The L5R Log update is way behind. Oh well. This segment is continuing the log for Sessions 82-93: The Deva’s Tale, Within the Catacombs. The Crypt of the Rakasha, Secrets of the Darkness, The Bang of Gandits, The Volcano of the Ancestors, The Circles of the Damned, The Bargain Basement of Traps, The Gardens of Death, Lords of Darkness, Final Visits, and The Shinjo Files.
Given that the characters are now closing in on 900 experience points and probably a couple of hundred more in special-advantage acquisitions, I’m no longer going to bother listing that sort of thing unless it strikes me as amusing.
Our tale picks up after the defeat of the Torturer, a Rakasha which had hidden for centuries in the sealed-off catacombs beneath a palace in the Ivory Kingdoms.
After everyone else blew their way out of the collapsed catacombs, the Deva’s were kind of upset to discover that the Sultan had been killed, but – fortunately for Najite, who had actually done it – none of them possessed the investigative schools that might have sufficed to penetrate the Demon Mirage. Everyone got diverted soon enough anyway: not only were there lots if injuries to treat, and a government to try to stabilize, but the gardens were full of shadowcats. Coming out of a well.
Oh dear. Ninsei had been neglecting his fireworks performances.
Najite refused to swallow THAT one – magical demon ninja cats poking holes in the universe and coming to collect Ninsei because the imperial princesses wanted entertainment was more than a bit absurd.
It was of course, but it was also true. Why were the girls so insistent? Weren’t there any other amusements for them? They had the resources of the Empire – or at least of the entire Imperial Household – to draw on! Surely they could find SOMETHING else to do!
Ninsei provided a show and played for awhile – and the rest of the group applied their resources to finding out. The kids were better at politics and hiding their motives (even from themselves) than most – they had grown up in the imperial palace – but their various skills were more than a match for a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old.
It was a bit more complex than they’d thought. The kids were more aware of what was going on than they’d believed: they knew they were in danger, they had some idea of how powerful Ninsei was – and they knew that he was no older than they were and that he and his friends had encountered a lot of different kinds of magic. He was a both distraction and an example to emulate; if he could have that kind of power, it was possible that they could too, and thus would be able to protect themselves and help. The Kami normally wouldn’t listen to children, even if they were the children of the Emperor. But if they kept watching Ninsei, maybe they could figure out the trick too.
They took the princesses and the shadowcats home. How right were they to be worried? The Demon Ninja Cats were actually pretty effective guardians… Wait; Shigure had taken Shard-of-the-Midnight-Heart – perhaps the ultimate assassins tool in existence – into the palace of Fu Leng and vanished there. There might be more to worry about than they’d thought. Even if Fu Leng didn’t have it, a demon might – or Evil Ninsei (and it looked like HE was planning to usurp Fu Leng).
They needed news from Jigoku and the Shadowlands – and none of their magic could reach Jigoku. The kami of Ningen-Do had no power over there, even if the energies of Ningen-Do were contaminating the purity of Jigoku just as much as the energies of Jigoku were contaminating Ningen-Do. It might be possible to summon a demon to get news, but that would require Maho.
Blast it. You go to all the trouble to exterminate every Maho cult you can find, and suddenly you need one.
Back on dealing with the Designer, that left the Summer Place. What sort of defenses would they encounter there?
Wait. The Designer had intentionally created another Rakasha, set it up with a hiding place and a way to continue inflicting a horrific vengeance upon an entire region, been indirectly responsible for a hundred thousand deaths-by-torture and soul-entrapments, and ensured centuries worth of evil – simply as a minor element of his cover and to create a guardian against anyone who was so much as hunting for his grave’s hiding place. It was rather disquieting to realize that the Rakasha made Fu Leng and his Oni look GOOD. They were domineering, ruthless, and evil – but they had their own bizarre senses of honor, and purposes of their own. They didn’t simply cultivate evil and inflict pain for its own sake.
