The Clan War, Shifting Alliances Sequence: Champion of Love, Shadow of the Black Cat, Sumo Slammer Sledding, The Gates of Blood, World of Warcraft, Tongues of the Dead, Nightmares and Weddings, The Phoenix Nexus, Worlds Beyond, and Generals of Chaos. Kochige, Michio, Shigure, Ninsei, Okari, Alex, and others.
After a spectacular dinosaur hunt (chasing an escapee from the Naga’s efforts to contain the forest rift), Michio departed to report to his superiors – who eventually remembered him. His tale was judged important to pass him on up the chain of command, resulting in a good deal of trouble coming up with, or making, appropriate gifts. Negotiating the mazes around the scorpion stronghold, and the traps within it, was awkward as well – and he capped it all by presenting the almost-certainly tainted Scorpion Champion with a set of his Legendary-quality anti-taint Jade Blades. Fortunately, he was well away – in disguise – before his gift was actually passed on to the man.
Meanwhile, Shigure attempted to get the Crane to reinforce the Crab down at the wall, ordered the construction of a temple to Inari in Toshi Ranbo, shipped some supplies of Jade and Fish to the Crab through the Crane, and trained with the Seppun – teaching the basics of his personal school while gaining some insight into their private schools; the Sword of Hantei, Maitsan Binding, and Tojii Guardian Schools. Oddly, after Kochige got involved with an Interclan (Lion-Crane) love affair and a set of Sparrow and Crane Clan “Just So Stories”, Shigure wound up declaring himself the champion of young lovers and had to “fight” a battle-game “duel” against a young Lion Clan tactician. During the confusion, Kochige wound up on the Sparrow sledding team and piloted their sled both to victory and through a teahouse after his Sumo Wrestling competition.
Meanwhile, Okari was once again busy hunting up new spells, teaching, researching, dodging the Crab Ambassadors attempts to interrogate him about his protective talents, and attempting to help the Mantis in promoting (and monopolizing) overseas trade. Alex was occupied helping the Crane try to pull in favors from the Lion, trying to remember his pre-imperial prophecies, and trying to suppress the disruptive visions that the local priests were receiving. Last, if in no way least, Ninsei was busy attempting to continue building a coalition of the minor clans with Shigure, hosting a variety of court events in Toshi Ranbo, and using large amounts of magic to rebuild the city yet again.
Things got more complicated when the two imperial young princesses showed up in the imperial quarters demanding that Ninsei do more firework-displays for them. Since they were supposed to be safely hidden away with the Mantis, this was a considerable shock all around. While they turned out to be the genuine article – laying one major set of fears – it also turned out that they’d had the Shadowcats open a portal for them directly into the palace, a feat supposedly impossible and a cause for many brand new worries. The Emperor had a talk with Ninsei AND with the Shadowcats: if his daughters wanted fireworks and/or Ninsei’s company enough to have the Demon Cats poke holes in the universe to get them, it would be best if he dropped by regularly by more conventional magical means to provide them. He had enough to worry about what the upcoming clan war, the shadowlands, the return of Fu Leng, and with his Jade Champion still being wrapped up in trying to deduce the schemes of the Yobanjin / “Kolat” from general, conversation-derived, information about their philosophy. Interrogation hadn’t been much help, the apothecary-agent they’d captured didn’t actually know anything about the Kolat’s real overall plans.
Ninsei elected not to mention that the girls had been inquiring about Smoke’s Heka Magic since it didn’t really seem to require Shugenja potential to pick up the basics of that. He also concluded that attempting to explain the numerous – and apparently self-contradictory – elements of the various prophecies would be a waste of time. It wasn’t like he understood them either.
Back in Toshi Ranbo, with the negotiations with the river kami and the Phoenix finished, the construction of Shigure’s coastal canal project across the Phoenix and Firefly lands was already underway. With as much magic as the groups Shugenja’s were willing to apply, it might be completed within a few months – and provided Kochige with yet another way to see lots of people and check them for any void magic potential that they might have.
