From Hell’s Cold Heart I Stab At Thee. Alex and Shigure unravel the secrets of the Demon Winter, surviving the ice warriors, locating the foci which allowed the demon to reach into the heart of the Tamori castle, tracing the demons hidden heart to the old mines, unraveling the generational blood curse of the Tamori family line, and turning the blessing of the Emperor against the master of ice.
4 XP, 1 point Ally (Tamori Kiang, current 8-year-old Tamori family head. Moderate Influence, Notable Devotion, Major Inconvenience), Alex was granted a modest, and gravely underpopulated, fief (+1 Status).
On Tour with the Fortune of Vacations. Alex, Shigure, and Michio deal with a lion border incursion, the mad (?) priest of a modest mountain shrine, and a most confusing minor fortune, fighting a series of skirmishes in the mountain trails and passes before the final struggle at the river banks.
4 XP and a 2-Point Supernatural Boon for Alex, Shigure, and Michio: they, and any companions, will find it very easy to get permission to go on vacations and to travel from now on. Indeed, they may find it hard to avoid it.
Masques of Darkness Series: Twilight Shadows, The Paths of the Dead, and Coda: Prairie, Sky, Mountain, Forest. Alex, Shigure, Michio, Okari, Kochige, and Tendri solve a murder, uncover the ancient plots of Igaskikako, an undead phoenix maho mage, rescue the surviving mystically-transformed and enslaved members of the lost Hidori family of the Dragon Clan, battle bandits, and arrange a settlement between the Unicorn, Phoenix, and Dragon. Tendri dies heroically along the way.
6/6/8 XP. Free Ally (the Hidori family of the Dragon Clan. Moderate Influence, Major Devotion, Major Inconvenience, 2 points). Shugenja received Jade Strike, Ward the Darkness, and either two level one or one level two standard elemental (not void) spells (4 points). Okari received a 2-point secret (Rite of the Void’s Touch), non-Shugenja received minor gifts and stipends worth +2 Wealth (4 points). Acquired Igaskikako as an enemy (-4 points).
Nightfall Series: Adrift Upon the River of Gold, Shadow of a Dark God, The Roots of Mountains, Citadel of Honor’s Twilight, The Tao of the Heart. Alex, Shigure, Michio, Okari, Kochige, and Sakura, traveling towards the crab lands, after spending some time lost in the mountains and negotiating with the Scorpion for passage, are abruptly encumbered with a (counterfeit) black scroll while stopped at the City of Lies. Escaping the immediate pursuit they consult the Yogo Council, trace excessive corpses, a malevolently enscrolled inn, and the murders of a group of Crab dignitaries to a group of performers, fight a minor Oni along the way, find the Maho cult backing the performers in an old apartment block, stand siege in the ruins of the manager’s house after defeating his furniture, pick up Ambir Ryu (a minor dragon-spirit character), get limited authorization to pursue Maho-users from the local Emerald Magistrate, obtain a second counterfeit scroll, return to the Yogo Council, get misdirected into assaulting the wrong stronghold entirely (where Yogo Sien is in a deep trance working on a massive earthshaping spell), and finally trace the real scroll to Yogo Junzo, discovering along the way that the scrolls are now actively influencing those around them. Breaking into his citadel they eventually deduce that he is still maintaining control despite his now-massive taint and eventually find the key to getting him to turn his augmented power against Fu Leng, rather than unleashing it against his mortal enemies within the empire.
8/6/6/8/8 XP, +1 XP in Lore/Shadowlands or Lore/Maho (no honor loss due to acquisition in play), +3 XP in Investigation, 4-point Favors from the Yogo Council all around, Alex acquires a Writ of Authority to pursue maho-users and +1 Status (4 points), Shigure obtains a sizable store of Koku and Jade (6 points of Wealth), Michio trades his Favor for having a true master swordsmith make him a new sword while he assists (+1 XP in Swordsmith, Legendary-Quality Blade worth 4 XP), Sakura becomes Tainted, gains a Cursed Blade worth 4 XP, and becomes Infamous, Kochige acquires a minor Nemurami Blade worth 2 XP and a selection of Dragon Clan Histories worth 2 XP, as well as trading his favor for an introduction to the Phoenix (to try to get his potential for Void Magic trained), and Okari acquires a selection of minor spells from Yogo Junzo’s library. Sadly, at the end, at least two more Black Scrolls remain missing. Fortunately, this was someone else’s problem.
Interlude: Spilled Blood and Still Waters: Alex, Shigure, Michio, Okari, Ambir, Kochige, and Sakura continue their journey towards the lands of the Crab with a small contingent of Crab samurai, visiting a few shrines, teahouses, and small villages along the way – albeit with one modest battle after the group discovered that the “border guards” (who’d let them pass after discovering that they had three shugenja, a dragon-spirit, and a bunch of Crab samurai along) were in fact scouts for a collection of river pirates.
