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Saturday, February 14, 2009

I played!

This is an actual play write up done by one of the players in a newly started campaign I'm running using (modified) Fate 2.0 rules. Sorry, no pictures available. The actual game happened the weekend of January 23-25. We played Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning. Aside from the 20+ hours of driving required it was a great time.

The Legend of the Five of Ji'an

Written by: Joshua Caulfield (Shiko Bi)

It was dark in the Cave of Bats and the flames of the great fire licked upwards towards the natural flues in the rock. The shadows danced along the walls of the cave behind the old storyteller. With creaking bones and the grunts that accompany movement at such an advanced age the rest of the clan made ready to hear a favorite tale, spun with such vigor that many almost thought they saw the shadows form on the walls in pantomime of the story being unfolded.

"Shall I speak of the Five of Ji'an, and how they sought to free our valley from the oppression of the Srin-ga and their minions?"

The children cheered and giggled, while the hunters sighed as the game of goading the story began. "Yes please." The leader of the Clan asked.

"Shall I speak of their humble beginnings and how they were born as slaves to the very oppressors they would one day attempt to overthrow?"

Slightly impatient herself, the headmistress of the clan tapped her foot, "I have been saying nothing else for the last 15 minutes."

With a chuckle the storyteller settled in and began her tale.

"I was but a girl when I first met the Five Rings. I did not think much on it then, but in the passing of years I see now that just as there are five elements that draw together so too were these five heroes brought forth and combined in the alchemy of fate to produce the beginnings of The Revolution!"

When Dao, a wanderer and trader amongst our people spoke to my grandfather of the arrival of strangers he got a wild look in his eye, and I new that there would be nothing for it but to bring him down to see them and hear their tale to add to his own. I loved my grandfather, but at the time I could not understand why he was so stubborn and determined to meet with these strangers here and now. I wonder sometimes if he had dreamt of them or see them in a vision. Yet he spoke not a word of it, and after dressing more warmly, we began the halting walk down to the great entryway and those who sought an audience with the people of the Cave of Bats.

I can still see them now, as though for the first time. They were so young then, proud and determined. I admit I was a bit taken with them as I looked them over.

The First was their leader. Solid, patient and practical as stone he was. They called him Tao So. He was a warrior born, and handled his spear like it was an extension of his own body. He spoke little, and quietly, but the others deferred to his decisions... mostly.

He was fighting barehanded with their other warrior, Si Tang. The two were cousins, though they seemed more like brothers. Si Tang was like the water flowing from one thing to the next and leaving little lasting impression. He simply adapted to the situation. His loyalty to his brother was as unquestioning as the path of the river through the mountain.

The third was a funny one, who almost looked like a tree with his wild hair and clothes. The others called him Yax, and he like the wood ensured the health of the group. In many ways it was his words that brought them together when they began to drift.

He was close to the bald one with the bright tattoos. Shiko Bi was their fire, the spirit of the group that pushed them into action. I sometimes wondered if he and Grandfather were related, mainly because Shiko seemed to never stop talking. He was a powerful Dragon Blooded sorcerer, and he gained the favor of the blacksmith and others by using his magic to make our home better.

Finally there was Bodi. It was he that I was drawn to. Like the wind he was there and yet above the common discussions. When he needed to express himself he blew in and as quickly returned to his quiet observation. He too bore a power inside himself, a power I would come to know in the days ahead.

It was often said that there was a sixth member of the legendary heroes. I am no scholar to debate the existence of the sixth, but let me simply say that if he did exist and he was as stealthy as the shadows he is compared to, he must have been so good that it seemed like he was not even there.

When my grandfather sat with them many stories were told, what follows is what they shared with us.

They had all grown up together in the village of Ji'an. I would learn many of their personal stories later, when I took up grandfather's mantle and became a wandering lore keeper myself. But they did not delve into those aspects at this time. Instead they spoke of spending a year in the woods preparing, and that now they would begin to stand against the Srin-ga and the oppression of the human race.

They had already begun. In the days prior to their arrival, they had tracked the patrols of the Mefun and Taken, and they had then ambushed the patrol.

They had lain in wait at a point where the road neared the river, and a great stone outcropping drew near, providing them a hiding spot and place to lay in wait. They were excited, yet fearful, for they had never truly stood up to their captors before.

Bodi hid them from the sight of men with his powers and they watched the patrol pass by. Shiko drew forth a great wall of stone from the side of the rock face that was beside them on the river, splitting the patrol in half. The Yang cousins leapt forward using their martial arts to assault the rear four. While Bodi drew the forward group off with visions of other opponents, and Yax used his powers of adjusting mind and body to keep his allies safe.

The fight was over in moments. The Yangs cut through them as the sickle harvests the tender shoots of rice, and when they came around to the front, Shiko had impulsively ripped the others apart with his magic.

Bodi altered his hands so as to make the wounds appear to be the results of a great pride of lions, and Shiko called down the rains to cover their tracks. And thus did they execute their first act of rebellion and fade back into the woods.

They came to the Cave of Bats, to trade and learn of our ways. We were distrustful at first, but in time we came to know them as honorable allies, and for some of us and them, something more.

It was late and the children's eyes were drooping. The storyteller waved her hand over the fire. Perhaps tomorrow I will tell you of how our own Dao led them to the Tombs of the Captains and how they accepted defeat to gain victory.

Part The Second

There was some fine Saki being passed about the caverns tonight. The Merchant Fisal of Chang Chang's Guild of Traders had brought some as a gift from their Headmistress for old friends.