With the formal presentation of the the findings about Traitors Grove, the Scorpion Clan Ambassador was left in an extremely awkward position – and the Crab were left with the impression that the heart of the Empire was falling to Shadowlands subversion. Not a good thing in either case: they needed the Scorpion Clan Ambassador alive (despite the general blame-it-all-on-a-few-infiltrators routine), and preferably working to clean up the corruption within the clan. It wasn’t like he’d actually known much about what was going on. Michio, Ninsei, and Alex used their connections with the Emperor (the Seppun were still unwilling to let Shigure, inseparably linked with the ultimate assassin’s blade, anywhere too near the Emperor) to arrange a special Imperial appointment for the man, putting him in charge of the investigation. Hopefully that would split the Scorpion Clan forces before the upcoming war without being seen as an attempt to start to dividing and subordinating the great clans.
Kochige had been considering inviting his family to the capital on the theory that they’d be safer there: he was beginning to wonder if this was a good idea – but finally decided to go ahead with it anyway if his wife agreed. Unsurprisingly, she felt that it would be a marvelous opportunity for the children.
With Michio off to the Phoenix Lands to learn his final school techniques, Shigure once again demonstrating his crass-but-effective philosophy in a swordsmanship competition, people fleeing the capital, and the Phoenix preoccupied with some internal quarrel, Shigure – since he had to sit out the imperial negotiations anyway – decided to disguise himself for a secret visit to the Wasp. He had an unusual offer for them – but he was attacked along the way, both by the usual assassins and by a random peasant filled with indiscriminate bloodlust, formidable supernatural physical enhancements, and great skill with all kinds of weapons. Oddly though, the man appeared to be untainted, the possessing spirit had a sense of humor despite its cheery dedication to killing people at random, and was apparently no assassin. Well, it was a Wasp clan peasant and he was in the Wasp lands: Shigure hauled him along. The “stealth” aspect of his visit was pretty much blown anyway, but his offer was simple and pretty much impossible to avoid (the Scorpion would certainly hear about his visit anyway). All it was was a statement that – if the Wasp wanted to abandon the Scorpion, and come over to his side at any point, even just after they and the Scorpion had lost the war – he would gladly leave records confirming that their siding with the Scorpion (not that they had a lot of choice given their location) was all a ruse he’d set up in advance. That way they’d have an escape hatch to the very end.
It wasn’t like there was any way the Wasp could say “No” to that: it didn’t even involve them doing anything.
Meanwhile, Ninsei and Kochige were confronting similar random mass-murder cases in Toshi Ranbo and the imperial capital. It didn’t take long for them to conclude that they were dealing with possession, not too much longer before they identified the spirits as residents of the Realm of Slaughter – and it only took a few days for them to locate the dimensional weak points where such spirits could latch on to anyone who was angry enough. An oddly regular pattern – and thousands of such weak points.
The Naga geometry and mathematics lessons came in handy at last. With a lot of tracing, they managed to locate the center of the radiating pattern, inside Lion territory, It looked like it covered an area 200-250 miles in radius.
At the center someone had apparently used a Black Scroll – perhaps the final Black Scroll – but had wound up breaching the barriers between Ningen-Do and the Realm of Slaughter instead of Ningen-Do and Jigoku (or wherever they’d actually been trying to reach – probably Yomi).
They started getting ready to head into Lion Territory to try to seal the breach.
On his way back, Shigure invited the Matsu family to invest the imperial capital without actually declaring a side, guaranteeing that he’d try to arrange safe passage. That way at worst they’d be in position already and at best they could easily join the correct side. He also mentioned the Seppun’s attempt to set up a neutral zone around the capital.
The Matsu found him entertaining enough that – when he mentioned that he was looking for a wife – one of their courtiers volunteered to find him one. Shigure fled immediately.
Michio had made a quick side-trip to Yobanjin Territory to try and find out more about the spirit binders, but hadn’t had the time to go into depth. He had found that someone out there was freely teaching the school to anyone who wanted to learn – and tasking the students with passing on the lore similarly and with extracting a similar promise from anyone they taught. A copyleft magical school? Were they trying to restore “normal humans” to dominance over the spirits? They couldn’t possibly think that they could bind Fu Leng directly if he did take over the empire did they?
