The Planar War: A Sea of Troubles, In Black and White. Kochige, Ninsei, Okari, Michio, and Najite.
The Mantis had more information on the Ivory Kingdoms – the locations of some of the major ports, the major languages, which ports welcomed foreigners, the entry procedures, and a fair amount of information about the local governments – although it was hard to credit that most of their “gods” and “demons” were incarnate as humans and were wandering about in the streets. Still, with the Empress’s backing, it was easy enough to get a ship and a crew.
Unfortunately, Najite disliked sea travel, and retired to the hold for the duration – where Ninsei, sure that Najite was a spy, sent a water-animation to harass him. The escalating war of pranks had to be called on account of it threatening to destroy the entire ship, the undersea explosions wreaking havoc on the creatures of the sea, assorted side effects, and having to take out a little time to learn a few languages. Fortunately, and with liberal use of more magic, they had almost everything repaired by the time they encountered some pirates off the coast of the Ivory Kingdoms. Unfortunately, the Pirates had recognized the style of ship – and that it was likely to yield goods of great rarity and value – and thus two of their leaders had come in person to make sure that they took it. They were a pair of Asuras – Jitender Narkoon, a Master of the Seven Secret Cuts and the Leaping Flame Sword schools, and Rangan Kieroth, a master of the Hungry Ghost and Night Wind of the Soul schools. Both, of course, were past masters of the Meditations of Unity, and had been reborn before – having only to rebuild their ranks to reactivate their old techniques.
There were substantial casualties among the crew thanks to Jitender’s Strike of the Icy Dragon – and Rangan pretty much freaked out both Kochige and Ninsei when they realized that the Hungry Ghost’s Haunting Feast Technique involved biting chunks out of people and using the resulting link to share their magical talents. Still, they managed to take out Rangan after a fierce battle – thanks in large part to that mysterious knife-thrower again – but Jitender escaped via his Void Dragon Doom Slash Technique. Most of the normal pirates, and their ship, they simply captured.
Had they been unlucky enough to stumble across some freakishly powerful pirates, or was this sort of thing normal in the Ivory Kingdoms?
After connecting with the local navy – with ships considerably better than the Empire’s designs (blast it; was every major seafaring civilization equipped with better ships? Of course, the Empire’s designs hadn’t really changed since the first Hantei – and there hadn’t been any master shipbuilders at the time) – they were greeted by the local authorities, who were mostly concerned with taxes. They didn’t seem to consider foreign adventurers of any great importance compared to the local Asuras and Devas. In fact, it looked like they’d simply consider the group to be more Asuras or Devas if they dressed appropriately – or just treat them as minor members of whatever caste/social group they decided to dress as, or as “mysterious foreigners” if they didn’t choose to change to suit the local dress codes. Most of them didn’t change – why should they dress oddly to accommodate the notions of the Gaijin? – although Okari and Kochige decided to dress in the colors of the local priesthoods and the local law-enforcement caste. It seemed appropriate, as well as being fairly close to their usual color schemes anyway.
It was a bit upsetting that they didn’t really consider Ninsei anything too abnormal. Apparently being an atrocity of supernatural power as a small child simply classified him as an Asura, and was seen as being normal enough – albeit someone to treat with caution.
The local Devas in the temple district were reasonably helpful – although Ninsei threw a fit when Kochige carefully steered him away from the Tantric temple, with the usual “What are all you adults hiding from me!” routine and Okari created minor disturbances by causing the local child-pickpockets to keep pulling hundred-pound bags of rice out of his pockets. Even if the locals seemed to tolerate small children committing minor thefts, it didn’t seem right to him that they should need to… Najite was less tolerant. He promptly used the Demon Mirage to cause one such child to offend an Asura – and was horrified when the man used the Venom of Nightmares technique from the Blood Tide School to inflict a hideous doom upon the boy. He had to take him to Kochige to try and undo it – and wound up financing their relocation.
