me. But my hands were covered in dirt and ash, not sand. Ivan and Hatsue helped me to my feet, and my confusion faded as my strength returned. One of them had cast a spell to help me recover.
"Well?" Ivan asked, expectantly.
I nodded. "We have what we need."
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(early afternoon, Kasai)
My meeting with Meida's handmaiden went well after a somewhat rocky start: her idea of a discreet meeting place was the gardens on the grounds of the Imperial Palace. This was a questionable decision since it's difficult to have privacy in a space that is open to the public with people walking through it. I had to insist that we get out of earshot to discuss a matter as sensitive as Meida's secret pregnancy. For reasons only the gods understand she found this suspicious. It's hard to believe she has survived for any length of time in her position with so few candles burning in the attic.
Once we got away from bystanders, however, her attitude changed dramatically. I put on the ring Isao had found for me, and which I had prepared in advance with potent persuasive magic, and from that point on I could do no wrong. The fact that I actually knew what I was talking about became largely irrelevant.
The whole point of the meeting was to slip a message to Meida without someone else seeing it (the plan to actually kidnap her never got past the "crazy idea" stage because there were just too many factors outside our control). For that, I had to trust that the handmaiden would accept and deliver a sealed package and ensure it remained sealed until then. Magical compulsion was my best bet for pulling it off. We'll know later tonight whether or not that worked.
Preparing for this little visit was something of an ordeal. Because I was walking into the lion's den, I had to not only not look like me but also not be lit like a bonfire if examined with magic. That meant no magical disguises, and also stripping myself of most of my magical gear. Zosi was able to alchemically darken my skin and whiten my hair so that, with the help of silver and purple robes from Koya, I looked like a servant of Pharasma: exactly the sort of thing you'd expect in a professional midwife. Once my hair was tied up in a bun to hide its length, even I didn't recognize myself.
I am actually a little bit worried that Pharasma will find this deception more than a little offensive. Logically, I can tell myself that it's all for the greater good, but I also know that the greater good is used to justify any number of terrible acts by well-intentioned people. Ultimately, I want Meida out of this fight, or her role in it diminished, so that her baby won't suffer for her mother's sins. Hopefully that motive is pure enough.
We also have some light reading for Takahiro. Getting that to him was a more daunting task, so I took a chance on the Raven Prince and asked Ivan to send to him.
Have a story for Takahiro. He’ll love it. You will too. Willing to deliver? I promise there's no trickery, no magic. Just words.
He didn't even hesitate.
Sounds intriguing. Deliver it to the place gate. I'll make sure it's received.
It's been an eventful day. This morning saw Takahiro's first real retaliation for the mayhem we've been causing. Since he doesn't have hostages to threaten and doesn't know where we are, he simply made something up. The homes and businesses of two, prominent merchant families were completely gutted sometime before sunrise. The heads of the two merchants were found impaled on pikes, and their families have vanished. Each was accompanied by a public notice, accusing them of having raided the palace, and thus they were executed for treason.
Olmas spent the morning doing damage control, and even left a similarly public response at one of the scenes: The Amatatsu brought you food. The Jade Regent brings you death. Which do you support? I thought it was a nice touch.
I am actually surprised this sort of thing hasn't happened sooner. It serves as a reminder that, the longer this drags on, the harder it will be for us to keep the momentum. And also that time is not on our side: there are a lot of people in Kasai that Anamurumon can kill out of spite. We can't protect the whole city. The only way to put a stop to it is to go straight to the people in charge.
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I understand that you have requested the services of a midwife in order to carry your baby safely to term. Let me be the first to say to you: Congratulations! It's a boy!
It’s unlikely that I can get myself hired for that role, so instead I have imposed upon the services of someone who can in order to deliver this message, as your pregnancy poses a significant risk to your health.
You are no doubt asking yourself, how do I know? It is a good question, and one that I will answer.