With the group once more together and off to Lion territory, it rapidly became apparent that many thousands of peasants had been possessed by spirits of slaughter – and were currently making a fair approximation of pretending to be a disciplined army of ancestor spirits from Yomi under the command of Ikoma Ton, the local lord. What were they waiting for, and who was really in charge, was not yet apparent. Apparently Kitsu Ejjior, a young Shugenja, had been attempting to summon the Lion Clan Ancestors – and had managed to maintain partial control, even if the effort had killed him.
Their campaign of weakening Fu Leng by draining his power through the scrolls must have been having some effect unless the youngster had simply been INCREDIBLY lucky. They could exercise a few of the ones around the castle – but the army outside was ten thousand strong, and to seal the rifts properly they’d need to work from both sides. Even if they did, unless they found a way to recall most of them, they’d still have an army of spirits of slaughter running about. It didn’t look like there was any real choice: some of them would have to go into the Slaughter Realm, try to arrange to recall as many spirits as possible, and seal the rift from that side.
Ninsei elected to remain behind and seal the rift from Ningen-Do. He thought that the notion of such a trip was utterly insane anyway.
In the Realm of Slaughter there was a great deal of pointless violence. Apparently the realm encouraged it by providing random creatures and anonymous peasants to be slaughtered and by handing out random goods – weapons, armor, supplies, and occasional magical talismans – whenever you killed someone and by bringing back anyone who “died” there the next morning with basic weapons and armor.
There had a fight in the bamboo grove. A battle in the hills. A disagreement at the ford. They bribed a ferryman with better weapons. They accidently convinced some villagers that ochige ate other sumo wrestlers whole. They discovered that any spellcasting in the realm also provided the caster with a free smiting of someone nearby. They got past the besiegers and persuaded the castle guards that whether they were or were not disguised Ninja it really didn’t matter since, if they were Ninja, they’d get in anyway. They debated with a youngster who’d apparently been a hostage but who, when a war started and he knew that he’d be killed shortly, had set fire to the local castle and ensured that all the other kids in the nursery burned to death rather than dying with proper resignation. They found that the local castles also restored themselves at dawn: they only existed to be fought over, in, and around.
Michio kept the local warlord – the most brutally powerful and efficient samurai around – occupied with a challenge. It was a long, tough, fight. Kochige had a running fight through the corridors chasing that murderous youngster, who was trying to use some of Kochige’s blood to tap into Kochige’s innate magic to get himself reborn early – and without losing his enhancements from the realm of slaughter. Shigure got into the warlords treasures during the duel to obtain the Oathstone and Scrying Mirror which allowed the Warlord to keep in touch with his minions and used them to recall a fair percentage of the Spirits of Slaughter. Okari provided more protection and mystical analysis, as well as attempting to divert the besieging army who’d broken in when Michio and the Warlord’s duel blew out the side of the castle.
Oddly enough, the local Warlord was relatively sane: he’d wanted to invade Ninjen-Do in search of pretty young women and luxuries – both of which were scarce in the realm of slaughter. Killing people was fun, but that was distinctly secondary. He could do that all day right where he was – and occasionally fought a gaijin invasion from some similar gaijin afterlife. He and Michio parted on relatively friendly terms. Kochige gave in to the kid who wanted a new life, although he made a mental note to keep a careful eye on the boys new reincarnation. The child still had a lot of rage to deal with.
With the battle running down for the moment – at least until a new force of besiegers showed up -and a good percentage of the spirits of slaughter recalled, the group gathered to conduct their sealing rituals. Unfortunately, while that shored up most of the weak points in the barriers, that also sealed off their route back, leaving them with relatively few options.
They decided that it would be best to depart though Meido.
Meido was DULL. Outside of a few obsessives attempting to achieve various philosophical points, a very long line, and some peaceful scenery, there simply wasn’t much there. Even a visiting Spirit of Mischief was bored silly – and attached itself to them in an attempt to get a lift out.
