Rokugan: Shadow Creeping
Act I Part four Scene one
With every step west the land withers and dies. By the time our heroes lose sight of the wall, the land is almost completely corrupted. At first even breathing in this corrupted region is difficult, but their lungs slowly become used to the corruption and filth of the Shadowlands, and as the Crab Scouts set a demanding pace they begin to regain their wind. In paired groups they traverse the hidden dangers, the Hiruma Scouts leading them around patches of peaceful looking reeds and calm looking pools. Shadows seem to crouch at the corners of their vision, but when they turn, nothing is there. Their nerves begin to fray under the constant tension, but there is no sign of anything living.
The night comes quickly, and is cold and dark. The Scouts have brought with them Kuni Stones to provide a lightless heat, as they set up two separate camps several yards apart; a precaution in case of ambush. Reluctantly, the Phoenix Ishiken opens up about a vision she has had:
You see through eyes that are not your own. You find yourself on the floor in an elaborate ballroom, though long in disrepair, as dust and vermin have left the once magnificently lacquered decor in a dilapidated state. A space in the center of the room has been disturbed by the slickly wet sheen of fresh blood. The blood has been smeared on the floor in a circle, which is surrounded by candles that illuminate the room. The body of Asahina Kazuma lies in the circle, his breathing shallow, and covered in blood, his arms and legs torn and shredded.
A figure, dressed all in black, kneels over the still form of Kazuma, an obsidian knife in hand. His back is turned towards you, blocking his face from your view. The eyes that are not your own, do not recognize him. You gag as the black clad figure proceeds to carve Kazuma’s face and scalp from his head. He remains still and unconscious through the gruesome process. Setting down the evil looking dagger, the black clad man pulls Kazuma’s flayed flesh over his own head before he turns to regard you.
“I am impressed with your ability, Yuijin. Even the Void Master himself did not hamper our plans as much as you have this day. Your control over the mysteries of the Void is much more refined than his ever was, perhaps you should have been the Master. But no matter, you will die screaming just as he did.”
You fight down the urge to panic, the taste of bile filling your mouth. Whatever poison flows through your body that has paralyzed you and prevented you from hearing the voices of the kami around you, it will not prevent you from doing something useful. You know you must remain calm, your death here must mean something. The man with Kazuma’s face flashes a ghoulish grin, and you watch horrified as the face begins the meld into his own; seamlessly becoming one.
“It is a pity that I cannot harvest your face as well. It would never stay usable long enough, and I have need of this one more. The Lion and Crane must have their war after all.” He turns and laughs throatily to himself as he exits the room through the servant’s entrance.
Time passes. The candles burn low. Kazuma continues to breath, but his breath is shallow, and gurgling with the blood that oozes from his wounds. The candles burn lower, some of them burn out. Kazuma stops breathing. The dancing shadows cause you to see strange movements in the pooling blood around his body. The effects of the poison linger in your body, but begin to wear. You can feel the worry and distaste of the kami around you. They warn of danger, but you can do nothing.
Kazuma’s lifeless form sits up. His flayed face turns and regards you with hungry, hateful eyes. You know you are witnessing the birth of an oni, as Kazuma’s unwilling flesh becomes the vessel for the evil of Jigoku. The maho-tsuki was right… you do die screaming.
You awaken with a start, drenched in sweat. You know your sensei is dead and this was a sending, sent through the void, of his last moments.
Uncomfortable with the Phoenix’s revelation, watches are set and they all settled down to a restless sleep. All but the Dragon, who finds she no longer needs food or rest.
The following day, around noon, the Dragon Ise Zumi and the lead Hiruma Scout spot an ugly green creature squatting across a nearby ridge. It’s a female goblin with her pointy green ears sticking foolishly out of a dented helmet. The two Hiruma Scouts quickly instruct our heroes to feign setting up camp, while they scouts sneak around and ambush the goblin watcher.
The scouts quickly capture the goblin, one of them wrapping his powerful arms around it, and they dispatch its vile mount. After signaling the rest of the party, they begin questioning the creature. It begs for mercy in a nauseating fashion: it claims to have children, offers sexual favors, and generally humiliates itself. They party learns that a goblin calling itself The Exalted Ugu rules Hiruma Castle. The twisted goblin mount that was killed was actually the goblins brother, transformed by the Ugu’s powerful magic’s. They are also told that Hiruma Castle is currently occupies bu lots of goblins, “more than twenty—maybe even a million!” After learning all they feel necessary, the Hiuruma Scout holding the goblin breaks it’s neck, and our heroe’s push onward.
The still darkness of the night is broken by the shrill screams of Seiki, “Ah my leg! It’s in my leg!”. Quickly a hand is placed over his mouth to stifle his screams, while his leggings are sliced open to find the cause of his pain. It seems that after being warned by the scouts to avoid the stones and rocks in the area Seiki had snuck off to nurture his opium habit and had sat on a rock, disturbing a nest of nikumizu, or heart grubs. They burrowed into his flesh, and begin to crawl up his leg. The Ise Zumi tries her best to save the leg, using her advanced knowledge of medicine, but the strain is too much for Seiki to bear. He begs the Crane to tell Ozaki that he never intended to get his lord mixed up in “this mess with the scroll” and begs forgiveness as he dies. His head is removed to prevent the Shadowlands from claiming him as another soldier for the Dark Kami.
