Over the sound of creaking harness, walking, and loud singing, Staver hears the crack of a whip, extremely close by. He has to roll Will-4 . . . oops. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees what he thinks is a tall samurai in red and black armor, and that rider settles in to him.
I suddenly have the urge to shout “JOCKEY!”
Cadmus wonders if he should Smite Staver, or Exorcise the spirit. Staver still detects as very, very Evil (so no change) but the spirit isn’t actually evil.
Naturally, soon thereafter we get attacked. By a giant albino white tiger the size of a wagon. “Music soothes the savage beast!” so maybe we’ll sing to it . . . but Staver realizes that at the very least it’s a freaky monster tiger because they usually don’t just charge at us.
Shiro decides to bow to the tiger. Might as well be polite.
It stops right in front of us; Thumvar sings as he soars through the air, and this close, Cadmus knows he’s not a spirit. There are arrows pointed at it, axes unlimbered, and general lack of fear. The tiger stops charging, confused. It’s not a normal tiger, nor a spirit, but it could certainly be some sort of funky sentient Tienese thing with friends, family, and the Tien equivalent of a cell phone.
The ever helpful Miyaro is looked for . . . but apparently she was making out with a wagon guard, or pooping or something. A kami was supposed to take care of it, but it died, leaving the tiger with no guardian spirit. We call the poor beast tiger-no-kami.
We reason that we could probably try and find a properly suited guardian spirit.
We journey on, and days or weeks later, not far away, Cadmus hears the sound of an axe hitting flesh. Cadmus blows a Will roll totally, and a giant, angry, black-bearded spirit named Breaker settles into him. Cadmus can actually talk to him, though, and finds out he used to be mortal. He was a woodcutter, he went into the forest, and ate some stuff, and then went back home and murdered his family.
Cadmus’ Bad Temper goes from bad to worse, and he’s better at hitting things with his axe. Cadmus decides to pray, to try and ease the spirit, and excorcise them. he gets a vision of a giant wheel grinding, as Breaker is forced to relive over and over the events that led him to kill his family. Some strangle purple berries were the culprit; they are reddish-purple, instead of the extra-nutritious reddish-pink that are very similar.
Despite the anger of the Scout blathering on about nature crap, we feel something kind of click inside my head, and the spirit realizes he was under the influence of bad berries at the time. He no longer is quite as angry. Whenever I roll Righteous Fury, I can add 1 to one of the three rolls.
That’s entirely cool.
WE keep moving, and another week passes. The trees part to reveal a huge open clearing, still covered in a wood canopy. A giant wooden torii gate stands in the clearing. We have to go through the fancy gate, talk to the kami elders, show them we’re up to snuff or let them sniff us (snuff us?) to ensure we’re the right band of heroes to save their sorry asses.
In the clearing, we find that Staver is tormented by an unsettled spirit as well, tortured by a manacled slaves or something. So the trick to settling the spirit is to reach past the giant sinkhole of evil in order to settle the spirit.
Cadmus manages to pull the evil visiting spirit out of Staver; Staver’s regular evil spirit stays where it is. During the ritual, Staver is poised to leap into the river at any moment since most interactions with Cadmus tend to end with Staver on fire. Thumvar and Shiba are no help whatsoever; Cadmus eventually boots them as being no help whatsoever. Staver feels terrible, like a ball of fire building in his stomach . . . after a few hours, a ball of fire tears through his lower intestine, and, um, exits. Burning hemorrhoids. The cleansing fire, which will last about a week.
Pharasma gives, and Pharasma taketh away. Kinda of a dick move on Pharasma’s part, but hey, Staver is a demon/infernal, and Pharasma can get away with that sort of thing.
On the bright side, Staver can just lay on his stomach and heal. After weeks of being stabbed to death in his dreams each night, he picks up an extra level of Fearlessness.
After we walk through the gate, a samurai floats (literally) out from the gate. He’s wearing light armor, and introduces himself as Noburo in Tien, and demands to know what our business is, looking first to Shiba.
Shiba, the best of us to deal with this, notes that we have been asked to deal with the problems in the House of Withered Blossoms, and wish to help continue that path. He critically succeeds a Savoir-Fair roll, and Noburo fails to grimace, nodding respectfully. Grudging respect, but respect.
