The Celestial Empire (Romance of the Three Kingdoms-ish, Updated 12/09/05)
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  1. #1

    The Celestial Empire (Romance of the Three Kingdoms-ish, Updated 12/09/05)

    Hello everyone.

    This fall I started campaigning with a mostly new set of people at my graduate school. Some of you might have read the previous story hours of mine... Into the Icy Darkness. Only one of those players (Siabrey's player) has returned.

    This is a new campaign, based in a different part of my homebrew world than Into the Icy Darkness. This campaign takes place in the realm of Ak Konylu, based upon China during the era of ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms.’ Both the players are keen into ‘Dynasty Warriors’ and other games of the ilk, so I’ve tried to include some of that in this campaign as well. Material for this comes from both the Oriental Adventures book, standard core, and some brainstorming threads in the RPG forum here.

    Currently a number of crises face the Empire. Most notably, the strife between the old followers of Master Kong-shi, devoted scholars dedicated to searching for and embodying the ancient teacher’s idea of ‘virtue,’ and the followers of the teachings of Asoka Shenyang, an obscure monk from the south who preached on can only seek true peace and fufillment by looking into oneself. (Yes, a rip-off of the Daoists versus the Buddhists ) Additionally, many of the local Imperial prefects are not respected by their subjects, and laws are strict beyond the comprehension of many (ancient Qin, for anyone with knowledge of Chinese history).

    The players are starting the small village of Red Lotus, to the far north of the Celestial Empire of Ak Konylu. The region marks the border between the civilized lands of Ak Konylu to the south, and the Great Shu Desert and the Slave Coasts to the north. This region, The Western Marches, is not even a proper province... it is instead of military district, under the strict and iron control of General Li Zicheng, in the name of his most Divine Majesty Emperor Yuandi.

    As for the players (and the main NPC):

    Felonca – hengeyokai (panther) Rog2 aged 35 CG (player)

    Felonca is the scion of a minor professional military family. Originally, she herself was to be trained in the ways of war, and she took up use of the warfan to deadly effect. However, the life of a low ranking officer had little appeal to her, and recently she has escaped from training to find her own way in the world. Quick and skilled in the art of distraction, she has found temporary employ as a thief, making her way from village to village.

    In human form, Felonca is 5’5”, rather dark complexion. Her hair is jet black, but unusually, her eyes are not only blue, but vertically slitted, a nod to her cat-like ancestry. She normally is clad in long, dark robes that disguise her warfans, black in color with silver cats etched upon them.

    *DM’s Note: I know that technically hengeyokai can be only smaller animals than a panther, but the player really wanted to be a panther, and also the party is going to be small, so some... excessiveness is appropriate to keep things a little closer to normal.

    Nayu – human Sorc3 aged 17 CG (player)

    Nayu is the scion of a minor trading family from the village of Red Lotus, situated on one of the major north-south trading routes through the Western Marches of the Celestial Empire, just south of the great Shu Desert.

    Nayu stands about 5’10” tall, slightly tanned, and usually is clad in simple, clean clothing. He has a small walking stick, and has just started growing longer facial hair to look more distinguished. One of his prized possessions is a bag that seems it can hold far more than possible (Bag of Holding)

    Nayu is skilled in the art of glib, as one would expect of a young merchant. However, Nayu also has skills in a realm almost completely dominated by followers and teachers of Master Kong-shi... the arts of arcane magic. He has taken an interest in collecting minor magic items, and makes a daily pilgrimage to examine the markets of his town each morning for minor items of interest.

    Liu Ganxi – human Clr2/Mnk1 aged 26 LG (NPC)

    Liu Ganxi is a monk at one of the Shao monasteries dedicated to the spread of the word of Asoka Shenyang. Norminally dedicated to the ways of peace, the followers of Shenyang have also recognized that sometimes one must defend oneself from those of lesser thought. Liu is one of the practicioners of said arts of defense.

    Liu is usually bare from the waist up, and fights unarmed. His head is bald, save for a single long queue, braided neatly to hang down the left side. His hair is black and his eyes an intense brown.

    I cannot promise how timely updates will be, though I will try to keep things updated frequently. Perhaps by tomorrow, Monday, or Tuesday I can have the first proper story post up under this.

    Read, and I hope you enjoy!

    Oh, and here are two relevant maps:
    Map of the Celestial Empire of Ak Konylu
    Map of the Party's Exploits (Contains Spoilers, Session Order is: 1)Orange, 2)Light Blue, 3)Pink, 4)Dark Blue, 5)Dark Green, 6)Yellow, and 7)Red/Brown
    Last edited by Emperor Valerian; Friday, 9th December, 2005 at 11:36 AM. Reason: Added Maps

  2. #2
    First installment. Hope people enjoy!

    Spring... in the fifth year of the reign of the Divine Emperor Yuandi...

    Lotus blossoms have always symbolized many things across the Celestial Kingdom. Some see them as a sign of luck, others see their white blossoms as signs of life, love and innocence. In the kingdom of Taisho, these white blossoms are sometimes viewed as symbols of death.

    But there is one region whose lotuses are beyond compare... for they are not pure white in color, but blood red. Some say the lotuses of this region have become that color due to the blood shed by the raiders constantly coming into the Celestial Empire from the Great Desert of Shu, others that the color is the blood shed by the soldiers of the Son of Heaven.

    Regardless, these lotuses have become a local commodity trade, enough that a small town sprang in the midst of these fields, along the great Fur Road that sends silks northward and furs south. The town was simply named Red Lotus.

    Nayu, by no means, was old enough to remember the founding of his village. His great-grandfather might have, but that was beside the point. Such thoughts were not crossing the young man’s mind as he conducted his daily morning ritual.