Both the Asuras and the Devas were willing to come along; the Devas saw it as an obligation, and nobody wanted to put up with a Rakasha of any kind, much less one that seemed to be exceptionally clever about its evil. This time they made sure to evacuate the entire palace before starting their search.
And couldn’t find a thing. There were traces of evil, plenty of old wards and defenses, and even traces of an old, and long-abolished, Rakasha’s grave – but no trace of the Designers grave. They practically tore the place apart and there was NOTHING of any real importance. There were traces of evil, but most of them were from a nearby nest of river-pirates, hidden beneath a mountain in a cave behind an old illusion. They had a brief skirmish with them, but pirates weren’t their problem, and there were too many of them – with a trainer who taught several very nasty schools – to fight gratuitously. The Designer took priority.
If they could find him.
Just-a-moment… Taint. There wouldn’t be any other source of Taint here, but the link between a Rakasha and its grave worked both ways. It would have been nearly impossible for the Designer to keep his own Taint from contaminating his grave across the centuries. His old wards wouldn’t have been designed to contain Taint either; before he’d left for Rokugan, he wouldn’t have known what it was.
Eventually they found some. Buried deep underground, further up the mountain. Behind and beneath the pirate lair. Pirates who’d been preying on the locals, using a variety of horrific schools, for centuries. An artificial mountain, piled up against an outcropping of rock. The designer had built up an artificial mountain, faked a landslide, rebuilt the entire palace, changed the records, and massacred every possible witness within a radius of a hundred miles to make sure that his grave remained lost. Even if he’d been traced to the Palace, it would have no longer marked anything but a fake grave – and the pirate nest which fed him constantly would have masked his own evil. Then he’d faked his own “death”, and moved thousands of miles away, to keep anyone from even looking for it.
They made the pirates an offer that it would have been most unprofitable to refuse. After all, now that their lair had been discovered, they’d need to find a new lurking place anyway. There was no profit for them in serving as pawns in the Designers schemes any longer. Fortunately for the group, the Instructor – the lesser Rakasha who’d been left to continue the Designers campaign of inflicting misery, to fatten on the evil the pirates spread, and to teach horrific schools to people who could be guaranteed to misuse them – saw no profit in being destroyed just to weaken the Designer’s enemies – and had developed his own masking technique well enough to sneak past a group distracted by the hunt for the Designers grave.
Unfortunately, the Designer had left some remarkably powerful defenses and, as soon as he became aware of the attack, sent an aspect of himself. The resulting battle turned yet another mountain into a crater, hurled one of the Devas and one of the Asuras directly into Jigoku, killed several others, and destroyed the entire mountain and great swathes of the surrounding region. The country would not recover for generations to come – but at least an ancient, festering boil had been lanced at last. With the site of his grave destroyed, the Designer was doomed to eventual dissipation – unless he’d found a way to use the energies of Jigoku to sustain himself. Looking at the extent of his plans, he might well have done so – but destroying his grave was still a major step forward.
With their business in the Ivory Kingdoms concluded, adepts in several obscure magical disciplines recruited thanks to Ninsei’s manipulation of the Recondite Weave, Kochige and Ninsei well started on their studies of the Meditations of Unity, and considerable amounts of research done, it was time to return to the Empire proper. They set sail immediately – albeit with several Asuras and Devas who wanted to continue hunting the Designer and (for the Asuras) to have amuse themselves and gather wealth and power in a land that wasn’t full of Devas who insisted on spoiling the party.
Meanwhile, in Jigoku, Shigure soon located the new arrivals – and recruited them for his cause. The Asura and Deva were willing to go along with his campaign; both felt that a hell-realm without a proper exit was quite barbaric and – if it didn’t work out – they’d simply have to reincarnate and start over anyway. Shigure had been spending quite a lot of time, doing a lot of talking, and having some success recruiting the demons which objected to the dominance of Fu Leng and the contamination of Jigoku with the energies of Ningen-Do. The liberal supply of death-offerings had been useful as well.
