The Clan War: Wandering In The Darkness, The Strength of Stones. Kochige, Michio, Shigure, Kochige, Okari, Shin, Alex, and the Ki’Rin Elder.
Kochige stopped in to see his family and check on the kids: it seemed sort of obligatory before going into the Shadowlands again. He wound up picking up Shin, his youngest son, along the way. The monks had no idea what his tattoos meant – but they seemed to be appallingly powerful and somehow related to Kochige. Kochige cold tell that their power came from outside Rokugan – some power he couldn’t quite place. He took Shin back to Toshi Ranbo with him.
Back at the war conference, Shigure and Michio decided to sail down the coast and try for the shortest route across the Shadowlands to the Palace of Fu Leng while Kochige, Ninsei, Okari, the bodyguards (and Shin, who somehow managed to get himself included) ran some diversionary missions – such as attacking some of the goblin camps and a few of the remaining nightmares. Kochige had meant to drop Shin off with the Crab along the way, but that idea didn’t work out.
Sailing down the coast of the Shadowlands, Shigure and Michio handily dealt with an assortment of minor menaces, but then encountered an Undead Gaijin Pirate – who managed to drop them off near the void pole, apparently in hopes of stranding them between dimensions. Unfortunately for that plan, Michio managed to navigate by mediating his way into one of the ornamental ponds in Fu Lengs impalement gardens – right next to the leprosy garden. Despite the Eta gardeners, and their deference to the perpetually-suffering impaled Samurai in the gardens (“So sorry to disturb you my lord!”), the worst part of it was the cheerful, happy, malignance of the servants. They were quite happy to give the “honorable visitors” the tour, to show them the festering pit, to let them watch as they threw in human servants who’d displeased someone, as they offered them rooms and a choice of concubines – and when they tried to rescue a bunch of them by saying that they wanted all of them, the Oni cheerily informed them that – in that case – they’d check tomorrow, and throw any that weren’t pregnant into the festering pit. Why? Because they were EVIL, and this way they could cause the maximum possible misery and guilt!
Both Shigure and Michio had to agree that they’d gotten that at least partially right. They were on a mission, and didn’t have time for diversions.
Evil Ninsei was not pleased to see them: he’d been running some experiments in binding spirits into his siblings – and he didn’t need Fu Leng getting any impression that he was conspiring. Still, he might be able to turn this to his advantage… He let them have the two kids. He had the technique down now anyway. Still, at about that time, the servants informed Fu Leng that Shigure had come to visit – and he was promptly summoned to court. Shigure decided to go, and hopefully cover Michio’s escape. He stalled as long as possible while Michio got back to the rooms they’d been assigned – and picked up the ten girls who hadn’t yet been disposed of (out of twenty-eight unfortunately). He decided to take the boat out again; this close to the festering pit there should be plenty of dimensional flaws to try to navigate through.
There were enough.
Meanwhile, in Fu Leng’s throne room, Shigure was meeting the Nightmare of the Dragon, Evil Ninsei (again), an assortment of Oni guards, some of the Lost – and Fu Leng. Fu Leng, knowing how evasive Shigure was, drew up the power of the Festering Pit – an open gate to Jigoku – around his throne room. If Shigure attempted to escape him, he might do so – the pest was unbelievably evasive – but it would leave him fleeing into Jigoku.
Shigure’s attempts at peacemaking mostly came across as stalls and sarcasm, so the situation went downhill – and did indeed wind up with Shigure stranded in Jigoku, where he found that the leakage of Ningen-Do into Jigoku was as unwelcome to many of the demons as the Taint was on Rokugan proper. He decided to try and raise a rebellion – although his potential allies were impossibly chancy and he didn’t want to become a demon himself, it looked like his only chance.
Meanwhile, Kochige, Ninsei, Okari, Shin, and their Yojimbo were raising a ruckus along the wall. Hitting a few goblin camps, and temporarily liberating Singing Bell Village (an enclave where a mighty relic kept the land free from the taint – but where the local villagers were enslaved by the Oni to produce untainted food for Fu Leng’s special guests and allies) was one thing – but when they went after a minor fortress under the command of the Nightmare of the Crab, the Nightmare nearly did them all in. They hadn’t been prepared for that kind of speed – or for his ability to dodge away from area-effect spells. Fortunately, thanks to Shin’s precognitive Eyes of the Void, they managed to partially counter his abilities long enough to escape. They tried sowing a bit more confusion on the way out – but had to fall back to regroup, to get some new troops, and to try and figure out what was going on with Shin. Every time he killed something he seemed to get more powerful.
While Michios return to Toshi Ranbo was greeted with relief (and some outrage on the part of a local priest who was most upset to see him turning up with ten naked young women), that left them with four kids with considerable supernatural powers – Ninsei’s siblings, now imbued with a Spirit of Slaughter and a Lesser Dragon Spirit, Shin – and one of Smoke’s offspring, a young demon-cat in human form. Fortunately, Ninsei’s ability to find appropriate employees let him find an appropriate tutor, at least for three of them. His brother’s powers seemed to be simple, physical, and easily-trained.
The news of Shigure’s apparent death – at least it seemed like a good assumption when he’d last been seen headed for a personal confrontation with Fu Leng and now no trace of him could be found anywhere that any of them could reach – was a source of considerable confusion for Ninsei: there was no doubting that Shigure had died a heroic death rescuing his Siblings – but they never had gotten along even if they had been (theoretically) co-rulers. He scheduled a fairly elaborate funeral-tribute while he thought about it.
Dealing with the incredibly ancient air shugenja who claimed to be an ambassador from the Ki-Rin – heralding their return to Rokugan and bearing messages for the emperor – was an unexpected trial as well, although the old man seemed to be powerful enough to be fairly helpful at times.
Meanwhile, they had stumbled upon a new strategy – appear, blast, and vanish. It probably wouldn’t work for long, but it might help to disrupt the upcoming spring campaign. The tactic worked until they ran into The Designer – who’d apparently been assigned to eliminate them, and had started strewing the Shadowlands with traps for them, working through projections and by giving horrific weapons to his minions rather than by direct confrontation. The traps were pretty good ones too. Apparently they had a new, and competent, opponent – some sort of gaijin demon of unknown type and capabilities, and one who used an unfamiliar style of magic at that. Worse, he seemed to be studying them, and treated every encounter as a chance to learn. This wasn’t good – and would drastically limit their chances of a successful blast-and-vanish campaign, even if Fu Leng hadn’t already started using the same strategy.
While they were discussing what to do, the elder shipped Shin off to a major goblin encampment – where they didn’t catch up until the resistance was calling in some powerful Oni and he’d killed hundreds of Goblins. The battle was fairly messy – and restraining Shin was almost as hard. His power was growing out of control – and Kochige finally identified its source, despite most of the traces having been wiped from his mind; madness magic. How could that possibly have happened? Had it been passed along his bloodline somehow? No wonder there was so much power in those tattoos and they grew in power with every kill.