Pathfinder 1E JollyDoc's Jade Regent


Yes, Boris, Haroldo and Lucian are the only three originials. Two of the players are now playing Ameiko and Miyaro, though I let them retool the NPC's from the ground up, making them more survivable.

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Tide Of Honor

5 Lamashan, 4715 - 3 Abadius, 4716 - Tide of Honor

Munasukaru's sanctum was a charnel house of death and decay, its glowering walls a vision of madness, sin and unsatisfied lusts. Countless figures were carved into the walls, glaring, pleading and screaming in silence, but on closer inspection, the carvings were revealed to be the rotting corpses of araneas, humans, hobgoblins, and more impaled on the walls, their anguished features frozen at the moment of death. On one side of the chamber, a wide, open pit gaped in the floor. At its bottom lay a twenty-foot wide circular stone doorway, surrounded by a dozen golden figurines depicting the Tian zodiac. Contorted humanoid faces and limbs lay frozen in stone within the doorway, and a faint, primal magic still danced around its edges.

Amidst the carnage of the chamber, the heroes discovered a vast library, its long shelves filled with books, scrolls, carved stone tablets, calligraphic writings on bone and tortoise shell, rice paper journals with bamboo covers, silk scrolls scores of yards long, and countless other tomes, some of huge size. The entirety of the collection would have filled multiple carts or wagons. Nevertheless, the heroes, having time and leisure to at least scan the writings, discovered several interesting pieces of information about the oni of the Five Storms. It seemed that, though powerful, the Five Storms were disorganized and easily distracted, and its members were constantly at odds with one another. Despite this, the leader of the Five Storms had always been the same...a powerful wind yai oni called Anamurumon, with control over storms and lightning. While trapped in their prison at the heart of the Forest of Spirits, the Five Storms had long lusted over the lands of Minkai, intending to remake the nation into an empire of excess and horror in which to indulge their twisted pleasures and appetites. However, they could not simply conquer Minkai, for just like with the kami, the gods had set in place strict laws preventing the oni from taking direct action to seize worldly power. In order to create their private empire, the oni needed subtlety to infiltrate society on all levels. The linchpin of their plan was the extinction of the five imperial families of Minkai. If no one could claim descent from the divine line of emperors, then no one could challenge the claim of the pretender the Five Storms placed on the throne.

Many different varieties of oni made up the Five Storms, but all of their best warriors escaped the House of Withered Blosssoms decades ago, taking most of their resources with them. Munasukaru was one of the weakest oni of the organization, known as the Least among her peers. To keep the kami in the forest outside from learning their plans, Anamurumon commanded her to stay in the palace while the other oni fled using something called the kimon, a magical demon gate powered by living souls.

The writings also said that Anamurumon commanded mortal agents, promising great rewards for their service, and well known to honor those promises. Beyond this, Anamurumon was also obsessed with siring half-human progeny. He needed the "perfect" grandchild...a tiefling who would not only be unquestioningly loyal to him, but could also pass as human. Such a child would be the perfect agent to infiltrate the imperial familes of Minkai. Alas, all of Anamurumon's descendants were deemed unsuitable and were in turn killed by the oni.

Lastly, despite his great power, the writings implied that Anamurumon had an unusual weakness to weapons imbued with royal honor, such as the ancestral weapons of the five imperial families of Minkai, including Suishen, Guardian of the Amatatsu clan.


When the companions exited the House of Withered Blossoms for the last time, they found the kami of the Forest of Spirits assembled and waiting for them, along with Koya, Spivey and Shalelu. The kami had sensed the death of the last oni in the fortress, and knew that they could now enter freely. They were eager to learn all that the heroes had discovered, though it saddened and dismayed them to learn how the Five Storms had freed themselves, and what harm they had wrought across Minkai since their liberation.

"If you would have me," Miyaro offered to Ameiko once the tales had been told, "I would continue to guide you through the rest of the forest and beyond. I believe that rebellion is coming to Minkai, though I fear that those opposed to the rule of the Jade Regent have no strong leadership, and may still squabble among themselves."
"Your assistance would be most welcome," Ameiko replied, "and it is my intention to try and bring these factions together, so that my people can reclaim our land."
Miyaro nodded.
"We will emerge from the forest in rural farm lands," she said. "I have heard tales that a large group of ronin are said to have retreated there. Rumors say that they are ready to fight against the Jade Regent, but cannot do so alone. Their leader is a man named Hirabashi Jiro. If we were to find him and tell him what we have learned here, we might gain a powerful ally."
"That sounds like as good a place to start as any," Ameiko agreed.


It took over a month for the companions to traverse the Forest of Spirits. With Miyaro's guidance, they were able to avoid any unpleasantries with the dangerous denizens of the woods. They emerged into Minkai's northernmost region, the Osogen Grasslands, a vast, sparsely inhabited plain disputed between northern barbarians and Minkai settlers. According to Miyaro, the camp of Hirabashi Jiro and his ronin was located some two-hundred miles south of the forest, in the southern reaches of Osogen known as the Borderlands.

After another week of travel, the group entered the Borderlands, distinguished by the humble farmsteads surrounded by ditches and palisades that began to dot the landscape. Ubiquitous watchtowers stood above the farmsteads, allowing local militia to keep an eye out for marauding bandits. A lattice of footpaths and irrigation canals fed by the waters of the Kosokunami River connected the scattered settlements. As the companions neared the great bend where the river turned to flow into Lake Tsukishizuku, the number of settlements increased. Ahead of them, a cluster of wooden huts with thatched roofs stood atop a hillock overlooking the northern riverbank. The area seemed somewhat inhospitable, with most of the surrounding millet fields overgrown with brambles. Barely visible in the distance west of the hillock, several figures were at work digging a ditch and demarcating the boundaries of a paddy. Closer by, a group of youths were training with shortbows before a line of straw targets. Next to them, a tall figure yelled orders in a husky voice. When they noticed the newcomers, the youths paused in their training. The tall figure turned to follow their gaze, then began striding purposefully in the direction of the companions.

"We don't get many travelers here," she said as she drew close, as she was obviously female on closer inspection. She carried a well-made shortbow across her back, and held a sharp-looking naginata comfortably, but non-threateningly in one hand.
"We are not here by chance," Zula replied, stepping forward. "We are searching for a man named Hirabashi Jiro."
"Hmm," the woman nodded slightly. "And what would you seek with such a man?"
"We have heard that he has no love for current occupant of the Emerald Throne," Zula answered. "Neither do we, and we be able to help one another solve that problem."
The woman smiled, and bowed.
"I am Habesuta Hatsue," she said. "Come with me."
She turned and strode back down the hill, yelling to the young trainees that the session was suspended, and ordering one of the young men to fetch Jiro.


The camp's main hut was a spartan affair. Besides a clay fireplace and a low table, the interior was almost bare. The only item worthy of notice was a portable shogi-ban, a Minkai chessboard, currently laid open for a game in progress.
"I am a sohei," Hatsue said without preamble as she entered the hut behind the companions and set about pouring cups of green tea and putting out millet cookies. "Your people would call me a warrior-monk, I suppose. I am from the Sankyodai Mountains, but I have been here with Jiro for some time, defending the settlers in the Borderlands."
She glanced down at the shogi-ban board.
"Do any of you play?"
"Unfortunately not," Zula smiled. "But we do have similar games of skill and strategy in Avistan."
Hatsue returned the smile.
"My passion for shogi is the only thing preventing me from fully embracing the peace of Irori."

At that moment, the door flap of the hut opened, and a man stepped inside. He appeared to be in his early thirties, of average height, and with his head shaved except for a long topknot. He patted dirt and dust off his robe and leaned a staff against the wall. When he saw Hatsue discussing shogi with Zula, he rolled his eyes. As he sat to take a cup of tea, he murmured gruffly to himself,
"Hatsue was probably an angle mover in a previous life."
He glanced briefly at his guests, then spoke briskly.
"So, tell me why westerners crossed the Crown of the World to end up thousands of miles away from their home."

"It's a tale long in the telling," Zula sighed as she folded her legs and sat opposite the ronin, "one best told from the beginning."
For the better part of an hour she told their story, starting with the happenstance discovery of Ameiko's heritage while fighting a goblin tribe, the formation of their caravan and the journey to Brinewall, with the revelations revealed there. The narrative continued through the Land of the Linnorm Kings, and across the Crown of the World, then down into Tian Xia and the Forest of Spirits. Jiro listened to all it patiently, betraying no sign of what he thought of the tale. When it was done, he was silent a moment longer before speaking.
"A samurai and a peasant are brought before a ruthless daimyo," he said. "The daimyo wants to know whether a matched katana and wakizashi set are capable of killing a man with a single cut, so he commands the samurai to kill the peasant in order to test the swords. The samurai is faced with two dilemmas...first, he has two swords, but only one would-be-victim, and second, he loathes his duty. He does not want to kill an unarmed, innocent man, but his lord has commanded him to do so. What does the samurai do?"

For a few moments, the companions just stared at one another, perplexed by this sudden tangent away from the topic of conversation. It was Sandru who finally broke the silence, clearing his throat.
"In my opinion," he said, "since the daimyo is ruthless, and the samurai loathes his duty, the samurai should spare the peasant, keep the swords for himself, and leave the service of his dishonorable lord."
Silence filled the tent once more, but then Jiro smiled and nodded.
"Hmph," Hatsue snorted, "of course a ronin would approve of such a response. The samurai should kill the daimyo for giving such a contemptible order, then kill himself for the dishonor of slaying his lord. Then he has tested both swords as his lord commanded, but his honor is also satisfied, and the innocent peasant is spared."
"As you well know," Jiro chided his lieutenant, "there is no one correct response. We must all do as our hearts lead us."
"Regardless," Hatsue waved his comment away, and turned to the companions, "Jiro's little game illustrates a metaphor for the current political situation in Minkai. A ruthless ruler is manipulating the nobles and causing woe to the people."
"And for that reason," Jiro interrupted, "if it is truly your wish to overthrow the Jade Regent, then you shall have our support."
It was Ameiko's turn to smile now, but before she could reply, Jiro held up one finger.
"However," he said, "my ronin are ill-equipped and outnumbered, and currently live in a muddy camp in the middle of nowhere...hardly an army capable of effective resistance. We also have a rather...pressing problem."
Hatsue was stone-faced.
"Bandits have been plaguing this region for the past few months," Jiro continued. "The local daimyo have ignored the raiders, focusing on their own political maneuverings in the Jade Regent's court. Recently, the bandits discovered an abandoned fortress in the hills called Seinaru Heikiko, and began restoring it, turning it into a well protected hideout. Led by a chieftain of the Yumogu barbarians named Gangasum, they have been using the fortress as a base ever since. I believe they may even be negotiating with a local daimyo to become allies of the empire. If this were to happen, the bandits might attract many more of their kin and become a powerful tool for the Jade Regent to use to fight dissidents such as myself. Gangasum is aided by a powerful barbarian shaman, and I do not have the man-power to assault him. However, they are usually split in two groups. The first is always on the move, traveling the plains on horses to forage and pillage. The second group stays with Gangasum in the fortress. I fear that if one group is attacked and destroyed, the other might retaliate against the defenseless peasants. It is said that the winds magically inform the bandit shaman of everything that transpires in the Osogen Grasslands."
"Just tell us what you want us to do," Ameiko said.
"You seem powerful and well-equipped," Jiro nodded. "I would like for you to assault Seinaru Heikiko, while I and my warriors lure the riders into an ambush they next time they visit a settlement to trade goods or buy slaves."
"No problem," Ameiko replied.
"There other thing," Jiro said. Ameiko's eyes narrowed. "I have been looking for an ancient treasure of my family: a legendary adamantine sword that once belonged to my revered ancestor Hirabashi Akikaza. It is rumored to be held within a secret cache of weapons inside Seinaru Heikiko. According to legend, the cache can only be opened by a true imperial scion of Minkai. Surely the heir to House Amatatsu should have no trouble securing such a cache."
He smiled wryly. Ameiko returned his smile, though it did not touch her eyes.
"Just tell us where to go," she snapped.


Seinaru Heikiko lay some fifty miles away from the ronin camp in a large crack in the wall of a ravine along a small brook that flowed into the Kosokunami River. Built in a natural cavity in a forty-foot tall cliff face, the fortress was partially hidden by a grove of tall pine trees, and was directly visible from only a very short distance away. Behind the grove, a wooden wall obstructed the gap in the cliff face. Beyond it, two mighty chimneys, fashioned to resemble a giant warrior and a great square tower, rose over the roof of a large building erected against the bare rock.

"There is a large courtyard beyond the wall," Zula told her companions.
The Shoanti woman had just returned from a covert scouting mission, flying invisibly over the wall on the flying broom that had once belonged to Gnome-Brr Phive.
"The only bandits visible were the four atop the wall, though I could hear the shouting and revelry of a great many voices coming from one of the larger buildings."
"How do you recommend we approach?" Ameiko asked her advisor.
Zula shrugged.
"We are not know for stealth, my Lady," she smiled. "I say we go in the front door and see who comes to welcome us."


The guards on the wall were taken completely by surprise. One moment the courtyard was empty, and then the next, an opaque domed appeared in one corner, literally out of thin air. One of them had the presence of mind to quickly knock and loose a whistling arrow from his bow, sending up a signal to the fortress. An instant later, however, an oversized arrow launched from the dome and pierced his throat. He fell, gurgling, from the parapet. One of his comrades stared in stupefied disbelief for a moment before another arrow sprouted from the center of his chest. The remaining two guards fumbled to raise their bows, their eyes going wide when a heavily muscled warrior, easily over ten-feet tall, came rushing out of the dome and straight towards them.

Zula watched Haroldo lumber out of the tiny hut and towards the guards on the wall. She turned her own attention towards the building from where she'd heard the bulk of the noise on her scouting mission. Knowing that she only had a matter of moments before bandits came swarming out, she cast a spell on the ground before the doors to the building. Instantly, the rocks there sprouted dozens of tiny, sharp spikes, which would not be visible except upon close observation.

Haroldo reached the wall, and started sweeping across the parapet with his massive great-sword. Both of the remaining gate guards where quickly dispatched, and then he turned and began moving back towards the hut, just as the double doors to the main hall exploded open.

Over a dozen bandits came howling out of the hall, swords waving and blood-lust in their eyes. Their cries turned from battle fury to howls of pain a moment later as they reached Zula's spikes. The razor-sharp stones easily pierced the the thick soles of the raiders' boots and sank into the tender flesh of their feet. They drew up short, hopping about and stumbling, not knowing where it was safe to step. They were sitting ducks for Lucian, who began to ply his bow with impunity.

The celebration was short-lived, however, as the doors of another building across the courtyard burst open. This time, though, it was not more bandits who emerged. Instead, a hulking figure, easily equal to Haroldo's current height, stalked out into the daylight. Though clearly female, there was no trace of humanity about her. Her form was that of a savage, bipedal tigress, her claws easily six inches in length and wickedly curved. Behind her came something even more intimidating, if possible. Half again as tall as the tiger-woman, it was a being composed of living elemental. As it strode forward, it raised its arms over its head and its voice boomed in a magical incantation. A hot wind blew with gale force across the courtyard, focused on the opaque dome of the tiny hut. Within, the companions felt fatigue and pain wash over them as the wind blast hit, knocking several of them to the ground.

Haroldo stopped his advance towards the dome, and turned towards the new threat. Lowering his head like a bull, he charged towards the elemental. Before he made it half-way, however, the were-tiger pounced, slashing her claws across the blood-rager's mid-section. As Haroldo reeled and tried to continue his advance, he found his path blocked by the mass of the bandits, who had managed to extricate themselves from the bulk of the spiked stones. Enraged, the giant warrior began laying about with his massive sword, hewing down the nearest of his foes.

Inside the hut, Lucian had managed to regain his feet in time to see the tigress closing on Haroldo. He sighted, drew and loosed in one smooth movement. His arrow struck true, sinking into the meat of her thigh, but she barely slowed.
"Our friend is in trouble," Zula said to Sandru as she extended her hand to help the caravan master to his feet. "Should we go to his aid?"
"Immediately," Sandru nodded grimly.
Zula closed her eyes and concentrated. A nimbus of light surrounded her and Sandru, and they abruptly vanished. They reappeared a moment later, right next to the the tigress. Sandru was in motion as soon as his feet touched the ground. He sword was a blur as he struck , scoring several telling blows against the creature. She never even looked in his direction. Instead, she leaped for Haroldo, catching him behind the knee with one swipe of her paw, then sweeping his legs out from under him. As he crashed to the ground, she was on him, leaping onto his chest and pinning his arms to his side. The bandits closed in for the kill, but then quickly parted as another figure stepped forward. A burly man dressed in tightly banded armor and wielding a gleaming scimitar, he stopped and looked down at the blood-rager, then smiled broadly and raised his blade in both hands above his head, before bringing it down in a powerful overhand chop.
"No!" Sandru cried as he lost sight of his friend, but before he could react, the elemental began invoking again, and this time a twenty-foot wall of fire sprang up, bisecting the courtyard, cutting off the rest of the companions, and catching the caravan master in the middle of the conflagration.

Darkness swam at the corners of Haroldo's vision as he teetered on the edge of consciousness. His wounds were agonizing, and the weight of the were-tigress on his chest was suffocating. Still, his rage burned, and the thought of succumbing never entered his mind. He focused his blood-magic with what little ability he had left, and his right hand transformed into solid stone. Summoning all of his remaining strength, he slammed his fist into the lycanthrope's temple, and felt her skull crush beneath the blow. She sagged bonelessly and crumpled to the side, her body shifting as she fell into that of a simple Tian woman. Haroldo sucked in a great whoop of air, then gripped his sword with both hands again. Rolling to his side, he swung the blade in a low arc, hacking across the knees of the bandit chieftain. Then the bandits were upon him again, raining blows down on him like hail stones.

Sandru, his clothes aflame, somersaulted out of the wall of fire just as Ameiko and Lucian leaped through as well, their skin blistering from the heat, but determined to come to the aid of their companions. The three of them closed quickly to the bandits surrounding Haroldo, attacking them from behind. Then, in a blur of motion, Zula was there, appearing in the midst of the bandits, she reached down and touched the prone blood-rager, and the two of them vanished then reappeared a dozen yards away.
"Catch your breath, big boy," she smiled down at Haroldo. "You're going to need it."

Sandru twisted and turned among the bandits like a dervish, dodging blows while delivering his own until he finally reached Gangasum, the chieftain. The big raider was still reeling from Haroldo's assault when the caravan master drove his scimitar through his gut. It was a testament to his fortitude and savagery that the blow did not fell him immediately. He staggered backwards, clutching his insides to keep them from falling out as his men moved to cover his retreat.

The huge fire elemental towered over the fray as the combatants danced around its feet. It extended one hand, and a serpent of fire spewed from it, snaking among both enemies and allies alike, burning and scorching as it went. Lucian tried to leap aside, but the fire engulfed the wood of his tree-like body. Still, he managed to keep firing his bow, sending all of his arrows towards the elemental, hoping he was having some effect on the creature.

Ameiko moved gracefully among the bandits, Suishen alive in her hands as she carved a path through them. She finally reached Sandru's side just as he pushed past Gangasum's body guards. The two of them faced the bandit chieftain. His life's blood rapidly spilling on the ground, he still raised his blade in defiance. It didn't save him as the Amatasu heir and her dear friend cut him down.

Lucian stood between Haroldo and the bulk of the bandits, so it was he who first saw the threat, though there was nothing he could do to stop it. Several of the bandits had drawn javelins from their quivers, and as they raised them, the spears began to crackle with electricity.
"Watch out!" he cried.
As the bandits hurled the javelins, they transformed into bolts of lightning, sending multiple blasts of electricity coursing through the oracle and the blood-rager.

