Shigure’s Tale

The Eta and the God – A Lo5R alterverse tale

     I decided to write this because I was bored and because it amused me. It
discusses the Lo5R game we are currently playing, which happens almost 1,000
years after Fu Leng was banished through the Black Scrolls. Unlike the standard
meta-plot, The Hantei still rule (but as figureheads) and the Mantis never
became a great clan… although this may soon change. Otosan Uchi still stands.

     And I play Shigure, the Eta. Sort of. Every peasant or eta in the empire is
going to have a Samurai ancestor, but lacking combat training or proof they have
no status. Shigure has both Scorpion and Crane ancestors, as well as some
respected Ashigaru in recent history. However, he doesn’t admire Samurai very
much, as they mostly act like jerks.

     His parents Roda the leatherworker and Tensu had six children: Tamioko (girl,
died young of fever), Sagiri (The Maiden of Flowers), Shigure (He Who Fears Not
Death), Raudi (The Mighty One), Lunn (The Princess of Gold), and yougest brother Nisan (Who Remembers All). Their “titles” reflect the destiny or talents written by the fates or spirits. Suffice it to say that in the absence of formal
Shugenja training, their Soshi heritage has some… unusual consequences.

     Shigure and his siblings travelled from a village owned by Bayushi “The Torch”
Kurufu, after losing most of the other family members of The Torch’s mood
swings. They settled near Otosan Uchi and quickly left to bring his parents
there. A small but vicious argument between the Crane and Scorpion led to the
borderlands villagers fleeing, and Shigure now had to track them down. He never
did find them, but continues to search. he eventually went to Ryoko Owari and the
on to Lion lands, where he saved the Shugenja Mirumoto Alex (named for a pushy
Unicorn warlord ancestor who liked naming things after himself) from an angry
Lion. The pair went on into Dragon lands.

     The story really begins with them saving the Dragon from an angry Ice Demon. The terrible winter seriously harmed northern Rokugan (-50 F* acros the Dragon and some Phoenix/Lion/Unicorn lands). This was bad, but Mirumoto Alex was gained a fief for his services. Shigure got nothing, as usual. Of course, the fief has 13 people and a whacked-out Monk/Shugenja who kept summoning strange kami. A
traveling Scorpion on Mugya Shuso (Bayushi something-or-other, whose Bland-ness extends even to the players’ memories) came to live with them.

     With the advent of spring again, a handful of adventurous Lion bushi came up the
mountain pass to attack us, more for glory than gain. Shigure was watching the
pass and managed to smash three with a boulder. He then had to flee the other
five like scared little girl. Alex and Bayushi and Shigure fought them and
managed to get the Lion in a huge heap in a freezing stream buried under their
own retainers. The kami of vacations (see the whacked-out monk’s note above)
fulfilled their wish to get warm and be far, far away. They vanished, and we
learned to be careful of our wishes around the kami.

     Mirumoto Alex was next called to investigate a mysterious murder in one of the
Dragon’s few cities… Travelling to this Dragon city on the border of Lion and Unicorn lands, the party is joined by Mirumoto Kochige the Dragon Shugenja/Sumo and Ryo Okari the Fox Monk/Shugenja. Shigure started to feel normal in comparison to everyone else. The group arrived to discover the Unicorn emissaries were the victims of a brutal murder. However, the Unicorn did not believe the Dragon’s protestations of innocence. You see, someone crept into the fortress guarded by Shugenja, Samurai, and Ashigaru and butchered the entire 8-man Unicorn delegation, guards and all – without making a sound. Since there was no evidence of Maho, this seemed rather implausible.

     The group quickly ascertained the innocence of a madman accused of the crime by the Dragon, despite his being found with the murder weapons and generally
seeming like the type. Their investigations also began turning up suspicious
activities by some Ashigaru guards. The assassins began to attack more openly,
striking at guard patrols in the city. They party hunted them, but were only
able to locate small porcelain masks left in the killer’s wake. The Nether Gate
struck again.

     After some research, they were able to track the assassins to their lair,
ironically beneath a revered temple to the a fallen Phoenix Inquisitor. The
traitorous Dragon family she slew had returned! They slipped beneath the temple,
found the secret entrance, investigated the strange fleshy masks, and evaded
several nasty traps and zombies. Then they discovered the Phoenix Inquisitor –
only it wasn’t the Dragon family who had turned traitor! After a terrible
battle, the party emerged victorious, having faced the enslaved spirits of the
Dragon scouts and a frighteningly powerful Maho user. The madman died in the
final assault, and no one cared. They blackmailed the Phoenix to force them to
try and undo the bindings on the enslaved Dragon family, and some were restored
to life (never technically died). The Unicorn accepted this justice and decided
to avoid a potentially nasty diplomatic and military feud with no purpose.

     The group enjoyed each other’s company and soon decided to travel south and
involve themselves in a dispute between the Crab and Mantis They sailed
downriver, crossed the mountains, and made on to Ryoko Owari. Shigure has been
here before and advised they stay on the boat. His advice was proven out when a
mysterious Scorpion bushi leaped onboard in the middle of the night. One brutal
fight later, and they captured the fool and his “prize” – a mighty scroll of
evil magic. The party fled the city aboard ship, wanting to get the Black Scroll
far away. The Bushi managed to escape in the confusion. However, they soon
realized they had been followed by the Scorpion, without knowing whether their
pursuers were traitors or not. With few options, they snuck overland to the Yogo
fortress and hand-delivered the evil artifact.

     It was a fake. Now in serious trouble but with the Yogo assuming an actual
traitor would not hand-deliver a fake sure to be spotted, they returned to Ryoko
Owari and began tracking the real scrolls: three were stolen! The Yogo lent the
services of the beautiful and deadly Bayushi Sakura (not Bayushi Blandness). They
traced the movements of the mysterious bushi, who had been killed. They also
investigated a seemingly unrelated matter, a tainted Crab samurai who butchered
his own fellows. The two dark magic coincidences proved to be related, and soon
pointed to a maho cult in the city’s poor district. The party converged on the
center, and Bayushi Blandness BLEW UP the leader’s HOUSE with the highest damage roll ever seen by man. Our attack came so quickly they could not respond until we already killed the leader, which took much more than the house (he was
substituting his health with that of the undead he’d animated).

