The Clan Wars Series: The Empress and the Cuddly Demon Ninja, Walking Between the Raindrops, A Darkness Rising, The Prophet of Merenea, Fishing with Ninsei and Gardening With Teruoko, Shigure, This is your life! Ninsei, Alex, Shigure, Thruil, Michio, and Okari.
With the Empress and her children safely tucked away on the borders of Chikusudo with the Demon Ninja Cats (who were angling for formal recognition) and Smoke Balamada (who was teaching the Princesses Heka Magic), Ninsei and Michio head for Toshi Ranbo to lay false trails. At the Tournament, the Dragon Clan Champion had given Shigure, Kochige, and Okari a long list of unsuitable candidates – and the Phoenix had sent in a five candidates and bunch of ringers among the various Ronin looking for recognition and patrons (two of whom – in the Judgement of the Dragon – were actually qualified?!?). There were a lot of them – were the Kami trying to tell the clans something? In any case, Yogo Teruoko, from the Yogo Council, had been sent as the Scorpion Clan Candidate, despite currently being 114 years old… There was even a candidate from the Stag clan, for a grand total of 55. The initial demonstrations of the basics – of being a Shugenja and knowing anti-taint spells (the Crab passed them out to anyone who needed them) via throwing them at each other actually wound up disqualifying a hot-tempered Lion Shugenja who felt insulted.
Back at Toshi Ranbo, Ninsei grew suspicious of the numerous trains of weapons and supplies heading for the City of Lies, and of their numerous Ronin guards, and trailed them – finding that someone with some authority in the Scorpion chain of command was gathering a mercenary army. Knowing what they knew of the Black Scrolls, Michio and Ninsei concluded that the Ronin were to be used to try and take the two that remained in the custody of the Yogo Council. They headed out to defend the Yogo – and had a hell of a time explaining until a massive earthquake attack took out parts of the castle walls and dropped a tower onto the Yogo Council chambers. That left no one in real command until they got Teruoko to gate back in with Okari, Shigure, and Kochige. Shigure went out to meet the attackers and stall a bit – and wound up promising to lead the attack (after the rest had the place evacuated). With the attackers wielding Fu Leng’s Channeling Scrolls, summoning Oni, surrounding the castle, and vastly outnumbering the defenders, the group was hard pressed to hold off the attack long enough for Teruoko to swear Kochige and Ninsei into the Yogo Council to provide the necessary trio of Shugenja to open the vault and retrieve the Black Scrolls. Many of the Yogo Samurai wanted to defend the castle to the end, but the authority of the Council was enough to persuade them to gate out to Toshi Ranbo – where Ninsei found a message waiting for him, sealed with the seal of the Jade Champion, and foolishly opened it immediately: it was another channeling scroll, and he had to flee to the City of Jewels to evade the supernatural storm which was drawing strength from the scrolls he carried and laying waste to Toshi Ranbo.
Shigure led the Ronin into the now-abandoned castle, let them loot – and then evacuated them to Toshi Ranbo ahead of possible scorpion treachery and offered to hire all of them for his forces.
With Teruoko – and her destroy-them-now faction – now in the majority on the Yogo Council, the group attempted to locate Ninsei, since he’d had them last. Unfortunately, Ninsei was currently in a magic-blocking cell in the City of Jewels pending trial before the Sultan, since the group had made quite a mess last time they were there. Fortunately, the Evil Grand Vizier was as dependable as ever and Ninsei hadn’t actually been responsible for any of the mess. He sent a warning about Fu Leng apparently now having the Seal of the Jade Champion as soon as he was let out – and Kochige and Michio went off to fetch him. They wound up having to agree to some less-favorable than they might have gotten trade terms, to taking along “Cousin Nicephorus” as a trade representative, and to taking the Scrolls elsewhere for disposal, but it was cheap at the price.
Meanwhile, Shigure had agreed to host the core Yogo forces as long they felt unwelcome at home and Kochige and Teruoko had returned to the Tournament, where their matches were coming up. Kochige barely defeated her first opponent (a Ronin named Haru with a remarkable knack for plant-based spells and invocations) in what came down to a contest of endurance and had to argue with the imperial doctor, who wanted to keep them quiet overnight for observation in case of “subtle magical injuries” while Teruoko had a pleasant challenge-duel of gardening magic with a middle-aged Fox (leading to some speculation about past connections). Sadly, Kakita Tai, a crane candidate (and specialist in subtle mental magic), died of a fast-acting inhaled herbal poison in the library, and suspicion was directed towards Haru. Shigure swore to his innocence, and then simply punched out the second Crane Shugenja when he started making noises about a formal duel between Shigure and his Yojimbo to settle the matter. The dispute was put on hold until the conclusion of the tournament and investigation – both by the Seppun and boy Shigure and company.