Kochige picked up a sword that had been honed into it was more an idea of sharpness than a physical object, Shigure got some obscure advice about his own status from a wandering “Monk” / Camp Councilor of the Dead, Michio spoke to a few individuals and meditated on his role in populating this realm, and Okari discussed how being an ancestor spirit worked. Apparently Spirits could exist in multiple aspects and places at the same time.
Fortunately, Meido was easy enough to leave as well. After all, the Dead put in appearances in peoples dreams, in memories, and even in Ningen-Do all the time.
They reappeared in the Hall of Ancestral Shrines in a (different) Lion Castle – and had quite a time explaining their abrupt appearance, especially with their Spirit of Mischief companion constantly trying to make pastry-themed trouble. Along the way Kochige accidently insulted the Lion Clan (for which he would later apologize extensively: he hadn’t really meant to say that), and they let Ninsei and the Jade Champion know that they’d made it back.
Back in Toshi Ranbo, there were a swarm of Shosuru assassins waiting for Shigure. They’d been given contradictory orders – some to keep him alive, some to kill him – and had elected to settle the matter of which orders to implement with a Go tournament.
Given that Shigure’s staff mostly consisted of people who’d been hired to kill him, had failed, and had accepted his offer of amnesty, he decided to let it go.
Ninsei started hosting again, attempting to make contacts, trying to impress everyone with his being a legitimate authority in Toshi Ranbo, hosting festivals, attempting to smooth over quarrels between the varios representatives of the minor clans, and arranging for some more courtly events – Tales of the Naga hosted by the Naga and some Herbalism courses. Kochige spent some time writing apologies and then headed off to the northern borders of the Dragon territories to fortify them against the Yodatai scouts and hit-and-run raids with mazes, illusions, avalanches, and various other magically-created obstacles. Meanwhile, Okari and Michio, acting mostly on Shigure’s advice, attempted to get the Hare Clan noncombatants out of danger: that might let them break the Hare clan forces away from the Scorpion – and every little bit helped.
With Shigure again working on his defenses, the rest of the group decided on launching some tactical and strategic strikes against he Shadowlands. They’d been on the defensive against swarms of assassins long enough and it was time to return the favor. Fortunately, the Nezumi had a fair idea of where the Nightmare of the Lion was likely to lead his forces against the wall next – and the group was on hand to reinforce the Crab when he did. The battle was long and spectacular, and there were casualties on both sides – but they managed to banish the Nightmare of the Lion for the time being before heading off to deal with the newly-created Nightmare of the Mantis.
The Nightmare of the Mantis was mercantile, treacherous, and inclined to work through remotely-operated Demon Puppets rather than coming out in person. That made attacking it a bit pointless… They wound up talking instead since the locals appeared to know Ninsei and regarded him as an ally – which at least told them where Dark Ninsei had gone. None of the Nightmares really trusted each other much, and, in exchange for various minor concessions and information on the other Nightmares, the Nightmare of the Mantis was willing to point them to where the Nightmare of the Phoenix was being re-summoned (in an old laboratory that had been sealed and forgotten up in Phoenix territory) – although he would, of course, make a show of chasing them out and warn the Nightmare of the Phoenix that they would be coming.
Organizing an attack on the old laboratory complex turned out to be a bit messy. It had been an attempt to channel the elemental power of the land into creating endless hordes of guardians to protect the Phoenix territories – but tapping into the power of the forest to help guide them had been an error. The plants didn’t really LIKE animals that ate them, chopped them down, and otherwise bothered them. The cultists weren’t that big a problem for their massed might (and the Nightmare of the Phoenix wound up trapped in a powerless infants body), but thousands of deadly elemental constructs were. Fortunately, they weren’t very bright – but along the way Michio accidently blew up the entire complex, releasing centuries worth of stored power and creating a magical shockwave that would cause devastation in a fifty mile radius.
