Here’s the next segment of the Legend of the Five Rings campaign log, picking up form the groups late-winter return from the Ivory Kingdoms, with only a few weeks to go until the campaign season begins – with Fu Leng fomenting an interclan war to weaken Rokugan for his own conquest.
The most urgent thing now seemed to be the Scorpion Clan Champion. He was still holding quite a lot of the Scorpion Clan together, as well as maintaining their alliance with the Unicorn – and with the Lion Clan sitting on the fence, the Dragon (and, to some extent, the Phoenix) crippled by the Demon Winter, the Crab needed on the Wall, that would leave most of the burden of the defense to the Crane, the Mantis, and the Minor Clans. A relatively even balance of power was too much to concede to a group that – whether they knew it or not – was destabilizing the Empire in the face of the rise of Fu Leng.
Fortunately, they could still attend the court. Michio was a Scorpion clansman, and still had an invitation, as well as some friends in the Scorpion Clan Palace. Besides, he was an official Kami – even if he was the “Kami of Sumo Throwing” – and thereby could justify bringing an escort.
They set to work gathering some presents – reluctantly deciding against throwing in a set of jade weapons, but including a few minor (but impressive-looking) enchantments, such as a mask that produced small flames when the wearer exhaled, along with plenty of secondary stuff.
They spent some time talking to their escort while crossing the Scorpion clan territories: it looked like the hidden doubts went deeper than they’d thought – and the clan champion had deployed most of the more doubtful troops to guard positions as distant from the palace, and each other, as he could. For them, that was pretty hopeful: the schism between the clan champion and the senior ambassador was actually getting some results.
Entering the palace still called for a succession of guides, an absurdly twisted approach, and lots of warnings – but this time around they were sure of it: most the rigamarole about the maze of traps was a complete fraud – and so were most of the ones in the palace corridors. There would be a few real ones of course, but if the palace and gardens had really been THAT full of traps, the servants wouldn’t last a day.
The plan – to spread rumors about how the Clan Champion was in the service of Fu Leng – and, if possible, draining the Taint from the Champion. Even if he couldn’t be returned to sanity while he was attuned to the bloodsword Ambition, that should at least weaken him. Spreading rumors turned out to be easy enough – Najite’s Demon Mirage was pretty much made for it – but getting Okari close enough to the clan champion to try to remove some of his Taint was considerably harder. After several failed attempts, Michio tried an exhibition of kite-flying (including – thanks to some prankish illusions – escaping his “mother and prospective bride” by riding away on it) and finally got Okari close enough – which merely got him flattened. Apparently the scorpion clan champion was a living gateway to Jigoku. And trying to drain him of taint was pretty well useless. He hadn’t even noticed the attempt. They spent some time passing information to the Crab ambassador, negotiating, spreading rumors, exchanging gifts, and engaging in minor competitions while Okari recovered, Michio got back to the palace, and they figured out what had gone wrong.
After a good deal of study and divination (most of which didn’t work at all; the entire palace seemed to be infused with counter-divination shadow magic) they reached the conclusion that – when the Scorpion Clan Champion had foolishly given into temptation and used his touch-reading talent on a Black Scroll, he’s become the scroll – an open gateway to Jigoku, and a channel for the power of Fu Leng. That might not be invincibility, but it would give him enormous power – and make it pretty much impossible to remove his taint. After all, you weren’t trying to drain him, you were trying to drain Jigoku. It wasn’t going to work unless they could seal the gateway.
Well, Najite had some relevant magics – or at least Eyes-Of-Fire (whatever IT was) could channel some through him, and Kochige should be able to hold the gateway sealed for a time. If Kochige could hold it closed and Okari could drain off the taint, then Najite should be able to seal it closed, at least for awhile. They sent out Najite and Kochige on the astral plane to handle the gate while Okari got in position for another try – and Michio and Ninsei went off to provide the diversion; Michio throwing Ninsei into the heavens (or at least a very very long ways away) again. This worked – although Kochige and Najite nearly got pullted through the gate and the Scorpion Clan Champion seemed to have been consumed by Ambition instead of Taint (which the bloodsword masked anyway), so it made no obvious difference. At least the rumors Najite had been busy planting were spreading nicely.
Michio spent some time trying to argue the local priests out of adding a shrine for him to the local collection, but without much luck; the argument that – when a Celestial Kami (however minor, specialized, or silly) visited in person, a shrine was more or less required – was pretty much irrefutable.
Unfortunately, while Najite and Ninsei made it back safely, Kochige had given into the impulse to investigate the source of that darkness magic that infused the palace – and had gotten stuck in some sort of magical crystal. There was someone else already there too. Hadn’t Shigure once mentioned some sort of warning of this long ago? Something about a crystal tomb of darkness it had been. This was bad though; he couldn’t leave, he couldn’t do much to affect Ningen-Do at all, and he could barely see anything with divination: all the darkness magic was blocking him. The other planes seemed to be open to him though – but that was nothing new.
And apparently he was keeping Shosuro company at the moment.
Back at the palace proper, Kochige’s body was still comatose – and all their spells weren’t doing a bit of good. Ninsei had managed to use the Recondite Weave to link with Kochige – but there wasn’t much he could do with that kind of link except send things, and a fireball to the head was rarely really helpful in recalling lost spirits.