     Then the city guard and the Crab showed up. After being ground to a mealy paste between the Crab, the guard, and us, the remaining few cultists fled. We explored their very disgusting base and found the scroll, which we triumphantly returned to the Yogo.

     Another fake.

     This time we tracked the fake’s movements before it arrived in the city and
found that it must have been switched with the real one. The man who received the fake, the Maho leader, had simply done the same thing the original thief had
done! And he was powerful but not very lore-wise, and never noticed he had a
fake himself. Both fakes had been made by drawing off evil power a prepared
scroll vessel. The Black Scroll was simply so potent as to easily make such a
false item.

     And this left only two perps: the two Shugenja council members who refused to
attend in person. We headed for their fortresses. The first turned out to be
clean, but the second was planning something BIG. He was going to wipe out
everyone who had harmed or insulted the Scorpion, which was a VERY long list,
with a plague of terrible power. We defeated and slew his guards, nearly getting
killed in the attempt. But we could hardly hope to kill him while he had the
Black Scroll. So, we tried to convince him. We pointed out that many “enemies”
of the Scorpion had been friends and would be so again in the future, and that
HE, not them, had endangered the mission of protecting the Black Scrolls. When
he realized that the Scrolls themselves were awake and had manipulated him, and
took it up for a final strike – against Fu Leng! Judging by the backlash, Fu
Leng felt that one.

     Shigure got a gift of over 100 Koku from Bayushi Sakura, taken from the
fortress. He offered it to the Yogo leaders, as it really belonged to them. This
was neither the first nor the last sign that Bayushi Sakura was less honorable
than the Eta scum. Shigure snuck in to see a somewhat inquisitive Emerald
Magistrate, warning him that his investigations were likely to prove fatal if
the Scorpion got worried. Shigure did this by sneaking into a second floor
window behind the man’s desk, walking past him, and coughing once he got nicely
situated. He never noticed until I got there.

     Now well and truly outliving their welcome (which, come to think of it, hadn’t
been very warm), the party decided to continue on their way swiftly. They
battled pirates alongside the Crab, sinking one vessel and killing plenty of men
on the other. The brutal fight saw a nasty conclusion as the heavy Crab ship and
the pirate vessel lay locked in mortal death, the latter sinking and pulling
down the former. Pirates spilled from the hatches, desperate to escape and
trying to overwhelm the Crab with numbers. However, Bayshi Blandess, Shigure,
and Bayushi Sakura did a deadly work of carving up the pirates from behind while
the Shugenja dropped boulders on the skeletal spars piercing the Crab hull.
Victory was sweet, especially sa the Crab took only two serious casualties.

     The party continued south and soon arrived at the Crab clan palace. Continuing
their habit of investigating murders, they took a look into the mysterious
deaths, mutilation, and exsanguination (“total blood loss”) of several people.
Shigure elected to guard a Crane clan actor, but the killer outwitted him.
During the night, a particularly tough Crab bushi was killed; Shigure wnt to
investigate, and the killer murdered his charge in the half-hour he was away.
However, the man’s several bodyguards failed as well – and the Crane lost his
face as well as his blood. Shigure, feeling very guilty, tracked the killer on
his own. The party chose their own route, but both eventually discovered the
killer’s identity: the greatest physician of the Crab. He was draining the blood
and choosing the greatest individuals. He took the latent magical power and the
heritage of the gods from their bloodstream and their best “parts.” He was
trying to revive a god – the dead god Ryoshun, as a champion against Fu Leng.

     But we did learn one thing. He was a madman but he wasn’t wrong. Fu Leng is
returning.
     Mirumoto Alex wanted to see the Kaiu Wall. For no sane reason, everyone else
went along with this nonsense. Why they would is a good question, but I knew it
was madness. The Wall is a military post, not some tourist attraction. And
everywhere we go, disaster strikes.

     I hate being right. Bayushi Sakura got angry and left along the way, but the
rest of us arived. We got the Wall just as they were building a major attack.
Ashigaru and Samurai were rushing in, but they represented a thin line compared to
the goblins. Sure, they weren’t strong, but they were vicious and backed by Maho
and strange creatures, not to mention light siege weapons.

     Since Master Alex wasn’t backing down, it was time to play. While Ryo Okari used his powers to protect Bayushi Blandness, who spent his time picking off goblins by the dozen with his bow. Indeed, the Scorpion samurai apparently survived not one, but two, direct hits with a ballista – as well as dozens of lesser wounds. That didn’t hurt our reputation.

     Meanwhile, I used a tiny, half-hidden exit (for assaulting the enemy after they
charge) to creep into the Shadowlands. I spotted the enemy leaders: a goblin
trio of one Maho user, a general, and some adviser or priest. Good targets. In
fact, given they were using some sort of primitive Gaijin Pepper, very good
targets. All I need to a bit of that, toss it over…

     BOOM.

     They weren’t quite dead, but their big weapons were burning and the charge had just received a nasty setback, as well as nicely outlining the goblins against
the fires. I decided discretion was the better part of valour, and did not try
to engage the three goblin leaders. Instead I charge THROUGH the ranks of
goblins, hoping to climb the wall. I’m very good at that. From behind, they had
a bad chance to escape my crushing Bokken blows.

     The leaders following me discovered it was a bad idea to concentrate on the Eta
while samurai were shooting at you, and died quickly. Meanwhile, I noticed that
huge centipede-like insects were charging ahead, straight up the Wall. The
goblins were hanging on handily and looked to use it as a living scaling ladder.
Time to get creative.

     I noticed the gobs had set up a nearby heavy crossbow group, and rushed over in the melee to use them. As Bayushi Blandness demonstrated his utter command of the arts of destruction by decapitating the living siege engine, I sunk a
yard-long bolt into another one’s flesh. Bayushi Sakura showed up again, and
began the killing spree.

