16/06/1472 – 11:40 – 11:55 – The group come slowly and painfully round, the distant sounds of frightened voices, yelling in a language unknown to them, echoing from somewhere far away. Each adventurer can feel the heat of a pounding sun on their backs, and they can hear a low background whining that can only be insects of some kind. Stinking dust, thick with the redolence of pond sludge, tickles Lia's nose, and fills the heads of the others with its malodour, and the group can feel dry heat radiating up from the surface on which they lie.
As consciousness begins to take fully hold, even the undead feel the agony in their bones; their journey through space (and indeed, through time, though they do not know this as yet), leaving them badly weakened and stressed.
The shouting continues...some angry...most frightened.... People are moaning and some seem to be praying, though it is impossible to tell for sure given they speak a foreign language...
Somewhere in the distance, something wooden sounding repeatedly clacks as if struck....an alarm?
Slowly, each questor open their eyes, the harsh light of the sun leaping in to stab at their brains with fiery fingers. Dizziness and nausea, worse for Lia, sweeps over them as they try to sit up and take in their surroundings.
They are in some kind of open field, cut into the gently sloping land ito create a series of wide terraced shelves. It is thick with dead and desiccated grass of some kind, though it is quickly apparent that it was sown in rows, suggesting a crop. To the east and west, at the edge of the field, rises thick jungle. To the south, the field ends in more jungle, but the horizon lies some distance beyond that and...
...And by the Gods! Hanging at least a quarter mile in the air above this place, many miles to the south, is a mass of land too huge to fathom. A gargantuan, mountainous edifice of torn rock which shimmers with its own local weather systems and from which pours an impossible sheen of water – a water fall made, it seems, by a sea draining continually from somewhere above.
To the north, the stepped fields rise to end in a small cluster of rustic, high sided buildings; wooden framed, wattle and daub, with thatched roofs made from twigs. Each stands on low supports, and seems quite sturdy. Beyond this tiny village, more jungle rises, clustering it seems around hidden hills and low mountains.
Between the downed group and the village stand about twelve men and women. Each is dressed in a simple robe, and all have a golden complexion, narrowed, slightly tilted eyes, and dark hair. The women all wear their hair pulled back into a small bun, secured with long wooden pins, whilst the men either sport top-knots, short, high ponytails, or wear their hair down. At least half are on their knees, apparently praying at the group, and as they speak one word - “Shinegami” - is repeated over and over. The others are either wailing in terror, or making conservatively aggressive gestures towards the party – holding aloft sickles, or strange wooden, flail-like polearms (though Grigori quickly realises these are farming implements rather than purpose built weapons).
Above the group, the air still seethes with fading planar instability, and they realise that they must have just manifested here in front of the villagers.
“Ugh! My head.” grunts Shnecke, “What the hell was I drinking? And what the hell is that noise?”
Rolling over, Varracuda looks at the thing he carries. Jaeger's corpse has barely any weight at all, and the genasai is somewhat troubled to see that true death has reduced his body to a warped, inky skeleton of almost carbonised shadows. He blinks up at the sky, and sees that Aelnaerys has got big enough that its violet disc is visible during the day, and that the sun is surrounded by a smoky halo - a result of the billions of fragments of Lunum reflecting its light in the upper atmosphere. A low rumble shakes the ground, making the villagers pause in their cries a moment.
“So d-dizzy!” Gasps Lia, “Where the hell are we?”
“I don't know.” Whispers Grigori, trying to ignore the deep hunger that the mortal woman instils in him, “But we need to somehow get these folks on our side, or we are dead.”
The clacking in the village was clearly some kind of alarm, and the group can see, as they giddily rise to their feet, hands raised in what they hope is a peaceful gesture here, that a half dozen lightly armoured figures with weapons are running at full speed towards their position.
“We need to act now.” Hisses Lia, before turning to face the villagers, and, seeing their gestures, bowing deeply at the waist, hands together as if in prayer.
Seeing this, the villagers quieten a little, those kneeling looking at the party with a mix of fear and hope.
“We. Mean. You. No. Harm” Begins the priest slowly and loudly, mirroring Lia's movements, “We. Are. Not. Your. Enemies.”
The villagers have grown quiet (though the approaching warriors are apparently shouting at them – almost certainly telling them to get away).