    The scholars sent by the Son of Heaven to administer this region always blathered on about finding ‘virtue’ and ‘inner peace.’ Nayu didn’t know much about their own methods, but he found searching through the markets of Red Lotus in the dawn of a new day to be relaxing. Trinkets were easy to find, and he already had an extensive collection. However, it was rare to find anything of immense or unusual value. For that, one had to go either north to Mialung, Henan, or south to Xianlung. And in the eyes of the Divine Emperor, even those cities were considered paltry.

    Hmm... what have we here? the young man’s brown eyes caught the shimmer of something unusual. His lanky 5’10” frame strode over to one of the better known salesman in the community, one Deng Yan.

    “Master Deng,” Nayu gave a polite bow, which the older man returned, “may I have a look at this hat?”

    Nayu picked the object up with glee upon seeing it. In respects to shape and size, it looked the same as a normal peasant’s wide brim. But its surface oscillated with color, shifting softly between red and a light brown.

    “How much for this?”

    “Three copper taels,” Deng responded, nearly spitting out distaste. “That thing is near useless. I almost feel like I’m overcharging you... you sure you want that, and not some of these nicer potions and elixirs I have?”

    Nayu hid his initial response to scoff. Deng’s ‘potions’ were frequently little more than water with alcohol added. One might feel cured for a few hours, but then a headache usually accompanied whatever ailment was bothering the unfortunate scam victim.

    “Three copper? I’ll take it, if only for the sheer novelty!” Nayu said somewhat excitedly. Soon, he was strolling through the market, the colorful hat upon his head as he self consciously adjusted its small, nascent mustache to a merchant’s perfection.

    Three days! Felonca’s mind groaned as her stomach did the same. Her entire body was dusty... she had long since stopped caring about that. Underneath her black coat hung locks of midnight black hair, and bright blue eyes possessing a cat-like quickness, as well as feline vertical slits.

    Felonca was one of the hengeyokai, a race of shapeshifters that had long before settled alongside the humans and other creatures of Ak Konylu. Most of the ancient hengeyokai hierarchy had collapsed... hengeyokai like herself, technically part of the ancient ‘Clan of Panthers,’ were now common. Others were extremely rare... the Qiling, the ancient rulers of the hengeyokai when the swept down on Ak Konylu, still sat on the Jade Thrones that dotted the provinces, and held firm on their grasp of the Throne of the Son of Heaven.

    Her unnatural quickness and agility had been looked on by her family as a route to their longtime profession; soldiering. Felonca had gone so far as to have gone to a minor academy in Hsiu-lan, along the still rising Desert Wall, but she found Master Hsiu to be too strict to her more open mind. Upon entering, leaving the Academy was punishable by beatings that often left the criminal dead.

    Nonetheless, Felonca had dashed away, and for some weeks now, had been living by her wits and what she could swipe away from people.

    Perhaps here I might be lucky yet again, she thought, as the sweet smell of meatbuns and baked goods wafted into her extra-sensitive nose. Her eyes darted about, till she found the butcher and baker’s shop. A nice tray of tasty treats had been set out to cool. Carefully, she edged towards the shop, her eyes constantly watching as crowds of people milled around, none paying her much attention. Just as her arm slashed out to grab today’s dinner, she heard a shout.

    “You there! Stop!” came a great rumbling voice. She didn’t have to look to know that roar could only be coming from the hulking blacksmith, whose smithy she had noted nearby.

    Dammit! she cursed, as she tucked the bun into her cloak and ran. She heard thundering steps behind her, and felt a massive set of hands catch her shoulders. She tried to twist away, but the fierce grip grew only tighter.

    There’s shouting and yelling all around her, till she hears a simple voice tell the man, “Let her go. I’ll go pay Master Wu for the meat she took.” Felonca felt the grip loosen, and she was able to turn and see the face of her savior... a tall, lanky kid that was only just growing his whiskers. On his head was an unusual hat that shifted colors constantly.

    “Next time, if you want something, pay for it,” the young man admonished her before disappearing in the direction of the butcher’s.

    Who was that? Why did he help me? Felonca thought. For a moment, she stood still, nibbling on the food that was now legally hers, before she heard the hulking blacksmith behind her give a disappointed growl.

    I’m going to follow him, she decided quickly, and quickly began trailing the colorful hat through the market crowds.

    Well, that’s another two coppers... so I’m down by what... five coppers this morning? Nayu chuckled to himself. Last week’s sale of two rare peafowl had brought in a large sum of money, and Nayu was still thankful his father had acknowledged his help in the matter by giving him half of the massive haul... nearly two hundred gold taels. If those two coppers can put some food in that girl’s belly this morning, they’re well spent.

    Nayu then moved about the market more, before finally recognizing another familiar figure. The old crone, wise beyond her station and years, always took a stall across from Jiang the blacksmith, and usually had very interesting trinkets. One in particular had caught Nayu’s attention.

    “Hello, Madame Cixi,” he smiled. The old woman gave cracked smile, before coughing slightly.

    “Hello, young man!” she croaked. “You were eyeing this rose here, yes? It’s magical,” she added, slowly bending to grasp the thorny stem with shaky hands. “Always smells nice, and will cover up any bad odor... a hit with the ladies, I should think! Five hundred gold, young Nayu!” she gave a slight croaking laugh.

    “Five hundred?” Nayu replied. Madame Cixi is not one to gouge prices... what going on? “Madame Cixi, I have been to Xianlung, and they sell roses like this for only five silver taels. Why do you charge so much for this rose?”

    “Because,” she slowly and shakily set the rose back down again, “I have a hole in my roof, and the prefect sent away my son to work on The Wall.” The elderly eyes looked away wistfully for a moment.