Alex finally reappeared in Merenea, where he rapidly became involved with the Church, began some local studies, found out that he was – while a very long way from Rokugan – at least in the correct dimension and time period (and decided not to gamble with the Orrery of Dream any more), and – after a certain amount of research, poking around in the ports, and learning the local language – decided to hire a large ship and stock it extensively for a very long trip. Some of the local Captains knew roughly where to find the Mantis Isles, but none of them were too clear on exactly what would be involved in making the trip.
With Shigure’s Nephew busy catching up on his family ties and the Tournament still working on eliminating candidates the group decided to travel to a barren island well off the coast to work on the two black scrolls in their possession. Ninsei didn’t reveal exactly what he had in mind – which was just as well, as it wasn’t especially sane. He’d decided to rely on his own immunity to Taint and to draw the power of the scroll into himself, purify it, and attempt to start the process of purifying Fu Leng of his Taint. This did not work out: his power was sufficient to reject the Taint, and he managed to keep from going mad, but he accidently turned his own internal evil loose as a powerful Oni – almost as adept at fire magic as Ninsei himself – which vanished.
There were too many secrets in Ninsei’s head. The hiding place of the Empress and her children was no longer secure. They flung together a new shrine and headed for Mamoru Kyotei Toshi – and the realm of the Shadow Cats – as quickly as possible.
They were still behind Fu Leng. The Nightmare of the Phoenix and his lesser Oni had already forced the gates and blasted their way into the palace. Shigure and Michio joined the remaining Phoenix forces to fight the two great Oni holding the gates of the palace while Ninsei, Okari, and Kochige headed in to fight some powerful Fire Oni and then confront the Nightmare and his aides in the pocket realm of the Shadow Cats. They held long enough for the Shadow Cats, aided by the Heka Magic of Smoke Balamada, to bombard the Nightmare with several hundred Darts of Unmaking – whereupon Ninsei employed his hard-won knowledge to purify the Taint which filled the newly-released spirit and the Shadow Cats temporarily infected it with Shadow Points to keep it from coming back too quickly.
The Shadow Cats were really angling for imperial recognition (and more fish) now.
Attempting to explain the Shadow Cats and events went on as the group attempted to find a new hiding place for the Empress. They decided on somewhere that Ninsei didn’t know about – a valley somewhere far from Rokugan where they’d once had a few people accidently go “on vacation”. Most of the Phoenix Yojimbo and Shugenja opted to come along with Michio, Ninsei, and Okari. Unfortunately, Fu Leng – now fully aware of the Kami of Vacations and the invaluable aid he’d been providing his enemies – had the Dark Ninsei use his Fire Magic and the Recondite Weave to blast the Kami with a massive attack while he was providing the gateway. Even a Kami wasn’t immune to that sort of attack. Until he recovered, they wouldn’t be able to use Shrines as Gates any more – and even afterwards they’d have to take a lot more precautions.
Already in Merenea, Alex almost had his ship ready to leave for Rokugan, had been investigating the local foods, arts, and sciences, and had stumbled across the trail of Neko Washi, the crazed cat-clan samurai who’d gotten shipped out to Merenea. No wonder most of the locals didn’t want anything to do with him if SHE was the last person from Rokugan they’d encountered.
Kochige and Shigure returned to the capital via more conventional magic. They also spent some time looking into the Yogo family curse. It turned out to be only really powerful near the Black Scrolls. They probably should have guessed that… Strongest where it was most likely to cause some event greatly to the advantage of Fu Leng. A clever and efficient use of power.
At the capital they found that the official position of the Scorpion was that the Yogo family castle had been attacked by Ronin (and possibly by a few renegades), but that there was no “official” internal dissension in the clan. Still, the Scorpion were calling in alliances and favors and preparing for some major warfare. It looked like the Unicorn and Crab were lining up with the Scorpion, the Crane, Mantis, and Dragon were opposing them, and the Lion and Phoenix were still sorting themselves out. It was beginning to look like they wouldn’t be able to stop the wars entirely – so they started trying to figure out how to minimize them.
