Heroic Adventure to Forge the Empress

Secrets under the Mountains
March 23, 2018

Beneath the fire-crowned mountains of Zhongdao

As the party continued their exploration of the shrine, the party began to make their way through the doors in the dining hall they had entered.

Their first encounter with a locked door ended differently than Gin would have liked, with a dart embedded in his yeti-hide coat. The corridor the first door opened into ended in another dead-end, with another dragon engraving.

The second door was not likewise trapped, but opened into an unfinished, broken-down section of the shrine, with winding, wending corridors that lead in bending passageways through the earth.

As they traveled, they came across a number of unusual discoveries. They found a tunnel, appearing to be cut into the corridor, which they determined not to crawl within to investigate. Further along, a fallen-in section of the corridor dropped deep down into the mountain, where the grinding and oppressive heat of magma flow reached up into the corridor.

Further along, the party encountered both a trap-door, leading to the first room they had found within the shrine, and a series of engravings on the wall. Written in Draconic, it formed a message in scrambled letters.

Unable to decipher it to begin with, the party moved forward again, following the last doorway they had found, and stealthily looking into a very curious room. Within, a number of fire sprites danced in a circle, around a scribed summoning circle and a ring of standing stones. As Ivellios attempted to communicate, the creatures screeched and scowled at him, claiming that fire would consume the world, and the balance had been broken. As Ivellios slowly backed out of the room, the creatures began to follow after, and only Grozem holding the door shut kept them from following after.

The party backed away, and when the door opened, a horde of the creatures spilled out. While they were quickly put out with a combination of blows and elemental magic, the one survivor offered little further information.

Moving deeper still, the party found another engraving, this of the traditional staff of a shrine maiden, with a small bowl-shaped indentation beneath it. The party also finished their deciphering of the text they’d found:

Bring Fire to the Brothers and Water to the Sisters; The Passage will open the one who Sees themselves True

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A Blistering Heat
March 17, 2018

In the camps of the Shogun

A scout appeared before the Shogun and his advisor, the drow Anah. While the scout hailed the Shogun, it deferred to Anah, and reviewed itself to be a shape-changing oni.

The scout told that an ‘imposter’ of Akemi had taken up habitation in Stone Serpent Keep, and claimed her right to the throne. Anah persuaded the Shogun to send a number of his forces to deal with this threat to his legitimacy, and the Shogun sent five regiments, under Anah’s control, to deal with the group.

Under the fire-crowned mountains of Zhongdao

With light disappearing from the skies, the party began to trek under the mountain. Into the dark tunnel they walked, for one, two hours, the heat building as they traveled deeper and deeper into the mountains.

They finally arrived in a more fully-carved portion of the tunnels, and the party recognized the architecture of a shrine. Looping through the corridors of the shrine, the party first came across a large engraving on a dead-end wall, showing a dragon curled around a mountain.

Continuing deeper within, the party stumbled across a trap, which paralyzed Strawhat, and sent a loud gong resounding through the tunnels. Moments later, a half-score of lizard-like, fiery creatures attacked, slithering down and across the ceiling of the corridor.

After defeating the creatures, the party continued into an area that appeared to be have once served as a lecture room. While they found some suspicious furniture in the room, they weren’t able to find anything besides a pile of washed-out parchment.

Moving further inside, the party entered another room, with Akemi opening the lock on one of the doors. Within, two stone-like creatures lurked, a pair of chimera, which attacked the party on-sight. Defeating them, the party prepared to rest before heading further within.

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Fortune or Misfortune
March 10, 2018

In Stone Serpent Keep

As the Elder Sulsashi, Vondril, and the minister of agriculture stood atop the the walls, a representative of the villagers arrived with a request; while the garrison had done a modest job of maintaining the peace, they would continue to be seen as outsiders, especially as their focus remained on protecting the keep, rather than the village. The representative proposed the formation of a militia and police force to self-regulate the villages. Vondril and Elder Sulsashi both roundly denied the request.

Before they could turn back to agricultural matters, two riders, scouts, arrived from the south. The scouts reported troubling news; Acheron‘s forces had split, with the majority still moving north and east towards Higayashima, a smaller group headed north along the coast from Shi Zhu, towards the Keep. By the scout’s estimates, the vanguard would arrive only five days hence.

In the mountains of northern Zhongdao

The party continued northwards, having hatched a plan to deal with the night hag plaguing Akemi. As night fell, the entire party stayed up, keeping watch. While a few began to drift to sleep, the party kept themselves awake through the night. They waited long hours, but as dawn rose over the mountain peaks, they knew that the hag would not visit that night.