It is at risk because you have made assumptions both about the nature of your child's father and his commitment to you. It is no small matter starting a family, and relationships such as these should be founded in honesty and truth. I am afraid to say that in this matter you have been short-changed. Even though you are going to great lengths to conceal both your pregnancy and your child's birth, he is hiding a great many secrets that are, to put it bluntly, significantly more dangerous.
Your lover and, I can only assume, groom-to-be, is not entirely human. His grandfather is, in fact, an oni: an evil spirit given flesh in our world. More specifically, his grandfather is Anamurumon, the man he actually calls “grandfather”. It is ironic that he uses that title without understanding how accurate it really is.
Alas, this means that Takahiro's father was a half-fiend, and that, in turn, makes Takahiro a tiefling. I am sure you have noticed something odd about his eyes, assuming he ever removes that ridiculous mask (I have to wonder, was he wearing it when your child was conceived?) But what I worry about is not his fashion sense, but rather your health. Where I come from, there are more than a few tieflings and it is not uncommon for certain...features to manifest in later generations. You should make sure that you inform your midwife, as they will need to know. You do not want to give birth to a baby that has claws or horns without warning them first. (I would go so far to say that you would not want to do this at all, but alas, that seed has germinated.)
You should also be aware that Anamurumon killed both of Takahiro's parents, presumably so he could have sole influence over the child's upbringing. I admit I don't know when, exactly, he murdered Takahiro's father, but I do know that his mother was poisoned just a few minutes after giving birth. If I were in your position I would be considerably alarmed about my long-term prospects. If Anamurumon were to ever become dissatisfied with Takahiro's rule over Minkai, he might view his great grandson as an opportunity to, say, start again with a clean slate.
You should also be aware that your lover does not appear to be in a monogamous relationship with you. Perhaps you have discussed these matters and are planning on an open marriage—I am not one to judge, so if that is your desire then good for you—though even then he seems to have opened it, among other things, rather enthusiastically wide. Enclosed is a partial accounting of his concubine. I say “partial” because we’ve only been here a couple of weeks. That, and he seems to be staying in more now that we are here.
I am sure he will try to destroy this list if you confront him with it, and that would be both rude and unfair. As such, I have taken the liberty of making copies. Verbal copies, because where I come from we value the oral tradition. So if something does happen to it, and you need to refer to it, you can probably just ask anyone. And I do mean, literally, anyone. Because we’re making sure as many people receive a copy as possible.
If you need further assistance in this matter, just wait. We’ll be there soon.
P.S. I am sorry, but I lied earlier. I was not afraid to say it at all.
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Enclosed you will find the story of your birth, and the truth about your mother and her fate. I am told you have been seeking answers to these questions, and so I have taken the liberty of providing them.
Your first reaction will, of course, be to assume that I am either lying or have been lied to, myself. And you are, of course, right to be skeptical. Though I could tell you how I know these events are true, that would require me to reveal both the extent and nature of my power and it would be unwise for me to do so. But, you very reasonably require proof of my claims, and so I shall give it to you.
I know these events to be true in the same way that I know that the man you affectionately call your grandfather is, in fact, your grandfather. You think the term is merely an honorific, but it is instead a literal truth. One could go so far as to say that you have your grandfather’s eyes.
I know them to be true in the same way that I know that your lover, Renshii Meida, is hiding her pregnancy from both you and your grandfather, and that the child she carries is your son. (Congratulations! It’s a boy!) She intends to hire a midwife in secret, and to carry the child completely to term without ever revealing either her pregnancy or your son’s birth. You are no doubt aware she commands considerable magic, and is more than capable of hiding her state, even from you. Unless, of course, you knew otherwise.
I know them to be true in the same way that I know that your unfaithfulness to her far exceeds even her wildest speculation. While she may be willing to quietly tolerate the occasional liaison as an acceptable price for her own designs for the Jade Throne, the extent of your reckless philandering, along with an accounting of its frequency, is becoming public knowledge as you read this. It will almost certainly test her limits.
These are difficult times for the regent of Minkai, and I realize that these revelations merely compound your problems. Normally, I hate being the one who delivers such terrible news. But in your case? I found it quite satisfying. My only regret is that I could not do so in person, but I am sure you understand.
