Ninjas attack the party’s campsite and find themselves in over their heads.
as written by the cavalier Olmas Lurecia, himself.
Wealday, 20 Calistril
One minute there were dragon dancers, and the next minute there were not.
There were ninjas, wearing the standard tight-fitting ninja uniform, armed with the standard poisoned throwing stars, and not, for once, attacking with the typical ninja stealth (we were, after all, looking right at them as they emerged from beneath the dragon.)
To be truthful, I saw eight emerge from the dragon, but they were joined by four more that had quietly infiltrated the crowd.
Ninjas, I have learned, are pretty much on suicide missions.from the time they leave Ninja HQ. They are most dangerous from a distance, when their poisoned shurikens can seriously weaken or even kill you before you ever can make contact. If they ever have to close with me, their tight-fitting ninja uniform is usually insufficient against my attacks with Suishen, and they seem unable to throw at such close quarters.
My main concern, of course, was that in a situation like this, Ameiko was not secure. If the ninjas knew her for who she was, she could be swarmed upon, and she did take on some poison from a shuriken. Ivan quickly cast delay poison upon her, however. Dasi also made good on his promise to protect her, and I’ll admit that although I was distracted at times, I could swear Dasi walked up to more than one ninja and simply take their weapon out of their hand in the same motion that a magician pulls a coin from behind your ear. He is neither a swordsman nor an archer, but … I’m not sure what the name is for what he does.
Qatana found herself somewhat in the middle of battle simply by fate of where she stood as the dragon passed, and took a bit of strength damage from the initial flurry of shurikens. (I also found myself faltering a bit from one until Ivan put delay poison on me.) Kali created a wall of ice to help provide a “rear” that we could not be attacked from, and later managed to haste us so we coiuld finish the battle more quickly.. Ivan calmly pulled out his bow and began shooting arrows faster, it would seem, than is humanly possible. It seemed at times he was nocking them two at a time.
Ameiko started swinging at a ninja that came near her, but Dasi and I quickly flanked her and after it was dead, took on additional foes as they approached. While she kept her sword drawn and ready, she allowed us to take the lead.
Partway through the battle, though, it appeared we had gained an ally. A non-descript woman from the crowd suddenly joined the fray and began attacking ninjas. The palace guards assigned to us fell quickly, but the woman seemed to be holding her own quite well. Radella seemed to be hitting the ninjas hard and then …
… it was over. We managed to catch one ninja alive, but his tongue was cut out already (note previous comment about ninja HQ). And the woman mysteriously said, “We should talk, but not here.” The crowd had scattered, or was still scattering, in some cases, but we could also hear an approaching force we presumed was the City Guard.
I moved towards the approaching guard to give Ivan a smidge more time to loot the bodies. While I occupied them by telling what had happened and how awful it was, he was able to retrieve
 5 potions of CSW
 7 empty (used) potions
 8 doses of shadow essence (poison)
They were wearing chain mail shirts which couldn’t really be removed in the short time we had.
Dasi heard the guards looking around worriedly and mumbling, “This was not supposed to happen today.”
While the “cleaning crew” began their effort at making it appear this never happened, the woman, whose name was Miyaro reiterated “we need to talk.” We returned to our palace accommodations, noticing that this time, the people in the streets and in the palace did not smile as brilliantly or greet us as enthusiastically as in the past. What, it was our fault that their dragon-dancer HR filtering process was poor?
Miyaro, it turns out, knew of our mission. First Dasi, and now her? So much for arriving in secrecy. Although I suppose the oni have been after us for some time now, so it shouldn’t be TOO big of a surprise. She grew up in the Forest of Spirits – yes, that’s right – and the Forest apparently has taken a side in this issue. At least some residents there would like to see the rightful heir back on the throne.
Travelling through the Forest is an option now, although Miyaro warned us she would need to guide us.
While we were quietly discussing this, Chua came by and Kali told him abruptly we were leaving before slamming the door in his face. Radella threw her a look and opened the door to a chastened and confused Chua. Turns out that the Prince had the same idea. It was unfortunate, of course, but the safety of his city was at stake, yada yada. But by way of parting gift, he was happy to give us eight fine steeds to aid us in our departure. I was about to mention I had no need of a steed but was shushed by several others.
They will be worth money, somewhere, so why throw away money?
 8 filigree saddles, ~200gp each
 8 light war horses, ~300gp each
Qatana used our wand of lesser restoration and soon everybody had their strength back.
Late that afternoon, we took leave of Ordu-Aghanei, the once future home of Princess Kali!
Moonday, 25 Calistril
Travel has been relatively uneventful, and the safer we are the more nervous Kali gets. I think the whole experience in the city has upset her equilibrium. Yes we are targets, but we’re increasingly capable of handling ourselves, and her nervousness is contagious.
Today we saw some other riders at a distance, and she was careful to point them out and give them a wide berth. I’m not worried about the people who approach us openly. I’m more nervous about those that don’t announce themselves.
Toilday, 26 Calistril
Like today. More ninjas, and they again did not announce themselves. How rude.
Qatana was on guard duty and saw them coming a little before midnight Moonday. Apparently ninjas are ordered by the dozen, as it was again 12 that came for us. But Kali had a new trick up her sleeve. She created a hut which was transparent for those inside, and opaque to those outside. You could also pass through it at any point. That meant we could shoot arrows at will (go Ivan) and if any of them crept alongside the hut, somebody with a sword (ahem) could slash them with impunity.
Being on guard duty, Qatana was outside the range of this hut when it was formed, but she had her own trick up her sleeve. She projected some type of aura so that when enemies got within 20 or 30 feet of her, they would get confused and either wander off or attack each other. (Nice to know she can have that effect on somebody other than us!) Consequently, about a quarter of the ninjas entertained each other. The others were picked off one by one. Ivan provided a wall of fire to again restrict the direction we had to defend.
Dasi again smiled as he stole weapons right out of their hands. How DOES he do that?
Suishen and I managed to lay open a couple of ninjas quite satisfyingly. If it weren’t for their poison, they wouldn’t be a big deal, I think.