     All in all, it was not a good day to be a goblin. When the mess was over, two
things became apparent. First, the Crab decided that the whole 20-Goblin Winter
especially applied if you kill all 20, plus some big monsters and spellcasters,
in one go. And Second, Bayshui Sakura had gone crazy. I challenged her to a duel
after she loudly declared that Shugenja weren’t even true Samurai. If she’d had
any honor remaining, she would have lost it. It came down to her Tainted sword
versus my Bokken.

     When I decapitated her (Bayushi Blandness casually lent me one a legendary
katana… which was a spare to him  ), she burst into flame and burnt to ashes.
The Crab took her Tainted sword to destroy it. The other blade, a Jade weapon to
destroy evil, we returned to her Family.

     The Crab Clan Champion welcomed us honorably, and even required my presence (which made ME very uncomfortable, I can tell you). He was trying to sign me up as a Crab Samurai. I declined on the grounds of “not being worthy.” It sounds better than “I have better things to do than sit on a Wall and wait for death, you overgrown crustacean.”

     But we did get his help for our next project, publicly humiliating the Mantis
Clan.
     With the Crab interested in us and us interested in them, it was time for some
fun. The entire point of our journey had been to help out the Crab for our own
amusement. The Mantis had “lost” a cargo they had promised to the Crab, and
refused to replace it. The angry Crab had demanded some villages in return. The
Mantis then promised to let them have the place – if they could march across the
sea and claim them.

     This was too tempting to resist. We designed, with the Kaiu crafters, a
paddle-boat. It was slow, almost unseaworthy, and maneuvered like a beached
whale. But she’d get pushed across the sea. In order to keep the thing secret,
we dropped rumors and strange hints. BY the time we left, it was reputed to be
(a) a secret weapon against the Shadowlands navy, (b) a secret weapon against
the Crane navy, (c) a secret weapon against the Shadowlands in general, as the
paddles were going to mach across the ground, (d) a vessel to sail the skies,
(e) a a vessel to go to Tengoku, (f) a haunted sacrifice to appease angry
spirits, (g) a ship to – well, you get the picture. Suffice it to say the Mantis
had no clue we were coming.

     And surprise them we did. We ran into one Mantis ship which asked to wait while they “returned with orders.” Since we figured those orders would involve
“mysterious pirates” and “all hands lost” we waited until they had left and
simply went on. And we landed, had a duel, saw Bayushi Blandness carve a much
higher-ranking Mantis Bushi in two, and claimed our prize.

     The Mantis were not pleased. We, however, had such a grand old time at their
expense that we decided to go to their court and see what we could help.
     So I was stuck in court. Which sucked. People ignored me, which was good, and
generally made me do annoying things like pay attention or help. Given that my
education largely involved removing skins from animals and turning them into
straps and saddles, I was a bit out of place. Why did the party make me learn
how to read? I was happy not knowing what all those signs and things meant. They never helped me: I’m beneath the law and anyone I pissed off enough would just
kill me anyhow.

     I amused myself by practicing my staff skills. I prefer using two finely-made
Bokken. They train strength and it looks more impressive to decapitate someone
with a wooden stick than a sharp sword. When it was important, I represented
Master Alex in the daily activities or games, mostly the physical ones. I won,
for example, the boat race. Apparently they figured I was some kind of Budoka, to
be ignored but not dismissed if I had talents.

     Ah, and the race was a story and a half. The day was pretty nice, but hot as Fu
Leng’s codpiece. What made it most interesting were the goings on around the
mess. Some strange Cat Clan samurai was hanging around, watching the Scorpion
load a suspicious chest onto their boat. I snuck about, keeping an eye on the
chest.

     The Conversation between, however, must be recorded in full. It’s too insane to
be believed.

Cat Clan S (CCS): I’m here to inspect your cargo.

Scorpion: … This is a yacht race. We’re packing lunch.

CCS: Well, it might be dangerous.

Scorp: Our lunch is dangerous?

CCS: Well, you might be smuggling something!

Scorp: (Ignores insult from petty Cat Clan samurai) Yeah, we’re ssmuggling
something halfway around the island. In fact, that pretty much takes it back to
where we brought it from this morning!

CCS: Well, I have a direct commission from the Emperor to investigate the
criminal underworld!

Scorp: (Twitches hand toward blade to avenge insult but doesn’t pull) And you’re
saying we’re part of the underworld?

CCS: Well, I have to check.

Scorp: Ah-huh. We’re leaving now.

CCS: Hey,. I’m the harbormaster and you have to obey me!

Scorp: (dumbfounded) You’re wearing the Cat Clan mon in Mantis lands, and the
harbormaster’s a man whereas your chest pretty clearly indicates your feminine
nature… and he’s standing right over there.

CCS: Uhhh…

Scorp: Hey harbor-master!

Harbor-master: Problem?

Scorp: This girl says she’s you.

CCS: Uhh…

Harbor-master: I think you better get gone.

CCS: Well, I have authority over you! I’ve been ordered by the EMperor to
investigate the underworld!

Scorpion: (About ready to die laughing)

Harbor-Master: I am going to kick your booty to Jigoku and back.

CCS: Fine! But I’m using… uh, two knives, in which I am a lethal specialist.

Harbor-Master: Fine. (Grabs two knives, cuts the Cat Clan girl to ribbons)

CCS: Ouch, uh, even though you just brutally wounded me and I have no chance of
succeeding, I will try to attack again!

Harbor-Master: Fine. (Grabs two knives, cuts the Cat Clan girl to ribbons)

CCS: Uh, I apologize! (Runs away)

     The other Samurai consider having her killed but decides they madwoman wasn’t worth the effort, and go about their lives wondering where she came from.
Meanwhile, I use the distraction to knock a loose board on the chest open, and
find out they’ve got writing supplies and some strange magical apparatus in
there.

     The actual race itself was a bit of excitement. The Crab, Mantis, and ourselves
managed to stay in the running. Meanwhile, the Scorpion lazily travelled on
down, mapping the coastline extensively, and the Dragon and Phoenix casually
went about sailing. When the Crane overturned, we went back a bit and picked
them up. We and the Mantis took a nasty shortcut over the reef, but avoided
losing our ship’s bottom to the coral blades. The Crab swung out and caught a
stiff breeze which left them in third place. Meanwhile, we and the Mantis went
head to head, but I pulled ahead by a few feet to win the day!

