Swamp Things

Admiral Duck Sauce 2015-05-18 15:28:13
"Then we get out," Toshiba says. "If that is true, then Himiko is possibly her weakness - or the means by which she might be saved. Either way, we serve our cause best with a hasty retreat."
MikeS 2015-05-19 13:17:47
Takao slowly digests this information. "So, would you say she's like a spirit, a... yokai? Is that what this stuff about chakra and chi means? I met an old man in the swamp who claimed to be a High Lord, Imperial Medium or somesuch, and he claimed that an evil spirit had infested the palace, and it was Ikishi. I must say, I had some doubts, but you're the second person to mention this. Perhaps we should try to find him again?

"And.. Himiko is part of her, or an anchor or something like that? I mean, of course everyone has heard stories about the children of spirits and men but what do you think Himiko means to Ikishi? And what about these needles? Are they more like pressure point blocks that make Himiko unconscious, or do you think Ikishi has poisoned her, and these needles a mediating the poison somehow?"

Finally, he turns to Toshiba. "Weren't you going to go south to look into that army General Noronu is raising? What came of that?"
Gatac 2015-05-21 10:44:08
"I was not raised to believe in spirits," Yu says. "I can only tell chi and its flow. Lady Ikishi's is unlike any other I have encountered, but to label her a spirit or yokai goes beyond my expertise. I wish I could tell you more about the acupuncture technique, but I have not had time to inspect it in depth. Perhaps, if we continue this conversation elsewhere..."

(Toshiba's Notice: 1d20+18 = 25)

Toshiba's a little too distracted to answer Takao's question right away. Something's wrong here - well, plenty is wrong, but something is changing, and he can't quite tell what it is. That's enough to give any ninja pause.
MikeS 2015-05-26 22:29:37
"Fair enough. I wasn't raised to believe in them, either, but as the saying goes, what you don't believe in can still kill you."

"If you think you can undo Himiko's current state, then let's get out of here before the other guards notice us."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2015-05-27 12:13:40
"I think something's already noticed us," Toshiba says. "Let's move. Yu, can we get out through the roof? Are the shutters that kept us out able to be opened from within?"
Gatac 2015-05-29 10:41:41
(Toshiba's Notice: 1d20+18 = 38)

In a flash, Toshiba realizes that it's not one, but two things that have changed: the thrum of machinery (obviously pumps of some description) has ceased, while his ears pop in a way that they usually only do when he's soaring quickly skywards or diving down from the heavens. Now, Toshiba's engineering credentials might be mostly self-taught and concentrated on cobbling together deadly weapons, but then again, being at the bottom of a pit several dozen feet beneath the surface of the sea does rather invite the anxiety of being drowned like unwanted puppies if any part of this architecture fails...and, well, if it's actually designed to flood...

"I'm not sure," Yu admits. "I never turned my thoughts to the task of breaking out of this place...and I am not trained in the shadow arts in any event."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2015-06-02 10:25:42
"Flooding!" Toshiba hisses, moving to carry Himiko. He looks for a high point, vents, or anything like a boat that could be flipped over to contain air in an emergency.
MikeS 2015-06-07 01:33:55
"What, you mean right now?" Takao looks around, but sees no watery death imminent.

"Could we just go back out the way we came in? That was above the waterline."
Gatac 2015-06-07 06:13:35
The sound that answers Takao's question is that of gonneshots, but less fiery; his last glimpse of the atrium above him are multiple jets of water crisscrossing through the air while the gas lamps flicker and shut off, plunging the group into a dark drizzle as water begins to flood in from the floor, too.

(Toshiba's Notice: 1d20+18 = 31)

Would that the Blue Oni could carry them all to safety - his firey flight seems the only way to escape the flooding room in time, but having to carry not just Takao but also Yu and the unconscious Himiko seems scarcely possible, nevermind dodging through the high-pressure streams of water in deep darkness. Still, the Oni is not out of tricks yet.

"Under the throne!" he bellows; the painted wooden platform that elevates the throne is the only significant landmark in the easy reach, and though Toshiba and Takao have the labor mightily to rip off its siding, they finally create a passage into the cavity underneath; Yu and Himiko go first, and by then the men have to dive for it. The whistling of the water jets becomes louder as both warriors find themselves literally up to the neck in trouble.

(Takao's Resolve: 1d20+12 = 20)

Focus. Takao has learned well the value of a still mind in a duel, and it serves him once again here as he centers himself on what must be done. The noise, the darkness, none of that matters - he takes a calm breath and plunges into the dark deep, trusting that his searching hands can find the entrance into their refuge under the throne. Feeling the cavity before him, he pulls himself through the tight opening and comes up in the air bubble.

(Toshiba's Will: 1d20+7 = 25)

Toshiba's mind is...well, it's not disciplined. Nobody could claim that. But it is resilient, and you don't make it long as a rogue ninja without a strong sense of self-preservation. Though he's last to dive, he sinks easily and follows the shockwaves of Takao kicking his legs in front of him, reaching sanctuary just a scant few seconds later - though his gasping breath on coming up reminds everyone that they're in rapidly deepening trouble.