Unfortunately, the tendency of the realm to be divided up into wildly-varying personal demonic domains was making things distinctly awkward. Still, the purposed demons – the Shikome – were easy enough. They wished to restore the old order, from before Fu Leng. The Sanjidokei, or Lesser Lords of Disaster, had mostly turned out to be willing to join him – or at least to offer him some support – in exchange for promises of temples and appropriate offerings. No matter what the theologicians said, it was looking more and more to him like they were simply really obnoxious Kami. Still, a direct attack on the Festering Pit and Fu Lengs power base was going to require a diversion. Preferably a coordinated attack on the Ningen-Do end.
Why didn’t anyone contact him?
Back in the Empire, Michio had some congratulatory messages waiting: it seemed that his mother had decided that prodding was not going to work and had arranged a marriage for him without bothering to consult him. After all, it wasn’t like it was required. Unfortunately, Michio believed that – given that he was currently one of Fu Lengs primary targets – allowing some innocent young woman to associate with him was both dishonorable and tantamount to murder. Fortunately, he’d opened his older brother’s message first – and the warning allowed him to find a way to get his mother’s letter stolen before he opened it. Otherwise, he’d managed to avoid most entanglements – although he’d soon have to run the Imperial Kite Festival; it was the sole official duty of being the Imperial Master of Kites.
Okari had a slew of messages, including a summons from the Fox Clan Champion that would keep him busy for awhile.
Ninsei had quite a few affairs in Toshi Ranbo to straighten out. Among the minor stuff, there were reports from the assassins he’d dispatched to the Lion territories to locate and deal with any of Fu Lengs assassins who were operating there. According to the reports, there seemed to be an ongoing war between Fu Lengs assassins, and assassins from an unknown source. They thought that it was the Crane, since no one else was likely to be able to call in so many diverse favors. (Ninsei guessed it to be Alex, who had probably begun setting up his favors two generations ago). There were evan a few strictly unofficial messages from his parents and siblings, and more imperial fireworks displays to put on. At least his two younger siblings whom his Evil Half had shoved spirits into were doing well – and Evil Ninsei hadn’t kidnapped any more of his brothers or sisters.
They managed to persuade the Asuras and Devas to head down to help out the Crab – the Devas because that was where most of the supernatural evil was and the Asuras because that was where most of the lost treasure was. Who were they? Oh, more of Shigure’s “cousins”.
Najite, a man who had determinedly cut himself off from all normal human contact – a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy of a miserable incarnation – had a lot of reports to make, but little else. Perhaps unfortunately, most of his reports were written in such a florid and exasperated style as to make it near-impossible for anyone to entirely credit them. Most of his readers simply assumed that he was one of those who saw portents, visions, and sweeping supernatural causes behind every blowing leaf.
Kochige had an upcoming sumo wrestling tournament, some letters about the maps he’d sent for, and some information from the Dragon clan and the borderlands – but he mostly had messages about his son. His wife was angry about him leaving the boy with the Tortoise rather than sending him home (not an unreasonable position he had to agree), the Tortoise had sent a bunch of messages about the boy – concluding with one about him leaving to walk home – and the child’s progress could be tracked by the apparent trail of deceased bandits. They also wondered about the robe-broach he’d sent the boy; it was rare to see one set with quite such a big ruby.
Kochige hadn’t sent any broach. Much less set with a massive gem. The Designer used a lot of gem magic – and it would be just like him to strike at the boy. Still, why so many bandits? Well, they’d find out when they caught up with the child.
When they did, he was in a confrontation with yet more bandits, led by a couple of Spirits of Slaughter in possession of some poor peasants – one of whom challenged Kochige to a duel. While they were dealing with that, several well-concealed minions of the Designer attacked from behind. They wouldn’t have been too dangerous if they’d seen them coming, but it might have gone very badly if the Spirits of Slaughter hadn’t objected to outside interference in their fighting. It was almost a shame that they had to exorcize them afterwards, but they really couldn’t leave them running around in possession of two peasants. Of course, getting the peasants off the hook for taking up arms, killing off anyone who’d irritated them, and running off to be bandits was even more trouble.