Ivan created a second wall of fire to protect one of the wagons, only to discover that Shalelu had snuck out the back of the wagon to help in the battle. Oops – well, he couldn’t see her and that wasn’t expected. Still, it was disheartening to see her scorched!
Then at the end, it got strange. Two of the ninjas ran off, and Kali and Qatana insisted on chasing them. They cast Fly and took off by themselves. Apparently Kali summoned a cheetah and had it hunt them down. Qatana used a spiritual ally. Seemed a bad idea to have two magic users and no fighters out in the dark, but it turned out okay. Ivan burned the bodies; in theory their employers will not know what happened but I get the sense we’re still being tracked so they’ll know.
We’re a little less than halfway to Muliwan and are discussing whether to swing wide of it entirely. Miyaro would have us do that, but it may be the last place for a while where we can resupply and buy a few things.
Kali has been declared unsuitable for the prince and we have been kicked out of the city. The city just felt there was a sickness that had evaded. I could never quite figure out what it was but nothing seemed right, maybe Sparna felt it too. Sparna may have been trying to teach me something but as usual I don’t understand.
It is hard to believe that a little fight with ninja’s caused such disorder that the prince dumped Kali. To top it all off his servant guy told us to leave the city. Kali was overjoyed to be released from her engagement and I think this may have been the first time she was more worried about getting away from the city rather than setting up some type of business arrangement. We were all given horses to aid us in our travels; no doubt to get us away from the city faster. It’s a good thing Cayden Cailean was watching over Kali. Had he not intervened to persuade the prince to free Kali she would be stuck. I knew that she was not going to properly thank Cayden so I did it for her.
“This wine I leave out under the open skies so that any brave adventurer walking this path can enjoy the comfort of a good drink, may Cayden bless all that drink from this bottle”
We have a new friend named Miyaro that helped during the ninja attack. She encouraged us to leave the city immediately. This was just before the prince’s aid broke the good news to Kali. Miyaro is going to guide us through the magical forest. Turns out that she works for the Kami. From what I understand Kami are protectors of nature that were supposedly created by the gods at the age of creation. I am pretty sure that is what Kali said. I have to admit that at first I thought Miyaro said she was a Kami.
I turned to ask Sparna a question and he wasn’t there. I was wondering where the gods are leading Sparna, it’s pointless to guess as the gods work in mysterious ways. Hopefully he gets to settle down with a good forge and make many weapons. If the gods can see fit to find him a wife that shares his love for the forge he can spend his days in the forge and pass his vast knowledge down to their children.
Anyway I was working away on upgrading the enchantments on my bow thinking that I should be close to finishing but there seemed like a lot left to do on the weapon. I got out the paper and recalculated and discovered a miscalculation on the number of days it will take. Normally Sparna catches these errors but he is not hear anymore. That explains why the math said it should almost be done but I just felt that there was a lot more work to be done on the enchantment.
Next up in an enchantment for Qatana. She asked for an enchantment called greyflame which I found in my notes. The enchantment is right on the edge of what the gods will allow. The concept of good and evil still do not make since. No matter how hard I try I can’t figure out if someone is good or evil. Kali has tried to explain good and evil a number of times but it just doesn’t make any since. How do they know for sure that the Ninja’s are evil? We are killing people and creatures that get in our way; why doesn’t that make all of us evil? Maybe I need to get a spell that only hurts good people and a spell that only hurts evil people. I suppose maybe wands of detect evil and detect good might be a less damaging option. Even if I know if someone is good or evil it doesn’t really change anything, if they are trying to kill us I really don’t care if they are good, evil or a muffin.
Ninja attack. Another batch of ninja’s attacked the caravan in the middle of the night. They must have intended to catch us off guard but that was not the case. The spell thingy Kali put up supposedly prevented the ninja’s from being able to see us so they could not throw shuriken’s at us. Olmas right off the bat asked to be protected from poison but with Amieko running into battle that changed everything. With my back protected by a warming wall of fire I was able to let go a couple of arrows at the ninja’s near Amieko. With Dasi and Olmas both running to her aid I just worked on thinning the herd. Off to my left Qatana and Radella were engaged with the ninja’s approaching from that side so we were kind of ok. When it looked like another ways of ninja were on their way in the second wall of fire went up. Unfortunately I found out later that Shalelu had snuck out of the wagon and was hit with the full force of the fire. The positioning was to keep them safe in the wagon and since everyone was in sight it was logical to put up the wall. Kali stupidly flew after the Ninjas that got away with Qatana right on her heals. I should have sent Radella off with them.
With all of the Ninja’s dead I burnt the bodies just to make it look like they just disappeared.
Wealday, Calistril 20, 4713 evening
The Spirit Road, south of Ordu-Aganhei
Beorn was right: people died before we left Ordu-Aganhei, but not in the way he (or we) expected, and the expected victims were among those that were spared.
Today was the final day of feasting ordained by the Prince. We had already sent the caravan out from the city towards our next destination in anticipation of trouble from the Prince, and were “enjoying” the festivities out in the streets of Ordu-Aganhei.
Music and colorful banners lifted the otherwise pensive and fearful atmosphere to an almost festive mood. We watched as dancers performed while operating a silk dragon costume, which undulated and darted this way and that to the music. Suddenly the performers tossed aside the dragon costume and charged towards us, throwing poisoned shurikens with deadly accuracy.
Ninjas! I hate these guys.
Battle ensued and the ninjas felled, while on our side we only suffered the effects of poison and the usual cuts and bruises — that is if you did not count the Prince’s guards that died as being on our side, which I definitely did not.
But the battle also had several unexpected benefits.
First, using Hold Person I managed to capture one of the ninjas alive! Ah, ha, now we’ll get one of them to talk. Or we would if he had not had his tongue cut out.
What kind of psychotic prick cuts out the tongues of his servants? And what kind of pathetic sicko continues to blindly follow such a deranged whack job?
Having proven he was of no use to us, we handed him over to the guards with instructions that since the ninja wished nothing more than to die, that he be kept alive.
Pervs, the lot of them.
Second, we had an unexpected ally in combat. While the rest of us were questioning the prisoner or looting the ninja bodies, she was talking urgently with Radella.