They eventually figured out how to send Kochiges body to his spirit, since trying to pull his spirit out of wherever it was stuck didn’t seem to be working; all they had to do was reinforce the link and let Michio use his authority over Sumo Throwing to throw his body along said link.
Within the Crystal Tomb, that made things a lot more crowded. It also gave the rest of the group a bit of a clue: somewhere deep beneath the Scorpion Clan Palace.
Michio knew all about that: the deep foundations had been sealed by Bayushi himself, it was said that a terrible curse awaited anyone who trespassed there, that a swift death would be the best that could be hoped for if you undertook such a venture, and that generations of the Scorpion clans most inventive trapmakers had added to the defenses. Such a venture could only result in certain doom!
Funny, that sounded like every other job they ever wound up with. They applied to the Scorpion Clan Champion for permission to make such a venture. Either the Champion wasn’t as blinded by his ambitions as they’d assumed or he had something else in mind, but he granted permission without argument and sent one of the servants to guide them down. They sent the kid back after he’d shown them the entrance to the lower levels; he was obviously terrified.
Meanwhile, Kochige was taking advantage of the properties of the Crystal Tomb to do a little dimensional touring: in fact, it was about the most self-contradictory “prison” he’d ever seen. It kept you from manifesting on Ningen-Do, and limited what you could see within a fair radius of itself – but it seemed to offer protection form aging, time, physical necessities, and physical injury along with free access to pretty much every other dimension of Rokugan and even to many other realms entirely. He could check up on how his other self was going in that “Boston” place, and on how the conflict there was going.
It wasn’t so well. He manifested physically, instead of through his other self this time – which he soon deduced meant that he was dead. A visit to the institute (picking up a good take-out meal along the way) revealed that their magical research was coming along nicely, even if they did keep calling things “psychic powers”, that the war was going poorly, and that they could use his help: he taught some more classes and helped them out with their scrying; the students were talented, but their “magical traditions” were less than a year old, and they didn’t know any of the really good tricks yet.
It looked like virtually everyone over on the great eastern continent was dead: some sort of horrific power was rising. Several dark and destructive gods or demons. One managed to infect him with several horrific diseases across the astral link, but there was enough help available to deal with that.
Kochige resolved to drop in for a longer visit sometime if he could. It was a very interesting place and he’d really like to explore it at leisure sometime. Still, he had to get back and do his best to keep an eye on his friends. He couldn’t do much to help them, but there was ALWAYS something you could do if you were clever.
Meanwhile, down in the bargain basement of traps, simply opening the door had involved two different poisons, scything blades, a collapsing archway, two pits full of spikes with false floors over them, another more blatant trap designed to make you leap into them, a modest holocaust of flame (giving off toxic smoke), and a rolling stone wheel that weighed about twenty tons. This was going to be something of a workout. No wonder the place had a bad reputation and had to rely on magic to reset everything. It wasn’t like you could send in a maintenance crew.
After working their way through two more sublevels filled with the most absurdly lethal traps that they’d ever seen, they finally emerged in a huge cavern containing a small forest of plants that were growing in the dark radiance of the shadow crystal – and were all virulently poisonous thereby. The very air was toxic, and the darkness virtually blocked communication with the local Kami. Simply brushing against a leaf could easily result in death. There were still more traps scattered about too (as well as a back entrance, which was occasionally used by the Scorpion to harvest their most lethal toxins). And a gorge to cross. And a corrosive toxic lake with unsteady – and occasionally trapped – rocks to pick their way across. And a final leap into impenetrable darkness to take on faith.
What maniac had set all of this up? It was like something out of a fairy tale! Complete the three impossible tasks, pass the traps of the dark spirit, and claim your prize at the center of the hidden enchanted lake.
Wait. This wasn’t like something out of a fairy tale. This was the prototype for them. Set up and sealed by Bayushi, the master of traps, to conceal some sort of… spirit trap. Either forever or until some destined here should do the impossible and break the eternal containment. Hadn’t Shosuro warned Shigure of some sort of choice that they might have to make if they ever encountered the crystal tomb? She had vanished so long ago – and there was always a “princess” at the core of these things.
Even if they reached it, should they break Kochige free? It was almost certain that that would release Shosuro. Did they want that? No one even really knew what she was.
Ninsei had his suspicions about that. Shosuro; vastly powerful, mistress of several different unique schools, used a sword which she acknowledged was an inseparable aspect of herself, returned no matter how sure you were that she’d been killed (sometimes looking different), born of something older than the Empire (and probably older than the Empire herself), but apparently basically human, always dressed in black, adventurous, still fully herself no matter which realm she showed up in, but only showed up in one at a time, impatient and arrogant as hell around normal people. Now what did that sound like? Like several of the people they’d been traveling with recently?
And they knew that the history of the Ivory Kingdoms went back for thousands of years before the founding of the Empire. Just like the history of the Naga, the Nezumi, the Ogres, and several other groups. Would it really be surprising if an Asura had made it to the wilderness that would become the Empire?
Shosuro had been one of the Seven Thunders. It was in part because of her that the Empire existed at all.
They shattered the Crystal Tomb – but kept some of the shards: they might come in useful.