(Hida Kaoru by Miguel Coimbra.)
The newest chapter in my current Oubliette campaign ended up being like a mid-season sweeps week episode; things went crazy at the end. Speaking of going to pieces at the end...we spent the first part of this session playing archeologist, piecing together the events at the end of last game. Hey, it was the shrine of the Monkey King; if we got a bit into our cups with the sake, it is just because we are so Method. I thought we'd left it with the start of the duel...but Lilly & Nicole have better memories, which is good, since they were in the mud, the blood & the beer, so to speak, of the whole thing. Amina o-Kitsune had already started dueling Kaori o-Foo, the lover of Iroha o-Lung, betrothed of Haru o-Kitsune. Lilly & Luke's characters are cousins in the Kitsune Family, & since Luke's character Haru is a Kuge courtier & Amina, Lilly's character is a Bushi warrior, she's taking his place: he was the one challenged. That's why he carries a wakizashi & she carries a katana-- in a real way, they are a matched set, a daisho. Amina & Kaori had begun to duel-- the latter being a giant hulking brute of a woman with an iron club studded with spikes-- & each had gotten in blows, with Amina coming off the worse. Amina had licked the blood from her katana, sealing a mystical bloodbond with Kaori.
Keku no-kin, Nicole's cyborg zaibatsu agent, intervened from behind the statue of Gyoja, the Enlightened One, poisoning both of the combatants with a fan of darts, each tipped with soporific venom milked from her serpent familiar, Nagini. That was where we'd left off, resolving the knock-out dart...& we started there again, with me struggling to pronounce "somnambulant." A short tutorial on damage later, & some rolls, & Anima is knocked out, while the larger Kaori shrugs it off-- & is enraged that someone interfered with her duel. Which is when Haru steps out-- having concealed himself in the cherry blossoms with a short bow, in case he needed to cheat to save his cousin's live-- & declares her challenge illegal. Neither Kaori (he guesses) nor Amina sought permission from their daimyos to die, nor did Haru for the seppuku he'd be obligated to perform if Amina lost. He makes some lawyerly intimidation rolls, & they postpone the duel-- & the wedding, till after the duel's conclusion. Kaori stalks off, & Nagini sucks out her venom from Amina, waking her, with Haru's assistance using some of the techniques he learned from the Royal Physician, & some Kitsune ashigaru soldiers.
(The Tree of Peaches & Onions; "Scorched earth" by Daniel Conway.)
There is a path that circles back around, a mirror to the one they just travelled...only they walked the one with Shojo the Monkey King statues, & this way is marked by Gyoja the Enlightened One's idols. Both meet at the Five Pillars, the graffiti covered structure linked with chains where Amina & Kaori had their battle. From there there is another path, going, well...inward. The shrine is built in the caldera of an extinct volcano, as you recall. This third path leads to an outcropping of rock, surrounded by leisurely magma flows, jutting out over the "Wizard's Lake" at the bottom of the bowl of the collapsed volcano. At the pinnacle of this protrusion is a tree unseasonally in blossom; like the peach trees of the monkey grove they passed through, like the black cherry tree Haru brought with him (through Gong, his majordomo, who rejoins them, having come along the servant's path).
Keku has a snake familiar, a childhood pet that became a minor naga spirit after being Awakened by Hebi-no-Hime, the naga of Joko Izumi, that she's with some hubris & minor blasphemy named after a goddess herself, the Naga Queen Nagini. She slithers into the tree to examine the fruit, & notices that onions also grow among the peaches. Strange. The incidental Judeo-Christian mythopoeia is duly acknowledged. Amina, staggered from her wounds but up, touches a peach, & it rots away from her thumb, in the shape of her fingerprint slowly blotting & corrupting the globe of fruit. Haru dares to pluck a peach, then an onion, each blackening. Frustrated at the bad omens & lack of clarity on the cosmos, Haru uses his wakizashi-- mounted with a snake tsuba, also a gift from the Joko Izumi naga, as Luke reminds me-- to hack at the trunk of the millennia old tree. All the signs are right, so I decide to put my cards on the table.
(Me as Nagini the Naga Queen; photo by Nicole S.)
As Haru's blade bites the tree, it spills forth red sap, like blood, & Keku's snake grows, expands till I'm turning off all the lights in the room & standing on a chair, waving my arms. On account of the many arms of the Naga queen, jutting from her feminine torso, stopping where it meets the loops of her serpentine lower body. She is crowned with fangs, & has been with the party ever since Keku gave her that crack into the universe by naming her snake "Nagini." What is the Naga Queen's relationship to Keku? That is unclear, but getting more so: they clearly have a past, an almost familial connection of guilt & flattery. Haru's desecration of the shrine gives her an opening, as does Haru's eerily prescient choice of a black cherry tree as his gift, & Keku's snake being in the tree, & Haru invoking his tsuba's blessing, which the group used to brand themselves with the sign of their secret cabal, the scales of the Blue Koi Society-- the stars align, & she demands from Haru obedience. Soul, souls, everything, & in exchange, she'll put his daughter on the throne of the Shogun...as long as Nagini can possess his daughter, use her as a way to be born into the world. Haru demands that Nagini additionally not deceive him, & she agrees. The deal is struck!