The L5R log hasn’t been updated in far too long, and was a few weeks behind even then, so the episodes are likely to run into each other. That also means that this update will be split into multiple sections, although – for orientation purposes – I’ll list all the headings here.
L5R 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 Venom, Lords of Darkness, Final Visits, The Shinjo Files.
With Michio, Kochige and Okari busily re-assembling centuries-old records, Ninsei and Najite went out to see a bit of the country – and wound up encountering a small group of Asuras. It was an oddly familiar experience. Despite being known as “Demon Gods” they seemed an awful lot like… just another party of arrogant, obnoxious, grossly-high-powered adventurers. Impatient and annoyed with all the normal people around them. Capable of vast destruction, even by accident or when confronted with another attack, and brushing off normal niceties in favor of the quick and easy application of raw power.
Well, how many times had THEY virtually destroyed Toshi Ranbo? Maybe “Human beings with more power than is at all reasonable and lots of frustrations to work through” would probably be a better translation than “Demon Gods”. It was enough to make them wonder how the Peasants around Toshi Ranbo thought about them.
Still, despite some initial tensions, the little group of Asuras was more than willing to help them go Rakasha hunting; they didn’t like the Rakasha either – and were VERY interested in the Empire. Lots of unused territory, very little competition on their power level, the local power structure collapsing in battle with assorted monsters… There were distinct POSSIBILITIES there.
Oh by the Kami: after Fu Leng were they going to have to deal with random adventurers from the Ivory Kingdoms as well as the Yodatai, the Yobanjin, AND the Naga?
Back at the Temple, Michio and Kochige were at an impasse. After all these centuries there simply wasn’t enough information left; no matter how good they were at deduction and ferreting out details. There were six major possibilities for where the grave of the Designer might be, and all of them had problems of one sort or another.
The Asuras weren’t much help there. If a Rakasha survived for long, it invariably tried to wipe out all traces of it’s grave. It couldn’t allow it to be disturbed, since it was the central focus that allowed it to grow in power and return after being dissipated, but it could wrap it in defenses and eliminate all records of its location.
OK, so a Rakasha was born from the residual evil of a powerful departed soul. Without a proper burial ceremony and tending rituals, the site could become a focus for lesser evil residues, which would give rise to a Rakasha. How could residual evil hold itself together and become a power? And why did they all wield such powerful disciplines?
Wait: the Meditations of Unity. Designed to focus the energies of the spirit.
Everything had its downside didn’t it?
But that meant that somewhere there was a reincarnated soul – probably an Asura or Deva – who had some additional clues buried in his or her memory. Who would know how he or she had died twelve hundred years ago.
Ninsei began to use the Recondite Weave to find an ally who possessed that knowledge. It took quite a lot of fishing – but eventually he found an elderly Deva and set up the communications link. Centuries ago, and many incarnations back, Vikerl had been an Asura and had fought the Designer many times, since he shared a school of magic with it. That wasn’t that uncommon, at the time – although the outrages of the Designer had given Technics a bad reputation for many centuries after its final defeat – even if it was rare these days.
He had thought that the Designer had been destroyed at last however.
It didn’t quite seem to fit though. The Designer had been so powerful when it first appeared – and that didn’t seem to be the information they needed. Still, the Recondite Weave guaranteed that Vikerl had the information they needed somewhere.
They started going through Vikerl’s list of incarnations – and found a gap. Once he had not reincarnated for several centuries. Just before that, he had been a young Asura, a prince, and his father’s country had been overrun. He had hidden deep in the secret chambers and passages beneath the palace, and had entered a stasis-trance, focusing his concentration and meditations on his determination to survive, return, and wreak bloody vengeance upon the usurpers and their descendants.
Not very admirable, but he’d been a very angry, frustrated, child at the time. He’d always assumed that the multi-century gap in his incarnations had been devoted to calming down while meditating between lives.
The Designer had appeared about 1200 years ago – already vastly powerful – and had slaughtered tens of thousands across centuries in blood and torment. He had devastated an entire kingdom, wiped out many noble lines, and carried his campaigns of slaughter into the neighboring realms.
How long could you survive in a stasis-trance? If the conditions for re-awakening were never fulfilled?
Until, perhaps, the ceiling of a long-forgotten chamber collapsed or the soul abandoned the dust-covered body at last? Six hundred years perhaps?
Six hundred years of meditation, focused on thoughts of blood and revenge. Evil piled upon evil, focused and bound into form by the Meditations of Unity.