With Akemi the only party member well-rested, the party decided to sleep through the day. As they rested, Akemi paced and tried her hand at dragon chess against a few party members. Late in the day, something strange caught her eye. A woman with red hair, standing just around a turn in the path.

After telling the party about this figure, Strawhat and Gin followed, while the rest of the party stayed and continued their rest. While they explored, the figure appeared again, from a different direction, and just as quickly disappeared.

Strawhat and Gin did not find the red-haired woman they were looking for, but instead stumbled over a pair of stone statues, outside a man-made entrance into the mountain-side. When they tripped close to the statues, they animated, and struck against the two.

Escaping from the slow-moving creatures, the two returned to the party, which waited for the end of their rests and then approached the entryway again.

Remembering the prior entryway to a shrine, where they had to leave their weapons behind, some members of the party left their weapons outside. Gin tried to sneak his weapons inside, and the statues attacked. After fighting them, with one pushed off the edge of the mountain by Strawhat and Steve, and the other held at bay by Sulsashi, and finally finished off, the party was free to enter the tunnel that lead further into the mountains.

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Into the Mountains
March 2, 2018

In the foothills of the Flametongue Peaks, the north of Zhongdao

Leaving Ren and the White Company behind, the party continued northwards. Travelling back to Jejin with the cyclops’ heads, the party approach the walls of the city and found them locked. The guards atop it asked for their business, and summoned the mayor. The mayor brought them the reward of 500 gold for the killing of the cyclops.

While the party refused the reward, they asked to be let inside, to distribute the medical supplies they’d reclaimed to the people. The mayor, after hearing the treason they had spoken against the Shogun before, refused them entry, even though they held the medical supplies hostage. After hurling a cyclops head against the gates, and insulting the mayor, the mayor threw the gold down to them, and told them to leave or be fired upon.

While the party left without a fight, they first threw the gold back over the wall, and left the medical supplies behind at the entrance to the city.

Travelling throughout the day, they passed by an area where a number of orcs had been killed by javelins.

At the end of the day, they happened upon a merchant travelling south. The merchant was happy for the chance to share some words, and some food, and told a number of stories from his youth in the area. One of the stories was of especial interest, telling of an opening into the fourth mountain of the range, and opening out of which came what he claimed was a meiko, a shrine maiden.

As the party spent the night, Akemi was visited by another terrible nightmare, a vision of armies under her command being annihilated due to her failures. At this point, she was heavily weakened and clearly tired and drained. Lu Bu and Grozem saw Akemi in this state, and warned the next watch, Sulsashi and Strawhat, of what they saw.

The next watch was on edge, a fact which wasn’t helped by the ominous blowing of the wind. Sulsashi noticed that one edge of Akemi’s tent was opened, and after being woken again, claimed she had tied it down. After hearing a rustling that seemed to him to be laughing, Strawhat gained Sulsashi’s help in following a path through the grass.

The path wound and weaved through the grass, bringing the two further and further out into the wilds, further from the light of the camp. With the wind calling around them, and an unnatural quiet settling over the area, the path came to an abrupt end.

Strawhat and Sulsashi spent the rest of the watch on edge, and in the morning, the party discussed what to do. Thadrack believed, based on the description, that the trauma was caused by a night creature, a Night Hag, which siphons the life-force of people through their dreams. The Night Hag had to visit every night, but arrived in a form that could not be seen. This seemed to be confirmed when Akemi appeared as desecrated, with two deep hand-shaped bruises on her back.

Deciding that any action would have to wait until the next night, the party continued up into the mountains. Before they reached very far, the ground shook, and a thin plume of smoke arose from the top of the fourth mountain. As the ground shook, some boulders dislodged, and out of the ground arose four beetle-like creatures, Umber Hulks.

The party fought the Umber Hulks, and managing to burn and cut them down, prepared for their next move.

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The White Company
Feb 24, 2018

At Stone Serpent Keep

Elder Sulsashi received reports on Huijin and the Minister of Agriculture’s project to improve the farming and defensibility of the area. The efforts are making steady progress, and soon the first crop should be available.

As they are speaking, two gnome travelers are granted an audience. The gnomes claimed to speak on behalf of the greater gnomish community, searching for a safe place to find refuge. The gnomes asked about the defenses of the castle, and after being rebuffed by Sulsashi, requested a tour of the grounds. Both Sulsashi and Captain Vondril thought this suspicious, and after turning them down, ordered some of the dragonborn to follow them as they moved through the small village springing up around the Keep.

While the dragonborn saw nothing out of the ordinary, the Sulsashi remained wary of what they might be up to, but still allowed them to continue on their way.