Speaking of loot:
|||5 potions of Cure Serious Wounds|
|||7 empty vials|
|||8 vials of shadow essence poison (strength draining)|
We returned back to our rooms at the palace to have a private chat with Miyaro, our unlooked for accomplice. She came right to the point, “You all seem to have attracted some unwanted attention. They failed this time, but they will be back in greater numbers, and soon.”
“We are leaving now. All of us.” Kali stated matter of factly.
Oddly enough I trusted Miyaro for some reason, but I had to ask why she had helped us.
“You are known to more than just the Five Storms. My people have lived in the forest to the south of here since before man, dwarves or elves walked this world, and they detected that the Amatatsu Seal had entered Tien.”
“Your people?” I asked
“Yes, they are the spirits of the forest. They once held the Oni captive until they escaped. I was brought to live with the spirits at a young age, and I serve them by patrolling the human inhabited areas, gathering information, and now,” she said looking over at Ameiko, “to aid in returning the rightful heir to the throne in Minkai.”
At that moment there was a knock on the door, and Chua stuck his head in. “I most humbly…”
“Tell the Prince I cannot accept his offer and will be leaving Ordu-Aganhei at once.” Kali said, and slammed the door on him.
I thoroughly approved of this change in plans, but Radella seemed somewhat shocked by Kali’s abruptness and opened the door.
Chua was still there and explained that the Prince no longer wanted to marry Kali, and would prefer that we left his city as soon as possible.
“Perfect!” Kali replied and slammed the door on him once again.
Radella sighed and stepped out to chat with Chua.
Meanwhile Miyaro offered some advice, “Five hundred miles from here the road enters the forest. But you must not follow the road: it is under the control of the Oni, and it is far more dangerous than you can imagine. Instead you must enter the forest, where my people can assist you.”
We had heard about the Spirit Forest, and that it should be avoided at all costs (“Do not leave the road!” being the most common form of advice we received with regard to traveling in this land.”)
Miyaro said, “I shall accompany you and guide you through the forest.”
Presently Radella came back in with word that the Prince was so anxious for us to leave that he had gifted us with eight light war horses and the finest saddles and tack the city had to offer.
There is an old saying about not looking gift horses in the mouth before they ripped your lips off… or something to that effect. Radella had accepted this gift on our behalf and we now quickly made our way to the stables.
Along the way out the townfolk acted as if we were not there. We found our mounts, already saddled and tacked and ready with a groom beside each waiting to help us up and away. And good riddance to you too!
The sun had already set and by the dusk’s fading orange light we made our way through the southern gates and along the road. Before long evening’s pale glow in the west had faded and low clouds stretched in from the east, blocking out even starlight. We brought out the torches and rode for several miles and finally met up with the caravan, which had set up camp some distance off the road.
Getting Kali away from the clutches of the Prince was far easier than expected, but we were still worried he might try some underhanded act at revenge, and that plus the ninja attack forced us to rearrange our watches such that most of us would be up and awake through the night.
I sat next to Ivan and was reflecting (out loud) about how radically our caravan had changed since arriving at Ordu-Aganhei.
“Ulf is gone, and while I think half of his stories might have been fabricated or borrowed, he was a good guide and I will miss him.”
“True,” Ivan replied, “but we knew he would leave us once we had crossed the ice and made it to Tien.”
“We also said goodbye to Anavaru, who said she might wait with Ulf and cross back over to Varisia with the next caravan.” I continued.
Ivan mused on this for a moment before saying, “Well, Ana was so distant and remote by the time we hit the ice that it seemed like we hardly knew her anymore.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “but then there was Sparna, or to be more precise, there Sparna was not. I am glad he at least sent word with you that he was leaving, but then he vanished without a trace. I wonder what he’s up to now.”
“I kind of saw that one coming,” Ivan admitted. “He was struggling with all of the craziness we were encountering, and the sorts of things we had to do to survive. Besides his passion was clearly working at a forge, and wherever he ends up you can be sure that’s what he’ll be doing.”
“I guess I missed his discomfort with our adventures. I thought he might have been warming up to us. And now I need to hire someone to add an enchantment to my flail.”
Ivan looked at me quizzically, “You know I can do that sort of thing, right?”
“Really? Oh that would be great! I already purchased the enchanting supplies for Sparna to do the work. There’s a special ability I wanted to add.”
Ivan seemed a little doubtful, “What sort of enchantment do you want? I’m not so good with good and evil, or holy and unholy.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” I reassured him, “It’s only the Grayflame enchantment, which enables me to add positive energy to my flail.”
“That’s alright,” Ivan said, looking a little relieved, “I can work on that after I finish the bow I’m enchanting.”
Our party is pretty awesome.
Oathday, Calistril 21, 4713 evening
The Spirit Road
The morning dawned a fog enshrouded ghostly grey as we broke camp. We left glistening tracks in the damp grass as we moved southward, keeping the road a few hundred yards off on our right, obscured by the gloom. We rode on in silence.
Our caravan was down to three wagons. With the brutal conditions of the high ice long behind us it had made sense to pare our footprint down to the bare minimum. Kali had spent long hours fretting over the arrangements, and seemed to view the eight unexpected horses as an unwelcome burden. Miyaro also seemed to think three wagons was the limit of what could “easily” pass through the forest.
The smaller caravan size meant that most of us were riding. Our new horses move out at a brisk but smooth pace which is ideal for traveling long distances. My steed is a spirited chestnut mare whom I have named Ginjinha, after the Varisian cherry liquor.
By mid morning the fog had burned away presenting us with a deep blue sky above, and undulating hills of deep grasses and hummocks of shrubs or stunted trees. To the north a purple band along the horizon was all we could see of the now distant mountains.
The scouts ranged around the wagons in a wide circuit, while the rest of us clumped together, riding in no particular order. After a mid day break I found myself alongside Dasi, and we took the opportunity to chat.
“So tell me,” Dasi asked, “why Groetus?”
His question caught me by surprise. I have been traveling with (or known) the same group of people for so long that I had forgotten how curious people can be about Groetus and those who follow him.