Michio dealt with falling rubble in the immediate area, and Shigure simply used his evasion techniques – but Ninsei attempted to drain off the fire magic through himself, burned the Earth and Water from his system, and wound up sharing Evil Ninsei’s body at a formal dinner with Fu Leng and his high command. Kochige grounded out as much power as he could into the Void, but was swept into the void with it – and Okari attempted to baffle and slow the power-release and wound up buried deep in the rubble.
The power infusion was helpful in some ways, but the explanations – and the fact that half of them had gone missing in the blast – was more problematic.
Kochige followed the wrong pull through the Void – and wound up in the body of an english teacher in a technological world who was involved in past-life regression experiments. That was pretty confusing. The phoenix sent Shigure astrally-projecting after him, but he got involved in fighting spirit beasts, and teaching a group involved in sleep-projection experiments how to create spirit weapons and defend themselves. It looked like the world they were visiting was being invaded by spirits, and wasn’t used to magic – so they spent some time there passing on their various teachings on the subject.
In the Shadowlands, Evil Ninsei and Ninsei eventually reached an accommodation: both were afraid that any struggle would reveal the situation to Fu Leng, neither wanted to risk trying to remain separate in the same body, and both felt that killing the other would probably be suicidal. Evil Ninsei had he bright idea of unloading Ninsei into a siblings body, and getting him out that way. He promptly dispatched minions to get one of his younger brothers. Ninsei sent a warning – and Fu Leng noticed the dispatch and sent minions of his own to collect the entire batch. It might be amusing to see what his young servant wanted with his siblings.
They wound up with four of them – which left Ninsei with the choice of borrowing his younger brother’s body and getting at least some of them out, or leaving them all in the Shadowlands. He opted to salvage what he could, and at least get his youngest sister out.
Evil Ninsei “lost track” of his two youngest slaves during an diversionary assault on the Wall – and the attempts to locate Ninsei suddenly started working once he was out of the Shadowlands and separate from Evil Ninsei.
Getting everyone back into shape was quite a project. Kochige had lost a great deal to the Void, while Ninsei was down to a mist of fiery vapor – something which he knew that no normal human should have survived, no matter how magically powerful (and incredibly lucky in a raw earth check) they were. What was he?
With the help of the Elemental Masters they managed eventually – and found that the meeting of the minds had included a good deal of information sharing. They had fresh intelligence on the Shadowlands, including the information that Evil Ninsei had been sabotaging attacks that might endanger Ninsei (no wonder so many of the assassins had been so incompetent or relying on such stupid plans) and that he was planning to try to usurp Fu Leng – and Evil Ninsei had a fresh update on them. Time to move the Empress and her children again.
Ninsei headed off to return his siblings (after recovering) and offer explanations to his parents while Michio went to work on trying to come up with a plant to create a Void-based counterpart to Shard-of-the-Midnight-Heart and Okari helped Kochige recover while the Elemental Council locked the Nightmare of the Phoenix into a turtle for awhile.
After a quick stop by the Unicorn to try and persuade them to invest the Imperial City peacefully in the Spring – thus potentially setting up a battle of five separate armies but possibly avoiding wasting time and resources – and compiling a list of relics that had been lost to the Shadowlands and might be recoverable, they decided what to do: Shigure and Michio would attempt to sneak into the depths of the Shadowlands to rescue Ninsei’s siblings while Okari, Kochige, Ninsei, and their allies would strike at the Nightmares of the Crab and Unicorn both as a diversion and in an attempt to deprive Fu Leng of their services. In the meantime, Ninsei attempted to use the Recondite Weave to link the Nightmare of the Dragon to himself as an ally – and found it unexpectedly easy, albeit also an action of unknown consequences.
8/7/9/8/8/10/8/10/8/10 XP, Ninsei appointed as Junior Imperial Shugenja, gain Lore/Group at 4, Gain Lore/Planes, Lore/Other Worlds, gain a +1 bonus on each of two rings due to being exposed to primordial elemental flux (side effects unknown), Michio gains a Warlord Spirit of Slaughter as a dream-sparring-partner.