The remaining bandits, though their leader lay slain, did not give ground. Instead, as the elemental bellowed orders, they redoubled their efforts, charging en masse at their opponents. Simultaneously, the elemental hurled a handful of flaming seeds into the midst of the companions, where they exploded into fiery geysers. The force of the blasts threw Sandru from his feet, and he did not rise again, smoke rising from his deathly still form. Ameiko, Zula and Haroldo met the onslaught of the raiders, unable to reach Sandru. Behind them, Lucian fired volley after volley into the elemental, until at last, with a mighty groan, the creature toppled. When it hit the ground, however, an elderly, robed man lay in its place.

When the elemental fell, the bandits' resolve broke. The few of them left alive threw down their weapons in surrender at Zula's command. Lucian ran to Sandru's side, and breathed a sigh of relief to find that his friend still lived. He lay his hands upon the caravan master, and a moment later, his eyes fluttered open.
"Did we win?" he asked, smiling through bloody teeth.


Of Ninjas and Geisha

4 Abadius, 4716 - 10 Calistril, 4716

The remaining bandits were taken into custody to await Jiro's arrival and justice. In the mean time, the companions explored the fortress, looking for any enemies that might be laying in wait. In the cellar, they came across a half-dozen peasant girls locked in bamboo cages. Ameiko freed them all, and they prostrated themselves before her. She bade them rise, and offered them gainful employment in her service since they were familiar with the layout and running of the fortress.

In another part of the building they found a forgotten shrine. Its walls were covered in faded, abstract decorations, and riddled with cavities and cracks. Stone display tables stood along two walls, bare but for rusty metal shards and blackened splinters of wood. A statue of a female samurai stood in a niche in the middle of another wall, her elaborate armor engraved with numerous cartouches filled with inscriptions. The statue once held a two-handed sword, but the stone blade had been sheared off, and many of the statue's features had been defaced or destroyed. Ameiko recognized the statue as a representation of Shizuru, the Tian goddess of ancestors, honor, swordplay and the sun. Tiny inscriptions inside the cartouches on the statue were in Minkaian, and seemed to be the names of Samurai, followed by expressions of thanks, and prayers for good luck. One of these names was Hirabashi Akikaza, Jiro's ancestor. Written nearby was a single inscription with no author's name: "Empress of Heaven, touch me with your grace!"
Instinctively, Ameiko reached out one hand and touched the cartouche. When she did, all of the cartouches on the statue flashed with light, and then a large, cylindrical pit opened in the center of the room, revealing a repository for many weapons, still sharp and shiny after half a millennium. Among them was a katana with the Tien characters for Hirabashi engraved along the blade.


Jiro and his ronin arrived at Seinaru Heikiko two days later, having defeated the roaming bandits and killed their subchief. The samurai was pleased at the work the heroes had accomplished at the fortress in the mean time. When Ameiko presented him with his family sword, he immediately dropped to one knee and bowed before her.
"You are the rightful heir to the Jade Throne," he announced for all to hear, "and I pledge my service to you until the Jade Regent is defeated!"
One by one, his warriors came to kneel before the would-be empress, each pledging themselves to her.
"The fortress will make an excellent base of operations," Jiro explained after the procession had ended. "We will send for the settlers whose land we protected to repair the damage and expand the defenses. I believe that with some time and training, Hatsue and I should be able to organize them into a militia. Now, my Lady, come. We have much to discuss.


"The Jade Regent is amassing troops," Jiro began without preamble as he seated himself at one of the tables in the great hall. With the emperor in hiding, and the governor of the capital accused of treason, Minkai has become alienated from the other nations of Tian Xia, creating a long-lasting trade crisis. The merchant clans in Akafuto, Enganoka and Sakakabe resent the economic decline more than anyone. Most of the daimyo are also unhappy, as they are obliged to pay surplus taxes for the upkeep of the Typhoon Guard, a mercenary force who now serve as the Jade Regent's private army. The nobles also see the officers of the Typhoon Guard as dangerous rivals for positions in the imperial bureaucracy. But it is the common people who suffer the most, for many nobles are squeezing their extra dues from their subjects. In this current climate, stirring a rebellion in the northwestern provinces of Enganoka and Sakakabe would not be impossible, but we will need much more support."
"You have some ideas, I suppose?" Zula asked, arching one eyebrow.
"Just so," Jiro nodded. "We will need to contact powerful representatives of Minkai's military, merchants and even criminal underground, either to sway them to our side, or at least to ensure their neutrality in the coming conflict."
"Criminals?" Ameiko asked dubiously.
"There are many ninja clans in Minkai," Jiro explained, "and while perhaps distasteful, their aid in the rebellion would be helpful. Even if you do not wish to hire them, you should at least make an attempt to convince them not to serve the Jade Regent."
"Where would we find their representatives?" Sandru asked.
"Start in Enganoka," Jiro replied. "There, you should visit the Kuroi Yane market. I have heard that three regular customers of a restaurant there are actually high-ranking ninja, sometimes referred to as nokizarusan, or the "three monkeys on the roof," or simply the "Three Monkeys." Every month, with the new moon, these three meet to discuss matters between the clans, and it is said that this is the only time one can speak with them for any reason other than hiring their services."
"Interesting," Sandru mused. "I've had dealings with the less savory elements of the trade market on several occasions. We'll have to tread very lightly here. What about the legitimate merchant clans?"
"That, too, will take some delicate handling," Jiro smirked. "The best way to gain the support of the merchants is through the geisha of Minkai, who know many secrets that can be used to manipulate the empire's merchants and nobility. I recommend visiting the Kiniro Kyomai teahouse in downtown Sakakabe. The owner is a very skilled and respected geisha named O-Kohaku, who happens to be a niece of the late governor of Kasai, and very likely hates the Jade Regent for killing her uncle. Many people discontent with the rule of the Jade Regent frequent the Kiniro Kyomai. Befriending the geisha would give you the chance to contact and persuade them to join our cause. If you decide to approach O-Kohaku, I suggest using flattery. She appreciates expensive gifts."
"So criminals and whores?" Zula said, shaking her head. "What's next? Cultists?"
Jiro just smiled.
"Do not be so quick to dismiss those who dwell in the shadow of greatness," he said. "For it is they who often see what those above them wish to keep hidden. Which brings me to my third suggestion for an alliance. One of the Jade Regent's most zealous supporters is the current governor of Enganoka, a man named Sikutsu Sennaka. He is cruel, efficient and powerful, and anyone who tries to give voice to dissent in the province has been ruthlessly persecuted. He also exerts a strong influence over Minkai's military, and the adjacent provinces through terror, espionage, and blackmail. No one in this area is likely to rise against the Jade Regent as long as Sennaka lives, but once he is removed from power, we will have a much better chance of gaining the support of Minkai's samurai. He is well-guarded, however, and an open attack is likely doomed to failure. You need to find a way to ambush him, or take him unawares and unguarded. My advice is to contact the ninja clans and the geisha first before taking on Sennaka."

Ameiko contemplated and processed all that Jiro had told them. Then, with a nod of her head, she looked up and addressed her companions.
"We shall go to Sakakabe first," she declared, "and meet with O-Kohaku. It may be that she can offer us insight on how to treat with the Three Monkeys as well."
Jiro nodded his approval.
"I caution you against attracting too much attention on your journeys," he said. "Keep as low of a profile as possible."
"We are in agreement," Ameiko replied. "Very well then, we leave on the morrow."


Sakakabe was built on a series of steep terraces that extended from the port to the top of the hills, where the richest houses were built. The entertainment district, or hanamachi, was built on one of the highest terraces, centered on a large street called the Way of the Songbirds. Two gates stood at either end of the street, manned by armed guards who checked all visitors to ensure that no beggars entered. They were suspicious of the companions, as well they might be of heavily armed foreigners, but a few gold coins slipped to them by Sandru ensured entry to the avenue beyond. Inside the gates, the entertainment district was a pleasant area of niche shops, small gardens, a few shrines and upscale teahouses, including the famous Kiniro Kyomai, easily indentifiable by its ornate roof and brightly polished gutters.

When the companions approached the gate, they were met by a young and exceptionally polite geisha wearing a flowery, long-sleeved kimono, who introduced herself as O-Hakami.
"We have come to seek audience with O-Kohaku," Zula said, bowing slightly. "We are great admirers of the geisha, and we have brought her a gift."
O-Hakami smiled and bowed, then instructed the group to follow her. She led them to an inner garden, which was only semi-private, and was under constant surveillance by district guards. After several minutes, another geisha, older and more regal, though no less beautiful, entered the garden.
"I am O-Kohaku," she said in greeting, inclining her head. "Please, sit. O-Hakami," she turned to the younger geisha, "bring tea."
The younger woman hurried to comply, and returned moments later with the service. She then went and sat in a corner of the garden, occasionally strumming a samisen.
"Now," O-Kohaku said, "what brings such strangers so far from home to my humble establishment? Do you wish to hire my geisha?"
"Not exactly," Zula smiled. "Hirabashi Jiro sends his regards."
A slight smile quirked the geisha's lips.
"Ah, the samurai who served my late uncle," she said. "I had wondered what had become of him after he and his unruly swords-for-hire were kicked out of the district last year."
Zula cleared her throat, not sure what to make of that.
"Yes, well," she continued, "you may be interested to know that Jiro has joined our cause."
"And what cause would that be, dear?" O-Kohaku asked indulgently.
"To place the rightful heir, the last scion of House Amatatsu, upon the Jade Throne," the thundercaller replied, indicating Ameiko.
O-Kohaku's hand flew to her throat, and her eyes went wide in mock astonishment.
"Imperial politics are of little interest to provincial entertainers such as myself," she declared.
Zula sensed something beneath her words, however.
"Nevertheless," she said, "we could use your assistance. Jiro tells us that you have influence among the nobility and the merchant clans."
The geisha remained silent for a moment, and then sighed deeply.
"I am no friend of the Jade Regent," she said at length, "but my hopes of seeing Emperor Shigure back on the throne have faded. The Jade Regent will soon become the legitimate ruler of Minkai. Even here, far from the capital, everyone is too afraid of governor Sennaka to do anything that might disrupt the status quo."
"We have plans for him as well," Zula said, her eyes cold and uncompromising.
O-Kohaku weighed her words for a moment.
"You boast much," she said, "yet can you follow through with your words, I wonder? Still, I will allow you to prove the sincerity of your intentions."
"Here it comes," Sandru grumbled under his breath.
O-Kohaku pretended not to notice.
"One of my most talented and respected geisha has gone missing," she said. "O-Sayumi is adored by the local nobility, and has even received gifts from Sikutsu Sennaka's younger brother, Itsuru. She recently agreed to entertain a pearl merchant named Yugureda Shosaito, and traveled to his private island for a week-long stay, but has not returned."
"What does the merchant have to say?" Zula asked.
"He claims she never arrived," O-Kohaku replied.
"And what do you think?" Zula asked.
"I fear that she may be being held against her will," the geisha said quietly. "He had made such offers in the past, but O-Sayumi had always refused. She felt that he was obsessed with her. Why she suddenly changed her mind, I cannot say, but I feel that both Yugureda's fascination with her, and her changer of heart, have their roots in their past."
"Where is this island?" Sandru interrupted.
"It lies perhaps seventy miles northwest of here," O-Kohaku said. "His home there is called Shinju-no-Ie. The island rises from a coral reef in Namidakame Lagoon, at the mouth of the Jikko River. Yugureda has a private barge that would deliver his pearl shipments to the docks here. It was upon that barge that O-Sayumi departed."
"You must find her!" O-Hakami suddenly interjected, leaping up from where she'd been seated. "She was my mentor! My friend!"
O-Kohaku gave the apprentice a stern look
"O-Sayumi's disappearance has been blow to our finances and reputation," she said. "If you find her and return her, I will arrange meetings for you with powerful individuals who can help you with your cause."
"We will do what we can," Ameiko promised.


O-Hakami led the companions out of the teahouse, and as soon as they were out of sight and hearing of O-Kohaku, she turned and whispered to them, fear in her eyes.
"I fear for my mentor," she said. "Yugureda Shosaito is a dangerous man, so cold as to seem like he is dead!"
"What more can you tells about O-Sayumi?" Zula asked.
"She was such a gifted samisen player," the young geisha smiled. "She even owned a magical one! She would sometimes play for hours alone in her room. I once peeked at her as she played, and she seemed to be in some kind of trance. I was frightened, for as I watched, I thought I saw the shadow of a huge, prowling tiger on the shoji doors! Many believed that she was a seer. She seemed to know much of the past, present and future. It was not uncommon for nobles and merchants to come here and ask for her advice on matters that would not normally fall under the expertise of a geisha."
"Did she say anything to you about her trip?" Zula pressed.
"Not really," O-Hakami replied. "Before she left, however, she did give me a small package. She told me to give it to an honorable person who would look for her if she did not return. I now feel that she meant all of you."
She withdrew a paper packet from her sleeve and handed it to Ameiko, who unwrapped it, finding a folded sheet of rice paper inside, along with a small carrying case.
"That is her inro," O-Hakami said curiously, indicating the case.
Ameiko unfolded the paper and read aloud,
"I must discover what lies inside of myself to enter your place through dark and shadowed gates, but the reflection is not me."
"What does it mean?" Sandru asked.
Ameiko shrugged.
"Perhaps the inro holds some answer," O-Hakami answered. "I believe the geisha carving represents O-Sayumi, and the letter said to discover what lies inside."

The inro was a small ivory box with four segments, held closed with a silk cord, a sliding fastener, and a decorative toggle. The segments were engraved with a depiction of a geisha playing the samisen. The toggle was carved into the likeness of a strange turtle-like humanoid holding a vase in its webbed hands, and a six-petaled magnolia flower was carved on the bottom of it.
"I've heard of that kind of creature," Lucian offered. "It's called a kappa."
O-Hakami nodded.
"It may represent Numataro-sama," she said. "He was someone O-Sayumi often talked about and referred to as her uncle. She said he lived under a great magnolia tree."
The segments of the inro formed three small compartments, and there was a maker's mark stamped inside the lid.
"That is the mark of Saburo," O-Hakami said. "He is a local artisan oft sought after for his crafting skill."
Inside the compartments, the inro contained three odd items: an empty silkworm cocoon in the lower compartment; two interlocking stone rings, one of yellow calcite and one of blue lapis lazuli, in the middle compartment; and three camphorwood beads on a cord ring in the upper compartment. O-Hakami had no explanation for the significance of these items.
"Well, I guess we have our work cut out for us," Zula sighed. "Perhaps we should start with this Saburo fellow."


Saburo's workshop was not far from the entertainment district, and displayed vases of all shapes and sizes in a small window on the street. He recognized the inro immediately, and expressed his concern for the missing geisha.
"Are you going to find her?" he asked.
When Ameiko answered in the affirmative, he told the companions to wait a moment, for he had another object he'd crafted for her. He went into a back room, and when he emerged again, he carried a bulbous, long-necked vase with an unusually deep recess in the bottom. The shape of the vase matched that of the inro's toggle, and was painted in the likeness of a smiling kappa. Inside, it contained a pound of cucumber-scented bath salts.
"The kappa again," Zula said. "Have you heard of such a creature?" she asked Saburo.
"The local fisherman often speak of an ancient kappa that is said to live beneath a great magnolia tree at the mouth of the Jikko River, near the Namidakame Lagoon," the artisan replied.
"Seems like we have our next clue," Zula nodded.


The companions made their way to the port, seeking to hire a ship traveling up the coast. The harbormaster was able to make arrangements, though he seemed a bit dubious about their stated destination.
"Do you know the pearl merchant who lives on the island?" Ameiko asked.
"Of course!" the man replied. "But his barge has not been seen here for over a month. Strange. It used to come every two weeks to transport supplies."
"Did you notice anything different the last time it was here?" Zula asked.
When the man hesitated in his response, Sandru slipped a few coins into his palm.
"Now that you mention it," he grinned, "I saw a young woman wearing a white veil and carrying a black samisen case board the barge."
"Thank you," Ameiko said. "You have been most helpful.


The voyage up the coast was peaceful and uneventful, but when their ship finally reached Namikadame Lagoon, the companions found the air strangely heavy, and a stifling cloak of silence seemed to hang oppressively over the land and water. Half-shrouded by mist, a dark island rose from the water and coral reefs. The colors of the landscape seemed washed out around the island, their hues drained by an unnatural gloominess. On the mainland, clearly visible on the bank above where the mouth of the river emptied into the lagoon, was a great magnolia tree.
"There," Ameiko indicated to the captain. "We need to put ashore there."

When the companions reached the shore beneath the tree, they were momentarily perplexed. There was no obvious lair or dwelling visible where an intelligent creature would live. It was not until Lucian recalled that kappa were supposedly fond of foods such as cucumber or horse meat, that they thought to use the bath salts within the vase Saburo had given them. Ameiko took the vase to the edge of the water and upended it, dumping the salts in. A few minutes later, the water stirred as a very strange-looking creature emerged. It resembled a humanoid turtle with a wrinkled, ape-like face, and an ashen ring of hair surrounding its bowl-shaped head, which was filled with water. It's shell was decorated with the symbol of the goddess Irori, a blue hand in a circle, and although the creature leaned on a gnarled wooden staff, there was something youthful and energetic about his movements.
"Hello," Zula said, stepping forward. "Are you Numataro-sama?"
"Indeed I am," the kappa smiled. "Who are you that asks?"
The thunder-caller made introductions.
"We are searching for a woman named O-Sayumi," she finished. "We have heard that you know her."
"Indeed I do," the old kappa smiled again, "but let us speak in more comfortable surroundings."

He led them down the bank to where a tangle of tree roots obscured a half-submerged cave.
"When O-Sayumi was just an infant," he began, "her mother was killed by a monstrous tiger sent by an evil wizard. Desperate to save her child, O-Sayumi's mother left her in a basket on the bank of a stream under a blooming honeysuckle bush, and then fled away from her. Fortunately, I found the baby before the tiger did, and took her to safety. She lived with me for several years, and I took it upon myself to teach her many of the ancient stories and tales of Minkai. I grew to love my Momo-chan, or as you would say, little butterfly, but I realized that a child needed more than I could give her. If nothing else, human companionship. So I took her to an orphanage in a monastery of Irori. The monks adopted her and taught her how to play the samisen, for which she showed exceptional talent. When she was older, she left the monks and traveled to Sakakabe, where she took the name O-Sayumi, and became a respected geisha."
"Can you think of any reason that she would have agree to travel with this pearl merchant?" Ameiko asked.
"No," Numataro replied, "but I do know that Yugureda Shosaito is more than just a merchant. He is a powerful wizard, whom I suspect may be the same one responsible for the death of O-Sayumi's mother."
"I see," Ameiko said quietly. "Our way forward seems clear. We thank you, Numataro-sama, and promise that we will do everything in our power to return O-Sayumi safely."
"Thank you," the kappa bowed, "and tell her to come visit her old uncle."


The ship's captain was reluctant to approach the island any further, as local rumor held that it was haunted. The companions decided that Lucian would fly across to the island and scout ahead, then return to the others after he'd found a suitable place where he could teleport them to. The entire island was about two miles long and a mile wide. In the exact center stood what might have once been a beautiful villa with a colorful tile roof, surrounded by pleasant gardens. However, it seemed that a cold shadow had crept over the place, leaving it a dull, gloomy husk of its former splendor. Two paths led from the villa towards the beach, one to a dock at which was moored a large barge, and the second towards a small village, which appeared abandoned to Lucian.