"Your idea has merit," Yu says to Takao. "We just need to wait out the flooding and then swim up."
"More trouble up top," Kagemaru comments - with no light sources around, he doesn't actually seem to be in any one place, but his voice is clearly audible. "Men with gonnes and flares are coming in through the hallway. No sign of Kiara outside."

As the water fills the room outside, the increased pressure also pushes up the waterline in their little hiding space, while the air pocket quickly grows stale from having to sustain the breathing of four people.

"They're dropping flares in the water," Kagemaru says. "I have an idea. Hold on."


A youthful Ikishi shows her delicate smile as she speaks between sips of sake. "What coffin," she asks, "do I not care the price of?"
Emperor Yoshihiro the Third considers that for a moment as he chews a thin slice of salmon. "I cannot begin to guess," he admits.
Ikishi gives a girly giggle. "Mine own, Your Highness." She quickly opens her fan and uses it to cover her larger laugh.
"Oh, milady!" Yoshihiro says between gasps of laughter, while candlelight flickers over his face. For a moment, his expression grows blank, as if he does not know why he laughed so loudly, but then he seems to be himself again. "Such dark thoughts cross your mind tonight."
"T'was a wandering sage that performed in my estate last week who posed the question to me," Ikishi says. "I cannot claim credit for the thought's shade; he told it better than I, too."

Takao gasps. What's going on? Where is he? ...when is he?

Yoshihiro turns his head. "Hearken, milady!" he calls. "What noise is this?"
"One too fine for mine ears," Ikishi says. With the Emperor distracted, she slices her finger open on the reinforced edge of her fan, then drips a few drops of clear liquid into the Emperor's cup. "I heard nothing, in truth," she adds, quickly withdrawing her hand back behind the cover of her fan.


"Ah!" Ikishi calls, lounging on the Imperial throne while her sumptuous robes cascade all over it. At her side, Emperor Toshihiro sits, his face a frozen mask of nothing. The throne room is filled with the slow clanking of metal on metal as Kirika Kamura is dragged before the Empress, somehow still fighting the chains despite a long and harsh tale of whippings - and worse - painted on her body. "Lady Kamura. And how are we today?"

"We've doubled the dose as ordered," Yu replies, holding the end of the chains; her stitched eyes have forgotten how to cry. "We can force it into her, but she keeps sweating it out no matter what we do."

At that, Kirika's tattoos light up and shift, as if trying to tear loose. Toshiba, too, tries to tear loose and intervene, but the Blue Oni's armor stands empty in a display case, the bloody hole torn through its back remaining unmended.

"Your ancestors still watch over you," Ikishi comments. "Too bad you could not save your friends...or dear Yukio."
Kirika's hands ball into fists, but after weeks of struggle, she can longer summon the power to surge forward and try to end Ikishi's terror - even if she could, what would she do today that could succeed where she's already failed a dozen times?
"Oh, don't be so cross with me, my dear Kirika," Ikishi says with honey. "I've helped you all find your destinies. Your dearest got to fall in glorious battle. Your ninja friends died with blades in their backs, as is their custom. Toshiro - my little Toshi - found his way to the throne. All is in order, except for you - you still stubbornly refuse the fate that was selected for you so long ago. But maybe there is a way to cure your stubbornness, if we remove that ink...oh, Copperhead?"
"Milady," Copperhead answers; his forehead is adorned with several metal pins that have been driven through his skull into very particular parts of his brain.
"How goes your research?" Ikishi asks.
"I believe the tattoos can be purged by destroying the skin," he says. "As we apply branding irons, they will be displaced and disrupted until their hold on her is shattered."
"Interesting!" Ikishi says. "Isn't science fun, Kirika? Well, since you so stubbornly refuse to be affected by my efforts to remove your pain, I'm afraid you will need to suffer for a bit longer before you can finally embrace your true calling as a geisha again."
"...no..." Kirika croaks.

Ikishi hands a knife to Toshi - one of Toshiba's knives! But he cannot will it back into his hands, no matter how much he tries.

"My dear Toshi, I suddenly remember that your presence here is becoming unnecessary," Ikishi says. "Be a peach and stab yourself in the neck."
Toshi nods and takes the knife, then -
"No!" Kirika calls. "Wait!"
"Wait a moment, Toshi," Ikishi says to Toshi. "Yes, Kirika, there is no hope for you, but maybe if one of your friends stays alive, the cause is not lost, hm? I see that you are finally ready to compromise. Toshiro's life is very cheap right now; you can buy it with a mere gesture." She leans forward and grins. "Kneel."
Kirika gnashes her teeth as she painfully bends herself down until, finally, she's on her knees. A yank from the chain by Yu adds the final touch; Kirika bows her head before Ikishi.
"Was that so hard, dear?" Ikishi says. "Oh, well. Soon all this will be behind you and you'll go back to making people happy rather than causing such a big fuss. You may not look like you did before, but don't worry, dear Kirika."

Ikishi wipes her fingers over her cheek, removing the painted-on blush from her bony-white skin. "It's a miracle what they can do with makeup these days."