4 XP all around, Sakura visits many temples.
The March of the Crab Series: Standing At the Gates of Madness, Another Battle at the Wall, The Lemmings March: After arriving in Clear Water “Village” the group (Alex, Shigure, Michio, Okari, Kochige, and Sakura: Ambir had business in the spirit realms) becomes involved in weaponcrafting, the machinations of a Crane theater company, and the murderous escapades of a physician who – having been driven mad by his prophetic dreams – was attempting to build a perfect body and infuse it with the Blood of the Kami distilled from the veins of Samurai so as to summon Ryoshun to the mortal realm to confront Fu Leng. The physician gets unloaded on the Pheonix, who are stuck with imprisoning him while writing down what he says (prophets are rare and often mad). Finally moving to their purpose in Crab territory, the group proposes the construction of a treadmill-powered paddlewheel ship to allow the Crab to win a bet with the Mantis. Referred to the Engineers down at Kaiu Wall, the group helps hold off an attack in the wall, demonstrates some impressive defensive skills while Shigure sneaks out past the enemy lines, helps eliminate their leadership and siege engines, and kills quite a few goblins – technically qualifying for induction into the Crab clan. He turns it down. Unfortunately, Sakura goes mad during the fuss, attempts to fight Shigure, and then explodes in flames…
Given permission to adapt an older ship, the group returns to Clear Water Village to do so, spreads numerous rumors and causes much confusion to disguise what they’re up to from any spies. Despite the sea serpent, the group arrived safely at the Mantis Isles, fought a duel on behalf of the Crab as witnesses to the Crab winning the bet, and head for the Mantis court.
6/6/4 XP, Skill Split (added “Water Craft”, all characters receive this skill at a base rating equal to their [Athletics Skill-1], since Athletics has been used up to this point), characters acquire a choice of a new Ancestor Spirit or a Free Raise that can be used on any roll 1/day (2 XP), Shigure acquires both and the Doctor’s Retort of Distillation, all shugenja (Alex, Okari, and Kochige) acquire scrolls for Aura of Jade, Jade Sphere, Biting Steel, Bo of Water, Immortal Steel, and Tomb of Jade from the Crab, Okari trades Pearls of Wisdom for additional spell scrolls, Michio and Shigure acquire Major Favors (4 XP) from the Crab. There is speculation on the existence of the Possum Clan although they are believed to be long dead.
Undercurrents Series: The Mad Cat Boat Race, A Courtly Eruption, A Dagger of Words. Alex, Shigure, Michio, Okari, Kochige, Ambir and Washi attempt to fit in at court, but the recreational boat race becomes an exercise in confusion as Okari communes with the depths, Washi gets into an insane duel and then goes on a mad hunt for smugglers before being unloaded on some Gaijin for a very long vacation, Alex looks for additional peasants for his fief, the Phoenix representatives agree to tutor Kochige in return for her help in tracking some strange disturbances in the Void to some Gaijin during a supposed three hour tour, Okari is drafted by the spirits of the sea into hunting for a magical disturbance, and it is discovered that someone – who turns out to be Igaskikako – is working dark magic within a shrine in the throat of a nearby quiescent volcano. The ensuing battle between ever-increasing numbers of summoned Sai No Oni and out heroes ended in a massive explosion when Shigure unknowingly “opened” the Black Scroll Igaskikako had come to claim by smashing it while all the Shugenja in the group were putting all their power behind Jade and anti-maho magic. Taking charge of the ensuing investigation, the group determined that Igashikako had followed the scroll to the isles, and attempted to determine who had brought it there and why. It is more-or-less formally assumed that Shigure is some sort of spirit or minor kami in disguise.
The ensuing investigation eventually led the group to conclude that the Crane delegation – while unaware of the true danger of the Black Scroll – had attempted to use it to discredit the Mantis. While they couldn’t actually prove their case, it was a useful negotiating tool in getting the Crane delegation to promise to support the Mantis in their bid for great clan status, rather than constantly undermining it.
6/10/8 XP, Alex acquires additional peasants and several recommendations for giving him official status as a Jade Magistrate, all characters are owed a major favor by the Mantis (worth 4 XP), Shigure draws the attention of the Phoenix, Michio begins to learn the basics of Okari’s Kazemakase Technique, Okari acquires a new Spirit Ally (Umidori) but some additional responsibilities as well, Kochige gains basic training in Void Magic and two basic void spells, Ambir and Umidori promote the idea that the Kami are watching over the group and Shigure in particular, Washi is effectively exiled to Merenae.
Court Results: the Phoenix become aware of Gaijin void magic, but cannot use it, the Dragon gain Mantis support in dealing with the aftereffects of the Demon Winter, the Crane are blackmailed into supporting the Mantis bid to become a great clan, the Crab trade their support and the two small fishing villages they’d acquired in the “bet” to the Mantis in exchange for more support for their efforts at the wall, the Lion do not participate, the Fox and Phoenix agree to support the Mantis in establishing a shugenja school, the Scorpion obtained minor trade agreements and proof of the destruction of a Black Scroll, the Turtle successfully caused general confusion. The Unicorn were minimally involved, but did agree to support the Mantis bid when it was pointed out that this would make the Mantis the newcomer upstarts in their place.