He returned to his companions and informed them of his findings. They elected to have him teleport them to an isolated spot out of view of the villa and the village. Once there, they began making their way towards the village. Zula, Ameiko and Boris went ahead of the others, moving quietly and stealthily across the barren landscape. The village itself consisted of a small cluster of mud-walled huts. Though there were no inhabitants, it quickly became obvious that it was not abandoned. Each of the huts contained simple implements for living, many of which appeared recently used. As they moved among the huts, Zula spotted a figure swimming and then diving out in the surf.
"Pearl divers," she said. "They must be out collecting."
It was then that Boris emerged from one of the huts, bouncing around excitedly.
"Come see what Boris find!" he giggled.
Inside, beneath a reed mat, was a trapdoor. It opened into a tunnel that appeared to run in the general direction of the villa. Zula smiled and patted the goblin on the head.
"Well done," she said. "It appears we have found our way inside."


The tunnel led some five-hundred feet before opening into what appeared to be a cellar hewn in the rock. Stairs led up on one side, while a passageway on the other side led into darkness. The room was cool and moist, and smelled faintly of alcohol. Shelves stood in the corners, containing scores of ceramic bottles, glass vials, and small barrels of various sizes and shapes. Ameiko decided that she and Boris would scout ahead upstairs before the rest of the noisier crew followed.

Up the stairs, the pair found themselves in a hallway that wound between wooden walls broken at intervals by rice-paper sliding shoji doors. From behind several of these doors, they could hear the sounds of sweeping and low conversation. They bypassed these rooms until they came to a large, tatami-floored room whose walls were formed entirely of shoji screens. A lantern hung from the center of the ceiling, filling the room with yellow light. Under the lantern stood a traditional, four-legged shogi-ban table, with two pillows for players to sit upon and two small side tables for captured pieces. It was obvious from looking at the board that a game was in progress, with the black side winning. Before Ameiko could stop him, Boris moved to the board and began rearranging the pieces until the white side was victorious. A moment later, they both heard the sound of a shoji panel sliding open, and then the figure of a dark-clad, middle-aged man with a long moustache and beard, and wearing a tall courtier's hat emerged from the shadows of the corridor. He bowed politely, then indicated the shogi table with one long-nailed hand.
"As you can see," he said, "one side was winning the game. But was it the King or the Jade General?"
He threw back his head and laughed diabolically, then simply vanished.

An instant later, walls began emerging from the floor on all sides, until Ameiko and Boris each found themselves alone in a five-by-five cell made of translucent, mother-of-pearl barriers.
"Ameiko!" Boris called.
"I'm here!" he heard her answer, though her voice came from a distance.
Then the goblin caught a flicker of movement, as an incorporeal black-robed arm reached through one of the walls towards him. He ducked beneath it and shrieked.
"Ghost arms!" he screamed. "Trying to get Boris!"
Ameiko looked around her in panic, but couldn't see anything besides the walls of her cell. She gripped Suishen tightly in her hands.
"Do you have any ideas?" she asked the blade.
She sensed a mental shrug. 'I am a sword,' Suishen replied. 'Everything that I perceive needs to be cut.'
Ameiko almost sighed in exasperation, but then the simplicity of the idea struck her. She lifted the sword above her head, and then brought its flaming blade down, slashing at one of the walls. It shattered easily, producing a sound somewhere between broken glass and torn canvas. Beyond the wall, she saw an identical cell to the one she stood in. She stepped quickly into it, just as the wall she'd destroyed reformed behind her. A moment later, a shadowy hand reached through another wall and seized her arm. When it did, she felt a bone-numbing cold shoot through her, followed by a soul-deep weakness. She wrenched away from the arm, and slashed through another wall, leaping through to the room beyond.

Boris could hear the sound of walls shattering as Ameiko drew closer to his location. He drew his swords and slashed at one of his own walls, destroying it easily. As he did so, however, another of the arms came through the wall behind him and grabbed him by the shoulder. He went so weak, and so numb that he could not move. He stood there, wobbling on his feet, helpless.

Ameiko continued smashing through walls, dodging more of the incorporeal arms as she went. Finally, she broke another barrier and saw Boris, barely on his feet, in the room beyond. She jumped for him and grabbed him under one arm. Then she wheeled and hacked through another wall, and another after that. Beyond the last one, instead of another bare cell, she saw the original room they had been in. She jumped through, tumbling to the floor with Boris. When she looked behind her, the strange maze was gone. Instead, only the shogi board stood as it had before.
"I think it's time we rejoin the others," she said wearily.
Boris could only nod his head in agreement.


The Master of Shadows

10 Calistril, 4716

The rest of the companions rushed up the stairs from the cellar when they heard sounds of shouting coming from above. When they reached the reception room, they found Ameiko and a prostrate Boris surrounded by a quartet of broom-wielding housekeepers, shouting and pointing at them.
"That's enough!" Zula shouted, silencing the cacophony instantly. "Now, if you ladies do not tell me, immediately, where to find the master of this house, I will instruct this large gentleman," she gestured towards Haroldo, "to remove your arms from their sockets. Do I make myself clear?"
The women stared wide-eyed and agape at her, but hastily nodded.
"The Master is downstairs," one of them babbled, "but he is never to be disturbed there."
"Is there a young woman with him?" Zula asked. "A geisha?"
The woman nodded.
"Good, then you will take us to him," Zula instructed.
"Oh no!" the woman shook her head violently. "We are not allowed, and he is in a secret place! We do not know the way!"
Zula studied her and the other women intently for a moment, but she did not sense that they were lying to her.
"Very well," she said. "Then I suggest you make yourselves scarce. There may be much violence here soon."


Lucian tended to Boris and Ameiko, restoring their strength with his prayers while they described what had transpired.
"It's a safe bet that the wizard knows we're coming," Sandru said.
"Since when has that ever deterred us?" Haroldo laughed.
Once the goblin and the empress were back on their feet, the group retraced their steps to the cellar, and started down the second passage they had seen there.

The walls of the dark corridor were engraved with dense patterns of arcane graffiti. A fine dust covered the stone floor, diffusing into the air when stirred by their footsteps. Everything looked a little blurry, as if a shadowy duplicate of the corridor had been superimposed onto the passage. The companions' light sources seemed muted, illuminating only a fraction of what they had just a few steps away in the cellar. The passage twisted and turned, and then began to branch at regular intervals. At the first such juncture, after another sharp turn, the hallway passed through a perfectly round archway composed of orange agate.
"Wait," Zula said as Boris moved to examine the gate.
"Why?" the gnome asked. "Boris no think it trapped."
"There's something...," Zula's voice trailed off and she looked thoughtful for a moment. Then she snapped her fingers and drew out the inro O-Hakami had given them. She opened the middle compartment and stared at the interlocked rings of yellow calcite and blue lapis lazuli.
"Don't touch it," she told Boris, indicating the gate. "I think it's the wrong color."

They moved on, and when they turned down another side passage they came upon another gate, this one framed in violet jasper. Again, Zula had them backtrack the way they had come. The next gate they found was not stone, but wood, with a curtain of wooden beads hanging from it.
"What kind of wood is that?" Zula asked Lucian.
The oracle peered at them.
"Mulberry, I believe," he replied. "Why do you ask?"
Zula opened the upper compartment of the inro and drew out the bracelet of wooden beads.
"And what are these again?" she asked.
"Camphorwood," Lucian said.

They continued through the maze of corridors, Zula directing them away from more gates they came across, until finally they found one that held a curtain made of silk strands.
"This is the right way," Zula said, taking the silkworm cocoon from the bottom compartment of the inro. "O-Sayumi was leaving us a clue to follow after all."
They passed through the gate, with no obvious effect or change. After several more dead ends, including some that contained fogged mirrors that Boris did not feel comfortable peering into, they found another stone-framed gate, this one of green jade.
"This one," Zula nodded.
"Why this one?" Boris asked. "It green. We no have green things from shiny box."
"No," Zula answered patiently, "but we do have a yellow ring and a blue ring."
"So?" Boris asked.
"So," Zula went on in a long-suffering tone, "when yellow dye is combined with blue, it makes green."
Boris looked perplexed, and then his eyes widened in utter amazement.
"You very smart lady!" he exclaimed.
Zula just smiled and led the way through the gate. Again, nothing happened. Finally, they came to one last gate, again hung with wooden beads. These Lucian identified as camphorwood, matching those in the inro. At Zula's behest, the companions passed through.


The maze ended shortly after the final gate. The corridor led to a simple wooden door. Boris stepped towards it, slipping on his gloves. He pressed his palms to the portal and bowed his head in concentration, the magic of the gloves allowing him to look through the barrier. On the opposite side, he saw a large room, illuminated by a lantern, and furnished with carpets, tapestries and cushions. A life-sized statue of an eight-armed female humanoid sat in the lotus position on a platform in one corner. It held a strange string instrument and several sets of hand cymbals. Near the middle of the room, two women knelt on the floor facing each other, as immobile as the statue. One of them looked mature and elegant, wearing a rich, multi-layered kimono that spread on the floor, as did her very long hair. The younger woman was equally graceful and very beautiful, dressed like a geisha. A strange mist covered the floor.

"Boris see painted lady," Boris said. "And her mom."
"Her mom?" Sandru asked. "I thought her mother was dead."
Boris shrugged. "Boris not know about mothers. Boris's mother tried to eat him when Boris born. Boris only know that there two ladies in room. One painted. One look older. Not painted."
"What are they doing?" Haroldo asked. "Are they guarded?"
Boris shrugged again. "They just staring at each other. Boris not see guard."
"What are we waiting for then?" the blood-rager asked.

They opened the door and found the scene just as Boris had described...with one exception. As the door swung completely open, the mist on the floor began to move, rapidly coalescing into something...massive. Materializing out of the noxious black cloud was a beast with the head of a fanged monkey and the body of a tiger with a viper as a tail. To their credit, the companions didn't let their surprise slow their reactions. Sandru, Boris and Ameiko moved quickly into the room, splitting to surround the creature on three sides, and then striking in unison. The beast roared, rearing up on its back legs. It rushed forward, straight at Sandru, sinking its teeth into his leg as its claws raked at his chest. Sandru felt the burn and sting as the pain washed over him, but he also felt something else...a lessening of himself, as if a little piece of his soul had spilled out with his blood. He braced himself for another blow, but then the creature looked up abruptly as a great-sword suddenly sprouted from its mouth. Haroldo gave the blade a twist as he withdrew it, and the beast fell heavily to the floor.


Throughout the short but violent fight, the two women had never moved. As a matter of fact, they had never even opened their eyes. Ameiko approached the pair and looked them over, snapping her fingers in front of their faces, and even shaking them roughly by the shoulders. There was no response. She studied them carefully for several long moments, and then straightened and turned to her companions.
"Their souls are gone," she said.
The others just blinked at her, uncomprehending.
"Their spirits have been removed from their bodies," she explained. "These are just empty shells."
"Where are their souls now?" Zula asked.
"I do not know," Ameiko replied, her eyes wandering about the room. "However...,"
She walked to one corner, where a beautifully carved samisen stood propped.
"Didn't O-Hakami say that O-Sayumi's instrument was enchanted, and could help her see the future?"
She began strumming the samisen's strings, plucking out a mournful tune. As she did, her eyes glazed over, staring somewhere beyond. In her mind's eyes, an image appeared. It was the same wizard she and Boris had met upstairs, and he stood holding a single, flawless black pearl in his hand. A moment later, the vision faded.
"I think I know where they are," she said.


There was no obvious exit from the lounge, but it didn't take Boris long to find a hidden one. Beyond it was a small study, and beyond that another corridor which ended at another door. Boris approached that one quietly and pressed his gloved hands to it. The colors of the large room beyond had completely faded. Panels of gray wood lined the walls, imitating the lattice of rice paper shoji walls, and the floor was paved in marble. An ornate archway stood in the middle of the north wall, opening onto a short tunnel that ended in a stain of inky darkness. Four braziers burned in the corners, dimly illuminating the room with shadowy light. The wizard Boris had seen upstairs stood at the far side of the room, sipping a cup of tea.
"Bad wizard inside!" he hissed quietly to his companions behind him.
"Then what are we waiting for?" Haroldo asked again as he kicked in the door.

Yugureda Shosaito regarded the heroes calmly from across the room. As Haroldo prepared to rush towards him, he calmly lowered his teacup.
"I wouldn't be so hasty if I were you," he said in a whispering voice. "You want to save the girl, don't you?"
He smiled and reached into a vase full to the brim with pearls, letting a handful fall back in from between his long-nailed fingers.
"Of all the pearls in the world," he said, "she is the most beautiful. But I'm afraid my wife is gone for good, and without her soul, O-Sayumi's body is just an empty shell. You see, something went wrong with the ritual when I tried to transfer my wife's soul from her aging body into the more youthful and desirable one of my daughter. She looks so much like her poor mother. O-Sayumi can still be saved. Her soul is inside a just have to find her."
At that point, Yugureda toppled the pearl-filled vase, and scores of pearls spread out across the floor, bouncing and rattling on the marble. At the same time, three black-cloaked, translucent shadowy figures stepped out of the walls.

The shadows moved quickly towards the companions. One of them reached out and touched Haroldo, and the big warrior felt his limbs grow weak. Another one reached its hand into Miyaro's chest, and the kitsune nearly collapsed as her strength was pulled from her body. Behind them, Lucian was nothing if not prepared. The oracle drew several arrows from his quiver, salted with a special alchemical mixture that would affect the ghostly apparitions as if they were flesh and blood. He fired off a volley of four of the arrows in rapid succession, each one striking true, causing one of the shadows to dissipate with an unearthly wail. Sandru, Ameiko and Haroldo moved forward to engage the other two. Their strikes were spot on, but their blades met little resistance as they passed through the wispy bodies of the undead.

Yugureda watched the battle with a quirk of amusement on his lips. He raised one hand, and waves of dark power poured from him, washing over the companions, leaving them physically exhausted and panting. He then pointed one slim finger at Lucian, and a bolt of black lighting arced into the oracle. His smile faltered a moment later, however, when Zula stepped forward and centered a blast of her thundercall upon him, leaving him momentarily stunned and gaping.

Seeing their master's plight, the two remaining shadows changed targets, heading straight for Zula and Lucian. Lucian quickly loosed another barrage of his ghost-salted arrows at one, destroying it instantly. Haroldo, Ameiko and Boris converged on the last one before it could reach Zula, and though their blows were not nearly as telling as they would have been against a corporeal foe, they added up, and the creature quickly succumbed.

Haroldo, with the way clear, hefted his blade and charged across the room towards Yugureda, just as the mage shook off the effects of Zula's assault. At the last possible moment, he raised his hands and spoke a spell, and in that instant, Haroldo simply vanished. Sandru stepped into the void which the blood-rager had just occupied, and slashed with his scimitar, opening Shosaito's abdomen. Lucian's bow sang from behind the swashbuckler, and a pair of arrows sank into the wizard's throat. Gurgling, his eyes wide in disbelief, Yugureda Shosaito sank to his knees, then to the ground.


A few moments later, Haroldo reappeared. He looked around in confusion.
"Where you go?" Boris asked him.
"Not sure," Haroldo said. "It was like I was in some sort of labyrinth. Everywhere I turned I found a dead end until finally there was an exit, and here I am again."
"A maze spell," Zula said. "Very effective against...," she trailed off.
"Against what?" Haroldo asked.
"Never mind," she said.
"The weak-willed," Lucian muttered under his breath.
Across the room, Ameiko stood from where she'd been searching through Shosaito's robes. She held in her hand a single black pearl.
"Let us return to O-Sayumi," she said.

They found the two women just as they'd left them in the lounge. Ameiko approached them, then placed the pearl on the floor and stomped her boot upon it. As it crumbled, a faint, glowing mist rose from it and rapidly flowed into the geisha's mouth. A moment later her eyes fluttered open, and she drew in a deep, gasping breath. She looked around in bewilderment, and the broke down into wrenching sobs.


In The Line of Duty

10 Calistril, 4716 - 24 Calistril 4716

Yugureda Shosaito's wife was dead, her soul gone forever. It took several minutes for Zula and Ameiko to calm O-Sayumi enough for her to explain exactly what had happened. She said that some months past, Yugureda had come to the Kiniro Kyomai, and had immediately taken an almost obsessive interest in her. She became suspicious, and began to make inquiries about him, even going so far as to use her oracular samisen. She learned that, years ago, the wizard had used alchemy and magic to increase the production of pearls, and had already become very wealthy by the time the Sikutsu clan gained influence in Sakakabe Province. When the Sikutsu family offered him the opportunity to become their business partner and begin the large-scale export of pearls to other Tian nations, Yugureda began using dark magic to further increase the pearl production, summoning sea monsters and conducting experiments on the human body. His wife Kaori, a lady of modest origins, was shocked and tried to dissuade her husband from violating the laws of nature for profit. Yugureda's marriage was already an unhappy one, and when he was offered the hand of a noble lady to cement his pact with the Sikutsu clan, he decided to get rid of Kaori. Kaori sensed the danger, however, and fled into the swamps bordering the Namidakame Lagoon with their infant child. Yugureda sent his nue cohort after her, and Kaori was slain by the beast. Just before the nue reached her, however, Kaori abandoned the baby in a basket near a stream, where she was later found by the kappa Numataro-sama. This child was O-Sayumi, and when Yugureda first saw her at the tea house working as a geisha, he noticed her resemblance to her mother. When O-Sayumi declined his advances and invitation to visit his villa, the wizard threatened to kill the monks and orphans at the monastery where she was raised. Hoping to stir compassion in her father's dark heart, O-Sayumi decided to accept. She expected treachery, however, and used the scrying power of her samisen to track the nue as it traversed the shadow maze Yugureda had created in his cellar, to learn the proper route. Afraid that Yugureda would find out if she left more explicit instructions, she created an inro to guide her rescuers. When she arrived at Yugureda's house, the wizard enacted a ritual to exchange O-Sayumi's soul with that of his wife, Tarukimi, but the spell went awry, resulting in O-Sayumi's soul being trapped in the black pearl.


The Scions decided to stay the night in Yugureda's villa, and make the most of their "hosts" hospitality. Ameiko informed the housekeepers that they were now free of their evil master, for which they bowed and scraped before her, offering her any comforts she and her companions might need. At Zula's behest, however, the others decided to pass the evening in the basement lounge where they'd found O-Sayumi and Tarukimi. It was a more defensible position should Yugureda have any final traps or contingencies in the event of his demise.

It was past midnight, and Zula, Sandru, and Haroldo stood watch while the others slept. A soft knock came at the door.
"Masters?" the voice of the head housekeeper came from the other side. "Is there anything else you will be needing? We were all about to retire for the night."
"No," Zula answered. "We have all that we require."
"Good, good," the woman's voice said cheerfully, then, "Oh, there is just one more thing we needed to show you...,"
Her voice trailed off, and then, abruptly, the door smashed inwards. The housekeeper was there...but not all of her. The lower half of her body was missing, while the upper half floated in mid-air, her entrails trailing below. In the hallway behind her, the other three housekeepers were equally incomplete, while beyond them, a ravening horde surged out of the corridor and into the room. Half of them were clad in simple loin cloths, painfully thin, with filthy, curved claws instead of fingers, and mouths filled with needle-like teeth. The other half were dressed in studded leathers, and were very obviously ja-noi oni, much like those the companions had encountered in the House of Withered Blossoms.