“Groetus is the most benevolent of the gods,” I began, “and it is through him that all suffering will end.”
“His followers are not particularly organized — which is one of the more comforting aspects of our order. No vast sums of money spent on large and ornate temples, no overly complex and stale rituals that do little for the masses. No bullshit trumped up rules and restrictions to appeal to a deity’s vanities or whims.”
“We are left on our own to do the best we can to succor those who are suffering, and to prepare the world for its inevitable, soothing end.”
“Of course, with that amount of freedom there are bound to be those who take advantage and use the powers given to them by Groetus for their own sick purposes. But then there are always psychopaths: just look at Prince Batsaikhar and the suffering he brings upon his own people.”
Dasi then told me tales of Rovagug, who according to some would bring about the end of the physical world. To be honest it did not sound at all comforting, but Dasi had a way of speaking that kept me interested and intrigued. We discussed different end of time beliefs, and how Groetus fit into all of that.
The conversation went on for some time — longer than I usually speak with anyone — and some of my friends became restless. “Patience,” I softly said to quiet them, “there will be time enough for other conversations.”
Dasi looked at me thoughtfully for a few moments before gesturing at the necklace I wear to honor my dear departed friends. “You speak with their spirits?”
“I do, and they speak in turn… or out of turn more often than not!” Here Timber let out a derisive chirping sort of snort, and I laughed out loud.
Dasi looked quizzically at me.
“Case in point,” I said, “Timber was letting me know that my friends are not simply passive idols to be consulted in times of need. They are my constant companions, offering advice and camaraderie. Being spirits they often see things more clearly than I, and I treasure their closeness. They are my family.”
Dasi’s eyes widened and he said, “Ahh Kami. You are truly fortunate to have so many guardian spirits. May they be known to me?”
Now it was my turn to look amazed and it took me a moment to reply. “I do not understand how their spirits communicate with me. I do not know if they choose to only speak with me because of our relationship in life, or if they can only speak to me because of that. Sometimes I do believe others hear them as well, but those are rare occasions.”
We rode silently together for some time after that, before the natural rhythm of our different riding styles caused us to drift apart.
Moonday, Calistril 25, 4713 evening
The Spirit Road
The land in which we have found ourselves is mostly empty. We passed by the occasional village huddled near the road on the first day, but these became less frequent and today we’ve seen no sign of people, except for a group of riders heading in the opposite direction along the road.
As we had been traveling well off the road we passed by at a reasonable distance, but we were uneasy and kept a close eye on them. Some time after the encounter Kali sent Nihali aloft to make sure they had continued along their way.
What a paranoid lot we have all become.
Toilday, Calistril 26, 4713 midnight
The Spirit Road
They set upon us half an hour into the second watch. Our caravan still boasted a full array of winter lighting (something we’ll need to adjust when we approach the forest, if not sooner), and I easily saw ninjas slinking about in the periphery of our light dome.
“Incoming,” I casually said in a voice loud enough for my companions who were awake to hear. And with that the ninjas descended upon the caravan.
Miyaro was correct: there were more of them this time. But they were not able to overwhelm us as they intended. Foes who approach too near me are given visions of the void, and they sense its true nature and how it surrounds us, ever trying to displace our mundane reality with its own. This has an unpredictable affect on all but the strongest of wills, and several of the approaching ninjas halted, or attacked their comrades, or wandered aimlessly.
Ivan quickly erected a Wall of Flame on the opposite side of the caravan, blocking off a large group of the invaders. Kali created a shelter that was opaque from without, but transparent from within, and here the rest of my companions formed a defensive force.
Soon those ninjas who dared to advance found themselves stuck as full of arrows as a pincushion. Unfortunately the only target they could see was me, and I found myself on the receiving end of numerous poisoned shurikens. I had managed to bash one senseless, but the incoming tide was proving to be a challenge, and so I instantly killed one with a Slay Living spell, and brought forth a spiritual ally to occupy the others.
Those who were sleeping were now awakened by the sound of battle (and Dasi’s singing, which had a profound affect on our ability to strike our enemies). Unfortunately Shalelu stepped out from the wagon to confront an attacking ninja only to be caught in another Wall of Flame that Ivan created. With a shout of pain (and possibly anger) she dodged beneath the wagon and into the center of the defenders.
I realized that I would need to do something to minimize the risk of this sort of thing from happening again, but for the moment my attention was focused on our foes.
With our combined might, skill and abilities we managed to kill all but two of the ninjas, who had run away. Kali and I quickly flew in the same direction and overcame them as they lay prone in the tall grass a hundred yards away, looking back at the caravan.
“Oh, this will never do!” Badger exclaimed. He was right, and I dropped a spiritual ally on top of the pair as Kali summoned a dire Lion. The prudent use of Hold Person ensured these two ninjas would not escape and report our where abouts and status to anyone else.
We dragged all of the corpses into the flames and burned them to ashes and then healed our wounds and restored strength lost to poison.
chaotic ninjas attack
we are banished
Welcome is withdrawn
intended bride left confused
Eight Kami guard
Do they protect her or us
Groetus welcomes all
Calistril 20, 4713 (Path of Aganhei, evening)
My problem with Prince Batsaikhar has been solved for me. Part of me is … disappointed, I guess. I was so worried. I spent all this time trying to think my way out of it, preparing for as many contingencies as I could. And then I come up with a plan to pull it off and outwit everybody here, one that my friends would finally agree to, and it gets taken from me. I mean, what’s the point? Why set this up but not be permitted to see it through? It feels like I’m being tested but not given the test. I don’t understand.
On the other hand, it did mean a lot less risk (well, maybe a little less). I don’t have to worry about being held against my will, having my things confiscated, or someone attempting to suppress my spells. I don’t have to worry about having made a bad judgement call, or making a mistake in the days ahead. I don’t have to sit and fret for two weeks, dodging the Prince’s advances, worrying about when is the right (or wrong) time to just disappear. And, I suppose, most importantly I don’t have to explain any of this to mom or dad or even bring it up at all. I didn’t want to have that conversation.