     Master Alex wanted me to wear a silly Dragon costume, but I told him that I’d
sooner remove his chance of siring any children before agreeing to
 
Then we met the Gaijin.

     The Gaijin of Merenae are a funny people who look weird, but they are friendly
but the ones we met didn’t bathe very often. That might be because they were
sailors. They also have some strange magic which totally freaked out the
Phoenix, who were not in the least happy to learn that(a) the Gaijin have Void
magic, and (b) they have better Void magic than in Rokugan, and (c) the Phoenix
can’t have it, period.

     Let me back up.

     After our last mess, we discovered why the Phoenix had bothered with the race at all: they had sent several Shugenja (far more than was really necessary) to the
Mantis Islands for their less-important court. This was odd. The Phoenix,
however, needed help to locate what they viewed as “dark magic.” And they didn’t
trust the Mantis. So, during the race, they took a look at the area and saw who
could help them sail around.

     And I won the race. And was in a group of three Shugenja, as well as one bushi
who’d studied with the Shiba. Phoenix translation: Jackpot!

     So they bullied us into making a trip later that evening. In the meantime, I
went to practice my bokken. A Mantis samurai who used the Jo decided to play
with me. Not wanting to make a scene, I faked the fight well, pretending to
never have a chance to hit him. Given that he could quite legally whip out his
sword and decapitate me, I didn’t want to humiliate him in public.

     At night, we (me, the bushi, 3 shugenja, and 2 Phoenix) went out for a sunset
cruise, whereupon some mist just HAPPENED to whirl up (the spirits must have
just decided on that, and the 5 shugenja were not responsible). The Mantis
escort lost us in the fog. We made our way toward the center of the “distortion”.
We found something all right, covert trading with the Gaijin. The Phoenix were
upset, but we knew they did their own anyway and had little reason to make a
fuss.

     And the Gaijin were neat. They had big ships with higher sides and many sails.
Creeping around, I met a strange woman with secret powers – the ability to see
without seeing and to “chart the seas of destiny.” I don’t know what that means
but it sounds pretty good. Then we had trouble.

     The Cat Clan girl showed up.

     Apparently, after being humiliated on the docks, she had foregone jiggai in
favor of running to the other end of the island. Oddly, this turned in her
favor. She discovered a secret warehouse of Gaijin goods (not that this was
totally secret) and started to commit mass murder in her investigation. When
captured, the Mantis allowed her to live in exchange for becoming their
permanent agent… in Gaijin lands!

     So they took her to the secret trading island. Once let loose, she immediately
started talking to the Gaijin… about being a spy on them and having a direct
commission from the Emperor, and other idiocies. The Mantis took one look at
this and our arrival, loaded up the remaining cargo, set fire to the buildings,
and left. The Cat Clan girl either was left to fend for herself or went with the
Gaijin; nobody much cares.

     The old Merenae woman left the Phoenix a book (although she seemed to find them amusing for some reason). They, not speaking Merenae or understanding what was written in it save that it had the secrets of Void magic they didn’t understand, were not pleased. But their curiosity was momentarily satisfied.

     We left in our ship. The Mantis undoubtedly learned of our expedition
eventually, but decided that if we weren’t making a point of it, they would
pretend it didn’t happen.

     Public humiliation and the fear thereof wins again!

Pain and Suffering

     With the mysterious Gaijin and the unnamed Cat Clan girl out of the way (we
later found she was Neko Washi, who had gone mad from serious fever), we
returned to the Mantis Clan Palace. The weather grew hotter, but the rains
helped keep hings comfortable towards summer’s end.

     I busied myself with keeping Master Alex under guard, practicing my skills, and
the occasional event while the Shugenja investigated. During one training
session, I awas the surprised recipient of some visitors. Several small
children, almost ready to enter bushi training. One wanted to play. So I did,
avoiding hitting the kid. In fact, he surprised me and nearly got a few blows in
himself. This caught the eye of the Captain of the Palace Guard, who seemed to
find me and my companions “interesting.” And it’s never a good sign when the
guards take an interest in you.

     Unfortunately, right then the Shugenja started sensing the mysterious dark power again. And without the Gaijin magic affecting their sense, it was becoming more clear. Yet still hard to trace – it had to come from somewhere nearby but was being masked. What could possible mask it? Ah, the holy shrine under the ancient
mountain? That would be a good place to start.

     So we checked it out. The Captain of the Guard brought a few soldiers, while we
made our way into the mountain shrine. As a dormant volcano, only very senior
priests were allowed to enter, as a botched ritual might anger the sleeping
spirit and unleash a rain of fire o’er the land. Never mind the dangerous dark
magic being tossed about down there.

     So no pressure, friends.

     As we entered the caverns, the far off drip, drip of rainwater washing inside
echoed like a crash. Our own movements sounded the silent tunnels even louder,
and I felt like we must be warning every creature within ten miles. Fortunately,
it was the silence that made things so noisy, and we actually managed to get the
drop on our enemies.

     Well, well, look at who’s drawing those patterns of evil in glowing blood? Is
that Iga Suki Kago down there with her demon pets and undead servants? Why, it
IS Iga Suki Kago! I don’t think we were properly introduced before. Let’s go
make friends, shall we? I mean, how hard can it be to get on the good side of
the dessicated husk of a maho-using hell-witch?

     On the other hand, she did have a lot of guards. On the other, other hand, there
was a nice sloping tunnel… and we had a Shugenja who could summon a boulder…

     rumble rumble Rumble Rumble RUMBLE RUMBLE CRASH!

     Well, that certainly surprised her. Now to finish off her guards and take down
the incompetent rot-queen. Hey, where did those extra Oni come from? And…
thsoe Oni. And that other Oni..

      In the Sun’s name, we’re in trouble. Maybe we should have checked out the
symbols on the walls. Something about mass summoning, maybe? Well, too late for that! Fight! Oni appearing, oni appearing… These suckers are tough as a Crab
on a three-day drinking spree. You guys handle the Oni if you want to, but I’ve
got bigger game in mind.