In Merenea Okari got left on bodyguard duty while Michio and Ninsei went scouting. The locals were reasonable enough – but the local bandits were surprisingly dangerous. Firearms seemed to make even minor idiots into credible threats. Michio was rather impressed. Still, the local church was sympathetic to flight from a dark lord, so they were permitted sanctuary. Merenea wasn’t much like Rokugan – the schools and nobles were far less important and on far more of an even level with the “peasantry” – and their arts and sciences were rather different.
They were pretty shocked to find that Alex was already there, and had started provisioning and hiring crew for a ship large enough to carry everyone back to Rokugan well before they’d even known that they were coming, much less that they’d be stranded there. After some discussion they concluded that (1) it would be rude to look a gift prophet in the mouth, and (2) that Fu Leng already knew where they were now, but would probably have a hard time hitting a moving, magically-concealed, target sailing around on a featureless sea. Alex and the ship would be ready in a couple of days – just about long enough to get the Empress and the Phoenix down out of the mountains and into town.
Despite Ninsei’s encounters with a jellyfish on the beach, fireproofing rituals on the ship, and comparison of the Merenea Churches rules and precepts on behavior and responsibility versus the ideals – and actual practice – of Bushido (which led Ninsei to begin writing a Code of Conduct for his forces), Michio’s investigations into architecture, guns, metallurgy, clocks, springs, gears, production mills, and printing presses, and Okari’s and Alex’s investigation into the local styles of magic, the expedition was ready to leave pretty much on schedule. With a dozen Shugenja available to provide good winds and calm storms they made extremely good time – despite pirates, a few minor sea monsters, some wreckers who attempted to chase them onto fog-shrouded reefs with illusory “ghost pirates” (Ninsei fireballed the entire area in irritation and Michio smashed his way through the reefs), until they ran into an area where everything that lived in the sea seemed to be growing out of control. Looking into THAT led them to a sunken Naga temple, some sort of cup which was leaking life-magic, and a close encounter with some enormous jellyfish and armored predatory fish that they accidently summoned with it somehow.
That was a dilemma. They didn’t think that it would be a good idea to leave it where it was, but it – like the Orrery of Dream – didn’t seem like an artifact that any human ought to possess or use without a divine purpose behind that possession – and they just didn’t think they had one for it.
They decided to return it to the Naga as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, in Rokugan, the Tournament was moving along, Shigure and Kochige were busy investigating the murder, looking for some lever to bring the Phoenix wholeheartedly over to their side of things, politicking, and trying to pull in (or promise) a few favors. The Crane ambassador was surprisingly friendly towards them – but the murder was a mess. The poison was harvested from a plant that grew in magical darkness such as the shadowlands, several other Shugenja had recently consulted the same book (looking for information on high-powered defensive spells, a rumor that Okari had accidently started), any of dozens of servants might have been involved, there was no apparent motive, and there weren’t any decent witnesses. It was enough to make Kochige consider a visit to the realms of the dead. Thuril, who’d been busy observing humans, had his own opinions: this “Celestial Order” seemed to be something of a mess: the residents of Tengoku should have stayed there, rather then messing around with the material world – much less forcing human society to shape itself around them. Unfortunately, most of the Naga were still busy trying to seal the Rift in the universe that the ritual of recall had opened.
In the Tournament, Kochige lost to a Phoenix void manipulator.With most of the casual candidates eliminated, Teruoko won her second match (against a Phoenix specializing in defensive spells and barriers) by simply asking the trees she’d grown in the first match to carry the man – and his shielded section of the ground – away… It was the first time most of the audience had seen someone win a Shugenja duel without actually using any magic. She won her third match (against a subtle ancestor-summoning Lion Shugenja) by simply overpowering the man with her control of the earth.
In the Palace, their searches eventually led to a considerable stock of poisons hidden in a storeroom near the kitchens – last accessed by someone in a palace servants uniform. He could be traced to the Scorpion delegation (who simply said the man must have been planted on them), but he’d been a minor servant and had already left the city. No joy there. They could make trouble about it, but it was probably too late to catch the man.
The final match was a three-way confrontation between Akira, a Phoenix Void Mage, Seiji, a Ronin (a specialist in rapid-fire blasting with low-level attack spells who apparently wanted a magistrates position: he knew he’d never be accepted even if he somehow managed to win), and Teruoko. Thanks to her enormous durability – and to Seiji’s concession to “age and wisdom” after Akira got swallowed up by the earth – Teruoko emerged triumphant.