And all it took was a threat to my life. Ironically, this actually was one of the ideas we came up with at dinner last night, only the plan was to be more in control of events. All that time strategizing and arguing, and it never occurred to us that the Five Storms would beat us to it. And of course it happened during something I actually wanted to see. I was finally enjoying myself but I was to be denied that, too. I do have to hand it to them, though: on just a few days notice, they found enough ninja not only skilled enough to pull off an ambush, but also to put on a passable street performance as dragon dancers. I mean, there can’t be many of those, right? You can’t just pick up one of those things and call yourself a dragon dancer. Unless that’s part of the ninja recruitment process. Can you imagine that interview? “Are you experienced with the use of poisons? Can you lurk in shadows without being seen? Do you have experience in dragon dance teams?”
I don’t think any of us was really surprised that this happened, as it is not really possible to keep a low profile when the ruler of the city is throwing feasts in your honor. Maybe it was naive to think we’d be able to get out of here before the Five Storms screwed up the courage enough to stage a very public attack in the Prince’s city. Still, they have across as more than a little desperate. At least in Ul-Angorn they managed to pull out an ogre mage, and they had less time to do it. We’d been in this city for four days and the best they could do was a violent theater troupe.
I suppose there’s another possible explanation: that’s what they thought they could get away with. Maybe sending an oni wasn’t practical. Ordu-Aganhei may seem small by most standards but it’s rather severely governed and that means it has resources. Maybe getting an oni in here undetected was the larger problem.
Whatever the reasons, though ultimately unsuccessful the attack was effective: we went from honored guests to ostracized in a matter of minutes. Chua was beside himself trying to eject us from the city without being rude while simultaneously apologizing for the same. I didn’t really give him much of a chance to explain. I had no idea just how much I had been wanting to revile this place until I was slamming the door in his face. Repeatedly. Seriously, the man just could not take a hint. (Radella didn’t look too pleased about this but her feelings are not my responsibility.)
As parting gifts, they gave us eight of the famed Hongali horses. “Gift” might be the wrong term here, actually. I think they were not-so-subtly encouraging us to leave quickly. They knew the caravan had already left and must have assumed we were going to walk the rest of the way to wherever it was we were going.Please go. And here’s something to help you go faster.
It was also kind of a thumb in the eye, though obviously they didn’t know it. I’d spent hours—hours—with Sandru doing some caravan planning for the road ahead, reviewing the merits of various options. How many wagons would we need? How much food? What could we sell? What should we sell? Do we tailor it for the forest, or for the grasslands we’d need to cross to get there? All that time and all that work only to have someone ruin it by imposing eight more mouths to feed on us as we are walking out the door. Literally walking out. It was too late to turn back for more provisions, not that we had room for them, or buy back one of the extra wagons, or even figure out if the latter was the right thing to do. So now I have to do this work all over again. Thank you for visiting Ordu-Aganhei, where even the gifts are a burden.
And then there’s Miyaro. Her first words to Radella were, “We need to talk.” Ya think? Normally I’d be pretty irate with someone with a talent for stating the obvious as if it were news (“We need to get off the streets”, “You’re in great danger”, and my personal favorite, “You need to leave immediately. Tomorrow, if possible.”) But, she did actually come to our aid, and she claims to be an agent of the kami in the Forest of Spirits. So I’ll just interpret the advice as her being thorough rather than patronizing us because she assumes we’re completely stupid.
She says she can guide us through the Forest. If true, that solves one of our previously-unsolvable problems. It does mean putting a lot of trust in her, but I think she’s earned it after today. She’s also warned us to stay off the roads and away from Muliwan. Hongal is too xenophobic to accept strangers anywhere but the main road, so we compromised by traveling within (distant) sight of it. The second one, though, is more problematic: we left Ordu-Aganhei in a hurry and that means we may need a supply run. I’m going to talk this over with the others.
We have a ridiculously complicated guard schedule. I don’t remember the shifts being so short or so many. But we also have fewer people and more enemies, so I’m just going along with it. I am not an expert on these matters, anyway. The others know what’s best.
Miyaro doesn’t spend a lot of time around people. She more or less said as much tonight. After we had finished eating and were just killing time, she came up to me and asked, “Are you a princess? I don’t know your culture …” She just kind of trailed off there. I wasn’t sure how to respond. Me? A princess? I should be so lucky. Well, OK, maybe I almost was, but not by choice.
Anyway, I figured the chicanery with Prince Batsaikhar had been more than a little confusing for her since she wasn’t in on the conspiracy. I tried to explain but I don’t think it came out right. I probably left her more confused than ever. So, good job there, Kali. It occurs to me now that maybe it’s just my long hair and clothing combined with too many fairy tales.
Later, she came up to me and said, “You’re colorful.” It was kind of like being in a conversation with Qatana. Just a random statement of fact. I wasn’t sure how to answer. After an awkward silence she added, “I like colors.” This seemed like a good time to try and make a connection, so we talked about color, nature, and art for a bit. She knew of Shelyn, though only by her domains and not her name. I offered to put color in her hair using the same spell that I use for my own. She said she’d think about it. I’ve learned that “I’ll think about it” is almost always a polite “no”, but she didn’t grow up in the human lands, so maybe it’s just honesty. Which would be refreshing.
I took out some paper and folded her some flowers while we talked. That got an interesting response. “My mother did this when I was young.” How did she come to be associated with the kami? She said her parents “gave her to them” to be raised, which spawned a number of questions that she wasn’t ready to answer. Which I understand. You don’t spill your life story and secrets to total strangers.
Calistril 23, 4713 (Path of Aganhei, evening)
Dull routine has returned. Not that I am complaining: right now, boring is good. After the madness of the last few days I am thrilled to be back in a dull routine.
I’ve got a couple of items to enchant for Olmas and Radella—his is nearly done—and as time allows I’ve been writing spells into my spellbook from some scrolls I picked up in Ordu-Aganhei. We didn’t have a lot of time there, and the more complicated spells take several hours to transcribe so there were only so many I could do as a direct trade. Scrolls were the only practical solution to the time problem. An expensive solution, to be sure, but I almost certainly won’t have time for this in Muliwan (assuming we end up going) so I had little choice.