    Nayu remembered that day, where soldiers from the military governor had come, and demanded all young men between twenty and thirty to go work on His Divine Majesty’s great project... the Desert Wall. Some said it towered a hundred feet above the desert sands, and that once finished, it would stretch for a thousand leagues into the mountains. Many a young man had already lost his life building the great monstrosity.

    “Madame Cixi,” Nayu said gently, “you would do much better if you offered a fairer price. After all, no one in the village can afford the rose if it is that expensive, save the prefect.” The latter’s name was delivered as if one was spitting on a dog.

    “I do not plan on selling it to that ass,” the crone croaked quietly, motioning towards the crowd. Nayu turned, and quickly caught a glimpse of the man he utterly detested, the crowd’s parting for his leisurely amble.

    While all around him were clad in rags or simple woolens, the prefect strutted about in blue and gold silks, an elegant velvet cap perched upon his imperious head like a crown. His head was held high, his arms crossed, as he dared any of the lowly commoners that surrounded him to even look at him.

    Felonca saw this garish display as well... and she also took note of the hidden looks of disgust and anger on the faces of all the villages around her. Even the blacksmith, after the prefect passed, had spat into his forge.

    That man must be outright loathed she thought happily, as well as rich! A truly easy mark!

    Her cat-like agility went to work again, as she dashed about the crowd, coming ever closer and closer to him, all the while looking as if she were just another shopper. Finally, she drew close enough behind him to smell the incense and perfumes wafting from his body, as well as hear the slight tinkle of pockets full of coin. Her hand started to stretch forth...

    “Madame,” her target suddenly swung around to face her. His face was immaculately cleaned, his long mustache hanging low, his eyes regarding her with suspicion and superiority. “May I ask why you follow me so?”

    The crowd’s noise had died down around her suddenly, and Felonca didn’t need to look to know that soldiers were about.

    “Um... Illustrious Sir,” she added, hoping her ad-lib was close enough to the man’s proper title, “I beg to report that there is someone stirring trouble in the market!” Damn good save, Felonca!

    “Someone stirring trouble? What is their description?” the prefect raised an eyebrow. She could sense there was distrust in his voice.

    “Yes... um...” her voice stuttered as her mind raced, “there... is a... um... man. In the market, with a colorful hat,” she jumped quickly, before kicking herself. He helped me! I cannot hurt him!

    “Um... he knows what the troublemakers look like!” she stumbled awkwardly onward.

    “He does?” the prefect said, eyebrow still cocked. “Very well. Captain, go see about it!” Felonca felt the crowd part as a few soldiers slipped past, before the prefect gave a slight, mocking bow. “I thank you for the information, Madame. You may go.” He flashed around, and arrogantly began to swish away from her.

    Now I know why all the townspeople hate him! She hesitated a moment, before bolding deciding to try her luck at robbery again. This time she dashed up behind the prefect, who seemed to not hear her at all. In a flash, her hand had dipped into one of his pockets, and neatly retrieved a few items.

    Slipping away from her quarry, Felonca then examined her haul. Fourteen gold taels gleamed in her hands. Also, she had extracted three long pieces of wood, upon which were scribed characters. She could tell it was in Common, but she did not recognize or understand many of the words.

    Scholarly crap, she growled, before noticing that the edges of each carefully made character was etched in gold. A dark smile crossed her lips. If its etched in gold, its probably worth something... but to who?

    Her mind rambled, looking for the name of someone she could ask about this. Invariably, her mind went back to the young man that had helped her. She had seen him go talk to an old woman on the other side of the market... perhaps they could direct her to someone that would like to be an unwitting fence.

    She dashed off, tucking the three sticks into her pocket, not knowing that they pulsed with magic energy...
    Last edited by Emperor Valerian; Monday, 13th September, 2004 at 06:16 AM.

  3. #3
    “I’m just saying, Madame,” Nayu kept his respectful tone. The elderly woman could be stubborn sometimes... a trait that occasionally is good in an expert trader. “That a lower price would let you sell this much sooner. Think... fixing your roof might cost... what? Three gold?” Cixi gave a slight cough, before her intended huff. She always huffed just before she gave in.

    I almost have her, Nayu thought, before his planned persuasion was interrupted.

    “Ma’am?” a light and airy voice called, causing Madame Cixi to look behind him. Nayu thought he recognized the voice... and groaned.

    “Madame, sir!” Felonca gave both the young man and the old crone a proper bow. A quick glance told her that the young man wasn’t too happy at her interruption. “I couldn’t help but see that...”

    Felonca’s eyes hurriedly danced across the lady’s wares. Something to talk about so I can shift the conversation to these darn sticks!

    “ have a rose here!” Felonca scooped up the red flower. Her nose picked up the sensitive wavering in the flower’s aroma. Excellent lead in! “How much is it?”

    “Ah!” the old woman gave a buck-toothed smile, her hands shakily removing the rose from Felonca’s hands. “You must have the heart of some young man, if you are looking at this rose! It only costs one hundred gold pieces,” she said slightly lower, her aged eyes flashing momentarily to the young man in front of her. Felonca caught a slight grin on his face, directed at the old crone.

    “Hmm... well, I am afraid I have very little cash on me,” Felonca said half-truthfully. One must only count the coins one has on one’s person... not the sack of silver on my horse outside of town! “Do you take in-kind items, though?”

    “What?” the old woman’s face became a sea of wrinkles as she frowned in confusion.

    “She wants to know if you will barter, Madame Cixi,” the young man said. The old crone’s eyes then lit up in recognition, and she nodded her head slowly.

    “Well... I have these,” Felonca gave a cursory glance to the crowd, and saw no unusual partings that would indicate soldiers, or an angry prefect. Quickly, the three sticks covered in writing were on the table.