In the north of Zhongdao

As the party heads towards the cyclops they left the day before, Akemi is visibly tired and drained. The nightmares which have plagued her the past two nights are beginning to take their toll.

The party closed to near the cyclops, and attempted to sneak up on the three brigands. As they split into two groups, however, the larger of the two was noticed nearly immediately as they moved closer. Battle was joined, and though the cyclops struck many a mighty blow against the party members, they were defeated in short order.

As the party was looking through the supplies of the ambushed merchant they had passed the day before, filled with herbs and medicines, a few members of the party spied a single rider, 300 ft away. They called the rider closer, and while the rider drew nearer, they did not get close.

The rider asked what they were doing in the area, and who they were. Upon hearing that they were ‘retainers of Empress Akemi Yoshirou’ and had killed the cyclops, the rider only warned them not to travel further to the north, and then turned to leave.

The party disagreed strongly, and turned their magics against the rider’s efforts to leave. After restraining, firing at, and compelling the figure, they drew them back to the party, but as the rider returned, they whistled a piercing call, and soon a company of white-clad riders had surrounded the party.

The rider unmasked herself, and explained that she was General Ren Ayumi, the daughter of the famed General Ren Zhuan, who had been the lord of these lands. While she did not control the lands in the eyes of the Shogun or Higayashima, she considered herself and her company the rightful ruler of the area, with the responsibility to do what she could to protect the area.

Akemi revealed herself to the general, and requested that she join her in recreating the empire. Though Ren did not react hostile towards Akemi at first, she found no reason to serve Akemi, who she did not see as possessing any of the traits of a leader. Ren was opaque about what those qualifications were, but made an important show of her men’s faith in her, and the wounds she had suffered in their defense.

The party…did not agree with Ren’s position that Akemi had not proven herself a leader, and varied between apathy at Ren’s neutrality, anger at her perceived disrespect of the princess, and disgust at her purported banditry of the villages of the area. With some harsh words from both sides, Ren again warned the party against entering further, and turned with her company to leave.

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Jejin
Feb 10, 2018

In the North of Zhongdao…

The party continued northwards a number of days. As they began to near the foothills of the northern mountains, their path crossed with a trail recently cut. A large number of heavy footfalls has tread the ground, and Steve believed that the trail markings showed it to be caused by a tribe of orcs, likely marauding.

Deciding to continue on their way, the party continued north, entering the lands formally controlled by the Shogun. Later that day, seeing evidence of a cart being turned off the road, the party was ambushed by cyclops, who attacked the party from the hills with boulders.

Though Akemi’s horse was crushed, Steve managed to pull her back to safety, and Grozem threw himself into the fight furiously. As the rest of the party retreated, Grozem managed to barely extricate himself, battered and bloody, from the cyclops.

A little while later, as they slowed their horses from their flight from the cyclops, they arrived at the town of Jejin, and deciding that it was time to stop for the night, entered the town. The town, loyal to the Shogun still, asked about the cyclops, and whether the party were merchants carrying medicine needed by the town.

Lu Bu went to heal the diseased in the town, while much of the party spread out to find rumors and information through the town. The townspeople were divided. Most seemed convinced that the Shogun would restore order and reappoint Prince Yuudai to the throne, but were frustrated with the orcs, cyclops, and ‘bandits’ who were affecting the nearby area. They were especially upset that the Shogunate had done little to help with the recent troubles, but most were convinced that they could endure until the Regent was removed, Acheron was driven back, and order was restored.

One young girl, however, told them more about the ‘bandits’, a group led by someone called ‘General Ren’, who fought against the orcs and other forces in the area, including the Shogun’s armies. Public sentiment, however, was not strongly on the side of General Ren.

After staying the night, the party awoke to find a proclamation being given in town: 500 gold would be awarded by the Shogun to anyone who killed the cyclops and removed that threat. As Lu Bu claimed that the party would deal with the cyclops, not for the Shogun, but for Princess Akemi, and refused to acknowledge the Shogun’s authority over the north, the governor of the town had guards escort the party out of the town.

The party then turned their horses southward once again, to deal with the cyclops they had left behind just the previous day._

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Farewell
Jan 27, 2018

In stone Serpent Keep

As the party prepared to head out, Akemi chose to travel alongside the party, since the quest for the Red Dragon Shrine and the Dragon Orb involved her most of all. Vondril, worried that she would not be fully protected with her retainers only, ordered Grozem, a lieutenant in the guard, to accompany the party. Likewise, after the death of two of Sulsashi’s followers while fighting the Black Riders, the Elder Sulsashi ordered that Sulsashi must embark on this portion of his quest alone, to see the world and prove himself against it, before returning to inherit the clan.