It wasn’t often you met a pleasant, kindly, grandfatherly, and helpful old man who – as an angry child – had spawned an evil on the scale of Fu Leng without even knowing it. The Meditations of Unity just might be the most dangerous techniques ever developed – if only because there was, even in theory, no way to wipe them out.
So: make the assumption that the young Prince’s body had never been found. His untended grave must still lay beneath a palace or the ruins thereof.
Well, at least palaces were a lot less common than graveyards.
Michio and Kochige were a bit annoyed at that. Some of their carefully-complied research might still be useful, but that meant that ALL the clues pointing to graveyards had either been plants or coincidence. How many levels of misdirection HAD the Designer used to conceal his grave?
So; Palaces. From 1800 years ago. Overrun by an army, in this general area – and fitting what Vikerl could remember plus the temple records, and what the local Asuras and Devas knew about the situation back then, and what they could gather from the local spirits.
It took more days they could not spare – but eventually they had it down to three likely positions. Two palace sites that were still in use, albeit after being renovated and rebuilt many times, and one ruin that was buried under a thriving town.
They checked the old ruins under the town first: none of the townsfolk were going to make any effort to stop a group of Asuras who wanted to poke around and make holes in the ground no matter how awkward they were being. There were traces of old evil, as well as ancient and well-buried graves – but no active focus of evil at the moment.
Getting into the local Sultan’s palace was a bit more awkward. No one wanted to start a battle with them; a fight with that many Asuras, and apparently equivalent-foreigners, might destroy everything for miles around, even if the local Devas could stop them all.
The Sultan granted an interview. Sadly, a few ill-judged remarks of Najites – blamed on a random guard – revealed that the Sultan took as dim a view of Lese Majeste as the Emperor did and got the unfortunate guard and (after some further remarks) his family, condemned to death. The Sultan, however, concluded that he had a group of treasure-hunters or something on his hands, and gave permission for them to poke around in the old basements and subsurface storage chambers provided that they (a) didn’t wreck the place or paid for repairing anything they did wreck, (b) gave him a share of any forgotten treasures they found, and (c) let the Devas who attended his court come along to keep an eye on things.
Sufficient poking around revealed wine cellars, the torture chamber (where the torturer had finished up with the guard and was starting in on his children), wine cellars, storage rooms, drains, wells – and a network of very old, long-sealed off, catacombs deep beneath the palace. All warded so heavily that they were almost impossible to detect.
While the others focused on breaking through into the catacombs, Najite headed back to visit the Torturer; the children needed to be killed if they couldn’t be saved, and he needed to know if such activities were standard procedure. That would tell him who else needed to be killed.
The Torturer didn’t seem especially upset when he granted release to the whimpering remains of the two children, and didn’t even mind explaining. Such sentences were normal enough, and were usually simply left to his discretion. Hundreds of people – bandits, thieves, tax-evaders, traitors, and various other offenders (often with their families) – were sent to die at his hands every year.
Najite promptly stuck a selection of sharply pointed items into the Torturer, and went off to see – and kill – the Sultan and his advisors.
Behind him the Torturer dissolved into a puddle of darkness and poured down the well which normally awaited the blood and remains of his victims, carrying the children’s souls with him. Something was breaking past the wards of his personal outpost of hell, and would have to be dealt with. He had no more time for playing “corpse” – and the Sultan who had allowed him to be disturbed would be properly dealt with if he had read Najite correctly. Of course, there, in the heart of his catacombs, surrounded by the imprisoned and tortured spirits of his victims, filled with the evil he had encouraged and cultivated across the centuries, he was at the heart of his power. The clever fools who had uncovered his secret would die, and become a part of his power. He had not cultivated evil in the land, and harvested his crop amid the screams of the donors, for five long centuries to be defeated now!
The battle was fought standing in pools of ancient, rotting, blood, engulfed supernatural darkness, surrounded by withered corpses, the psychic howling of entrapped and agonized spirits, and the stench of slow decay.
It was a close thing in any case. Despite the protective powers of four Devas, the offensive might of five Asuras, and the assorted powers of the party, they came very very close to defeat – and only averted it through earthquake, a holocaust of purifying flame that fed on dark magic, sweeping tens of thousands of corpses into the streets of the nearby towns – where the Torturer had extended his access to allow him to plant seeds of evil en everyone nearby – recklessly blowing holes in reality, and similar stunts.
Above, where Nijite had just finished killing off the Sultan and his advisors, and had made sure that the crime would remain a mystery, the palace began to crumble as it’s foundations were ripped from beneath it. Najite did manage to get most of the inhabitants moving towards the exits though – even if one girl actually seemed to see him accurately. With his techniques that really shouldn’t be possible. Oh well, if it ever mattered, he might look into it.