    “What... are these?” Nayu said, slightly in wonder. These are books used by scholars! They... they’re worth a fortune to a student of Master Kong-shi! “Where did you get them?” The young woman’s blue eyes flashed momentarily with a bit of mischief, but before she could respond to his question, Madame Cixi interrupted.

    “These are tomes of knowledge. I cannot read them... but chances are the prefect would love to have them, and he would have the money to give you a fair payment,” the old woman said slowly, slightly in wonder. “Why do you not go to him, and sell them? I can hold the rose for...”

    “No!” the girl said a little too quickly. It was then that Nayu noticed her eyes... bright blue eyes with black hair was uncommon, but what caught his attention were her pupils... instead of being round, like a human’s, they were vertical slits.

    She’s a hengeyokai... he thought as she stammered on quickly.

    “Um... no. He wouldn’t appreciate these tomes,” she hissed to Madame Cixi. Nayu’s eyes went a little wide, as he realized what she was implying.

    First you try to robbing Master Wu and fail... so you go and rob the PREFECT? His first estimation of the erstwhile thief as a mere amateur was starting to vanish... things were not settling right for him.

    “Ah...” Cixi said slowly. “Perhaps young Nayu here can help you find a safer scholar who would like these!” She gave the same bucktoothed grin, her eyes delivering the elbow to Nayu’s side.

    "I... um," Nayu stammered, surprised.

    "May I ask... why is this rose so expensive?" the woman continued. As he stood confused, Nayu couldn't detect any reproach in her voice... it was little more than a simple question.

    "Because my roof has a hole," Madame Cixi coughed in reply. To Nayu's complete surprise, he saw the woman's deep blue eyes fall from heights of impishness to pity... perhaps even sorrow. She reached inside her cloak, and pulled out some fourteen golden taels.

    "Miss, I cannot," Cixi rasped in protest as the woman placed the coins in her hands. The woman's reply was to merely close the old woman's hands around the coins.

    "For your roof," she said simply, all impishness gone from her dark face.

    So... a thief with a heart? Nayu wondered as he saw the old woman give a deep bow of thanks, before he heard his name mentioned again.

    "...he knows many of his father's contacts in Xianlung, he should be able to take you there," Cixi's voice bubbled with aged rasps.

    "But Madame Cixi..." he began to protest, only to meet Cixi's eyes again. Their fierce grey gaze made him wilt.

    "Thank you for helping me... and I hope you can use that money to fix your roof, wise one," the girl bowed again, before turning to him. "So," she put an arm around Nayu's shoulder and began to move him away from the stall, "When do we go to another city to sell these?"

    “Um... Madame...”

    “Felonca,” the girl bowed her head slightly. The movement gave Nayu another moment to look her over. Her robes parted for a bit, and for the first time he noticed what she was wearing underneath... a dark kimono, something definitely not worn by a local.

    A matter of fact, the only people that wear clothes of that cut are warriors... More questions arose in his head, even as he caught a momentary glimpse of two fans hanging from her belt.

    A hengeyokai dressed in warrior’s garb who is bold enough to steal from the prefect himself?

    “Nayu, pleased to make your acquaintance,” he said slowly, uneasily as he started moving away from Cixi. “I... yes... can take you to some of the other cities nearby, but first...”

    The girl suddenly vanished into the crowd, as if she was nothing more than a shadow. For a second, Nayu wondered what had happened, till the crowd seemed to part about him, and he found himself facing three tall burly men clad in the armor of the prefect’s soldiers.

    “May be of...service?” Nayu said slowly as he gulped. They’re looking for her already... and they saw me next to her! They think I’m involved! Think! Think!

    “Young man, we received word that you might know of a disturbance in the markets earlier today,” one of the guardsmen spoke. To Nayu’s relief, none of them had their hands anywhere near their swords.

    “ no?” Nayu spoke slowly, his mind feverishly constructing a story. “There was a slight tussle in front of Master Wu’s butchery, but that has long since been settled, good sirs.” Now go away!

    The lead soldier looked him over closely, before giving a grunt. Tweaking the young man’s hat, the soldiers marched off into the crowd. No sooner had they vanished than the young woman reappeared by Nayu’s side.

    “Damn, that was a close one,” Felonca growled, pulling her cloak’s hood further over her face.

    What the hell am I doing? Nayu’s mind fumed, his heart still pounding. He spun towards Felonca.

    “Who are you? What are you doing here? The prefect’s soldiers aren’t particularly kind,” he spat quietly, “The penalty for stealing is death, as is the penalty for harboring a fugitive, and I’m not about to risk life and limb over a complete stranger who for all I know could me a wanted outlaw or little more than a crazy psycho running amok for kicks!”

    To his surprise, the young woman gave a slightly impish grin, and fished one of the two sticks from her pocket. The gold etches in the lettering shone softly in the sunlight as she waved it in front of him.

    “Do you have any ideas how much these are worth? I sure don’t. We could split it someway.”

    Three tomes... Prefect Sun-Ji in Xianlung would pay out of his nose for more tomes for his collection... ran through Nayu’s mind, before he suddenly spun back around. “Do you have a horse?” he asked as the two marched through the markets.

    “Quite a turnaround,” Felonca laughed. “I thought you said you wouldn’t risk your life for a stranger whose a thief!”

    “I will risk it for trade!” Nayu rejoined. “Let’s hurry... I have a feeling prefect soldiers are now looking for you again, and filing a false report gets you five days in the stocks here!”

    It was a few hours later when the two rode out of Red Lotus together. Felonca needed the time to fetch her horse, and Nayu needed to inform his parents he would be gone for two weeks... after all, it would do them no good to be ridden down by prefect soldiers sent to find them because a worried father had complained about a missing son.