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In the tenth hour of the 26th day of Sarenith in the year 4713, a group of adventurers and scions of the Amatatsu family sat in the vaults below the Imperial Palace and discussed their change of plans. It did not take them long to turn them into action.
The Oracle spent several minutes casting a spell, and when it was done he spoke with Amatatsu Ameiko in her safe house, instructing her to take the Seal and come with the Paladin Hatsue to the Palace. Using potions to make them invisible, and the spell cast by the Oracle earlier that morning, they assumed the form of clouds on the wind and streaked across the sky. With yet another spell he had cast that same hour, the Oracle tracked their progress. The hastily-formed plan would require precise timing, but he knew how quickly they traveled and how far they had yet to go. The rest was simple math. The scions would be ready before they arrived.
The blue-skinned, purple-haired Alchemist, now magically shrunk to an even smaller size, made himself invisible, and with the Oracle’s spell he, too, turned into a misty could and ascended the stairs to the main floor and slipped outside. There he rose, hugging the walls of the palace until he found another arrow slit on the floor of the throne room. The cloud seeped back inside and floated along the ceiling until he found his desired spot behind the Jade Throne. He froze in place, and slowly began resuming his true form.
He saw the Jade Regent, Soto Takahiro, sitting impatiently on the Jade Throne in his jade armor, his face obscured by the ridiculous jade mask. Next to him, but not making eye contact, was Takahiro’s estranged lover Renshii Meida, shimmering, protective spirits swirling around her. In the center of the hall was the angry, human form of the oni Anamurumon, winds howling about him in a personal hurricane. The Alchemist could also see that there was one missing: the tengu man known as The Raven Prince was nowhere in sight.
The three figures were nervous. They suspected the usurpers were in the palace--perhaps someone heard sounds coming from the vaults, or spies had gotten word of their movements that morning--but they did not know where, exactly, they were. Out of caution, they had prepared their defenses and simply waited. The scions and the upstart Amatatsu would have to come to them, after all. To take the Throne, she must sit on it bearing the Seal and Takahiro would not give her that chance.
For the adventurers in the vaults below, the wait was the signal. A quarter of a minute ticked by, and several spells were cast. A moment later, the Bard used the exact distance and direction given to him by the Oracle to teleport the now-invisible forms of the scions precisely fifteen feet below the Alchemist with a soft pop.
The Bard was disoriented on arrival, but the others were not. Taking advantage of their surprise assault, the Rogue acted first and advanced on the throne where Takahiro sat. The Oracle cast a spell to bolster his allies while the Cavalier imbibed a potion that made him difficult to target. Finally, the Wizard pulled a nearly flawless diamond from her pouch and cast a spell, desiring that the Seer, Renshii Meida, falter when next targeted by magic. The diamond crumbled to dust as her wish was granted.†
And then the scions attacked. They completely ignored the Typhoon Guard and struck at the leadership. The Rogue slashed deep into Takahiro, spilling the first blood of the battle as her sword cut deep, over and over, in a punishing assault. The Cavalier closed on him and issued a challenge, bringing the flaming Suishen crashing down onto the samurai. This, too, penetrated his armor, but Takahiro stubbornly refused to yield the throne. He struck back at the Cavalier three times, and his armor released a blast of pure force to accent his rage. Yet the Cavalier stood steadfast as well.
Below the Jade Throne, Media watched as red bloomed across Takahiro’s body, but her anger from their fight the previous night still seethed deep within her. He had tarnished her honor with his philandering, and worse, her shame had been made public. He had raged at her in turn, having learned that she was hiding a pregnancy...with his child. Yet she was even more angered at having learned of his demonic heritage. The words “you do not want to birth a baby with claws and horns” were written on the letter she read that day, and they were forever burned in her eyes. So she saw the blades cut deep into the father of her child, and she turned her back on him, instead summoning a spirit of pure force to fight alongside her.