"You know" the storyteller said, "Chang Chang was here when the Five first arrived at the Cave of Bats. A smirk crossed her chapped old lips, and I think she would admit to not being entirely oblivious to one warriors good looks and prowess."

The group quickly quieted as it was clear that the storyteller was about to launch into the second part of her tale.

The Five were bold and mighty it is true, but in those days they were also somewhat humble, unsure in their power it was as if this was all new to them. Certainly they had defeated a Mefun Patrol, no small feat to be sure, but they were not yet aware of their abilities. They also seemed to lack a direction. They spoke of overthrowing the Srin-ga, at which many of the hunters and elders chuckled, though mostly out of sight of the young warriors. Yet they lacked a plan, or any real direction.

As they spoke with my grandfather they asked him many questions about the Captains of the Di-Hon, what were they like? What had happened to them? Where were they buried? What were the legends surrounding the tombs?

Naturally my grandfather, Zian, passed along the tales he knew, and in return their young leader gave he and I a share of the food the Five carried with them for trading. It would be enough to see us through several weeks.

When the tale telling was done, I helped grandfather back into the cave. And in so doing I looked back. At the time I thought the one known as Shiko, so flamboyant in his power could assist me with my own talent, but now I realize it was not really to him that I looked, but to the giant behind him, the weird one, Bodi.

"Bodi came to me in the nights ahead." The storyteller waved off the snickering form the young males who had not heard the story before. "Not in that way you fools. Not yet at any rate. But come to me he did, and he explained that I bore power within me, and that properly harnessed it would benefit me greatly, but allowed to grow like a weed unchecked, it would bring me only pain and despair. He described my power as 'leaking' forth when my grandfather told tales. He was bound off to the tombs with his friends, but he invited me to learn from him and possibly others should I so desire. The offer, and the man intrigued me.

Next they met with the smith, Fu Li, he offered them steel weapons crafted by his son, Fo Bo Jing (sometimes called Bo Jangles for the bells he crafted in his spare time). Much of the prosperity of the Cave of Bats was founded on the skill of the smith's son, and it was unfortunate that the father did not allow the son the glory of his skill. For as Fu Li held the reigns of the family business, resentment crept into the heart of Bo Jing. But that is another tale.

In the end, the Five traded a years supply of rice and much linen for 3 steel daggers and a new spear for their leader. As the trading was being completed, Shiko approached the smith and asked him of the tools of his trade. Wary, the smith confirmed some of Shiko's guesses, and then Shiko offered to restore Fu Li's grinding wheel and anvil to their original condition. The smith looked at the thin bald boy with the odd tattoos and smirked, "How would you be able to do that?" He asked.

"The same way in which I do this." Shiko answered. And with a gesture at the ground a massive stone pedestal rose up from the rock lifting shiko high into the air. Much of the clan was hidden in the caves watching, and there were many gasps around me as my clan-mates saw this. Of us all, perhaps only grandfather had actually seen magic before. "The earth dragon blesses me, and I may use that blessing to assist you. If you so desire."

The smith was a bit taken aback by this. "I will speak to Hui Fen." Then he turned with his things and went back into the Cave of Bats.

The group met with Hui Fen, may she rest peacefully. She interrogated them. For though Dao and my grandfather thought they were honorable, the weight of leadership rested on her shoulders. They were direct with her, and she with them, but in the end it may have been the way young Shiko and she glanced at each other when the other was not looking that made the difference. Finally she allowed them into the cave.

They stayed for two days, and in that time Shiko aided the smith, and as I mentioned Bodi sought me out. Yax sought herbs for his own brewed magics, and the warriors demonstrated their skills to the young boys of the village. Si Tang met and spoke at length with Cheng Cheng at that time, and some might say it was in that early exchange the foundation of their relationship was laid.

Dao had agreed top guide them to the entrance of the Valley of Death wherein lay the Tomb of the Captains. Though he informed them that he would not enter. There was a communal meal shared the night before they left. Shiko left for a time before the meal saying something about getting clean and being unable to do so in the presence of stone. When he returned he spoke privately to Hui Fen. Though she said he had simply offered to aid in developing the defenses of the cave, I noticed that she carried a small stone flower carved by no mean chisel, but perhaps born of Shiko's magic.

The next morning the Five and Dao prepared to leave. Shiko met them at the entrance to the cave where he was studying the great arch that leads into our cave. They gathered their equipment and began the journey to the valley.

The trek would normally take 5 days. They took seven, spending two days at the direction of Tao So to hunt and replenish their stores. Tao So was a mighty hunter, as good as our own men, and it was his efforts that put meat into their larder. For besides Yax, the others were not nearly as at home in the woods. Yax, brought forth many herbs and berries and edible mushrooms and tubers. And Shiko prepared the whole in a fair manner such that much of the leftovers were able to be stored and brought along.

In the end they arrived at the Valley. The mountains shot forth from the ground as mighty teeth, and between them a gap appeared. Filled with mist and the chill of death the valley was aptly named. It was difficult to see, and there was something wholly unnatural about the place, yet the Five were determined.

They chose to enter in the morning, both Dao and my grandfather warning them that the shadows and unholy things within came out at night... mostly. Dao told the Five he would wait for a few days, and hunt in the area. And with a hug for his friend Tao So, the Five broke with his company and entered the valley.

Part the Third

Wherein our heroes enter the valley of the dead and encounter, as one might suspect from the name, things which should not be.

