Frigid winds bring foul omens

Welcome to another end of week writeup and this week winter had come to our parties doorstep, or at least it feels like it. A flurry of snow dances around the light of the camp fires and the party and travelling guard for Kyoko are on high alert, but will it be enough? The shadow moves its pieces into play and strikes viciously at two fronts causing the vision and attention of the warriors of the land to shift and move away from its true ploy. Its agents are in place and its waited many years for this moment.


White snow amongst fire light

After the party returned from their confrontation with Sai, their heads burning and buzzing from the poisons that the swarms of insects had graciously gifted them, returned to check on Takeo finding that the door was open and Kyoko was talking in hushed tones with Liz and Takeo. Noticing that the party were approaching she ushered them inside the door where Takeo quickly closed the door behind them.

“You fools, you could have died fighting one of the Locust clan – many have and many will continue to do so if they keep under estimating them.” Takeo berated them the moment the door was closed behind them. “Anything and everything that man, if it even was a man, has said is likely a lie. They can change their voices, their faces with a moments thought and..” Takeo was interrupted by a whinny from across the room. Next to Kyoko stood a mare, the one that was most definitely dead the last time the party saw it.

“There has been a development. Sometime during Liz healing Takeo the mare convulsed, wretched violently and stood up. There is something unnatural here so word of the mare’s death and sudden miraculous healing is not to leave the room” Kyoko began, tightening a muzzle around the mares mouth. “It’s also different – this beast is not the same we walked in with, this one is feral, vicious and there is a cunning in it that has me concerned” Kyoko said staring at the beasts eyes as it shook its head and relieved itself into the straw.

“Before something else foul happens to us or the horse” Liz commented as she began casting a prayer of healing over the party – the last of the affects from the poison slowly disappearing.

“I agree, I have made preparations for us to return the horses to a minor Toshi house, a cousin of mine married into the family and their husband has been perhaps the most welcoming to us in many years.” Kyoko said as she stepped away from the horse – making sure it was secured tightly to the building. “We will return for the horses and then leave to head north.


The road was well made, smooth but worn and relatively flat. Either side of the road lay distance mountains and forests that made up Shuimu’s ridge and to the east, opposite the ridge, lay farmland, rolling hills and snow capped grey mountains in this distance. “Beyond those is what we call the Shadowlands. It takes a long time to cross those mountains and those who complete that feat are rewarded with the regret that they did for beyond those ice capped teeth lie a foul waste land where beasts, demons and spirits hunt for humans to feed their monstrous brood, or, to corrupt and bolster their forces. They are the thralls and the armies of The Shadow and those mountains, and a great wall to the south of them are all that keep the endless tide of darkness from corrupting these lands” Kyoko said as she rode up next to the party.

The mare had caused little trouble as they made their way up the road towards their destination, a few days at worst they had been told but the Mare was showing some signs of ailments with some hair falling out in small clumps despite it eating, drinking and walking well – the exception being that it was dead at the start of the morning.

As the party continued on, the nights got colder and the days seemed to become gloomier. Kyoko’s men and the party started having to take more watch shifts at night as strange things walking in the hills and rocky outcrops of this unwelcoming part of the land. “This place is normally rife with deer and other passive creatures, but it looks as if even this far to the south east the shadows tendrils have crept in some how. We will see my cousin and her husband, the lord of these lands by tomorrow and we should be able to request the rest of the cure for these men and women who are afflicted by the shadows curse.” Kyoko said as she handed food towards the multiple wagons and caravans that contained those afflicted by the shadow bruise curse. Amazed that although she couldn’t detect many of them that the food still disappeared without her noticing it was gone from her hands – such was the curse.

“We will set up camp at the base of the next ridge, its most protected from the elements, easily defensible as well as only half a days travel to our destination. If we continue on we will arrive after dusk and will have to be prepared for fights in quite hostile and unforgiveable areas amongst the rocks and winding passes as we climb to the top of the ridge.” A woman, one of Kyoko’s guards, called out as she rode up and down those who travelled with the princess. “Check your gear now, there isn’t room for error or mistakes in the coming days travel so you best be prepared.

NPCs

Captain Kuang Ping

Long cursed with visions of spirits he uses his curse and lifelong haunting of the death of his brother to defend lady Kyoko and the Harimasu family. A great warrior and general he puts the safety of his ward first but understands that her safety means that he must be there to defend her.


Moving through the tents, caravans and bedrolls – hastily put down and then abandoned just as quickly as people huddled near the fires to shake off the chill that seemed to be rolling down the ridge above them.

“Look alive, I don’t like how the chill settles on the grass while the sun still pokes her head above the horizon” the Captain, Kuang Ping, muttered as he placed hot soup in the hands of the handful of troops he had with him to protect Kyoko.

