(Note: This session follows Amelia, Aramith, Brand, Frostwing, and Kimiko. Fu, Honsu, and Watari are currently at their respective Clan compounds/inns).
Setsuban Festival, Day 3.
Amelia rises early to practice her swordplay. The Miya household is already awake, as an unknown visitor arrives.
The heroes are informed to please join Miya Shin’ichi in the main guest chamber. Upon arriving, the heroes are greeted by Shin’ichi, Mai, and an unknown woman wearing the garb of an Emerald Magistrate , sipping tea. Miya introduces Kitsuki Taiko, here on the order of the Imperial Court to investigate the murder of the High Priest of the Celestial Temple.
Kitsuki scrutinizes the heroes intensely before explaining her reasons for being here: As she does not often spend time in the capitol, she will require assistance with her investigation – given their recent actions, the heroes are logically the only people she knows she can trust. She is therefore drafting them into her service for the time being – if necessary, she has a signed Imperial Writ requiring them to assist her. The heroes explain that will not be necessary. Pleased, Kitsuki iterates that there are several questions to be answered:
- Why was the High Priest murdered?
- What, if anything, was taken from the High Priest’s quarters?
- How did the Crimson Cougars enter the temple?
- How did the Crimson Cougars escape the city?
- Where are the Cougars now?
- Who is the Steel Panther?
The issues settled, Kitsuki informs the heroes that she has ordered the HIgh Priest’s chambers to remain undisturbed so they may be properly examined. She will be the lead investigator, but she will value any input the heroes have. Should they need to question someone of the Samurai caste, they are to inform her and she will see it done.
Returning to the Temple District, the heroes find it is currently undergoing purification and cleanup following the attack. While walking to the Temple of Shinsei, they overhear a number of Celestial Priests and Monks from the Brotherhood of Shinsei quietly, though heatedly, debating the appointment of Doji Abun to the rank of High Priest following the murder of High Priest Ekiken. Some feel a different priest would’ve been a better candidate.
Arriving at the Pagoda of the Temple of Shinsei, the group is admitted. As they arrive at the High Priest’s chambers, they discover temple guards moving in and out while a bellowing voice orders them about. Grinding her teeth, Taiko approaches – the individual responsible for upsetting the scene is revealed – Witch Hunter Kuni Shinoda, who immediately recognizes Taiko – the two have previously butted heads. When Taiko demands an explanation, Shinoda replies that Yasuki Ikke recommended he be sent for, given that Bloodspeakers and Maho were involved in the attack. Shinoda then takes stock of the heroes – initially rude, he responds to Brand’s equally brunt assessment by laughing – he states he admires the halfling’s view, but that he shouldn’t press his luck. He has heard of their exploits and their previous altercation with another Kuni Witch Hunter. Given that Shinoda didn’t like the man, the heroes have a positive mark in his ledger.
With Shinoda waiting outside, the heroes and Taiko investigate the High Priest’s chambers. They determine where he was killed by a single strike from a katana while facing his attacker. Brand finds shards of glass near a slightly open window. Presenting them to Taiko, she determines it held a Form of the Air Kami (gaseous form) potion – the attacker drank it to escape out the window without being detected.
Kimiko discovers a small bowl filled with bloody water in which rests a chrysanthemum blossom. The blood and blossom were intentionally left behind in the bowl – a message and/or a threat, that much is clear – but to what ends is unknown.
Aramith discovers that piece of a shrine to Shinsei is missing, while a simple tea set chest is emanating strong magic. Determining it is actually an illusion and that the missing piece of the shrine was likely a key, Aramith looks past the spell; the box reveals itself to be a black chest lined with jade, projecting very strong warding magic. Pointing it out to Taiko and Shinoda, the latter senses for Taint…. and finds a powerful lingering aura inside the box. Carefully opening the box reveals it is empty inside. Shinoda identifies an engraved symbol as belonging to the Yogo family of the Snake clan – powerful shugenja who specialize in ward magic and countering the Shadowlands Taint.
Shinoda has a very bad feeling that he knows what was in the box. Reluctantly, the Kuni Witch Hunter reveals it must have been one of the Black Scrolls of Fu Leng, which were entrusted to the Yogo for protection, which they entrusted in turn to the High Priest. At this point, the heroes realize the attack on the Temple was two-fold, with each meant as a cover for the other. It is now the heroes’ turn to come clean – they reveal to Taiko and Shinoda that they too previously came across a Black Scroll – secreted at the time in a special tomb hidden at a pilgrimage site. The heroes had been sent there after being urged by Bayushi Chiasa to speak to the Heavenly Temple regarding missing pilgrims. At the time they found Bloodspeakers had entered and raided the tomb, escaping with a Black Scroll. The heroes are now introduced to the story of Iuchiban, founder of the Bloodspeakers, whereupon Brand suddenly realizes with a chill that Fu Leng may not be the only threat they’re facing…
It is determined that Shinoda should go speak to the Snake clan in an attempt to determine the fate/state of the other scrolls., since it seems clear that the Snake clan seems to know more than it is letting on. Jerrin and Mai will go to the Grand Repository to look up more information about Iuchiban – the heroes need to know more about him. The rest will visit the captured Crimson Monk in his cell to pump him for more information.