Vortex of Time Series: The Social Whirl, Orrery of Dream, A Pride of Lions, The Paths Beyond, City of Jewels, Sun of the Desert, Night of Ten Thousand Knives. Alex, Shigure, Michio, Okari, and Kochige. Arriving in the imperial capital after economic analysis, retrieving vacationing young lions, and bureaucratic problems, everyone visited shrines, libraries, relatives, and ancestors. Between clan reports and obligations, Shigure’s siblings working for the Cat Clan, and imperial contests and tournaments, things were busy. Michio won at kite-fighting but did some damage to the city doing so, Kochige put up a fair showing in sumo, Shigure tried the Seppun Challenge, and registered to find a security hole. He flew a kite into the highest tower of the palace, tangled something at random in the tail, and pulled it back – but wound up holding Shard-Of-The-Midnight-Heart, the Obsidian Blade of Shosuro(normally secured in its private sunlit room). Having Shosuro as an ancestor, it didn’t kill him.
Summoned before the Jade Champion, the group told their tales. The Shugenja’s interim appointments were confirmed. Michio and company were summoned to court in three days for Michio to receive his appointment as Master of Kites (the Emperor had been amused). They would need appropriate clothing and gifts. Throwing the Obsidian Blade at Shigure confirmed that it had chosen him, would not harm him, and would come to him when needed – and that he was a descendant of Shosuro’s, and therefore he and his siblings were Samurai. Besides: he’d never been removed from the Crab promotion list, which would have made him Ronin anyway.
At the presentation the heirloom Orrery Alex had been carrying since his gempukku – the “pocket organizer” of the Dream Dragon – activated and swept the group into year 70 of the Thousand Years of Darkness. Oddly enough, it was the safest, if nastiest, place they’d visited in some time. With Fu Leng at his summer palace in the Shadowlands, the undead Seppun guards were quite apathetic – and the groups invitation to the palace had never been rescinded. They weren’t free to leave; Fu Leng would want to see them when he got back, at least as curiosities – but they had the freedom of the palace and city and the chance to study in what was left of the imperial schools to pass the time if they wanted. They found out all they could about how this had come to pass, checked out all the books they could from the imperial library, found that they’d vanished from court and never returned a bit over 70 years ago (without day, night, or seasons, time measurement was a bit confused), and found that several groups of heroes had tried to stop Fu Leng – and all had failed. Shigure also found that he had an eleven-year-old nephew here, since his sister had married the Cat Clan fellow she’d been working for and both of them were using youth potions. They survived some traps, gathered a lot of information, the nephew, and a skilled astronomer-priest to help them work the Orrery, spent a week or so, and departed for the past just a bit ahead of Fu Lengs arrival. Back before the Emperor, they had to come up with an explanation quickly and settled on “the gods did it – and gave us a mission”.
Departing for the Dragon lands with Shigure’s younger brother via the Lion Territories led to Shigure provoking several duels along the way and their first official investigation; mysterious fires being blamed on Maho-using youngsters, but actually the unconscious work of an untrained young shugenja. Shigure fought a duel with the local Governors champion and they took the entire group of accused youngsters along. Unfortunately, the Kami of Vacations was still hanging around Alex’s fief, and all sorts of people – including two magistrates, two sizable parties of phoenix, and many ronin and traders had gone “on vacation”, and there was a message from Tamori Kiang, asking them to check in immediately. After dealing with a group of Ronin, the group found that an Emerald Magistrate had arrived to deal with the disappearances, the rumors of an escape route out of the empire, and other problems. The group had already put a temporary hold on most vacations, this gave them a brief time to clear up the mess before the Emerald Magistrates took action. A series of quick excursions into Gaijin territories collected a variety of people who hadn’t known about “round trips” from a variety of local entanglements – but the trip to the City of Jewels was more complex: most of the Phoenix, and many of the Ronin and Merchants had gone there – and so had a Phoenix Yojimbo carrying two black scrolls, which he’d carried into the desert. Negotiating with the Sultan for the surviving Phoenix took quite some time: they had to promise to assist him against the menacing Yodatai – and to hold open an escape route if necessary.
Meanwhile, Shigure, Okari, and Michio had taken a side trip to assault a Yodatai outpost along the way, assaulting some undead who were making one-shot solar-imbued weaponry, using powdered undead as poison, and bribing one mercenary mage to desert along the way. They didn’t exactly “win”, but they caused a lot of trouble and got away, arriving back before the negotiations were over.
Unfortunately, in launching a direct attack on the Yodatai, Shigure, Michio, and Okari had started the war. The spies and infiltrators throughout the city started spreading rumors, starting fires, and launching assassination attempts. With the Sultan organizing the defenses and allocating the troops, the group took a ward; they had agreed to help out after all. They took the Phoenix samurai along: until – or unless – their clan agreed to assist the sultan in exchange for them, they were bound to do their best to fulfill that agreement personally. Most of their opponents turned out to be disposable Yodatai school rejects, but there were plenty of them armed with firebombs and they were using each suitable house as a miniature fortress. Nevertheless, the Phoenix had sent some of their best and Shigure’s skills as a commander were surprisingly good. After clearing out the ward, locating their mercenary mage (down by the docks, making damn sure that every ship captain knew that leaving him behind in any emergency evacuation would be suicidal), and interrogating the captives, they began to prepare for the inevitable follow-up attack – with a side trip to the Evil Grand Vizier (an official job) for an antidote to a poisoned dagger wound from when Alex spotted an assassin and then walked up to him (!?) to point out that he’d been caught – without telling his bodyguards what he was up to.