Reaching the bubbling pot in front of a gathering of refugees from Jade point he turned around and started to place bowls of the hearty meal in their hands. The people stared at him in shock as he jiggled the bowl around in front of them. “You going to take it so I can continue to monitor the perimeter or not?” he asked a tired, gruff man who had the appearance of a sailor.

“How can… ” the man began looking at his fellow shadow bruised, “Is the curse lifted?” he asked a tinge of excitement touching his voice as he grasped the hand of Kuang.

Smiling down at the man and those who clambered around him he shook his head, his smile unable to mask the sadness in his voice as he spoke “The Shadows taint has not yet left your body, but you are not cursed.” the man said as he sat down in front of the gathering of men and women. “When I was a child I wandered the Forest of screams, not its actual name but when the moon was dark and the wind pushed through those twisted branches,” he stopped a warm smile appearing on his face, “My brother used to tell me that there was nothing in those woods, he was strong, one of the last blessed by the lotus in my clan before the harrowing…” his smile dropped. “One night one of our dogs, my mothers prized bitch, ran into the woods at night. She was ready to pup you see and tried to find a place that she could get away from the other dogs. I couldn’t handle seeing my mother that distressed and so I chased after he dog into the woods. It wasn’t long until I became lost, but I was not alone in those twisted branches for like I chased after something that gave my mother joy my brother did also – and he chased after me into those woods.” a crowed gathered, people who could not see the shadow bruised and those travelling with him and the adventurers and, Kuang paused as his eyes met those of Siu, the ancestors emissary, after a nod of reverence towards the golden scaled creature he continued. “My brother was so fast, I did not even see the Oni and the Gaki before they were on me,” Kuang stood up and drew his sword as he began to spar with the fire – his movements like if a snake and the wind had created a being of war, “he drew his sword, this sword, and defended me for hours. Constantly in motion; striking, fading, feinting before decapitating another horrid creature as we constantly moved out of the woods. He was a being of fury, or righteousness but a beacon of light.”

The old mans voice wavered as he stared at the fire dancing along his polished silver of the blade, the reflection of the moon on one side and the flickering flames on the other. “As he pushed me out of the woods he drove his blade through the throat of the most monstrous Gaki I have ever seen but not before one of its limbs pierced him in his side causing him to lose his grip on the blade as he was thrashed around. I did what any brother would do, I rushed forward and ripped the blade out before cutting my brother free, wrenching the limb out as the beast thrashed and wailed. I stood and attempted to lift my brother up but the beast wasn’t done with us yet. I received another one of its barbed limb through my thigh, severing it and pulling it through I moved myself and my brother to a safe distance, bandaged our wounds with my robe and we made as much haste to the safety of the walls of our keep, supporting each other until we made it through the gate.” Kuang sheathed his blade and sat with his back facing the fire a dance of light and shadow. “The wound carried some taint of the shadowlands. I was wracked in pain but I refused to leave my brothers side,” he scoffed with a smile, “they set my bed next to his so I could be next to him as he fought for his life.”

“he did not make it.” Kuang said looking up towards the gathered audience to his tale. “Before he did he imparted some wisdom to me which I want to share with you now. Do not dwell on what can not be changed. Every power in the land has both a light and a shadow, a yin and yang, and only when there is balance and understanding of such can true power be realised.” Kuang stopped and swallowed. “you see, the power of the lotus that he had received was balance. He could see both sides and in some way that night, the taint of the Gaki that courses through my veins is also a power. After my brother died I could see spirits, benign and malicious, light and shadow and I thought it a curse. But after joining her ladies guard I can tell you now – that the curse has a light to its shadow. Being able to see the taint in others, to see the dark has saved my life and hers more times than I care to count. Don’t view your curse as one, but look for the light to its shadow. You are unseen, unremarkable, unnoticed whilst you bear that taint. That’s a blessing. Imagine what you could do with the power to be a presence in the crowd, maybe you just need to make use of the curse for it to no longer be one.” he said as he stood, looking towards a few men who were meant to be on patrol with a frown.

“Captain,” a timid voice, a young boy who survived Jade Point but was lucky to be untainted. “What happened to the dog?”

Kuang grinned. “The bitch had nine puppies, she had returned home at the first howl of wind through those cursed branches.


Environment and running the adventure

The Frosted Ridge– see map.

The icy cold wind blustered through the pines causing the fresh slow to scatter amongst the bed rolls and tents. The gathered soldiers huddles around the fires and walked between the tree trunks alert for any changes or creatures that were lurking amongst the flurries.