     I waited out joining the battle. Instead, I crept around the edges, slipping
through a dusty hollow as silently as the grave itself. Iga Suki Kago was a
fiendish horror… but if I could hit her hard enough, she might not be able to
summon more minions, at least not easily. And the way this was going, we’d be
overwhelmed long before we reached her. Even Bayushi Blandess (Hey, wasn’t his
name Bayushi Michio? Maybe.) couldn’t take them down, and that meant I had no
chance of even scratching them. But if I hit right I might swing the tide for
other people.

     It was the “other people” which worried me. As I approached the dark maho-using witch from behind, I remembered the last person who took a wild death-swing at her. There was hardly enough left to identify him by. Not good. But someone had to do it.

     So I did. With a hair-raising shriek which did in fact startle the damned, my
borrowed No-Dashi took off one filthy leg and a good chunk of her torso, though
her power supported her weight. The skeletal bodyguard took a wild swing at me,
but failed to do any serious damage.

     As the others battered down the oni surrounding them, the filthy sorceress called one
final oni, but failed to summon the beast. “Shigure!” cried Alex, “the altar!
Destroy it!” I looked down, some unholy relic inside a blackened case did
pollute the alter. I swung.

     And didn’t hear anything after that for a bit. Just a sort of rush and a
pressure. It was like being swallowed by a whale and thinking you’d never see
the sun again. But I did, a little sooner than I hoped. Force at the very heart
of the volcano in the only direction left: straight up.

     I shot up into the afternoon sunlight, thinking for a moment how warm it suddenly
got, out of the cool cave air. Arcing up over the Mantis islands, I was struck by
the beauty of it all. Then I hit the palace.

     Crash!

     Crush!

     Smash!

     Thwack!

     Fortunately, I only went through the upper three floors, which were all wood! I
finally came down in the library, battered unmercifully but alive. As it
happened, the Phoenix shugenja we journeyed with were there. They were
researching ways and methods to ward and fight against the the power of Jigoku
and the Taint, and I fell face-first into their scrolls.

     Well, these things will happen when you turn a Black Scroll of Fu Leng into
tissue paper.

      I later learned that the others had been nearly crushed in the cave-in. Iga Suki
Kago escaped via death… again. But she’d be back I’m sure. The undead and Oni
were consumed by the raw explosion of power, absorbing more than they could
handle. Meanwhile, my friends survived unTainted, though it took some time for
the courtiers, Mantis bushi, and laborers to dig them out. I was mercifully
drifting in and out of consciousness and had two near-heart-attack Shugenja
tossing healing spells on me, so the agony of having most every bone in my body
smashed to powder didn’t last long.

     I took the rest of the afternoon to sleep.

     The next morning, I went to practice my skills. Bandaged across my aching ribs
and with numerous welts from the roots and rubble smashing my face, I went out
to the courtyard. Hundreds of spectators turned out to see the invincible Eta,
Shigure.

     Life was good

                             -Copyright 2007, by Patrick Bryant

10 Responses

  1. Of The Mantis and The Crane

    Following our harrowing near-death near-undeath near-fate-worse-than-death experiences, we settled in to find a way to crassly exploit our heroism for profit, fame, and our own grotesque amusement. In other words, we acted like typical champions of Rokugan.

    Tamroi Kochike the Sumo went off to meditate. Master Alex collapsed like a old man with a bad back after declaring that “the one who put the Black Scroll in the cave must have been-!” Seeing Master Alex lying unconscious really made me think about what horrible practical jokes I could play on him.

    In the meantime, Bayushi Michio and I decided to explore that very question (the scroll thing, not the practical jokes). We first managed to decipher, with the help of various Shugenja, when the Scroll arrived on the Island. Likewise, it almost certainly came from a diplomatic envoy. And we received word via the Scorpion that they had tracked the Scroll to a shady fence in Ryoko Owari. He had been killed after being showered with his blood money. We figured that was pretty fair, given that he had been trying to sell a Black Scroll for koku.

    Using this information, we traced the diplomats who could have gotten their hands on the thing. Trouble was, apparently anyone who could have gotten it had no reason to hide it, at least in Mantis lands. But we did make an educated guess that the Crane were involved. They at least didn’t like the Mantis bid for Great Clan status, which would upset their system of diplomacy. On the other hand, why would they be crazy enough to handle a Black Scroll?

    But we investigated and found that one Crane envoy, a low-ranking Shugenja assigned to a less-than-desirable post, had been acting oddly. To that end, we hatched an admittedly hare-brained scheme to determine the truth. We shaved some Jade powder and slipped it into his tea.

    It wasn’t that easy. I had to dress up like a servant and sneak by him, slipping the powder right into his tea cup when he wasn’t looking. Happily, Bayushi Michio helped distract the target. Our unknowing Shugenja didn’t see me shadow him into the toilet either, where he vomited up his dinner along with the Jade powder. Well, that was one mystery solved. He was Tainted therefore obviously…

    When Master Alex finally came to we set up a meeting with the Crane. As it happened, they were puzzled, apparently not knowing what their idiot Shugenja had done. No matter – they were still officially responsible that the allegation, if unproven, would still have been brutal on their reputation. Moreover, we could prove most of it, which would be more than enough for the Lion, Scorpion, and Phoenix to take them down a notch. We got what we wanted, though: the Crane caved on the Mantis clan status issue.

    And with that, we embarked on a nice journey to the Imperial City Otosan Uchi. Along the way, I abruptly recalled something. Lion Samurai, taken away to somewhere warm and quiet by the Kami of Vacations… Well, to cut a long story short, we found those men with the Kami’s help, who didn’t really recognize us from our previous brief and violent meeting. We brought them along to deliver to the Lion in Otosan Uchi.

  2. Ah, the Imperial City. City of the Sun’s Glorious Radiance Come to Earth. The Pure Jade Treasure of the Empire. The Holy City of Piety. City of Ten Thousand Temples. The Eternal Center of the Empire. The… well, you get the idea.

    Frankly, I’m not sure why anyone likes the place. Everyone in power walks around lying to everyone he meets, including himself. Everyone not in power ignores those who are, as they don’t matter. It’s all the most pompous self-centered idiots in the empire were collected into one disgusting mass.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, I never did like courtiers that much. They strike me as wastes of time, energy, and sense.