One of the sickle bearer's steps forwards, his face hopeful. He says something in his native tongue, and at his words the other villagers look at the group with questioning hope. Lia reads his body language, and realises that he is asking whether or not they should stop the approaching men from harming them; that he is looking for some proof that they mean him and his no harm.
In response, she bows her head and places her weapon on the floor, the rest of the party following suit. This simply act seems to be enough, and as the charging men get closer, the villagers turn to slow them. This seems to stagger the men – each dressed in curious armour consisting of a rounded hardened leather breastplate, tassets and spalders of woven linen and bamboo and heavy leather gauntlets, each bearing either a finely wrought axe or a slender, single bladed longsword. Confused, the warriors begin to shove the villagers out of the way, yelling angrily at them, and push to form a lose line in front of the party, weapons raised. The villagers continue to yell at them, and the warriors continue to shove them back, stealing frequent, angry glances at the party as if daring them to attack whilst they are distracted.
“Do. Nothing.” Whispers Lia sharply out the corner of her mouth, hearing a deep, sludgy growl emanate from the barbarian.
It quickly becomes clear that the warriors are not going to control the villagers, and are unwilling to try and hurt them, so one of them – a rangy man bearing a straight sword – turns to the group, and begins to speak to them in an urgent, questioning tone of voice. Intuiting that he wants some kind of reassurance that they mean no harm, the priest very slowly picks up his weapon, sheathes it, and places it on the ground once more, before bowing his head, exposing his neck to a sword blow. The rest of the party simply lower their heads. This, it seems is enough, and the warrior begins to shout at his allies, apparently ordering them to stop harassing the villagers and to stand down.
It is at this moment that the group notice a robed figure, clearly female, her face hidden by a wide, conical hat of straw. Walking gracefully towards them; her movement fluid and balletic, her only weapons, a pair of short, straight bladed swords tied to her hip. As she nears, the gathered villagers and warriors begins to bow towards her, stumbling back to let her reach the party.
Soon she stands before the group, and to their surprise she speaks to them in Trade. “Please stand Shinegami. I would speak with you.”
Looking up, the group stumble to their feet, and find themselves face to face with a truly striking woman possessed of an alien, fey beauty, realising at once that she is no more human than they are dracani. Her skin is tanned, but has a slightly olive undertone, and her eyes are large, tilted and luminous – must as those of the hated aelwyn were. They are darkest green in colour, and suit her heart-shaped face and wide, upturned mouth. She is smiling, and it is reflected in her eyes, though her stance speaks of intense martial discipline and coiled readiness.
Seeing the group have not moved, she repeats her request, her voice resonant and slightly unsettling.
“Please, I am Shi Awasaki, leader of the Ashano Ishi'Tao Bushi, the Heroes of Good Soul. The villagers believe you to be death gods, sent to answer their prayers for deliverance from the Jokiro Shukai. I am not so sure, but appreciate that you have yielded properly, and would therefore extend to you the honour of speaking with me in more civilized surrounds.”
Shi gestures at the village in the distance.
For a moment the group dare not move, and the rangy bushi sees this as some kind of slight; shouting at them in the native language. Shi turns to him and says something, and at once he steps back, bowing his head.
“Please. You will not be harmed.”
11:56 – 13:00 – The group are sitting, barefooted, in the only building in the village that has a tiled roof – the inn. Shi has removed her hat, allowing her luxurious hair – black, but sheened with green where it catches the light – to fall free, and has encouraged the group to kneel or sit cross-legged, their confusion at the lack of chairs plain to her.
“You are Yissen no? Chai Bu?”
“Err what?” Asks Shnecke.
Shi smiles. “You are outsiders, from far away?”
“Err yes.” Replies Grigori, “I suppose we are. In fact, if I am honest, I am not sure for definite where we are.”
Shi looks momentarily taken aback, but quickly regains control. She asks how the group came to be here, and they tell her the whole story, including the fact that all but Lia are now “tainted” with undeath – though they seek to undo their sorry state. They tell her that a fifth member of their band lies dead, and that they would also seek his return (though Grigori is toying with the idea of trying to bring the assassin back with a ritual he has learned), and then ask again where they are.
“You are in what used to the northwestern province of the Empire of Jow'Fei Yen II, the lands known as Kai'Yassan.”
“Used to be?” Asks Varracuda.