The cave drew still as the storyteller took her seat. For this night she would spin one of the most exciting parts of her tale. The journey through the vallety of the dead, and the receipt of the treasures of Di-Hon.

"The night passed restlessly for our group of young heroes. Dao fell to sleeping quickly, but the Five stayed awake restless in anticipation of the challenges they might face on the morrow. Shiko, brash and overconfident in his magic played with the fire. While Yax worked on the final touches for some of the herbal magic he had been developing. Bodi was lost in communion with his ancestors from whom he drew direction and power. And the Yangs prepared their new weapons for battle.

With the coming of the dawn they entered the valley and slogged through the rough terrain and mists. Periodically Shiko and Bodi would call a halt. Shiko to test the essence of the area and Bodi to reach out with his mind. Though he kept it from his friends, Bodi later shared with me that he felt a dark presence throughout the valley, and in reaching forth to divine more of it's intent and specificity, he felt it drawn to him. He would only describe it as anger and hunger, and some despair.

It was a difficult trek through the valley, and finally they were hiking up a steep mountain path that had been washed away by rock-slides in several places. Tao So was in the lead, and missed a step. They fell, with only the quick actions of Si Tang who was in the rear grabbing the cliff wall preventing a horrible end from closing so soon on their young lives. For a moment they all hung there, then Tang let go of Yax to get a better grip. Yax grabbed Tang's leg and held on, as Tao so also grabbed for the mountain and began to attempt to climb up.

Shiko, ever overconfident simply allowed himself to fall, right into a massive stone hand he had called forth with his power. The hand scooped them all up and cast them forward onto the safety of the ledge, where they caught their breath.

The entrance to the tomb was roughly carved with a lintel and a warning of some sort. At least that is what the group decided the runes on the outside of the tomb meant. Shiko called upon the power of fire to cause his staff to glow in the manner of a glowworm in the spring. Yax lit the groups oil lamp, and with the others interspersed between them they entered the gloomy cave.

The first thing they noticed was the chill. Bodi mentioned that there was a dark presence within, but he could not source where. It was difficult for him to maintain concentration on it. Si Tangs bear also began to object, but for the time he followed his master.

They came upon a small shrine, ancient and worn. There were some tracks of animals in the dust on the stone flooring. They gently searched the area, but could determine nothing of what the purpose of this shrine was, not was there anything of interest in the room itself, save for a passage leading further into the mountain.

Passing into the passage they rose and walked deeper into the darkness and cold of the mountainside. They came upon a larger room, clearly used at one point as a living space for a group of men. Though the equipment was in tatters, there was much evidence that long ago this had been an important living space. It was then that the chill grew deeper, and the shadows parted to reveal a spectral figure reaching out for Bodi's heart.

Si Tang's bear fled the scene, as one would expect from a natural beast, even as five more shadows appeared about them. Si Tang and Tao So found that their physical attacks did not SEEM to be doing much against the apparitions, Shiko called forth a swarm of fireflies made of real fire and sent them out, but they had little effect on these beings either. Bodi was turning them against each other, even Yax applied his natural magics to try and turn the tide. Then Si Tang followed his bear, leaving the battle, and ended up hanging off the side of the ledge when he failed to successfully cross the rockslide, but more on that later.

Back inside the tomb, One of the beings reached inside of Tao So and seemed to grab his heart. Yet instead of drawing it out the wraith-like being instead seemed to flow into Tao So, who was left gasping for breath. Shiko was channeling pure essence into the creatures which seemed to be working more effectively than constructs, and then Yax let loose with a mighty essence flare which drove the remaining ones into dust, even as Bodi held them off with his mental powers.

Tao So began wandering off toward the valley floor, and the group followed him outside. Bodi reached into his mind and found a dark spirit nested within. Yax began an incantation to remove the possession, but Tao So began moving away from the group. Shiko bound his feet in stone. Seeing this, Si Tang came over and leaned heavily on Shiko's shoulder and told him to release his cousin. Shiko told Si Tang to get off, even as Bodi and Yax attempted to explain that Tao So was possessed, but Si Tang was not listening, and so Shiko threw him off and cast a spell at Si Tang. Drained of mana from the battle, Shiko drew forth a powerful spell of earth to hold Si Tang at bay, but Si Tang flipped out of the way of the spell and came up in a fighting stance.

By then, Bodi and Yax had broken the possession and stepped between the combatants. All was explained to Si Tang, yet it was clear that the two were not reconciled. It is unfortunate that this grudge would remain between them, and one day lead to, well, that would be telling.

The sun was setting, and none of the group wished to be in the valley come nightfall, so after resting a time to regain their power, Shiko cleared the rock-slides from the path and reshaped a part of the mountain to allow the path to easily accommodate travel again. They left the mountain and passed as quickly as possible back out to their campsite. Dao was surprised to see them, and sat in anticipation as they told their tale.

On the following morning they reentered the valley and made their way to the tombs.

It was lightly raining, and they were actually glad to enter the tomb and get out of the rain. All except Si Tangs bear who would not even re-enter the valley with the group. They moved with purpose into the second area, and were not surprised when the apparitions came again.

Si Tang leapt up and over the first one and kicked it in the head, but to little effect. Tao So learned to invoke essence into his kicks and seemed to have more effect than previously. Yet even as the others brought their magic into play the battle seemed to be against them. Si Tang fled from the tomb again, and as he did, Bodi allowed one of the entities to possess him. Whether this was some grand strategy or simply an aspect of Bodi being kind of weird and marked for death, one may never know. It affected Shiko, who fell to overwhelming supernatural fear and despair. Another of the apparitions entered him and now two had fallen.