    Regardless, it was a nice chance for tourism while Master Alex did the work for once. Oh, wait, no it wasn’t. Because Master Alex sat back and made us mess around for his amusement.

    Well, Bayushi Michio and I joined the Kite tournament. After seeking out top-quality kite makers, we entered. Sadly, his “Wave of Devastation” kite technique proved more than a match for my “hide my kite” style. In fact, Michio was more than a match for a small section of the city wall and a tip of a spire of the Imperial Palace. Oops.

    Meanwhile I used the distraction to pick some pockets. I stole the purse of a merchant and a Clan samurai. Then I went to pick the pocket of a Sparrow samurai, and felt so bad I gave him the Clan samurai’s purse, then returned the merchant’s to him.

    Bored, I decided to use my kite skills in another fashion. After consulting with the Seppun guards, I took up their standing challenge to steal something from the Imperial Palace (and return it). I successfully did so… with the kite. I just flew it right in the window, looped the string around something I could hardly see, and flew it back out. Yeah, it sounds easy and I made it look easy, but you just give it a try yourself!

    Regardless, the blackened dagger slid down, a loop of string flowing along, until I handily caught it. It nicked my finger. The Seppun looked at me, somewhat wide-eyed. For a moment, I thought they were just amazed at my skill. When they asked me I felt, err… dead, I knew I was in big trouble. They claimed the dagger. Carefully. Wrapping it in silk. And, left.

    As for me and Alex and Bayushi Michio, we went off to celebrate our victories. UNfortunately, the Jade Champion wanted to see us. Wonderful. Would he make our deaths quick and easy or slow and painful? Was there ever a chance it wouldn’t be slow and painful? (No.)

    He congratulated Michio on his victory in the Kites, then informed him that he would receive no token prize (a minor gift of Koku, since the contest was free to peasants and merchants and even eta as well as Samurai). Michio would however, be honored as the Master of Kites, an official if quite unimportant title. Michio as unhappy, as he seems to instinctively shy away from fame or glory. Which is downright freakish for a Samurai.

    Master Alex was questioned and his pro-tem appointment as Emerald Magistrate confirmed. Happy day!

    As for myself, I was “promoted” via a murder attempt. Ahem, this is complicated. The Crab had never actually taken me off the list of new Samurai from the 20 Goblin Winter. Which meant I was their vassal. Or something. I speculated about having to kill some of them until they stopped trying to make me sit on a wall until I was driven mad by Shadowlands taint.

    Specifically, the Jade Champion informed me that the dagger I had nipped was the Obsidian Blade of Shosuro, and was always lethal to any it cut. In fact, the only ones who weren’t vulnerable were Shosuro’s own descendants. Which… apparently included me, which meant I was a Samurai. Or at least Ronin. Of course, it needed to be tested.

    This he did by attempting to decapitate me with the blade. While I dodged (barely), the rippling obsidian shard arced around, coming to rest in my hand. I was rather pissed. Status? Awww! Now they were going to strap swords to me and send me out on suicide missions, like all the other Samurai do! Master Alex reminded me that under his command every mission was a suicide mission.

    I also informed the Jade Champion that if he attempted to kill me again, I might have to try the same back. Everyone though I was rude. I thought I was being pretty nice; I mean, I was giving the man, what, two free tries before I considered responding? And they were complaining? Well how many bloody murder attempts to I have to accept, Jade Champion or no?

    I’ll never understand courtiers.

    Regardless, the dagger was mine to keep, especially seeing as they literally were incapable of taking it off of me. Even I couldn’t get it off of me.

    That evening I informed my family of the mess and that we were now Ronin. We argued about trying to join a Clan or something and came to no agreement. Raudi wanted to go work for the Crab on the Wall. The rest of us looked at him like he belonged on the far side of it.

    I also stopped by the shrine to Shosuro, as I figured I ought to get to know my deceased relatives if they were helping. It never hurts to be polite. (Well, knowing Samurai, it does.) In fact, the mighty, respected, and ancient prayer “Please don’t let me get killed soon!” worked, and Shosuro asked me come pertinent questions.

    Regardless, our party of intrepid adventurers were demanded at court, if only for a few moments, so the Emperor could formally bestow the title on Michio. The Seppun hated the fact that I had a weapon at court, but barring the Pheonix Elemental Masters coming down to deal with it, the dagger woudn’t leave.

    Things moved along well, though I wasn’t sure whether or not the awesome illusions of rainclouds and flitting birds against a backdrop of a mighty waterfall and forest was elegant or just tacky. The 30-second interview was over and we were happily leaving when Michio noticed a slight hum. Then Master Alex heard it. He removd the strange astrolabe he’d been carrying around, as it whirled of its own accord faster and faster.

    And then the court was empty. And cold, and grey. And we were… not where we’d been. Or not when we’d been.

    Yep. Slow and painful.

  3. The Seventy-Some Years of Darkness

    I did not take long in hiding like a scared little girl. You would too if a small army of undead Seppun guards charged into the Emperor’s throne room. Of course, the Emperor and his court having vanished (or had we?) we were feeling a little out of place.

    As it happened, the Seppun had no problem with our presence. We were allowed to remain, as “the invitation” had never been rescinded. They escorted my friends to the library as per their request and set them under watch. It seemed the Emperor was visiting elsewhere. I followed the party and slipped in after them.

    From the undead librarians, we quickly learned that Emperor Fu Leng had taken over the empire some seventy years ago, covering it in eternal darkness and quickly setting up his rule. Various heroes ahd tried to depose him, but between his awesome power and the undead Seppun slaves, he did not face much difficulty.

    We were faced with two options: find a way to go *back* or settle in. The first was uncertain, the latter unpleasant. However, since we’d dealt with uncertainty more, it won. While the Shugenja studied the histories and looked for information about what to do next, I went about finding infor from other sources. For example, my little sister Lun was still alive, was married… and hadn’t aged. Apparently she’d been indulging in potions of youth, purchased from wicked alchemists at exhorbitant fees. I won’t mention what they made them from. I got some useful information from her, and she promised a longer report later.