“Nearly three weeks ago, the heavens sundered the earth, and the land was torn apart. All the realms of Kai'Yassan were picked up and set adrift in the heavens; the lesser lands such as this, close to the earthly realms, the greater and greatest rising to meet the heavens themselves.”
“What were the local effects?” Asks Lia, “Why do you and your band stay here?”
Shi nods, as if accepting that the question is a good one.
“When the heavens split the earth, the water in the paddy fields drained away, and the crops perished. For long and long the Onida of the Jokiro Shukai – the Laughing Hell – have demanded a tithe from this village of rice, taking all but the minimum needed for the village to replant and to scrape by.
“When last they came, the villagers could not give them any rice, and the daemons instead took one of their maiden daughters, saying that the next time they came, they would take children if not given anything else. The villagers need the rice they have to replant next year – assuming they can re-flood the fields somehow – and so they are trapped with having to choose between starving or giving up their children to the monsters.
“I grew up in the mountains to the north of here, and because of my nature, feel a natural protectiveness to this region.”
“You're a bamboo spirit folk aren't you!” Interrupts Varracuda excitedly.
Shi nods again, “I am indeed born of the spirits of the great grasses that grow in this region. The Onida are foul things born of the winds of sorcery, and the corruption of Shukai. Their predations hurt not only the people of this region, but the kami, the great spirits of it too, and they must be stopped.”
Shi seems to deflate a little at this, and it is clear that some unspoken pain is making its presence felt. The moment passes, and when she regards the group, it is with steel in her marvellous, viridian gaze.
“The villagers have been praying to Kimmen'Isigari and to Kebbishikai for aid, and so, when the air burned and you all appeared in the fields, they believed their prayers had been answered. At first, I did not think it possible, for I sensed the darkness in most of you, and assumed you were either more wandering ghosts or daemons. However, I am now not sure. “
“We need help.” Replies Grigori suddenly, “And would be happy to help you in order to get it.”
Shi looks at him.
“As you can see, and as I have explained, we are...tainted...and we would very much like to return to our former lives as living, breathing individuals. I possess the ability to get halfway there, but to fully remove this taint we need the help of a powerful individual with potent magic. Can you think of someone who may be able to help us?”
The spirit woman seems surprised at the priest's honesty, and after a moment nods.
“There is a terrible and powerful earth spirit in the land mass that floats to the south of this land. He could almost certainly help you return to life, though getting an audience and convincing him to help will not be easy.
“I know of a way to reach him however, and will show it to you if you can end the threat of the Jokiro Shukai Onida.”
Grigori looks round at the rest of the group, and sees only agreement in their eyes.
“Then so be it.” He says smiling, “We shall hunt down and destroy these Laughing Hell daemons, and help to save the people of this village”.
13:00 – 06:00 (17/6/1472) – A meal is eaten (though there is much uncomfortable hilarity when Shnecke is initially unable to consume the half-throttled gibbon that is caught for him by one of the bushi, his piteous pleas of “But don't you have something like a goat? Something that doesn't look like a little person.” falling on deaf ears), the genasai consuming mortal food, despite its unpleasant taste and his inability to digest it in his current state. Then the group spend the afternoon preparing; Lia sleeping, the others meditating and dwelling on the task ahead.
Varracuda risks a journey to a spring an hours wander away, and meditates there, sensing a sad elemental presence there, that seems to mourn him. Shnecke spends the afternoon carefully teasing his hair with a comb, and by nightfall has managed to secure it in a neatly bound topknot exactly like those worn by the bushi of the Ashano Ishi'Tao, much to the delight of the villagers.
As evening falls, and the night song of the jungle grows in volume, a storm rolls in from the south, a heavy rain rattling off the roof of the inn. The group spend some time playing board games with the locals, and Shi gives them some pointers on the monsters they will face – two-headed horrors, brutish daemons that spit molten copper, and possibly the ghosts of those that were slain by them or who's burial ground – now the heart of the Oni's lair – has become corrupted by their foul magic. She warns them of the Bakemono, savage mortal humanoids that serve the Oni, and tells Lia that her weapon, forged as it is from resonant crystal, will be a deadly weapon against the Onida – it's substance pure in a karmic sense, and so able to disrupt the polluted substance of the Onida.
She then wishes the group well, and tells them that she will see them in the morning.
And so, as the storm rages above, the streets becoming a morass of mud and water, the groups retire to their rooms; the undead falling into a deep fugue, the mortal, Lia, into an exhausted sleep.