In the end all four of the remaining heroes were possessed and walked out towards the valley. They passed by Si Tang who was waiting outside. When Si Tang saw they were not acting normally he ran down the path and towards the campsite, planning to tell the Cave of Bats folk that all of them had been lost.

Tao So, who had been possessed by the traitor, and the two rebel leaders who had left to fight headed towards the west, while Shiko, possessed by Ho Ching, the commander of all the rebel forces after the fall of the Captains drew on his magic to create a mighty whirlwind that bore him into the air and towards the south.

Each of the heroes found the remains of their possessing spirit and knew they must lay their spirits to rest. The three to the west made clay tablets and burned the remains, bring the tablets to the shrine at the tomb for proper prayers and rites.

Shiko, being Shiko, blasted a massive epitaph into the mountainside and cremated the remains of the commander with a mighty blast of fire.

Returning to the tomb, all four found themselves returned to their proper frames of mind, and yet they heard the ghostly howling from the depths of the tomb.

Shiko stepped forward and opened himself to the spirit. He did not resist as the apparition plunged into his heart, and led him again to the south of the valley. There he would find that Li Ti, the rebels final Dragon Blooded sorcerer had gone down in a mighty battle himself. And so Shiko learned the lesson of how numbers of lesser enemies could outweigh the might of even the strongest sorcerer.

Shiko laid the elementalist's spirit to rest, and found that Tao So had also made the journey again to escort a spirit into their final rest. In so doing, they felt a great darkness lifted from the vale, and made their way back to the campsite, just in time to stop Si Tang from his run back to the Cave of Bats.

Tao So explained things to his brother, Yax and Shiko seeming not to care so much what the fifth member of their party learned, and Bodi simply wandering off to commune with his ancestors again.

They ate and slept and for a third day entered the valley at dawn.

They passed deeper into the tombs this day, and came upon more natural caverns where the ground was deep rich earth with strange trails leading through it like that of giant worms. There were also signs of animals killed and eaten, and the memory from their possessions that the "tomb was defended."

But by what will remain a mystery until tomorrow night, said the storyteller, even as the fire began to die down into ashes.

Part the Fourth

In which our heroes face their greatest danger yet, and reap the rewards of destiny in the process.

The storyteller settled in her seat, her grandson gathering a warm blanket for her. He was a weird one, her child's eldest, it made her think of... well, that was best left for other times.

"So," She began. "Shall I carry on with the tales of our heroes? Or perhaps you would prefer the tale of the swamp demon..."

The children erupted before her seeking the furthering of the tale of the Five.

Gathered as they were in the Tomb of the Captains, led by the light of Shiko's staff and their oil lamp, the Five moved deeper into the tomb. They had noticed that the tomb seemed unfinished. In fact later, Shiko would come to the conclusion that it was really only just started when the rebels met their fate.

The storyteller had gotten much of the story wrong. Certainly it was not grandfather's fault, for he was only repeating the tales as they had been passed on to him. But Zian had recalled to the heroes that it was the captains who had been betrayed by one of their own, when in fact it was the rebels. The captains had fallen in some other way in battle, and their remaining followers had removed their crucified bodies and their panoply and built for them a tomb. The very tomb our heroes now entered. But one of the rebels had succumbed to fear and despair, and had sold out his companions to the Mefun, in return for a quiet life and gold. The traitor had led the others into ambush, and as his reward he had been slain by the Mefun and his remains cast into a pit of excrement. Even his erstwhile allies thought little of someone who would betray his own people.

Passing through the large room Tao So in the lead moved down a passageway, when, over Shiko's incessant chatter, he heard a click, and felt the stone beneath him move. He leapt backwards tucking his feet up into an astonishing flip that nearly bowled Shiko over, even as a massive section of the tomb ceiling collapsed into the hallway.

"Well, that was fortunate." Said Yax. "Nicely done finding that trap there Tao."

The Five entered a section of the tombs that was either naturally formed or hollowed out by magic. The floor of the tomb ended and simple mud about a foot deep covered the floor of the cavern moving forward. Trails like those of a snake or large worm wound through the mud, and the skeletons of animals littered the floor, ancient and dessicated.

The group moved through the chamber and down another passage, wary of more traps, when before them rose a great wall of foggy mist. Dense, like a cloud on earth, and warm like steam, it did not block their way, yet it offered an ominous portent.

Shiko was bored, and as usual he acted rashly, calling forth his power his dragon tattoos rolling across his flesh and glowing in their vibrant hues, a mighty wind ripped through the caverns and drew all of the mist past them and out of the tomb.

"So much for subtlety" Yax chuckled.

Shiko shrugged, even as they all looked into the great cavern revealed beyond. It was a massive area that spread beyond the source of their light, and within were great piles of mold laying around the outskirts of several huge crater lakes of bubbling and steaming water. The entire place reeked of ancient, decaying plant life.

The group pressed on, Tao So in the lead. When suddenly a great tendril vine rose form the mud, a mighty pincer of thorn dripping black mud to the floor. It slashed forward even as a companion tendril rose up as well. Piercing the warrior's torso, Tao wrestled to get himself away, even as Yax and Si Tang moved forward to help him. Bodi, meanwhile was facing off against another tendril, which rose and revealed itself to be coming from the watery pools.