    At first their conversation drifted to Nayu’s background. He was the son of a merchant, with connections in all the surrounding cities, from Mukden to Xianlung. Felonca had to laugh slightly as he described with pride how his father trusted him to now undertake trading missions by himself.

    However, as the sun was beginning to set on the first day of their travel south, the conversation shifted to something Felonca was not comfortable talking about.

    “So... you know much about me. Who are you, Felonca? Why were you in Red Lotus, and what made you take up thievery?”

    “Um,” she stammered slightly. I’ve known him for a day... he might go to Master Hsiu, and I will be caught! “There are things in my past I feel... uncomfortable... about discussing with anyone. No offense.”

    “Well, I certainly feel uncomfortable riding south with my only companion being a thief I met only today,” he rejoined, causing Felonca’s face to heat slightly in fury.

    I wouldn’t steal or hurt you! You helped me so much this day! I steal only to survive, and from asses like the prefect! Not decent people like you! she wanted to snap. Instead, she gave a sigh.

    “I... well... I come from a military family... hence my kimono and warfans,” she began slowly. She saw his eyes widen a bit when she mentioned her fans were not for decoration... that had caught him by surprise.

    “I originally was training to be an officer in Hsiu-lan, to the north near the Desert Wall... but...” she started to speak, before a mental wall blocked her mind, as she remembered her time there... the sheer terror of it. “I... um... I couldn’t stay there, so I ran. And the penalty for running away from the Academy is virtually death, so stealing doesn’t bother me... ‘cause if I’m caught...”

    “Oh,” Nayu said softly. “I... um...”

    Silence covered the rest of the ride.

    Another full day of riding passed by, with the two encountering little save fellow travelers going both north and south along this small trek. The wide fields of red lotus gave way to patchy and then thick woods, as the two rode out of the military district, and into the province of Langsha proper.

    Some three days before Xianlung, however, a strange sight greeted their eyes on the road ahead. What appeared to be a little, simply but elegantly made of bamboo and oak, was lying on the side of the road, with three bodies clustered around it. To the front stood four ill clad, gaunt peasants, two women and two men, ill armed at best. In front of them stood one lone man, nude from the waist up, his body in a fighting stance...

    -- EDIT... added a missing scene
    Last edited by Emperor Valerian; Thursday, 16th September, 2004 at 02:25 AM.

  4. #4
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    You seem to have forgotten one little part, EV, where Felonca asks the old woman why the rose is so much, and gives her the gold from the for the roof....

  5. #5

  6. #6
    Of Monks, Farmers, and Something Dark...

    “Bandits!” Nayu heard Felonca’s voice hiss quietly.

    Nayu himself had never fought bandits before. They were the bane of travelers, but normally the road to Xianlung was safe... one only ran into bandits close to the Desert Wall. While travelling with his father, he had seen a bandit once, but the man had hidden away after his father had pointed a crossbow at him.

    “Felonca?” Nayu asked uncertainly. The air seemed strangely silent, as the scene before him seemed to unfold as slowly as sands falling through an hourglass. He turned around, only to see the last swish of a dark cape entering the woods. While he couldn’t see her, he could sense Felonca was only just off to the left, coming forward slowly.

    Quickly, Nayu reached down past his saddlebag, for an item he had not used in combat... ever. His family was one of traders and minor magicians, not warriors. As the wooden butt of the weapon was cradled in his arms, the lessons his father had told him replayed in his mind.

    Whatever you do, Nayu, aim true, he heard the older man’s voice say, It will take a while to reload this... but you can kill a man from two hundred paces if you aim well.

    Nayu waited, sighting along the quarrel nesting in the crossbow, carefully feeling his breathing. In... out... in... out... in...

    During the brief pause between breaths, Nayu slipped his finger along the trigger. Part of his mind absently thought of how small and minute such an action was, just before the thwack of the quarrel being launched assaulted his ears. The bolt zipped away, and even as Nayu was starting to move from his stance, he saw one of the four bandit’s head snap back, the long back shaft of the bolt buried in his temple as he crumpled to the ground.

    Four heads swiveled around, eight eyes staring at the seventeen year old lad. Hurriedly Nayu began reloading, just as all hell broke loose...

    Nice shot! Felonca gazed on in silent admiration as Nayu’s shot went so true that Master Hsiu himself would have been proud. Her pride at the young man’s work was only momentary, before her low form slinked closer to the three bandits up ahead.

    It was here, in the undergrowth, that Felonca’s, ancestry came to head. She slipped low along the ground, swiftly, silently, her dark form almost mimicking the quiet, sure movements of the animal she could change into. In the midst of the sudden burst of noise, she was truly invisible.

    All the while, her feline eyes roamed the field, their slits narrowing in surprise at the ease with which the supposedly defenseless traveler was able to dodge the assaults from the two bandits to his front. The slits also widened in alarm, as one of the bandits charged towards a desperately reloading Nayu. Feline instincts made split second calculations that realized there was no way her comrade would be able to reload his weapon before the woman was upon him.

    Those eyes, Felonca thought, looking at the woman. She was terribly thin, her torn clothing streaming behind her like a perverse banner. Her eyes, however, were truly horrible... shrunken, yellow with bloodshot, they were the eyes of pure hunger. Of starvation.

    She’ll kill him for food, Felonca realized, even as her body was already reacting. The cat-woman had another surprise hidden within her cloak... one that Nayu would hopefully be thankful for.

    Felonca was fairly experienced with the bow... it was the only subject of Master Hsiu’s other than exotic weaponry (where she encountered warfans for the first time) that she took a liking to. Even now, she still carried the bow she had earned in contest.