But Meida was fighting the wrong battle. The Wizard removed a second diamond from her pouch, and spoke another wish.† As this diamond, too, crumbled to dust, a look of shock appeared on Meida’s face as her body turned to stone. A new statue now decorated the great hall.
As this unfolded, arrows coated with deadly poison flew from the Oracle to Anamurumon, five in total, embedding deep within the oni’s flesh. Each was attuned to the Oni’s true nature and they left terrible wounds on his body. Though the poison was a mere annoyance that was easily brushed off, the oni raged at the indignity of having been struck at all.
He discarded his human form, and a wind yai oni now towered over the battle. With nary a gesture, lightning leapt from his hideous, third eye and arced from his fingertips in a bright flash that was followed by a loud crack and the smell of ozone. But the scions knew what they would be fighting and had prepared: each was struck, but not one was injured.
Outside, the Typhoon Guard left their posts and descended on the Great Hall to join the battle. Some of them may have been able to see through invisibility, but the great conflict in the throne room took all their attention so none of them noticed the vaporous forms of Hatsue and the Amatatsu heir as they flowed inside. Ameiko floated across the ceiling towards Takahiro, ready to take the Jade Throne once he fell.
Down below, the Bard waved his hands and dispelled the spiritual being of force that had been summoned by Meida. And it was at this moment that The Raven Prince struck. He simply appeared next to the Bard and lashed out with his tsuruhashi. Yet, the blow came not with the edge, but rather the flat of its blade. He was serving his contract to the letter, but it was clear who he thought would emerge victorious in this fight. The Bard, for his part, was well protected, and this strike bounced harmlessly off his armor.
The Bard responded by deftly disarming the tengu. Holding the tsuruhashi, he glared at the Raven Prince and said, “Don’t do that again.” Then he held the blade out, offering it back to its owner.
As the Raven Prince considered this, the Oracle launched another barrage of arrows at the now monstrous oni form, and again they struck true. This time, however, the onslaught was too much, and Anamurumon fell to the floor, dead.
At the same instant, the Rogue unleashed another furious assault on Takahiro, but his resolve held and he withstood her flurry of strikes, his tenacity leaving her frustrated. She knew those blows should have felled him, yet still he stood, defiant.
The Alchemist, meanwhile, had finally regained his material form. He casually surveyed the scene, then made up his mind. A series of bombs flew into the air: the first exploded on the lifeless corpse of Anamurumon for good measure, and the second and third landed on the Jade Regent.
Takahiro fell in a burst of flames. Not thirty seconds had passed, and the fight was over. The Raven Prince took his tsuruhashi back from the Bard and said, simply, “It seems I am no longer employed.”
Behind him, the wind-form spell had been dismissed, and Amatatsu Ameiko now sat in Takahiro’s place. She declared, “I am Amatatsu Ameiko, the rightful Empress of Minkai! The reign of oni is over!” holding the Seal in her hands.
There was no fanfare, but it was clear to all who were there what had happened. Most of the Typhoon Guard turned and ran, but a few defied reason and continued their advance. The Wizard was smiling as she walked up beside The Raven Prince. Pulling out a third diamond, she handed it to the tengu and said, “Would you like a new job? Several oni seem to be threatening the Empress of Minkai.”
After four years and three months of monthly--and occasionally twice-monthly--game sessions, our Jade Regent campaign came to a close in December of 2019. It was one of the most satisfying campaigns I've personally participated in.
To those who stuck with this journal all the way through to the end, thank you for reading! It was an ambitious project for me: though our group journals regularly, most take the form of in-character summaries of the game session and I never got into writing those. So my own participation had always been spotty. For this campaign, I tried something different. I like to think it worked.
I don't know if I have the energy to do this again for our next campaign. Writer's block hit more often than I'd like to admit over the past four years, especially when the sessions offered little more than hours of combat. But we'll see.
I'm writing up some of my final thoughts on the Adventure Path and will post them soon.
† These were back-to-back Limited Wishes, making this one of the most expensive fights in the campaign.