8/8/6/6/8/7/8 XP, Free Emphasis (on Sword or Courtier), Free Language (any one spoken in the City of Jewels, which would be virtually any of them), Shigure acquires the Obsidian Dagger, Samurai Status, and a Nephew to look after, Alex, Okari, and Kochige confirmed as Jade Magistrates, gaining Status 4, Michio becomes Imperial Master of Kites, gaining Status 4 (and Glory 1), everyone gains a selection of 7 texts from the imperial library, the basics (allowing later purchase at the base price) of any one school available to the Imperial Court, Lore: the Thousand Years of Darkness 2, a rough timeline of future events important in the rise of Fu Leng, and a contact with a skilled priest-astrologer. The group acquires a selection of one-shot gaijin solar weapon-talismans, notably offend the Lion clan, and upset a high-ranking Emerald Magistrate with more Gaijin contact than is normally allowed.
Vortex of time Series: Firefight at the Okari Corral, A Wind from the Abyss: Michio, Alex, Shigure, Kochige, and Okari. The Evil Grand Viziers interrogations got them a fair amount of generic information about the Yodatai culture, but little to nothing of military importance. Low-ranking agents simply didn’t have any important information.
Out in the streets, a fair number of the Yodatai had gone back undercover, the priests of the Seven Elder Gods of Senpet were buying slaves to sacrifice – and Michio got a sword blessed by them, so that anyone he killed would count as a sacrifice and reduce the number the priests needed otherwise. Alex returned to Rokugan to try and get some reinforcements, dealt with some potential “vacationers” who’d been put on hold, including a lovesick youngster, a would-be Sake trader, a few Ronin who wanted to try Gaijin lands but who didn’t want to cross hundreds of miles of wilderness, and the fact that most of his own clan thought he was crazy, and Shigure buried himself in plans for defending the city – and kept coming up against the fact that the Sultans forces were just too heavily outnumbered. Even if Alex succeeded in persuading the Dragon that reinforcing the Sultan was an indirect method of keeping the Yodatai from stepping up their probing raids on Rokugan, they’d never send enough men. Meanwhile, Okari helped work on the magical defenses.
Michio came up with a plan: if they used themselves as living bait, maybe they could lure the swarms of desert undead into an attack on the Yodatai. The Evil Grand Vizier had potions that would draw undead to the user and the Sultan had some tireless Ivory Steeds… It was suicidal, but it would certainly be glorious.
While they had to fight some undead along the way, the Yodatai at the first pass were just setting up: it was easy enough to take the undead into them: Shigure snuck in to try and dose the commander with undead attractant, but wound up having to hide in some old tunnels – which turned out to be the remains of an older fortress full of undead… Michio relied on his ivory steed to carry him through and managed to take out the commander with some incredible arrow shots along the way. The next camp was too well fortified to waste the undead he’d collected along the way against it – but the third had a lot of people outside it. The local undead were also pretty organized. Under a commander who’d fought Shinjo. Who still wanted revenge – and who thanked Michio for bringing him extra troops. He was planning to slaughter the Yobanjin during their march and add them to his troops. Wait. Would events in Rokugan – even the ascension of Fu Leng – really affect the sun and moon? The tainted could not ascend to the heavens – but the local undead were reliant on fire, not taint. They lived – er, existed – in a desert of finely divided crystal.
Suddenly Michio was unsure that the Yobanjin were the real menace here. He headed home to talk to the Shugenja.
Shortly thereafter the Yobanjin arrived and started a methodical siege, demanding surrender all the while. In the absence of Shigure, Kochige decided to defend the food and water supplies, Okari started quietly evacuating noncombatants (buying up slaves where necessary), Alex organized the reinforcements, and Michio reported and then slept for two days.
Too damn many Yobanjin. They discarded the idea of storm and flooding – too hard to arrange in a desert, even if they were by the shore – and eventually decided to help the weather mage make a cold snap. With that many mages to help him, that night the temperatures plunged to lethal levels. Most of the group went out to try and help the people of the city. Michio got some protective spells and went out to slash open the roofs the Yobanjin had thrown up over their trenches. Running madly, he opened enormous sections of the roofs before the Yobanjin scouts and the few others who were immune to weather could stop him. Between his actions and the undead, there were several thousand casualties among the Yobanjin, and almost as many in the city.
The biggest sacrifice to the Elder Gods of Senpet in half a millennium. And they answered. The spirit-vortex swept over the city, bridging the gap between the universe and the things outside. Nearly a dozen lesser entities crossed over, and the area was devastated, before the priests of Senpet invoked the ritual of dismissal. Unfortunately, Alex got caught up in it, Michio was fairly severely wounded (and almost eaten) by one of the lesser entities, and Okari was severely drained. The military positions were now nearly even.
10/10 XP, free Lore: Senpet Religion 2. Alex lost in interdimensional space, Okari temporarily out of action, numerous refugees passed through the Shrine, other results pending.