Now he looks at Thuvar the Hummingbird. He actually sings the right polite stuff, and having temporarily multiclassed into Bard, Noburo is again reluctantly impressed.
Cadmus explains his mission to settle spirits, kill demons, and reap souls for Pharasma. He succeeds in
Noburo’s lip begin to curl just looking at Staver. “And you.” he says, as if Staver just did a diarhea on his favorite rug. Staver explains that she’s the servant of Ameiko, true heir to the Minkai Throne. He has to roll streetwise . . . and blows it badly. After all, he is the worthless servant of Ameiko. He raises an eyebrow at her, as if to say “you’ve got to be kidding me.”
Ameiko replies in flawless Tien, don’t judge a book by it’s cover, whammo-change-o, and manages to fast-talk Staver through the gate. What’s the point of having a super-Bard in the party if she can’t get the scrub into the Posh Club?
We circle the wagons and set up for the night. There’s a nervous, curious gathering of shadows as the kami gather, drifting closer to the caravan. Animal spirits with too-knowing eyes. Some are wood, rock, or snow.
The kami begin whispering strange words, which Miyaro translates for the PCs. She tells them that the kami swore an oath long ago to guard the oni of the Five Storms, who were imprisoned in a pagoda called the House of Withered Blossoms. For centuries, the kami kept the Five Storms contained, but one night, 160 years ago, most of the oni somehow escaped their prison. The kami do not know how, but they do know that at least one oni still remains in the House of Withered Blossoms, for their oath forbids them from stepping over the threshold while even one oni remains inside, and the way is still barred to them.
The kami ask the PCs to enter the pagoda to learn what happened to the Five Storms and, if necessary, to defeat the last oni within. They know that the PCs seek to depose the Jade Regent, and that he is allied with the Five Storms— an exploration of the oni’s former prison might give them information and weapons they can use against their enemies. If the PCs agree to go to the House of Withered Blossoms, an audible sigh passes through the kami gathered in the clearing. At length, a single kami approaches the PCs, a tiny ancient warrior with a tree branch growing from the top of his head. This is Akumi, a fukujin kami (see page 84). He bows to the PCs and introduces himself, and humbly asks them for one more favor. Akumi’s ward, a small bonsai tree, was recently stolen by hobgoblins who took it inside the House of Withered Blossoms. Bound by his oath, Akumi was unable to follow, but he can feel that his bonsai is still alive somewhere within or beneath the pagoda. He has tended his ward for centuries, and should it die, Akumi believes he will die as well. He begs the PCs to go into the House of Withered Blossoms and recover his precious tree for him.
We are the first mortals sent to penetrate the gardens, enter the pagoda, and clear out the oni within. We note with some angst that Staver is basically oni, now, in whole or in part. We go through “the rules” of entering and exiting the pagoda and prison with the gathering of forest spirits.
We shouldn’t eat anything from within. It’s all probably been exposed to millenia of close demonic contact. But sure, as far as they’re concerned, we can burn it to the ground, take whatever we want within it, do whatever we want to it. Clear it out, don’t die, and if they remember, they’ll let Staver out too. If we happen to kill ’em all, that’s good too.
We contemplate going to the bottom of the dungeon, and between Cadmus’ Holy Glory and Staver’s Terror radiance, we just scare the hell out of everyone and make them run out into the forest.
We send Staver’s familiar, the falcon Provornyy, to scout ahead, a sort of Scout recursion. Two days travel ahead, she starts circling, having found a dead sunken circle, and a spiky human cave that no animal with any sense would go in. There’s a “fake forest” around the human cave, full of broken rocks. Thorns, briars, real wrath of bird type stuff. Purple flowers that feel “wrong.”
Oh, look: flavor text!
The animal calls soften to a whisper as the forest parts to reveal a vast bowl, the ground sinking from the forest tangle into descending rows of frozen terraces. At the center of the depression stands a towering porcelain pagoda, its walls and eaves smothered in thick, clinging vines and draped with heavy webs, soaring to a golden rooftop. Stylized representations of forgotten creatures and beasts dance upon the pagoda’s walls, and a band of huge thorny spines juts from its midsection. A decaying garden surrounds the pagoda, a frozen echo of past magnificence. Broken statues litter the garden, and icy clouds of violet blossoms drift through the ruin. The overpowering scent of death and decay hangs in the air.
