Book of Water - Part 5

What happens when four mages go looking for trouble but find more than they bargained for?

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Andrew
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Book of Water - Part 5

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Joji, Natsu, and Kazuko, along with Matsuo, Nanako (now revealed as a Kenku), and Atsumori arrived up through a mountain pass at a path that led through a canyon with a temple on the opposite side. The temple rested against a sheer rock face high above them, with only a switching back staircase to lead them to their goal. On either side of them rose high cliffs. On the left side was a path leading up into a grove of evergreen trees.

Nanako stopped the party and addressed someone on the right. Most of the party could see no one, although some thought they saw vaguely the shape of a human form sitting motionless against the cliff wall. "Hello, Suzume," Nanako called. The figure stood suddenly and as he walked forward it seemed as though he emerged from the rock itself. "Greetings, Nanako," the figure replied. He was a small young man, with a shaven head and a quizzical look. He told the guests that the approach to the temple was a test. He told the three shugenja to go together, and Matsuo and Atsumori to come behind.

As the mages approached, they noticed a strange haze covering the switchback path to the temple. The nearer they got, the more the haze turned into a fog, thick and dense. Eventually they could see only the ground at their feet. They struggled to keep their way straight, and after a time were able to see the first stairs. As they climbed, however, they became separated and confused. The stairs should have switched back by now, but they continued straight ahead. Natsu chose to go to the left until he found the cliff wall. It was angled strangely, but he ascended the stairs keeping his hand on it. Kazuko did something similar with the right wall. Joji went straight up.

Eventually they all arrived at the top of the stairs together. The true shape of the stairs was revealed to be a narrowing ascent straight from the floor of the canyon to the temple, with no switch backs at all. After Atsumori and Matsuo arrived, the party noticed another monk figure at the doors to the temple. He was slight, and also bald, and his face looked both young and very old. His eyes were a pale blue and almost seemed to be lit from within.

He introduced himself as Kotori, the head monk at the temple of Reihaido Shinsei. He told them the test of the stairs was a simple one, but that many who sought the temple failed there and returned or died on the steps, unable to reconcile reality with their perception of it. Once Nanako and Suzume arrived, he invited them all inside. There they saw a ring of monks sitting around an intricately carved shrine to the five elements: Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Void. Beyond the circle were mats laid out and these Kotori invited the party to kneel on. He chose the one at the head of the group and faced the party.

Kotori explained that he knew much of the party's quest, and that he hoped to aid them against the evil rising against Rokugan. He told them that the temple they were now in possession of was called Yoso no Tera and that it had existed long before Rokugan had been formed. They would not only the relics for each room, but a shugenja attuned to each element in order to fully awaken its power. By now it was early afternoon and he told the party that they could go refresh themselves and explore the temple a bit. Natsu was afraid he would be judged here for choosing to side with the Scorpion but Kotori explained that they understood the choices the party had made and could condemn no one. Nanako was chided a bit here. Quarters and baths were arranged and each of the party went off on their own, save Atsumori and Matsuo who seemed to strike up an unlikely friendship.

Joji went to the level of the temple dedicated to air, where he completed working on his air bow spell. Kazuko went to the void level and spoke to a Kenku guard, trying to convince him to fly her around, and also to an old monk woman. Natsu went to the fire level and spoke to a woman monk who had been badly burned. Later that afternoon Natsu apologized to Joji, Matsuo, and Atsumori for siding with the Scorpion. Kazuko would later do something similar, and although many parties would have frayed, all agreed to move forward together.

After they were refreshed and ready for more council, Kotori invited them back to the main level. Kotori told them that Reihaido Shinsei did not actually contain the water relic, but that this on site was a shrine dedicated to water that they believed housed the relic. He said that he believed that it contained many trials for any wishing to see the relic, and that normally he would send all three shugenja into the shrine to retrieve it. However, there was a Scorpion army marching on the temple and two of the shugenja would be needed to help with the defense while the monks performed the ceremony to move the temple. The shrine would only open at first light every morning, so they could prepare that evening.

After some brief deliberation, the party agreed that Kazuko should be the one to go retrieve the relic. Joji would confront the Scorpion army at the entrance to the canyon where the temple was and try to convince them to leave. Natsu, Matsuo, and Atsumori would be with a group of Kenku hidden in the grove of evergreens to battle with the Scorpion should it become necessary. They built a rough wooden barricade at the entrance to the canyon and used the leftover sawdust around the canyon.

Early the next morning, Kazuko was flown to the shrine by her Kenku friend.

Meanwhile, someone approached the barrier while Joji waited with a small group of Kenku and Natsu, Matsuo, and the rest. A young woman wearing Crab garb told the group that she had been sent to ask for aid from the Scorpion because the wall was in dire need but after realizing they would never help had noticed them assembling this army. She came to warn the temple of their approach and offer her assistance. Kotori graciously accepted her and told her to help Natsu and Matsuo in their efforts in the woods. In this way Ryan was added to the campaign as Kuni Asuna, a pole-arm wielding earth shugenja and kind of a crazy person.

The army approached, and sent out a delegation consisting of two guards, the magistrate of the Village of Secret Fire, and Denbe, now revealed as a member of the Scorpion Clan. Joji battled with them in words, and was able to prove to them that they were in the wrong. They claimed to be wanting the temple and water relic to protect the Empire, but Joji correctly asserted that the shugenja were working with the temple for the Empire and had the higher authority. The delegation went back to the main host and after some shouting they began to advance. Joji and the Kenku with him retreated to the stairs to begin the final defense.

Meanwhile Kazuko had entered the first room of the water temple and found two samurai. One was Crane, one Lion. Between them, laying on a pedestal of stone was a Crane woman with a chest wound who appeared to be dead. In her mind, Kazuko heard a female voice telling her that one of the two samurai had killed her and that Kazuko must determine which. Kazuko interviewed both samurai and each claimed the other had killed the woman in a fit of jealous rage. Kazuko convinced both samurai that she could bring the Crane back from the dead in order to gauge their reactions. The Lion seemed to welcome this news with joy, while the Crane decried it as an abomination. After searching them intently for honesty, Kazuko decided that the Crane had committed the murder.

Part 6 shortly....
“Do not be wary of men who take risks with titles and land; be wary of men with nothing to lose.” Shinsei, the Little Teacher

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