There was plenty of Rakasha lore available – especially from the local gravetenders.
It seemed that the local burial rituals were designed to purge evil from the soul, so that – when it was reborn – it should not be haunted by past sins. Unfortunately, this meant that graveyards were quite dangerous: until long years of rituals properly neutralized the evil residua, there was a risk that – if the grave of someone who’d been powerful and wicked in life went untended – it would become a focus for evil, and give rise to a Rakasha – a soulless, immortal, incarnation of Evil with powers loosely based on whoever’s evil had become the focus plus the ability to manifest fragments of itself in multiple locations, selectively varying their solidity and importance. Once a Rakasha was born, it would kill, harvest the wickedness of the slain, drive the tenders away from the local graveyards, and grow in power. It could not hold souls for long – but while it did, it could draw upon their powers and skills. They could be scattered with blasts of holy power (and would have to slowly pull themselves together again), entrapped with appropriate wards, and prevented from growing – and even weakened and eventually drawn back and (over the centuries) dissipated by properly tending and performing rituals at the untended grave at their core. They dared not personally disturb their own graves, lest the feedback cast them adrift, to be consumed by other Rakasha as they dissipated. They were vulnerable to bone, ivory, leather, and – in fact – to any dead flesh, for it was the nature of animal tissue to bond spiritual energies to itself, so leather armor and bone or ivory weapons offered considerable protection against them. They could be warded off with bloodsalt, or by bone or ivory warding rods driven into the earth to ground them.
There were many tales of Rakasha: Both the Asura and Deva’s often opposed them. One had risen some two centuries ago when an army had laid siege to the city, many graves had gone untended, and a medical center had been set up over such a grave near a battlesight. That one had slain many, many, men, manifesting, striking, and killing iwth extraordinary speed before a truce had been called and the Gravetenders had been able to go about their work once more. Others had possessed rulers, broken levees to cause floods – and incidentally conceal old graves – and otherwise caused much havoc. The Designer was amongst those tales: it’s roots may have reached back for nearly 1800 years. It had risen to power some 1200 years ago, apparently after a series of wars had left many graveyards lost and untended. It had created a reign of terror for nearly 800 years – sending forth it’s horrific mechanisms to kill and maim – until finally a heroic group of Asuras and Devas had located it’s grave and sealed it away some 400 years ago. There was still a temple on the spot, dedicated to maintaining a vigil over an evil that would still be potent for many centuries to come.
Meanwhile, Kochige went in search of someone who could teach him some advanced meditation techniques, some Mudra, and – possibly – something about the Meditations of Unity. Artagupta said that Kochige had remarkable talent, possibly enough to transcend the wheel in relatively short order despite being so incomplete – and began to teach him the basics of the Great Tour of the Embryonic Pearl.
Kochige managed to avoid becoming lost between the dimensions of the Great Tour – but it was tempting. So many other worlds to see and explore, so many possible aspects of the self.
Meanwhile, Ninsei had found a skilled stone mage, and was getting some information on that topic. It was going to take some patience: there was a lot of lore available, and the practitioner he’d found was no great master. Still, even getting some of the basics might be invaluable.
Regrouping, they decided that a trip to the Temple of the Rakasha’s Doom would be in order.
It took several days – but was quite revealing. There was indeed a Rakasha there, but it was NOT the designer. They’d encountered him recently enough to know what HE felt like. Apparently he’d tricked the adventurer’s who’d been after him into sealing up another Rakasha instead and had quietly relocated to the Shadowlands.
They must have been getting close.
The priests still had a lot of records of the old investigation… Perhaps they could reconstruct enough to locate the real gravesite.
They promptly got to work.
9/12 XP, Free Speciality in Theology/Ivory Kingdoms, 2 points of free training (Mudra for Kochige and Okari, Gem Lore and Gem Magic for Ninsei, Rakasha for Michio, Ivory Kingdoms Courtier for Najite).