Shiko saw more coming from the pool to their left and realized that shortly they would be surrounded. So as the other fought the tendril, he drew upon his powers and caused massive icicles to form and drop into the pool piercing the tendrils and seeking to end their assault from the flank.

The flanking tendrils whipped backwards dragged by their main body to avoid the dropping spears of ice. Tao So had been freed, and the tendrils the others fought were slowly being driven back.

Shiko moved closer so as to summon more of the great ice spears onto this pool, when they all saw that deeper into the cave was an even greater pool of roughly twice the size of these lesser ones, and a series of massive vines with their dual tendrils were erupting from its depths.

The ice spell was launched into the main pool, and a retreat sounded. Naturally, Si Tang was the first away from the room.

The group retreated out nearly to the entrance of the tomb, pausing at the re-sanctified altar to catch their breath. Yax began the effort of healing their wounds as Shiko and Bodi reached out with their powers to determine the nature of the being(s) they faced.

Shiko learned it was a single opponent, a mighty elemental of vast power and great hunger. It seemed to have been compelled here, most likely by Li Ti in an effort to guard the tomb from robbers.

They rested for a time and discussed a plan. In fact they discussed about a dozen plans and finally agreed upon one.

One of their concerns was light, and so, calling upon the illuminating power of fire, Shiko caused all of their weapons to glow. While no longer capable of stealth, they need not fear being trapped in the dark.

So too was Bodi seeking a means to use his power against it. When Tao So sat upon a stack of ancient flagstones a smile crossed the weird one's face. Speaking softly to Shiko, the two were shortly laughing like children. Shiko shaped the great flagstones into razor sharp stone stars of death, and Bodi drew them up with his power and set them to spinning about his head.

They reentered the cavern of mists, and Si Tang moved up towards the great pool, planting a glowing spear about 30' from it. Shiko grew bored waiting for results and closed on the main pool, calling the others to pass through the cavern if the beast failed to show itself. Secretly thinking of leaping into the water and seeking out the vine kraken he did not have long to wait when a half dozen great vines burst from the central pool and planting themselves drew forth the main body, a great dense knot of wood and bark and leaves with a maw not unlike that of a shark, filled with calcified bark in the form of mighty razor sharp teeth.

The battle began and long it was. Bodi used the stones as mighty cutting tools into the wood of the monstrosity before them. Si Tang was constantly in motion keeping the vines from Shiko, Yax and Bodi. Tao so took the other flank and did likewise. While Shiko hammered the elemental with bolts of lightning from his fists. It was through Yax's good efforts that none were slaughtered outright, even as the mighty elemental leapt forward and attempted to swallow both he and Shiko in its great maw.

In the end our heroes emerged bloody and beaten, but victorious. Their foe falling back into the watery hole from which it came.

Shiko and Yax looked at each other and knew that it would regrow in their and that they should not dally in their further exploration.

As Yax sealed their wounds, Tao So led them past the misty chamber and into the true tomb of the captains.

Therein lay six great flat stones covering what was undoubtedly the resting spot of each of the Captains. Upon each of the stones lay an item. There were two ancient braziers which Shiko ignited with magical fire to burn and provide additional light.

Each of the Heroes was called to an item of power, and when he touched it the item seemed to come to life.

They did not delay, and understanding that these items were bound to them in some way they took their rewards, made homage to the Captains, and removed themselves from the tomb.

At the entrance to the tomb, in the fading light of the setting sun, Shiko sealed the tomb behind them.

Passing through the valley they returned to Dao, who was astonished at their appearance, and possession of the artifacts of the captains. He listened to their tale and was thrilled by the story of their battle. He suggested they return to the Cave of Bats without delay. They others packed and prepared to walk home, when Shiko called them.

Raising his hand together, he drew forth an archway of stone from the ground, and calling upon the magic of water he pushed his essence to the limit, and formed a magical passage. The others went through it quickly, and they emerged from the other side, just over there.

The storyteller pointed to where the grand entryway to the Cave of Bats was.

They waited politely to be invited in, and prepared to relay their story again.

The storyteller sipped at her tea, even as her audience was looking at where, so long ago the young heros had stepped forth from thin air to reveal that the first challenge had been settled and their path to destiny had been laid out before them.

Part the Fifth

In which the fellowship is broken and the Heroes go their seperate ways in search of their next destination.

Lu Ci was sporting quite a nice little leather mantle she had recently purchased at the Wolf's Vale trade moot. The old storyteller noticed and commented favorably upon it which made the young maiden preen with pleasure. The storyteller shook her head just a bit, "Of course it was nothing compared to the Mantle of Tang Shan, which was brought back to this very spot by Si Tang." Sensing she was on the verge of continuing the tale of the Five of Ji'an the children nearby hushed and gathered at her feet.

Sighing, the storyteller feigned an exaggerated frustration as she settled on a stump. "Will you pester me until my old bones can stand it no more? Chao Kensai, get down form there this instant. Shelves are for holding supplies, not precocious young children. Well, I suppose that it cannot be helped now. You will pester me to no end until I assuage your need for fantastic tales...

...yet this part of the tale is sad, as the first fractures among the Five begin to show themselves. Because although they were bound together by their common youth, their drive to free the valley, and their recent experiences, still enough they were five individuals. Each of them had a role to play and a desire for things unique to their own mind. Yax, the unkempt wild man, truly sought the eradication of the invaders. Never mind their presence here had been going on for centuries, never mind that there were women and children among the Mefun and possibly the Srin-ga. He sought only their deaths and in this regard he was as without compassion as the Wesh.