As the ghoulish pearl divers and ja-noi swarmed into the room and surrounded the companions, Haroldo laid about him with his great-sword, hacking and slashing, yet not seeming to make a dent in their numbers. At the same time, however, their claws and swords ripped and cut at him and at Sandru as well, as the caravan master moved back-to-back with him. Zula found herself encircled and battered, and a pair of ja-noi stood over Boris, who had been sleeping, and leveled crushing blows down on him. Behind the horde, the hovering housekeepers raised their hands and sent emerald beams of light at the companions, and where they touched, the heroes felt instantly weakened.
"To me!" Zula cried, and her comrades instantly reacted.
Once they had all gathered around her, she spoke a spell, and in a flash of white light, they vanished.


Once more safely aboard their hired cog, Ameiko commanded the captain to weigh anchor with all haste while the rest of the companions regrouped and tended their wounds.
"Who's idea was it again to spend the night in the evil wizard's creepy mansion?" Haroldo asked.
Boris shrugged. "Cleaning ladies seemed nice to Boris. Who knew they fly without legs when dark?"
"We never learn," Haroldo sighed.

The return cruise to Sakakabe was blessedly uneventful. Upon arrival, O-Sayumi was safely returned to the Kiniro Kyomai teahouse, where she was greeted with joy and relief by all of her sisters, especially O-Hakami. O-Kohaku was grateful, and offered to arrange meetings for Ameiko and her friends with several nobles and merchants opposed to the Jade Regent. Such individuals would be able to lend substantial support from both Sakakabe and Enganoka to Hirabashi Jiro should he lead a rebel army south towards the capital to overthrow the despot.

O-Sayumi showed her gratitude to her saviors by first presenting Ameiko with her samisen of oracular vision.
"I have seen a vision of the future," she said, bowing. "You will become a great empress."
Ameiko accepted the gift, sensing instinctively that it would prove useful in the coming days. O-Sayumi went even further by offering to arrange a private meeting with Sikutsu Itsuru, the younger brother of Enganoka's daimyo, Sikutsu Sennaka. She told them that Itsuru dreamed of putting an end to his brother's tyranny, and would be a powerful ally for the rebellion.


The following evening, in a private meeting room in the teahouse, Ameiko and the scions were introduced to Sikutsu Itsuru by O-Sayumi. She began the negotiations by identifying the companions as heirs of the Amatatsu line. Itsuru seemed dubious at first, but when Ameiko presented the Amatatsu Seal, he quickly got down to business.

Itsuru was in his mid-thirties, but appeared to be ten years younger, something that no doubt contributed to his brother's low opinion of him, he said. His duties involved managing the Sikutsu family castle, and in that capacity he had a number of loyal samurai under his command. He made it clear that he was no friend of the Jade Regent, and chafed under the heavy hand of his brother's rule as well. Tired of years of horror and abuse, Itsuru had finally decided that his brother's injustices must be put to and end. He explained that honor prevented him from killing his brother and lawful lord on his own, but if Sennaka were somehow removed from power, Itsuru would inherit his position. Most of the samurai under Sennaka's command were honorable warriors, Itsuru said, but that same honor trapped them. They followed Sennaka's cruel orders because duty required them to. If Itsuru were to become the new governor of Enganoka, those same samurai would follow him, and he could begin repairing the damage of his brother's rule. The armies of the north formed a not-insignificant proportion of Minkai's military might, and if those armies swore themselves to the Amatatsu heir, the Jade Regent would lose much of the military strength he currently commanded. Itsuru even believed that the army of Kasai, which guarded the imperial capital, might turn against the Jade Regent if faced with a rising tide of honorable samurai sworn to Ameiko rather than the Jade Regent.

Itsuru told Ameiko and the others that his brother would soon be journeying to Shuryo Onsen, a secluded hunting lodge on the border between the provinces of Enganoka and Sakakabe. The daimyo employed many peasants from nearby villages as laborers for renovations he was currently doing on the lodge, housing them in a small camp just east of the compound. Itsuru said that Sennaka normally left most of his retinue in the camp to guard the company's baggage and mounts, keeping only a small personal escort with him at the lodge. Itsuru suggested that Ameiko and her companions would have a much better chance of defeating Sennaka if they could ambush him at the lodge, while at the same time preventing the soldiers in the workers' camp from coming to his aid. When Ameiko asked how they might accomplish such a twin-pronged assault, Itsuru offered a possible solution. Recently, a handful of samurai were dismissed from Sennaka's service. They had been ordered to burn a village for not paying its taxes, but the samurai somehow managed to raise enough money to pay the taxes themselves, and so decided not to destroy the village. The samurai disobeyed a direct order, but Sennaka still got his tax revenue, so he simply dismissed them in a rare moment of mercy. The samurai became ronin, calling themselves the Nine Pawns, and they still had a score to settle with Sennaka. Itsuru recommended arranging a meeting with them. If they agreed to help the scions with their ambush, then he could restore them to their former status as samurai. The Nine Pawns had already infiltrated the laborers work camp, and had supposedly prepared a stratagem to isolate Sennaka from the bulk of his forces.


The companions took their leave of Sikutsu Itsuru, promising to contact him as soon as they were ready to implement the plan. First, however, Ameiko thought it important to travel to Enganoka and seek out the mysterious Three Monkeys. The longer the ninja were an unknown quantity, the greater their potential to jeopardize the rebels' plans to overthrow the Jade Regent.

The trip overland to Enganoka took a little over ten days. It was a port city, Minkai's third largest, on the western coast, famous for its trade in silk, pottery, semi-precious stones, and rock alum from the coastal hills. Although the port and the marketplace were relatively busy, it was clear that Enganoka was suffering from economic depression. The Kuroi Yane market itself was a large, two-story hall with a black roof, surrounded by a maze of outdoor huts, tents and market stalls. The entrance was guarded by a group of police officers, but Ameiko and the others had little trouble paying the three silvers per head entrance fee, a price that would have been exorbitant for a commoner, thus ensuring that only nobles dealt with the wealthier merchants inside.

As the companions wandered the hall looking for the restaurant where the Three Monkeys were purported to meet, they noticed a well-to-do commoner haggling with a shopkeeper. Suddenly, a half-dozen police officers surrounded him. The shopkeeper retreated to the back of her booth, and the commoner looked very frightened. One of the police stepped forward.
"Are you a trader from the village of Kokumgi?" he asked sternly.
The man bowed deeply. "Yes!" he answered, breaking into a servile grin.
"You are a liar!" the officer barked. "That village doesn't exist!"
The man's eyes grew wide in horror. Immediately, the police officers grabbed the poor t trader and forced him to his knees. The crowd moved away, and formed a wide circle around the scene as one of the officers unsheathed her sword.
"You are a smuggler and a spy!" the officer cried.
Ameiko tensed and took a step forward, but Zula grabbed her arm and subtly shook her head. With a swift stroke, and a collective scream of the crowd, the man's severed head rolled across the floor. No one said nor did anything, and the officers swaggered away through the market as people scurried away from them, avoiding looking at them or at the dead man on the floor.
"Why did you stop me?" Ameiko hissed as she wheeled on Zula.
"My Lady," Zula said quietly, "engaging those officers would have served no purpose other than to get us killed or captured."
"But the village that man is from does exist!" Ameiko said, raising her voice. "Don't you see what that means?"
Zula just stared at her blankly.
Ameiko threw up her hands. "Those officers were daikan tetsuku," she said. "Rural police. They normally patrol the countryside. If they are claiming that the village of Kokomugi no longer exists, then that means they have razed and plundered it, and are hunting down and killing all of its former inhabitants!"
"I understand, Mistress," Zula said, "but this is not the time nor place to address the problem. If the officers destroyed the village, then they did so on the governor's orders. That is our mission."
Ameiko stayed silent and digested that for a moment. Then, grudgingly, she nodded and turned away.


"What do we know of these ninja clans?" Ameiko asked as the companions approached the restaurant where the Three Monkeys were supposed to be meeting.
"Well," Sandru replied, "the three clans represented here are the most powerful of the ninja. The Emerald Branch are most concerned with fighting tyranny and supporting the cause of freedom. The Black Lotus are less interested in politics and more mercenary, willing to take on any job for a profit. The Dragonshadow are rumored to serve a powerful imperial dragon, and follow their own inscrutable goals, only accepting jobs that further the mysterious aims of their patron."
"Boris want to be dragon ninja!" the little goblin piped up.

They entered the restaurant, and were seated at a table readily enough. When the waitress asked what they were having, it was Boris who answered first.
"We hear that monkey is very good here," he said, winking one eye with exaggeration.
The waitress stared at him for a moment, then nodded and walked away.
"What are you doing?" Sandru snapped at the goblin.
"Boris know about sneaky things," the rogue replied. "You see."
A few minutes later, a male waiter approached the table.
"So you are interested in the house special?" he asked.
"Yes!" Boris grinned.
"An excellent choice," the waiter said. "The price is one-hundred gold coins per plate...payable up front."
"Sold!" Boris said before any of the others could answer.
Reluctantly, all of the companions drew out their coin purses and paid the required fee.
"Follow me," the waiter said, sweeping up the coins.

The companions were led to a private room. There, three individuals dressed in nondescript gray kimonos sat quietly in the half-light of the full moon outside. One was a balding, middle-aged man, the second a younger man with a half-smile on his face, and the last a plain peasant woman with a thick neck and hard eyes. None of them said a word as the scions stood before them. Finally, Zula cleared her throat.
"We are here to seek your services, or perhaps, your advice," she said. "We represent certain individuals who are dissatisfied with the current status quo in Minkai."
"We have already heard of the return to Minkai of the last Amatasu heir," the woman said, taking Zula by surprise. "We can well imagine her aims and your role in them."
The older man spoke next.
"We do not make a habit of interfering in politics," he said, "however the current state of affairs is damaging our business concerns. Fear of the Jade Regent and his forces have dampened enthusiasm for extra-legal activities, and the Regent himself shuns the services of our clans...with one exception."
"Which brings us to the matter at hand," the younger man took up the narrative. "The Jade Regent has hired a very powerful ninja to kill the Amatatsu heir and her companions. He is called Kaibuninsho, and he belongs to the Oni's Mask clan. He is said to have superhuman abilities that exceed even the traditional training of our clans, and for the past few years he has worked exclusively on behalf of the Jade Regent. So, unfortunately, since a contract already exists on your heads, we may not accept another contract with you until this matter is resolved."
"And by resolved," Sandru said, "you mean until we kill him or he kills us?"
The ninja shrugged and smiled.
"Feel free to come to us again are able."
"Do you have any information where we might find Kaibuninsho?" Zula asked.
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that," the woman replied. "I'm sure he will find you first."


"Well," Ameiko sighed as the companions left the restaurant, "I suppose our only option at this point is to carry out Sikutsu Itsuru's plan for his brother."
"Yes," Zula agreed. "Sandru can put out some feelers among his black market contacts in the mean time, to see we can come up with more information about this ninja. Then,..."
Her voice trailed off as cold chill ran up her spine. She turned, time seeming to slow around her. The market crowd moved around them, and at first she saw nothing untoward. Then her eyes fell upon a nondescript woman moving towards Ameiko from a nearby stall, one hand held out to show several lengths of silk scarves to the Amatatsu heir. It was her other hand, however, that caught Zula's gaze. It was tucked inside her kimono as if to retrieve something. Ameiko turned towards the woman, her eyes falling upon the beautiful scarves. She never saw the nunchaku, intricately carved in the shape of twin dragon heads, that the woman pulled from the folds of her robe. Zula rushed forward, seeming to move in slow motion as the nunchaku swung towards Ameiko's head.
"Nooooo!" Zula cried as she leaped between Ameiko and the merchant.
The swinging end of the nunchaku connected solidly with her temple with an audible crack and snap. Zula dropped to the ground like a stone, still and unmoving. Sandru and Boris, alerted by Zula's cry, turned around, drawing their weapons reflexively. They saw the merchant woman snarl in frustration as she tucked her weapon back up her sleeve. She reached down and grabbed Zula's collar.
"Stop her!" Sandru shouted as he rushed towards the woman.
He was a step too slow. As the woman's hand closed around Zula's tunic, the air shimmered around them both, and then they vanished in a swirl of smoke and darkness.


Coup de Tat

24 Calistril, 4716 - 27 Calistril, 4716

Boris stood alone in the hours before dawn inside the temple of Gozreh. He had lit a single candle and placed it on the altar.
"That for you, Zula, thunder-voice lady," he said, sniffing. "You always good to Boris, and Boris hope that, wherever you are, someone there to cook you good food like Boris."
The little goblin had already visited a local orphanage in Enganoka earlier that night and made an anonymous donation in his friend's name. He turned away from the altar and made his way back through the sanctuary. Tomorrow, he and his friends were departing for Shuryo Onsen, the daimyo's hunting lodge. They were going to assassinate the governor, and Boris had no problem with that. He held anyone who served the Jade Regent responsible for Zula's death, and had made a vow to himself and before her patron, Gozreh, that he would kill every one of them.


The companions made their final preparations in silence, saddling their horses and strapping on their gear. The shock of the loss of Zula was still a raw nerve to all of them, and they tensed at every odd noise and stray shadow, wary that the assassin could be anywhere. So it was, that when a middle-aged, bald Tien man wearing a blue robe belted with a wide girdle approached them, all of their hands went immediately to their weapons.

"Please," the man said, showing empty hands, "I mean no harm. My name is Akiro Higashiyama, and I was sent to you by a vision from my goddess, Shizuru. I know that you," he nodded towards Ameiko, "are the last scion of House Amatatsu. Long ago, I too was descended from royalty, though I assure you, I lay no claim to the Emerald Throne. I only wish to see the Jade Regent deposed, and the rightful ruler take her place."
"Why should we trust you?" Haroldo hissed, his sword already half out of its scabbard.
Akiro pointed towards the samisen slung across Ameiko's back.
"Your instrument, my Lady," he said. "Use it. Find the truth in my words."
Ameiko eyed him for several moments, then drew out the samisen. She strummed several chords, and her eyes clouded over. A moment later, she snapped back to reality.
"The Eternal Scion," she said. "That is what you are called
"I have been called this," Akiro nodded, "among many other things."
"You are samsaren," Ameiko continued, "one of the reincarnated. But yout skin...?"
"Not blue," Akiro smiled, "or at least not that you can see. I have found it beneficial to disguise some of my features. There are some who do not trust people who have lived many lifetimes."
"Including me!" Haroldo growled.
"Easy, my friend," Ameiko laid a hand on the big warrior's shoulder. "We can trust this one. The samisen does not lie. You have arrived at a sad and perilous time, Akiro. You may regret the onus placed upon you by your goddess."
"Perhaps," Akiro shrugged, "but if I do not survive, there is always another life to be lived."


Shuryo Onsen lay in the wooded hills east of Sakakabe. The laborers working on it were housed in a camp connected to the lodge by a narrow, sloping footpath, which served as the only way to traverse the rugged terrain without considerable difficulty. It was in those deep woods that the companions found the 9 Pawns. The ronin had placed a large stack of logs on top of a slope overlooking the footpath so that it could be toppled to form a roadblock. It was their plan to take out a few of the guards along the path, and then cut the logs loose to create a roadblock, by which point Ameiko and her friends should have reached the lodge and could begin their assault. The leader of the ronin explained that he and his men could exploit the favorable terrain to keep at bay the soldiers in the camp, who otherwise would rush to help their lord once the alarm was raised. He also advised approaching the lodge from the rear entrance. It would be the least heavily guarded.

Lucian led the Scions to a low hill overlooking the lodge itself. It was a sizable wooden building surrounded by a stout wooden palisade. A single gate in the south wall of the palisade connected to the footpath, while a double gate in the north wall gave access to the hunting trails of the forest. Lucian could see over the wall from their vantage point, and spotted a small rear door in the lodge.
"There," he pointed. "Everyone gather around me."
His companions did so, and the oracle mentally measured the distance between them and the door, then added an additional twenty-feet or so to his calculation. He spoke a prayer, and the group vanished in a flash of light. When they reappeared, they found themselves in an interior corridor inside the lodge. The door Lucian had seen was now behind them. Lining the corridor were rice-paper shoji doors on both sides. From behind the nearest of these, voices could be heard. More voices came from further down the hall. Sandru crept stealthily to the near door.
"Did you hear that?" a low, rumbling voice asked from the other side.
"No, I didn't hear anything," another voice replied, distracted. "I asked not to be disturbed."
"Probably nothing," the first voice said. "One of the men coming to report progress on the latrine, or some such. I'll get rid of him."
"Bound to find out sooner or later," Haroldo whispered from behind Sandru as he reached out to slide the shoji panel open.

A few low tables and comfortable chairs were scattered throughout the large room beyond the door. Martial banners decorated the walls, and paper lanterns hung from the rafters, softly illuminating the chamber. A huge, blue-skinned hulk of a creature stood on the opposite side of the door, a large tetsubo resting on one shoulder. Behind him a figure dressed in head-to-toe, green o-yoroi armor leaned over a table with several parchments unfurled on its surface. The giant blinked in confusion for a moment as he saw Haroldo and the other companions gathered in the hall beyond him. Then he grinned broadly, small tusks protruding from his undershot jaw.
"This might require your attention after all, Lord Sikutsu," he said.

The giant raised his massive club, but before he could even think about trying to swing it, he cried out in pain, and his left knee buckled beneath him. Behind him, Boris, who had crept into the room under cover of his invisibility ring, tumbled away, his wakizashi blade dripping blood from where he'd thrust it into the soft space behind the oni's kneecap. As the giant fell hard onto that one knee, Haroldo's sword met him, stabbing deep into his chest. From behind the blood-rager, Lucian's bow twanged as a single arrow sank into the oni's throat.

At that moment, the air in chamber began to hum with power. An instant later, a dozen figures suddenly appeared throughout the room. They were humanoid, but their heads were those of large ravens, and they bore black feathers instead of skin. They were armed with katanas and wakizashis, and they quickly began to fan out and surround the companions.
"Oh frak!" Haroldo cried out. "Fall back!"
As his allies did so, the blood-rager called up his limited magic to release an explosive ball of flame into the room. It instantly incinerated the shoji walls, but the raven-headed guards all leaped nimbly clear of the bulk of the blast. Sikutsu and the oni were not so evasive, and the fire scorched them thoroughly.
"Nicely done," Akiro said from beside Haroldo. "I never expected one with be capable of such feats. Allow me to demonstrate a few of my own abilities."
The wizard shook back his sleeves, spoke a few arcane words, and hurled a green-tinged ball into the midst of the chamber. It exploded into a great conflagration of liquid acid, but where any of the companions stood, the energy seemed to flow around them, excluding them from the blast. Most of the guards still managed to avoid it, but a few bore smoking burns upon their skin. More importantly, once the blast had cleared, the big oni lay dead on the floor.

The battle boiled out of the chamber and into the corridor and another adjoining room, revealed once its paper walls had been burned out of existence. The tengu guards were fast and accurate with their weapons, and they had the companions outnumbered two-to-one. Still, these were no ordinary assassins they were dealing with, and the Scions began steadily whittling away at their numbers, while at the same time keeping Sikutsu from the thick of the battle by forcing him to seek cover from both Miyaro's and Lucian's arrows. Suddenly, a door on the opposite side of the room opened, and a number of human samurai rushed through, quickly surrounding Sikutsu in a protective ring. Akiro threw another acid ball into the melee, but this time, he also excluded the samurai from the blast, as well as his companions. When the smoke cleared again, Sikutsu lay unmoving on the ground.

"Your daimyo is dead!" Ameiko called out to the samurai. "You are free of his tyranny! Pledge your loyalty to me, the rightful heir to House Amatatsu, and you will be honored warriors in my army!"
The samurai looked at one another dubiously, and then down at their fallen lord. As one, they turned the blades of their katanas towards their own bellies.
"No!" Ameiko screamed, but it was too late.
The samurai, in unison, thrust their blades into their bodies, disemboweling themselves in ritual sepuku.