Even with Scout! points, these are like nothing we’ve ever seen. The vines are either dead or hibernating, and have recently shed the petals. The petals are the size and shape of a human hand.
Like that’s not ominous or nuthin’. It’s about 3pm. We decide to observe for a bit, look at the life cycle of the plants and the boundaries of their powers. The bowl edges are in terraced steps, and the bowl is 500yds across (!). The forest comes to a sudden end at the bowl’s beginning, with the garden around 300 yds from the pagoda. The tower is completely covered in these vines. And the (spiky!) vines extend all the way to the first step of the terrace. So 100-200 yards from the outer rim to any spiky stuff, then 300yds of nasty spiky stuff. Then pagoda. The walls look like they’re porcelain, but the roof looks like it’s made of . . . gold. Porcelain and polished bone kinda look the same, though. Hard to say.
There seems to be a hole in the roof too. We don’t have a high opinion of our kami allies IQ, so we wonder if the oni within just chopped a hole in the roof and moved on.
At nighttime, the vines come alive, swell with purple blossoms. At midnight, the blossoms detach and drift in a swirling pattern around the pagoda. If anthing was going to try and sneak out we’d never see it. These things stay airborne for hours. Fleshy oche-colored fruits are blooming on the vines, and all these fruits burst open in rapid fire until the valley is filled with sap with a honey/horse-sweat smell.
After 3am or so, the movement and nastiness is random and light; more like twitching or thrashing than a breeze.
At dawn, the flowers drop to the ground, lose their meatiness, and decay in front of our eyes.
The hole in the roof . . . there are no vines there. OK, good plan then. The vines only get to about 10′ from the top. Cadmus points out that if the vines are avoiding the roof, the roof entry might be leaping into the dragon’s mouth.
We take to the air, Cadmus giving Shiba a lift with his new handy-dandy spirit horse. We arm up, assuming melee fun, and head up to the top of the 70-yd tall tower.
Cadmus’ Spirit Horse
Spirit Horse Ally: Bestial [-10]; Mute [-25]; Wealth (Dead Broke) [-25]. [-60]
ST: 30*† HP: 30  Speed: 6.25 Lifting ST: ST 40 *†
DX: 13 † Will: 11  Move: 8/24 
IQ: 6 [-80] Per: 12 HT: 12  FP: 12  SM: +1
Dodge: 10 Parry: n/a DR: 4 
Bite (14): 1d+2 crushing.Kick (14): 3d+2 crushing.
Advantages: Acute Hearing 2 ; Claws (Hooves) ; Combat Reflexes ; Doesn’t Eat or Drink ; Enhanced Move 1.5 (Ground) ; Night Vision 3 ; Peripheral Vision ; Ultrahearing ; Walk on Air .
Disadvantages: Spirit Horse Ally [-60]; Careful [-1]; Quadruped [-35]; Vow (Only attack demons, spirits, or the undead), [-10]; Weak Bite [-2]. [Total -108]
Skills: Brawling (E) DX+2 -15; Intimidation (A) Will-1 -12; Mount (A) DX+2 -17; Running (A) HT+1 -13; Survival (Plains) (A) Per -12. [Total 30]
Techniques: Kicking (Brawling) (H) -15.[Total: 3]
* Cost reduced for Size (-10%).† Cost reduced for No Fine Manipulators (-40%).
We look down into the hole, and see, well, a crap-ton of spiderwebs. There used to be floors in here at 7-yd intervals, but they seem to have mainly been demolished. About 21 yards down, we have some floors. We do some summoning and spellcasting tricks and all go down to the lower levels
Oh, and Thumvar and Staver notice that the roof is gold leaf. We calculate it’s probably about 1,300 lbs of gold. $27M of loot . . . if we can haul it away.
We enter the spiderweb, and we hear the creak of pressure being placed on the web from multiple directions.
We end there.