    Years of training flashed through an instants time, and the bow was notched, drawn, and the arrow loosed with the smoothness of running water. The arrow flies true, slashing through the woman’s skull, putting her piteous form out of her misery.

    Nayu was in shock. One second, the feral eyed woman had been charging towards him, her bloody hands outstretched as if to choke him. The next, she was on the ground, an arrow coming from her left temple. He heard the rustling in the woods, and made a silent note to thank Felonca when the last of the bandits was gone.

    Up ahead, he could see that one of the bandits in front of the traveler was down as well. The final bandit was armed with a large and rusty scythe, which she slashed through the air at the unfortunate man with a feral abandon. It was apparent the traveler was on the defensive.

    Time to lose something else father taught me, Nayu closed his eyes quietly. His family had always been able to do loose, minor magic... nothing as impressive or powerful as the scholars that taught the lessons of Kong-shi, but things that could prevent one from being stuck in a bind, or entertain customers.

    Or kill a bandit.

    Nayu held forth his hand, feeling a pool of energy seem to grow from his stomach. The pool ran up his chest and down the outstretched arm. In his mind, the young man saw what he wanted the reservoir of magic to do... a pulse of burning light. No sooner had the image formed in his mind than the same pulse lanced from his outstretched fingers, slamming into the feral bandit not a second later. Her body convulsed as the twin magic missiles overwhelmed her systems, and she fell to the ground in a cluttered heap.

    Nayu was immediately running forward towards the traveler, the rustling and breaking branches in the trees telling him that Felonca was doing the same. Even from this distance, it was apparent that blood was soaking the man’s shoulder, but to their surprise, the man seemed more concerned with the bandit Nayu had shot less than a minute earlier.

    “He still lives,” the man said, his voice a quiet, calm tenor. His fingers, coated with blood, then moved from the forehead of the injured bandit to his own shoulder, the blood decorated by a deep puncture wound. A few whispered words floated in the air, and suddenly the wound dried up, until only moments later only fresh, unblemished skin was in its place.

    “You... you are no scholar,” Nayu said quietly, voice in awe.

    “Indeed. And I have you two to thank.” The man rose to an impressive height of nearly six foot, and gave a weary half-smile. “I am Liu Ganxi, a follower of the teachings of Master Asoka Shenyang, a man unfortunately misunderstood by the arcane scholars. I owe you much for your assistance... I only wish you had arrived a few moments earlier,” his eyes drifted to the bodies in the road.

    Three were clad exactly as Liu, shirtless, with loose cloth about their loins. The fourth was clad much the same, save his cloth was a brilliant orange instead of plain white.

    “They were your friends?” Felonca said slowly.

    “No... more than that. My brothers of faith,” Liu said quietly, his voice a surprisingly even keel despite what he said. “May their spirits find a new, better home than these weak bodies and minds we have.”

    “Is it true, Master Liu, that,” Nayu searched for the proper words, “are gifted in the arts of healing? It might be wise to heal this man, so that we may find out why you were attacked.”

    It was some hours later when Liu was finished praying over the bodies of his comrades, and had returned to camp. As he returned, both Nayu and Felonca were surprised the man gave their erstwhile companion hardly a stare.

    For his part, Bohai the farmer was still upset. One close look at him once the monk he healed him revealed one likely cause for the attack; the poor man was famished, his frame speaking that it had not had food in the past three or four days. Nayu didn’t believe this was the only cause, and was still pressing him.

    “Why did you attack a group of monks? Likely if you would have asked for food, they would have gladly given you some!” Nayu pressed, growing more annoyed with the farmer.

    “Because, we were hungry! And we thought they might have some holy water!”

    “Holy water? What’s that? Is it a tome like any of these?” Felonca asked from her bedroll, where she had spread out the six sticks of power they had recovered from the fallen monks. She especially liked the greenish tracings on the one Nayu said would shoot acid. On looks alone, it would fetch a pretty penny.

    “No... holy water is the result when one focuses the positive energy inherent in one’s body upon a physical cup of water. The water then has the powers of positive energy bound within its liquid form,” Liu explained calmly. Confused, Felonca merely shakes her head.

    “Does it do anything like these?” she pulled from her saddlebag the three tomes she’d stolen from the prefect in Red Lotus and handed them to the monk. “And why would you need holy water, Bohai? Do you need something consecrated, or holied?”

    “We needed them to stop the burning man!” Bohai snapped back, shaking at his bonds.

    “The who?” Nayu asked, as Liu gave a slightly alarmed grunt at the first tome.

    “The burning man,” the farmer continued. “Our prefect was working on forbidden tomes, and the gods did not like his acts. So they punished all of us! They turned him into a burning skeleton, and he burned down my village!”

    “Please... you’ve got to be kidding me!” Nayu gave a guffaw. “That’s nonsense! Everyone knows the scholars of Kong-shi do not dither with magic to make skeletons walk! And why would he turn himself into a skeleton?”

    “Maybe he did something magical and didn’t understand it, so it messed up?” Felonca asked, furrowing her own brow in the increasing gloom. Another worried grunt came from Liu as he finished the second tome.

    “That’s not likely. The scholars may be arrogant, but they know their magic... far more magic than I’ll ever know,” Nayu replied. “Remember, I couldn’t even read those tomes we’re going to sell!”

    “You meant to sell these?” the monk spoke, his calm voice filled with a slight bit of alarm.

    “Is... there a problem with them, Master Liu?” Nayu replied guardedly.

    “I... must ask that these be destroyed, as I do not know why any prefect would have such vile magic,” the monk said softly, dropping the tomes hurriedly onto a piece of cloak. His eyes were wide in revulsion and fear. “They will do nothing but terrible ill!”

    “Um...” Felonca and Nayu stared at each other momentarily, before the hengeyokai spoke.