It looked like the Spirits of Slaughter were going to be an ongoing problem. They’d sent most of them back home, but evidently there were still quite enough around to make lots of trouble and even enough weak points left for occasional extras to slip through
The broach turned out to be designed to amplify anger and homesickness, as well as serving as a tracking beacon for the Designers creations. Attracting bandits and minor monsters was just a side effect.
That was the Designer all over: put a child in danger and possibly get him killed (for misery and family strife), possibly push into an even more destructive stage of his powers by causing him to kill more and more bandits (for death, slaughter, and more misery as he ran amuck and had to be stopped), arrange an ambush if the group turned up to rescue him (for eliminating enemies), ensure that monsters and bandits would be drawn to Kochige’s family if the boy made it home (for more death and misery) – and if Kochige turned up to deal with them, the ambush would still be waiting. All at the cost of a few minutes work and sending a child a pretty “present from his father”. Fu Leng had to be a complete idiot or utterly blinded by arrogance. He wanted to RULE the Empire, not act as a warden for a rakasha’s charnel pit of misery! Couldn’t he see that he was being used by something far older, and far more evil, than he was?
Meanwhile the Imperial Court was in turmoil: the Yobanjin had sent a delegation, Senpet wished to send observers, the Mantis wanted to being in ambassadors from Merenae (and get some help in handling the Shadowlands Pirates), the Scorpion were still mostly sticking with their Clan Champion, the Unicorn were up to something, and it was nearly time for the spring campaigns to start.
All of which promised to be quite a mess. And they STILL didn’t know what had become of Shigure’s sword – just at the time when a few well-placed deaths might turn the Empire upside down.
They hated to keep relying on such a source, but Ninsei retreated to get in touch with his darker self. He traded in the information they’d gathered on Rakasha in general and the Designer in particular for what his Evil – well Ruthless – self knew about Shigure. It couldn’t hurt to have an aspect of himself knowing how to take out their other enemies – and the information that Shigure had still been alive, and in possession of his sword, when he was hurled into Jigoku was definitely news. Shigure was really hard to kill; he might even survive time in Jigoku – and, if not, a demon probably had Shard-of-the-Midnight-Heart.
After consultation, they decided that this was pretty urgent. Shosuro would know what was happening to her sword – so the group headed to the realm of Honored Ancestors to try and find her. With Kochige available, opening gates was a relatively simple matter.
Locating Shosuro was not. It took them a fair amount of investigation to discover that she was said to spend a lot of time meditating on top of a mountain – with booby-traps all the way up to keep her from being disturbed.
That got messy, particularly when Ninsei got tired of traps, ignited a starlike aura of flame, started up the mountain – and crossed a volatile-oil trap. The resulting blast hurled him up several miles. The others had just gotten to the top, located, detrapped (of runes of hypnosis), and deciphered the tablet giving directions to the comfortable teahouse where Shosuro ACTUALLY spent her time, when Ninsei returned – having totally lost his temper and having spent the entire descent calling up enough fire to turn the mountain into a crater (incidentally upsetting the Earth Kami). While everyone else managed to escape, they were not pleased. Kochige swatted Ninsei, the Earth Kami swatted Ninsei, Najote swatted Ninsei, and Shosuro made her usual cryptic comments – although she did, eventually, confirm that Shigure was alive and that the sword served as a link from her to him. It was, after all, an aspect of her power. She was even willing to put them in touch with him for a bit.
Afterwards Kochige spent some time looking around the Realm of Honored Ancestors for other aspects of himself, while everyone got some advice from their revered ancestors – and found them more than a bit fossilized. Well, they had been dead for some time – and there were still some useful bits of information to be gained before they returned to Ningen-Do – where Ninsei carried out an extensive ritual apology to the Earth Kami. He really didn’t need the Earth Kami cross at him. Earth might not be his speciality, but earth spells were still pretty useful.