There’s no time to work on the talismans, so I decided to cheat: I used a new spell to finish them. It was actually pretty astonishing. I laid out the scale, chain, and gem fragments, and a few seconds later a talisman sat in their place. It took me over two weeks to make one by hand. I could get used to this! Though I should point out that, while it was easy, it wasn’t exactly trivial. I was essentially making jewelry, so I had to concentrate and keep a clear picture in my head of what I wanted. But it obviously worked.
I suppose one could use this spell to make a decent living in the custom manufacturing business. Assuming you didn’t die of boredom first.
Calistril 26, 4713 (Path of Aganhei, late night)
Our camp was attacked earlier tonight by a dozen ninjas. Qatana saw them crawling along to ground to get as close to us as they could. It would have been a good plan if most of us weren’t sporting those rings: I think only three or four people were asleep.
The fight was chaotic, but heavily one-sided. Since I am writing about it I am sure you can guess which side. We burned their bodies to ash blackened bone inside a ring of fire. Ivan likes to be thorough that way.
Once again, it came across as a kind of desperate gambit that was hastily-arranged. But while we were never really in significant danger, it has forced me to rethink how we bivouac. Let’s face it: we were lucky. One well-placed spell with even a modest blast radius could easily kill half our horses and probably wreck one or two of the wagons. It will cost me a couple of spells, but my idea here is to conjure two small buildings each night that we can use as shelter. We’ll dedicate one as a stable, and the other for our more vulnerable companions. Arrange them and the wagons properly, and we can severely limit just how much damage a single spell can do.
Of course, now that I’m about to go through all this work, nothing will actually happen, right?
It does look like we’re going to make a small supply run into Muliwan. In a concession to Miyaro, the caravan will stay a good 50 miles to the north while Dasi and I race to the town on a pair of phantom horses that I’ll summon. Once we get close we can either walk in or switch to real horses (again, summoned) in order to maintain a low profile. We’ll conduct our business and then teleport back.
The catch is that we’re trying to avoid drawing attention to ourselves, so I’m going to have to leave a few things behind. And I’m going to have to cut off my hair. All of it (it’s fine: I can grow it back in a day or two using a spell). I’ll be posing as a monk of Irori—which I am pretty sure I can pull off, certainly the Irori part of that—since I am pretty recognizable otherwise. But in general Vudrani are not that unusual here, especially ones who are students of Irori’s church.
Why Dasi? He’s a local, he speaks the language, he knows the area, and he’s new so not likely to be associated with us. Why me? Someone has to get us in and out faster than we can be followed. Also, I speak the language, too.
The others are a little nervous about it, but they understand that we to be discreet and that’s not possible if we all roll in on a caravan with a bunch of extra horses. Sending more than two people makes it more difficult to protect the caravan, and to get in and out. So this is how it has to be. Though it’s still over a week away, so there is more than enough time for us to talk it to death.
as written by the cavalier Olmas Lurecia, himself.
Oathday, 19 Calistril
Tonight was the night of the Varisian feast. Qatana and Ameiko were the primary artisans on this one although the prince provided a staff of dozens. We successfully prevailed upon them not to make the entrees look TOO much like the local fare.
While they were instructing kitchen staff on the finer parts of Varisian cooking (and frankly, that took a good amount of time), we were working on the theatric entertainment we would be providing. Chua arrived in the early morning to (of course) invite Kali to a luncheon. I informed him that since Kali was an unmarried young woman, I would be accompanying her as an escort. He reluctantly acknowledged that. We told Chua we would be needing a lute and 4 actors, and after we described a lute in some detail to him, he nodded and left. Around 10am, 4 actors showed up, carrying the lute.
A few minutes before noon, Chua arrived to take Kali to the Prince. I assumed my most intimidating position, with Suishen at the ready (but not aflame). He brought a silk dress with flowers for her to wear, and she spent a moment changing into it.
The prince’s attractive bodyguard accompanied us as well. The four of us first toured the castle – “I added that whole wing”, pointed out the prince – before moving on to the original courtyard we’d met him in, where a generous lunch was already on display. “Everyone agrees,” he offered, “that the palace is so much prettier with you in it.”
He’s not subtle, but at least so far he was polite.
“On occasion, the King passes through this part of the country,” said the prince, smoothly. “He has not been here for a few months, however.”
In response to her question, the prince took Kali to a Shelyn temple. Kali noticed a number of heads on pikes and asked about them. The prince proudly replied that he kept a very safe city, and that criminals could expect to be treated harshly. Temple personnel hustled about with purpose, and the high priestess hurriedly bowed and said they were preparing for the evening’s festival in response to Kali’s query. There will be dragon dancers!
Kali looked awkward and uncomfortable at the attention she was drawing, but the worst was yet to come. Returning to the palace, Kali seemed to offer some genuine compliments about the luncheon and the prince practically beamed. “‘Kali,'” he said, “flows off the lips like honey.” I channelled Sparna and did an admirable but mostly hidden eyeroll. “It’s so pleasant having you here! I wish to put the city at your feet! Kali – marry me!”
Well there it was, lying there in the open like a field dressed musk ox. Swarming with flies, too. A proposal. I glanced at Kali and she appeared mostly composed, but I also knew she’d been preparing for this moment. “I am honored by your proposal,” she began, “and flattered by your attention. Please take no dishonor at my reply, but it is the way of my people to require my father to approve any marriage. While he will no doubt find your proposal worthy of consideration, it is a formality we must go through.”
The prince hesitated briefly before smiling a little less brilliantly. “How can we know of your father’s wishes? Perhaps one of my many wizards or clerics can arrange for him to appear here.” He looked left and right and, finding none but the four of us, prepared to clap his hands.
“There is no need for a wielder of magic,” said Kali, stopping him in mid-summoning. “I know a spell myself which we can use to communicate with him as though he were before us. I can perform the magic after dinner tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?!” responded the prospective husband, almost pouting. “We shall do that, then. Until this evening, I thank you for sharing lunch with me, and gracing me with your beauty and elegance. I will make arrangements for the ceremony to be performed after dinner tomorrow, then! Chua!” and I swear the man appeared oiut of thin air like a summoned demon. the prince lowered his voice but not by much. “Make arrangement for the ceremony to be performed after dinner tomorrow.”