The party set out, and traveled quickly north. On the first night out from the castle, they had an interesting encounter. In the hours before dawn, a group of three gnomes came to the party, asking to sit by their fire. Strawhat was happy to see other gnomes, and encouraged them to join the party for a few hours. As they talked, the gnomes expressed fear at the state of the world, and Strawhat explained how Stone Serpent Keep was a safe place, and woke Akemi to be introduced to the gnomes as the Empress of the Jade Empire.

With Lu Bu growing more and more suspicious, the group of gnomes was sent off. Shortly thereafter, Akemi awoke in the night from a horrifying nightmare, seeing herself and the party executed by the Regent. Her entire body felt weakened by the experience, and she was visibly shaken, but she told the party that she was fine, and could continue on.

The next morning, the party investigated the area where the gnomes had traveled off, and found three extra sets of tracks that had circled their camp during the night. Further, one of the set of gnome tracks had moved towards the woods, and then vanished completely. Talking to a bird, Steve had confirmed that the creature claimed that one of the gnomes ‘disappeared’ last night.

Continuing northward with this news, the party turned a corner of the road to find the Green Ronin Inn, the inn run by Birchburn, the sun elf. As they entered the inn, it was clearly in disrepair, and the normally warm and kind atmosphere had been replaced by a dingy, empty, air. No more music played from the stage, and no other patrons were attending the inn.

From out of a back room, Birchburn came, explaining how the Butcher had taken his eye. With his eye removed by magic, his elven purity of form had been broken, and age would once again have an effect on him. Tzzird was distraught (or as close to that emotion as the dark elf could have), and attempted to call on Llolth to search for answers. Instead, she spoke with Correllon Lorathian, the sun elf god. He claimed that the time of the sun elves was ending, and he would do nothing to save Birchburn. After all, the sun elves had not proven beautiful after they their creation. Perhaps on his next attempt, he would perfect them.

Angered at the callousness of the god, Tzzird demanded to know who had Birchburn’s eye, but Birchburn could not, or would not, tell her. Instead, Birchburn told her that she must not allow her feud with her sister to drive the two into conflict, or else the dark elves, like the sun elves, might be drawn into a devastating war.

With nothing more to be done, Tzzird and the others said that they would find a way to save him if they could, and as they departed, Birchburn slipped an artifact into Tzzird’s pockets, what he called ‘the soul of the Green Ronin’.

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A Path Forwards
Jan 20, 2018

In Stone Serpent Keep

After calling for a night of festivities, to draw the attention of the peasants gathered outside Stone Serpent Keep from their famine and suffering, Akemi was overseeing a series of performances. In the midst of one of them, Vondril, the captain of the guard, arrived to tell her that her retainers had returned.

The party returned harried, accompanied by Fu Lim, a few hundred villagers from the destroyed fishing village, and the body of Cyrano, the Butcher, a sword pressed through his heart.

While both Fu Lim and Gin demanded Akemi’s immediate attention, each to different issues, Akemi ordered that the festival not be stopped, causing Fu Lim to return to the villagers, frustrated. The Butcher’s body was locked deep in the dungeons of the Keep, with Gin locking himself within the same cell.

Later that evening, Akemi called Fu Lim into her council room. Fu LIm told Akemi that she was happy that three of the dragons, including Shiro, could be gathered together, and asked Akemi to set aside statecraft in order to pursue her true destiny, fully realizing her power as a Dragon of the Middle Isles. Akemi refused to give up her claim to the throne however, and Fu Lim left rejected once more, vowing to return to the shore until Akemi came to her senses.

The party also discussed what to do with the Butcher, and returned to the keep to interrogate him. After removing the sword from his heart, he slowly regained consciousness, his body stitching together, and came to. The Butcher claimed to be a servant of the Shogun, one able to do the black deeds that the Shogun’s honor could not allow him to do, or even order done. As they pressed him for information, he showed that he had no knowledge of the dragons, or the Shogun’s schemes.

Instead, he was obsessed with the idea that he had failed to kill the party because he had faltered in the path to power, showing honor when he fought Gin one-on-one (only to be attacked by the rest of the party), and offered mercy to Tzzird after sending the majority of the party to unconsciousness. He goaded Gin, asserting that when Gin cut him, a defenseless prisoner, down, he would finally be proven right; proving that the mercy and honor that their master prattled on about is nothing more than weakness.

Gin hesitated, but Akemi ordered Gin to execute the Butcher. After cutting off the Butcher’s head, Gin stormed out. Akemi then watched as Steve and Tzzird searched through the Butcher’s body, cut it into pieces, and burned it to ash, storing the ashes in separate ceramic jars, to be buried.