The remaining tengu did not give up so easily, and the battle pitched back and forth for several more minutes before the last of them finally died.
"Listen," Haroldo said, cocking his head as the din of the melee faded.
In the distance, they all heard it. A hunting horn sounding.
"We need to go," he said. "We have done what we came for."
Ameiko looked, grief-stricken, upon the fallen samurai, then shook her head once.
"Yes," she said. "We have done enough."


Things look grim for the good guys! I can't believe they got to Zula, any chance that she's not truly dead and may make a return? The introduction of Akiro suggests otherwise...


That remains to be seen. Logically, the ninja would have taken her body back to his masters. It could come to pass that the Scions might encounter her again...


Assault On Seinaru Heikiko

27 Calistril, 4716

When the companions arrived back at Seinaru Heikiko, they found a bustling hive of activity. They were welcomed by Jiro and Hatsue, who informed them that, thanks to the efforts of the Scions, many more people had come to the fort to join Jiro's banner, such that he had the makings of an actual army. The samurai was saddened to hear about Zula's death, and troubled by the news of the ninja assassin targeting Ameiko and her cohorts. Ameiko immediately retired to her chambers and spent the next hour playing on her samisen. When she emerged at nightfall, she told the others that she had experienced another vision.
" 'When your enemies surround you, and your mind is distracted, you will be at your most vulnerable,' " she said. "That is the message I received. We must be vigilant at all times now."

That night, Boris prepared a special feast for the fort, celebrating the fall of Sikutsu Sennaka. The folk were delighted at the exotic flavors produced by the goblin's unique culinary skills, and the mood was festive. It was then that the first explosion rocked the keep. Shortly after, the alarm bells from the wall began to sound, and a bellow of inhuman laughter came from somewhere above. A second impact sounded, and the bells went silent. The soldiers began scrambling for their weapons and heading for the doors. Jiro and Hatsue leaped from their seats and quickly followed, Miyaro and Haroldo on their heels.
Outside, the fortress's main gate had been knocked down. Several guards lay motionless on the ground, and Jiro's banner had fallen down in the dirt. Hovering in mid-air above the walls of the fortress was a three-eyed, red-skinned giant, an enormous testubo clutched in its fists. Upon the crags overlooking the fort clung a quartet of two-headed giants. Each of them had one head that was bestial and brutish, while the other had three eyes and looked slightly more civilized. All were armed with elaborate, double-edged pole-arms.
"Come out little mice, hiding in your hole," the red-skinned giant boomed, "or I'll take down this fortress stone by stone! Show me this Amatatsu heir I've heard so much about! I want to crunch her little bones between my teeth and drink her royal blood! Bring her to me, and I promise you all quick deaths. Keep her for yourselves, and I'll tear every one of you limb from limb and make sweet music from your screams!"
With that, the creature hurled a ball of fire at the doorway where Miyaro and Haroldo stood. The kitsune leaped nimbly aside, and Haroldo managed to dodge the brunt of the blast, but he still suffered numerous burns on his exposed flesh.

Sandru emerged from the hall just as the flames cleared. He saw Miyaro standing to one side, her bow singing as she fired up at one of the two-headed oni on the cliffs.
"Watch out!" he shouted at her, just as the third eye on the larger oni opened and fired a scorching bolt of flame.
Miyaro shrieked as the flames seared her, back peddling towards the doors. Then, an enormous explosion rocked the court yard as a roiling cloud of smoke and fire erupted in its center. The three scions found themselves in pitch darkness as the soot and debris blotted out any light, and the burning air around them scorched their lungs as they struggled to breath. Haroldo called upon his blood magic to wreath himself in a blue fire, cool to the touch, which kept most of the heat from him. It was then, however, that the smoke parted briefly, and he saw movement within the mist. His eyes grew wide as enormous, rubbery black tentacles sprouted from the ground all around him and reached hungrily towards him and his companions.

Inside the main hall, it was chaos. Servants and men-at-arms ran in all directions, not certain of what exactly they should be doing. Several of the ronin began heading for the main doors, but at that moment, a wall of flames sprang up across the opening, sealing them all inside. One of them turned back towards where Ameiko stood with Lucian and Akiro.
"My Lady!" he shouted, walking towards the group. "What is your command?"
Ameiko looked non-plussed, taken aback that people were looking to her for leadership. Lucian and Akiro turned to look at her as well, and it was then, when the oracle put his back to the ronin, that Ameiko saw the man draw a familiar pair of dragon-emblazoned nunchaku from his tunic.
"Lucian, no!" she cried.
The oracle looked puzzled right up until the moment when the nunchaku struck him in the back of the head.

Back in the courtyard, Haroldo flew out of the forest of grasping tentacles, closely followed by Miyaro. Once free, the kitsune sighted with her bow, and loosed an arrow at one of the two-headed oni, putting the shaft through one of its throats. She looked around for the other ones, only to discover that two of them had simply vanished.


Lucian fell heavily to the ground, but he still lived, shaking his head in disorientation.
"Stop him!" Ameiko snarled, whirling and pointing at the ronin-disguised ninja.
Akiro responded immediately, weaving a net of green energy around the assassin, preventing him from teleporting or otherwise dimensionally traveling.
"He's not going anywhere," the wizard grinned.
"Too bad for you," the ninja replied, just as a pair of two-headed giants appeared out of thin air behind him.


The remaining two-headed oni flew from the ramparts at Haroldo, and Miyaro. One of them struck the blood-rager savagely with its monk's spade, while the second one swatted Miyaro across the courtyard. Miyaro fired a volley of arrows at the first one, the one she'd already wounded, and this time it dropped, its heads and chest pin-cushioned by her shafts.
"Got him!" the kitusune shouted in triumph.
That was when the large, crimson-skinned oni appeared behind her and swung mightily with his tetsubo. It caught her solidly at the base of her skull, and she went limp, dropping slowly out of the sky as her fly spell ended, dropping her straight into the wall of flames that covered the main entrance.


Lucian climbed painfully to his feet, his face a mask of rage an agony.
"Now it's my turn!" He hissed at the ninja as he knocked two arrows simultaneously and loosed.
The shafts struck true, but the assassin spun just as they impacted and flung a handful of dust into the air. As it settled over him, he vanished from sight. Nearby, Akiro spoke a spell, and began making a series of odd clicking noises, turning his head this way and that.
"He's right there!" The wizard shouted, pointing to a spot just behind Lucian.
Too late. The oracle screamed as a fresh burst of pain washed over him, blood flying from his nose and his mouth from the impact of an unseen nunchaku.

Across the hall, Boris and Ameiko had managed to flank one of the two-headed oni. The pair of them took turns darting in and making precision strikes against the giant as it pivoted trying to smash them both. At one point, the goblin was a fraction of a second too slow, and the oni swatted him with its spade, sending a jolt of electricity through the weapon as it struck. While its attention was momentarily diverted, however, Ameiko scored a killing blow, slashing Suishen across both of its necks.

Suddenly, at the far side of the hall, Sandru appeared, sprinting down a flight of stairs that led to a tower above. He had flown there hoping to take one of the two-headed giants unaware, only to have it vanish before he could reach it. He saw Lucian on his knees, bleeding profusely from his wounds. Beyond the oracle, Akiro was casting a spell, and when he'd finished, the air glittered with sparkling motes of light. As they settled to the floor, they outlined a figure crouching behind Lucian.
"Kill him!" Akiro shouted to Sandru.
The swashbuckler needed no further prompting. He rushed the figure, his sword slashing and whirling. The assassin grunted and darted to one side...right to where Ameiko waited.
"There is no escape from my justice!" She shouted as she drove Suishen through the ninja's gut.

Boris somehow found himself face-to-face with the last of the two-headed oni. He feinted to one side, and then leaped to the other, but while one of the giant's heads fell for his bluff, the other did not. It swung at him as he tumbled, smashing him into a wall...hard. The goblin lay there, his eyes blinking, staring at nothing.

Sandru and Ameiko rushed towards the oni before it could deliver a killing blow against Boris. They struck in unison, and the creature fell into a wide pool of its own blood. Abruptly, Ameiko was lifted from her feet and sent flying across the hall, where she struck a large support beam. Materializing in the middle of the room was the monstrous three-eyed fire yai oni, its tetsubo dripping blood. He turned on Sandru, his third eye opening wide and firing a bolt of flame at the caravan master. As Sandru backed away, the oni swung his club in a mighty arc and drove him back a dozen feet or more. Grimacing, the swashbuckler regained his balance and rushed forward, slashing at the oni viciously. As he struck, however, a fiery nimbus that surrounded the giant exploded outwards, engulfing him in flames. Sandru slumped to the ground unconscious.

Akiro did not like the way things were going. All of his allies were down, or nearly so. Thinking fast, he quickly wove another spell, and a glimmering cage composed of solid force sprang up around the oni. Lucian, still conscious, but only just barely, stumbled over to where Sandru lay and placed his hands upon the dying man. A surge of energy pulsed from his palms into Sandru's chest, momentarily lifting him from the ground. A moment later, Sandru opened his eyes, and then sprang nimbly to his feet in one smooth movement.

The fire yai glared balefully from within his cage.
"You think that your petty magics can hold me?" He bellowed. "You know nothing of the Five Storms!"
He raised one hand above his head, and as he did so, a wall of flames erupted from the floor where Lucian and Akiro stood. The oracle leaped to one side of the wall, and the wizard to the other. As Akiro rolled to his feet, he hurled a ball of sizzling electricity into the cage, where it exploded into blue lightning. The fire yai bellowed in pain, but then conjured a second wall of fire, bisecting the first, catching Akiro in the conflagration once again. The wizard stumbled to one knee, but still managed to toss a second lightning ball into the cage. As the oni writhed in its tendrils, he hefted his tetsubo and smashed it into the bars of the cage. When it struck, there was a tremendous BOOM like a thunderbolt, and one whole side of the force cage collapsed. The oni charged out, smashing Lucian with one end of his mighty club, and then Sandru with the other. Just then, another form leaped through one of the walls of fire...Haroldo! The blood-rager charged at the oni, his great sword whipping down in a bone-crushing arc. The fire yai careened backwards, but when Haroldo moved after him, the oni thrust the head of his tetsubo into the man's chest, crushing his sternum and the heart beneath it. Haroldo fell in a heap. Sandru leaped over the body of his friend, knowing he was probably soon to meet his own end, but as his sword slashed, Akiro hurled a final orb of electricity, and that time, the oni did not rise again.


The Empty Throne

3 Pharast, 4716 - 16 Desnus, 4716

In the aftermath of the siege, Ameiko used the Amatatsu Seal to return Haroldo to life, while Koya called upon her magic to restore Miyaro. Fortunately, thanks to the heroic efforts of the Scions, there were no other casualties among the inhabitants of the fortress. Jiro was furious about the attack on his people.
"Perhaps it is time for you to travel to the capital, Kasai, and deal with this so-called Jade Regent once and for all," he stormed to Ameiko.
"Perhaps," she agreed, "but first we have business with the Three Monkeys."

The ninja assassin turned out to be a nondescript Tien man. However, among his possessions he wore an ancient-looking bronze coin around his neck on a leather thong. It had a square central hole and bore six ideograms on its two faces, four on one side and two on the other, with two spaces apparently left blank. Akiro held the coin up and eyed the ideograms.
"These are symbols for various...skills," he said.
"What you mean, 'skills'?" Boris asked. "Like cooking?"
Akiro shook his head. "No. Roughly translated they represent acrobatics, climbing, disguise, escape, perception and stealth."
Boris's ears pricked up.
"Boris want that!"
"Not so fast, my friend," Ameiko said, taking the coin from Akiro. "If the assassin prized this, then we must be wary of it. At the very least, I want to use my samisen to see if I can divine any further information about it."

It took Ameiko over an hour as she held the coin and strummed the instrument given to her by the geisha, seemingly in a trance. Finally, she lifted her head, her eyes clear once more.
"It is called the Shinobi Fuhonsen," she said. "It is said to have been the first payment ever made to a ninja in the history of Minkai. The ideograms apparently relate to powers that the coin imparts upon its possessor, each one corresponding to a specific skill. Supposedly, it will only function for a 'worthy' owner, and when a new owner takes possession, another power will be revealed. However, legend has it that when the eighth and final power is unlocked, a major disaster will strike the world."
"Boris want that!," the goblin repeated.
"If it's that powerful," Sandru interjected, "perhaps we can use it as a bargaining chip with the Three Monkeys."
"What??," Boris shrieked. "That stupid! Why we give big magic coin to killers? Boris say we keep it and use to kill big green bad man!"
"While ineloquent," Ameiko said, "Boris does have a point. During my divination, I did receive a...feeling...that, of all of us, Boris would be the only one considered 'worthy.'"
Boris crossed his arms and nodded triumphantly.
"I don't think it would do any harm," Ameiko continued, "to at least allow him to carry it until we see what the Three Monkeys have to offer."


Boris sat in his room staring at the Shinobi Fuhonsen...listening to it. From the moment he'd first laid hands on it, he had heard the whispering, but could not make out the words. Now, however, since the seventh sigil had appeared on the coin, the whispers were getting louder. Already they had told him secrets to getting into locked places and bypassing traps that he had never even considered. They also told him about the other abilities that were his to command: anything from scaling a wall like a spider, vanishing from sight while leaving an illusory image of himself behind, mentally misleading those who sought to magically detect his motives, scrying on distant people and places, to temporarily stepping between dimensions, and even traveling through the plane of shadows if he so desired. It was magnificent, and Boris had no intention of ever parting with it. It had chosen him, and he was starting to resent his so-called friends for suggesting anyone else should possess it.


Even though it was only a day later, thanks to Akiro's ability to teleport, when the companions once more sat before the Three Monkeys in the in the Kuroi Yane restaurant in Enganoka, the ninja elders already knew of the death of Kaibuninsho.
"We are also aware of your involvement in the assassination of Sikutsu Sennaka," the Emerald Branch representative said, nodding approvingly, "and for that, my organization is willing to offer our services at half the usual cost of 20,000 gold coins. Barring that, all three of our groups will agree to not interfere in the coming rebellion for 5,000 gold coins...each."
"Allow me to offer an alternative," the Black Lotus ambassador said silkily. "It has come to my attention that you retrieved a certain...item...from Kaibuninsho. Do not try to deny it. If you were willing to part with it, my clan would waive our fees entirely."
"Ours would be willing to do so as well," the Dragonshadow ninja interjected, "but if you give it to one of my colleagues, we would take that as a sign of disrespect and our services would cost you double."
"As would ours," the Black Lotus rep said cooly.
"Ours too," the Emerald Branch woman said, "though we have no interest in purchasing the coin from you."
Ameiko looked at Boris, who was staring at the ninjas with naked hatred.
"I think," she said after several moments, "that we will procure your active assistance," she addressed the Emerald Branch elder, "while meeting your fee to insure that you will not act against us," she said to the other two.
The Three Monkeys all nodded their assent, and the bargain was sealed.


"Once your reach Kasai," Hirabashi Jiro said as he sat at the conference table with Ameiko and her companions, "you should make contact with a man named Asachi Isao. He is the leader of a group of sympathizers to your cause, and can provide you with a safe base of operations in the city, as well as intelligence on the current situation in the capital."
"And what will you do in the mean time?" Ameiko asked.
"We will follow with our army," Jiro replied. "I hope to draw the majority of the Jade Regent's forces away from the city so that you can strike the final blow against the usurper."


Since they could not travel via magical means while transporting the Amatatsu Seal, which Jiro assured them they would need in Minkai, the companions ventured overland on horseback, a journey that took the better part of a month to complete. During that time, Boris spent increasingly more time by himself, telling the others that it was taking more of his time to learn the secrets of the Shinobi Fuhonsen so that he might use it more effectively against the forces of the Jade Regent. In reality, the goblin was caring less and less each day about the companionship of the others. The only friend he needed was the coin, and secretly, he knew that the others coveted it. They wanted it for themselves, and he would see them all dead before he would allow such a thing.


A long line of peasants, pilgrim monks, and arriving merchants extended from the guarded gates of Kasai, the capital city of Minkai. Above the din of the noisy crowd, guards questioned, and in some cases aggressively interrogated, each visitor before allowing him or her into the city. Some had their goods confiscated, and were led away in tears under the harsh glare of suspicious eyes. Others seemingly satisfied their examiners with honeyed words or surreptitious bribes as they passed inside.

It had been agreed ahead of time that some of the companions would attempt to enter the city by conventional means, while the others would try a more discreet route. Akiro had outfitted himself as a visiting scholar seeking to access the archives of the Imperial Jade Eye Academy, while Miyaro, in her human form, posed as his wife. The guards took a special interest in questioning her, as they did with all of the other females who passed through the gate, inquiring as to where she was born, how old she was, where she was from, who her parents were, and what her business was in the city. A full coin purse offered by Akiro cut the interrogation short, and they were allowed to pass. Behind them, Sandru presented himself as a caravan master from Avistan who lost his train on the Crown of the World, and was seeking to rebuild it. Lucian acted as his guard and man-servant. Sandru also offered a bribe, and their questioning was perfunctory. Once safely within the city walls, the four of them split up, agreeing to meet later at the address of Asachi Isao. As for the other companions...


Midnight. Aided by magic, Ameiko, accompanied by Haroldo and Boris, flew invisibly over the outer walls of the city. They had just cleared the barrier when an unseen voice shouted from somewhere above them.
"Halt! You are all under arrest for trespassing!"
A moment later, Haroldo was struck across the back, and a figure materialized, hovering in the air behind him. It was a guard commander, a katana gripped in both of his hands. Instinctively, the blood-rager whirled, his great sword slashing viciously across the other man's midsection. As soon as he attacked, Haroldo's invisibility spell dissipated, and he was fully revealed and exposed. Immediately, three more of the Typhoon Guard appeared around him, hacking and stabbing at him viciously. He swung his sword in a mighty arc, cleaving across all three of them. They fell back momentarily, but then gathered themselves and rushed him again.

Boris watched the conflict from the shadows of a nearby rooftop, where he'd flown as soon as the attack had come. Many thoughts went through his mind as he considered his next course of action. For a moment, he seriously considered simply leaving the blood-rager to his fate, but something, some flicker of emotion, held him back. Instead, he flew from his hiding place to Haroldo's side, grabbed the big man's arm with one hand and clutched the coin around his neck in the other. Instantly, they both vanished in a swirl of shadows.

Ameiko watched the events unfold as well. She had just been preparing to rush to Haroldo's aid when he'd suddenly disappeared. She could only assume that Boris had somehow managed to get both of them to safety. She flew quickly down to street level before the guards could spot her, and then blended into the shadows there.


Some time later, all of the companions found themselves at a large home in one of the wealthier districts of the city, where they were greeted by a frail, almost ancient-looking man.
"Come in! Come in!" he said, ushering them quickly inside, then looking around to make sure they were not followed before closing the door behind them.
"My Empress," he bowed low before Ameiko. "I am Asachi Isao, and I am humbled to have you in my home."
"We are grateful for your assistance," Ameiko smiled at the old man. "Jiro spoke very highly of you."
"I knew your great grandfather," Isao replied. "In fact, when he and his family were forced to flee Minkai, he left much of his wealth to me, which in turn allowed me to elevate my own family in status. In all the years since, I have seen myself as the caretaker of those funds, holding them in trust for the day when the true Amatatsu heir would return. All that I have is at your disposal."
"Thank you," Ameiko bowed to him. "For the moment, what we need most from you is information."