Vortex of Time Series: War of Shadows: Shigure, Smoke Balamada (new character), Michio, and Okari. Having brought in a substantial chunk of reinforcements got the group a seat at the planning table – where Shigure managed to sell everyone on an extensively-planned nightfall (to take advantage of the blinding flashes from their stock of solar-charged weapons) pincer attack to the flanks of the Yodatai position combined with a siege-engine based assault on the command camp. Of course, the Yodatai had their own plans, They were difficult to spy on magically, had an anti-scout screen of wolves and tigers out, had some illusions and animations filling in for the men in the trenches, and were continuing to dig in – all of which served to conceal the fact that they’d pulled out the bulk of their remaining forces through the construction-mages tunnel and sent them away. The commander and his chief lieutenants and better mages had even gone along part of the way, so that the group could use his own superhuman stealth skills in place of their own. Unsurprisingly, the pincer attack went easily. It only took about five minutes for the group to figure out that something was wrong – and an hour or so after that to organize some pursuit. A summoned wind took their forces upriver fast enough to cut off the Yodatai – but no commander and no lieutenants. If they’d delayed the attack long enough to try more weather-control, the bulk of the forces might have gotten away – but why wouldn’t the commander be with them? Had he sacrificed the rear-guard – and perhaps the rest of the survivors of his army – simply as a diversion?
Of course the army was likely already lost, and he had given the younger troops a good chance of escape if they weren’t pursued immediately. (They were probably doomed now of course, even if they were sold as slaves, the priests of Senpet would probably buy up and sacrifice them). Still, what might there be in the area that was still worth going after?
An assassination attempt on the Sultan? A coup? Trying to destroy the City of Jewels? Information? Two Black Scrolls? The undead as suppliers of magical weapons? The group headed back for the city to try and figure it out – and to once more go after the Black Scrolls, even if they didn’t know what they’d do with them if they got them.
8 XP, a major Favor from the Sultan (presuming he survives), +4 Glory (+6 for Shigure) once the Dragon Samurai return home. Interested characters can probably acquire some funds from the sale of slaves and minor rewards from the Sultan.
Vortex of Time Series: The Gaijin Hordes, It’s Already Mine, Fires of the Fox, The Eternal Sands. Michio, Smoke, Shigure, Kochige, Okari, Ninsei (child prodigy shugenja, fire specialist).
Returning to the City of Jewels with their captives and the sultan’s forces, the group was depressed to realize that they still didn’t have a method of tracing the missing Black Scrolls out into the desert. Still, the Sultan, feeling that they had been instrumental in capturing them, was awarding each of the group 100 of the newly-captured Yodatai slaves.
That at least gave Shigure an idea: he traded some of them to the priests of the Elder Gods of Senpet in exchange for the local youngsters they’d bought on the cheap during the partial evacuation, and then traded them, some more of the Yodatai, and most of his available funds to the owners of the mines in the mountains in exchange for fingers of jade – a relatively cheap commodity in the gaijin lands. The rest of his available funds went to hiring local scouts to try and figure out where the two black scrolls might have gone. Thanks to his superlative bargaining skills, he even got a good price on the jade and picked up a few fingers of crystal in the markets before hauling his loot back to the Empire to sell most of it to the Crab. They could always use jade.
Smoke went along – after some debate – disguising himself via a transformation into a polar bear in the apparent belief that this would fit into Rokugan better. It did cover for the accent at least (although it caused much other trouble) – and let Shigure get on with trading off most of the Jade to a Crab merchant representative. That got him a commitment for quite a lot of silk and tea – and the realization that, since the great clans would always control both his markets and the money supply, his influence and success as a merchant would always be limited.
Meanwhile, Kochige was off to visit his family, deal with his children, and attend his daughter’s gempukku, Michio was experimenting with the use of jade powder in forging swords (producing some quite remarkable ones, including a pair for Kochige’s daughter), and Okari was continuing his magical research and passing on warnings about the Yodatai. Unfortunately, while they’d managed to get rid of the Phoenix – since the Sultan and they had both felt that their services had paid their debt, they’d been sent home – and the Crane were interested in useful or historic artifacts, not in importing unholy menaces. they still had no way to trace a black scroll. It was too bad they didn’t actually have one: they were all linked, so it might be possible to use one to trace the others. But they could account for most of the ones they had any idea where were. There was supposed to be one hidden in the dragon lands, but…
Wait a minute…
The Demon Winter. How had a mine-dwelling Oni gotten enough power to alter the weather across half the empire? It’d been working on that curse for centuries, and it’d never been able to do anything like that before. A long-undisturbed mine, deep within the mountains, sealed for centuries, filled with the power of Jingoku with no apparent reason or source for it.
Right under their noses the entire time.
Unfortunately, Okari had an urgent message. He was summoned before the fox clan champion to discuss his impending marriage – something he hadn’t even suspected was under discussion. He was an eleventh son – even if somebody could be bothered arranging a marriage for him, why should it come to the attention of the clan champion? At least they could get down there to check on it quickly. Curious, half his friends insisted on coming along.
Sadly, they never did find out what was going on with the marriage; Kochige thought he sensed something funny about the area during the introductions, stepped out and slipped his akasic form into the magical planes to check – and found himself falling down an open passage to Jingoku. There was a black scroll in the room, and active, and – probably – influencing everyone who’d been around it too long. Unfortunately, unless he could beat off the oni dragging him down – or accepted their aid – he would be trapped in Jingoku, unable to warn anyone.