Bodi... well, few really knew what the Bender wanted. His mind was on a different place from that of his peers. Many a time it would seem as though the consciousness driving him was asleep at the table, while the body made its way through the motions of life. One person pierced that veil of loneliness and weirdness, and she speaks not of the man she fell in love with inside the odd exterior.

Si Tang was changed by the encounter with the spirits. He had a hardness about him ever after that came, perhaps, from seeing his friends possessed by the restless dead and used for the will of the ghostly beings. Perhaps it was founded on the hard time his friends gave him for running during the battle. Perhaps it was there all along and it took the hard lessons of the Time of Trials to pull it forth. Had she been about he might have sought solace in the arms of Chang Chang, yet she too wandered a path different form his own.

Tao So was suffering the burden of leadership. He knew that the others looked to him for guidance and thought, and trusted him with their lives in his decisions. Yet he feared to make mistakes. They were on the leading edge of fighting a war for the love of the ancestors, and it didn't help that Shiko's rash overconfidence and lack of self discipline would drive them forward as often as Tao So's careful planning.

Which leaves us with Shiko Bi. Here was a soul in conflict. On the surface he was brash and flagrant in his power, hidden inside him was a desire to use his power to establish himself above the people around him. So long had he been pushed about as a child. His clan destroyed while others thrived, the bullies in the village given privilege while he was mocked, even in seeking training with Yax, it had always been clear that the wild dreadlocked student was the true protege. He sought to prove himself a power in his own right, and that began to separate him from the group. Yet too it was clear that Fu Hui Fen had caught his eye. Her beauty and quiet confidence, and the way the others in the cave of bats sought her council drew him to her. For her part, she had made clear to Shiko it was not his power she found interesting about him, but that he would use it to better the lives of all in the valley. And thus did Shiko wonder if his deeds were pure or simply show to win the heart of this woman? And would he set his own lust for power aside to be with her?

Yet that is not the tale for today.

When they simply appeared outside the Cave of Bats, it made for quite a stir. While tales of Shiko's magic were fresh in the gossip circles none had dreamed that he could cause the entire band to magically appear before their cave. Dao was astounded that the five day journey could be reduced to a simple walk. For some this would be worrisome, and might create complications for our heroes later.

They waited, but Dao invited them in directly, and though it was late, they were well received. Hui Fen was pleased to see them, and her eyes grew wide at the implements of power they now bore. Though curious she told them to hold their story until the morning, and share it with the entire clan at once. They were ushered into the guest cave, and quickly fell to sleep.

In the morning at the breaking of the fast they were welcomed, and began to relate their story. The spoke of the valley and the darkness that lay dormant within. They told of waking the spirits of the rebels, soldiers who, though not the captains, had waged a valiant effort to remain free and bring the struggle of humanity to the doors of the Srin-ga. In some ways they were to be admired more than their previous leaders. For they did not have the powerful artifacts or mastery of powerful magics, yet still they fought, and succeeded for a time.

The Five corrected Zian's assumption that the Captains had been betrayed, and also described the end battles where the Mefun died yet succeeded in ending the resistance... until now. They spoke of the doom vines that slithered forth from the bubbling waters of the tomb, and came back again and again despite the heroes brave efforts at cutting them down. They told the the great stump lord who's teeth were as razors and in who's maw both Shiko and Yax had disappeared, each getting away only just, and Yax having a mighty scar from nearly being bitten in half. Tao So spoke of the mighty bark of the wood elemental that turned aside his spears, and how Bodi had driven massive flagstones sharpened to razor points into the elemental over and over, and how the elemental had seemed to heal itself after each attack, renewing the battle.

They showed the people the wounds where the mighty pincers had ripped into their bodies, threatening to drag them beneath the bubbling waters to their doom. They spoke of Si Tang's mighty kicks freeing his cousin, and Bodi's razor shards, and Shiko, much to the amusement of the children, showed how his dragon tattoos had actually moved through his flesh to bite through the vine piercing him.

In the end they told of the death of the Stump Lord and how it had retreated deep beneath the earth. They warned the clan to be wary of the valley still.

Then they spoke of the tomb, and of honoring the Captains, and how each was drawn to one of the captains as though to inherit a great token. Tao So had been called to their Leader Tang Chong Lin, eldest son of Bo Qin and Dai Yu, and had been given a spear of great power. It was crafted of steel and runed with jade and jet and bearing the five elemental symbols. In some way he knew it to be unbreakable by mortal means and when commanded to by Tao So it would change from a short spear to a long weapon over 12' in length. Bodi would later call forth the memories of the spear and learn that when properly powered, it could be cast forth and create a mighty wall of flames behind it as it circled out and returned to it's wielder's hand.

Si Tang had been drawn to the beir of Tang Shan, middle son of Bo Qin and Dai Yu, and had taken up a mantle of bone and jade and leather. It provided him with great protection. If he knew what other powers it would bear neither he nor Bodi spoke of it.

Bodi had come to the resting place of Qin Lang, known as "the one called", the son of Jun Jie and Shu, he had taken a pair of jade and jet bracers. The symbols of the elements were dark now, but when he assessed their power, he saw Lang lifting massive boulders and casting them against the walls of a great and terrible city, unlike any Bodi had ever known.

Yax had been presented with a jade helm with eye lenses that dropped forth when worn. It had been the token of Mang Shou Shan, the outcast, and allowed him to be the candle amidst the torches or the torch amidst the candles. He had declined to learn the former powers of the helm, saying that destiny would reveal what it would in it's own time.

