- Goro, a 2nd level Japanese warlock (or onmyoji)
- Terasu, a 2nd level Japanese cleric (or kannushi)
- Monomi, a 2nd level Chinese monk
- Pasekur, a 1st level Emishi ranger/his sister Toitoi, a 1st level Emishi druid
The PCs had established that Lord Mishiri's concubine (who was a demon in disguise) was trying to harm his wife and daughter, and that the daughter had been having strange dreams - of skull-headed seals and an old man's face covered with moss. They had decided that Goro would attempt to meet the concubine alone to discuss the matter with her (Goro having already established a kind of rapport with the young woman); it was also decided that, as this meeting would take place, Monomi would lurk stealthily in the background in order to provide support if things went wrong.
Goro met the concubine on a walk in the evening around the village of Okoppe (where the retinue of Lord Mishiri had remained), with Monomi following - the concubine gave no indication whether she knew he was there. It quickly became apparent that the concubine saw no reason to keep her 'task' secret - she was 'bound' by somebody (whose identity she could not reveal) to ensure that Lord Mishiri had no heirs. She had decided to try to achieve this by eliminating his wife and daughter - the wife with some form of sickness, and the daughter by manipulating the girl's dreams so that she would wander off into the forest alone and be killed. Sensing that Goro was a man in search of supernatural power, she made him an offer: if he could arrange for Lord Mishiri's daughter to die, she would grant him a boon. She also, at this point, revealed that she knew Monomi had been following, and left Goro to discuss the matter with his "friend".
The PCs gathered together and discussed what to do next. They narrowed things down to a number of options. First, they needed to find out who had 'bound' the concubine to her task. Second, they had to think of a way to get her to reveal herself. And third, they thought it would be a good idea to try to get to the bottom of the daughter's dream visions.
Terasu was assigned the job of talking to Lord Mishiri's household wizard Takeyama, who he found to be approachable and easygoing. The wizard told him about his personal pet theory, which was that the "lichen men" who the Emishi of these lands spoke of were the remnants of a people who had one lived throughout all of the archipelago and who had retreated into the mountains long ago. He suggested that they might be there still - living in caves below the surface of the earth. Terasu asked him whether Lord Mishiri had any other heirs, or rivals - trying to steer the conversation to discover if there was anybody who might stand to inherit the Uesugi clan's leadership if Mishiri died heirless. It seemed that Lord Mishiri was an only child, and the person who was next in line was a cousin, of the Date clan, a cadet branch.
Concluding they were none the wiser from this, the PCs struck North to a place where Pasekur knew there was a landscape of mossy ravines where once had flowed a river. They thought this might tell them something about this moss man vision. On several occasions while travelling they realised they were being followed by five cranes, who would fly overhead; on each occasion the PCs would hide under the trees out of sight and wait for the creatures to pass by.
Eventually they reached a steep ravine, some 12-18 feet high, covered in moss on both sides, and followed it West. As night began to fall they came across a place where the ravine branched off, and this lead them to a skeletal corpse, with a bow and arrows next to it, clutching a small bear idol made from stag horn. The corpse was sat with its back to the wall of the ravine, with its legs curled up to its chest. They surmised it had been dead for some months.
They now realised they had to choose whether to push on through the night or head out of the ravine. They decided to continue, carrying lights with them. This lead them a mile or two further West, until they came to another place where the ravine branched. Here they decided to spend the night. Monomi's watch passed without incident, but during Pasekur's shift he heard a voice behind him whispering questions - demanding to know who he was, and why he had brought "foreigners" here. Pasekur explained that they were investigating the strange dreams afflicting a young girl, which they thought were caused by a Southron demon. The voice confirmed this, saying that some power had come from the South and brought a dangerous magic with it; the voice said that this power could manipulate thoughts and dreams, and would bring ruin to the North if it was not stopped. The voice said that a short distance away was a place where people had made offerings to it in the past, and that Pasekur and his comrades were welcome to make use of those offerings if they would help defeat this intruder. It also told Pasekur that the skeleton belonged to a hunter who had come to these ravines, become terrified, and starved.
Pasekur immediately woke everybody else up and managed to communicate that they should follow him. He then led them to a place a short distance further West where there was a small totem with a few trinkets placed around it - stone idols (of a bear, wolf, owl and stag), an obsidian necklace, and twelve arrowheads. The PCs took these and waited for dawn, to then set off back to Okoppe to find the translator, Toitoi; Pasekur was unable to explain his conversation with the "moss voice", because he could not speak Japanese. On the way, Monomi picked up the skeleton that the party had discovered and carried it with him in order to return it to the family of whoever had owned it.