The ridge that they had camped next to provided a tall barrier to defend their flank reducing the amount of areas of possible ambush or attack that they had to be alert to but despite this the captain and a few heroes of some repute kept a wary eye on the steep craggy rock face – experience trumping expectation in this instance.

The icy cold wind blustered through the pines causing the fresh slow to scatter amongst the bed rolls and tents. The gathered soldiers huddles around the fires and walked between the tree trunks alert for any changes or creatures that were lurking amongst the flurries.

The ridge that they had camped next to provided a tall barrier to defend their flank reducing the amount of areas of possible ambush or attack that they had to be alert to but despite this the captain and a few heroes of some repute kept a wary eye on the steep craggy rock face – experience trumping expectation in this instance.

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Encounter

The milling bodies and withered husks that shifted around the rocks, roots and rotting logs did not phase the hunched creature who stared into the encroaching darkness, its unblinking orbs of inky blackness darting from noise and burst of light in the distance.

As the sun fell and the dark moon begun take its place in the sky the creatures began to move out from the twisted trees, caves and shadowy alcoves to gather under a tall twisted rock. The creature who watched this unfolding snapped harshly at a young excited creature with long arms as it bumped into his side. Growling it unfurled it’s large limbs which it preferred to lay on and began to stride towards the gathering rock, as tonight in the pale luminous moonlight they would receive instructions.

The bouncing, snapping throng formed a single breathing entity as the same manic energy buzzed around the gaki and half-breeds gathered, largest and eldest of their kind stood closest to the pillar of stone and dirt. A figure in white drifted above them, ascending the rock as if climbing into the skies itself as a Oni wearing the skin of a human stood beside it.

“Tonight,” the voice boomed from the humanoid – causing the entire congregation of beasts to still and silence, “tonight you make good your oaths to the shadow. Tonight you storm the walls from the inside, you smash their defences and, some of you may impress our Lord enough to strike a blow that the mortals won’t soon forget.” The human said causing some of the gathered to roar.

The creature below sat on its limbs again, this was hardly worth the effort of getting up from its cave. Shaking its head in disbelief as the throng of creatures rushed towards the east it wondered how long until it was told to move.

“you’ve lived for quite some time old one,” a soft cold voice spoke in its mind. “Head to the west instead, gather the stragglers as I have a more important job for you.

The creature looked around to find the source of the voice and finding nothing it decided to ignore the command.

As it stood to leave back to the dark and damp hole it lived in a cold presence shot up its side. “You are not so old to ignore me young one. This comes from the shadow as its interests are threatened. Succeed and be rewarded, ignore the call and be punished. My lord awaits your decision”

The presence drifted off, and the creature still looked towards where it’s home was. The wrath of the shadow is not something it wished for. Shaking its head it turned towards the west as dozens of smaller creatures started to skip, jump and yip around it like young excitable pups.


To start off the encounter I want to have the seed planted hatch. The encounter itself is a fight amongst the trees where the Nat spirit folk attack the travellers and Kyoko’s escort below the ridge. A few thrown boulders would be the First known signs of the attack before fast moving little Nats’ would dash into combat and a few bigger in ones in would wade through and smash trees and wade into the humans swinging weapons both natural and crafted.

To start the encounter the sick horse would scream, buck and break the bindings it had on before throwing itself into the first. The smell of burnt horse hair wafts through the clearing while it screams in pain. The horse stands and runs out, instead of hair its covered in a wart-like scaled hide now that is blotchy and the colour of fresh bruises. It hisses, revealing a tongue thats been ripped in two as its head and skull cracks as its face distorts before their eyes as its transformation continues. After its done clawed feet, a snake like tongue and sharp fangs greet the petrified onlookers as it darts off down the road away from the convoy.

For this week let’s assume that our party were level 6. Several smaller creatures and a few bigger ones shouldn’t be an issue. Have the creatures attack the camps and NPC’s to give the party less attacks coming their way. After some time, during the first three or so rounds of combat have the elder appear and attack the caravans before, obviously begrudgingly, attacking the party and Kyoko.



Aftermath

The corrupted horse has fled off to who knows where, one or two of the three caravans are broken and only the Captain and two of his soldiers remain. Only five Shadow bruised remain including Siu and Choi. Those that remain aren’t badly injured and most of them picked up some weapon to defend themselves with and did well.

Upon death the elder Nat mutters strange words as it dies, which the captain translates. “All I wanted was my den back and the shadow to leave me out of his war with the wall..”


Well that’s it for tonight, trust me when I saw that its call coming together and the final dish is looking good enough to eat! Don’t forget to come back next week as we continue with another 4 week adventure (rarely happens but 4 parts is better than one! or so I heard) and, as always, don’t forget to roll with advantage,
The Brazen Wolfe