The party discussed what to do next: learning from Llolth and Legend Lore that the Red Dragons of the Jade Age had lived within a great city and a volcano, they decided that they should search the north of the peninsula for the ‘mountain crowned with fire’ that one of the red dragons had resided within.

After some deliberation, Akemi decided that the Elder Sulsashi would be left in charge of the Keep, with Huijin remaining to work on a project to improve the crops and defenses of the Keep while they traveled.

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The Metal Dragon
Jan 5, 2018

Outside a small fishing village of Zhongdao

As the party returns from the Shrine of Water, they see oily, black smoke rising from Fu Lim’s village. Though Fu Lim and others want to charge directly into battle, Sulsashi convinces the party to divert and meet up with her retinue, who they find waiting nearby and watching.

The Black Riders have come to the village, and have rounded up the villagers. Many were already dead, and the riders were going door-to-door, searching for something or someone.

Deciding that the most important thing is to rescue the villagers, the party decides to assault the riders through the village while the Dragonborn evacuate the villagers to A’tuin. Gin and Strawhat sneak forward. Gin is able to hear the Butcher, having survived their previous fight, interrogating the prisoners. Strawhat dispatches one of the riders, but is seen by others, and battle is joined.

Thanks to Fu Lim sealing off most of the riders with a wall of water, the party only has to face the Butcher and a portion of his soldiers. Even this is a dangerous fight, as the Butcher makes use of abilities that clearly mark him as the Metal Dragon, as well as the Swallowtail Sword, allowing him to swiftly move between targets.

Gin, Strawhat, Huijin, and Shiro are all downed at least once during the fight, but after coming to the brink of defeat the party is able to defeat the Butcher. Stabbing him after he’s been defeated, they carry his corpse with them onto A’tuin, and manage to escape just before the rest of the Black Riders can catch up with them.

As the party heads towards Stone Serpent Keep, with Fu Lim and the Butcher’s corpse, they begin to see something unheard of. The fatal wounds the Butcher has suffered begin to knit together. Fearing the worst, the party leaves a blade stuck through the Butcher’s heart, and resolve to get to the bottom of his power.

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Apotheosis
Dec 29, 2017

In the western seas of Zhongdao

As the party approaches the Shrine of Water, atop the water spirit A’tuin, they see a huge whirlpool, a vortex spiraling down nearly 100 feet to touch the top of the Shrine. All around them is a clammy fog, a miasma left by the deep grasper’s influence, and on the top of the water is a film of thick mucus.

After brief deliberation, Huijin grants the party the ability to breath underwater, to explore the shrine, and she and Strawhat briefly go underwater to see the Shrine itself, a stone structure surrounded by the decaying bones of the old Water Dragon. All along the ground and wrapped around the dragon’s bones are tentacles, created by the deep grasper ad siphoning the power of the dragon into their master.

Huijin is able to locate Fu Lim, held underwater by a number of tentacles, and free her, though like A’tuin above them, her skin shows blisters and open sores were the tentacles wrapped around her. At A’tuin’s urging, the party brings Fu Lim down into the Shrine with them, and, cutting their way through a number of tentacles, reaches the center of the shrine itself.

Within, Gin floats, his eyes glazed over with the mucus created by the deep grasper, his mind still in thrall. The grasper speaks through Gin and commands them to withdraw, or else perish, but the party presses forward. Within the room hands the skull of the water dragon, and dangling from it an orb, cocooned in the same mucus created by the grasper.

Knowing they have to retrieve the orb, the party swims for it, and the grasper summons giant sharks from the depths to defend itself. While for a while the party kept Fu Lim from the sphere, as the situation grew dire, with more and more creature entering the shrine, they allowed Fu Lim to hold the sphere, the orb left by the prior Dragon, and begin to cleanse it of the grasper’s desecration.

With the party barely staving off the beasts, Fu Lim cleared the orb, and the grasper’s influence was banished, freeing Gin and the sharks from the mind control. Searching the shrine briefly (and finding a peculiar pair of glass lenses) the party returned to the A’tuin. Again, reluctant to permit Fu Lim to have the orb, eventually Tzzird relented, and Fu Lim grasped the essence of the Water Dragon of the Jade Age.

The waters spun, powerful arcane energy flowed into Fu Lim, and scales appeared beneath her skin, the same mark shown on Shiro and Akemi. With a surge of power, Fu Lim was filled with past knowledge, but in her own words, not past understanding. Her new powers were undeniable, however, and she quickly restored A’tuin to his previous state.

Now, with Fu Lim agreeing to meet Akemi, the party heads back for shore.

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