    With that in mind, I headed to visit my anscestor’s shrine. If it worked once, after all. Of course ,the Scorpion had built in lethal death-traps, apparently in the belief that real descendants of Shosuro would make it through. Or something. Given that Fu Leng remembered that Shosuro had helped stop him, she wasn’t very popular.

    Shosuro was definitely in, and had a number of interesting tidbits about what had happened – and how Fu Leng might be stopped. Of course, she saw no way to do that. But I might use her knwoledge if we somehow could return ourselves to our previous time. Since the gods had clearly shoved us about, I figured it just might work. I returned to the palace. Oh, what was that, Mr. Undead Horror of a Seppun? Fu Leng is returning in a day or so? Better hurry then. Oh, no, I merely said, “Better for it, then!” Nope, no traitors here!

    I think he (it?) saw through it, but then the undead Seppun didn’t really like their new master.

    Meanwhile, Master Alex had deciphered much of her astrolabe’s secrets. Apparently it once belonged to the Kami of Time himself, but how it became a family heirloom is a mystery. But they did see how to reset it. And together we figured out what events had helped FU LEng return. if we stopped those – The Badger Clan’s destruction, the Pheonix and Scorpion lords’ corruption, the death of many Naga – we might still stop the Lord of Jigoku.

    And so we gathered in the great hall, and prepared to try and return, taking the librarian with us. My nephew showed up (geez, since when do I have a nephew?), and gave me some more info on events before the Rise of Fu Leng. Sis had come through. And as the Shugenja turned the wheels on the astrlabe carefully, the world blurred and shifted.

    We’re back… surrounded by guards angrily demanding answers. And my nephew came too, thanks to Michio.
    Yep, slow and painful.

  4. We managed to spin a quasi tall tale about the deities choosing us to do some terrible task to stop Fu Leng. The Seppun commander apparently calmed down and accepted this by simply not making an issue of it, since there was no Maho and nothing stolen or dangerous items brought in (except a stolen copy of the True Tao of Fu Leng, whch we neglected to mention to them).

    Our business in Otosan Uchi nearly finished, Alex wanted to leave quickly. I have no idea why – you’d think the Courtier would love to enjoy the delights of the one city in Rokugan where anything and everything is based around diplomacy.

    First, however, I had to confess to my (older) sister that I had my (younger) sister’s currently nonexistent son. This prompted much faliling and yelling. Eventually, we decided that my nephew needed a “trip with Uncle Shigure” and that I should convince my younger sister’s possible-husband-to-be to wed her honestly. Given that he was a Cat Clan smuggler, this was mildly embarassing. But I had a nice frank talk with him.

    Tamori Kochige took part in a Sumo tournament and placed well, although there was some discussion about the appropriateness of using the magic of the spirits in the mess.

    And off we went to the Dragon lands, past the Lion to the north. Border guards gave us some trouble, so we smacked them around verbally and physically until they realized that we had permission far higher than their authority to deny us and that we could crush them like ants.

    Eventually, we came to Toshi Ranbo wo Shien Shite something. Apparently they were expecting some Jade Magistrates or whatever, so we bluntly shoved our noses in, because that’s what we do. They had recently taken the city back from the Crane and were forcing nearly all the commoners (except those directly helping them) to build new defenses.

    When some of their works went burning up, the Lion had a samurai investigator/magistrate/whatever guy look into it. He tracked down the actual culprits, which turned out to be young children attached to a work gang. He suspected them of magic, since they apparently hadn’t played with fire. The Lion city daimyo instantly seized them as “maho users.” Or something. Apparently they confessed to a lot after being tortured. And the city daimyo was such a pompous fool that the local Shugenja had all left and refused to return.

    Which brought us in. The children had been placed in the dungeon, which was now quite solidly sealed – from the inside. Tamori Kochige used a magic discipline to peer inside, and found that an earth spirit was holding it shut with the stone foundation itself. He was persuaded to leave, and we broke in with a giant rolling boulder.

    So we started looking at our prisoners. Small children. Tortured. And one was apparently quite blessed by the pirits, judging by the five or six who surrounded him according to Kochige’s sight.

    We took them back to our inn and washed them and fed them. Seems the one was a potential Shugenja, and the others all more or less innocent. The spirits of fire were simply responded to his desires for the works to be destroyed. We told the city daimyo he was a damned fool and arranged to take them with us.

    I talked to Alex and we sparked a duel with the city daimyo. By brutally humiliating his champion, I quite openly demonstrated that they had abandoned their duty to the common folk. He resigned in shame. We left to cross the river in Mirumoto lands, not really caring what happened to the Lion.

  5. Following that unhappy adventure, we met a furious Emerald magistrate who threatened dire retribution if Alex didn’t close the horrible gate to the unknown (also known as the “shrine of the kami of vacations.” After much fearful listening on Alex’s part, we went off the fief and he promptly forgot about it.

    We hosted some guests, and I sent some half-naked young women to his room that night after getting him toasty drunk. He woke up and in the morning, freaked, and began yelling that he was going to get me.

    I simply hid to avoid him. Finally, after much cajolling, I emerged. he then decided not to splash me with ice-cold water. I took this as a bad sign and ran. And ran. And ran. I ran all the way to the coast, riders on horseback unable to keep up with my pace. Eventually I just ran out over the sea. Then I realized this was silly and ran back. Over the water. The Phoenix were… impressed.

    When I returned, Alex had already left. So I followed and we saved some lost magistrates from some strange gaijin mercenaries. After he wrangled with himself, I finally walked up to the gate and simply asked for him. Some quick bargaining and some swapped gold and the deal was done.

    Next, we tackled one who’d been “vacationed” in a small, remote fishing village. No problem there, just bemused tribesman.

    Finally, we journeyed to the hot lands of the Senpet, or a region bordering there, in seach of a Phoenix yojimbo who had stolen off not one but two black scrolls…

  6. As expected, the Pheonix has managed to piss off every gaijin in sight. Since they were in a city of gaijin, this did not help matters. In fact, they discovered the hard way that these Senpet had their own schools and were far from helpless. The entire pursuit force with some 30 Shiba Bushi and 1 lone Shugenja had been captured in humiliating fashion by the city guard.