Even when all choices were bad, to not choose was to choose failure. The taint clawed its way into Ningen-Do. With that unholy strength, so would he. Erupting back into his body, abruptly attuned to the powers of darkness, Kochige spoke: IT’S IN THE HILT OF HIS SWORD. IT HAS A GRIP UPON HIM, BUT NOT YET MASTERY.
And chaos broke out. Already suspicious of Okari and his associates, and pushed towards paranoia by the scroll he guarded, Gohei invoked Hochiu’s Call of Heaven, while his bodyguards – knowing their duty even in the midst of a holocaust – attacked.Okari’s wards would not hold for long – especially not extended around the bodyguards as well – against such an inferno, but Shigure moved instantly to snatch away the sword and scroll, while Michio held back the guards and the others warded off secondary spells and attacks. Fortunately, they only needed to hold out long enough to reach the shrine across the garden and invoke their “round trip tickets”, rather than actually trying to escape the clan palace and lands directly. Gravely injured, resources exhausted, they made it out with the scroll just ahead of Gohei’s second spell – the Fraying of Ningen-Do.
They left Okari to contain the scroll they’d just acquired while they headed for the Tamori castle to get permission to clean out the mine again, recovering as best they could along the way. Fortunately it wasn’t hard to get permission to go back in – and they’d already dealt with most of the mines dangers before, even if they were getting stronger.
That left them in possession of two highly-active black scrolls. Yes, they could be used to trace the others. They would also have to be actively contained every moment, even inside their new protective jade cases if they were planning to keep them from corrupting everyone around them – and even that wouldn’t hold them for long. It also brought them a visit from the current Dragon Clan Champion – who had a set of 800-year-old prophecies describing their adventures up to the past few weeks in some detail, a set of presents the prophet in question had left for them, the information that the prophet had vanished after making the prophecies, and an appended note stating that the only way to save the empire would be for Shigure to put on the dragon-mascot costume and go dancing. All in Alex’s handwriting if that last note hadn’t been enough to give it all away already. Evidently he’d survived being swept up in the banishment spell long enough to meddle with the Orrery at least a few more times.
The scouts in the City of Jewels had drastically narrowed the possibilities for them, as well as giving them some idea of what to expect, so they went after the next two scrolls immediately – although the Crane came along since they wanted to witness the outcome, along with an unnaturally precocious crane child-mageling, who’d somehow persuaded the spirits to take im to the City of Jewels as a “hiding place”. That had to have been the Kami of “Vacations” again. Surely there weren’t any more self-appointed divine meddlers teleporting people around the world.
They evaded some undead and fought others, chased the scrolls across the desert, negotiated with a nomadic tribe which had allowed their bearer – a tattooed monk – to take refuge with them, and convinced him that they had a plan to dispose of the scrolls. The desert had plenty of sand, which could be fused into a crystal tomb in which to destroy the scrolls – preventing them from being used as channels for Fu Leng’s power to enter Ningen-Do and sealing their contamination within as near to an eternal tomb as they could manage, deep beneath the trackless desert sands.
Despite having to deal with a few last-minute Oni, some nasty explosions, a swarm of undead, and more undead who – rather than simply attacking – wanted information as to whether or not this power might be useful to them, they successfully sealed away the four black scrolls they’d managed to gather.
8/6/6/8 XP, +2 on either Battle or Courtier, Ivory Sword Sheathe for Shigure, a Kite Pin for Michio, a Staff for Okari, a set of Scrolls for Kochige, minor gifts for the two crab Yojimbo, items for other characters still in the custody of the Dragon Clan Champion.
Firestorm Series: Embers in the Darkness, A Heart of Flames, The Passing of the Torch. Michio, Smoke, Shigure, Kochige, Okari, and Ninsei.
So – at least as some would put it – now that they’d assaulted the largest group of shugenja in the empire in their own palace, it was time to upset some other groups. Next thing up on the list was the prospective new Oracle of Fire, due to be assassinated by the Scorpion (Say, wasn’t that just a tad more suicidal than even sticking their own noses into the mess would be?) Still, they had four shugenja, and advance notice of something which – presumably – no one else in the empire knew as yet.
The group elected to simply call on the spirits of fire to carry a message to the oracle and advise him that they had a prophecy stating that his prospective heir was in danger and that they wanted to protect her: they just needed to know here current location. Presumably the fact that they knew about her at all would get their message at least some consideration.
It did, and a little more discussion told them which village to visit and got them charged with protecting the girl. Apparently the Oracle wasn’t used to either being opposed or to providing clear directions. The stopped in with the local Scorpion lordling first, and informed him that they had a prophecy that grave harm would come to the Scorpion lands unless they were permitted to build a fortified house suitable for ten people in one of the Eta villages. Once again, they spent most of their time convincing the local lordling that they were, at worst, benignly crazy. After a bit of stalling and covert checking (yes sir, there’s nothing there that’s of any importance, the place is totally nonstrategic, one of them is a scorpion, they do have some hush-hush connections higher up in the clan, and the dragon have apparently been fussing over their involvement with some prophecies… Besides, what’s the harm? They want to build a house) they got permission.
