Tuesday, 1 March 2016

[Actual Play] 5th Edition in Pre-Medieval Japan: Session 1 - The Three Mysterious Weirdos

In the cedar halls of Prince Uesugi-no-Mishiri at Kawa-no-Kuchi, a small coastal settlement on the frigid shores of the Northern wilderness of Michi-no-Oku, three visitors from the civilized South met Prince Mishiri and his retainers. These three - Monomi, a shugenja from an obscure sect, Goro, an onmyoji of refined tastes and attitudes, and Terasu, a kannushi who recently inherited the position from his father - had come to the lands of the Emishi to settle various philosophical arguments which had escalated beyond their control. On meeting with Prince Mishiri, they discovered that this young scion of the Uesugi clan intended to gather stories, items and treasures from Michi-no-Oku to take them with him to the Emperor the following spring on a visit to Heijo-Kyo in the civilized South.

The three philosophers struck a deal with the Prince that they would explore the lands nearby and share with him whatever they discovered, in return for his help and support. On the basis of this agreement, the Prince gave them a description of the lands nearby and the nature of the local Emishi peoples. He directed them to four Emishi villages in particular:

Okoppe, half a day's journey South down the coast, whose inhabitants were known to be friendly.

Niseko, half a day's journey inland up a nearby river, whose inhabitants were known to be friendly but had ceased all contact during the winter.

Bihoro, two days' journey up a river to the North West, which was mysterious and not well known.

Konakai, further south from Okoppe, whose inhabitants were known to be hostile and dangerous.

Prince Mishiri also explained that, although the Emishi might sometimes be hospitable and willing to offer aid to travellers, they might also change their behaviour from season to season or even with the turning of the moon, and that the rude barbarians could not be trusted in the manner of those from the civilized South.

The three philosophers decided to visit the village of Niseko to investigate what might have befallen the inhabitants. There, in the depths of the dark forest, they discovered that the hamlet had been abandoned except for crows and mice; the villagers had apparently left in a hurry, except for two men who had been killed in the most brutal fashion. Deciding that they ought to uncover the fate of the missing Emishi of Niseko, they found nearby a small bear figurine, carved from a deer bone, next to a trail leading South. Terasu, communing with the kamuy of the area - the spirits inhabiting the trees, rocks, river and earth - discerned that the Niseko Emishi had been subject to great violence, and forced away by invaders. The three philosophers decided to follow the trail South immediately, despite the imminent onset of twilight.

In the crepuscular light of the forest they came across another river, cutting across the trail. In a quandary as to whether to continue, they were forewarned about the presence of a bear by the shriek of an owl. Hiding, they watched the beast approach the river from the opposite bank - but, they also noticed that, despite the presence of salmon, for some reason the creature did not wish to enter the water. Monomi distracted it and it headed off upstream; after waiting, the philosophers decided to cross the river - but quickly ascertained that the trail disappeared. They surmised that the Niseko Emishi, and their assumed captors, must have travelled upstream. This was confirmed when they found another trinket - a flint arrowhead - dropped by the bank a hundred yards up the river. Goro also established a possible explanation for the bear's mistrust of the river - whenever he touched it, his patron deity seemed to cause his fingertips to tingle with an odd and distasteful sensation.

They camped for the night in the forest and as dawn broke, under clear skies above the trees, they followed the river onwards - coming across another dropped arrowhead as they did. Believing they were definitely on the trail of the Niseko Emishi's captors, they pressed on. 

By noon, they entered a narrow ravine through which the river flowed. The three philosophers progressed cautiously, Monomi wading through the water, the others proceeding up the bank. Soon they spotted a lookout in a tree and Monomi crept up on him, using all of his shugendo techniques, with the others behind; the monk then drew the man's attention with his shakuhachi for long enough to Goro to reduce the man's brain to liquid with a softly spoken word.

The three philosophers could now look down into the river from the ravine top, and saw two cave entrances in the opposite side - and another lookout, on a small pebbly inlet. This man was reduced to fragments by Terasu, channeling the power of the kamuy of the rocks and water nearby - but not before he raised the alarm with a whistle. This set off dogs barking somewhere in the caves. Realising a frontal assault from this direction would be ill-advised, the three philosophers headed upstream and doubled back on the other bank. Monomi entered the caves first - slipping inside and dispatching two men in the semi-darkness with his shugendo attacks. Goro followed, just as three dogs appeared from a side tunnel to attack. In a sharp exchange, Goro was badly savaged by one, but the others proved just as powerless against the assault of Monomi's fists, kicks and staff. Three more men attacked with shortbows, but once Monomi had brutally dispatched another by smashing his nose back into his face, the others surrendered.

The two men babbled in some dialect of Emishi, which none of the three philosophers could understand. But Goro possesses the power to communicate directly with the minds of men and intelligent beings; doing so, he was able to establish that their captives were men who were under the sway of something they called the River Oyster God. This God demanded sacrifices at a waterfall deeper into the forest, and these men were somehow involved in that process.

The three philosophers also discovered that these caves extended further down into the earth, but were completely flooded just a dozen or so yards in. Their captives told them that these tunnels had been created by people they called the Lichen Men, who had been in these lands since the dawn of time, before even the Emishi had come here, and long before effete foreigners from the South such as the three philosophers had even been heard of.

Monomi, Goro and Terasu began planning to investigate the fate of the Niseko Emishi at the lair of the River Oyster God. But that is a tale for next week.  

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