Finally Shiko had a gold and jade chain link belt. It had been worn by Han Ye, son of Xin and Mei, who had been the last of the Elemental Masters and in Service to Ne-Long the Dragon of the Heavens and Guardian of Holy Places. It gave him understanding of the flows of essence about him, which none there knew what that meant, and it allowed him to fly.

After their tale, the group ate and rested for the day, each seeking out their friends amid the clan. On the morrow they packed their things and headed out to the north to seek the Clan of Wolf's Vale.

Here they ran into strife. For Shiko grew defiant and tired of being told what to do, even as Tao So tried to determine if they should head along the river, or the mountains or straight through the forest. Shiko headed off along the river, and this encouraged Si Tang to head out on his own in the direction he though was most obvious. Yax, seeing trouble, went with Shiko, and Bodi with a shrug followed as well. Tao So headed out after his cousin and the bear.

What bear you say? Si Tang had tamed a bear and it followed him about. Were there more to that story i would tell it.

The two groups made their way north for three days not knowing of the progress of the others. Being competitive, the Yangs used their powers to go without food or sleep, and Shiko called upon the winds to carry the other three along the rivers bank.

They missed the Vale, and ran into each other instead, Bodi using his powers to reach out and seek the minds of people. When reunited not a word was said, and instead they simply backtracked and using magic to aid them closed in on the Wolf Clan.

A dark shadow flashed by overhead. None could see what it was, but Bodi assured them it had seen them and was sentient. Still they moved on, wary for an attack, when suddenly the shadow flashed overhead again, and a voice called out, "Hoi there stand and be counted."

They held, and in a moment, "YAX, by the seven, what are you doing here?" And a great bear of a man who's face and featured seemed somehow alien to the others rose form the brush and closed to hug Yax."

Yax introduced them to Ban Fu, the "half man" who's ancestry was both local and of the people in the north beyond the wall. The shadow landed, and the group was introduced to the glowing eyed Dragon Child known as Thistleheart. Thistleheart sniffed the air and said, "Mmm... Pretty metals."

The group was taken to the clan, and found that the clan was nomadic. They had a number of Yurts that they resided in and raised small horses, traveling in the region to remain undetected and for hunting.

The Five told their story that night, and Shiko caused the fire to shape and dance in images supporting Yax's telling of the tale.

They were invited to stay the night, and in the Morning, Ban Fu had agreed to take them to the entrance of the cave where the dragon might lay.

That night the Five learned of the ways of the Clan and Shiko stepped out to find a rocky outcropping. Laying his hand upon the stone he communed with it and in time drew forth a chuck of copper ore. Returning, he sought out Thistleheart, the dragonborn ally of the clan, and presented it to the birdman as a token of friendship. Thistleheart accepted and cheerfully munched on the metal ore.

In the morn they set off for the Dragon's cave. Ban Fu explained that the cave itself was the result of a natural spring and one of the sources of the river. If indeed it held the dragon, it was likely the Srin-ga had found him there at rest and surprised him. The Dragon, Ji'an-lung was said to have held the length of the river from the control of the Srin-ga nearly alone.

Finally, they arrived at the entrance to the cave. Camping for the night, they prepared to enter in the morning. Ban Fu said he would wait for them for three days. Shiko chuckled, "If we haven't emerged in one, you may return home with news of our destruction. We won't be journeying deep into the earth for days ata time."

They spoke of the items of power they wore, and what would happen to them if indeed they fell to whatever guardians were within. In the end they decided that whatever could defeat them combined was a strong enough guardian to ward the items until the next incarnation of the captains arose.

This led Yax to speculate, "Perhaps our destiny was not to free the valley, but simply to transfer the items of power to a more powerful guardian..." It was not a pleasant thought to go to sleep upon.

The storyteller allowed a great and dramatic pause, and began to rise. The children clamored about her. "Off with ye, ye have chores and learning to see to, now be about it. She waved her staff at them and shooed them away. There will be more anon.

Part the Sixth

In which both stone and fire block the path of the river, and Bodi is caught with his hand in the jar.

The moon rose round and full outside of the Cave of Bats. It was a warm spring night, made for lovers. Of course being an old woman who had difficulty with the necessary athletics, Wei Ci was more than content to indulge the gaggle of prepubescent offspring with more tales of the mighty warriors (and smelly old YAX) who had sworn to free the valley of Ji'an from the shadow of the Srin-ga.

They rose in the morning, and after a breakfast of sushi and rice, they made their way up towards the mouth of the cave from which this tributary to the mighty Ji'an river came.

Before going in, Shiko cast his arms over the water, and all looked down into the small eddy before him that showed them there at the entrance to the cave. The view changed as Shiko's spell flew forward into the cave to see what lay in store for them. Darkness, darkness and more darkness was all for a time. Then a flicker of light which grew into a pale glow and then into more. They passed over the remains of a torch from long ago.

The scene revealed to them of the cave was of a great opening in the rock, where not water, but rather Lava flowed. In the foreground a small lump of what might be a child's skeleton, and towards the back the glowing form of a mighty river dragon.

To one side was an odd Jar with white light blasting forth, and then... the spell shattered.

"So, shall we go rescue a dragon?" Bodi quipped.

The cave mouth was dark, and Shiko laid his palm upon their weapons, again providing light for the band as they entered a place of darkness and gloom.

Carefully they crept forward along the ledge that ran beside the river's runoff.