Isao had his servants procure food and refreshments for his guests, as well as bandages and salves for their wounds. Once he was assured of their comfort, he sat with them in a large study.
"There is much that I must tell you of the Jade Regent and the current situation in Kasai," he began. "First, the man who currently holds that title is named Soto Takahiro. He was a lifelong friend and former bodyguard of Emperor Higashiyama Shigure. They grew up together as children. Since taking the throne, however, he has changed. His hand falls heavily upon Minkai. His regency is not at all what the people expected."
"How did he come to claim the throne?" Ameiko asked.
"Emperor Shigure must have granted him the right of regency," Isao replied. "The Jade Throne would accept no other. Without the emperor's blessing, Takahiro would have no mandate to rule, but because the throne accepts him, so too do the people. For now."
"But if things are so bad," Ameiko asked, "why don't the people rise up against him?"
"They have much greater problems worrying them," Isao sighed. "I suspect the Jade Regent's chief magistrate, Anamurumon, has devised many of these to keep the people occupied and ensure their complacency."
"What sort of problems?" Ameiko inquired.
"Starvation, for one," Isao said. "The Typhoon Guard collect a heavy rice tax, taking food from farmers and storing it in a large granary in the city. The soldiers gorge themselves on what others have labored to produce, leaving too little to feed the people. They claim this keeps the army well fed and ready to defend Minkai, but it also weakens those who might take up arms against him."
"The Jade Regent also holds many of our daughters captive . His guards accost women at the city gates and in the market places. Surely you've seen them?"
Ameiko nodded.
"That's because the Regent's seer," Isao continued, "an oracle and diviner named Renshii Meida, foresaw your coming. They know that a daughter of the Amatatsu family holds the last of the Imperial Seals. That is why they search for you in the city and across Minkai, to deny you your birthright, for it would end the Jade Regent's reign. My own daughter, Harumi, is held somewhere in the palace, along with daughters from many other prominent families. Officially, they are 'wards' of the Jade Regent, but they no doubt face nightly interrogations at the hands of their captors."
"Lastly, the people are afraid. The Jade Regent's inquisitors are everywhere. They know our thoughts when we conspire against him, and they drag off any who might stir rebellion, torturing them for information before staging public executions in the marketplace. He'd have us believe that you are an imposter, that the Amatatsu family died out long ago. But I know the Amatatsus. I know the truth. Your return is the will of the gods. Your destiny is to make things right again."
"You honor me," Ameiko smiled. "Tell me, where is the Jade Regent now?"
"Since learning of your arrival in Minkai," Isao said, "he's hidden himself in the Imperial Palace, under the protection of his Typhoon Guard, and surrounded by his closest, most trusted allies: Anamurumon; Renshii Meida; and his chief assassin, knows as the Raven Prince. For now, he issues all of his edicts through Anamurumon."
"Thank you for all of this," Ameiko bowed again. "Now we must decide how to proceed from here."
"There is one more thing you should know," Isao said slowly. "You know Habesuta Hatsue?"
"Yes...?" Ameiko narrowed her eyes.
"She arrived her a few days before you," Isao said. "She thought to secretly rally the citizens into opposing the Jade Regent, but her efforts did not go unnoticed. She was captured by the Typhoon Guard. Now, they plan to publicly execute her tomorrow morning."


The following morning, Isao provided the companions with documents allowing them to move freely about the city. Still, Ameiko took the precaution of disguising herself as a male to the best of her ability, while Boris concealed his features beneath beggar's rags. Then the group made their way to the Imperial Market just outside the Imperial Palace, where a large crowd had already gathered to witness the execution.

Hatsue stood upon the gallows, her hands bound behind her, while four Typhoon Guard surrounded her. A commander stood at the front of the platform and unfurled a parchment. He read aloud a list of charges against the accused, which included treason, espionage and conspiracy to foment rebellion. He also derided the existence of a supposed Amatatsu heir, and implored the crowd to turn in any such imposter.

TheTyphoon commander then stepped down from the platform and strolled through the crowd, his eyes roaming over those assembled. Boris watched the man carefully, studying him. Though he appeared nonchalant, Boris saw his eyes settle briefly on Miyaro, Sandru, Ameiko and himself. Then the commander turned and gave a subtle gesture to the guards on the gallows. Two of them stepped down into the crowd. Boris knew that it was time to move. He pulled a small pouch from his pocket and sifted out a handful of dust. Casually, he tossed it into the air, and as it settled over him, he disappeared. Quickly, he darted through the press of people and climbed nimbly up onto the platform. He stepped up behind Hatsue, and whispered.
"It Boris," he said. "Here to rescue you."
Hatsue grinned.
"I dreamed you'd come," she whispered back.
He touched her hand, then touched the coin, and shadows gathered around them.

"Stop them!" the Typhoon commander screamed when he saw Hatsue disappear.
He pointed towards the other companions, and the guards began pushing through the panicked crowd towards them. Akiro reached out for Miyaro's hand and spoke the words to a spell. They vanished in a nimbus of fire. Nearby, Ameiko twisted a ring on her hand and turned invisible. Then she simply melted into the crowd.



Hatsue looked around, incredulous. She still stood upon the gallows with Boris, but her surroundings had been drained of color and texture, and the people she saw moving around her looked like insubstantial shades.
"Boris know you are thankful for being rescued," the goblin said,"and he think you need to show respect for this act of kindness."
The sword mistress stared down at him, mouth agape. What was he talking about? "Boris has spent many resources getting you to safety," the goblin continued, counting off on his stubby little fingers. "A potion of fly, and a pouch of disappearing dust, and Boris' time and energy spent."
Looking pointedly at their shadowy surroundings, his eyes narrowed slyly.
"It would be a shame to leave you here if you could not pay Boris back for all his 'kindness.' Boris will expect these items to be returned along with 2,000 gold coins within a week. Boris have the ninja clans on his side, so do not try to rat on him and tell of deal. Boris will always have people watching you. What you say? Return Boris' kindness or stay in this beautiful place where you will never have to worry about suntan?"
Hatsue started to laugh, thinking this some joke the silly goblin was playing, but then she saw the look in his eyes and knew that he was deadly serious. He would not hesitate to strand her here. Slowly, she nodded.
"Good," Boris smiled without humor. "Now Boris take you home."


The Imperial Shrine

16 Desnus, 4716 - 17 Desnus, 4716

It was near dusk by the time the Scions regrouped at the home of Asachi Isao.
"When I heard about the disruption of the execution, I was worried about you, Empress," he bowed low before Ameiko.
She smiled at him and patted his hand.
"I am safe so long as I have my friends close by," she said. "Hatsue is now safely back with Jiro."
"I am happy to hear it," Isao returned her smile. "What will you do now?"
"I've been thinking about that," Ameiko turned towards the others. "You mentioned something about the Typhoon Guard hoarding food from the people."
"Yes," Isao nodded emphatically. "They keep all of the stolen rice in the city's main granary."
"If we were to...liberate it...," Ameiko asked, "how would we get it back to those in need?"
Isao thought for a moment, then snapped his fingers.
"Once the granary is safe," he said, "I can have people waiting with carts to load the rice and then see that it is distributed discreetly. I would, however, recommend that such an endeavor take place under cover of darkness."
"I agree," Ameiko nodded, "which is why I think we should go tonight."


Midnight found the companions gathered in the mouth of a darkened alley across the street from the massive, warehouse-like granary. No guards were visible anywhere, which itself was cause for concern. They made their way quickly to the shadows of the main doors and paused. Lucian stepped forward, and morphed into his tree-like form. He pressed one gnarled hand against the wooden doors and bowed his head, his affinity with the wood allowing him to peer through them as if they were glass.
"No one," he said at length. "Just lots of containers of rice, various art objects, and some large statues of tigers."

Boris made quick work of the large padlock on the doors, and the group slipped stealthily inside the building. The crates, barrels and pallets were piled so high, that they turned the floor of the warehouse into a virtual maze. The companions began winding their way cautiously through, looking for any signs of security.
"What that?" Boris said after they'd reached the middle of the granary.
"What?" Haroldo asked. " I don't hear any...,"
At that moment, a crate toppled from a tall stack behind them and crashed to the floor, spilling rice in all directions. There, crouched atop the stack was what appeared to be a large tiger carved entirely from marble, its body and face covered in decorative carvings and etchings. It moved like a feline, however, and leaped at the Scions, paws spread wide. Sandru dodged nimbly to one side as it landed, back-swinging with his blade as he whirled. He struck the creature across the face, shearing off half of its jaw. As it turned to snap at him with what was left of its teeth, he slashed twice more with blinding speed, cutting away more of its marble hide. Though she wasn't sure exactly how much good it would do, Miyaro snapped off a shot from her bow. The arrow, much to her surprise, sank into the thing's eye socket and it abruptly stopped moving altogether.

"Watch out!" Boris cried as three more of the great marble cats came barreling through containers on all sides.
The little goblin rolled deftly underneath one as it charged, raising one sword to scour a deep gash down its belly as it passed over him. Haroldo met another head on, his greatsword cleaving pieces off of it as it reared up on its back feet. Lucian put an arrow through the back of its neck, and it shattered into fragments. The third one bore down on Sandru, but the nimble caravan master danced to one side and scythed his blade in a flamboyant back swing, taking off one of the golem's feet. Haroldo and Ameiko joined their friend in fending off the thing, and the three of them brought it down in short order. Behind them, Boris rolled back to his feet and then leaped onto the back of the last of the tiger guardians. He held on like a bull rider, stabbing his twin swords into its stoney hide repeatedly until it finally stopped moving.

The Scions paused for a moment to catch their breath, listening to see if the noise of their battle had attracted the attention of anyone else. The warehouse remained silent. After they had searched every corner and discovered no other guards, Ameiko stepped to the exterior doors and whistled a soft bird call. It was answered a moment later by a similar call, and then men started moving out of the alleys pulling carts behind them. They made quick work of loading all of the grain and rice before disappearing back into the shadows of the night. Ameiko smiled. Her people would not go hungry again.


Isao was relieved and overjoyed at their success, and assured Ameiko that the people would know who exactly it was that had delivered them.
"What's next?" she asked the old man
"I think it is time for you to seek the blessings of the emperors of the past," he said gravely. "Everything else that you do will mean nothing if you do not do this. There is an island in the harbor known as the Imperial Shrine. Only those if imperial blood, or their sworn guardians, may set foot on the island where they can commune with their ancestors. Some even say that Emperor Shigure fled there. If so, you must convince him to return, or ask his blessing for your ascension. Only then can you claim the Jade Throne."
"So, we could theoretically just fly over to this island?" Sandru asked.
Isao shook his head.
"You must not," he said. "The Imperial Shrine is warded by ancient magics that make it impossible to find unless you observe the proper ceremonies and travel there by boat. You must first pass through five torii gates that surround the island before its true nature will be revealed. I know a man who will take you there."


The boat was called the Weeping Willow, and it was captained by an ancient lobsterman named Kadei Ejigoro. He was expecting his passengers, and cast off as soon as they were all aboard. The island they were bound for was less than a mile off shore, and looked remarkably unremarkable. It was heavily wooded, and certainly showed no signs of housing a royal cemetery. Positioned around the island were five torrii gates, their twin vermilion posts rising from the shallow water about twenty feet apart and fifteen high, joined together by an upper lintel painted black. One after the other, Kadei maneuvered his vessel through them. Each time he did so, Ameiko felt the Amatatsu Seal pulse where she kept it in her hip pouch. As they passed through the fifth gate, the island underwent a remarkable transformation before the eyes of the Scions. It was now covered by lush gardens, ornate mausoleums and shrines, as well as scores upon scores of headstones. A single stone dock jutted into the water from the nearby shore, and a rectangular wooden building stood just beyond it.

"I will await your return here," the old man said as he moored his boat to the pilings.
"We thank you," Ameiko bowed low. "Your loyalty and service will not be forgotten."
The Scions disembarked and made their way to a pair of double doors set into the front of the building. They were unlocked and gave onto a wide room. Two small shrines sat on either side of another set of double doors on the opposite side, and artistic tapestries of the celestial realm adorned the rest of the walls.
"These are shrines to Pharasma, and to Tsukiyo, the Tian god of spirits and the moon," Akiro explained.
They passed through the second set of doors and found themselves in a short hallway. On either side were four small sitting rooms, furnished with low wooden tables, seating cushions and sleeping pallets, all resting upon tatami mats covering the floors. A third set of double doors stood at the end of the hall, and beyond that was another, larger shrine. A huge statue of a golden-scaled dragon dominated the far wall, towering almost to the high ceiling above. Smaller shrines sat on opposite walls, and in the corners flanking the entrance, two large braziers scented the air with the tang of sandalwood incense. A robed and hooded figure knelt before the dragon. As they entered the room, Akiro bowed before the statue.
"My patron, Shizuru, goddess of ancestors, honor and the sun," he murmured. "She is also the patron of Minkai, and creator of the Imperial Seals."
Ameiko bowed briefly as well before turning her attention to the kneeling figure.
"Greetings," she called out. "We are sorry to intrude, but we are in need of assistance."
The figure half-turned towards them, and a woman's face peered out of the deep recesses of the cowl.
"You are welcome here," she said in a husky voice. "I am Kiyomi, caretaker of the Imperial Shrine. How can I be of service?"
She rose to her feet and turned fully towards them.
"We have come here to commune with the Imperial ancestors," Ameiko explained.
"Then it is the Imperial Mausoleum on the Shrine of Heavenly Sovereigns that you seek," Kiyomi smiled. "I would be most honored to show you the way."


They followed Kiyomi back out of the temple and onto a paved path that led through the vast cemetery. Head stones spread out in all directions.
"While the former emperors of Minkai are laid to rest in the Shrine of the Heavenly Sovereigns," the monk explained, "the cremated remains of their trusted guardians and advisors, as well as the lesser scions of the imperial lines, are interred here."
"Are any of the Amatatsu line nearby?" Ameiko asked.
"Of course!" Kiyomi exclaimed. "Come. I will show you."

Kiyomi turned down a small side path which ended abruptly before a cluster of obelisk-shaped tombstones.
"Many years ago," she said, "two samurai named Akio and Yua fell in love while serving Empress Amatatsu Maemi. Rumor has it that another among their order grew jealous of their relationship and, wanting Yua for himself, arranged Akio's death. When the murderer tried to woo Yua, she slew him him in turn. Taking pity on her, the empress had Akio buried in a place of honor here on the Imperial Shrine. One day soon after, when Yua came here to grieve, she committed ritual suicide with her own sword."
"That stupid," Boris frowned. "Why she no take new mate? Or more? That how goblins do."
Ameiko gave him a dirty look.
"I think it's very romantic," she said.
Boris shrugged and muttered under his breath, "Boris still say female stupid. Why no...?"
His voice trailed off as a sudden rush of sadness, loneliness and regret washed over him. Without a sound, his eyes blank, he abruptly drew one of his wakizashis from its sheath, and stabbed it through his own belly.
"Boris!!" Ameiko screamed as the goblin dropped to his knees, and then collapsed into a widening pool of his own blood.
"Something's...wrong...," Miyaro said, her voice quavering. "I feel...such grief...,"
"Yes...," Sandru echoed, one hand dropping to the hilt of his own blade. "So...lonely...,"
"It's a haunt!" Haroldo shouted. "Like the ones we encountered in the Forest of Spirits! We have to get away from here! Now!"
Ameiko bent down to pick up the limp form of Boris and began running back down the path. Haroldo seized Sandru's arm and led him away, while Lucian ushered Miyaro. When they reached the main path again, they paused.
"I' sorry!" Kiyomi explained. "I've never felt anything like that before near those graves! It must have been the proximity of your royal blood."
Ameiko nodded. "Perhaps. I think it's best if we reach our destination as quickly as possible."
So shaken was she but what had transpired, that it never even occurred to her that she had not told Kiyomi of her ancestry.


A soft wind blew through the gathered leaves covering an intersection of paths where Kiyomi paused again.
"Something is not right," she said, looking around anxiously. "I have never felt this amount of...unrest in the shrine."
Ameiko, still cradling Boris's lifeless form glanced in all directions.
"Which way?" she asked.
Kiyomi raised on hand to point, but as she did so, the wind suddenly died, and silence fell like a shroud. A cloud fell across the sun, draping the intersection in shadow.
"Beware!" Kiyomi cried out.
All around them, dark shapes rose from several of the graves. They appeared as nobles clad in ancient garb, but their bodies were translucent, and their eyes glowed a hellish crimson.

Miyaro was first to shake off the initial horror of seeing the dead crawling from their resting places. She reached for several arrows in her quiver that she had specially prepared for just such an eventuality. They had been dusted with ghost salt, an alchemical substance that would allow them to affect the dead as they would the living. As one of the shadows advanced, she loosed a volley of arrows into it, causing it to vanish, shrieking, back to the afterlife. Akiro hurled a fireball at a knot of four before they could close to his companions. Though the magical flames did not have their full effect on the incorporeal creatures, they still writhed in pain from the blast. Lucian had also brought along several ghost-salted arrows, and in short order, he took down two of the shades caught in Akiro's explosion. Then the shadows were among them, reaching with their clawed fingers, and whomever they touched felt the cold of the grave seep into their bones, sapping the very life force from them. The weapons of Harodlo and Sandru were limited against them, but far from ineffective. It was only a matter of time before two more of the shadows were destroyed. Akiro encased the last one in a resilient sphere of force that even its insubstantial form could not pass through.
"That won't last long," he said. "Let's keep moving."


A strange dust hung in the air among the gravestones in the part of the cemetery where the Scions next found themselves, swirling in small eddies amid the light. Suddenly, the headstones and ground beneath them began to shake violently as something rose from the midst of them. A massive figure, composed seemingly of gravestones, earth, and burial urns soon stood towering above the companions.
"A gravebound guardian!" Kiyomi screamed.
Lucian and Miyaro let fly with an impressive barrage of arrows, not knowing if they would have any effect on such a composite creature. To their immense relief, their efforts were not in vain. The golem reeled and stumbled to one knee beneath the bombardment. Sandru rushed forward, his blade blurring as he slashed into the behemoth. With a groan of despair, it collapsed back into its individual components.

"We need to stop," Ameiko said decisively as she stooped and laid Boris on the ground.
The others gathered around her, keeping watch in all directions for new threats. Ameiko withdrew the Amatatsu Seal from her pouch and set it upon Boris's chest, where it began to glow warmly. After a few moments, the horrible, gaping wound in his belly closed, and a moment later, he drew a deep, gasping breath as he opened his eyes.
"What?" he coughed, looking around wide-eyed in fear. "Where Boris? He have...bad dream."
"You're safe," Ameiko soothed, "but we can't tarry. Can you walk?"
Boris nodded, climbing shakily to his feet.
"Boris run if it mean leaving dead place."


Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Kiyomi led the Scions out of the cemetery. Ahead, past an archway inscribed with Minkaian characters, a bridge of luminescent light stretched across the silver waters of a moat. The bridge led from the graveyard to a long, tombstone-shaped island. A large torii gate stood at the opposite end of the bridge, opening into a courtyard surrounded by several stone structures that peeked above the trees.
"Only those close to death my seek the spirits of the ancestors," Miyaro translated as she read the inscription.
"It is not a literal interpretation," Kiyomi explained. "It is more symbolic, meaning that to commune with the dead, one's soul must be at peace. Here, I must leave you. I am not of royal blood, so I am forbidden from crossing the bridge."
"I understand," Ameiko bowed to the caretaker. "Thank you for your assistance."
"I am sorry for our misfortunes along the way," Kiyomi returned the bow, "but perhaps now you will be able to set things to right."