Hunting for the right girl eventually led them to a young eta girl who had just enough fire magic to get fires to light quickly and easily. She wasn’t even aware of it. They didn’t even notice until they realized that the fires she tended in the smoking sheds burned evenly enough to keep the smoke and temperature precisely on target, that the pottery in the village kiln never cracked, that she never burned herself or got chilled, and that she could massage just a few degrees of comforting heat into chilled muscles or frostbitten fingers. All unconsciously using a field of magic that normally only found applications on the battlefield. Not much power – presumably becoming an Oracle would take care of that – but such control… First they ran a bunch of cleansing rituals (and a general cleaning spell), Smoke started creating a house (with a bunch of iron sphinxes for decoration) while Ninsei, Okari, and Kochige got started on teaching and filling the building with random weirdness. There was plenty of potential there at least. Eventually the Scorpion sent a shugenja – Yogo Velath – around to find out what all the fire magic was about and Smoke explained a bit more than some of the others thought was wise – whereupon the group decided that the diversion was sufficient and evacuated back to Alex’s old fief (now being managed by Shigure until Alex either returned or was determined to be dead) while Shigure brought through the Yodatai he’d been trying to turn into his own private army under the pretext that they were all distant relatives, and therefore Samurai. This was thin to the point of absurdity – but the fief was distant, hidden among the mountains, and thinly populated. Smoke was a master of transformation magic – and even against the innate Yodatai resistance could help them fit in and lost their accent. Acclimating to the culture might take a lifetime, but they might pass at a glance. At the moment they had a potential Oracle to train and guard, as well as an assortment of personal projects (Kochige’s school translation project, Okari’s jade magic research, and Michio and Shigure’s military training projects – as well as Michio’s attempt to explain what all this was about to the Dragon Clan and the general, and somewhat exasperated, attempt to get Shigure to at least speak to that girl he was attracted to – including a blunt approach by their six-year-old magical prodigy). Perhaps fortunately, Smoke decided t0 try her own experiment. Feeling that – while dealing with spirits was apparently useful in a variety of ways, he still preferred to channel power directly – he attempted to get the young lady to try and draw on the power of fire directly, rather than by imploring spirits. The resulting holocaust required a dramatic rescue, nearly melted down a mountain, and required the massed efforts of the group to restrain (and was very hard to explain to the Clan), but it was surprisingly good preparation for when – a bit later – a foolish scorpion woman tried to assassinate the Oracle of Fire and steal his power. His chosen successor, already experienced at handling such an abrupt power surge, smoothly handled the power overflow for long enough for the Oracle – undistracted by power surges and with someone ready to take that power rather than allowing it to be diverted to empowering his assailant – to incinerate his attackers and heal himself. He delivered a stern – but not especially destructive – rebuke to the scorpion before finally passing on the rest of the Fire Dragons power and passing from Rokugan. Evidently he’d been hoping for a successor who could support the use of fire magic in less destructive ways.
The new Oracle of Fire retired to the high mountains to meditate.
8/8/6 XP. All Shugenja in the group gain a +1K1 bonus to rolls involving fire magic. Nonshugenja receive a +1 bonus to either their Agility or Intelligence. Everyone may consider the new Oracle of Fire as an ally: unfortunately, she isn’t going to be available often. She has to grow into her power and has many other responsibilities.
Interludes: The Sword which is No-Sword, Words Like Mist, Shadows in the Wainscotting.
With the Oracle settled down, Shigure started pushing for one of his pet projects: trying to do something about the apparently-perpetual Lion-Crane border conflict in Toshi Ranbo. It was just too hard on the local peasants – and a useless drain on the empire. It wasn’t as if anyone was getting anything out of the place: The ongoing warfare had the place almost five years behind on its taxes, let alone on actually making a profit.
Most of the rest of the group had to agree, but also knew that they couldn’t be officially involved. Still, that didn’t mean that they couldn’t provide magical support. Admittedly, they’d be badly outnumbered – even deploying the now-officially-Rokugani yobanjin troops – but surprise, Shigure’s skills as a general, the city’s current shortage of shugenja, and the fact that (in the middle of the winter) the place was currently commanded by an expert administrator rather than an especially skilled battle commander, might make it practical. The attack plans got fairly elaborate – but it mostly revolved around (1) using Ninsei as a figurehead (and Shigure acting slightly more crazed than usual as his “hired mercenary leader”), (2) coming to a prior agreement with the Crane, as to possibly putting a neutral plug into this ongoing drain on their resources (and hopefully getting a little support), (3) luring out a portion of the Lion garrison, (4) magically driving a tunnel under the (somewhat ruinous) walls, (5) attacking in the middle of the night using some group-effect nightsight enchantments courtesy of Smoke, and (6) deploying as much area-effect attack magic (preferably going with a rain of flames) as could be managed.
Overall, they managed to get some ashigaru armor and common weapons out of the Crane and the attack actually went quite well: they inflicted quite a few casualties, and let the noncombatants, youngsters, and wounded withdraw on terms of them personally refraining from attacking – meaning that they’d have to trade positions with troops elsewhere before an attack could be launched. While the Lion clan was sorting that out, the group got the Imperial Magistrates in and started paying off the back taxes – making sure that, in the winter and with with minimal transportation available, it would take months, putting the lion in the awkward position of having to attack imperial tax collectors if they wanted to do anything before spring.