The next thing both Takao and Toshiba see is a foggy bog of swamp water - and they're heading towards it. Five splashes later, the group begins to pick themselves out of the latest mess. Takao well recognizes this particular mess - they're only minutes away from Nikochi's hut.

"What - what happened?" Yu says, sounding less the inflappable mystic and more like someone who's just passed through the world's least comfortable magical shortcut.
"I lost control," Kagemaru says; his voice sounds echo-y and diffuse, while his form flickers from shadow to shadow, only slowly pulling himself together again. "I thought we could shadowwalk together."
"I saw...I saw the death of my people," Yu mutters. "Did we glimpse fate itself?"
"...I don't know," Kagemaru admits. "That's never happened to me before."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2015-06-08 13:38:13
"No," Toshiba replies to Yu. "There is no fate but what we make for ourselves. Simply a vision of what might come to pass. Possibilities. Why we saw that darkest path, I know not, but I thank you for it, Kagemaru. We are free from Ikishi's trap and I can lead us out of this swamp easily enough."
Gatac 2015-06-08 15:00:50
"Yeah," Kagemaru says. His shape flickers from one shadow to the next before finally emerging from the diffuse blackness underneath a fallen tree. "We're out, that's all that matters. We need to get the hells out of here, though."
"What concerns you, shadow-man?" Yu asks.
"I can't control it now," Kagemaru says. "The...the shadowwalking. Either I overtaxed it out bringing us here, or it doesn't work because of the swamp. I...I wanted to go back and look for Kiara...and tell the others about what we found...but I can't."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2015-06-09 08:32:32
"Why would being in a swamp matter?" Toshiba asks. "More likely it is the former. Unless this is some kind of magic swamp."

Toshiba shuts up then, because given what he's seen so far, "magic swamp" really doesn't seem so ridiculous.

"Is this a magic swamp?"
Gatac 2015-06-09 12:07:12
Toshiba's question is, if not precisely answered, at least addressed by the sight of a shambling mass of grass and moss and fabric that Takao quickly recognizes as the old man (and supposed eighth High Lord) Nikochi Soro walking around the swamp on all fours, adorned with the black-white bearcat mask over his face. He trundles past the group, makes a show of plopping down on his behind next to some bamboo shoots, then starts using his hands to paw at them and pull them into the mouth-hole of his mask.

"You got rid of the thin one!" Nikochi says between bites. "Good call, friend, he didn't seem very smart. I hope your new playmates can follow simple directions. So, where's your mask?"
MikeS 2015-06-09 21:09:51
" 'Crazy' doesn't even begin to describe it," Takao replies as Nikochi crawls out of the swamp.

"This is the guy I've been talking about. While you had a vision of a possible future, I think I saw the past: a younger emperor, and a younger Ikishi, poisoning him with her blood, which looked clear. I don't know if we should take a vision as confirmation of a wild theory, but our man Nikochi here has some interesting ideas about Ikishi that align with that vision."

"Just you wait. He'll tell you something about spirits here any moment now."

Louder, Takao says to Nikochi: "Well, I didn't assume I would be back. The mask must be somewhere at the edge of the swamp."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2015-06-10 06:11:11
"And why do we need masks, sir?" Toshiba asks tentatively. He at least has the Oni's masked helm, and like it or not, Toshiba is starting to feel uneasy.
Gatac 2015-06-10 13:50:50
"To attain ultimate oneness with nature, like I have," Nokichi answers. "And to hide from the yokai. Of course, it won't do much to hide your bonded soul or his" - he looks at Kagemaru - "his kamui. You had best not linger here too long, friends - the swamp shields you from the outside, but the yokai will find you, and then...well actually, you just might win that fight. But then that might kill the swamp. And that means my hiding place is gone. Then Ikishi comes for me. And then..."

Nikochi pauses. Dramatically.

"...well, you won't like what happens then, friends. After all, I'm the only one who seems to be able to see her for who she is, so without my guidance, you're pretty much fucked, aren't you?"
MikeS 2015-06-10 23:11:40
"Fortunately, we didn't plan on staying," Takao replies. "Quite the contrary, in fact. So if you could just point us to the shortest way out?"

"But speaking of Lady Ikishi: is that why you're here? Just to hide from her? Wallowing in the mud... I mean, 'attaining oneness with nature'?" The air quotes are almost audible. "Wouldn't you rather return to civilization again? Getting rid of Ikishi is pretty much our focus of being right now; seems to me like helping us would help you as well."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2015-06-11 09:17:13
"Help us kill her, or exorcise her, or destroy her, whatever phrasing is most appropriate -" Toshiba adds - "and you'll be free to attain your ultimate oneness with nature in places like brothels and taverns. It would be a change of pace, to be sure."
Gatac 2015-06-16 12:50:35
Nikochi considers that for a moment, then raises the mask from his face and spits out the remaining bamboo.

"You're right," he says. "I've had it with this swamp. I'll go back and pack up. I've had it with the masks and the bamboo and the yokai -"

Something howls in the distance. It could be dogs or wolves, but you know in your hearts that it isn't.

"- on second thought," Nikochi adds, "I always liked traveling light. Follow me!" He takes off into the swamp with swift steps that soon turn into running.