    “Master Liu, we have traveled several days to take those tomes to Xianlung to sell... thus you would surely understand why we would want to know why they need to be destroyed before you would relieve them from us?”

    “They are spells to raise skeletons from the dead... the spells to make an army of the dead,” the monk replied in a quiet, fearful voice.

  7. #7
    Note: There is now the start of a Rogue's Gallery Thread for this story. I give my players XP for turning in backgrounds (bonding with characters, adding depth to the game, as well as giving me, the DM, some ammunition ), so I'm posting the ones that players want up. The link to the thread is here. I'm going to try to update it as players level up, etc. as well

    Skeletal Worries, and Why Thinking Too Much on Watch Can be Bad

    “What?!” Nayu stood, eyes awash in concern and a touch of fear.

    “These tomes raise the dead, a most evil act,” Liu repeated slowly, his voice still filled with dread. “If these came off of your town prefect, the entire village could be in danger!”

    Mother... Father... Images of his parents, his friends, all the people he had known while growing up flashed through Nayu’s mind. One by one, he saw each turn into a bleached skeleton in his mind’s eye, their skulls shrunken, their gait the scraping and clattering of bones.

    “I’ve got to go back! I’ve got to warn them!” Nayu was immediately by his mount, hands hurriedly setting saddlebags in place. As the images replayed in his mind, he moved faster and faster. His movements had built to such a frenzy only a few moments later that he did not notice the twin pairs of hands that touched his shoulders.

    “You can’t go now!” he heard Felonca’s voice say, its soft soprano filled with deep concern. “Night has fallen already, and there’s no telling how many more of those people,” her dark hand motioned towards the still trussed up Bohai, “are out there! You’ll only wear yourself out, and collapse to sleep the entire day!”

    Nayu’s shoulder shrugged hard to get the arms away, and he spun to lash his tongue out at Felonca, until he caught sight of her eyes. Their blue depths were wide with worry, and spoke that her concerns came not from a lecture someone had given her, but experience from somewhere.

    “Master Nayu,” the monk’s voice carried over the quiet crackle of the campfire, “I shall go with you as well. Fate as deemed my previous errand at an end... perhaps three lives were reincarnated to preserve those of many others. However, I cannot fully help unless I properly rest. Master Asoka teaches us that rest can keep our minds quiet, and pure, so that we may...”

    Nayu didn’t hear the rest of Liu’s explanation of Master Asoka’s views on rest. His eyes looked at Felonca’s and he gave a soft nod. His gaze then switches to the young farmer, and unlike before, the trader’s brown eyes don’t harden.

    “You will come with us, Bohai,” Nayu said simply, before turning to his horse and slowly unloading the hurriedly stacked supplies.

    You know more about these ‘Burning Men,’ than we do... and that could save my parents lives...

    Felonca wasn’t surprised that Nayu was awake by just after sunrise, urging everyone to mount. She knew how it felt to lose parents... hers, as far as she knew, were still alive, but chances were high that she might never see them again. The Wu-Fang family had a tradition of being warriors, proud warriors.

    A tradition I broke, so many weeks ago, she thought rather glumly as she mounted up and goaded her gelding to a swift canter. Nayu started to rush past, his horse at a gallop, until she grabbed his reins.

    “A fast canter will get you further faster... a horse can canter much longer than it can gallop, and you lose much endurance for only a little more speed,” she said, repeating the lesson she learned the hard way only two weeks before. The noise of Hsiu’s hounds still bayed in her mind, giving her chills at night.

    For two days, the four rode, Bohai being strapped to the back of Nayu’s steed, Liu riding on Felonca’s. Boahi made a loud and grumpy fuss most of the way about his trusses being tight... enough that Nayu finally unbound him.

    It was the night of the second day, only three days from Red Lotus, that things began to go to hell.

    Nayu! Go fetch your mother some fruits from the market! Nayu heard his father’s call. The young boy gave a laughing nod, and spun, leaping out the door. The market was a fun place to be, with travelers from far and wide! It was always exciting there, and today was going to be no different!

    The young boy, barely six, careened around corners and ducked between legs trying to reach Madame Cixi’s stall. The old woman sold almost everything in her tiny wooden area... and she always gave Nayu a spoonful of honey. As a matter of fact, Nayu was so eagerly thinking about the sweet taste, he didn’t see the runaway horses until they were only a few feet from him.

    Snorting, neighing and the thunder of hooves filled the air, as two black mounts, massive and terrible to the small child’s eyes, towered over him, looming, threatening to put him into ever-shadow. Instinctively Nayu raised his hands as a scream came to his lips, and suddenly the shadow had vanished. A bright light burst in front of the horses’ and they reared up long enough their master was able to catch their reins...

    Nayu threw another stick into the fire, the image fading. That was... eleven years ago now? Eleven years with magic, the young man thought quietly, his concern for his village still ever present, still gnawing. He heard in his mind his father’s voice, telling him to be careful with his gift... and his mind’s eye then watched his father’s face shrivel to a bare bone skeleton.

    Behind him, a gaunt figure, white as the pale moonlight that shone from above, slinked closer. Eyes yellow with malice and hate gazed at the unknowing young man, juding distance and speeds with uncanny accuracy. Shriveled feet brought iron talons closer and closer to him, a silent as a slight breeze...

    ”The bow is a wonderful weapon, Master Quan-Shi. Thank you for the extra tutoring, Master Quan-Shi. May I share your bedroll tonight, Master Quan-Shi…”

    Felonca growled, her body shifting to its hybrid form in her anger as the much smaller squirrel hengeyokai, Nurhaci, continued his singsong mockery of her.

    ”I did no such thing!” she heard herself snarl furiously.