    Fortunately, the Sultan was more amused than frightened. While I brought in sake to sell as exotic liquor, Master Alex entered into a freakish-as-usual-attempt at diplomacy, telling wild and weird stories to the astonished ruler. Eventually, he let us have the Pheonix – as slaves. Since they had to give their word of honor to serve us, they were right in trouble.

    We met the Evil Grand Vizier, who spent his time cackling madly and promising to soon conquer all. Evidently he had talents in poison, dark magical rituals, alchemy, and a whole list of various unsavory activities. We soon discovered that traditionally ther was always an Evil Viizier for Senpet Sultans. He kept killing off the other Evil Viziers wannbes and sometimes had brilliant ideas. The normal Viziers were a lot of mild-mannered elderly scholars.

  7. Bored to tears by the constant blathering and blithers, Bayushi Michio and myself decided to have some fun. We went off to hit the Yodotai before they could strike us.

    This proved acceptably difficult. They only outnumbered us 1600 to 2, good odds considering our history. After locating one of the forward camp, we went in search of something to kill them with. I suggested (swallowing my honor) poison, since they were Gaijin, and particularly unpleasant Gaijin at that.

    Well, the local undead would make a nasty poison, and not even Tainted one at that. So we went off to slaughter them and nearly got killed. Kistune Okari suffered grevious wounds, but Bayushi Michio was able to slaughter the foes by the dozen. We discovered they had a few nasty surprises, including the fact that they were not only otrganized, but making weapons and explosives with the power of the Sun. We stole a few, along with the lens they use to make them.

    After putting the undead dust into a jar, we stole back into the enemy camp. I crept into it with difficulty, stopping a hair short of being discovered by the roving patrols. The supplies were guarded, but I managed to push a hole through the sand and dump it over much of their food.

    At this time, Okari was discovered by the Yodotai, and he and Michio had a fight on their hands. I could see the fireworks, and avoided the roused Yodotai camp, but I could only pray they were alright. Meanwhile, I hid under the execution platform. Hey, would YOU look for a spy on the execution grounds?

    I had to stay there during the day, munching some captured food and sipping my water. When night fell, I was able to steal over to the mercenary wizards’ camp, dropping a bomb in the process. Slipping into the wather-wizard’s tent, I quickly found he was mrcenary in more ways than one, and hired him for the price of his life and ample pay. He arranged to leave posthaste, while I stayed another half-hour before clearing out. Unfortunately, Michio had returned – and wa dropping explosives all over the camp.

    Long story short, I escaped during the inferno, but with my cover blown and a small army of Yodotai trailing me. I lost them in the sandstorm the wizard pulled up to cover his trail.

  8. I managed to return to the city just in time for Master Alex to stop talking. Unfortunately, I also arrived just in time to be atacked by an army; the Yodotai were on the way. Looks like they decided to move ahead of schedule since we hit them, and to open the festivities had their spies start the slaughter by setting fire to armories and depos and smashing wells.

    So we took the Phoenix; they would fight in exhange for their release. The battle proved uneventful, outside of being ounumbered two-to-one. Those odds were almost an insult as Michio obliterated the opposition. I organized the men, and the spellcasters did something I couldn’t understand.

    The bloodfest was over quickly, and we had to figure how to fight the advancing Yodotai army.

  9. Master Alex soon found an assassin heading for the Sultan. Sadly, he then walked over and asked him whom he was going to kill. The freaked-out assassin stabbed Alex, nearly killing him in one blow. Fortunately, the Evil Grand Vizier was around to deal with the poison (although not until after a lot of grandstanding).

    Michio went out of “distract” the Yodotai by exterminating them, and I followed, since he needed someone to drag his body back when he died. He managed to stir up a host of undead to follow with a mystical salve to make his life force seem more tasty and tempting. After fighting off a few outrsiders, we managed to reach a Yodotai staging area. Michio circled them to lure more undead, while I crept into the growing camp to plant another slave inside. Without many options for getting close to the commander, I got myself some dingy armor and set fire to his tent, intending to “accidentally” splash him.

    This failed miserably, as his men noticed I was firing the tent before I even dropped the torch. My entire action was one gigantic mess. I was forced to run away like a scared little girl, when suddenly the ground beneath me opened up and I vanished into the depths.

    That was… suprising.

  10. I found myself in the midst of not-particularly hostile undead. I convinced them I was the replacement guards, and they seemed inclined to ignore the fact that I was still living, apparently on the grounds that if I wanted to guard the supplies for the next decade, so be it. Apparently, there was an army around here, and the dead were recruiting.

    I, of course, had no intention of waiting, so I grabbed some very dry food and snuck away. I eventually found a tunnel to the surface, only to come up in the midst of an army. Of the dead.

    Oh darn.

    After faking some sympathy for the undead commander, I struck a bargain. I would tell him some information concerning ROkugan, and he would let me leave in peace if I kept his location and goals secret. He seemed to believe me vow. As it happened, he wanted veangance on Shinjo the Horse-Lord, and that information may come in handy.

    I struggled my way back to relative civilization. Irritatingly, I found the Yodotai on the verge of extermination. They’d lost oveer six thousand men in the day or two I had been gone. Michio had returned, and my friends found away to unleash a storm of extreme frost. Very extreme. As in, instant death extreme. The Yodotai had frozen to death, although the people in the city had mostly survived by huddling together for warmth.

    I begged an audience with the Yodotai commander and he agreed to let me carry a message demanding surrender to the city. Pure bravado, I expect. I quickly found my friends – except Alex was missing when he charged into a storm of freakish extradimensional energies. Joy. There was little I could do for him now, though.

    Knowing how weakened the Yodotai were, I organzed a nightfall attack. Before he vanished, Alex had somehow persuaded the Dragon than a threat to all Rokugan was brewing (true enough). They sent 500 soldiers, who were itching to fight. With the Phoenix and the Sultan’s men, we swept around the edges of the Yodotai camp, Trapping them in a brutal pincer.

    I, however, became the laughing stock of the world of generals, as the enemy had vanished already. Only a tiny guard was left behind. I largely went home, as other men went north in ships and captured the remnent who had tried to escape. A handful of men were lost in the fight.

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