As the companions started towards the bridge, Kiyomi turned back in the direction of the cemetery. She paused some distance away, looking back as the others passed beneath the archway. No sooner had Haroldo, who'd been leading the way, set foot upon the bridge, than a concussive blast of dark energy exploded out from the arch, bowling all of the Scions off their feet.
"Fools!" Kiyomi cackled from a safe distance. "Did you really think it would be so easy? My master would never allow you to leave this place alive!"
She drew back her hood, and from her shoulders sprouted a grotesquely long neck that coiled about like a snake, and razor-sharp teeth filled her gaping maw. She thrust one hand out towards them, spitting arcane words like a curse. As the spell washed over the companions, Boris began babbling incoherently like a simpleton, while Miyaro stared about, blinking in uncomprehending confusion.

"Why you traitorous trull!" Sandru snarled, climbing to his feet and charging Kiyomi.
She tried to get away, but he was too fast, and slashed her across the back as she retreated. She shrieked, and spun back towards him, preparing to strike with her vicious fangs, but suddenly, shimmering bars of pure force sprang up around her, encasing her in a glowing cage.
"That should hold her," Akiro said, climbing unsteadily to his feet. "At least until the two of you can deal with her."
He gestured towards Haroldo and Sandru, and both of them promptly vanished, only to reappear a moment later inside the cage with Kiyomi. She shrieked in panic and began casting another spell, but Haroldo drove the point of his sword into her belly, ripping the words from her lips. He struck again, nearly severing Kiyomi's sinuous neck, and as she gurgled on her own bilious blood, Sandru finished the job.

Boris, still not entirely recovered from his recent suicide, moaned in agony on the ground. Lucian rushed to his side to lend what aid he could, but as he did so, a volley of arrows whizzed past his head, narrowly missing him. He turned and saw Miyaro, no recognition in her eyes, pulling her bow string back again for another salvo. The oracle brought up his own bow and returned fire, using blunt-tipped arrows from his quiver. Each shot was well-placed and true, and the kitsune reeled and fell, unconscious.


The Well of Demons

18 Desnus, 4716 - The Well of Demons

Lucian finally managed to get Boris back on his feet, and then turned his attention to Miyaro. She was not seriously wounded, but after he'd tended to her wounds she was still somewhat addled and dazed once she'd regained consciousness.
"Sorry about that," the oracle explained. "Turns out Kiyomi was some sort of monstrous servant of the oni. She cast a confusion charm on you. I had to make sure you didn't hurt anyone."
"I...thank you," the kitsune said sheepishly as he helped her to her feet.
"No need," Lucian smiled. "Good thing you're not so great a shot."
Miyaro looked momentarily affronted, but when she saw the grin on the oracle's face, she returned it.
"When we are done here," she said slyly, "we'll shall have a true bowman's contest."
"Challenge accepted," Lucian laughed, clapping her on the shoulder.

On the far side of the light bridge was a tombstone-shaped islet, the Shrine of Heavenly Sovereigns. It was much more expansive than the narrow confines of the neighboring Mikado Cemetery, dotted by quiet groves and peaceful gardens, as well as a small pond surrounded by several shrines and tombs. Directly in front of the scions was a covered stage, raised a few feet off the ground, its roof held up by four cedar columns. Low-lying hedges and flowering shrubs decorated its base with several trails connecting it to the structures and gardens on either side. Past that was the koi pond, a small footpath following a zigzag pattern along wooden planks to a small gazebo on the far side. As the companions passed over it, they noticed dozens of orange and gold fish floating lifeless on the surface, some half-covered by lily pads, water grass and cattails.
"This does not bode well," Ameiko remarked. "This whole place lies uneasy. There is...wrongness to it."
Beyond the pond was a sandy garden, two cherry trees and the life-sized jade likeness of a grieving maiden occupying its center. Alternating rocks of pink and white granite marked its boundaries, where a smooth path circled to a stone structure flanked by twin golden statues of kirin...the Imperial Mausoleum.

Behind the immense double doors of the mausoleum lay five chambers, four at each point of the compass and one smaller square chamber joining them. Each chamber held a small shrine decorated with Minkai heraldry, bowls of incense, and dried flowers, and contained carefully stacked urns of gold, silver and bronze. No sooner had the companions entered the central chamber than Ameiko felt a presence.
"Someone...or us," she warned.
Just as the words left her lips a figure materialized, floating in the air above them. It was dressed in royal robes, which fluttered around it even though there was no breeze. Its form was transparent and ethereal, and its head floated slightly above the stump of its neck.
"You stand before Emperor Higashiyama Shigure!" the ghost bellowed. "I am the rightful emperor of Minkai! Who are you? Why do you have an Imperial Seal in your possession? What are you doing here!?"
He spoke in Tian, and it was Ameiko who answered him in kind, bowing low before him.
"Your Majesty," she said, keeping her eyes averted. "I am Ameiko, last scion of House Amatatsu. My companions and I have come here to seek the blessings of the emperors who have gone before so that I might reclaim the Jade Throne from the usurper who calls himself the Jade Regent."
"Hah!" Shigure laughed. "Is that what the traitorous murderer is calling himself now?"
"You knew him?" Ameiko asked, confusion on her face.
"He was once like a brother to me," the ghost said forlornly. "My childhood friend and bodyguard, Soto Takahiro. He, along with my closest advisor, Renshii Meida, told me that I would be safe if I came here, away from the assassins who killed so many of my family. But they lied! The only threat to my life came from their honeyed words!"
"Then will you give me your blessing so that I might avenge your death?" Ameiko asked.
"I will give my blessing to no one while my body lies disgraced and dishonored!" Shigure screamed. "I have only curses now for those who survive me! I cannot rest! I cannot find peace! And I will not give peace to anyone else while I am denied it!"
"Where can we find your body?" Ameiko asked placatingly. "Tell us so that we may honor you."
"The traitors cast it into the Well of Demons," Shigure wailed, "a great chasm in the hills of this island! The holy waters of Shizuru pour down into the well to drown the sins of my wicked predecessors. But after the treachery and dishonor enacted here upon a living emperor of Minkai, not even the Empress of Heaven can contain their evil, which extends farther beyond the well with each passing day. Soon the spirits of the evil emperors will broaden their reach into Kasai and beyond, into my stolen empire. And I may as well join them if it means I can face my murderer again. But I fear that outcome, for I know I'll lose myself to it, becoming as much a monster as the ones who took my life."
"That will not happen," Ameiko vowed. "If we retrieve your remains, will you give us your blessing?"
"Yes," Shigure sighed. "If you recover my remains from the Well of Demons and properly inter them by cremating them and placing the ashes in one of the urns here, I will grant you the blessing of the Higashiyama family. But my blessing alone will not be enough. You must obtain blessings from the ancestors of all five of the imperial families."
"How can we receive those?" Ameiko asked.
"In normal times, you could commune with the spirits here, in the Imperial Mausoleum," Shigure explained, "but Takahiro's crime has severed the connection and driven most of the goodly spirits away. You will have the Higashiyama blessing if you recover my murdered remains. It's been a long time since an Amatatsu held the throne, but the tomb of Empress Amatatsu Onoko lies just west of here in one of the standing tombs...perhaps you can commune with her or one of your other ancestors there to request their assent. But you must still gain the blessings of the Shojinawa, Sugimatu and Teikoku families, and I fear your only choice is to seek them inside the Well of Demons. Those within represent the most evil and depraved of Minkai's emperors, but the Jade Throne will still honor their blessings, provided you can bargain for them. Otherwise, you must set things right by recovering my body and destroying those inside the Well. Once the sanctity of the Imperial Shrine is restored, you can properly commune with the ancestors to receive their blessings."
Ameiko nodded her understanding.
"One final question, your Highness," she asked. "How did the Jade Regent ascend to the Jade Throne?"
Shigure's eyes flashed with rage, and the urns upon the stone shelves began to tremble.
"ENOUGH!!" he howled, malevolence flowing off of him in waves.

Boris's face blanched and he turned and fled as fast as his small legs could carry him out of the mausoleum.
"Well that sure went south quickly!" Sandru shouted as he leaped towards the rampaging ghost.
He spun and slashed in rapid succession, and though he felt no resistance as his sword passed through the spirit's incorporeal form, he could see on Shigure's face that he felt pain.
"Stand clear!" Akiro shouted.
Sandru quickly leaped aside, and the wizard unleashed a barrage of force missiles that thundered when they struck the shade. Shigure reeled from the impact, then stretched his mouth wide and voiced an inhuman, bone-chilling moan. This time it was Lucian whose nerve faltered. The oracle dropped his bow and ran screaming in panic from the building. Miyaro hissed in anger and frustration as her fingers danced across her bowstring, firing arrow after arrow. Sandru darted back in and continued his assault, distracting Shigure. Finally, with another salvo from Akiro, the ghost wailed one last time and vanished.
"What are we going to do now?" Ameiko snapped in frustration. "How are we going to get his blessing?"
"Do not worry, my Empress," Akiro reassured her. "Spirits such as the Emperor's are tied to a location until certain conditions are met. In this case, I suspect it is the recovery and interment of his body. Until then, he will manifest again in a day's time. Perhaps by then he will be more reasonable."


They found Boris and Lucian standing shame-faced among the tombs on the far side of the koi pond. Miyaro handed Lucian his dropped bow, which he accepted with downcast eyes. Sandru likewise returned Boris's wakizashis.
"Boris thank you," the goblin muttered.
"Look there," Ameiko broke the tension, pointing towards one of the standing tombs. "Was that like that before when we passed through here?"
The others followed her gaze to a low mausoleum nearby. It's door stood open.
"No," Sandru said tensely. "It wasn't. We'd best be on our guard."

Cautiously, the scions approached the tomb. Inside, the ceiling only reached eight feet high. Its anteroom was dry and dusty, while an ornate bronze door on far side also stood open, revealing an adjoining sepulcher. Standing in that door was a marble-skinned Tian-Min woman with white feathered wings, wearing a beautiful cloth-of-gold kimono and carrying a traditional Minkai conch shell horn.
"I see you met Emperor Shigure," she said, smiling.
"Who are you?" Ameiko demanded.
An array of swords, bows and casting hands came up in threatening gestures, all aimed at the newcomer.
"I am Empress Amatatsu Onoko," the woman said regally, "your ancestor."
Ameiko's eyes grew wide and her mouth gaped.
"Yes," Onoko nodded. "My ashes lay within this tomb, but I have transcended and now I serve Shizuru as one of Her archons."
Akiro gasped and immediately prostrated himself before her.
"Rise," she said smiling. "We are all here for the same see the Jade Throne returned to a rightful scion."
As Akiro climbed to his feet, Ameiko approached her ancestor.
"Please, can you help us?" she asked.
"Unfortunately I cannot intervene directly," Onoko sighed. "I can assist you most by providing you with information. You have spoken with Shigure, so you know about his betrayal by his bodyguard and advisor. Unfortunately, he who would become the Jade Regent convinced Shigure to invest him with the regency before slaying his lord. When Shizuru first created the Imperial Seals, she also created a conduit to the Great Beyond, allowing those in possession of a Seal to make contact with the ancestral spirits of those laid to rest on this island who were once ordained by the seals as well. This allowed Minkai's former emperors to guide their ancestors with lifetimes of knowledge and wisdom, even beyond death. With Shigure's death, and the treachery of the Jade Regent, the island has been left in disarray. Many of its guardians have activated and the wards that once protected the shrine against the influence of Minkai's evil emperors have failed. These malevolent spirits now hunger to extend their reach beyond the island's shores."
"Are these the spirits trapped within the Well of Demons?" Ameiko asked.
Onoko nodded. "When Shizuru opened the conduit, she could not limit the access to just the celestial realms. Instead, anyone interred in the Imperial Shrine would have the means to connect with the island, including those who had passed on to Abaddon, the Abyss, Hell or beyond. To minimize the influence these creatures might exert over sitting emperors, she created a massive chasm that opened into natural caverns beneath the island's northern reaches, which soon became known as the Well of Demons, and she used the sacred waters of the Eternal Spring to contain the spirits of those evil emperors and cleanse their sins from the island. It was into that maelstrom of iniquity that the Jade Regent and Renshii Meida cast Shigure's body. It is there that you must journey to begin to set things right."
"We understand," Ameiko bowed, "and we thank you. If I may ask, may we receive the blessing of House Amatatsu from you?"
Onoko smiled. "It would be my honor, but I am forbidden from doing so until the empress Amatatsu Maemi is defeated. You will find her in the Well. I shall remain here and await you're return. I will offer you what assistance I may."


The Scions left the islet of the Shrine of Heavenly Sovereigns, crossing the light bridge back to the Imperial Shrine. They followed a path around a small body of water that Akiro identified as the Lake of Tears. Beyond that, a stream from the lake passed through high hills that stood above a gaping chasm in the ground. A narrow muddy path descended into the abyss, winding in a spiral as it passed multiple times under a cascading waterfall formed by the stream rushing down the cliffs.

"The Well of Demons, I presume," Sandru said sourly as they stood peering over the edge.
"Boris not feel so good," the little goblin muttered as he leaned dangerously out over the ravine."
"Boris, be careful!" Ameiko shouted as she reached for him.
As she turned, however, she saw Haroldo swaying and tottering as well.
"What's happening?" Sandru shouted.
"On my word," Akiro snapped, "everybody jump!"
Haroldo and Boris did not wait for his word. They simply kept leaning forward until they toppled over the edge. Sandru cursed and leaped after them, quickly followed by Ameiko, Lucian and Miiyaro. Akiro came last, but as he jumped, he spoke the words to a spell, and in an instant all of the companions ceased their lethal plummet and began to drift like feathers down and down into the darkness.

Eventually, after more than a hundred feet, the roaring waterfall emptied into a massive cavern, echoing off the stone walls. The water flooded the cave before falling into a second chasm on the far side of the chamber. Several passageways exited the cavern, leading to higher ground. As the scions drifted towards the pool, Boris pointed a finger below them.
"Something moving in water!" he cried
No sooner had he spoken than the air in the cavern became filled with noxious green and yellow clouds of vapor that simultaneously burned the skin of the scions trapped within them and made their stomachs heave and convulse violently. Boris immediately gripped the coin around his neck and willed himself out of the trap. A moment later he was standing on a sandy beach inside one of the side passages looking out over the water-filled cave.

When Miyaro struck the water, she inhaled a great gasp of the nauseating gas and immediately began flailing in panic. Her head ducked under water, and she swallowed a large mouthful before she'd had a chance to draw another breath. As she thrashed and kicked beneath the surface, she saw that she was not alone in the pool. Something that resembled a mound of animate ooze that had about its shifting countenance the hideous shape of a half-melted man, swam quickly towards her. Before she could react, it slammed two club-like arms into her, and then grabbed her in crushing bear-hug. She felt what little air she had left being squeezed from her lungs. Just as her vision started going dark and she felt consciousness leaving her, she found herself standing on solid ground. Better yet, she could breathe again! She opened her eyes and saw that she was surrounded by her companions, all save Boris. They were gathered just inside a large tunnel that opened onto the main cavern.
"You looked like you were in trouble," Akiro said, smiling tightly. "And I was getting sick of breathing rotten eggs, so I took the liberty of whisking us all to safety."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Sandru said.

More stinking, acidic clouds abruptly appeared around the scions, just as the creature that had attacked Miyaro, or else one just like it, materialized in the tunnel behind them. Sandru and Haroldo turned and rushed the thing, while Lucian tried to maneuver past it. It slammed the oracle broadside with one arm before the caravan master and the blood-rager managed to drive it away with a flurry of slashes from their blades.
"Look out!" Lucian shouted.
A second creature had appeared out of the mist and was charging at Haroldo's back. The oracle managed to put an arrow into it as it came, but it didn't slow the thing in the slightest. It bowled into the blood-rager, forcing him away from Sandru and its companion. Miyaro, seeing that Sandru was on his own against one of the fiends, turned her bow on the monster. It shrieked in rage and pain and ran towards her. She brought her bow up in a vain attempt to ward it off, but its mistake was in turning its back on the caravan master. Sandru leaped after it, hewing at it relentlessly while Miyaro backed away to a safe distance and continued to pepper it with arrows. Finally, the beast swayed and fell, collapsing into a rancid pile of goo.


On the far side of the cavern, Boris could hear the sounds of battle, but he could not see his friends due to the roiling clouds of fog that filled the air on that side. Truthfully, he wouldn't have cared much even if he could have seen them. They were capable of defending themselves. No, Boris had something else on his mind. He looked up, craning his head back to see the top of the high wall that rose behind him. There was a ledge and an opening there, and something...something seemed to call to him from there...


A third fiend erupted from the water just as Sandru, having rejoined Haroldo against the second creature, had managed to end its miserable life. The latest arrival thus had the unfortunate luck to be surrounded by the six scions, and its last remaining moments in the world were brief, violent and pain-filled. As it fell, and Akiro cleared away the cloying mists with a simple gust of wind spell, Ameiko looked around, taking stock.
"Where's Boris?" she asked.


Boris reached the top of the high cliff wall, scaling it like a spider thanks to the ninja coin that hung from a thong around his neck. Directly before him was a large opening. He stepped through and found himself in an opulent throne room paved with golden tiles joined together by fist-sized rubies. A magnificent bower of silk cushions sat atop a dais at the far end. The goblin just stood there, blinking in amazement and disbelief. It took him several long moments before he realized he was not alone in the room. Seated upon the bower was an imposing Tian-Min man, his hair worn in the traditional samurai style.
"Welcome my little friend," he said in flawless Common. "It seems that you and your allies ran afoul of my jailors."
"You no look like prisnoner," Boris said, narrowing his eyes.
"Appearances can be deceiving," the man replied. "For instance, to look at you, one would not suspect you to be the clever individual that I sense you to be."
Boris shrugged and nodded.
"That true," he agreed. "Me Boris. Who you?"
"I am Shogun Teikoku Sokai," the man replied, rising to his feet. "Once, long ago, it was I who forged Minkai from a collection of petty, warring settlements into what would become a mighty shogunate, paving the way for the nation that you see today. And yet, here I languish."
"Why you here?" Boris asked.
"The whim of the fates," the shogun waved his hands. "Some thought my methods...extreme, yet who is to judge such things? If the outcome serves the greater good, should that not be the main consideration?"
Boris shrugged again, noncommittal.
"Still, as I said before, you seem like a clever fellow. Perhaps I could persuade you to do me a simple favor."
Boris's eyes narrowed again. "Boris know there always a catch."
"Not so hasty," Sokai said. "Listen to my offer, and if you don't care for it, well then, you are free to go about your business."
"Boris listening," the goblin said, flicking one of his large ears.
"There is a torii gate north of the Lake of Tears," Sokai explained. "It's magic is what holds me and my servants captive in this place. If it were destroyed, we could leave the Well and go to the lake above, but no further. We would still not be able to leave the island, but we would be free of the endless conflict down here in these crowded conditions. If you did this for me, not only would I give your new empress the blessing of my house, which I know she seeks, but I would also be willing to give you vital information about my rivals, which you could use to defeat them, or strike a bargain. What say you?"
"Boris say fine," the goblin nodded, "but Boris friends not. Boris know this. They no like evil peoples. They no bargain. Besides, Boris not care about information or blessings. Boris want something that help Boris."
"Very well," Sokai grinned malevolently. "I see that I read you correctly. Know this then: if the torii gate is destroyed, then I will be able to redirect the waters of the Eternal Spring to spill into the bay of Kasai. This would expand my influence enough to create a direct portal to Golarion from my home in the Abyss, thus paving the way for the rise of my new shogunate! The so-called Jade Regent would be as nothing before my armies! And you, my little friend, would hold a place of honor and prestige in my court. All that you wish would be yours for the taking. Now, we just have to convince your friends...,"


Ameiko's question was answered a moment later when they heard Boris's voice shouting to them from somewhere above. Looking up, they spotted the goblin perched on a ledge some seventy feet above the water, waving and gesturing for them to come to him. A short time later, they joined him.
"Boris glad to see friends safe," he smiled. "Boris meet new friend. Come, you meet him too!"
He led the way back to the throne room where Teikoku Sokai waited.
"This friend," Boris introduced the others. "He old emperor, trapped here by bad oni. He say he mighty general. Help lead Ameiko's army if we help him free."
"What is your name?" Akiro asked, suspicion in his voice.
"Teikoku Sokai," the shogun bowed.
"I thought so," Akiro snapped. "I recognize you from paintings." He turned to Ameiko. "This one is not to be trusted, my Lady. During his reign, he ushered in an age of unparalleled eugenics in Minkai, attempting to elevate certain bloodlines above all others, especially his own. He subjugated lesser noble lines by seizing their property and enslaving their scions to enrich themselves and his cronies. He lost his life in a violent uprising against his decadent rule."
"I see," Ameiko nodded. "Boris. Step aside."