    ”Master Quan-Shi, I think I’ve failed!” the little creature mocked further, his voice seeming to echo. “I’m a proud panther, Master Quan-Shi! But I cannot fight like a warrior, and Master Hsiu will surely make me a mere servant in this school! Perhaps I can clean sheets, or warm beds, or hang like the failure I am!” Nurhaci laughed, dancing around Felonca.

    ”A member of the Wu-Fang family would never suffer such dishonor!” she heard her father’s voice shout. ”You failed us! You failed your family, running away from the school! It would only save family honor if you were captured!” she imagined him saying, as a deep, musty smell flooded her mind.

    What? some part of her unconscious mind clicked, even as her dream continued to replay itself... her father’s anger and disappointment that she never heard, and the disowning she hadn’t seen. As the dream finished its course, the smell’s increasing potency made her mind slowly begin to rouse itself.

    Something’s... not...right... her unconscious mind realized, as her eyes slowly opened.

    “Damn bugs!” Nayu hissed as he felt the light, prickly sensation of a small bug trying to crawl into his shoe. His eyes looked down in annoyance, the fire’s light revealing a small black beetle as the cause of the disturbance.

    “You’re the fifth one tonight!” he moaned, reaching down to flick the bug away.

    Later on, he would thank his stars that bug was there. Just as he bent over, he felt a great rush of air fly over his head, and her the loud thud of a creature landing on the ground, just in front of him.

    Staring back at him was the tall, emaciated figure of what was once a man. His hair was long, stringy and white, his skin bleached as milk white as the moon above. From sunken sockets feral yellow eyes gleaned with malice and hunger, while long, black talons of iron came from his fingers and toes. The creature opened its mouth with a hiss, revealing row upon row of long, black teeth.

    Before he can react, the beast launches itself at Nayu again, its deadly claws slashing through the air. Some part of Nayu’s unconscious mind makes him duck hard to the left and then the right causing both of the intended blows to only slash through air. Stumbling over the log he was resting on, Nayu tried to scramble away as all the chaos began.

    Within moments of the crash, Felonca’s feline-honed mind was fully awake. She saw Nayu stumbling backwards from a thin, white creature with long claws... and if its looks were not frightening enough, Felonca did recognize the smell that came off of it.


    The smell of death, so thick and hazy that all other scents and aromas were pushed from her mind. It was so powerful it was almost nauseating.

    Despite this, Felonca’s mind immediately realized her friend was in trouble. Without thinking, she closes her eyes, and feels a familiar sense washing over her... as if parts of her were being stretched and others compacted. Instinctively she fell onto all fours as a tail sprouted from her rear, her hands shifted and fused to form paws with razor sharp claws, her face changing from its elegant human shape to the smooth, deadly lines of a black panther.

    She heard the monk shout, and her eyes caught a blur as he flashed into the attack. She also heard whimpering noises coming from behind her... Bohai she thought. But her mind, right now, did not have time for any of those.

    Her eyes focused on the blur that was Liu dancing in front of the beast, his punches and kicks obviously having an effect. Feline calculations too quick and natural for a human to match immediately gave her an instinctual nudge, and with a thundering roar, she was in their air.

    Whenever she’d pounced on someone in her natural form, be it in jest or in anger, the moment right before impact seemed almost peaceful... something Felonca felt was ironic, considering her mouth was usually agape baring fangs and her claws were extended. She felt alive, at home even.

    Then there was the crash, the blurring movement as she felt something cold and clammy in her paws, then in her mouth as she bit and rent. She felt falling, and knew she’d knocked the creature aside at least, as a taste so foul, so putrid filled her mouth that she wanted to retch. Only moments later, she saw two bright flashes explode near the creature’s mouth, and saw it collapse to the ground, minus a head, and most of a shoulder, which she quickly spat onto the ground.

    For a few seconds there was nothing but silence, save for Bohai’s whimpering, and her kitty-coughs as she tried to get all of the creature’s flesh out of her mouth. Her heart still pounding, she felt her instinctive mind slowly recede, and her human mind slowly returning. She shifted back.

    “I... uh... thought you weren’t a good fighter,” she heard Nayu wheeze from beside her, the glow of magic slowly receding from his fingertips. A tired grin was on his face.

    “I’m... not... water!” she called, coughing up a storm. Quickly Nayu had a canteen in her hands, and she eagerly gulped a large quantity to swish in her mouth before spitting out. The horrible taste was remedied... somewhat. The horrible smell in the air, however, not only remained, but got worse. On top of death, the smell of a privy rose. Felonca’s noise didn’t have to sniff far to realize that it was Bohai who had soiled himself.
    Last edited by Emperor Valerian; Thursday, 23rd September, 2004 at 05:12 PM.

  8. #8
    So... I've been a bad EV, considering I forgot to throw in my DM Notes.

    The bandits the party fought were nothing hard... four level two commoners. ON was armed with a scythe, and another two were armed with daggers... Bohai being one of those.

    The second fight the party fought a very simple wight. Poor Bohai failed his morale check, and thus contributed only a stink in the air to the fighting. Nayu's player had abyssmal listen checks and spot checks (considering the wight rolled a five and seven and beat him consistently), it was only blind luck (and the wight getting a one on his attack roll) that saved the wizard from losing a level, if not worse. For a second, I thought a TPK might go down (all others were asleep), until the wight missed and Felonca turned panther and went bite-crazy.

    Now, their later combats get interesting... especially considering I just purchased a new monster book (Monster's of Faerun.. hey, I can juxtapose some of the cool stuff into my homebrew! )

  9. #9

  10. #10
    Double post. Apologies.
    Last edited by Arrgh! Mark!; Thursday, 23rd September, 2004 at 02:59 PM.

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