The Lion started pulling up a sizable army, with a competent general, and a selection of heroes, as well as sending in a couple of Courtiers to try and schedule a fight somewhere away from the tax collectors. In the general confusion, this led to a drinking contest that resolved nothing – but did delay things long enough to involve some Crane diplomats, more imperial magistrates, and an assortment of other people while most of the group faded into the background to pursue their own projects, research, and training programs.
Unfortunately, at the negotiations, most of the talking got left to Ninsei and Shigure – and while “We took it and paid the back taxes” was a good point (Ninsei’s “Mine!” was less so), neither made any attempt at backing it up by calling in or promising favors, offering private deals, promising additional payments, stressing the benefits of having a neutral buffer zone for awhile, negotiating, or much of anything else. Still, the Imperials liked having the taxes paid (despite the one Magistrate who was upset with Shigure), the Phoenix liked the idea of a break in the fighting, and the more experienced Crane courtiers wanted at least a temporary break in the useless fighting.
The upshot was to leave Shigure in charge for a five-year trial period as an imperial appointment due to the ongoing dispute – not coincidentally the same period the taxes had been delinquent for – albeit with one adviser/observer each from the Crane and Lion clans to assist him in running things. Thanks to Crane and Phoenix pressure, the council even took the groups requests into consideration – and requesting the local Lion intelligence specialist and the Crane lady they’d already travelled with (rather than Ninsei) was reasonable enough. Sadly, Shigure – as usual – felt hat any form of compromise or concession was a complete loss.
Meanwhile, Michio attempted to train a few of their soldiers in a lesser form of his enhanced sweep technique (only a few had enough talent, even if Okari did know how to provide the necessary magical enhancements) and then headed off to the Phoenix to demonstrate his skills, get more training, warn them about the upcoming plague, get interviewed by a few of their Shugenja, and pass on his information about just how dangerous their two remaining Black Scrolls had become.
Kochige headed off to get whatever Taint he’d picked up on his trip to Jingoku treated by the Monks. He didn’t want to go near his family – or research anything – until he was sure that that little problem was under control.
Okari had some research to do – but was also somewhat desperate to find out his current status with his clan, who he’d been supposed to marry, and whether they were all going to be accused of horrific crimes as soon as the Fox spread the word. Meanwhile, Smoke wanted to see a bit of the Empire in his usual quest for strange new experiences, and could also do a couple of bird-transformations easily enough. Combining those two errands led to Okari discovering that the Orrery had apparently swept up extra people from the Thousand Years of Darkness in the time move. Fu Leng’s palace attendants had offered them a choice of “entertainment” during their visit – and he, wanting to get general information and to find out about the status of the Fox in this world without arousing any additional suspicions had requested the company of any young Fox women who were about. They’d simply talked – but he’d considered them clan members, and they’d considered themselves assigned to him, and the Orrery had moved them through time as well, dropping them in the Fox clan chambers in the palace in the present day. After all, that’s where they’d been physically. They’d simply cleared out ahead of the news.
Three young women… who’d never seen the sun, were filled with information about the thousand years of darkness and a possible future of Rokugan, and who had been sent to serve him in any way he desired by the palace manager of “Emperor Fu Leng”. No wonder the clan had quietly sent for him, that the clan champion had been filled with suspicion, or that – now – every Fox priest in the Empire was being notified to keep an eye out for information on their little group. At least the clan was still investigating (apparently the champion had stepped down while he was recovering – and recognized that the scroll he’d been carrying had been influencing him) rather than ordering assassinations. How was he EVER going to explain this?
With only a couple of months to go before the plague struck the Phoenix, Shigure – on the theory that he wasn’t actually in charge of anything – elected to leave his nephew in charge of Toshi Ranbo and headed off to the Phoenix lands. Along the way they ran into an old project of Igaskikako’s – the descendants of some cats that she’d tried imbuing with a bit of the Lying Darkness. Fortunately, the Lying Darkness had apparently found that cats made relatively useless agents, and that cats with magic with which to indulge themselves made even worse agents. They’d taken advantage of the thousand-year cycle of dimensional interactions to set themselves up in a private realm on the borders of Chikushudo and Ningen-Do and were busy eating, sleeping, and being pampered. Unfortunately, they’d decided to grant a child’s wish for a wedding like her big sisters (she’d always fed them a lot and been nice to them), and untangling the mess took some effort by the Shugenja. Shigure fell for the “cute” facade and refused to get involved, and the Shugenja wisely decided to go with “cute” and avoid a direct conflict with dozens of shadow-magic-using cats. They eventually made a deal – and some good deductions about just where the Phoenix might fail to look for a plague source.
Along the way, Smoke decided to move in with the Cats – and accept their little realms gradual transformation into one – and Alex turned up again. Apparently all the fishing around in the interdimensional spaces had intercepted one of his little trips.
8/6/6 XP, Free Emphasis for Sword or Battle, a minor favor from the governor of Mamoru Kyotei Toshi, a minor agreement with the Demon-Ninja-Shadow-Cats (free fish in exchange for random gossip).