But on the way back, disaster struck. In mid-morning the five cranes which had been following the PCs descended from the sky. On touching ground they transformed into wild-looking, naked men, with gingery red hair, and skin covered with either red or yellow blotches. These men yelled something in a foreign tongue, and then attacked, picking up rocks from the river and wielding them as crude weapons. A tough fight ensued; it seemed that the men with red skin blotches were difficult to wound, and that the yellow ones were immensely strong. They could also use some rudimentary magic that allowed them to blast their enemies with invisible force. The party ultimately prevailed, but at a terrible cost: Monomi was brought to the very brink of death [DM's note: he failed and then succeeded at two death saves, meaning that for his final death save roll there was literally a 50/50 chance of stabilising or dying], and Pasekur was killed, his skull cracked open. Three of these "crane men" were killed, but the other two transformed back into cranes and fled.
The next session found our PCs in a predicament - nursing wounds but also with their key ally, Pasekur, dead. They decided that they would carry the corpses of Pasekur and one of the dead crane-men back with them, along with the skeleton they had found. While building a litter to do this they almost came to blows with a herd of wild boar foraging in the trees, but Terasu managed to scare the boar away by using his thaumaturgy to create the sound of a bear.
Eventually they made their way back to Kawa-no-kuchi and informed Lord Mishiri that his favourite, Pasekur, was dead. They also inspected the dead "crane man" with the household wizard, Takeyama-no-mahotsukai. Takeyama surmised that the red blotches on the man's skin might be lichen, and this could be one of the famous "lichen men" they had all heard about. It was at this point that it dawned on Monomi, Terasu and Goro that they had, not long ago, raided a lichen-man tomb to steal the last breath of a lichen-man sorcerer (in order to provide Umoshmatek with the material to create a spell to bind the river mussel goddess). These crane spirit/lichen men may very well be guardians or something similar.
[DM's note: At this point it also dawned on the players themselves that since the moss voice had only spoken to Pasekur, and Pasekur had not been able to convey to the others the what the moss voice had told him; neither Monomi, Goro nor Terasu actually knew, then, what had happened the previous night, and now with Pasekur dead there was no way they would ever know. They decided they would have to see if Umoshmatek had some way to communicate with the dead and, after resting for the night, headed to Okoppe the next day, bearing Pasekur's corpse with them.]
On the way to Okoppe the PCs ran into Toitoi, who had been sent by Umoshmatek North after having foreboding dreams about her son. After emotional scenes Toitoi decided to accompany the PCs in his stead.
Back in Okoppe, after the funeral and delivering the awful news to Pasekur's parents, Menkakush and Umoshmatek, the PCs asked whether Umoshmatek had some way to communicate with her son to retrieve the message of the moss spirit. Sure enough, it turned out there was a way of doing this, which involved a sweat-lodge ritual and hallucinogenic fungus and so forth. This allowed the PCs to each enter the realms of the dead to search for Pasekur's ghost. While there, each of them had a vision from their past of a person they had been close to who once died. [DM's note: I let them each make up this encounter.] Monomi came across the spirit of an old friend who he had watched fall to his death as they fled from some guards in a long-ago heist. This friend cursed him - though in such a way that he will not know how the curse takes effect until the moment it does. Goro came across the spirits of the inhabitants of the village where he grew up, all of whom had died in an earthquake. He vowed to take vengeance against the god who cause this disaster. And Terasu came across his father, who revealed that the sickness he had died from was caused by a rival. Then we came to Toitoi, who found Pasekur. Pasekur revealed the message of the moss voice, and on waking, Toitoi conveyed it to the others.
Toitoi was also able to examine the trinkets the PCs had found in the moss ravines; the necklace would protect against poisons, the arrowheads could be used against intruders from the realm of the dead, and the small idols of the bear, wolf, owl and stag could be thrown to the ground to summon a beast for aid (but could only be used once).
A lengthy discussion now took place as the PCs tried to decide what to do next. Try to force the concubine to reveal herself somehow, by attacking her physically in public? Offer to help her and fake the death of Lord Mishiri's daughter? Confide in somebody else at Lord Mishiri's court? Finally, they decided that Monomi would try to gain her confidence and offer to carry out a task to prove his worth. After having gained her trust, he and the others would find some way to subvert her plans.
The next night, Monomi crept to her quarters and offered his aid. She assigned him a task: to travel to a distant glade in the forest where there grew a poisonous tree. He was then to return with sap from the tree and find some way to ensure that the daughter drank it. Monomi agreed to this, and then met up with the others; they decided they would go to the tree and then find some way to either replace the poison, ensure that the daughter didn't drink it, or some other cunning scheme...