I can't imagine a eugenicist making room for a...gack! ... goblin in his Brave New World. Hope Boris realizes that rather than turn against his mates!
Nails being bitten here :)


All Good Things

18 Desnus, 4716 - All Good Things

"So it's to be war, then," Teikoku Sokai snarled as the scions advanced on him.
"No!" Boris protested. "Wait dead shogun-man! Boris talk to friends! Everything be ok!"
"I think it's too late for that," Sokai replied. "Your so-called friends seem to have already made up their mind about me. Pity. We could have done great things together."
As Boris stared in disbelief, the shogun's form began to shift and change. He grew taller, broader and more...porcine? Where a handsome man had stood just moments before, there now loomed a towering, corpulent beast with the hideous head of a boar, and arms ending in fatty, four-fingered hands.
"Come my minions!" Sokai bellowed. "The time is now!"
From an archway on the far side of the chamber, a sour-smelling mist began to flow. It pooled around the edges of the room, and then started to rise along the walls, coalescing into vaguely humanoid shapes. A moment later they solidified, revealing a trio of demons whose armored flesh was scaly and moist, with large, toothy mouths gaping beneath hungry, reptilian eyes.

Sandru had seen enough. He lunged towards the demonic shogun, who was now surrounded by a dark nimbus of light. He struck the brute with three quick, wicked slashes, but when he did so, the black light flared out at him, and he felt himself grow weak, his muscles struggling to hold up his sword. From behind him, Lucian fired his bow, putting three arrows into the shogun's chest. Sokai barely seemed to acknowledge the pain. Instead, he drew the dark nimbus in tight around him, and then unleashed it in an ebony explosion. It struck Haroldo, Boris and Sandru, filling their minds with visions of madness, leaving them momentarily dazed and confused. At that moment, the shogun's demonic, frog-like minions began an obscene croaking. As it built to a crescendo, a miasma of greasy, black energy enveloped the scions, leaving their exposed flesh numbed and frozen, and causing Sandru to double over and vomit in revulsion.

Lucian drew his bow string back to his ear and prepared to fire, even though he was no more than a few feet away from Sokai. The shogun raised one mighty fist to hammer him, but as the blow descended, it struck some unseen obstacle in mid-air.
"You're welcome!" Akiro grinned at the oracle
Lucian shook his head, not sure whether to be grateful for the force wall, or annoyed. Instead, he turned and put his arrows to use on the nearest frog-demon.
"Clever," Sokai growled from the other side of wall, but then he abruptly vanished only to reappear among his servants. "But not clever enough."
The demons began croaking again, but then Akiro lobbed a fireball into their midst. It detonated with ferocious force, ripping all three of the demons to shreds. Sokai reeled from the blast, and that's when Lucian put an arrow right through his throat. Gurgling and sputtering, he toppled to the floor. No sooner had he fallen than the throne room transformed. Gone were all the trappings of royalty, leaving nothing behind save bare stone.

As the others regained their composure, Boris scrabbled quickly across the floor to Sokai's side. His small hands moved deftly through the dead shogun's pockets and closed on something smooth and hard. When he drew it out, Boris saw that it was a small statuette of a horse, seemingly carved from obsidian. He quietly tucked it into his own pocket.


"Boris still not know why you not listen to shogun-man," the goblin grumbled as the scions made their way up the tunnel that led off the small beach in the flooded cavern. "He say make deal. He help us fight Jade Regent and tell us about other bad rulers."
"He was a demon," Ameiko sighed. "Can't you see that he was just trying to use us to get free of this place?"
Boris shrugged. "So? He help us fight enemies."
"Just so he can rule Minkai in the Jade Regent's place," Ameiko explained. "Trust me, Boris, we don't need his kind of help."
Boris shrugged again, but kept silent.

High rock shelves lined the narrow passageway they found themselves in, marred by a forest of stalactites and stalagmites that resembled nothing less than the narrow bars of a cage in the ebbing glow of the luminescent lichen growing upon them. Abruptly, Akiro halted, holding up one hand.
"What is it?" Ameiko asked quietly.
"I've magically enhanced my senses like those of a bat," the mage whispered back. "I can 'see' sounds as they bounce off of objects. Up ahead, there is something...humanoid...near the ceiling. Make ready."
He began a spell, conjuring a small orb of fire between his hands. When the spell was complete, he hurled the fireball towards the spot where he'd sensed the lurker. It exploded, and in its aftermath, a figure became visible, floating gently to the floor. It appeared female, though a featureless porcelain mask concealed her features. Long, twisting horns grew from her head, and a hairless rat's tail poked out from beneath the skirts of the blood-stained kimono she wore. In one hand she held a wickedly curved naginata. As her robe touched the floor, she suddenly erupted in a nimbus of fire, burning but obviously unharmed by the flames. She extended her free hand and cast her own spell, sending waves of power washing over the scions, leaving them fatigued in their wake. Haroldo rushed towards her sluggishly, but as he drew near, she lashed out with her polearm, stopping him in his tracks.

Piercing shrieks filled the air of the tunnel. In the air behind the fiendish woman, a flock of a half-dozen black-winged females appeared, fiery bows gripped in their hands. As one, they unleashed six blasts of unholy magic. The blight struck Haroldo, Sandru and Boris like a shock wave. The battle-rager and the caravan master were rocked back on their heels, but Boris looked unscathed. Akiro quickly hurled a ferocious salvo of magic force missiles towards the immolated woman. She recoiled, but then gripped her naginata in both hands and rammed it straight through Haroldo's belly. The magic of the winged fiends struck again, catching Lucian in its effect as well. This time, however, in the wake of the bombardment, both Sandru and Haroldo were left unmoving on the floor. Boris, again, seemed untouched.
"We have to go!" Lucian cried shakily.
He reached down and seized his fallen companions, then cast a teleportation spell. The three of them vanished.
"I agree, my Lady," Akiro said as he took Ameiko by the arm. "This is not a fight we can win this day."
With Boris and Miyaro gathered near, the mage cast his own spell and whisked the four of them to safety...


"That sounds like Shiori Heikkaki," Amatatsu Onoko said, "Amatatsu Maemi's handmaiden."
"Handmaiden??" Lucian gasped. "That wasn't the empress herself?"
"I'm afraid not," the archon shook her head sadly.
She gazed down upon the bodies of Haroldo and Lucian where they lay on the floor of her mausoleum.
"I am sorry for your loss, but when you return to the Well of Demons there is an enchantment I can give you that will protect you from the unholy blight of Heikkaki's erinyes servants."
"Go back??" Boris snapped. "Why go back? No one want to listen to Boris when he say shogun-man want to help, and now two friends dead! Boris no go back!"
Lucian whirled on the goblin, anger and suspicion burning in his eyes.
"You were in the middle of the blight just like the rest of us," the oracle accused, "yet you were not so much as sickened by it. Why is that?"
Boris glared back at him.
"Boris not know about devil magic," he said. "Not know why stoopid elves and humans get dead and him not. Maybe because he goblin, and goblins strong!"
"Or maybe," Lucian said, his eyes narrowing, "it has something to do with that coin around your neck."
Boris reached up and gripped the coin reflexively.
"You give coin to Boris fair and square!" he barked. "You no have it back!"
"Onoko," Lucian turned back to the angel, "as an archon, can you not detect the presence of evil?"
"I can," she nodded.
"Then I ask you to assess our friend here," Lucian pointed at Boris. "Ever since he came into possession of that coin, a coin taken from the body of an assassin I might add, he has not been acting himself."
"You no look at Boris, bird-lady!" Boris said, standing defiantly before the archon.
Onoko focused her gaze upon him, studying him intently. Her brow furrowed, and her expression darkened.
"There is great evil here!" she hissed. "Why have you brought this to my holy place??"
"We did not know," Ameiko protested. "It's the coin. It has done something to Boris."
"Which is why it is past time we got rid of it!" Lucian said.
Boris's eyes went black as coal, and he bared his pointed teeth in a wicked snarl.
"Never!" he spat. "You never have it!"
He gripped the coin more tightly, and before anyone could react, he simply faded away, like a shadow in the sunlight.


Boris saw the truth now. He could not trust anyone, nor anything other than himself. Even those he was closest to, his so-called friends, wanted to take what was his. Well, that time was past. From now on, he would do whatever it took to make sure no one ever underestimated him again.

He moved through the shadow plane like a wraith, descending back into the Well of Demons. It was too bad about the shogun-man. Boris could have used his help, but he knew there were others. The shogun-man had told him. He went down the tunnel where his former companions had been defeated by the bird women, and he saw the horned lady in the mask standing silent watch there again. She cocked her head as he passed, almost as if she sensed him. Beyond her was a mammoth courtyard. Huge, basalt columns held up its ceiling, while a balcony and two elevated platforms looked down upon its ivory-tiled floor. Imperial tapestries of green and gold hung from their edges, and on the far side of the chamber, a decorative overlook provided a breathtaking view of a waterfall as it poured into the misty depths. Perched on the various platforms were the bird women. Boris ignored them. He was in search of someone more important.

Past the courtyard, Boris found a small cavern. Delicate silk curtains hung from a forest of stalactites on the ceiling, and plush carpets covered the floor. A huge bed draped in satin sheets and a multitude of pillows occupied the rear of the chamber, behind a regal throne carved of jade. Seated upon the throne was a beautiful, ageless Tian-Min woman dressed in Minkai imperial regalia, though the two tentacles that sprouted from her head, writhing about her elaborate coiffure somewhat spoiled the image. Beside her, two more of the winged woman stood, attentive to her every need. Boris braced himself, and then pulled out the small statuette he'd taken from Sokai, spoke a word then returned from the shadow plane to the real world.

Amatatsu Maemi's eyes went wide when the black stallion with eyes and hooves of flame suddenly materialized out of thin air, though what truly caught her off guard was the large-eared goblin perched on its back.
"Empress tentacle-lady," Boris sketched a bow from his seat. "Me Boris, and Boris have important things to tell you."
The erinyes devils beside the throne tensed, drawing back the strings of their fiery bows.
"You may tell me why I should not slay you immediately," Maemi hissed.
"Because Boris and friends sent her to kill you by pretty lady with horn in cemetery," the goblin replied, "and friends come back soon to kill you big time!"
Maemi's mouth gaped for half a second.
"Amatatsu Onoko," she whispered. "Is that who you speak of? That heretical bitch??"
"Yeah, that her name," Boris nodded. "She tell us kill you so Ameiko can get blessing to become big chief of this land."
"Ameiko?" Maemi asked. "That is a woman's name. Could it be? Is there truly a surviving female scion?"
"Yep," Boris nodded again. "She come long way to take throne from Jade Regent. She have fancy seal and everything. But she have problem. She too worried about what right and what wrong. She not able to do what she need to take what hers. She get bad advice from friends."
"I see," Maemi narrowed her eyes. "So what is it that you ask of me?"
"Boris think Ameiko need advice from ancestors. Tell her right way to kill Jade Regent and take what hers. Boris want to help you help Ameiko, but her friends won't let Boris."
"Then they should be removed from the equation," Maemi smiled.
"Boris think so too," the goblin said, "but friends very powerful, and they have lady with horn helping now. Boris think need more powerful friends to beat them. Boris hear there other ancestors trapped in well. Maybe they help too."
Maemi was silent for a long moment.
"Perhaps," she said finally, "for the right price, they will."


Amatatsu Maemi and her retinue of erinyes, plus her handmaiden Shiori Heikkaki, left her domain for the first time in decades. She took Boris deeper into the Well of Demons, into the dominions of her sworn enemies under a flag of truce. She introduced him first to Emperor Sugimatu Nobinoru, a horned skeletal figure who wore a dark kimono and carried an ornate staff. He was accompanied by a creature that resembled a cross between a lobster, an octopus and a human. Nobinoru at first had no interest in deposing the Jade Regent. He had no yearnings for his former life, as Maemi did. However, when he learned that Boris had actually been invested as a scion by the Amatatsu Seal, he was intrigued. He agreed to lend his assistance in exchange for a small fee...a piece of Boris's soul.

Next, Maemi brought Boris before Emperor Shojinawa Ito, a once powerful necromancer who had transformed himself into a lich, but now only existed as dread ghost, bound for all eternity to the Imperial Shrine. It was he who stood guard over the remains of Emperor Shigure, hoping to find a way to possess the corpse so that he might walk the world of the living again. He was more than willing to assist Boris in his endeavors, but the only way he would be able to lend his aid was if he could possess an imperial scion. He gave his vow that it would only be temporary, just long enough for him to escape the island. Boris offered up Ameiko as a host.


When they emerged from the Well of Demons, they were a truly horrifying sight to behold. Empress Amatatsu Maemi was accompanied by her handmaiden and her aerie of erinyes, while Emperor Sugimatu Nobinoru brought with him a half-dozen hydrodaemons, as well as his piscodaemon major domo, Ikku. Last was Emperor Shojinawa Ito, who rode atop a monstrous nightwing, followed by his loyal vassal, a graveknight named Akatsuka Katsumoto.

Amatatsu Onoko sensed them first and warned the scions. There was no question that they were overmatched and could not stand against the united Imperials, but there was another problem: Ameiko could not teleport nor dimensionally travel with the Amatatsu Seal. She had left it in Onoko's care while she was in the Well of Demons, but now it was in her possession once more. Akiro volunteered to stay with her, and Onoko vowed to stand by her, but Ameiko commanded Lucian to leave with Miyaro. When he protested, she told him that he must warn their allies. He had to reach Koya, Shalelu and Spivey again. Hirabashi Jiro had to know that they had failed so that he might not throw his mens' lives away needlessly. Lucian could not argue her logic, but when he spoke the words to his teleportation spell and whisked himself and Miyaro away, it ripped out his heart to do so.


Akiro and Onoko were fearless and truly a sight to behold as they fought to drive back the devils and daemons. Ultimately, however, the outcome was inevitable, and when Emperor Ito forcibly took possession of Ameiko, Akiro lost heart. He fell, leaving only the archon to fight on. She new she could not win, and Ameiko was beyond her ability to save. Before she could be overwhelmed, she transported herself to safety. It was her duty to report back to her mistress, Shizuru, what had transpired.

Above the battle, Boris circled astride his nightmare steed. He could not bring himself to enter the fray and cause direct harm to his former comrades. Something held him back. There was even a part of him that was gladdened to see Lucian escape. He cared nothing for Miyaro nor Akiro, and he had Ito's word that Ameiko would be set free in time. It was for her own good, Boris kept telling himself. This was the only way she would ever win back the Jade Throne.


Things progressed very quickly after that. Lucian and Miyaro were able to warn Asachi Isao and his underground rebels in the hope they would be able to evacuate. The pair then fled the city and joined up with Jiro's army, where they reunited with Koya, Shalelu and Spivey. Jiro could not be convinced to retreat. This was their only chance as he saw it. His forces met the Jade Regent's Typhoon Guard on the plains before Kasai. The rumor among the citizens of the capital was still that a rightful Amatatsu heir had come to claim the Jade Throne...and they were not wrong.

While the two armies clashed outside the city walls, Boris, along with the Empress Amatatsu Maemi, Emperor Sugimatu Nobinoru, and Ameiko, possessed by Emperor Shojinawa Ito, descended on the Imperial Palace. What resistance they met from the remaining Typhoon Guard was quickly overwhelmed until, at last, they stood in the throne room before the Jade Throne. There they faced Soto Takahiro, the Jade Regent himself, as well as his grandfather Anamurumon, the leader of the Five Storms, his lover and closest advisor, the oracle Renshii Meida, his master of assassins, the tengu ninja Giras Notori, the Raven Prince, and his newest acquisition, the thunder-caller turned vampire, Zula Breaks-the-Wind. Their battle was epic in scale, with Empress Maemi falling before the storm giant oni, Anamurumon, before he himself was slain by Ameiko wielding Suishen. The Jade Regent and the graveknight Akatsuka Katsumoto battled to almost a standstill, but in the end the undead warrior got the upper hand. Boris himself slew the Raven Prince, the power of his coin along with his unholy mount quickly overwhelming the ninja, and Emperor Nobinoru took great pleasure in ripping Renshii Meida's soul from her body and devouring it. That left just Zula who, after Anamurumon's death, found herself free-willed. Having no loyalty to the Jade Regent nor the Five Storms, she pledged her fealty to the necromancer-possessed Ameiko.


In the end, Ameiko ascended the Jade Throne, and the people were at first elated. Jiro's samurai and peasant warriors handily defeated the Typhoon Guard, especially after the oni learned of their master's death. Still, they did not enter the city, as Lucian was uncertain of what to make of Ameiko's victory, especially when last he'd seen her, she was facing certain death.

As for Ameiko, it wasn't long before Boris understood that Emperor Ito had no intention of relinquishing his new vessel. Emperor Nobinoru, having no interest in the affairs of the living, returned to the Imperial Shrine and the Well of Demons to pursue his own dark agenda. With Maemi dead, that left no one to oppose Ito. He began issuing decrees as Ameiko, immediately instituting martial law throughout Kasai. To enforce his commands, he resorted to his necromancy to reanimate the soldiers fallen in battle, both samurai and Typhoon Guard, as loyal undead minions. The people were horrified and terrified, and Jiro's peasant soldiers' will broke before the shambling corpses of their former comrades. They fled back to their farmlands to the north. A new dark age had come to Minkai

Lucian, Miyaro, Koya, Shalelu and Spivey fled as well. There was nothing more they could do. Ultimately, Miyaro returned to her forest and the kami. The oni had been defeated, but a new evil had arisen. The forest spirits would do as they had always done...protect their charges and wait out the storm. The others returned across the Crown of the World, and eventually back to Varisia and Sandpoint. They never spoke to their friends and family about what they had experienced, nor what had befallen those they had set with on that long ago day with Sandru's caravan.


As for Boris, he was angry and saddened over Ito's betrayal, but there was little he could do without endangering Ameiko's life. The new Emperor/Empress didn't seem to mind his presence in the palace, but Boris knew it would only be a matter of time before he'd worn out his welcome. Eventually, he slipped away unnoticed and unseen, traveling the shadow dimension north, back to the Crown of the World and that small town where he and his friends had rested once upon a time. There, he walked out onto the ice-covered lake and sat and waited. Before long, she came to him, as he knew she would. His bride had been expecting his return, and she embraced him and welcomed him home. She took him beneath the ice and into the perpetual darkness of the lake to meet his children...


All hail the Goblin King!!


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First Post
Ok...this is a pretty non-standard and to be honest rather unsatisfactory conclusion to an otherwise great AP and associated story hour. To me personally it appears as if your players in the end did not care any longer and wanted to focus on the WotW AP instead...

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