“Yes, m’lord,” he responded, and escorted us back to the group’s quarters.
I started to ask Kali a question but she waved her hand and silently shushed with her finger.
Dinner was not far off so she indicated to wait until then.
At a lull in the dinner, Kali cast code speak and brought everyone up to date. Everyone, that is, except Sparna, who was absent. Ivan said he was leaving the party because he’d “lost his nerve”! This came as a complete shock to everyone, including me. I thought we shared a bond, but apparently he sought out Ivan to relay this decision to us.
We are down to five. We are surviving the attacks of the oni, but losing to the attacks of life.
The rest were alarmed at the marriage proposal, and we had a hasty but fairly blunt conversation about how to handle this. Kali believes we should leave town, and then she’ll catch up with us later. That seems like a bad plan, and I wasn’t alone in that assessment. Kali insisted she could use a scroll of teleport to catch up with us, but we pointed out that for teleport to work she needs to go to a place that is familiar to her, and wherever we are will not be familiar to her. She responded she could scry for us. We still had concerns about having an angry prince behind us. However, the conversation was starting to draw unwanted attention, even though nobody else could understand it, so we agreed to finish it later.
The dinner attendees found it all satisfactory, by the way, and I myself found it muchly welcome. It was still high-end food – nary a single rabbit drumstick to be found anywhere – but it was rich, high-end, FAMILIAR food. I have never appreciated Qatana’s and Ameiko’s culinary talents as much as this evening.
The play, reflecting the genuine insanity of its author, made little sense other than the moral that it was great, or possibly horrible, to be human. The actors did receive more than polite applause, and we received a jewelled scabbard (, radiates magic) in gratitude.
One of the actors, Dasi, seemed interested in our party, or more to the point, our heritage. He seemed interested in our Varisian roots, and hung out in the ‘afters party’ longer than any of the other actors. He had a scroll with an artist’s rendition of the old Minkai emperor and basically seemed to be sizing us up to see how much we looked like it. I laughed and said, yeah, we get that a lot. Everybody here says all Varisians look alike. But this old emperor wasn’t Varisian, so why are you waving that picture around?
ato our mildly babbled replies, he offered, “I can tell some of you are not being entirely truthful.” The room fell silent.
I pulled out Suishen and set him aflame. “Perhaps this is what you seek.” Dasi’s eyes widened. “You have Suishen!” THAT caught me off guard, although I’m not entirely sure why once he revealed he knew the family name. “You are the heir!”
“No,” I said sternly. “No man we’ve encountered has proven to be a worthy heir.” Suishen lightly snickered in my head. “But, like you, we are … genealogists seeking a family.”
“May I touch it?” he asked, still in awe. I thought, heh, this could end it all right here. “You may,” I replied as I held the blade out.
But then Suishen surprised me. He said, apparently to everyone in the room including Dasi, “Do you swear fealty to the rightful heir to the throne of Minkai?”
With a mixture of fear and awe, Dasi grasped the blade and said, “Yes”. And nothing else happened.
“Well then,” I said authoritatively and hesitantly at the same time. At the same moment, Suishen said to me, “ok, he’ll do.” This was all very fast, and I was still very uncertain about all this. “Why? Don’t you trust me?” asked Suishen.
“Stop reading my mind,” I sent to him. “Don’t think so loud,” he replied, but then he did at least shut up.
Fireday, 20 Calistril
Qatana memorized a zone of truth to further delve into Dasi’s motives. The questions that she and the others asked, seemed to reveal little else of his motives. Was he a spy, or a royal family groupie?
Then Qatana surprised us all by pointing at Ameiko, saying, well, there’s your heir.
I immediately drew Suishen, added flame, and stepped in front of Ameiko.
“The champion,” murmured Dasi. “And the sword.”
“I will be watching you, historian,” I said. But he was appraising Ameiko over now. From a safe distance, I might add. Great. Now Ameiko had a stalker too. How long before Radella or Qatana acquire creepy admirers too?
The town is very busy preparing for the Feast of the Dragon. But the shops are open, and we have a few tasks to accomplish before then, not the least of which is purchasing some teleport scrolls.
A lost scion, ninjas hunt
before the fireworks
Calistril 20, 4713 (Ordu-Aganhei, small hours)
Nihali helped calm my anxiety. I wish I’d had her when I was young. Much of what got me into trouble, or rather more trouble than I should have been in, was my lack of self-control. Outbursts, flashes of anger, saying things I’d later regret (or should have regretted a lot sooner), and so on. It wasn’t until I began seriously studying Irori that this really changed, but of course by then it was too late: I had already acquired enough bruises for a lifetime.
Nihali is, in a way, a tiny reflection of myself. She knows me better than anyone, perhaps even better than I know me. And that means she knows why I get into these mental loops, and more importantly how to break them.
All this is a verbose way of saying: I’m ready to get the rest of this out.
I suppose I should start with: the food tonight did not disappoint. Caviar, suckling pig, poached apples, fried potatoes … Qatana and Amieko have cooked for us for months now, but this was the first time they’ve been able to pull out all the stops. What we had tonight was truly gourmet. We needed to make an impact, and make an impact they did. But the enjoyment of it, for me anyway, was dampened heavily by the dinner conversation. Including what followed our little debate on how best to get me away from here.
I may have been stuck in my room all morning and with the Prince all afternoon, but the others weren’t and they made good use of their time. We learned quite a bit more about the situation we’ll be facing in Minkai as well as the road leading there.
The big news was that there really is talk of a nascent rebellion, but the problem is that it is still just talk. The Jade Regent is definitely unpopular, but that doesn’t mean we can just walk in there and rally the people behind us. Are they just going to take Ameiko at her word? Somehow, I doubt they are going to be as accepting as Dasi. More than likely, they’ll be as trusting of her as we are of him and that means we’re going to have to prove her claim. No one knows quite how to do that.