Arriving at the Seppun Guard Barracks in the Imperial District, the heroes wait to see the monk. A disturbance sounds, and Taiko demands to know what has happened. The Guard Captain ashamedly admits that the prisoner has just been found dead in his cell. Arriving at the cell discovers the monk has been decapitated, likely with a no-daichi. Brand checks the cell and determines someone else was here not long ago – very faint footprints in the hay determine that someone_ stepped out of the wall_ before killing the prisoner, then left in the same manner. He attempts to speak with Taiko about it, but she asks him to wait. She absolves the Guard Captain of the blame for the killing – he would’ve been hard pressed to prevent it, but she orders him to secure the area. In a private room, Taiko discloses that she already determined it must have been a Oni-Faced Ghost assassin – quite possibly the same man who killed Cyrus Zelorn – who did the deed. While many dismiss them as fancy, she has seen enough evidence firsthand to believe in their existence.
Information secured from the prisoner prior to his death reveal:
- The Steel Panther appeared one day to demand the allegiance of the monk and his brothers. Nearly all the Cougars are former separate bandit bands united under his leadership.
- The Steel Panther is a Ronin – the monk did not know who he was or where he came from. Most assumed he was a former Yorimoto family member from the Mantis mercenaries. He spoke often, however, of reclaiming something that had been taken from him.
- The Cougars’ lair is located in the Leaping Hare Hills, in a supposedly haunted gorge. This area is located on the Miya Daimyo’s lands…
A messenger arrives, sent by Shinoda, requesting that the team return to the temple.
On the way back to the Temple District, Kimiko and Brand decide to look for Lo’tchin’chek, to see if perhaps the Nezumi can assist in determining how the Bloodspeakers escaped, and if any more remain in the city. They track down the nezumi down while Brand presents some fresh hot buns to distribute After some discussion, Lo’tchin’chek agrees to search around and report back with anything he finds.
Arriving at the Temple District the team heads this time back to the Heavenly Temple, site of their earlier battles. Along the way they are stopped by Koda, the injured shrine attendant they rescued during the attack. Koda wishes to thank the heroes and offer his help if needed, as he has been the head Shrine Attendant for decades. The party asks him to determine who, if anyone, is still missing in the aftermath of the attack. Koda agrees to ask around, and informs the heroes to call on him if they ever need his help.
On the second floor of the temple, Shinoda is waiting inside a small storeroom. It is here that he has found the ritual that summoned the Oni the party fought. He explains that the bodies of two groundskeepers were found here – likely drugged on opium-laced wine, where they freely gave themselves to the summoning ritual. He further elaborates – the wards that protect the temple are expressively set to stop Maho and the Shadowlands. The only way to get past them would be for an individual to willingly give themselves into a blasphemous ritual that would power their seals and allow the touch of Fu Leng to reach into the Temple. The second sacrifice would have been to both summon the oni and give it a name – this would have made it a fledgling Oni Lord. Had the heroes not destroyed it, it could very well have gone on to spawn itself throughout the Empire.
Both of these rituals would have required a powerful maho-tsukai. Shinoda believes the caster must still be alive – they tend to use newer recruits in Bloodspeaker cells for such purposes. If so, it is possible they are still here, in the Temple District.
The team tracks Koda back down to ask if he knew the two dead men (Frostwing also asks Shinoda to check Koda for Taint, seeing his bandaged hand/arm. Shinoda quietly reports that Koda is clean). The old groundskeeper indicates he knew the men, but barely – they had each been here less than a year – and takes the heroes to the small house in which they lived.
The team searches the small dwelling and finds a bloody dagger wrapped in a blood-spotted shirt. Brand finds a loose board, but Aramith detects magic UPon it. As they prepare to investigate, Brand hears a voice whispering to him, offering to teach him power if he’s willing to take it… Surprised, the halfling glances around and locates A shifting patch of air. Drawing his jade shortsword he leaps to attack – the air manifests vicious glowing eyes and smoky teeth. Aramith attempts to dispel the creature, only to instead dispel the magic on the floorboard.
A brief struggle ensues before the thing flies through the wall to the outside – but Aramith is able to target the strange creature with a deeper slumber spell. As the thing drifts to the ground, Shinoda yells for them to get away from the creature – he charges it and smashes it with his Jade-topped staff, blasting the thing into nothingness in green-colored light. He then explains the creature was a kansen, essentially a form of living essence of Shadowsland Taint that frequently like to tempt mortals to maho and are often summoned by beginning bloodspeakers in order to learn how to cast maho spells.
Back inside Brand lifts the floorboard, revealing it had been trapped with a maho fire spell. Under it, they find an exsanguinated rat, a bowl with dried blood, and two pieces of parchment. One notes two names, while the other cryptically mentions a meeting place…