Deeper and deeper they traveled into the mountain, leaving the lands of light behind them and finding the walls of stone closing in on them. No sound could be heard over the rushing water, so it was with their eyes alone that they sought out the dangers that must assuredly lay within.

In time they came to a section of the cave where the glow of light was before them. Further on they passed the discarded torch upon the floor, from where Cheng Ru had tossed it in the children's flight from danger.

They came then to the entrance to the chamber of fire. The rivers source had long since moved away into the depths of the mountain.

Before them was a river of lava, and several large jars casting forth powerful essence. In entering they examined the jars, and Shiko and Bodi determined they were warding vessels of some sort. A powerful magic laid down long ago. The large jars at the edge of the cavern were sources of air essence, and deeper in the cave, surrounding the Dragon's form, which could be seen form the entrance, were smaller jars, that Shiko determined were earth foci.

They also determined that the wards on the cave stopped magic from entering or leaving.

Of course their little perusal of the cave woke the guardian, and as the other called out in warning, they saw a mighty beast of fiery lava emerge from the field of lava before them. So, not being of a mind to be cripsed upon their initial foray, they retreated out to the entrance of the cave to plan their attack.

Shiko assessed the lava being to determining if it was elemental in nature. It was, but to their surprise it was a twisted earth elemental, which led them to alter their strategy.

In discussing the assault they commented on the possibility of simply destroying the outer ward, which was likely restraining the guardian. They quickly discarded that thought, as they did not want to loose a deranged elemental upon the people of the valley, despit the value of damage to the Mefun and Wesh it might achieve.

They also discarded the thought of trying to have Shiko compel the creature. It was clearly beyond his current ability. Thus they decided to go in and attack it head on. Which they did. Shiko bestowed upon everyone a barrier of ice shard to defend them from the lava, and they entered the cavern.

Si Tang and Tao So, led the charge like true warriors, even as three great worms of lava rose up and met their challenge. Bodi was distracted by the great jars which the group was not supposed to be dealing with, and Yax was remaining nearby to support and heal his teammates.

Inside the warriors engaged the beast, and Shiko cause mighty bolts of lightning to begin striking the lava from which it reared. He believed that when in contact with the lava the elemental might regenerate, and having seen the wood elemental retreat, he caused his lighting to remain in place for a time to force the elemental to move away from it's protective environment.

The elemental was not worried, and spat forth a mighty glob of lava at both Shiko and Bodi, while also attacking with its third head to the two warriors flanking it.

Tao So and Si Tang struck forth with their weapons and chips of stone and lava flew from the beast.

Again Shiko called forth the power of air, this time a spinning tornado of deadly force, to force the creature to move and defend itself, while Bodi used his mental powers to wipe off the lava burning him. Yax healed Bodi, and closed to support the warriors who were leaping and striking from all about the third head.

Then the elemental puffed up and seemed to explode, casting forth a horrific spray of obsidian that speared through nearly everything in the room. The warriors dodged, and fortunately the ice shards of protection Shiko had formed protected the group form the worst of it, though the intense heat melted the spell to nothing.

Bodi used his mental powers like a hammer upon the elemental, and Shiko, nearly drained of power cast forth more lightning.

But it was Tao So, who slipped beneath the creature and using the power of his magic spear to expand and contract perforated the wounded elemental and caused it to crack and shatter, nearly burying himself in the process.

Upon freeing Tao So, the group approached the entrapped dragon. Bodi had learned from examining the larger jars how the warding magic worked, and so he showed Shiko, and the two set about attempting to break the earth ward.

They were distraught though, when they saw that there was a second ward, a great seal that protected the earth jars from being tampered with, and the pair first spent their efforts in breaking the mighty seal. The power of the seal was great however, and nearly broke Shiko to defeat.

Bodi, then removed the earth wards after many minutes of great magical strain.

Yet the dragon lay there. Shiko tried to energize it with pure water essence, but with no result. Yax attempted to heal the dragon, which was dessicated and nearly about to perish. Then Tao So came forward, having been gone for some time back out of the cave. In his hands he held his dinner bowl, full of the waters of the river, and he poured it upon the dragon.

The dragon raised its head and seemed to smile. With great effort it struggled forward out of the cave and into the river itself. The waters sparkled about the dragon as it seemed to expand and become more vibrant and glossy.

After a short time the great head of the dragon rose, "Thank you, mortals. You have released me in the nick of time. I am yet to be fully restored, but I know what you have done this day. Return here in one week's time and I shall reward you."

With that the dragon slipped ino the waters of the river and vanished from sight.

The heroes smiled as Ban Fu looked on in near awe at the events he had only just witnessed.

"Well," said Yax, "Looks like we have a week to kill."

Shiko picked up a stone and skipped it on the water, "Dammit, I hate waiting!"

The children cheered, for this was their favorite part of the tale.

"I'm the dragon!" called out Wu Hu as he jumped from his seat and ran about the fire.

"I'm Tao So," Called forth Ti Chu La, who picked up a stick and stabbed at Ting Len, "You're the elemental."

"Why do I always have to be the elemental," Ting Len whined. "I want to be Yax!" He reached down to put mud in his hair.

"Don't you dare!" Commanded Wei Ci. "You can be Yax without the dirt."

And thus beneath the moonlight in the cave of bats, new tales of the Five were told that had no root in reality, but were merely the stuff of imagination drawn from the mouths of children.

The dirty old being who had watched the tale be told chuckled. "You can't do a good Yax without the dirt."

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