There is also the problem of getting there. The only road between Hongal and Minkai skirts the Forest of Spirits, and it is patrolled by the Jade Regent’s troops. Assuming we could even travel that way without being recognized, the general impression we were left with is that the soldiers are as likely to kill you as they are to protect you. People and wagons simply vanish from that road. Some believe it is the spirits of the forest that are responsible, but most lay the blame at the Jade Regent’s doorstep.
The Forest of Spirits is equally—if not more—problematic. According to the locals, it is not a place for people to go. Most, in fact, believe it to be haunted (hence the name). Exactly how it’s haunted is not clear but there is agreement on one point: if you go in, you are lucky to return. This implies that whatever is in there is not going to take kindly to trespassers. Namely, us.
So, we can’t go through the Forest, and we can’t take the main road around it. Which doesn’t really leave us with a lot of options.
Not that we had a lot of time to figure it out. We still had the performances to deal with, and though we didn’t know it at the time, Dasi, too.
The play was, I suppose, as good as it could have been. It looked beautiful, and the actors gave it their all, but of course they were limited by the source material. That, and plays that are not based in religious text or doctrine just aren’t a thing here, so it was a lot for our audience to take in. The actors, too. One of them even asked me what it was supposed to be teaching us. I didn’t really know how to answer that since there really wasn’t a moral or lesson, except maybe “don’t hire oni to write your plays.” In spite of these limitations I was satisfied with the performance, though that was slightly undercut when one of the actors muttered “I guess we’ll get to keep our heads tonight” under his breath. It was a stark reminder that we had gambled with other peoples’ lives.
As for the dance, we gave the Prince and his court a performance that they will remember for a very long time. Seriously. It was that good.
It was also just a bit subversive. Flamenco is structured improvisation. The music and song are never done the same way, and they serve as inspiration for the dance which means it isn’t, either. They evoke an emotional response which the dancer uses to create a unique performance. Ameiko surprised me by putting to music an old folk tale from Varisia about a young girl who befriends a winter wolf that has wandered south, away from the ice and snow. Varisian is a difficult language in many respects: it’s a mishmash of Giant, Orc, Thassilonean and Taldan, and it’s ripe with double meanings and innuendo. Magic may help you understand what’s being said, but it won’t grant any insights into double entendres, insinuations and hidden meanings. I’d be shocked if anyone there understood that the story and dance were a metaphor for my situation, and ultimately a mockery of the Prince. I like to think that Shelyn would be pleased.
The evening should have ended on this note, but then we met Dasi.
We were completely blindsided. We’ve always assumed that we’d be bringing Ameiko into a country that doesn’t know her, and that we’d need to prove her heritage and her claim. It never occurred to us that someone from Minkai might come to us. And, assuming Dasi is telling the truth, that is exactly what happened.
Of course, the rub there is, how do we know he’s telling the truth? We don’t. Sure, there are spells that can supposedly help, but they are fallible and thus ultimately untrustworthy. We have to figure it out for ourselves. We have to take everything he’s said, dissect it, analyze it, and then make the judgement call.
So, which is it? Scholar and researcher from Minkai, desperately seeking the only royal family known to survive the purge in the desperate hope that he will find an heir to the throne? Or agent of the Five Storms, hunting down the sole remaining heir that is, literally, right in front of him?
These are rhetorical questions.
OK, fine. It was less obvious at the time. When he just came out and asked if we knew anything about the Amatatsu family, I thought we were going to be taking down another oni right then and there. In my room. But, later it occurred to me that neither of the oni we have confronted to date (I don’t count Kikonu, who was deranged and clueless) have been so brazenly direct. Literally walking up to us and asking, “Hey, do you know of an heir?” is about as far from subtle as you can get. And to what aim? I mean, the Five Storms knows she’s here. They even know what she looks like. What’s the point in pretending otherwise? What would be gained by alerting us? If you’re going to be that bold, wouldn’t it make more sense to just ambush us and get it over with?
I was more or less convinced already, and then something truly astonishing happened: Suishen spoke to him, and he was polite. Yeah, I know. I’m as shocked as everyone else.
(Ordu-Aganhei, early morning)
My room was, once again, the retreat of choice for our morning cross-examination of Dasi. Maybe I should consider renting it out for meetings while Radella and I are stuck here. I could even charge for extras, like the coded language spell and such. I am sure Prince Batsaikhar will appreciate my entrepreneurial spirit.
Qatana cast her spell and we asked a bunch of pointless questions. What do you want me to say here? We are walking in circles. Either we trust him or we don’t. At this point, if he is anything other than what he says he is it’s too late to be suspicious. Come on.
Eventually Qatana decided to go the direct route (finally!) and just outright said that Ameiko was the heir. You might call that a “tense moment”. Of course, it was fine. Dasi wants nothing more than to bring the rightful heir back to Minkai. He even swore loyalty to Ameiko right there on the spot. I think we have enough. We’ve had enough since last night. No other answer makes sense. Yet, some of them are still a little suspicious. Get over it.
This trust-you-but-don’t-trust-you thing is going to get old. Worse, it may drive him off. And we’re going to need his help.
I am getting irritated again. Honestly, I think it’s just the stress of the day. We’re getting the caravan out of the city this morning, and then we are going with my Plan B: they leave, I stay, and stick it out until they reach Muliwan. Radella kindly offered to stay behind, too, to keep an eye on me. I accepted. She knows how to be discreet and I may end up needing her help. And, most importantly, she won’t treat me like I’m made of glass.
I also have to reach out to mom and dad and I really don’t want to go through with it. That conversation is actually what I am most anxious about. The Prince, this place, the deception–those things, I can handle. Talking to my parents is another matter: I actually care about what they think.
Speaking of the Prince, Chua interrupted our summit to deliver a present: a jade necklace. It’s lovely, but … I don’t know. It’s so generic. Like some afterthought. It feels like he has a stash of them, and he gives one to all of his brides-to-be. I don’t care, but I guess my pride does.
He’s also assigned two guards to me. They, too, are generic. They’ll keep honest people honest, but that’s about it. I didn’t point out that anyone or anything that is capable of making me feel threatened will crush them without even knowing they are there. I kind of feel bad about thinking that, but it’s true.
Well. I am all sorts of lovely company today.