Our heroes press on through the next day, and reach the ruins of Hiruma Castle at dusk. The walls around it are heavily damaged and collapsed in many areas. The front gate remains intact, and it is there that the goblins have concentrated their defense. The huge iron studded doors are closed tight. The drawbridge is down across the moat, and there is clearly a catapult on the gate tower, and a cauldron of oil at the ready. Several dozen goblins with spears patrol the gatehouse area. From the dead husks of the tree line around the castle, the party also sees a pair of white decorations on each door, probably human skulls. No sign of the other scouting parties has been discovered, and after circling the area and taking a count of the goblins the Hiruma Scouts wish the party luck on their assault of the castle, as their duty to scout and report must be completed. Before they leave, they gift the Phoinix Ishiken with a Kuni Medallion, her service has not gone unrecognized. Our heroes decide their best option to gain access to the castle is to wait until night. The Phoenix Ishiken uses her powers of the Void to spiritally leave her body and scout the castle in the spirit world. She discovers that there are several creatures within the castle, and the fourth floor is being guarded by two spirits, who are in pain and confused. While they are waiting for the Ishiken to return to her body, the rest of the party discover that they are being watched by a rat-like creature. A tense moment of uncertainty finds our heroes gripping their weapons and preparing for a fight, when the creature appears to try to communicate. A long game of charades communicates that the rat creature is the leader of his tribe and he has brought several warriors to the castle to avenge the death of their “holy person”. More ratling’s appear from cover, and it appears they are willing to help the party.
When nightfall comes, the area is lit by foul smelling torches that give off a sickly green light, making the gatehouse area as bright as daylight. However, the party is able to stealthily make their way to a fallen section of the wall and slip quietly inside. They find themselves sneaking around the sleeping bulk of two ogres and down a corridor. Concerned that the ogres might wake up and block their escape, the group makes use of Masago’s secret ward magic. She offers to set a ward to prevent the passage of any tainted creature, but can only use this magic three times before she must rest.
Continuing down the corridor they find themselves looking into a kitchen area filled with the stench of goblin cuisine, and goblins fighting each other over the body of a half-eaten corpse of a Crab clan samurai-ko. Using the distraction of the goblins grisly meal, the party makes their way to a set of stairs leading up to the second floor. The next floor finds them in a crumbling library, now a goblin nursery, full of vile goblin brats. The party uses the distraction of the screaming and chaotic children to quickly run to the next stairwell, and continue the climb upwards. The third floor is filled with the sounds of metal ringing on metal as a goblin smith and his apprentices mash metal together to create weapons and armor from a pile of broken items. The sound of the anvil covers the group’s dash to the final stairwell, leading up the fourth floor. Masago places her second ward at the bottom of the stairs.
Tipped off by the Ishiken’s Void magic, the party finds themselves confronted at the top of the stairwell by The Exalted Ugu. A pair of skeletons are arranged at his feet, his blood dripping on their bones, as he has cut himself with the ancestral sword of the Hare Clan. “See what I command you to see! There! It’s the people who desecrated your bodies!” And the party finds themselves being attacked by two spirits. The battle is over quickly as Ozaki shouts that he will not harm the spirit of his ancestor, the party realizes that the Ugu is the source of their spiritual torment and the Dragon Ise Zumi leaps forward in a daring acrobatic display and crushes the goblins face with her fist, caving it inwards as if her fist were a mountain. The spirits vanish, but the Phoenix Ishiken realizes that the bones of the two spirits belong to Usagi Nedei and his Crab samurai-ko lover. She reverently gathers the bones to cleanse and consecrate them, and realizes that the skulls are missing, and that is what is on the front gate of the castle. Unable to resist her compulsion to put these spirits to rest, she beseeches the party to help her. Also, among the crumbling lacquered screens, thick rugs, and decorative chests of the room, the party finds two spell prayers, a strange jade pendant that bares Kuni markings, and a ring of an obviously awakened nature. Ozaki also recovers his family’s heirloom, but states that he cannot bring himself to use it until it has been properly cleansed.
Stealthily the party makes its way down and past the goblins of Hiruma castle, many of them now sleeping, and makes their way to the interior gatehouse. At a turn in a hallway, Masako asks the party to hold back while she creates another ward, asking Ozaki to go forward and keep an eye on the goblins down the hallway. After her warding ritual she draws her blade and strikes at Ozaki. Confused, but not off balanced, Ozaki defends himself while the party rushes to his aid. However, and explosion of power crashes into the Crane duelist, wracking his body with pain and knocking him back as he approaches the ward! Masago has betrayed them all. The goblins, guarding the inner gate at the end of the hallway, turn at the commotion and hurl their spears. The party attempts to destroy the ward blocking them while Ozaki and Masago continue to struggle. Within moments the ward comes crashing down, and Masago is dispatched. As she falls the ground, her tongue crawls out of her mouth and a small face on the tip of it screams in pain. It is obvous that she has been touched by maho, and given her name to an oni. With her head severed, and her life extinguished, the oni is not strong enough to remain in the mortal realm, and is destroyed. The goblins at the end of the hallway are quickly dispatched. They manage to gather the two skulls from the gate, and even though the castle is alerted the parties presence they are able to escape across the drawbridge and into the darkness of night with the help of their ratling allies.
Three days later, they find themselves back at the Kaiu Wall, and back in Rokugan after being picked up by a Hiruma scouting party. After their harrowing ordeal, they can’t help but wonder about the fate of their Lion companion…