Meanwhile, the questing sailors had arrived at the Mantis Isles – where the Mantis (and the Fox, who were helping set up a Mantis Shugenja School) were most surprised to find themselves suddenly hosting imperial guests. Secondarily, they were pleased to find that at least limited trading with the Gaijin now had imperial approval. Michio, finding that the Scorpion were up to things that he – at least – felt would disrupt the empire and open the entire realm to Fu Leng started to consider ways to disrupt such plans without crippling his clan. He applied Phoenix Bushi void use techniques to his Scorpion Clan Lore with impressive results… His clan was hiding a variety of dark secrets, the were: (1) anonymously training and employing bandits as ninja/agents, (2) using plentiful amounts of a very subtle poison that took weeks to take effect (during with the antidote was 100% effective) and simply accelerateds aging and senile dementia at banquets, (3) were using/allowing the presence of the lesser minions of Fu Leng and even cross training with them to try and acquire their shapeshifting and toxic techniques, (4) were using a method of temporarily combining antidotes and poisons so as to allow them to smuggle poisons in their own bloodstreams, (5) had possession of two Bloodswords – Ambition, which was used to test candidates for Clan Champion – and Revenge, which was buried beneath Traitors Grove (which was rapidly becoming a link to Jigoku), and (6) the Clan Champion was – at the least – crazy.
With Ninsei busy playing with the princesses (and providing more magic lessons, even if Heka Magic wasn’t really his field), Michio began working with the Empress to try and undermine the Alliance that the Scorpion Clan Champion was forging. Secondarily, to get the Empress and the Emperor back into contact, he took the Cup back to the Naga in the capital. He was a bit appalled to find out that – according to the Naga – there were several other artifacts of equal power out there, all of them dating back to the construction of the world. Perhaps worse, the Black Scroll they had had apparently been read, and most of its power drained, before they’d acquired it – without even breaking the seal. It had been fine when the Yogo Council showed the scrolls to the new Scorpion Clan Champion some years ago… Oh. The man must have had some way to read scrolls and such without actually opening them. He had touched it. The scroll still had a little power locked up and was still badly tainted though.
He did wind up with a new appointment as an imperial herald/courier though. Recognition by the Emperor was always nice.
Back at the reception for the new Jade Champion, Shigure determined that her clothing had been coated with poison – and when he and Kochige accompanied her back to her apartments for fresh clothing the servants and most of her bodyguards promptly tried to kill them all. There was quite a fight and an appalling amount of poison got thrown around. Most of the attackers died, but they did capture the four poison-throwing servants when their suicide pills failed thanks to Teruoko’s area-effect anti-poison spell. They seemed to have been hypnotically-conditioned somehow… The assassin-leader “escaped” when Shigure semi-accidently called on a cloud chariot and crashed out through the castle walls while fighting with him – and ascended them both into the sky. He managed to drop the man in the sea, but wound up in Merenea Heaven – and talking to one of the guardians there.
He got to review his life – and discovered that, save for the interference of some mysterious spirit – he should have died at birth. He reviewed a childhood crush and the resulting massive embarrassment, found out that his parents might have gone to an old abandoned village high in the mountains to hide/retire, and reviewed many of his battles, decisions, and social reactions – and realized that, quite often, no one had ben after him. He’d been awfully paranoid… Weird. It looked like that doctor who’d tried to sit on Kochige and Haru out of the way was an agent for some weird group. He’d have to remember to do something about that later. Secondarily, the Crane Ambassador – who’d been busy pulling strings on behalf of the group behind the scenes – kept consulting some ancient encrypted scrolls.
Back on Ningen-Do, Kochige was trying to explain – without much luck until the Naga came by and got in on the discussion about cloud chariots and Shigure’s weird occult resources. He seemed to be tapping into some defined functions that were normally only used during world-creation. Still, he was closely associated with the current Jade Champion. The Seppun guardsmen settled for what explanations they could get while Kochige started checking the other servants. There were several more with weird hypnotic triggers – an eventuality which spread massive paranoia among the Samurai, which triggered nervousness and fear among the servants. This vicious circle was going downhill all too quickly.
Kochige traced one minor spy to the Autumn Moon Teahouse – but it was more or less a dead end. One of the servants simply opened the messages and spread them out on a particular rooftop near the river. She didn’t even know why: just that money came for it. It looked like at least two groups – part of the Scorpion Clan and some weird group that hypnotized people – had been involved in the attempt.
Sadly, it looked like the Lion were sticking to their alliances with EVERYONE – leaving their forces on all sides of the coming conflict. It also seemed like their next urgent project would be Traitors Grove. It was far too close to becoming a gateway to Jigoku in the heart of the Empire.
8/8/9/6/7/10 XP. It’s too late tonight, I’ll try to update the special bonuses tomorrow or the next day.